Canada Slim and the Anachronic Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 October 2018

anachronic: not belonging to the time where one finds oneself

 

There are some places in the world where a person is immediately drawn to explore, either because of the sheer immensity of the place or because there is something truly remarkable there that cries out to be visited.

Kilchberg, a small town just south of Zürich on the western shore of the Lake of Zürich, fits neither description.

Kilchberg - Albis-Uetliberg - ZSG Pfannenstiel 2013-09-09 14-34-19.JPG

Kilchberg, unlike huge metropolises like London or Istanbul, does not offer surprises around every corner.

It takes only a well-planned excursion to see what little there is to see in this town: the Mann legacy of house and gravesites, the chocolate factory, and a museum dedicated to an anachronic man.

This post is this anachronic man’s story.

His museum is, to be frank, only of interest to those who can read fluently in German, for there are no descriptions in any other language within his last abode and his works seem to be only available in the Teutonic tongue.

The Museum, though named after the man who lived there, is not exclusively about him, as the scattered collections also focus on the bulk of the Klaus Mann family who lived and died in Kilchberg, as well as the local history of the community.

And those who run the Museum certainly do nothing to make a person want to make an effort to visit it, as the Museum is open only six hours a week on Wednesdays and Sundays from 2 to 5 pm.

 

(To be fair to the Museum, limited opening times and almost non-existent promotion are a typical problem of many museums in Switzerland.

The motivation to see such an attraction must have been driven from yourself, for it won’t have been created by anything the Swiss did.

For example, there is a Police and Criminal Museum in St. Gallen I knew nothing about until recently, despite my having worked in St. Gallen for the past eight years.

Now that I know it exists I am compelled to visit it soon, but its promised treasures are available for viewing at very limited opening times and with next to nothing and no one actively promoting it.)

 

As related in the previous post Canada Slim and the Family of Mann, my visit on 12 August 2018 to Kilchberg’s Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Museum was a third and final attempt to learn about Meyer.

And though Meyer is of little interest to most folks except those with either a passion for local history or Swiss literature, there are certain aspects about the life of Meyer with which I (and maybe you too, my gentle reader)can relate.

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer was born on 11 October 1825 in Zürich of patrician descent (i.e. nobility).

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer.gif

Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898)

 

His father, who died early, was a statesman and historian, while his mother was a highly cultured woman.

Throughout Meyer’s childhood two traits were observed that later characterized the man and the writer:

  • He had a most scrupulous regard for neatness and cleanliness (a place for everything and everything in its place to the point of cleanliness nest to godliness).
  • He lived and experienced more deeply in memory than in the immediate present.

 

(Blogger’s personal note:

I have always been surprised that any museum one visits always show the subject of the museum as an organized and tidy individual, when it has been my experience that those of a creative nature rarely are.)

 

Meyer suffered from bouts of mental illness, sometimes requiring hospitalization.

His mother, similarly but more severely affected, killed herself.

 

I am reminded of Lewis Carroll….

Image result for all the best people are crazy

 

Once Meyer’s secondary education was completed, he took up the study of law, but history and the humanities were of greater interest to him.

He spent considerable amounts of time in Lausanne, Genève, Paris and Italy, immersed in historical research.

The two historians who influenced Meyer the most were Louis Vulliemin at Lausanne and Jacob Burkhardt in Basel whose book on the Culture of the Renaissance stimulated his imagination and interest.

Jacburc2.gif

Above: Jacob Burkhardt (1818 – 1897)

 

From Meyer’s travels in France and Italy, he derived much inspiration for the settings and characters of his historical novels.

Meyer’s master of realism was uncanny to the point that the reader is convinced that he lived what he wrote.

Reading his historical novels or narrative ballads the readers feel that they are living the past settings now.

 

What follows is the stuff of science fiction and immense improbability….

 

It is uncertain if time travel to the past is physically possible, but there are solutions in general relativity that allow for it, though the solutions require conditions not feasible with current technology.

The earliest science fiction work about backwards time travel is uncertain.

 

Samuel Madden’s Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) is a series of letters from British ambassadors in 1997 and 1998 to diplomats in the past, conveying the political and religious conditions of the future.

Above: Samuel Madden (1686 – 1765)

 

In the science fiction anthology Far Boundaries (1951), editor August Darleth claims that the earliest short story about time travel is “Missing One’s Coach: An Anachronism“, written for the Dublin Literary Magazine by an anonymous author in 1838.

The narrator of this short story waits under a tree for a coach to take him out of Newcastle, when he is transported in time over a thousand years.

The narrator encounters the Venerable Bede (672 – 735) in a monastery and explains to him the developments of the coming centuries.

The Venerable Bede translates John 1902.jpg

Above: Bede the Venerable

 

The story never makes it clear whether these events are real or a dream.

 

There are a number of science fiction classics that suggest that the mind can transport a person back into the past.

 

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)(Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889):

Connecticut engineer Hank Morgan receives a severe blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to England during the reign of King Arthur.

After some initial confusion and his capture by one of Arthur’s knights, Hank realizes that he is actually in the past, and he uses his knowledge to make people believe that he is a powerful magician.

He attempts to modernize the past in order to make people’s lives better, but in the end he is unable to prevent the death of Arthur and an interdict against him by the Catholic Church of the time which grows fearful of his power….

Portrait by Mathew Brady, February 1871

Above: Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Clemens)

 

Daphne du Maurier (1907 – 1989)(Rebecca / Jamaica Inn), The House on the Strand (1969):

Dick Young, has given up his job and been offered the use of the ancient Cornish house of Kilmarth by an old university friend Magnus Lane, a leading biophysicist in London.

He reluctantly agrees to act as a test subject for a drug that Magnus has secretly developed.

On taking it for the first time, Dick finds that it enables him to enter into the landscape around him as it existed during the early 14th century.

He becomes drawn into the lives of the people he sees there and is soon addicted to the experience….

The young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930)

Above: Daphne du Maurier

 

Jack Finney (1911 – 1995)(The Body Snatchers), Time and Again (1970)

In November 1970, Simon Morley, an advertising sketch artist, is approached by U.S. Army Major Ruben Prien to participate in a secret government project.

He is taken to a huge warehouse on the West Side of Manhattan, where he views what seem to be movie sets, with people acting on them. It seems this is a project to learn whether it is feasible to send people back into the past by what amounts to self-hypnosis—whether, by convincing oneself that one is in the past, not the present, one can make it so.

As it turns out, Simon (usually called Si) has a good reason to want to go back to the past—his girlfriend, Kate, has a mystery linked to New York City in 1882.

She has a letter dated from that year, mailed to an Andrew Carmody (a fictional minor figure who was associated with Grover Cleveland).

The letter seems innocuous enough—a request for a meeting to discuss marble—but there is a note which, though half burned, seems to say that the sending of the letter led to “the destruction by fire of the entire world“, followed by a missing word.

Carmody, the writer of the note, mentioned his blame for that incident.

He then killed himself.

Si agrees to participate in the project, and requests permission to go back to New York City in 1882 in order to watch the letter being mailed (the postmark makes clear when it was mailed).

The elderly Dr. E.E. Danziger, head of the project, agrees, and expresses his regret that he can’t go with Si, because he would love to see his parents’ first meeting, which also occurred in New York City in 1882.

The project rents an apartment at the famous Dakota apartment building.

Si uses the apartment as both a staging area and a means to help him with self-hypnosis, since the building’s style is so much of the period in which it was built and faces a section of Central Park which, when viewed from the apartment’s window, is unchanged from 1882.

Si is successful in going back to 1882….

Time and Again.jpg

 

Richard Matheson (1926 – 2013)(I Am Legend), Bid Time Return (1975):

Richard Collier is a 36-year-old screenwriter who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and has decided, after a coin flip, to spend his last days hanging around the Hotel del Coronado.

Most of the novel represents a private journal he is continually updating throughout the story.

He becomes obsessed with the photograph of a famous stage actress, Elise McKenna, who performed at the hotel in the 1890s.

Through research, he learns that she had an overprotective manager named William Fawcett Robinson, that she never married and that she seemed to have had a brief affair with a mysterious man while staying at this hotel in 1896.

The more Richard learns, the more he becomes convinced that it is his destiny to travel back in time and become that mysterious man.

Through research, he develops a method of time travel that involves using his mind to transport himself into the past.

After much struggle, he succeeds.

At first, he experiences feelings of disorientation and constantly worries that he will be drawn back into the present, but soon these feelings dissipate.

He is unsure what to say to Elise when he finally does meet her, but to his surprise she immediately asks, “Is it you?

(She later explains that two psychics told her she would meet a mysterious man at that exact time and place.)

Without telling her where (or, rather, when) he comes from, he pursues a relationship with her, while struggling to adapt himself to the conventions of the time.

Inexplicably, his daily headaches are gone, and he believes that his memory of having come from the future will ultimately disappear.

But Robinson, who assumes that Richard is simply after Elise’s wealth, hires two men to abduct Richard and leave him in a shed while Elise departs on a train.

Richard manages to escape and make his way back to the hotel, where he finds that Elise never left.

They go to a hotel room and passionately make love.

In the middle of the night, Richard leaves the room and bumps into Robinson.

After a brief physical struggle, Richard quickly runs back into the room, and he casually picks a coin out of his pocket.

Realizing too late that it is a 1970s coin, the sight of it pushes him back into the present.

At the end of the book, we find out that Richard died soon after.

A doctor claims that the time-traveling experience occurred only in Richard’s mind, the desperate fantasy of a dying man, but Richard’s brother, who has chosen to publish the journal, is not completely convinced….

BidTimeReturn.jpg

 

There have been various accounts of persons who allegedly travelled through time reported by the press or circulated on the Internet.

These reports have generally turned out either to be hoaxes or to be based on incorrect assumptions, incomplete information, or interpretation of fiction as fact, many being now recognized as urban legends.

 

I am not suggesting that Meyer’s writing is superior to other historical writers.

Nor am I suggesting at all that Conrad Ferdinand Meyer was a time traveller, but rather he was an anachronic man, a man more at home in the memory of the past than the reality of the present.

Perhaps Meyer had even hypnotized himself into believing he had visited the past upon which he wrote so convincingly, but there is absolutely not a shred of proof to support such a wild hypothesis.

Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer

 

In 1875, Meyer settled at Kirchberg.

Meyer found his calling only late in life.

(He was 46 when his first work Hutten’s Last Days was published.)

Being fluently bilingual, Meyer wavered between French and German.

The Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871) cemented his final decision to write in German.

In Meyer’s novels, a great crisis releases latent energies and precipitates a catastrophe.

In the same manner, his own life, which before the War had been one of dreaming and experimenting, was stirred to the very depths by the events of 1870.

Meyer identified himself with the German cause and as a manifesto of his sympathies published the aforementioned Hutten’s Last Days in 1871.

After that his works appeared in rapid succession and were collected into eight volumes in 1912, fourteen years after his death.

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

The periods of the Renaissance (14th to 17th centuries) and the Counter Reformation (1545 – 1648) furnished the subjects for most of his novels.

Most of his plots spring from the deeper conflict between freedom and fate and culminate in a dramatic crisis in which the hero, in the face of a great temptation, loses his moral freedom and is forced to fulfill the higher law of destiny.

 

His two most famous novels are gripping and provocative.

In Jürg Jenatsch (1876), which takes place in Swiss Canton Graubünden during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), a Protestant minister and fanatic patriot who, in his determination to preserve the independence of Switzerland, does not shrink from murder and treason and in whom noble and base motives are strangely blended.

Georg Jenatsch.jpg

Above: Jörg Jenatsch (1596 – 1639)

 

In The Wedding of the Monk (1884), the renowned writer Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) is introduced at the court of Cangrande in Verona, who narrates the strange adventure of a monk who, after the death of his brother, is forced by his father to break his monastic vows but who, instead of marrying the widow, falls in love with another young girl and runs blindly to his fate.

head-and-chest side portrait of Dante in red and white coat and cowl

Above: Dante Aligheri

 

Meyer has written about the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (the night of 23 – 24 August 1572)(The Amulet), Thomas Becket (1119 – 1170)(The Saint), the Renaissance in Switzerland (Plautus in the Nunnery), France during the reign of Louis XIV (1638 – 1715)(The Suffering of a Boy), Charlemagne (742 – 814) and his Palace School (The Judge), and a tale of a great crisis in the life of Fernando d’Ávalos (1489 – 1525)(The Temptation of Pescara).

Yet if Meyer is remembered by the Swiss at all, it is as a master of narrative ballads, such as the aforementioned Hutten’s Last Days.

Meyer fascinated a man whose name is more recognizable to my gentle readers: psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Freud in reflecting on Meyer’s life and works argued that there is a widespread existence among neurotics of a fable in which the present day parents are imposters, replacing a real and more aristocratic pair.

