Just another day?

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 February 2017

Perhaps all of this is none of my business.

Perhaps I should just quietly go about my life ignoring the world around me.

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

What does one man’s opinion matter, especially if that man lacks wealth, power or fame?

I believe that no man is an island, that each man is a note that contributes to the symphony of mankind.

I believe if a person acts according to the surety of conscience, resolving to do no harm but fight for the common good then that voice merits attention.

I live in one of the world´s most wealthiest countries, not by premeditated choice, but because I followed my heart and my wife when she sought better working conditions as a doctor than our homelands were offering.

But living in Switzerland, just as living in other countries prior to this (including my home and native land of Canada) did, often saddens me.

Flag of Switzerland

For it is the acquisition of wealth that seems to drive both institutions as well as individuals to act in ways detrimental to both our and others’ human spirit.

We have allowed ourselves over generations to let pieces of metal and paper dominate our decisions: how we spend our days, what we consider valuable, how we choose our leaders, how we interact, how we choose our life companions, the list seems endless.

Why do we believe that a beggar impoverished by circumstance is less worthy of respect than a banker who profits from the hard labour of others?

Why do people starve in the world when there is an overabundance of food available that if equally distributed could reach everyone?

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Why do we send young people and civilians to their deaths in wars so we can protect rare resources in the name of ideals we preach but seldom practice outside our borders?

Why are farmers who put food on our tables less respected than supermodels who are mere walking clothes hangers?

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We spend 80% of our adult lives working, yet so very few seem to enjoy the work they do, but we sacrifice our joy for what we believe to be the greater good: comfortable home lives.

But is that big screen TV enhancing our relationship with our spouses and children?

We reach our destinations faster, at the sacrifice of communion with our environment.

We have access to more information, but no time to assimilate it.

Why do we think ourselves superior to others and disregard what their common humanity has to teach us?

There is much I do not understand, much I have to learn.

I am a simple man of simple education, but I try to think and understand and learn about a world beset with problems.

I have been blessed by life in that I have been allowed to teach others to earn my daily bread, in the opportunities I have had to explore a small part of the world, in the range of information sources that time and place have granted me access.

I have a warm, dry place to lay my head each night and food to sustain my appetite.

I have been blessed by an imperfect beautiful and intelligent wife who feels compelled to remain with an even more imperfect, not so handsome or clever husband.

I have been blessed by friends who may not understand me but whose opinions and encouragement I value.

I have been blessed by sufficient health and the ability to think and feel and through electronics a forum to share my thoughts and ask questions.

I enjoy blessings that others in the world might not be enjoying.

With privilege comes responsibility.

This is a lesson many wealthy individuals forget.

This is a lesson many politicians forget.

I have a number of friends whose political views I do not share.

I respect their opinions and would gladly defend their rights to express those opinions.

In Europe and America many people have been shocked by the rise of right wing parties riding waves of populism they managed to create.

No one could have predicted the rise of France’s Marine LePen or America´s Donald Trump or the resilence of political parties like Germany’s Alternative Party, Italy’s Lega Nord, Belgium’s Vlaam Blok, Austria’s Freedom Party or Switzerland’s Swiss People’s Party.

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Lega Nord logo.pngVlaams Blok logo.pngLogo of Freedom Party of Austria.svgSVP UDC.svg

Brexit was unimaginable yet it happened.

Donald Trump becoming US President was even more inconceivable yet it has already been a month since his Inauguration.

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They scream about the potential security threats of letting immigrants and refugees into their countries.

I sadly read of yesterday’s events in Lahore, Pakistan…

At least eight people have been killed and more than 30 others injured in an explosion that hit the Defence Y Block, which houses restaurants, offices and shops in a busy shopping area in Pakistan`s second-largest city.

Punjab police said it was a planted bomb, set on a timer or remotely detonated that caused the explosion.

The force of the explosion blew out the windows of surrounding buildings and cars, spraying them with shrapnel as people fled.

The Defence Y Block, part of the Defense Housing Authority, is controlled by the military with housing mainly given to people working for the armed forces.

Just one week prior to this, a suicide attack on a shrine in Pakistan killed at least 88 people and injured more than 250.

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Above: The Sufi Shrine of Lal Shahbaz in Qalandar Sehwan, Pakistan, attacked on 16 February 2017

Two days before this a suicide bomber attacked a rally in Lahore, killing over a dozen people.

Above: Charing Cross, across from the Punjab Assembly, where the protestors had assembled on 13 February 2017

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the deaths, causing terror and distress across the country.

Black Standard flag[1]

While the Western press have published the odd article about the attacks, the coverage goes no further…

There is no big front page reporting, no special emergency episodes of political podcasts, no trending #s, no Snapchat filters…

The Western media is so obsessed with what Donald Trump does and doesn´t say about potential security threats that they are ignoring the actual terror attacks going on.

Nationality, religion and race are the clear deciding factors in the media’s reporting of lives lost.

Western media and governments have a standard policy…

Terrorism isn’t worth mentioning unless it affects their own people and countries.

If there were the same number of terrorism victims in a similar attack in any Western country, the media and politicians would have respondly quickly and loudly.

The message is clear.

Western lives matter, but brown, black and non-Christian lives aren’t worthy of a story.

Pakistan`s terrorism problem can’t be ignored.

More than 80,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Flag of Pakistan

Above: The flag of Pakistan

A total of four million Muslims have been killed in the war against terror.

Until we realise that all lives matter, that all lives deserve the same respect, regardless of race, wealth or creed, we will never be able to eradicate the threat of extremism which hangs over us all.

What happens in Nigeria, Turkey or Pakistan is no less important than what happens in America, Canada, France, Belgium, Germany or Switzerland.

Until we begin to care about life beyond our borders, not just for financial gain but for humanitarian reasons, mankind will never make much progress.

NASA recently announced the discovery of several Earthlike planets beyond our solar system, but I hope I don´t live to see the day mankind visits these planets or encounters alien life.

If we are unable to empathise with our fellow humans beyond our borders, surely we are not ready to explore the galaxy.

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Canada Slim and a Matter of Perspective

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2016

There are many things that are unpleasant about getting older: diminishing senses, unflattering changes to one´s body, memory lapses, acquisition of a world-weariness…

But for myself, especially in 2016, it has been the loss of one´s heroes.

Yet another musical legend passed away over Christmas: George Michael, age 53.

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Famous for many songs, including “Last Christmas I gave you my heart”, George died from a sudden heart attack.

In a truly crappy year of celebrity deaths (Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher…to name only a few) George Michael´s demise has affected me more than the rest as his age at death is disturbingly near my own at present.

Prince´s death was pharmaceutically linked, Bowie had cancer, Cohen was not a young man…all tragic but somehow not so bone-chillingly uncommon to my own life status.

If a man only two years my senior can suddenly be no more, can I truly take for granted the time left to me?

Barring accident or lingering disease, how much time do I truly have left?

What follows is not so much resolutions I intend to pursue as they are affirmations of what I have come to realise.

Many a friend has commented to me that it is important that I write.

They have said that my past is somewhat unique, that I can on occasion string words together, that I have my moments when I have written something of significance.

I am also reminded of something that David Bowie once said in an interview: “Don´t play to the gallery.”

Bowie smiling

I have taken this to mean that I should write what matters to me.

If others love it, great.

If not, I must still continue to write what matters to me.

This blog, The Chronicles of Canada Slim, is written to express my ongoing feelings and to represent my memories and emotions that led me here to this time and place.

My other blog, much neglected, Building Everest, is meant to tell stories outside of myself.

It is my hope that those who read this particular post will feel the excitement of travel, the thrill of discovery and an appreciation of the past that I felt as I wrote what follows:

Brussels, the capital of Belgium, but now also the capital of Europe, buzzes with economic, financial and political activity.

And as I recall time spent there in 1993 and 1997 I think of Brussels as I would Ottawa, the capital of Canada, as I would have others think of me, perhaps boring at first glance, but a closer look reveals continuous momentum, regular heroics, relatable villainy, spectacular moments and a vulnerability to capture both the imagination and interest.

In reading Charlotte Bronte´s The Professor one senses that she never really liked the Belgians, especially the Flemish, but did she like Brussels itself?

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The Professor was based on her own experiences in Brussels, a story of love and doubt, of a teacher seeking fortune and love while being severely tested by beguiling sensuality and manipulation.

If a city could be compared to a woman, could our assessment be affected by our experiences?

“Our likings are regulated by our circumstances.

The artist prefers a hilly country because it is picturesque, the engineer a flat one because it is convenient.

The fashionable young gentleman admires the fashionable young lady – she is of his kind.

The toilworn, exhausted, probably irritable teacher, blind almost to beauty, insensible to airs and graces, glories chiefly in certain mental qualities: application, love of knowledge, natural capacity, docility, truthfulness, gratitude are the charms that attract his notice and win his regard.