In repudiating the parents of today, the child is merely “turning away from the father whom he knows today to the father he believed in the earliest years of his childhood“.

He identified this psychological complex as the family romance.

Sigmund Freud, by Max Halberstadt (cropped).jpg

Above: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

 

(I am reminded of Joanne Greenberg’s semi-autobiographical novel – written under the pen name Hannah GreenI Never Promised You a Rose Garden, where Hannah shares a room with a memory-impaired girl who gives herself multiple sets of musical celebrity parents. “My father is (Igancy Jan) Paderewski (1860 – 1941) and my mother is Sophie Tucker (1886 – 1996).”

Greenberg’s novel was made into a film in 1977 and a play in 2004.

Perhaps it may have inspired Lynn Anderson’s 1967 song Rose Garden.)

INeverPromisedYouARoseGarden.jpg

 

Perhaps Meyer’s legacy of a father’s early death and a mother’s suicide made Meyer retreat from his grim reality and escape into the past.

Perhaps his pain made it possible for him to write so convincingly about a past he never personally witnessed except through his research.

Meyer’s genius is such that his readers are made to believe that they too are in the midst of the past stories he relates.

 

(If years rather than places were made into travel guides for time travellers I would suggest adapting Meyer’s works into such a form.

Imagine such a concept….

1313: A Travel Guide

This time travel guide is invaluable for showing the prospective reader what dates to visit, what places are “happening” then, and all the dangers and delights of the time of the Battle of Gamelsdorf and the Siege of Rostock, the birth of the Infanta Maria of Portugal and the death of Austrian Saint Notburga.

Don’t leave your era without it!“)

 

Perhaps the difference, then as now, between a good artist and a great one is not only a question of talent….

Perhaps it is a question of successfully marketing that talent….

Though Meyer is lost in the shadows of time, perhaps a consideration of who he was and what he wrote is finally due.

Perhaps his story makes his Museum, even with German-only captions, worth a visit….

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

Sources: Wikipedia, http://www.kilchberg.ch

Above: The TARDIS, BBC Doctor Who

 

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Canada Slim and the Visionary

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 October 2018

I caution you.

Expect much!

(Hugo Gernsback, Electrical Experimenter, January 1919)

Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown

Above: Hugo Grensback (1884 – 1967)

 

In my apartment we have many things.

Flag of Switzerland

These things seem so commonplace that we have taken this electrical world in which we live in for granted.

Amongst the flotsam and jetsam and choas that is a modern apartment, much is powered by electricity: the lamps and overhead lights, the computer upon which I type this blog, the TV and two radios, the toaster, the kettle, the dishwasher, the fridge, the freezer, my wife’s hairdryer and iron, the vacuum cleaner, and batteries and cables used for mobile devices.

Our apartment is by no means super-modern nor overly luxurious in terms of all the bells and whistles other flats might produce, but we are nevertheless grateful for the manner in which our lives are blessed, materialistically and otherwise.

There are names you might have heard of in regards to the history of electricity: Thales, Aristophanes, Euclid, Pliny, William Gilbert, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Charles Coulomb, Luigi Galvini, Alessandro Volta, Humphrey Davy, André-Marie Ampère, Georg Ohm, Michael Faraday, Samuel Morse, James Prescott Joule, Thomas Edison and Heinrich Hertz.

I have even written at great length about Alessandro Volta….

Alessandro Volta.jpeg

Above: Alessandro Volta (1745 – 1827)

(See Canada Slim and the Life Electric of this blog.)

 

There are names equally important to the development of electricity that you may have never heard of: Shen Kuo, Alexander Neckham, Pierre de Maricourt, Gerolamo Cardano, Cabaeus, Sir Thomas Browne (who first coined the word “electricity“), Otto von Guericke, Robert Boyle, Francis Hauksbee, Stephan Gray and the Reverend Granville Wheler, Charles Francois de Cisternay du Fay, Pieter van Musschenbroek of Leyden, Ewald Georg von Kleist, William Watson, C.M. of Scotland (still unidentifiable to this day), Georges-Louis LeSage, William Nicholson, Anthony Carlisle,  Johann Ritter, Gian Domenico Romagnosi, Thomas Young, Étienne-Louis Malus, Hans Christian Orsted, Johann Schweigger, Thomas Seebeck, William Sturgeon, Francesco Zantedeschi, Paul Schilling, Heinrich Lenz, Jean-Charles Peltier, Joseph Henry, David Alter, Alexandre Becquerel, James Clark Maxwell, John Kerr, Oliver Heaviside, Galileo Ferraris, John Fleming, Heike Onnes, Louis de Broglie and Martin Ryte.

To name a few….

 

There is one man who we might never had heard of were it not for his greatest fan’s determination to demonstrate to the world his hero’s legacy.

A legacy remembered in Croatia, Serbia, Austria, Hungary and America.

A determined traveller can find plaques and memorials to this man in Smilijan (Croatia), Zagreb (Croatia), Niagara Falls (USA / Canada), Baku (Azerbaijan), Wardenclyffe (USA), Manhattan (USA), Palo Alto (USA), Hamilton (Canada) and Belgrade (Serbia).

This great inventor has had his name given to a ship, a song, a high school, a planetoid, a crater on the Moon, a power plant, a museum-archive, an airport, a unit of measurement, an electric vehicle rally, three holidays, a rock band, an electrotechnical conglomerate, an electric car manufacturer and a major scientific award.

His name has endured in books, films, radio, TV, music, live theater, comics and video games, and most recently a new Hollywood film (The Current War) and a Netflix documentary.

But much like Sherlock Holmes needed Dr. John Watson for his fame, so we are grateful to Hugo Gernsback (“The man who invented the future“) for the fame of a man he called “the greatest inventor of all time“: Nikola Tesla.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Above: Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

 

Were it not for Tesla’s eccentric personality and a poor sense of financial management, he might have ended up as famous as Edison or Einstein.

Tesla was the electrical engineer who invented the AC (alternating current) induction motor, which made the universal transmission and distribution of electricity possible.

 

This spring I spent six days, by invitation from my good friend Nesha, in Serbia, a country that everyone in the West thinks they know but hardly anyone in the West really knows.

(For a further description of Serbia, please see Canada Slim and the Holy Field of Sparrows & Canada Slim and the Land of Long Life of this blog.)

Flag of Serbia

Above: The flag of Serbia

 

Ask the average North American what little they know about Serbia and chances are strong they will mention NATO bombings, Milosevician atrocities and…. Nikola Tesla.

 

I have often believed that Americans are the world’s best marketers and there is a grain of truth to the song dedicated to the American metropolis of New York City, but applicable to America as a whole….

If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

East Side of Midtown Manhattan, showing the terraced crown of the Chrysler Building lit at twilight

In other words, until America knows you, very few others will.

 

Were it not for Tesla’s work in America and Gernsback’s American technical science monthly magazine for which Tesla wrote for and in which his autobiography appears, the world might not remember as it does the name of Tesla.

 

Were it not for my visit to the Tesla Museum in Belgrade I might never have learned of the legacy of Tesla and his greatest publicist….

Despite a lack of enduring international recognition, Tesla remains a Serbian national hero and it is his face that currently decorates the 100 dinar note.

The Museum has captions in English and guidebooks available in Serbian and English.

Regular tours in English are given by the enthusiastic and knowledgable staff.

Some of the rooms relate to Tesla’s scientific work and have a number of hands-on displays and dynamic working models that are fun for children and adults alike.

Two more rooms are dedicated to the personal life of the physicist.

The urn containing his ashes is housed here too as well as his death mask.

Museum of Nikola Tesla, Belgrade, Serbia-cropped.JPG

Above: Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia

 

Belgrade, Serbia, 5 April 2018

To say that Hugo Gernsback was a fan of Nikola Tesla is an understatement.

In Gernsback’s own words:

Nikola Tesla, in the opinion of authorities, today is conceded to be the greatest inventor of all time. 

Tesla has more original inventions to his credit than any other man in history. 

He is considered greater than Archimedes, Faraday or Edison. 

His basic, as well as revolutionary, discoveries for sheer audacity have no equal in the annals of the world. 

His master mind is easily one of the seven wonders of the intellectual world.

Tesla has secured more than 100 patents on inventions, many of which have proved revolutionary.

Science accords to him over 75 original discoveries, not mere mechanical improvements.

90% of the entire electrical industry pays tribute to his genius.

The question as to why the world at large does not know Tesla is answered best by stating that he committed the unpardonable crime of not having a permanent press agent to shout his greatness from the housetops.

Then, too, most of Tesla’s inventions, at least to the public mind, are more or less intangible on account of the fact that they are very technical and, therefore, do not catch the popular imagination, as, for instance, wireless, the X-ray, the airplane or the telephone.

Tesla is a man of extraordinary knowledge.

He is remarkably well read and has a photographic memory whereby it is possible for him to recite page after page of nearly every classical work, be it Goethe, Voltaire or Shakespeare.

He speaks and writes twelve languages.

He is an accomplished calculator, who has little use for tables and textbooks and holds the slide rule in contempt.”

My Inventions - The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla.jpg

Nikola Tesla’s autobiography, My Inventions, appeared in Hugo Gernsback’s magazine Electrical Experimenter in six monthly installments (February to June 1919 and October 1919) and is in a hard cover book offered by the Nikola Tesla Museum, which has been in operation since the 150th anniversary of Tesla’s birth (2006).

To fully appreciate and comprehend both men and the Museum dedicated to Tesla and Tesla’s autobiography printed by Gernsback, we need to look back at not only both men’s histories but as well back to an age where electricity existed in a realm that lay somewhere between magic, science and commerce.

 

Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) was born an ethnic Serb in the village of Smiljan, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Croatia.

Above: Tesla’s house, Smiljan, Croatia

 

His father Milutin was a Serbian Orthodox priest, his mother Duka was the daughter of another priest.

Above: Milutin Tesla, Nikola’s father

Milutin was the son of an officer who served in Napoleon’s army and, in common with Nikola’s uncle, a professor of mathematics, had received a military education but later embraced the clergy in which vocation he achieved eminence.

Milutin was a very erudite man, a veritable natural philosopher, poet and writer.

Nikola’s father had a prodigious memory and frequently recited at length from works in several languages.

Milutin often remarked playfully that if some of the classics were lost he could restore them.

His style of writing was much admired.

He penned sentences short and terse and was full of wit and satire.

 

Nikola’s mother, Duka, descended from one of the oldest families in the country and a line of inventors.

Both her father and grandfather originated numerous implements for household, agricultural and other uses.

Duka had a talent for making homemade craft tools and mechanical appliances and the ability to memorize lengthy Serbian epic poems, even though she had never received a formal education.

Tesla credited his eidetic memory and creative abilities to his mother’s genetics and influence.

Nikola was the 4th of five children.

 

Nikola Tesla was born during a lightning storm at the stroke of midnight on 10 July 1856.

His midwife is reported to have exclaimed:

He’ll be a child of the storm.

To which his mother replied:

No, of light.

How does the world’s greatest inventor invent?

How does he carry out an invention?

What sort of mentality does Nikole Tesla have?

Was his early life as commonplace as ours?

(Hugo Gernsback, foreword to Nikola Tesla’s My Inventions, 1: My Early Life, Electrical Experimenter, February 1919)

 

Our first endeavours are purely instinctive, promptings of an imagination vivid and undisciplined.

As we grow older, reason asserts itself and we become more and more systematic and designing.

But those early impulses, though not immediately productive, are of the greatest moment and may shape our very destinies.

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

Nikola had three sisters (Milka, Angelina and Marica) and an older brother named Dane, who was killed in a horse riding accident when Tesla was five.

Nikola attended primary school in Smiljan and Gospic and middle school in the latter town.

View of Gospić

Above: Gospic, Croatia

 

In my boyhood I suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of images, often accompanied by strong flashes of light, which marred the sights of real objects and interfered with my thought and action.

They were pictures of things and scenes which I had really seen, never of those I imagined.

When a word was spoken to me the image of the object it designated would present itself vividly to my vision and sometimes I was quite unable to distinguish whether what I saw was tangible or not.

This caused me great discomfort and anxiety….

To free myself of these tormenting appearances, I tried to concentrate my mind on something else I had seen, and in this way I would often obtain temporary relief.

But in order to get it I had to conjure continuously new images….”

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

In 1870, Tesla moved far north to Karlovac to attend high school where he became interested in demonstrations of electricity by his physics teacher.

Tesla noted that these demonstrations of this “mysterious phenomena” made him want “to know more of this wonderful force.”

Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.

Nonetheless he finished a four-year term, in three years, graduating in 1873.

Karlovac Train Station with HŽ 7122.jpg

This (mental imaging) I did constantly until I was about 17 when my thoughts turned seriously to invention.

Then I observed to my great delight that I could visualize with the greatest facility.