These he seeks, but seldom meets.

These if by chance he finds, he would fain retain forever.

And when separation deprives him of them he feels as if some ruthless hand had snatched from him his only ewe lamb.” (Charlotte Bronte, The Professor)

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These I seek, but seldom meet.

“Zoé” had many positive aspects, but what had been felt the year previous seemed lacking within myself.

I told myself “Act as if what is wished is reality until the wish becomes reality.”.

Though she could hardly afford it, Zoé was determined to show me Brussels in the hopes that I would transfer my love for the city with similar feelings towards her.

Zoé was a maniac driver, but no more than many Europeans I would encounter in the following decades.

Breathlessly, my heart a-pounding furiously, we arrived at Bruparck.

Bruparck is close to Metro Station Heysel and is part of Heysel Park.

The Heysel / Heizel is in the north of Brussels where the Brussels International Exposition of 1935 and Expo ´58 took place.

The Brussels International Exposition of 1935 was held between 27 April and 6 November 1935.

Officially sanctioned by the Bureau of International Expositions, 25 countries officially participated and a further 5 were unofficially represented.

The theme was colonisation, on the 50th anniversary of the establishmnet of the Congo.

The fair attracted some 20 million visitors.

Belgian architect Joseph van Neck was the principal architect of the fair and of the Art Deco Palais des Expositions with its interior concrete parabolic arches and four heroic bronze statues on piers.

Among many other contributors, Le Corbusier designed part of the French exhibit.

Belgian modernist architect Victor Bourgeois designed the Grand Palace, Restaurant Leopold II and the Pavilion Soprocol.

The Belgian art exposition prominently displayed the work of contemporary Belgian artists, including Paul Delvaux, René Magritte and Louis Van Lint, boosting their careers.

Expo ´58 (the Brussels World´s Fair) was held from 17 April to 19 October 1958, the first major World´s Fair after World War II.

Nearly 15,000 workers spent three years building the two square kilometre site on the Heysel plateau, using many of the buildings from the Brussels International Exposition of 1935.

Expo ´58 was the 11th World´s Fair hosted by Belgium and the 5th in Brussels, following the fairs in 1888, 1897, 1910 and 1935.

Since 1958 Belgium has not arranged any more world fairs.

This huge event was a showcase for Belgium and 40 other countries.

More than 41 million visitors visited the Expo, which was opened with a call for world peace and social and economic progress, issued by King Badouin.

Three million visitors travelled in the cable car which soared above the Expo.

Eight babies were born on site.

With the slogan “Building a world for the modern man”, Expo ´58 sent out a message of boundless optimism, confident and enthusiastic about the future of humanity.

In spite of its message of peace and friendship between nations, Expo ´58 was not immune from the tensions of the Cold War.

Beneath the Atomium, the United States and the Soviet Union defied each other in symbolic confrontation.

The Soviet pavilion was a large impressive building, which they folded up and took back to Russia when the Expo ended.

Within the pavilion the Soviets displayed a facisimile of Sputnik, the world´s first artifical satellite, and a model of the Lenin, the world´s first nuclear icebreaker, representing the success of a Communist society.

The icebreaker Lenin, former St. Alexander Nevsky

The Sputnik copy mysteriously disappeared and the US was accused of stealing it.

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The American pavilion was quite spacious and vaunted the American Dream – the consumer society and the comforts of modern life.

The US pavilion included a fashion show with models walking down a large spiral staircase, an electronic computer that demonstrated a knowledge of history, and a colour TV studio behind glass.

The Philips pavilion played the Poeme électronique from 425 loudspeakers placed throughout the park.

Expo58 building Philips.jpg

The Austrian pavilion included a model Austrian Kindergarten which doubled as a daycare for the employees, the Vienna (Wien) Philharmonic playing behind glass and a model nuclear fusion reactor that fired every five minutes.

An original manuscript of Mozart´s Requiem was placed on display.

Someone somehow gained access to the manuscript and tore off the bottom right corner of one of the pages containing the words “Quam olim d:C” in Mozart´s handwriting, possibly the last words Mozart wrote before he died.

During the six months of the Expo, 300 friendly, multilingual and devoted young ladies welcomed and guided millions of visitors who flocked to the site.

Dressed in red jackets and blue hats, disciplined and flirtatious at the same time, the Expo ´58 hostesses were considered the epitome of the modern woman of those times.

Joyful Belgium, a reconstitution of a village from olden times, was a place of entertainment with a festive atmosphere, constantly bursting with crowds of visitors eating, drinking and having fun.

20,000 workers, including 500 gardeners, served 20,000 meals every day in the 70 restaurants on the Expo site.

Belgian beer flowed copiously bringing joy to many who staggered on cobblestones filled with spirit and memories.

But every event has its dark side which the Art of Design Atomium Museum (ADAM) will not seek to draw the visitor´s attention to…

Inside the Belgian pavilion was the Congolese village, a human zoo, showing exotic humans living in their natural state, to emphasise the cultural differences between Europeans and those people they regarded as primitive in a display that was highly degrading and racist.

Congolese in cages in a nude or semi-nude state forced to work on typical village tasks pretending that the gawking visitors did not exist.

Belgian King Baudouin visited the fair in the company of actress Gina Lollobrigida.

Expo ´58 remains a part of the Bruxellois psyche as its best known site still remains a symbol of the city of Brussels.

The Atomium is a giant model of a unit cell of an iron crystal, expanded 165 billion times, with each of its nine spheres representing an atom.

Designed by the engineer André Waterkeyn and architects André and Jean Polak, it stands 102 metres / 335 feet tall.

Its nine 18 metre / 60 foot diameter stainless steel clad spheres are connected by tubes of 3 metre / 10 foot diameter.

These tubes enclose stairs, escalators and a lift in the central, vertical tube allowing access to the five habitable spheres containing exhibit halls and other public spaces.

The top sphere contains a restaurant with a panoramic view of Brussels.

Jessica Canepa of CNN in her 24 January 2013 report “11 of Europe´s most bizarre buildings” named it Europe´s most bizarre building.

When Zoé and I visited the Atomium in 1993, the Atomium´s spheres were clad with aluminum.

Following renovations in 2007, the aluminum was replaced with stainless steel.

The aluminum was sold to the public as souvenirs to pay for the renovations.

A triangular piece about 2 metres / 7 foot long sold for €1,000 in 2006.

Three of the four top spheres lack vertical support and are therefore not open to the public for safety reasons, although the sphere at the pinnacle is.

Waterkeyn´s original design called for no supports.

The sphere was simply to rest on the spheres.

Wind tunnel tests proved that the Atomium would have toppled in an 80 km/h wind.

(140 km/h winds have been recorded in Belgium.)

Support columns were added in 2006 to achieve enough resistance against overturning.

(Though a building weighing 2,500 tonnes will take one hell of a gust to topple it…)

The Atomium is open every day of the year from 10 am to 6 pm and receives 2,300 individual visitors every day or 600,000 visitors per year.

The record number of visitors in one day: 4,700 on 17 August 2008.

Each year on average the Atomium is visited by 10 heads of state, privately or officially.

Visitors are provided audioguides in 28 languages.

There are 873,000 references to the Atomium on the Internet with more than 13,000 Facebook fans.

In addition to its unique architecture, the Atomium already boasted the fastest lift in Europe in 1958, with a speed of 5 metres per second / 18 kph.

What breath had been regained from Zoé´s driving was once again swept from me by this heady ascent as the entrails of the central tube sped by at a pace hummingbirds would have been impressed by.

And the view…

It has been boasted that on a clear day one can see Antwerp to the north or the Atlantic to the west, but on 8 November 1993 I recall only seeing the Palais des Expositions, the Planetarium and Mini-Europe, the Grand Place, the Royal Palace and the EU district.

For Expo ´58 a new airport terminal was added to the Melsbroek National Airport, on the west side of the Airport, on the grounds of the municipality of Zaventem, which has since become the name of the International Airport.

(Zaventem Airport might register in the minds of today´s readers as it was the first target of the 22 March 2016 Brussels bombings.

At 07:55 Ibrahim El Bakraoui (29), Najim Laachraoui (24) and Mohamed Abrini (b. 1984) arrived at Zaventem in a taxi.

At 07:58, in check-in row 11 and check-in row 2 of Zaventem´s departure hall, Bakraoui and Laachraoui committed suicide by exploding nail bombs in their suitcases nine seconds apart.

Abrini failed to detonate his bomb due to the force of Laachraoui´s explosion.

At 09:11 Khalid El Bakraoui and Osama Krayem committed suicide in the middle carriage of a three-carriage train at the Maalbeek metro station.

The bombings killed 32 civilians and injured more than 300 people.

The bombings were the deadliest act of terrorism in Belgium´s history.)