I needed no models, drawings or experiments.

I could picture them all as real in my mind.

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

That same year, Tesla returned to Smiljan.

Shortly after he arrived, he contracted cholera, was bedridden for nine months and was near death multiple times.

 

In 1874 Tesla evaded conscription into the Austro-Hungarian army by running away southeast to Tomingaj.

There he explored the mountains wearing hunter’s garb, believing that this contact with nature made him stronger, both physically and mentally.

Tesla read many books while in Tomingaj and later said that Mark Twain’s works had helped him to miraculously recover from his earlier illness.

Image result for tomingaj

Above: Tomingaj, Croatia

 

In 1875, Tesla enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, on a military frontier scholarship.

The Schlossberg (Castle Hill) with the clock tower (Uhrturm), as seen from town hall

Above: Graz, Austria

 

During his first year, he never missed a lecture, earned the highest grades possible, passed nine exams (twice as many as were required), started a Serbian cultural club, and received a letter of recommendation from the dean of the technical faculty to his father, which stated:

Your son is a star of the first rank.

Tesla claimed that he worked from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m., no Sundays or holidays excepted.

 

(After Milutin’s death in 1879, Nikola found a package of letters from his professors to his father, warning that unless Nikola were removed from the school, he would die through overwork.)

 

At the end of his second year, Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling.

During his third year, Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later winning back his initial losses and returning the balance to his family.

When examination time came, Tesla was unprepared and asked for an extension to study, but was denied.

He did not receive grades for the last semester of the third year and he never graduated.

 

In December 1878, Tesla left Graz and severed all relations with his family to hide the fact that he dropped out of school.

His friends thought that he had drowned in the nearby Mur River.

 

Tesla moved to Maribor where he worked as a draftsman, spending his spare time playing cards with local men on the streets.

In March 1879, Tesla’s father went to Maribor to beg his son to return home, but he refused.

Nikola suffered a nervous breakdown.

Maribor's Old Town along the Drava River

Above: Maribor, Slovenia

 

On 24 March 1879, Tesla was returned to Gospic under police guard for not having a residence permit.

On 17 April 1879, Milutin Tesla died.

That year Nikola taught a large class of students in his old school in Gospic.

 

In January 1880, two of Tesla’s uncles put together enough money to help him leave Gospic for Prague, where he attended lectures in philosophy at Charles Ferdinand University as an auditor but did not receive grades for the courses.

Charles Bridge - Prague, Czech Republic - panoramio.jpg

Above: Prague, Czech Republic

 

In 1881 Tesla moved to Budapest to work as chief electrician for the Budapest Telephone Exchange.

Upon arrival, Tesla realized that the company, then under construction, was not functional, so he worked as a draftsman in the Central Telegraph Office.

Within a few months, the Budapest Telephone Exchange became functional and Tesla was allocated the chief electrician position.

During his time with the BTE, Tesla made many improvements to the Central Station Equipment and invented a device known as the telephone repeater, a precursor to the modern wireless telephone.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest at night.jpg

Above: Budapest, Hungary

 

In 1882, Tesla moved to Paris to work for the Continental Edison Company, in what was then a brand new industry, installing indoor incandescent lighting citywide in the form of an electric power utility.

Seine and Eiffel Tower from Tour Saint Jacques 2013-08.JPG

Above: Paris, France

Logo of Consolidated Edison

Management took notice of Tesla’s advanced knowledge in engineering and physics and soon had him designing and building improved versions of generating dynamos and motors, as well as sending him on to troubleshoot engineering problems at other Edison utilities being built across France and Germany.

In 1884, Edison manager Charles Batchelor, who had been overseeing the Paris Installation, was brought back to the US to manage the Edison Machine Works, a manufacturing division situated in New York City, and asked that Tesla be brought to the US as well.

Above: Charles Batchelor (1845 – 1910)

 

In June 1884, Tesla left Paris for New York City and the United States.

An amazing future awaited him.

Fame, fortune and amazing creativity would be both his bane and his blessing.

And there would literally be blood as two business magnates fought a merciless war for power….electrical power….with Tesla in the middle and Gernsback and the world as witness….

(To be continued….)

Sources: Wikipedia / Bradt Serbia / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions

Multiple lightning strikes on a city at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Body Snatchers

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 September 2018

I should be dead.

In fact, for at least a quarter of a century.

Back in Canada, I tried to chop a log.

The axe bounced off the log and sliced into my foot.

A mile in the bush limp, a drive home, a quick dash to the local hospital and an ambulance ride from there to the metropolis of Montréal, followed by surgery, hospitalization and convalescence….

And I am alive to tell the tale.

This injury, sadly, was the first of many unfortunate accidents I have had, transforming my body from a wonderland into a battlefield.

In earlier days, blood loss or infection might have ended my life, but I live, as many others live, longer and healthier.

We live in an age where the human anatomy has been mapped, where an abundance of drugs are available, where antiseptic conditions are par for the course in all medical institutions, where medical professionals are highly trained and qualified, where the deliverance of babies is no longer such a danger for infant or mother.

A time of liver and lung, uterus and penis, skull and scalp, arm and hand, face and heart, eye and hip replacements, appendectomies and mastectomies….

A time of virtual and remote, robot-assisted and laser-aided, plastic and emergency surgery….

Days of disinfectant, inoculation, anesthesia, x-rays, MRIs and ultrasound….

 

I take my survival for granted, confident in the advances available to me in case of injury or illness.

 

Sometimes it is good to visit places that remind one of how and why mankind has been able to survive the rigours and ravages inflicted upon the body.

Such a place is in London at a venue of body snatchers and “the fastest knife in the West End“.

The tale begins last fall and travels back in time.

Welcome….

25 October 2017

We spend 80% of our adult lives working, but, on average, 80% of workers often confess that they dislike the work that they do.

My wife is among the happy minority of those who do what they love and love what they do.

My wife is a doctor.

When we travel together it is not uncommon to find us visiting, among many, tourist attractions that are medically themed.

During our week in London we would visit at least three attractions of this nature.

 

(For other London attractions not medically themed, please see: Canada Slim and….

  • the Danger Zone
  • the Paddington Arrival
  • the Street Walked Too Often
  • Underground
  • the Outcast
  • the Wonders on the Wall
  • the Calculated Cathedral
  • the Right Man
  • the Queen’s Horsemen
  • the Royal Peculiar
  • the Uncertainty Principle
  • the Museum of Many

For medically themed London attractions, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Lamp Ladies
  • the Breviary of Bartholomew)

 

London has its fair share of quirkiness:

Near Wimbledon there is an authentic Buddhist temple that feels like it was discretely teleported directly from Thailand. (Buddhapadipa Temple)

One can climb a castle as if it were the rock face of Mount Everest or the Matterhorn. (Castle Climbing Centre)

Or visit a house lacking electricity and modern plumbing on a Monday night, Silent Night, candlelight tour. (Dennis Severs’ House)

Or tread softly in the necropolis that is Highgate Cemetery.

Come and watch people swing from the gallows. (London Dungeon)

Listen to Anne Boleyn plead her case just before her head is deftly separated from her soft narrow shoulders. (London Dungeon)

Walk by moonlight the Whitechapel backstreets as Jack the Ripper knew them. (London Dungeon)

London Dungeon Logo.jpg

 

We did none of these things, but this is not to suggest that our time was devoid of quirkiness….

 

Time is often not our friend when we travel, so we took the Tube to London Bridge Station instead of walking across the Thames River upon the London Bridge.

We would later sail underneath it but we denied ourselves the tactile experience of trodding upon it.

The River Thames is the longest river in England and the second longest in Britain (after the Severn) and is crossed by over 200 bridges, 27 tunnels, six public ferries, a cable car and a ford.

Thames map.png

Prior to the commencement of my relationship with my wife, I followed on foot the Thames from its source near Cirencester to Oxford.

I would, on visits to London, also spend time by its banks.

 

There has been a London Bridge spanning the Thames since AD 50 and it could be argued that without a London Bridge there might never have been a London.

London Bridge Illuminated.jpg

 

The first London Bridge was built by the Romans (“What have they ever done for us?“) as part of their road-building programme, to help consolidate their conquest.

This Bridge, and those London Bridge constructions that followed until 1209, was built of wood.

These timber crossings would fall into disrepair, be rebuilt and destroyed by both Saxons and Danes, be destroyed by the London tornado of 1091 and the fire of 1136.

The nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” is connected to the Bridge’s historic collapses.

 

After the murder of friend/foe Thomas à Becket, the penitent King Henry II commissioned a new stone bridge with a chapel in the centre dedicated to Becket as martyr.

Begun in 1176, London Bridge was completed in 1209 during the reign of King John.

The Old London Bridge (1209 – 1831) was 26 feet / 8 metres wide, 900 feet / 270 metres long, supported by 19 irregularly spaced arches.

It had a drawbridge to allow for the passage of tall ships and defensive gatehouses on both ends.

By 1358 it was already crowded with 138 shops.

The buildings on London Bridge were a major fire hazard and the increased load on the arches required their reconstruction over the centuries.

In 1212, fire broke out on both sides of the Bridge simultaneously trapping many people in the middle.

Houses on the Bridge were destroyed during Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt (1381) and Jack Cade’s Rebellion (1450).

By the time of the Tudors there were over 200 buildings on the Bridge, some seven stories high, some overhanging the river by seven feet, others overhanging the road forming a dark tunnel through which traffic had to pass.

Yet this did not prevent the addition, in 1577, of the palatial Nonsuch House to the buildings that crowded the span.

The available roadway was just 12 feet / 4 metres wide , divided into two lanes, so that in each direction, carts, wagons, coaches and pedestrians shared a single file lane 6 feet / 2 metres wide.

 

The bridge’s southern gatehouse became the scene of one of London’s most gruesome sights – a display of the severed heads of traitors, impaled on pikes, dipped in tar and boiled to preserve them against the elements.

The head of William Wallace was the first to appear on the gate in 1305, starting a tradition that was to continue for another 355 years.

 

(Keep this morbid tradition in mind while remembering that before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.)

 

Other famous heads on London Bridge pikes included Jack Cade (1450), Thomas More (1535), Bishop John Fisher (1535) and Thomas Cromwell (1540).

In 1598, a German visitor to London, Paul Hentzner, counted over 30 heads on the Bridge.

John Evelyn’s Diary noted that the practice stopped in 1660, following the Restoration of King Charles II, but heads were reported at the site as late as 1772.

By 1722 congestion was becoming so serious that the Lord Mayor decreed that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of Southwark into this City do keep all along the west side of the Bridge, and all carts and coaches going out of the City do keep along the east side of the Bridge.”

This has been suggested as one possible origin for the practice of traffic in Britain driving on the left.

By 1762, all houses and shops on the Bridge had been demolished through an Act of Parliament.

Even so, the Bridge was narrow, decrepit and long past its useful life.

alt text

 

The New London Bridge (1831 – 1967) was completed in 1831, and was 928 feet / 283 metres long and 49 feet / 15 metres wide.

By 1896 the Bridge was the busiest point in London and one of its most congested: 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossed every hour.

This Bridge is a prominent landmark in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland“, wherein he compares the shuffling commuters across London Bridge to the hellbound souls of Limbo, the first circle of Hell, in Dante’s Inferno.

Subsequent surveys showed that the Bridge was sinking an inch / 2.5 cm every eight years.

By 1924 the east side of the Bridge had sunk 4 inches / 9 cm lower than the west side.

The Bridge would have to be removed and replaced.

In 1967 the City of London placed the Bridge on the market.

 

On 18 April 1868, the Bridge was purchased by Missouri oil entrepreneur Robert McCullough for US $2,460,000.

As the Bridge was dismantled, each piece was meticulously numbered, then shipped via the Panama Canal to California and then trucked from Long Beach to Lake Havasu City in Arizona.

This Bridge was rebuilt across the Bridgewater Channel canal and opened on 10 October 1971.

Gary Nunn’s song “London Homesick Blues” includes the lyrics:

Even London Bridge has fallen down and moved to Arizona.

Now I know why.

The modern, current London Bridge was opened on 17 March 1973, with a length of 928 feet / 283 metres.

 

Emerging from the London Bridge Tube Station I recall John Davidson’s poem “London Bridge” and think to myself that clearly Heathrow Airport hadn’t been built when he wrote it:

Inside the Station, everything’s so old,

So inconvenient, of such manifold

Perplexity, and, as a mole might see

So strictly what a Station shouldn’t be,

That no idea minifies the crude

And yet elaborate ineptitude.

The main line station is the oldest railway station in London fare zone 1 and one of the oldest in the world having opened on 14 December 1836.

It is one of two main line termini in London to the south of the River Thames (the other being Waterloo) and is the fourth-busiest station in London, handling over 50 million customers a year.

London Bridge tube stn Tooley Street entrance.JPG

 

In Tudor and Stuart London, the chief reason for crossing the Thames, to what is now Southwark, was to visit the disreputable Bankside for its pubs, brothels and bear-baiting pits around the south end of London Bridge.

Four hundred years later, Londoners have rediscovered the habit of heading to Southwark, thanks to the traffic-free riverside path and a wealth of top attractions, with the charge led by the mighty Tate Modern.

Of these attractions, the most educational and strangest is the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, at 9a St. Thomas Street.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum, St. Thomas St. - geograph.org.uk - 1073353.jpg

The operating theatre and garret (1822 – 1862) were originally part of St. Thomas Hospital, itself part of the Augustinian Priory of St. Mary Overie, founded in 1106.

The Priory, which stood on the present site of Southwark Cathedral, provided care for the poor and gave board and lodgings to pilgrims.

The “spital” of St. Mary Overie was named St. Thomas in 1173 in tribute to Thomas à Becket, the Christian martyr murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

When the Priory and the Hospital were destroyed by fire in 1212, the Bishop of Winchester, Pierre des Roches, paid for them to be rebuilt.

The new Hospital, independent of the Priory, was opened in 1215.

It continued to be staffed by monks and nuns, but surgical work was carried out by barbers since the Council of Tours (1163) had ordained that the shedding of blood was incompatible with holy office.

St. Thomas still provided hospitality for pilgrims.

 

Funds for the Hospital were largely provided by donations from individuals who believed giving to the poor would speed their spiritual journey to heaven.

One donation came from Alice de Bregerake who gifted her property in return for a yearly rent of one single rose.

 

(“There’s a lady who knows all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.“)

 

During the early 1500s, Southwark was a thriving community and St. Thomas was at its heart.

Within St. Thomas was the Southwark School of Glaziers, where the stained glass windows for King’s College Chapel in Cambridge were made.

In 1537, the first complete edition of the Holy Bible in English was completed here.

In January 1540 the Priory was dissolved by King Henry VIII, as part of his reforms of the church in England, and the Hospital closed.

In 1551 the Hospital was purchased and repaired by the City of London and two years later Henry’s son Edward VI awarded it a Royal Charter alongside four other London hospitals.

In 1681 fire led to the loss of 24 Hospital buildings.

By 1702 the main Hospital consisted of three grand classical courtyards.

 

In 1703, Dr. Richard Mead (1673 – 1754), one of London’s most famous physicians, was appointed to the Hospital staff.

At the time one of the most common ailments of St. Thomas in-patients, who were treated in the foul wards at the rear of the Hospital, was venereal disease.

Richard Mead 2.jpg

Above: Richard Mead

 

(Remember the aforementioned brothels?)

 

Mead’s recommended cure, aqua limacum (snail water), was included in the Pharmacopoeia Pauperum (a directory of medical treatments to be used in London hospitals) in 1718:

Take garden snails, cleansed and bruised, 6 gallons; earthworms, washed and bruised, 3 gallons; common wormwood, ground ivy and carduus, each one pound and half penny royal; juniper berries, fennel seeds, aniseeds, each half a pound; cloves and cubebs bruised, each 3 ounces; spirit of wine and spring water, of each 8 gallons.

Digest them together for the space of 24 hours and then draw it off in a common alembick.

This is admirably well contrived both for cheapness and efficacy.

It is as good a snail water as can be made….

Mostly given in consumption contracted for viscous practices and venereal contagions, this is the constant drink of those who are under the weakness and decays….

Grapevinesnail 01.jpg

Improvements to the facilities continued throughout the following 150 years.

 

St. Thomas’ Grand Committee Minutes of 21 October 1821 record that the women’s operating theatre be moved from the west end of one of the women’s wards and that “the herb garret over the church be fitted up and in future used as a theatre for such operations instead of the present theatre.

The new operating theatre opened in 1822.

 

John Flint South (1797 – 1882), the son of a Southwark druggist, began his medical training at St. Thomas in 1814.

He was appointed Conservator of the Hospital’s anatomy Museum in 1820 and was made Joint Lecturer in Anatomy in 1823.

In 1841 he was appointed surgeon at St. Thomas, a post he held until 1863.

He was also appointed surgeon to the Female Orphan Asylum in 1843.

South’s Career at St. Thomas spans the entire period of the Old Operating Theatre’s history and as such his memoir, John Flint South Memorials, published 20 years after his death, provides a remarkable insight into how the operating theatre functioned.

Above: John Flint South

 

The Murder Act of 1752 decreed that only executed murderers could be used for dissection, but this did not provide enough subjects for the medical and anatomical schools.

By the 19th century only about 56 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year, but with the expansion of medical schools as many as 500 cadavers were needed annually.

Body snatching – the secret removal of corpses from burial sites to sell them to medical schools – became so prevalent that it was not unusual for relatives and friends of someone who had just died to watch over the body until burial and then keep watch after burial to stop it being violated.

Interfering with a grave was a misdemeanour, not a felony, and therefore only punishable with a fine and imprisonment rather than exile or execution.

The body snatching trade was a sufficiently lucrative business to run the risk of detection, particularly as the authorities ignored what they considered a necessary evil.

In Edinburgh, during 1827 and 1828, William Burke and William Hare brought a new dimension to the trade of selling corpses “to the doctors” by murdering rather than grave robbing and supplying their victims’ fresh corpses for medical dissection.

The murders raised public awareness of the need for bodies for medical research and contributed to the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832, which allowed unclaimed bodies and those donated by relatives to be used for the study of anatomy and required the licensing of anatomy teachers, effectively ending the body snatching trade.

 

When pioneering health reformer, Florence Nightingale, returned to London from the Crimean War in 1856 she set up a fund “to establish and control an institute for the training, sustenance and protection of nurses paid and unpaid.

The specialist training of nurses was not universally supported and many doctors viewed it as a threat to their authority.

The work left for nurses, it was believed, required little more than “on-the-job” training.

There were prejudices too against “delicate“, educated women undertaking manual work or having contact with the coarse realities of the hospital wards.

However, Nightingale was an influential and convincing advocate for reform.

The Nightingale Fund raised almost 50,000 pounds.

She chose to establish her School of Nursing at St. Thomas.

The two main deciding factors were Nightingale’s admiration for Sarah Wardroper, St. Thomas Matron and Superintendent of Nurses, and the fact that the Hospital would soon move to a new site where the School could be built to the latest, Nightingale-inspired plan.

The School of Nursing opened at the St. Thomas Southwark site on 24 June 1860 with 15 students.

Florence Nightingale (H Hering NPG x82368).jpg

Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

 

In June 1862, the Hospital moved to make way for a railway line to Charing Cross.

 

With the move, the operating theatre, situated in the attic of St. Thomas Church, was sealed up and lay in darkness for nearly a century.

After the Hospital closed the only access to the roof space of the Church was through an opening, 20 metres above floor level, in the north wall of the first floor chamber of the bell tower.

 

In 1956, Raymond Russell (1922 – 1964), while researching the history of St. Thomas decided to investigate the attic.

He found the garret in darkness, the skylight above the operating theatre had been replaced by slates and the other windows were black with a century of dirt.

Russell’s find was extraordinary:

No other early 19th century operating theatre in Europe has survived.

Image showing operating table and viewing galleries in the operating theatre

It is likely that the use of the garret of St. Thomas as a Hospital apothecary dates back to the present Church’s construction in 1703.

Hooks, ropes and nail holes in the roof and dried opium poppy heads discovered under the floorboards in the 1970s are all evidence of the garret’s former use.

Herbs have been used as medicine since ancient times and before the development of the chemical industry, medicinal compounds were made from natural materials, mostly plants.

Even today, the majority of medicines originate from plant sources.

At St. Thomas, quantities of herbs were purchased from a visiting “herb woman” and the Hospital had its own botanical garden and apothecary’s shop within its grounds.

The apothecary was the chief resident medical officer of the Hospital and was responsible for prescriptions for surgical cases and, in the absence of the physician, for dispensing medicine to all the Hospital’s patients.

In 1822 part of the Herb Garret was converted into a purpose-built operating theatre.

The patients were mainly poor people who were expected to contribute to their care if they could afford it.

Rich patients were treated and operated on at home, probably on the kitchen table, rather than in hospital.

The patients at the Old Operating Theatre were all women.

 

A description of the students packing the theatre to witness an operation has been left by Dr. South:

The operating theatre was of utterly inadequate size for the numbers of pupils who congregated….

The general arrangement of all the theatres was the same: a semicircular floor and rows of semicircular standings, rising above one another to the large skylight which lit the theatre.

On the floor the surgeon operating, with his dressers, other surgeons and apprentices and the visitors stood about the table, upon which the patient lay, so placed that the best possible view of what was going on was given to all present.

The floor was separated by a partition from the rising stand-places, the first two rows were occupied by the other dressers.

Behind a second partition stood the pupils, packed like herrings in a Barrel, but not so quiet, as those behind them were continually pressing on those before and were continually struggling to relieve themselves of it, and had not infrequently to be got out exhausted.

There was also a continual calling out of “Heads, Heads” to those about the table whose heads interfered with the sightseers.

The confusion and crushing was indeed at all times very great, especially when any operation of importance was to be performed.

I have often known even the floor so crowded that the surgeon could not operate till it had been partially cleared.”

 

Patients put up with the audience in their distress because they received medical treatment from some of the best surgeons in the land, which they otherwise they could not afford.

The majority of cases were for amputations or superficial complaints as, without antiseptic conditions, it was too dangerous to do internal operations.

The risk of death at the hands of a surgeon was likely, as there was a lack of understanding of the causes of infection.

Beneath the table was a sawdust box for collecting blood.

The death rate was further heightened by the shock of the operation and because operations took place as a last resort, patients tended to have few reserves of strength.

Until 1847, surgeons had no recourse to anaesthetics and depended on swift technique, the mental preparation of the patient, and alcohol or opiates to dull the patient’s senses.

 

(Dr. Robert Liston (1794 – 1847) was described as “the fastest knife in the West End. 

He could amputate a leg in 2 1/2 minutes.

Indeed he is reputed to have been able to complete operations in a matter of seconds, at a time when speed was essential to reduce pain and improve the odds of survival of a patient.)

Portrait of Robert Liston painted in 1847 by Samuel John Stump

Above: Robert Liston

 

After 1847, ether or choloroform was used.

 

The small room at the side of the Theatre was used to spare the patient the sudden alarm of being brought straight into the Theatre full of students, with the operating table and instruments on view.

Soon after….another female was brought in blindfolded and placed on to the table for the purpose of undergoing an operation for the removal of the leg below the knee.

(The Lancet, October 1829)

 

These were the days before antisepsis (eliminating possible infection in the wound after the operation) or asepsis (avoiding any contamination from the start).

Unsterilized clothes were blood and pus stained while undisinfected hands used undisinfected instruments and sponges from previous operations.

In those days, “surgeons operated in blood-stiffened frock coats – the stiffer the coat, the prouder the busy surgeon“. (Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes)

Holmes c. 1879

Above: American Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809 – 1894)

 

There was no object in being clean.

Indeed cleanliness was out of place.

It was considered to be finicky and affected.

An executioner might as well manicure his nails before chopping off a head.” (Sir Frederick Treves)

Image-Fredericktreves.jpg

Above: Frederick Treves (1853 – 1923)

 

No one wore a face mask or rubber gloves.

There were no blood transfusions nor vaccines.

Neurosurgery, cataract surgery, cardiac surgery, transplant surgery, Caesarian sections and hip replacements were either unknown or too dangerous to attempt.

 

Charles Bell (1774 – 1842), in his Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery (1821), describes the five most complex operations undertaken during the time of the Old Operating Theatre.

Below is a description of what the visitor would expect to see:

To one side a table with instruments, covered with a cloth to preserve the edges of the cutting instruments.

On it we expect to see:

  1. A large cushion with tenacula (sharp hooks), needles, pins and forceps.
  2. Ligatures (binding materials) of every variety, well arranged.
  3. Adhesive straps, well made and not requiring heating, but if they should, let chafing dishes be at hand.
  4. Lint, compresses, flannel and calico bandages, double and single headed rollers, tow, cereate spread on lint.  Let there be no want of sponges, so that when the surgeon calls for a sponge, you have not to seek it among the patient’s clothes.  When a sponge falls among the sand, let it be not necessary to touch the wound with it.
  5. Wine and water and hartshorn (ammonia solution used as smelling salts).
  6. A kettle of hot water, a stoup (flagon) of cold water, basins, bucket, plenty of towels, apron and sleeves.”

Photograph of Sir Charles Bell

Above: Scottish Dr. Charles Bell (1774 – 1842)

 

On the wall are two inscriptions:

 

Miseratione non Mercede (Latin for “For compassion, not for gain“)

 

The other sets out the Regulations for the Theatre as approved by the Hospital’s surgeons:

Apprentices and the dressers of the surgeon who operates are to stand around the table.