(Heysel Park also brings to mind another tragedy of a different sort:

On 29 May 1985, Liverpool were the defending European Champions Cup winners facing Juventus –  both this English club and their Italian competitor club were considered the best two teams in Europe at the time.

Despite Heysel Stadium´s status as Belgium´s national stadium, it was in a poor state of repair by the time of the 1985 European Final.

The 55-year-old Stadium had not been sufficiently maintained for several years and large parts of the Stadium were literally crumbling.

A few years before Arsenal fans called Heysel “a dump” when Arsenal had played there.

Both Juventus and Liverpool had urged the UEFA to choose another venue, claiming that Heysel was not in any condition to host a European Final, but UEFA refused to consider a move.

The Stadium was crammed with 60,000 supporters, with more than 25,000 for each team, between them a neutral area reserved for neutral Belgian fans.

Brussels has a large Italian community and many Juventus fans were in the neutral zone, causing Liverpool fans to perceive that Juventus fans had been accorded more seating rights than they had.

At 7 pm, an hour before kick-off, trouble began.

Liverpool and Juventus supporters were mere metres apart – the boundary between them was marked by a temporary chain link fence and a central thinly policed no-man´s land.

Fans began to throw stones across the divide, using the crumbling terraces under their feet.

As kick-off approached, the throwing became more intense.

Several groups of Liverpool fans broke through the boundary separating them from the Juventus fans, overpowered the police and charged the Juventus fans.

Juventus fans began to flee toward the perimeter wall.

The wall could not withstand the force of the fleeing Juventus supporters and a lower portion collapsed.

The collapse allowed fans to escape, but 39 fans died and 600 fans were injured by suffocation or from being crushed against the wall before its collapse.

Bodies were carried out from the Stadium on sections of iron fencing and laid outside, covered with giant football club flags.

In retaliation for the neutral zone attack, Juventus fans in their end of the Stadium then rioted, fighting the police with rocks and bottles for two hours.

Despite the scale of the disaster, UEFA officials, the Belgian Prime Minister, the Brussels mayor and the city´s police force felt that cancelling the match would incite further trouble and violence.

The match eventually kicked off after the captains of both teams spoke to the crowd and appealed for calm.

Juventus won the match 1 – 0.

29 Liverpool fans were charged with manslaughter, 14 of them convicted.

On 29 May 2005, a sundial sculpture was unveiled at the new Heysel Stadium to commemorate the disaster.

Thirty-nine lights shine, one for each who died that night.)

At the foot of the Atomium, Mini-Europe is a miniature park with reproductions of monuments in the European Union on show, at a scale of 1:25.

Image illustrative de l'article Mini-Europe

Roughly 80 cities and 350 buildings are represented.

The park contains live action models, such as trains, mills, an erupting Mount Vesuvius…

(There is something just wrong about trivialising one of the most volcanic eruptions in European history.

Mount Vesuvius spewed a deadly cloud of gas, stones and ash to a height of 33 kilometres (21 mi), ejecting molten rock and pulverized pumice at the rate of 1.5 million tons per second, a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of the Hiroshima bombing.

Two aerial photos of atomic bomb mushroom clouds, over two Japanese cities in 1945.

Several Roman settlements were obliterated and buried, the most well known being Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The remains of about 1,500 people have been found at Pompeii and Herculaneum, but the overall death toll is still unknown.)

…and cable cars.

A guidebook gives the details on all the monuments.

At the end of the visit, the Spirit of Europe exhibition gives an interactive overview of the European Union in the form of multimedia games.

As fascinating as it is to play the role of Lemeul Gulliver among the Lilliputians, I wanted to experience these wonders of Europe first hand without a sneak peek so I chose not to visit Mini-Europe.

As I type these words there remains much I have yet to see of Europe, but my feelings have not changed in this respect.

In Bruparck there stands an aquatic park – It was winter when we visited. –  slated to close on 1 October 2018, Océade offers 14 waterslides, a wave pool, a rope bridge, interactive video games, an aquatic playground, three saunas (a hammam, a jacuzzi and a Finnish ice bath) – all with a Pirates of the Caribbean feel.

It is said to be the best-equipped aquatic park in Belgium.

Zoé reminded me that Océade was still trying to rebuild its reputation from the July 1992 incident when two children, ages 5 and 7, drowned in the park.

Thierry Den Doncker, the director of Océade, was found guilty of involuntary homicide by default in December 1996.

Still Océade has maintained its reputation as a fun place, receiving 230,000 visitors to the park every year.

The waters are subtropical at a temperature of 29° Celcius, just perfect on a winter´s day.

Nearby the giantic Kinepolis offers 27 cinemas and IMAX.

As enjoyable as exploring Brussels with Zoé was, and I was extremely grateful to her for spending time and money to be my guide to the city, part of me wanted to discover the city for myself.

Seeing a place through a local´s eyes gives one a perspective that a tourist rarely experiences.

Stubbornly I wanted to make Brussels my experience rather than simply sharing Zoé´s experience of it.

I wanted to get lost and discover the city serendipitiously.

Zoé took this as a rejection of her.

It took an infinite amount of long discussions, debates, persuasion and patience to get Zoé to grant me a few hours of liberty from her side.

Granted liberty, I headed for the downtown core of Brussels to do the mundane activities that a tourist does when abroad: mailing postcards, checking e-mail in an Internet café and finding a café or tavern one can call one´s own.

Over cafés au lait, political discussion at the Café Arcadi with two Belgians and another Canadian (a young lady from Lake Nipissing)…

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Belgium is not a country, the two young Bruxellois university students informed us, but rather a political creation.

Unity between the Flemish and Walloons remains fleeting, a mere whisper in the wind barely heard but desperately sought.

But it is this ability for Belgians to have two diametrically opposed peoples share one country that convinces our local drinking companions that it was the Belgians that created “civilisation”.

To talk to a Belgian is to talk with the world-weary, for Belgium is more than chocolate and diamonds, medieval buildings and comic books, it is a land riddled with corruption, seediness, tension and scandal.

Belgium remains in a mind a country that is a breath away from coming undone.

And to listen to a Belgian speak is to court depression, for there seems to be a litany of problems to worry one´s self sick over in Belgium.

Milk causing cancer, arms deals with greased palms, the constant hiss of secessionism, the spectre of paedophilia, bizarre murders and crimes that would have challenged Agatha Christie´s Hercule Poirot, the sale of passports to criminals, reunions of Nazis, a history of colonial genocide…what topic do you wish to talk about first?

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Above: David Suchet as Hercule Poirot

And living with your neighbour does not mean loving your neighbour.

The Flemish and the Walloons are locked in a marriage of convenience but not comfort.

In the port city of Antwerp, Belgium´s second-largest metropolis, the world´s biggest distributor of diamonds, one finds a hotbed of tension.

Known as the Jerusalem of the West, Antwerp is home to 20,000 Jews, most of which live in the old Jewish quarter.

Right next door is the Arab quarter, home to the city´s 30,000 Moroccans and Turks.

Thrown into this volatile mix Antwerp is also the headquarters of the anti-immigrant party Vlaams Blok, whose main objective is for Flanders to secede.

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Both past and present Belgium is a battlefield.

A strange battlefield of baroque buildings, thick forests, fantastic restaurants, swan-filled canals, crumbling housing, dodgy areas, port crime, war cemeteries, blood-soaked battle grounds, ethnic turmoil, language barriers, racist graffiti, corruption so common it´s casual, a lack of planning and it no longer seems strange that Belgians like to drink.

Happily drinking is one of the best things to do in Belgium, as the country has over 400 beers of amazing flavours.

But to this casual observer, Belgium feels like it was thrown together without any vision, without any rhyme or reason.

The young Bruxellois lads were, of course, curious about Canada, for it too is a land that remains sharply divided along linguistic lines: English vs French.

But as visiting Anglophone Canadians to Brussels we held fast to a unity that we cherish, but as complex as English-French relations are in Canada the difficulties of Ottawa pale by comparison to politics in Belgium.

In Canada, Canadians have one national Parliament and each province has its own legislature.

In Belgium there are six individual Parliaments with each national party split in two – one representing Flanders in the north and one representing Wallonia in the south.

60% of Belgians speak Flemish, but in Brussels 80% of the population speaks French.

In 2001, I would later read that a train crash in Belgium that killed 8 people was caused because the signalmen – one Walloon, one Flemish – spoke different languages and couldn´t communicate.

But for all their problems it must be admitted that Belgians are interesting.

Take a few examples:

King Albert II (reigned from 1993 to 2013) loves motorcycles and riding them fast, to judge by the number of times he has been pulled over.

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Jean-Michel Nihoul, Brussels businessman and self-proclaimed “Monster of Belgium”, suspected for numerous crimes, won´t be prosecuted because he can name too many government officials involved in his sex parties.