The dressers of the other surgeons are to occupy the three front rows.

The surgeon’s pupils are to take their places in the rows above.

Visitors are admitted by permission of the surgeon who operates.

 

The blackboard is a reminder of the Theatre’s use for lectures as a report in The Lancet of November 1923 records:

25 November 1923:  At half past one this day, the following clinical remarks were delivered by Mr. Travers, in the female operating theatre, in reference more particularly to the case of compound fracture….

 

The operating table is made of Scots pine, has four stout legs, and at 60 cm high is low by modern standards.

It has an inclined headboard and a long wooden slide extension at the foot end.

The table stands with the foot end towards the audience.

Beneath the table is the aforementioned wooden box of sawdust.

Distinguished visitors (generally foreign professors) were given seats on chairs, stools or a bench at the foot of the table.

The two small side tables held instruments and equipment.

The cupboard contained the instruments, dressing materials and lotions.

There is a wash stand, also of Scots pine, holding a small basin and ewer of blue and white china.

Above this is a tiny looking glass and a row of pegs from which hang the purple frock coats with grocer’s bib and apron.

A low sturdy wooden chair is used by the surgeon chiefly for cases of piles (hemorrhoids) and leg amputations.

 

The Museum also contains a collection of artefacts revealing the horrors of medicine before the age of science, including instruments for cupping (skin sunction), bloodletting, trepanning (drilling a circular hole in the skull) and childbirth.

There are also displays on monastic health care, the history of St. Thomas’s, Florence Nightingale and nursing, medical and herbal medicine.

 

Once upon a time body snatchers stole corpses so doctors could practice their skills and students learn anatomy.

Once upon a time doctors created more corpses and snatched lives from bodies than surviving patients.

Now doctors snatch many bodies from the jaws of death and generally make them whole.

 

Without Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, ancient Greek and Islamic medicine….

Without the trials and errors of dissection and pathological examinations….

Without the development of cell and neuron and molecular theory….

We would not have evolved to the discoveries and understanding of the body that we as a civilization now possess.

Without an understanding of blood circulation, the evolution of dealing with mental illness, the discovery of germs and the dangers of insects, the founding of the talking cures of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, the study of hormones and immunology, the genetic revelation of genes and genomes, could we have a fighting chance in understanding health and disease in the manner that we do.

Without the stethoscope, the microscope, the hypodermic syringe, the thermometer, x-rays and radiotherapy, the sphygmomanometer (blood pressure measurement), the defibrillator, lasers, the endoscope, ultrasound and CT (computerized tomographic) scanning, MRI (magnetic resonance Imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography), the incubator and medical robots, we would lack the tools that doctors need to heal us and prolong our lives.

Mankind has survived the plague, typhus, cholera, puerperal fever, tuberculosis, influenza, smallpox, polio, cancer and AIDS, and thanks to great discoveries in medicine, though the battle against these scourges remains inconclusive, we still have a greater opportunity to overcome than prior generations had.

Opium provides pleasure and pain relief, quinine treats malaria, digitalis is a tonic for the heart, penicillin cures syphilis and gangrene, the birth control pill offers a woman freedom, drugs for the mind ease mental suffering, ventolin helps us breathe easier, Insulin aids the diabetic, dialysis cleans the kidney, statins lower our cholesterol and vitamins compensate for whatever our diets may lack.

Wounds are properly dressed, anaesthesia makes surgery painless, operations are clean, blood is transfused, exploration of the brain is possible, eyesight can be restored, mothers are less likely to die giving birth, hearts can be healed, organs transplanted, hips replaced and scars reduced by less invasive keyhole methods.

 

Truly, compared to the past, we live in an age of miracles.

 

Sometimes we take modern medicine for granted.

Stand in the middle of the Old Operating Theatre and be reminded how lucky we are to live in this day and age and how far we have travelled to get here.

Above: The Rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and Medicine

Sources: Wikipedia / William and Helen Bynum, Great Discoveries in Medicine / The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret Museum Guide / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / http://www.thegarret.org.uk

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

In this season of goodwill and gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy, those who are healthy should especially be thankful, for we live in an age when life expectancy is higher because mankind has developed medicines and methods to extend life and restore health.

Granted there is still much significant progress needed, for far too many people still fall victim to the scourges of cancer and strokes.

There is still much we do not understand about diseases like Parkinson´s, AIDS and far too many others to comprehensively list here.

Even the common cold with its endless variety of mutations remains unsolvable and must simply be accepted as one of the countless burdens we must endure in life.

What is significant about today when compared with yesteryear is that common injuries are less likely to be fatal.

As well through the contributions of thoughtful compassionate innovators, our attitudes towards the care of the injured and ailing have improved.

Here in Switzerland and back in my homeland of Canada I have been hospitalized due to injuries caused by accidents: a fall from a tree (shattered shoulder), an axe slip (shattered foot), and a fall on a staircase (shattered wrist).

And though I also have medical conditions of anemia and celiac, neither these conditions nor the accidents I have had led to risks of fatality.

For prompt and compassionate medical attention provided to me ensured that I still live a functional, mostly painless, and happy healthy existence.

For the Christian West, Christmas is the season to show thanksgiving to God for sending His Son Jesus Christ to save our immortal souls, we also should not forget the human instruments of change that have assisted mankind to save our mortal flesh.

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I married a doctor, and, even though she is a children´s physician, knowing her has given me an appreciation of just how difficult a profession medicine really is at all levels of medical treatment.

From the surgeon whose precision must be matched with efficiency, to the specialist doctor whose diagnosis must be accurately matched with the most likely cause of the patient´s symptoms, to the technicians who operate machinery that can reveal the interior of a patient´s body, to the family doctor who must know when to send a patient to a specialist and when to trust his/her own treatment, to the pharmacist that must know what medicines do and how to administer them, to the administrator who must balance the needs of patients with the cost of maintaining those needs, to the cleaning staff who ensure that the health care environment is as sterile as humanly possible, to the therapist who teaches the patient how to heal him/herself, to the nurse who monitors and comforts the bedbound sick person unable to fend for him/herself…..

The world of health care is a complex and complicated system demanding dedicated people and a neverending desire to improve itself.

A visit to a London museum two months ago has made me consider how grateful I am that an Englishwoman had the courage to be compassionate, Christian, and transformed the world for the better.

London, England, 24 October 2017

As mentioned in great detail in my blogpost Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar my wife and I visited Westminster Abbey, that necrophiliac fetish house for the Establishment.

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And folks whether or not they were avowed antiestablishment found themselves commemorated here.

The poet Shelley, despite wishing to be known as an anarchist artist and was buried in Rome, is memorialised here in Poets´ Corner, across from Viscount Castlereagh, a man Shelley loathed.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

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Above: Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769 – 1822)

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

Before leaving the Abbey, we briefly visited the Undercroft Museum with its death-worshipping collection of royal funeral effigies.

Until the Middle Ages, British monarchs were traditionally embalmed and left to lie in state for a set period of time.

Eventually, the corpse was substituted for a wooden figure of the deceased, fully dressed with clothes from the Great Wardrobe and displayed on top of the funeral carriage for the final journey.

As the clothes were expected to fit the effegy perfectly, the likenesses found in the Undercroft are probably fairly accurate.

Edward III´s face has a strange leer, a recreation of the stroke he suffered in his final years.

Above: Westminster Abbey effigy of Edward III (1312 – 1377)

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

Several soldiers are known as the Ragged Regiment due to their decrepit decay.

Frances, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, holds what may be the world´s oldest stuffed bird, an African Grey parrot that died in 1702.

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that Frances was the greatest beauty he had ever seen.

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

Sadly her final fate no different than that of her parrot.

Leaving the Abbey we see the Methodist Central Hall, an inadequate and unnecessary replacement to the building that once stood here.

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On this site once stood the Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden, opened in 1876, a grand Victorian entertainment venue.

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It housed palm trees, restaurants, an art gallery, an orchestra, a skating rink, the Imperial Theatre, smoking and reading rooms.

A variety of sea creatures were displayed here, but the Aquarium was often plagued by frequent plumbing problems, so the place became better known for the exciting performances staged here than for the fish.

Come one, come all.

See William Leonard Hunt, aka the Great Farini, the world renowned Canadian showman and tightrope walker!

Above: William Hunt, aka the Great Farini (1838 – 1929)

Gasp in awe at 14-year-old Rossa Matilda Richter, aka Zazel, the first ever human cannonball, as she (barely 5 feet tall and 64 lbs heavy) is launched through the air flying 30 feet or more!

Above: Rossa Richter, aka Zazel (1863 – 1929)

Protests were launched over the danger Zazel faced and for a while the venue was in danger of losing its license but crowds kept coming to see the performances.

By the 1890s the Aquarium´s reputation became disreputable and it became known as a place where ladies of poor character went in search of male companions.

The Great Farini and Zazel were one thing, but an Aquarium of ill repute was too much for Victorian propriety to accept.

The Aquarium closed in 1899 and was demolished four years later.

In 1905 construction began on the Hall for Methodists, Christianity´s least entertaining sect.

We headed towards the Thames and followed Millbank Road to a place which suffered the opposite fate of the Aquarium.

While the Aquarium lost its aura of entertainment and was replaced by a stodgy religious institute, opposite the Tate Britain Museum is an almost invisible plaque upon an unremarkable bollard that tells the reader that where the entertaining Tate stands once stood Millbank Prison.

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Above: Tate Britain

Millbank was built to serve as the National Petientiary and was used as a holding facility for convicts due for transportation to Australia.

“Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890.

This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

Novelist Henry James called Millbank “a worse act of violence than any it was erected to punish”.

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

The phrase “down under” is said to be derived from a nearby tunnel through which the convicts were walked in chains down to the river.

A section of the tunnel survives in the cellars of the nearby Morpeth Arms, a pub built to seve the prison warden and said to be haunted by the ghost of a former inmate.

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Depending on their crime, prisoners could be given the choice of receiving a five-to-ten-year jail sentence instead of exile.

Among the many to be sent to Australia – and perhaps the unluckiest of them all – was Isaac Solomon, a convicted pickpocket and the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens´ Oliver Twist.

Above: Isaac “Ikey” Solomon (1727 – 1850)

In 1827 Solomon managed to escape while being taken to Newgate Prison.

He fled England to New York, but then travelled on to Tasmania when he discovered his wife had been transported there for crimes of her own.

Upon arrival in Tasmania, Solomon was rearrested, shipped home to London, retried, reconvicted and sentenced to exiled imprisonment for 14 years….back to Tasmania.

We made our weaving way to Pimlico Tube Station, a unique station in that it doesn´t  have an interchange with another Underground or National Rail Line.

We rode the rails until Waterloo, the last station to provide steam-powered services and the busiest railway station in London / the 91st busiest in the world / the busiest transport hub in Europe.

I had once taken the Eurostar from Waterloo Station to Paris as one of the 81,891,738 travellers during the 13 years (1994 – 2007) Eurostar operated from here, before it began service from St. Pancras.

The clock at Waterloo has been cited as one of the most romantic spots for a couple to meet, and has appeared in TV (Only Fools and Horses) and in the film Man Up.

Waterloo Station has appeared in literature (Three Men in a Boat, The Wrong Box, The War of the Worlds), films (Terminus, Rush Hour, Sliding Doors), theatre (The Railway Children), music (the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset”) and paintings.

Our destination – typical of travelling with a doctor – a hospital, St. Thomas Hospital, noteworthy for a male serial killer and a lady humanitarian.

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Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish Canadian serial killer who claimed victims from the United States, England, Canada and Scotland.

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Above: Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850 – 1892)

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

He attended Montreal´s McGill University and then did his post-graduate training at St. Thomas.

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

He then returned to Canada to practice in London, Ontario.

In August 1879, Kate Gardener, a woman with whom he was having an affair, was found dead in an alleyway behind Cream´s office, pregnant and poisoned.

Cream claimed that she had been made pregnant by a prominent local businessman, but after being accused of both murder and blackmail, Cream fled to the United States.

Cream established a medical practice not far from the red light district of Chicago, offering illegal abortions to prostitutes.

In December 1880 another patient died after treatment by Cream, followed by another in April 1881.

On 14 July 1881, Danial Stott died of poisoning, after Cream supplied him a remedy for epilepsy.

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

Cream was released in 1891, after Governor Joseph Fifer commuted his sentence.

Using money inherited from his father, Cream sailed for England.

He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road.

At that time, Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.

On 13 October 1891, Nellie Donworth, a 19-year-old prostitute accepted a drink from Cream.

She died three days later.

On 20 October, Cream met 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover.

She died the next morning.