King Leopold II (1835 – 1909), responsible for opening up the Congo to Belgian development and genocide and making a fortune in the process, loved nothing more than riding around on an oversized tricycle and sneaking off to court his teenage French lover.

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Georges Simenon (1903 – 1989), celebrated for his Inspector Maigret stories, was unique:

Georges Simenon (1963) without hat by Erling Mandelmann.jpg

Simenon wrote at least 4 books a year – totalling more than 500 by the time he died – in between having sex three times a day.

Known as “the man of 10,000 women”, Simenon still managed to write 80 pages a day, typically meeting his goal of finishing a book within two weeks.

(“Francois”, Zoé´s father, with two mistresses, clearly found his role model.)

René Magritte (1898 – 1967) brought the absurd to the commonplace and the everyday to the bizarre in precise frozen images that always contained a snippet of logic and the whisper of a joke, but Belgians didn´t appreciate him.

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In 1927, Belgian art critics so demonized his first show of reality-questioning, surrealistic paintings that Magritte moved to France.

It took Magritte another two decades for his work to be acclaimed as innovative.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525 – 1569) is worth mentioning for several reasons:

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Painter and the Buyer, 1565 - Google Art Project.jpg

Above: Pieter Brueghel the Elder´s The Painter and the Buyer (1565)

Brueghel, unlike his 16th century contemporaries, dared to paint other themes outside of religion or portraits of the wealthy.

His landscapes weren´t just Biblical backdrops, but vibrant village life captured in all its bawdy detail and glory.

No detail is insignificant in a Brueghal picture, for each minutae is a vignette that tells a tale of life in the 16th century more dramatically than a library of historical tomes ever could.

And in a sense Brueghal captures the essence of Brussels, not just in illustrating life then but as well a message about life now.

When I recall my conversation in Café Arcadi, the drownings at the Océade, the Heysel Stadium tragedy, the bombings of Brussels, the paintings of Brueghal and the recent death of George Michael, I am left with one final impression:

Seize the moment.

Appreciate the moment.

Capture and keep that moment close.

For God only knows how many more moments are left to us.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Charlotte Bronte, The Professor / Melissa Rossi, The Armchair Diplomat on Europe

Canada Slim and the Days Confused

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 December 2016

Time changes a place.

A place changes a person.

I think back to the little town of Lachute, Quebec, Canada, where I went to high school.

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Many of the people I remember and much of what I knew is gone.

“Progress” has arrived in the form of shopping malls and fast food eateries that would have been unimaginable back in my days of yore.

Change is inevitable and what I knew as Home can never be returned to.

Consider another town: Haworth, West Yorkshire, England.

In the days of the Bronte sisters (1816 – 1855), Haworth was truly a toxic place and the death toll as regular as clockwork.

Above: Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, painted by their brother Branwell (1834)

Haworth´s final resting place was also the cause of its necessity.

For the population of Haworth the wetness of their graveyard created huge problems.

The Haworth graveyard, drenched by rain running off the slopes, created a peaty bog or swamp.

Its cold, oxygen-free, clammy substance, akin to an American tar pit, is peculiarly preservative of the dead bodies it contains, but Haworth´s preservation of its dead destroyed the living.

It was estimated by the 1840s that 40,000+ corpses had been deposited in the graveyard, which had no drainage other than the run-off via the graves into the springs which fed the water pumps into the village – including the micro brewery Black Bull Pub.

One drank the dead in the Bull.

Haworth produced corpses as efficiently as the American Deep South produced cotton.

Haworth was the necropolis of northwest England.

(John Sutherland, The Brontesaurus)

And the Brontes lived and wrote and perished in this nexus of death.

Now fast forward to the 21st century.

In the small Yorkshire village of Haworth, where the Bronte sisters lived quietly with their clergyman father while penning some of the greatest novels in the English language, there are road signs in Japanese.

Walk down the stone-cobbled main street, which looks much as it did two centuries ago (minus the blood-stained phlegm of those with TB – which killed off Maria, Elizabeth, Branwell, Emily, Anne and Charlotte Bronte) and you can buy Bronte biscuits and Bronte gingerbread, Bronte fleeces and Bronte flagstones (for your Bronte-themed driveway).

You might then want to take refreshment at the Villette Coffee House (Villette is the name of one of Charlotte Bronte´s novels.), before stoking up on Bronte tea towels – just impossible to get in Osaka.

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The Bronte Hairdressing Salon salvages some local pride by refusing to call itself Jane Hair (though at least two salons in neighbouring towns are guilty) and the Bronte Balti House is there for all your literary-themed curry needs.

(John Barlow, Everything but the Squeal)

Of English literary shrines, probably only Stratford upon Avon, (the birthplace of William Shakespeare, as well as where I met my wife), sees more visitors than the eight million who swarm annually into the village of Haworth (population: 6, 400), trudge up the hill from the train station, tramp the cobbles once trodden by the Bronte sisters, to pay their respects at the handsome parsonage where literary classics Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were penned.

The title page to the original publication of Jane Eyre, including Brontë's pseudonym "Currer Bell".

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The entire village is linked to Bronte tourism and overwhelms the visitor by the sheer amount of enterprises capitalising on the Bronte name.

But there are things apart from the Brontesaurus shadow that pique a visitor´s interest…

Haworth is twinned with Machu Picchu in Peru!

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Every November one can watch Scroggling the Holly, when bands and Morris dancers lead a procession of children in Victorian costume following the Holly Queen up the cobblestones to a crowning ceremony on the St. Michael and All Saints´ Church steps.

The Holly Queen unlocks the Church gates to invite the Spirit of Christmas into Haworth.

Father Christmas arrives bringing glad tidings.

Every September the Haworth Arts Festival combines local professional and semi-professional musicians, artists and performers.

Every year the village hosts a 1940s weekend where the locals and visitors don wartime attire for a host of nostalgic events.

The aforementioned Haworth railway station is part of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, an authentic preserved steam railway, which runs along a five-mile stretch of track between Keighley and Oxenhope, stopping at Haworth en route.

The restored stations are a delight, with sections of the line branded into the memory of those who saw the film The Railway Children shot here in 1970.

(Kind of fitting to speak now of The Railway Children, as the story follows the adventures of the Waterbury children who are forced to move with their mother from a luxurious villa in outer London to Three Chimneys, a house near a Yorkshire railway, because their father, who works at the Foreign Office, has been imprisoned as a result of being wrongly accused of selling state secrets to the Russians…)

The village and its station have also featured in Yanks (starring Richard Gere and Vanessa Redgrave), Pink Floyd´s The Wall (starring Bob Geldof), Wild Child (starring Emma Roberts) and a number of BBC dramas.

I wonder if the Brontes would recognise the Haworth they once knew.

I suspect not.

If their biographers have described the Bronte family´s characters correctly, I have a feeling they would have loathed what Haworth has become and what was done in their name.

But what of the Brussels Charlotte once knew?

Flag of Brussels

Above: The flag of Brussels

The Brussels I later experienced?

Of all that I saw and felt during my time in Brussels would she have recognised the place, the feelings?

As mentioned in an earlier blog (That Which Survives 2a: Teachers´ Travels – Welcome), Charlotte travelled to Brussels with her sister Emily.

They learned languages at the Héger Pensionnat (boarding school) and earned board and tuition by teaching English (Charlotte) and music (Emily).

The sisters´ time at the Pensionnat was cut short when their aunt Elisabeth Branwell died of uterine cancer in October 1842.

Charlotte returned alone to Brussels in January 1843 to take up a teaching post at the Pensionnat Héger, but her second stay in Belguim was not a happy one.

Charlotte became lonely and homesick and fell in love with Constantin Héger, a married man.

Charlotte was deeply affected by the events that transpired (and didn´t transpire) during her time in Brussels and these events would inspire her first novel The Professor and her last novel Villette.

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I too was deeply affected by the events that transpired (and didn´t transpire) during my time in Brussels and they are what inspire this blog.

If The Professor and Villette are as autobiographical as is often suggested, Charlotte possibly travelled from Haworth via train to London, then by boat to Oostende, followed by a coach to Brussels.

I, a child of the late 20th century, flew from Montréal to Paris, then a bus to Brussels, but as fate would have it I would later reach England in the reverse manner Charlotte may have left it (Oostende – Margate – London – north).

“Reader, perhaps you were never in Belgium? 

Perhaps you don´t know the physiognomy of the country? 

You have not its lineaments defined upon your memory as I have them on mine?…

…Belgium!

Above: The flag of Belgium

Name unromantic and unpoetic, yet name that whenever uttered has in my ear a sound, in my heart an echo, such as no other assemblage of syllables, however sweet or classic, can produce.

Belgium!…

…It stirs my world of the past like a summons to resurrection.

The graves unclose, the dead are raised.

Thoughts, feelings, memories that slept are seen by me ascending from the clods, haloed most of them…”

(Charlotte Bronte, The Professor)

Rarely boastful, Belgium has in fact plenty to fascinate the visitor.