On 2 April 1892, after a vacation in Canada, Cream was back in London where he attempted to poison Louise Harvey.

Above: Louise Harvey

On 11 April, Cream met two prostitutes, Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell. 18, and talked his way into their flat.

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.

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Both women died in agony.

On 3 June 1892, Cream was arrested and was later sentenced to death.

On 15 November, Cream was hanged on the gallows at Newgate Prison and his body buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls.

Cream´s name does not appear in later McGill graduate directories.

No mention of those who mourned Cream´s victims is made either.

Ladies of the night lost in the shadows of Lambeth lamplight, fallen and forgotten.

Another medical professional is equally remembered at a site as inconspicuous as a prison burial ground: a parking lot.

On the south side of Westminster Bridge, a series of red brick Victorian blocks and modern white additions make up St. Thomas´s Hospital, founded in the 12th century.

At the Hospital´s northeastern corner, off Lambeth Palace Road, is a car park.

A hospital car park isn´t the most obvious location for a museum, but that where one finds the homage to Florence Nightingale, the genteel rebel who invented the nursing profession.

Born on 12 May 1820 at the Villa Colombaia, three decades before Cream, Florence Nightingale was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy.

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

“There is nothing like the tyranny of a good English family.”

Florence was born into a rich, well-connected family though quite liberal in their attitudes.

Their circle of friends and acquaintances included the author Elizabeth Gaskell, the scientist Charles Darwin and the reform politician the Earl of Shaftesbury.

(For the story of the Earl of Shaftesbury, please see Canada Slim and the Outcast of this blog.)

Her maternal grandfather William Smith campaigned to abolish slavery and Florence´s father William Nightingale educated both her and her sister Frances Parthenope (after her birthplace of Parthenope, Naples) in French, Latin, German, mathematics, philosophy and science, then considered strictly male pursuits,

The Nightingales loved to travel – her parents´ honeymoon lasted so long that they produced two daughters before they returned home.

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

She enjoyed visiting museums, dancing at balls, and going to concerts, confessing at one point that she was “music mad”.

In 1838, her father took the family on a tour of Europe where they were introduced to the English-born Parisian heiress Mary Clarke, with whom Florence bonded.

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Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

Clarke was a stimulating hostess who did not care for her appearance, and while her ideas did not always agree with those of her guests, “she was incapable of boring anyone”.

Clarke´s behaviour was said to be exasperating and eccentric and she had no respect for upper class British women, whom she regarded generally as inconsequential.

She said that if given the choice between being a woman or a galley slave, she would choose the galleys.

Clarke generally rejected female company and spent her time with male intellectuals.

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

They were to remain close friends for 40 years despite their 27-year age difference.

Clarke demonstrated that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence did not obtain from her mother Fanny Smith.

Florence underwent the first of several experiences that she believed were calls from God in February 1837 while at her family home of Embley Park, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others.

Above: Embley Park

Devout and scholarly, Florence was not expected to do anything much apart from marry and procreate.

As a young woman, Florence was attractive, slender and graceful.

She had rich brown hair, a delicate complexion and a prominent, almost Roman, nose.

She was slim until middle age and tall for a Victorian woman, about 5´8″ or 172 cm in height.

While her demeanour was often severe, she was very charming and possessed a radiant smile.

Florence received several marriage proposals.

She was certainly not supposed to work, but Florence´s ambition was to become a nurse.

Her parents were aghast.

In the Victorian Age, nurses were known for being devious, dishonest and drunken.

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

The rich were treated in the privacy of their own homes.

In her youth Florence was respectful of her family´s opposition to her working as a nurse, but nonetheless she announced her decision to enter the field in 1844.

Despite the intense anger and distress of her mother and sister, Florence rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status to become a wife and mother.

“I craved for something worth doing instead of frittering time away on useless trifles.”

Florence came closest to accepting the marriage proposal of politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him in 1849, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.

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Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

Whether Milnes´ devotion to the writing of Marquis de Sade and his extensive collection of erotica had something to do with Florence´s decision remains unstated.

She knew that marriage would mean swapping one cage for another and felt that God meant her to remain single.

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

I hated the idea of being tied forever to a life of Society, and such a marriage could I have.” 

In the essay Cassandra, Florence wrote about the limited choices facing women like her and raged against the way women were unable to put their energy and intelligence to better use.

Florence´s parents allowed her to visit Rome in 1847 with family friends, Charles and Selina Bracebridge, hopefully to take her mind off nursing.

In Rome, Florence met the young politician, former Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert on his honeymoon with his wife Elizabeth.

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Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

Together Florence and Elizabeth visited convents and hospitals run by Catholic nuns.

Sidney and Florence became lifelong close friends and the Herberts would later be insturmental in facilitating Florence´s future nursing work.

Florence continued her travels with the Bracebridges as far as Greece and Egypt.

Her writings on Egypt in particular are testimony to her learning, literaray skill and philosophy of life.

Sailing up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel in January 1850, Florence wrote of the temples there:

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Above: The temples of Abu Simbel: the Great Temple of Ramses II (left), the Temple of Nefertari (right)

“Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering …. not a feature is correct – but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined.

It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”

At Thebes, Florence wrote of being “called to God”.

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

“God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him alone without reputation.”

During a visit to the Parthenon in Athens, Florence rescued an owl, which she called Athena.

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Above: The Parthenon

Athena always perched on Florence´s shoulder or in her pocket, with a specially designed pouch to to catch her droppings.

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Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

Athena was a demanding creature who had to be bathed with sand daily.

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

“Poor little beastie, it was odd how much I loved you.”

Her sister Frances wrote a short story, The Life and Death of Athena, ensuring the little owl´s posthumous fame.

Rather than forget nursing as her parents hoped, Florence´s determination grew even stronger.

Later in 1850, Florence visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein, near Dusseldorf, in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the poor and the sick in a hospital, orphanage and college.

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

She regarded the Kaiserswerth experience as a turning point in her life, where she received months of medical training which would form the basis for her later care.

Florence learned about medicines, how to dress wounds, observed amputations and cared for the sick and dying.

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

On 22 August 1853, Florence took the post of Superintendant at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street in London, a position she held until October 1854.

When an epidemic of cholera broke out in London, Florence rushed to nurse victims in the nearby Middlesex Hospital.

Florence read about the disaster facing the British army in the autumn of 1854.

Hundreds of soldiers were sent to fight with the French and the Ottoman Turks against the Tsar´s Russian army in the Crimea were dying of disease.

The Crimean War was the first time the public could read in the newspapers about how the troops were suffering.

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

When the news broke of the disaster in the Army, polticians were criticised.

More soldiers were dying from disease, and from cold during the winter, than from enemy action.

“In most cases the flesh and clothes were frozen together.

As for feet, the boots had to be cut off bit by bit, the flesh coming off with them.”

The wounded arrived by the boatloads at the British Army´s base hospitals at Scutari in Constantinople (today´s Istanbul).

Reporting from the front lines in the Crimea, William Howard Russell, Times journalist, blamed disorganization and a lack of supplies.

Fellow Times journalist in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, reported that the French allowed women to nurse, unlike the British.

After the initial battles in the Crimea, the conflict centred on the besieged port of Sebastopol, where Russian and Ukranian women nursed heroically.

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Above: The Siege of Sebastopol (September 1854 – September 1855), by Franz Roubaud (1902)

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

“Must men die in agony unheeded?”, demanded the Times.

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

Sidney Herbert, once again Secretary of War, wrote to Florence asking her to lead a group of women nurses – a new and risky idea.

Florence and her team of 38 brave women volunteer nurses that she trained and 15 Catholic nuns set sail for Scutari.

Florence arrived early November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari and found that poor care for wounded soldiers was being delivered by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference.

Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected and mass infections were common, many of them fatal.

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

There was a lack of food, a lack of blankets, a lack of beds.

Casualities arrived, after a long journey, dirty and starving.

“It is of appalling horror!

These poor fellows suffer with unshrinking heroism, and die or are cut up without complaint.

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

At Scutari the nurses had to contend with rats, lice, cockroaches and an absence of sanitation and had to cope with long hours and hard physical work.

After Florence sent a plea to the Times for a government solution to the poor condition of the facilities, the British Government commissioned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles.

A 19th century man wearing a jacket, trousers and waistcoat, with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in mouth, wearing a tall stovepipe top hat, standing in front of giant iron chains on a drum.

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

The result was Renkioi Hospital, a civilian facility that had a death rate less than one tenth that of Scutari.

Florence reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making improvements in hygiene.

She implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital.

She organized the nurses and soldiers´ wives to clean shirts and sheets and the men to empty the toilets.

She bombarded Herbert with letters asking for supplies and used her own money and funds sent by the public via the Times, to buy scrubbing brushes and buckets, blankets, bedpans and operating tables.

“This morning I foraged in the purveyor´s store – a cruise I make almost daily, as the only way of getting things.  I am really cook, housekeeper, scavenger, washerwoman, general dealer and storekeeper.”

Every night she walked miles of hospital corridors where thousands of casualities lay, holding a Turkish lantern (fanoos) on her nightly rounds of the wards.

Florence would always dismiss the idea that she alone improved the Hospital.

It was a team effort.

In Britain, penny papers popularised the image of “the Lady with the Lamp” patrolling the wards.

Her work went beyond nursing care.

Florence treated the soldiers equally, whatever their rank, and also thought of their families´ welfare.

She wrote letters of condolence to relatives, sent money to widows, and answered inquiries about the missing or ill.

When the initial crisis was over, Florence also organized reading rooms.

As an alternative to alcohol, the Inkerman Café was opened, serving non-alcoholic drinks.

She set up a banking system so ordinary soldiers could send their pay home, rather than drink or gamble it away.

Stories of Florence´s devotion to the men flooded home to Britain.

One soldier wrote home of the love and gratitude for Florence felt by “hundreds of great rough soldiers”.

The men worshipped her.

During her first winter at Scutari, 4,077 soldiers died.

Ten times more soldiers died from diseases such as typhoid, typhus, cholera and dysentary than from battle wounds.

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

With overcrowding eased, defective sewers flushed out and ventilation improved, death rates were sharply reduced.

Florence still believed that the death rates were due to poor nutrition, lack of supplies, stale air and overworking of the soldiers.

She came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions.

Florence believed that she needed to maintain military style discipline over her nurses.

“If a patient is cold, if a patient is feverish, if a patient is faint, if he is sick after taking food, if he has a bed-sore, it is generally the fault not of the disease but of the nursing.”

She wanted her nurses to be treated with respect by the men and doctors.

This meant no flirting with doctors or soldiers, no disobedience or drunkenness.

The first image showing Florence as “the Lady with the Lamp” appeared in the Illustrated London News early in 1855.

As the war dragged on, Florence´s work made her internationally famous.

“She is a ministering angel without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow´s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

Florence hated what she called the “buzz fuzz” of celebrity, but she knew how to use public opinion.

Fame gave her power and influence to make changes, but she knew it obscured the achievements of others and the human cost of the war.

Florence´s image appeared as pottery figurines, souvenirs and even on paper bags.

Songs and poems were written about her.

When the US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published “Santa Philomena” in 1857, it fixed Florence´s image forever as the Lady with the Lamp.

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

After contracting “Crimean fever” from infected goat´s milk, Florence suffered ill health.

After the Crimean War, Florence returned to Britain in August 1856, travelling under the name “Miss Smith” to avoid publicity.

Thin, exhausted and ill, she felt a sense of failure and grieved over the soldiers who did not return.

“My poor men lying in your Crimean graves, I stand at the altar of murdered men.

Florence devoted the rest of her life to ensure that they did not die in vain.

While Florence shrank from public appearances, she skillfully used her reputation and the authority of her name to convincethose in power of the need for health reform, starting with Queen Victoria, whom she impressed greatly when they met in Balmoral.

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Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

For the rest of her days she would continue to suffer reoccuring bouts of fever, exhaustion, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia and severe back pain.

Unable to continue nursing, she devoted herself to health reform, founded the first training school for nurses at St. Thomas, campaigned to improve hospital conditions and championed the cause of midwives.

Often irritable, highly critical of herself and others, Florence worked on, writing hundreds of letters, gathering and analysing statistics, commenting on reports, briefing politicians and medical experts.

Prompted by the Indian mutiny of 1857, Florence began a lifelong campaign to improve the health of all Indians, not just British soldiers.

She studied the design of hospitals in Britain and across Europe.

Florence wrote Notes on Nursing to help ordinary women care for their families.

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She stressed the importance of cleanliness, warmth, fresh air, light and proper diet.

Florence wrote some 200 books, pamphlets and articles, and over 14,000 letters.

As well as nursing she wrote about religion and philosophy, sanitation and army hygiene, hospitals, statistics and India.

She wrote about her travels and the frustrations of life for educated women.