Everywhere there are wonderful bars and cafés where Belgians feel at home.

You´ll rapidly feel the same.

Brussels, Belgium, Wednesday 6 November 1996

I had left myself in the quite capable hands of “Zoé Lamoureux”, whom I had first met at the Ottawa International Hostel the previous year.

Zoé was a lady half my height and twice my breadth, yet I was drawn to her by the blend of her deepfelt compassion and incredible energy.

She shared with me a weakness of character by which we possessed inadequate amounts of self-confidence, of belief in our individual selves, yet together back in Ottawa we bolstered one another bringing two incomplete halves together to form a whole.

As I had been her guide to a life Canadian, Zoé was determined to be my companion in an exploration of a life Belgian.

Zoé took me to see the captivating facades of the Hotel de Ville and the guildhalls that encircle the Grand Place, which, much like love itself, is reached only after navigating a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled lanes and alleys deep in the heart of the Lower Town.

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Above: Grand Place, with the Hotel de Ville on the left, Brussels

Arriving, one is awestruck by the sheer extravagance of the place…gilded guilds, scrolled gables, dainty delicate sculptures too fragile to contemplate by the droves of tourists this square attracts, leaving mere metres for a paltry flower market which is a mere whisper, a pale reflection of the sprawling commerce that once dominated here.

Charlotte would have been witness to covered markets bursting with bread and meat and cloth.

These cobblestones have witnessed dukes assuming their civic and political duties mingling with the masses they felt little empathy for.

These silent stones have seen the spectacle of tournaments, the proclamation of decrees and pronouncements and the finality of justice meted out with public executions drawing large excited crowds.

These selfsame stones have watched the birth of the first socialist party in Belgium, floods of refugees, war casualities both military and civilian, and every two years. in even numbered years, an enormous flower market is set up made from a million colourful begonias.

Above: The flower carpet, Grand Place, Brussels (2008)

These stones have tasted the spilled blood of the holy martyrs of the religious wars of the 16th century, have felt the scars of unholy war in the Belgian quest for liberty against the French, the Dutch, the Germans.

This square once was akin to the modern day devastation that now is Aleppo…total war, merciless bombardment, so much destruction, so little remaining, so few surviving.

Of the square´s medieval buildings that once stood here, only parts of the Hotel de Ville and a pair of guildhouses survive.

Yet UNESCO recognizes both its beauty and its history naming the Grand Place a World Heritage Site in 1998.

In 1695, a 36-hour French artillery bombardment almost razed Brussels to the ground.

The commander of the French artillery gloated:

“I have never yet seen such a great fire nor so much desolation.”

Yet Brussels rebuilds, again and again and again.

My first day on Belgian soil and I already began to see the contradictions that are the Bruxellois, the citizens of this city.

Beside the Hotel de Ville, on the south side of the square stands the arcaded Maison de l´ Etoile (Star House).

In its gallery, the exploits of Everard ´t Serclaes (1320 – 1388) are commemorated.

His monument, a statue on Charles Buls Street, just off the Grand Place, is said among the locals to bring luck and grant the wishes of all who touch it.

Above: Everard t´Serclaes monument, Brussels

Tourists touch Everard´s arm, because legend says that rubbing his arm will ensure one´s return to Brussels.

But the idea of rubbing Everard for luck strikes me as odd, for Everard was not particularly lucky.

On 5 December 1355, John III of Brabant died and Brabant was supposed to pass into succession to John´s daughter Johanna and her husband Wenceslaus.

Louis de Male, the Count of Flanders, violently disagreed and invaded Brabant and quickly seized Brussels.

On the night of 24 October 1356, Everard t´ Serclaes, Lord of Kruikenburg, scaled the city walls leading a group of Brabanters and drove the Flemish out of the city, enabling Joanna and Wenceslas to make a joyous entry into the city.

Time passed.

Alderman Everard, an “old” man (age 68), led the successful opposition to the selling of a section of Crown land to Sweder of Aboude, the Lord of Gaasbeek.

A group, led by Sweder´s bastard son, ambushed, beat and mutilated Everard on the road from Lennik to Brussels on 26 March 1388.

Everard died five days later as a result of his injuries from the attack.

Next door at the Maison du Cygne (Swan House), today a swanky restaurant, once stood a bar where Karl Marx regularly met up with Friedrich Engels during his exile in Belgium.

It was in this bar in February 1848 that Marx and Engels completed the Communist Manifesto.

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They were tossed out of Belgium as political undesirables the following month.

The first street on the left of rue Charles Buls is rue des Brasseurs and it was on this corner in 1873 that the French poet Paul Verlaine shot and wounded his fellow poet and lover Arthur Rimbaud, because Rimbaud had dashed from Paris to dissuade Verlaine from joining the Spanish Army.

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Above: Paul Verlaine (1844 – 1896)

Verlaine would serve two years in prison for his passion.

In a way he had not anticipated, Rimbaud did prevent Verlaine from volunteering for the Spanish army.

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Above: Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891), age 17 (1872)

Following rue des Brasseurs to rue de la Violette and rue de l´ Etuve to the corner of rue du Chêne, the wanderer sees a site that, like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris, is smaller than one first imagines.

The Manneken Pis is mini.

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I am certain that Charlotte would have been confused as to why such a big fuss is paid to such a small statue, a 61 cm tall pissing boy stuck up high on a wall, above a small fountain, enshrined and admired by millions of visitors every year.

The bronze statue was made in 1619 by Brussels sculptor Hieronimus Duquesnoy the Elder, intending the Manneken to embody the irreverent spirit of the city.

There are many tales and legends about this statue, some of which Charlotte might have heard but for reasons unknown never felt like sharing with her readers.

The statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule which is posted on railings around the fountain.

(I recall during my sojourn in Brussels seeing the wee fellow in a bright blue American Legion uniform.)

His entire wardrobe would make Ivanka Trump envious, as it consists of several hundred different costumes, ranging from Mickey Mouse to maharajah, many of which can be viewed in a permanent exhibition inside the Brussels City Museum (inside the Maison du Roi on the north side of the Grand Place square).

Above: The Museum of the City of Brussels, Maison du Roi, Grand Place, Brussels

The costumes are managed by the non-profit association The Friends of Manneken Pis, who review hundreds of designs submitted each year and select only a small number to be produced and displayed.

The Changing of the Costume on the Manneken Pis is a colourful ceremony, often accompanied by brass band music.

Many costumes represent the national dress of nations whose citizens come to Brussels as tourists.

Above: Manneken Pis in Judo attire, Brussels

Others are the uniforms of assorted trades, professions, associations and branches of the civil and military services.

Above: Manneken Pis dressed as an organ builder, Brussels (21 June 2009)

Above: Manneken Pis dressed as a sailor, Brussels

On occasion, the Manneken Pis is hooked up to a keg of beer.

Cups are filled up with the beer flowing from the statue…

(Perhaps the origin of the expression “This beer tastes like piss.” ?)

…and given out to passers-by.

I think of the legends surrounding the Manneken Pis that Charlotte might have heard…

In 1142, the troops of two-year-old Duke Godfrey III of Leuven were battling against the forces of the Berthouts, the Lords of Grimbergen, in Neder-over-Heembeek.

The troops put Godfrey in a basket and hung the basket in a tree to encourage them.

From there, the infant lord urinated on the Berthout troops, who eventually lost the battle.

In the 14th century, Brussels was under siege by a foreign power.

The city held its ground for some time, so the attackers conceived of a plan to place explosive charges at the city walls.

Little boy Julianske happened to be spying on them as they were preparing.

Julianske urinated on the burning fuse and thus saved the city.

Another story tells of a wealthy merchant who, during a visit to the city with his family, had his beloved young son go missing.

The merchant hastily formed a search party that scoured all corners of the city until the boy was found happily urinating in a small garden.

The merchant, as a gift of gratitude to the locals who helped out during the search, had the Manneken Pis built.

The Manneken Pis has been stolen seven times.

In 1817 a French ex-convict swiped the statue before breaking it into pieces.

The thief and the smashed Manneken were apprehended, the thief publicly branded on the Grand Place and sentenced to a life of hard labour, while the fragments of the Manneken were used to create the mould in which the present day Manneken was cast.

The last time the statue was stolen was January 1963 by students of the Antwerp student association “De Wikings” of the Sint Ignatius Handelshogeschool, now part of Antwerp University, who “hijacked” Manneken Pis for five days before handing it over to the Antwerp authorities.

The local and international press covered the story, contributing to the students´ collection of funds donated to two orphanges.

Zoé introduced me to the glory of Belgian beer, along with a steaming plate of mussels and fries, at the Orta Restaurant on the rue des Buchers, but it had not been an easy decision.