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

She believed in looking after a person´s mental as well as physical wellbeing.

She stressed the importance of being sensitive to a patient´s needs and their environment to aid recovery.

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

Her work proved an inspiration to many, including the founder of the Red Cross movement, Henri Dunant.

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

Florence championed causes that are as just important today as they were in her day, from hospital hygiene and management, to the nursing of soldiers during war and afterwards, and healthcare for all around the world.

In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge is taken by new nurses.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday.

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The Florence Nightingale Museum doesn´t just celebrate Florence as a devout woman who single-mindedly revolutionized the healthcare industry but as well it hits the right note by putting the two years she spent tending to the wounded of the Crimean War in the context of a lifetime of tireless social campaigning, and also mentions others involved in that same health care crisis.

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Dimly lit and curiously curated with circular display cases covered in fake grass or wrapped in bandages, this small museum is packed with fascinating exhibits, from Florence´s hand-written ledgers and primitive medical instruments to pamplets with titles like How People May Live and Not Die in India.

The Museum and the neighbourhood of Lambeth are worth exploring, especially in a world too full of Dr. Creams and too few Florence Nightingales.

Perhaps if our politicians visited more museums like the Red Cross Museum in Geneva or the Florence Nightingale Museum there might less incentive to cause war ourselves or to ignore wars far removed from us, such as Yemen – “a pointless conflict (that) has caused the world´s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Perhaps if we followed role models such as Florence we might one day truly find peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum / http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk

 

Canada Slim and the 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.

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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.

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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 Holiday Chronicles

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 16 November 2017

I hate November: shorter days (dawn still incomplete after 6 am, dusk already started at 1600), grey clouds ever threatening rain, blocking the sun by day and the stars by night.

November with its month flower, the chrysanthemum, a symbol of adversity, grief and death.

And I miss seeing the Lake under blue skies by day and the stars beyond my grasp overhead above the lamplightless-after-midnight streets that usually makes life for me in Landschlacht worthwhile.

I like slipping outside onto our balcony, sprawl upon a deck chair and gaze out upon a sky full of stars.

(See Thus one journeys to the stars of this blog regarding star spotting in Landschlacht and Zürich.)

I wish it were August again and we were once again exploring Italy….

(For a description of the journey through Switzerland and Italy leading to Como, please see Canada Slim and the Evil Road, …..and the Apostle of Violence, …..and the Road to the Open,……and the Quest for George Clooney, …..and the Injured Queen, …..and the Isle of Silence, …..and the Inappropriate Statues, …..and the Life Electric, …..and the Distant Bench, …..and the Smarter Woman, of this blog.)

 

Lake Como, Italy, 3 August 2017

It was the kind of road my wife both loved and hated: curvy with high vistas of great scenery, but demanding constant alertness for traffic and pedestrians with no more sense than God gave a cantalope.

There are three big lakes in Italy which reach a depth of more than 300 metres and cover an area of hundreds of square kilometres.

The most west is Lago Maggiore, the most east is Lago di Garda, the central one is Lago di Como.

Lago di Como is distinguishable from its charateristic shape of an upside-down “Y”.

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(The Lake of Constance is distinguishable as an eastwardly swimming fish.)

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The triangle formed by the two branches of the Lago is named the Triangolo lariano. (the Larius Triangle)(Larius is the Latin name for the Lago.)

The eastern shore of Lago di Como, stretching from flat marshes in the north to the lake´s right leg, Lago Lecco, overshadowed by the sawlike ridge of Monte Resegone, is often as sunless as November on the southern shore of the Lake of Constance (Bodensee) is.

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This lack of direct sunlight consequently means that the eastern shore is less visited than the western.

There are few places to stay and and these are not easily accessible scattered among and between the quiet villages that line the shore from Como to Bellagio.

The S5340 feels like an old military road, less concerned with tourist infrastructure as it is with the simple linkage of the lakeside communities.

We left Como after a stay of three glorious days and nights, from the Sant´ Agostino quarter, passed the funicular that runs to Brunate, ascending away from the city.

We reached Blevio with its Villa Taglioni, which once belonged to the Swedish ballet dancer Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884), the daughter of an Italian choreographer father and a Swedish ballerina mother.

Above: Marie Taglioni

Taglioni was a central figure in the history of European dance and she is credited with being the first ballerina to truly dance en pointe.

Taglioni was married to Comte Auguste Gilbert de Voisins in 1832, but separated in 1836.

She later fell in love with Eugene Desmares, a loyal fan, who had defended her honour in a duel.

He later died in a hunting accident.

When her father Filippo was appointed the ballet master at the court opera in Vienna, there was a decision that Marie would debut her dancing career in the Habsburg capital.

Her father created a rigourous six-month training program where she would hold positions for 100 counts.

Her training was conducted daily and consisted of two hours in the morning with difficult exercises focusing on her legs and two hours in the afternoon focusing on adagio movements that would help her refine poses in ballet.

She focused her energy on her shape and form and less on bravura tricks and pirouettes.

Taglioni would dance in her father´s court opera ballet as well as in Munich and Stuttgart before joining the Paris Opéra, where she would rise to fame.

She would later dance in St. Petersburg, where “the cult of the ballerina” was so strong that a pair of her pointe shoes were sold for 200 rubles, cooked, served with a sauce and eaten by a group of her fans.

She would even perform for Queen Victoria.

Taglioni retired from performing in 1847 after been active since 1824 and began to chereograph and judge other ballet dancers´  performances.

Her only choreographic work was Le Papillon, wherein her student Emma Livry died when her costume was set alight by a gas lamp used for stage lighting.

Taglioni died in Marseille, the day before her 80th birthday.

Her body was moved to Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.

Above: Montmartre Cemetery with the rue Coulaincourt viaduct passing through it

Local dancers began leaving their worn toe shoes on her grave as a tribute and thanks to the first toe dancer.

In the local Blevio cemetery of the Ferranti chapel lies buried the Italian soprano opera singer Giuditta Pasta (née Negri)(1797 – 1865), the Maria Callas of the 19th century.

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Above: Giuditta Pasta

From 1823 to 1854, Pasta would perform in Milan, Naples, Venice, Paris and London.

Her voice was such that composers, like Stendhal and Bellini, would create roles specifically for her to sing.

Her voice was said to be clear and powerful, encompassing tones that ranged from fine and full-bodied to husky and harsh.

Her voice was said to resonate with a magnetic vibration that exercised an instantaneous and hypnotic effect upon the soul of the spectator, a voice directed towards expressing the most intense passions accompanied by physical movements unknown and unseen before in lyrical theatre.

Her voice is silent now.

There are beautiful Villas near the lakeside square at the boat wharf: Cademartori, Da Riva and Pozzi.

Through the tunnel, the provincial road continues on towards the town of Torno.

Before Torno, there is a cartway branching off to Piazzaga`s famous ancient tombs and Monte Piatto with its Pietra Pendula (pendulum stone) near the small church which honours Mary´s visit to Elisabeth.

Up the mountain above Torno is the church of San Giovanni, characterised by a magnificent Renaissance marble portal and said to preserve a sacred nail from the Cross of Jesus.

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Above: The town of Torno, Lombardy, Italy

Near San Giovanni, a path leads to the Villa Pliniana near an awe-inspiring cascade praised by both Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger as well as Leonardo da Vinci.

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Above: Villa Pliniana

(Please see Canada Slim and the Inappropriate Statues for discussion about the Plinys, uncle and nephew.)

Pliniana rises above the lake, embraced by greenery.

Built in 1500 by Giovanni Anguissola, the Villa Pliniana – named after Pliny the Younger´s whose estate this once was – has hosted writer Ugo Foscolo (1778 – 1827), opera composer Gioschino Rossini (1792 – 1868), poet Giovanni Berchet, writer Marie-Henri Beyle aka Stendhal (1783 – 1842), the poet Percy Shelley (1792 – 1822), and writer Cristina Belgioioso (1808 – 1871), but the Villa did not welcome us as it remains closed to the hoi polloi such as my wife and I.

Torno is situated in an ideal position above a promontory and stands out as a typical medieval village, which is surprising when one considers the Spanish razed it to the ground in 1522.

Some of the houses are gathered around the church of Santa Tecla and the beautiful little square on the pier by the lake.

Above: The Church of Santa Tecla, Torno, Italy

Remaining suspended high above the shore of the lake, the S5340 passes through the hamlet of Palanza with its, still in working condition, big wooden press from the 1500s.

Heading onwards towards Bellagio, the traveller soon comes to the hamlet of Careno, stone houses clinging to the mountain along steep pathways that can only be accessed on foot.

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Above: Careno

At the top of the town there is the Masera Grotto with a pond and a large hall that displays numerous ammonite fossils.

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Above: The Masera Grotto, Careno, Italy

But it is Nesso that most people want to see, easily the most photographed town on the Lago di Como.

Above: Nesso

Situated at the mouth of the Tuf and Nosse Valleys, streams descend to create a picturesque haven of rocks forming a perfect canyon and cascade of water.

Above: L´Orrido Nesso

Descend the tiny streets and stairways to the lake and stand upon the old bridge that joins the two shores of these streams and view the simple lovely majesty of this cascade.

Above: Nesso

Just beyond the northern entry of the S5340 into Nesso there is a road on the right that climbs above the lake to Vico with its small Romanesque church of Santa Maria filled with precious frescoes, passes through Erno that has been making metal nets for generations, rises to the Colma di Sormano and the space observatory of Brianza, then descends to Valassina and the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Ghisallo where souvenirs of the greatest champions that ever rode a bicycle are preserved on the walls and ceilings.

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But we forego this pleasure and continue upon the cliff clinging road, hellbent to reach Bellagio.

Everything is a blur of trees and cliffs and moments of close calls of we hitting someone/something or the reverse scenario.

Places and placenames are barely registered: Crotto, Pescau, Bagnana, Rozzo, Sossana, Villa and the town of Lezzeno.

Cars have stopped upon the Punta della cappelletta to catch a lovely look upon the lake and Comacina Island.

The road remains panoramic as we see Tremezzina and the Villa Carlotta on the oppposite shore.

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Above: Villa Trotti

And Villas never stop appearing: Villa Trotti, determinedly exotic with neo-Gothic mixed with Moorish design surrounded by Chinese and Japanese plants, the Villa Trivulzio with its grand English garden, and finally the Villa Melzi.

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Above: Villa Trivulzio

Every traveller soon discovers that there are names of famous individuals that are repeatedly stubled upon as they too were travellers.

For us, we constantly seem to run into the ghosts of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley and composer Franz Liszt in our travels in Switzerland and Italy.

(For a description of Mary Shelley´s travels, see Canada Slim and the Evil Road, and Canada Slim and the Road into the Open of this blog, as well as Mary Shelley`s Rambles in Germany and Italy.)

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Italy, 6 August 1840

“This evening we crossed again to visit…..the opposite bank.

Villa Melzi is a very pleasant country house.

Its marble halls and stuccoed drawing rooms are the picture of Italian comfort – cool, shady and airy. 

The garden has had pains taken with it. 

There are some superb magnolias and other flowering trees, but one longs for English gardening here. 

What would not some friends of mine make of a flower garden in Italy: how it would abound and run over with sweets – no potting and greenhouses to check, no frost to decimate. 

The Italians here know not what flowers and a flower garden are.”

(Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

 

Villa Melzi, Bellagio, Italy, 3 August 2017

I am not so certain if Fulco Gallarati Scotti, the present owner of the Villa Melzi d´Eril (to give its full name) would agree or approve of Mary Shelley´s opinion.

Above: Villa Melzi d´Eril

The Melzi Villa and gardens have belonged to the Scotti family for more than 90 years and I am certain that Fulco is proud that every year tens of thousands of tourists descend upon the d´Eril property.

As early as 1821, Davide Bertolotti (1784 – 1860) in his Viaggio al lago di Como (Journey to Lake Como) praised the sight of the Villa and its wonderful gardens.

In 1831, Cesare Cantu (1804 – 1895) in his Guida al Lago di Como consolidated the Villa´s fame by mentioning how magnificent Melzi was with an annexed “very elegant oratory”, surrounded by “a garden made delightful by its location and its variety of plants and flowers”.

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Above: Cesare Cantu

In 1912, the Villa and the gardens Melzi d´Eril of Bellagio, designed and built between 1808 and 1831, were declared to be an Italian National Monument and thus came to be officially considered as part of the historic and artistic heritage that remains guarded by the State.

The beauty began on a bloody battlefield.

Early 19th century European history is marked by the great Napoleonic campaign between 1796 and 1814, when the Austrians were chased out of northern Italy to be replaced by the French.

Though French occupation was a period less than twenty years long, it was characterised by a rapid succession of military and political events and intense cultural changes, of which Francesco Melzi d´Eril (1753 – 1816) would play a significant role.