All along the compact alley, tourists and locals thread their way between row upon row of tables to left and right, while touters cajole and flatter the passers-by, simultaneously hurling evil stares and epithets at their nearest rivals.

Again contradiction abounds…

The pedestrian sees the touter´s desire to please, but the more successful the touter, the more unpleasant he becomes, as a prickly pride prods him to strut like a peacock and mock the less successful.

Belgian beer tastes divine.

Temperance will never gain a foothold in Belgium.

And even tee-totalling in the name of religion is an ineffective argument, as Belgians claim that St. Arnold, the patron saint of brewers, told the faithful that drinking massive amounts of beer would ward off the Plague.

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Above: St. Arnold (1040 – 1087)

It was thought that the Plague was spread through consuming unboiled water, so drinking beer was safer.

So why boil water when you have been encouraged by a saint to knock back a few?

This must be solid advice, because so far I have not caught the Plague.

Charlotte might have disapproved, but I sense Emily might have enjoyed the scene and would have wished Anne to witness it.

Zoé had known of my fondness for comic books so our next stop was the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinéé (the Belgian Centre of the Comic Strip).

Above: Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée

Most of the displays are labelled in French and Flemish, but a free and very thorough guidebook is available in English (possibly other languages as well).

The Centre traces the development of the Belgian comic strip from its beginnings in the 1920s up until modern times.

What began as art primarily aimed at children has now matured to very adult trends and themes.

The greatest cartoonists appear: Georges Remi (aka Hergé), Jijé, Edgar Pierre Jacobs…

And a childhood growing up in Québec is recaptured by cartoon characters instantly remembered: Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke, the Smurfs, Gaston Lagaffe, Spirou, Quick and Flupke.

Above: Asterix,  by Hergé

Above: The shadow of Lucky Luke, Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée

Above: Papa Smurf, by Peyo

Above: Gaston Lagaffe, by André Franquin

As a boy I instantly identified with Tintin – his energy, his ambition, his curiosity, his eagerness to help others – and I imagined that I would evolve into an older version of the boy journalist.

Tintin is standing in a group amongst the main characters of the comics series.

Above:(left to right) Professor Calculus, Captain Haddock, Snowy, Thompson and Thomson, Bianca Castafiore

I too would don an orange spacesuit and fly to the moon in a red and white checkerboard coloured rocket ship, accompanied by a white dog named Snowy (Mi-Loup -“half wolf”- in French).

Wearing space suits, Tintin, Snowy, and Haddock are exploring the surface of the moon, with their rocket ship in the background.

I too would one day sail the seven seas with a bearded drunk who roundly crushed his enemies calling them “Goths, barbarians, Visigoths”.

But, blistering barnacles…

I never imagined that fate would smile on me playfully transforming me into a taller version of Professor Calculus!

I am a rarely photographed man but I will always treasure Zoé´s photograph of me posing besides the hats and canes of the twin detectives Thomson and Thompson.

Then Zoé introduced me to Brussels´ holiest of holies, the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Gudula the Charitable.

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Above: Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, Brussels

Twin towers of Gothic white stone, fancy doors, statues of the Apostles and the Three Wise Men…

(The latter´s presence in Brussels might explain why three wise men can´t be found in Washington?)

…a massive oak pulpit, marvelous blue background stained glass windows with the green of hope and the yellow of eternal glory, the mausoleums of dukes and archdukes, the Drahmal Cross (a piece of the real deal?)

And here too contradictions abound…

In the Reformation, Protestants destroyed the interior of churches because they attempted to communicate the glory of God to the masses, (many of whom could not read, thus requiring symbolism).

This has always baffled me: how is destruction giving praise to God, the Creator of life and beauty?

And the veneration of saints has always confused me.

Take Gudula of the Abbey of Mauberge.

Granted she sounds like she was a pretty decent woman with many works of charity.

Should this woman´s accomplishments suffice for her to gain recognition and the veneration of a saint?

Why does the Church see the need to enshrine a good person in legends that can never be proved?

A legend says that Gudula went to church before cockcrow…

(Someone has to wake the roosters?)

…and the Devil, wishing for Gudula to stray from the path of righteousness, extinguished her lantern candle.

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God instantly rekindles the candle.

Umm…so?

And why is her statue shown with a lizard´s tail coming from the back of her robe?

I am saddened that I never got to see the falcons.

At the end of the 90s, Brussels ornithologists (bird brains?) discovered a couple of peregrine falcons hibernating on the top of the church towers.

Above: Peregrine falcons, painted by John Gould

So, Man being the meddler he is…

In 2001, ornithologists of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) installed a laying nest on the cathedral to encourage nest building.

The nest was never used.

But in the spring of 2004, a pair of falcons nested on a balcony on top of the Cathedral´s north tower.

At the beginning of March 2004, the female falcon laid three eggs.

By the end of May the three chicks were performing acrobatic feats on the Cathedral´s gargoyles.

I wonder whether falcons still do.

Images of Disney´s Quasimodo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) holding a baby bird in hand encouraging it to fly spring to mind…

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Above: Poster for the Disney film (1996)

Back home, veneration of the divine is replaced by veneration of the divine in one another.

Endless staring contest with Zoé´s cat Fleur who remained determined not to like me.

Fade to black…

To be continued…

Sources: Wikipedia / Rough Guides / John Sutherland: The Brontesaurus – An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily and Charlotte Bronte / Charlotte Bronte, The Professor

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Route 66 revisited

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 September 2016

Fifty years.

Half a century has gone by since the Sixties, the decade of my birth, a truly Dickensian “best of times”/”worst of times” decade.

What had been sowed, both good and evil, from the previous decade bore bittersweet harvest: apartheid produces the Sharpeville Massacre, Castro´s revolution leads to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, JFK becomes US President and plays nuclear roulette with the Russians, racial tensions explode with the assassination of Martin Luther King and Black Power is the response, the British government falls in the Profumo scandal, Nelson Mandela is jailed, the Greeks depose their King.

Above: Painting of the Sharpeville Massacre, 21 March 1960

Above: Che Guevara and Fidel Castro

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Above: US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

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Above: Soviet missiles displayed in Red Square, Moscow

Above: Martin Luther King Jr.- organised March on Washington, 28 August 1963

Above: Black Power demonstration at Mexico City Olympics 1968

Above: Robben Island Prison where Nelson Mandela was jailed

Good-bye Che Guevara, Adolf Eichmann, the villagers of My Lai, the miners of Aberfan, Jayne Mansfield, Norma Jean Baker (Marilyn Monroe), Judy Garland, JFK and brother Bobby…the day the music died.

Above: Jayne Mansfield

Monroe c. 1953

Above: Norma Jean Baker (aka Marilyn Monroe)

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Above: Robert Kennedy just after he was shot 0n 5 June 1968

It was a time of Flower Power and peace, when “all you need is love” in the land of Camelot, at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

It was a time of riots, protests and revolution, anarchy on campus and Reds scaring us everywhere.

The Berlin Wall goes up, the Apollo Mission ends in tragedy, Firenze flooded, Skopje wrecked by earthquake, the jumbo jet and the Concorde first fly, man in space and on the moon, Nureyev dances, Bob Dylan believes “the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind”, while women put all their faith in the Pill and US election campaigners tout Nixon with signs that read “I like Dick.”

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Above: The Berlin Wall

Above: Apollo 11 moon landing, 20 July 1969

Dylan with his guitar onstage, laughing and looking downwards.

Above: Bob Dylan, 1963

Vietnam, a conflict which America couldn´t lose, but did.

Above: US tank convoy, Vietnam War

Algeria, Kenya, Cyprus, Aden and Nigeria struggle for freedom.

The casbah is rocked.

The Six Day War, a conflict which Israel couldn´t win, yet did.

Biafra: 2.5 year war, a million innocent people starve to death.

Hope and terror in Prague as Soviet tanks roll down the streets of spring.

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The rise to stardom of Camille Javal (Brigitte Bardot) causing male temperatures to rise to stellar heights.

Above: Brigitte Bardot, 1961

The age of the epic film: Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, The Sound of Music, 2001: A Space Odyssey (which everyone loved but no one understood), Psycho, The Birds, Planet of the Apes, La Dolce Vita.

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Charles Manson commits unspeakable acts.

The Rat Pack sing, George Lazenby is unloved On Her Majesty´s Secret Service, prompting Sean Connery to remind movie goers that he´s still  “Bond. James Bond.”

Above: Sean Connery as James Bond 007

It is the rise of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, One Flew over the Cuckoo´s Nest, the high priests of hippiedom: Leary, Hoffman and Rubin, Arthur Miller and Norman Mailer, Samuel Becket and Dave Brubeck, Pavarotti and Edith Piaf, Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

Above: “Wham!”, Roy Liechtenstein, 1963

Above: “Campbell´s Soup I”, Andy Warhol, 1968

And pop culture was pop music: Elvis, the Beatles, Ike and Tina Turner, Sonny and Cher, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Doors, the Supremes, the Bee Gees, the Who, the Everley Brothers, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Joe Cocker…the list goes on.

Presley, wearing a tight black leather jacket with Napoleonic standing collar, black leather wristbands, and black leather pants, holds a microphone with a long cord. His hair, which looks black as well, falls across his forehead. In front of him is an empty microphone stand. Behind, beginning below stage level and rising up, audience members watch him. A young woman with long black hair in the front row gazes up ecstatically.

Above: Elvis Presley, 28 June 1968

A square quartered into four head shots of young men with moptop haircuts. All four wear white shirts and dark coats.

Above: The Beatles, 1964

Above: The Rolling Stones, 1965

John and Yoko in beds in Amsterdam, Toronto and Montreal hotels and all they are saying is “give peace a chance” and uninhibitedly naked in a picture that remains shocking.

Above: John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal, 1969

Yves St-Laurent, Twiggy, “boots made for walking”, pork pie hats and mini macs, paper dresses and mini skirts, allowing the ladies to “twist again like we did last summer” to the Top of the Pops and pirate radio.

Above: Lesley Hornby, aka Twiggy, 1967

Squatters and “jacking up” and Woodstock.

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The Greatest floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee, whether his name is Cassius Clay or Muhammed Ali.

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Above: Muhammad Ali, 1967

…and Adam West is Batman and Hugh Hefner redefines the word “bunny” and folks wonder if Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is psychedelic or was caused by something psychedelic…

All of this remembering makes me want to go to London…

“You Say You Want a Revolution?: Records and Rebels (1966 – 70)” is a new exhibition that started ten days ago and will continue to 26 February 2017 at the Victoria and Albert (V & A) Museum that explores how a flourishing counterculture of rebellion, expressed through music, fashion, art and political protest, challenged existing power structures in the late 1960s.

Acid test

Here one can find the suits worn by John Lennon and George Harrison on the cover of Sgt. Pepper´s Lonely Hearts Club Band, shards from a Jimi Hendrix guitar and copies of the underground magazines Oz and International Times.

The Beatles, holding marching band instruments and wearing colourful uniforms, stand near a grave covered with flowers that spell "Beatles". Standing behind the band are several dozen famous people.

Imagine looking at LSD as a positive influence – not just used for recreational purposes but used to push boundaries and open the doors of perception.

Experience Pink Floyd playing in a backdrop of dazzling lights and avant garde films and feel the impact of Hendrix´s solo performance at Woodstock of the Star Spangled Banner.

(Even Colin Kaepernick would stand up for this!).

A black and white photograph of a man playing an electric guitar.

Above: Jimi Hendrix, 1967

Get high with a little help from the V & A.

Dress

Sources: Wikipedia; The Independent, 27 February 2016; V & A Museum.

 

Canada Slim and the Genius of Glarus

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 August 2016

In my last blog post, Yesterday’s Children, I wrote of boarding a train to parts unknown in an attempt to restore my composure after attending a memorial service in Benken, Canton St. Gallen.

The day then was much like today’s weather: chilly, dark, unpleasant…

Glarus, Canton Glarus, 21 March 2016

Glarus, the smallest Canton in Switzerland, nestles between high mountains, the Schwyzer Alps to the west and the Glarus Alps to the east.

This is Switzerlands’s least-known and supposedly hardest-to-reach region, a tract of territory with just a scattering of widely-separated settlements and very low key tourism.

Its isolation is its attraction – a place to turn your back on the crowds and breathe in the fresh air of the wilderness.

It is possible to bypass the slender, cliff-girt Walensee – (though why one would desire to do so is a mystery, for the lake is remarkably beautiful)  -by both car and train.

Walensee vom Kerenzerberg gegen Osten

Ziegelbrücke, at the lake’s western tip, marks the start of routes squeezing southwards.

12 km south, Glarus, the smallest canton capital city in Switzerland, is a picture postcard place, dwarfed and intimidated by the looming Glärnisch massif, dwarfed and intimidated by the rest of Switzerland, which in turn as a landlocked fortress island surrounded by Europe, feels dwarfed and intimidated by the world.

Now all the English-language guidebooks (Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, etc.) suggest that, with the notable exception of the first Sunday in May when Glarus holds its Landsgemeinde (public Parliament), there is little reason to visit Glarus, but instead one should travel on southwards to scenic Linthal, the Klausen Pass towards Canton Uri, and the lovely and lonely enclosed valley of Urnerboden.

Landsgemeinde Glarus, 2009.jpg

(See Railroads to Anywhere: Urnasch and Appenzell of this blog for a description of how a Landsgemeinde works and why seeing one is worthwhile.)

And one day I will return to Glarus to do just that, to see what lies to the south of Glarnerland.

But this day, after attending a funeral, the very anonymity, the isolation of Glarus held a greater attraction for me than places more frequented by tourists and greater praised by travel literature.

I could have reached Glarus on foot by simply following the Linth River from Benken, for Glarus lies on the river Linth.

Der Linthkanal bei Reichenburg, Richtung Süden, im Hintergrund der Mürtschenstock.

My imagination likes to think that this is how St. Fridolin did it in the 6th century.

According to the legend, the inhabitants of the Linth River valley were converted to Christianity by the Irish monk St. Fridolin, who, after founding Säckingen Abbey in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, decided to keep travelling and keep on converting those he met during his travels.

Fridolin belonged to a noble family in Ireland and at first he was a missionary there.

Afterwards crossing to France, Fridolin came to Poitiers, where in answer to a vision, he sought out the relics of St. Hilarius and built a church for them.

St. Hilarius subsequently appeared to Fridolin in a dream and commanded him to proceed to an island in the Rhine river where Säckingen now exists.

In Switzerland, Fridolin spent considerable time where he converted the landowner Urso.

On his death Urso left his enormous landholdings to Fridolin, who founded numerous churches all dedicated to St. Hilarius (the origin of the name “Glarus”).

(Yes, Fridolin’s mentor’s name sounds hilarious!)

Urso’s brother Landolf refused to accept the legitimacy of the gift and brought Fridolin before a court in Rankweil to prove his title.

Fridolin did so by summoning Urso from the dead (!) to confirm the gift in person, so terrifying Landolf that he gave his lands to Fridolin as well.

From the 9th century, the Glarus region was owned by Säckingen Abbey until the Habsburgs claimed all the Abbey’s rights by 1288.

St. Fridolin has never been forgotten.

Glarus joined the Swiss Confederacy in 1352.

Habsburgian attempts to reconquer the valley were repelled in the Battle of Näfels in 1388, where a banner depicting St. Fridolin was used to rally the people of Glarus to victory.

The Battle of Näfels, the last battle of the Old Swiss Confederation vs the Austrian Hapsburgs, fought on 9 April 1388 was decisive despite the forces of Glarus being outnumbered 16 to 1!

2,500 Austrians died.

Only 54 men of Glaurus were killed.

From that time onwards Canton Glarus has used the image of St. Fridolin on its flags and in its coat of arms.

Glaris-coat of arms.svg

In 1389, a seven-year peace was signed in Vienna and that same year the first Näfelser Fahrt, a pilgrimage to the site of the battle was held.

This pilgrimage, which still occurs, happens on the first Thursday of April in memory of this Battle.

Between 1506 and 1516 the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli was priest in Glarus.

Ulrich-Zwingli-1.jpg

It was his first ecclesiastical post.

(To read more about Zwingli, see City of Spirits and Reformation by the River and the Railroad Tracks of this blog.)

It was in Glarus, whose soldiers were used as mercenaries in Europe, that Zwingli became involved in politics.

From 1500 to 1800 a main source of income for Glarus came from its mercenary soldiers.

Close to 1,000 Glarner became officers, acquiring fame.

A far greater number lost their lives as soldiers in foreign service.

The Swiss Confederation was embroiled in various campaigns against its neighbours: the French, the Habsburgs and the Papal States.

Zwingli placed himself solidly on the side of the Papacy.

Zwingli was a chaplin in several campaigns in Italy, including the Battle of Novara (6 June 1513).

However the decisive defeat of the Swiss in the Battle of Marignano (13-14 September 1513) caused a shift in mood in Glarus in favour of the French rather than the Pope.

Zwingli found himself in a difficult position and decided to retreat to Einsiedeln, Canton Schwyz.

By this time, Zwingli was convinced that mercenary service was immoral and that Swiss unity was indispensable for any future Swiss achievements.

While Zwingli was not a reformer at Glarus, it was there he began to develop the ideas that would lead him to break with the Catholic Church.

In 1528 the Reformation gained a foothold in Glarus, directed by Zwingli who had moved to Zürich in 1518 after two years in Einsiedeln.

Even though Zwingli had preached in Glarus for 10 years, the town remained strongly Catholic.