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Above: Francesco Melzi d´Eril

Francesco was born in Milan into a family of ancient nobility known since the 14th century.

His father was Count of Magenta; his mother was a Spanish noblewoman.

Francesco completed his education in Milan and also travelled extensively to England, Spain and France widening his cultural experiences.

As a member of Milan´s Consiglio die Sessanta Decuroni, the city´s administrative representatives, Francesco met Napoleon (1769 – 1821) on the battlefield of Lodi in 1796 and presented him with the symbolic keys to the city.

Above: The Battle of Lodi, 10 May 1796

Napoleon appreciated Melzi since this first meeting, considering him a cultivated and balanced man, so he entrusted him with political and diplomatic duties over the newly-created Cisalpina Republic in the turbulent years from 1797 to 1802.

When the first Italian Republic was founded in 1802 with Napoleon as President, Melzi was appointed Vice President, responsible for managing the complex political and administrative organisation of a nation in dire need of reforms in almost all sectors of civil life.

Melzi´s personal dedication was so intense that it took him only three years to successfully create a national army, to balance the books and to reform the educational and judicial systems of the new Italian nation.

Of great relevance was also his contribution to Italian arts and crafts through his support of the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan and his commitment to protect and restore the inheritance let behind by the Austrians, including the Royal Palace in Milan and the Royal Villa in Monza.

In spite of his poor health, fatigue for his government duties and his disillusionment caused by Napoleon´s turning to authoritarianism – when Napoleon became self-proclaimed Emperor, he named himself King of Italy in 1805 – Melzi continued to play a role in government though with not as much influence as he had previously.

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Above: Coronation of Napoleon, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, 2 December 1804

During the Kingdom of Italy (1805 – 1814), Melzi was appointed Grand Chancellor and Minister of Justice, supporting (and occasionally replacing) Viceroy Eugenio of Beauharnais in governing the royal domains.

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Above: Eugenio de Beauharnais (1781 – 1824)

Though Melzi remained on good and constant terms with Napoleon, Melzi longed for a more intimate and less demanding life.

When Melzi would visit the Villa Loppia of his friend Paolo Taverna, Melzi regarded Bellagio as a place desireable for both physical and spiritual recovery, owing to its peacefulness, climate, landscape beauty, the spontaneity of its people and their unaffected way of life.

Though he was of high aristocratic rank, Melzi was not rich, so it wasn´t until December 1807 that his wish for his own Villa was realised when Napoleon named him the Duke of Lodi and granted him a large annual income as an award for “his accomplishments in the field of public administration” and in memory of their encounter in Lodi ten years before.

The 20 December 1807 decree reads:

“Melzi was the first Italian to bring us on the battlefield of Lodi the keys and the confidence” of the city of Milan.

Work began on the Villa Melzi.

Bellagio has attracted people since ancient times for its location for military and commercial purposes and its attractiveness for leisure.

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Above: Bellagio, Lombardy, Italy

According to tradition, Pliny the Younger (61 – 113 AD) testified to the region´s attractiveness when he wrote his friend Voconius Romanus in 104 AD, explaining why he was setting his Villa Tragedia here.

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Above: Statue of Pliny the Younger, Santa Maria Maggiore Duomo, Como

Located at the tip of the peninsula that separates the two branches of the Lago di Como, Bellagio enjoys a privilieged fame as compared to the many admirable places elsewhere along the lake, for it possesses a unique multifaceted landscape of everchanging light nuances and a kaleidoscope of perspectives and sights,

Such qualities were written about by Sigismondo Boldoni in his work Larius (1606), when the Spanish dominated Bellagio.

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Above: Sigismondo Boldoni

This trend never reversed.

On the contrary, it increased in the 18th century after the Spanish left Lombardy to be replaced by the Austrians, who would build many residences in Bellagio and wherever they could on the shores of Lago di Como to spend their holidays.

As remarked by Carlo Amoretti in his Viaggio da Milano ai tre laghi Maggiore, di Lugano e di Como (1824), they shaped a delightful surrounding, enjoyed shelter from hot summers to their Villas that were accessible not only by boat but as well by the Valsassina road of ancient Roman origin.

Above: Carlo Amoretti (1741 – 1816)

By the advent of Melzi, Bellagio was the most populated town of the lake, surpassed only by Como and Lecco.

According to the anonymous manuscript Cronachette della villaggiatura (Holiday Chronicles), Melzi considered Bellagio as a “buen retiro”, a place of relaxation, far from political duties, where the mind and body could recover.

Sadly, the Duke of Lodi enjoyed his wonderful retreat for only a short time.

In the last three years of his life, Melzi stayed in his Villa 27 days in 1813, two months in 1814 and another two months in 1815.

Despite these short periods of time, the Villa began to acquire fame as a distinguished house of hospitality.

Among Melzi´s guests were the Viceroy of Italy and his wife Augusta Amalia of Baveria, and the painter Giuseppi Bossi.

Above: Self Portrait, Giuseppe Bossi (1777 – 1815)

The typical day of the Duke began at 9 am when he attended church services officiated by his personal chaplain, followed by breakfast and then work began on his various charitable activities for local people in need.

According to the Holiday Chronicles, Melzi showed great concern both for the single destinies of the individuals he met as well as the general progress of the community.

In spite of his poor health – the Duke suffered from gout – Melzi liked to spend his time walking slowly and meditating in his garden, cheered by the luxuriant vegetation and the magnificent lake landscape that could be admired from his property.

Tiny and slender, Melzi nevertheless inspired respect.

He used to wear simple country clothes but in a refined way: long trousers with a large, well-shaped white hat and a thin cane stick to support him during his walks.

Melzi used to have lunch at 3 pm, eating with other guests in enjoyment of conversation in the absence of servants.

At 10 pm he would retire for the night.

The unknown author of the Holiday Chronicles writes in dismay that Duke Francesco left Bellagio and moved to Milan in October 1815 never to return.

Melzi died on 16 January 1816.

His mortal remains were brought back to the Villa two years after his death to be buried in the Oratory.

The estate has remained in the hands of the Melzi family, though the owner surname would change through the course of time.

The Villa passed on to Francesco´s nephew Giovanni (1788 – 1832).

Stendhal visited Villa Melzi in July 1817, where he enjoyed the gardens and the scenery and gazed upon the bust of Francesco in the oratory, as we can read in Stendhal´s travel journal Rome, Naples et Florence en 1817.

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Above: Stendhal

In 1825, the Villa Melzi received a visit by the Austrian Emperor Francis II.

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Above: Francis II (1768 – 1835)

The third Duke, Ludovico (1820 – 1886) entertained Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I and his wife Maria Anna of Savoy in 1838.

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Above: Ferdinand I of Austria (1793 – 1875)

Thanks to the diffusion of travel literature, the Villa came to be popular not only among a narrow circle of the Duke´s friends, but among a larger number of people as a result of the article “Le lac de Come”, published in 1838 in the Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris, wherein we learn that musician Franz Liszt stayed in Bellagio with his lover Marie d´Agoult in the autumn of 1837.

Above: Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886)

The lovers used to go “to the gardens of Villa Melzi to relax beneath the plane trees in the hottest hours of the day” to read Dante´s Divina Commedia before the garden Monument dedicated to Dante and his beloved Beatrice, which inspired Franz to write his subsequent famous Dante Sonatas.

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Above: Dante degli Alighieri (1265 – 1321)

Franz and Marie were not among the guests of the family Melzi, but, like other travellers then and now, they could enjoy the gardens which, even then though private property, were almost always open to visitors.

By 1856, strangers were allowed to visit the Melzi gardens with money collected by the gardener.

Among the guests who visited the Villa before the world was engulfed in the wars of the 20th century were Russian Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna (1847 – 1928), Princess Marie von Radzwill, King Albert of Saxony (1828 – 1902) and his consort Carola of Sweden in May 1885.

We are told of their enthusiastic admiration for the beauty of the place, their pleasant walks among the plane tree path, the wonderful flower arrangements offered by the Duke Lodovico and Duchess Josephine.

In October 1890 the Villa received King Umberto I of Italy and his entourage, who, though only staying one day, were said to deeply admire the place and declared it one of the most “beautiful of the Como basin”.

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Above: Umberto I of Italy (1844 – 1902)

By the start of the first decade of the 20th century, access to the gardens by visitors was regulated by entrance tickets.

In 1923, on the death of Duchess Josephine, Villa Melzi passed on to her daughter from a previous marriage, Luisa (1854 – 1937), who had in 1878 married the Prince of Molfetta, Giancarlo Scotti (1854 – 1927).

Their firstborn son, Tommaso (1878 – 1966), an intellectual, writer and Ambassador to Madrid and London, inherited the Villa from his mother.

Anti-Facist from the beginning, Tommaso had to seek refuge in Switzerland in 1943.

Soon after the Scotti family was officially expelled from Italy and their property was requisitioned by the Italian Social Republic, headed by Mussolini, to house the Aviation Ministry and the diplomatic seats of the countries that had acknowledged the new Fascist state.

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Above: Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

(See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence for more about Mussolini.)

At the conclusion of the Second World War, Villa Melzi was restored back into the hands of the Scotti family.

Wandering about the gardens of Tommaso´s grandson, we explored the grounds of the Villa Melzi.

Learning of the property´s history I felt like a pauper who had stumbled into a prince´s gardens.

My wife and I, despite my wife´s profession, can, at best, be described as “middle class”.

My own origins are far humbler than my wife´s and can be quite generously described as “lower class” by Canadian standards.

Yet here we were wandering in gardens that had seen writers and musicians, kings and queens, admiring the same types of flora and the same majestic views of the lake that they had enjoyed.

Here there be stone plaques, grotesque masks and mythological statues.

Within these gardens stands an oddity called the Infamous Column, a memorial stone built in 1364 for the sole purpose of disgracing the memory of the Venetian nobleman Bajamonte Tiepolo who had conspired against the Venetian Republic ruled by Doge Pietro Gradenigo.

The Infamous Column originally stood upon the ruins of the Tiepolo house – destroyed by the Gradenigo government – then it was relocated near the Sant´Agostino Church to make it more visible as a warning to the citizens of Venice to remain loyal to their city.

The Column´s epigraph – now eroded owing to the passage of time – accuses Tiepolo of “wicked treason” to the Republic:

“This land belonged to Bajamonte Tiepolo and it is now public as a consequence of his wicked treason and may be shown forever as a warning to everyone.”

The disgracing monument remained in Venice until 1785.

Here in the garden, one sees the small pink and grey granite statue of Rahotep, a high dignitary during the reign of Pharoah Ramses II, as well as a statue of the Egyptian goddess Pakhet with her lion´s head upon a woman´s body.

Overlooking the lake is the Moorish Pavilion with sculptures dedicated to Ferdinand I and his consort Maria Anna and Duke Lodovico and Duchess Josephine.

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Outside the Pavilion stands the Monument to Dante and Beatrice, showing Beatrice consoling Dante after it was prophised that he would be exiled but her promising him that there is a superior divine justice that will sustain him.

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Visited by Henry Wardsworth Longfellow, the Monument´s inscription was translated into English and reads:

 

“And the lady who to God was leading me said:

“Change thy thought.

Consider that I am near unto Him who every wrong disburdens.”

Unto the loving accents of my comfort I turned me around.”

Here on the grounds of Villa Melzi,  Apollo looks at the sun while Meleagro kills a wild boar.

Sea monsters rise from the water lily fountain and lion-sphinxes guard the Villa staircase.

Wander through the grotto, stroll by the leisure gondola and beyond the stone bridge jetty and view the bronze bell that hangs by the western wall.

Here there be Japanese cedars casting shade upon a Japanese pond and Canadian giant thuja – wood once used to make totems and canoes.

Here there be imposing Florida bald cypress trees, the thick wood of Japanese camillias and maples, holm oaks and mighty California redwoods, Oriental spruce and gingko maidenhair, dwarf palms and Italian cypress, holly olive and cleyera shrubs, cinnamon camphora and Mexican pine, Mediterranean heath and Montezuma pine, azaleas beneath plane trees, red beech and elm trees, bamboo fodder for pandas and black Chinese conifers, Himalyan and Lebanese cedar, the giant dogwood and the North American cedar, cork oak and crape myrtles, cork oak and fragrant olive, Chilean wine palm and Scots pine, weeping beech and strawberry fields, common box and Austrian pine, southern magnolia and Rhododendron, mimosa and tulip.

No, Mary Shelley, the Italians here do know what flowers and a flower garden are.

Lunch time delayed, the wife realises that the husband needs to be fed before maritial strife emerges.

We cast ourselves out of this Garden of Eden, these gardens of Melzi, simply two more anonymous names in a yet-to-be-written Holiday Chronicles.

We must dance and sing while we can.

Winter is coming….