However, following the Second War of Kappel in 1531, both the Catholic and Protestant residents were given the right to worship in town.

This led to both religious groups using the town church simultaneously (!), an arrangement that caused numerous problems.

In 1782 a “witch” was executed for the first and only time in Glarus and the last time in Europe.

A five-man jury sentenced the accused maid, Anna Göldi, to death by sword.

(See Five schillings’ worth of wood of this blog about witches in Switzerland and abroad past and present.)

In 1798 Glarus became a battlefield for foreign armies leading the Confederation to surrender to French occupation.

This war brought with it misery and destitution.

In 1799, 1,200 children were forced to seek food and shelter in other cantons.

By the 18th century both groups still shared the same church but had separate organs (!), both financially and theologically independent parishes meeting in the same city church (!).

This neo-Romanesque church is the symbol of the city.

In the early 1840s, after several years of bad crops and scarcity of food, much of the Canton found itself deep in debt and poverty.

With more workers than available jobs, emigration to the United States was seen as a solution.

The Glarus Emigration Society was established in 1844, offering loans to help residents purchase land in the New World.

Many of the resulting emigrants went to the state of Wisconsin, where they founded the town of New Glarus.

Newglarus4.jpg

Above: Jodellers and Alphorns are all part of the New Glarus Swiss Volkfest.

(Despite its small size, 2,2oo people, New Glarus is known for many traditional Swiss dishes (like Rösti, Kalberwurst, Spätzle, Landjäger, Brätzli, Bratwurst, fondue, Älpermagronen, Zopf, Chäschüchli, Schnitzel, chocolates, Stollen, etc), its many festivals (including a Polkafest, Heidi Festival, William Tell Festival…), the Swiss Village Historical Museum, the Swiss Center of North America, Swiss chalets with flower boxes filled with red geraniums, Swiss flags flying next to the American flag, the card game Jass, yodeling, flag tossing…)

(See The cards we’re dealt of this blog for a description of the card game Jass.)

In short, New Glarus, Wisconsin, is the best-known Swiss settlement in America.)

On the evening / early morning of 10 / 11 May 1861 the town was devastated by a Great Fire that was fanned by a violent Föhn (a south wind)(known as a Chinook in Canada), destroying 2/3 of the town (593 buildings in total) with 3,000 people losing their roofs and everything they owned.

Very few buildings built before the Great Fire remain.

(New Glarus collected money for Glarus.)

In 1864, the first European labour law to protect workers was introduced in Glarus prohibiting workers from working more than 12 hours a day.

(In 1880, when much of the nearby town of Elm was buried beneath a landslide killing 114 people, the residents of New Glarus again sent money.)

On 6 May 2007 Glarus became the first Canton to lower the voting age to 16.

Today wood, textile, printing and plastics are the dominant industries.

Most of the 13, 000 residents speak the local Swiss German dialect, most of them are over 20 and under the age of 64, and are highly educated.

And the town of Glarus, not to mention the canton of Glarus, produced some remarkable people:

Ägidius Tschudi (1505 – 1572) was a governor of Sargans and Baden, the defender of Catholicism during the chaos of the Reformation, ambassador, hospital founder, geographer and historian.

Tschudi’s maps were far superior to those up to his period in exactness and he is considered to be the Father of Swiss History.

Another Tschudi, one Johann Jakob von Tschudi (1818 – 1889), was a medical doctor, diplomat, natural scientist, South American explorer, zoologist, hunter, collector, antropologist, cultural historian, language researcher and a Swiss business executive in Vienna.

After his explorations through South America, Johann took up the cause of Swiss and other European immigrant residents of Brazil who were treated no better than slaves.

Johann’s travels through Peru, the Cordilleras, Brazil, Argentina and Chile have been compared to the accomplishments of pioneers in science.

Fritz Zwicky (1898 – 1974) was a physicist.

In fact Zwicky was one of the most esteemed astrophysicists of the 20th century, creating the “Morphological Method”, this Professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena made discoveries in rocket technology, publishing many scientific papers and his biographical Every Person a Genius.

When researchers talk about neutron stars, dark matter, and gravitational lenses, they all start the same way:

“Zwicky noticed this problem in the 1930s.

Back then, nobody listened…”

(Steven Mauer, Idea Man)

The Glarus Public Library and the Fritz Zwicky Foundation house his personal library.

As well, this town has produced Olympic calibre cyclists Peter Vogel and Colin Stüssi, Olympic gymnist Melanie Marti and racing driver Urs Sonderegger.

Clearly a remarkable place filled with remarkable people…

Yet few travel books make remarks about either the town or the canton called Glarus.

And I have mixed feelings about this, for as much as I wish others to enjoy Glarus as much as I have, there remains a part of me that wants to keep this enjoyment as a private pleasure.

For the tourist the town has much to offer: the Museum of Art with its collection of 19th / 20th century Swiss artwork and Pablo Picasso’s “Tete Bleue”, the Museum of Natural History, the Holenstein Cultural Centre, the Tschudi Art Gallery, the Pitoresk Gallery, the Suworow Museum, the Kantonschule Observatory, a park and a sports centre offering ice-skating, curling, jogging, field athletics, cycling, downhill skiing, sledding, swimming.

The Spielhof, the former State School, with its Soldenhoff Room, exhibits the major works of painter Alexander Soldenhoff (1882 – 1951), while its library and archives include the Blumer Atlas Collection, astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky’s personal library and Professor Arthur Dürst’s geographical collection.

As well, the Romanesque mountain chapel dedicated to the Archangel Michael dates back a thousand years, with a Roccoco altar of dark marble showing Michael hurling Lucifer into Hell’s fire while Maria and Joseph with the Christ Child look on.

White marble statues of Glarus’ patron saints Fridolin and Hilarius share devotion with Zürich’s patron saints Felix and Regula who found refuge in a nearby cave that bear their finger impressions on the walls.

Fortress Hill offers a scenic view of the town and vineyards cling to the hillside.

And nearby, a beautiful lake in a valley ringed by magnificent mountains with hiking trails, campsites, a boat dock, windsurfing and ice skating, arched stone bridge and hydro dam, limestone caves, peaks, gorges and waterfalls have inspired poets and painters for generations.

This is the Klöntal, where a memorial stone reads “here the goats – here the border” and a rough stone block bears the inscription: “Salomon Gessner wished to create a monument to nature, thus nature allowed his name to be recorded here for all eternity.”

But perhaps I have underestimated the good folks of Glarus…

Glarners have wisely decided to keep Paradise mostly private.

Perhaps in Glarnus every person is a genius after all…

(Sources: Wikipedia; Switzerland Tourism; Josef Schwitter/Urs Heer, Glarnerland: A Short Portrait)

 

Shakespeare in the original Klingon

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 June 2016

TheKlingonHamlet.jpg

“All the world´s a stage and all the men and women merely players.  They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts.” (William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7)

“You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

(Klingon Chancellor Gorkon, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)

“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and movement, how express and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!”

(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)

I am an English-as-a-second-language teacher, both by profession and by preference.

And as such, having lived and taught in countries like Canada, South Korea, Germany and Switzerland, I have found myself mostly teaching English grammar and vocabulary to students whose goals were functional and practical in regards to applying English for their future in business.

As the chief goals of English language learning in capitalist countries tend to be focused on acquiring more capital, it is sadly rare to find myself discussing literature and culture in my classes.

Happily, at present, I find myself teaching a conversation course in Winterthur every Friday morning that allows me to bring into discussions these oft neglected ESL themes.

My modus operandi (m.o) is as follows:

Every two weeks the students are given works of literature, in easy reader editions, to read and to be prepared to discuss.

So far this year I have had them read Nick Hornby´s About a Boy, Eric Emmanuel Schmitt´s Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Qur´an, Agatha Christie´s Murder on the Orient Express, Johann Wyss´s The Swiss Family Robinson, Jojo Moyes´s Honeymoon in Paris and Nevil Shute´s On the Beach.

My choices of literature have been rather serendipitious and randomly haphazard and I have longed to have them attempt more powerful works, but I have shied away from the works of William Shakespeare with my conversation ladies.

Shakespeare is not an easy author for readers whose English is still in formation.

In the weeks between their receipt of books to read and their discussion of them, I bring in newspaper articles for them to discuss.

I am particularly fond of a publication from Sprachzeitungen called World and Press, which takes articles from various British and American newspapers and combines them into a small compendium newspaper with the potentially difficult words translated into German below the articles.

Three recent articles in particular caught my eye and have made me think about how language is invented and how language has affected my life:

“William Shakespeare may have fancied himself as a playwright of infinite jest, but dozens of his jokes fall flat with modern readers because of changes in English pronunciation over the past 400 years.

Modern audiences experience several jarring moments in each of his plays because his puns no longer work.

David Crystal, author of the Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation, spent 12 years combing through the plays to create versions that Elizabethean audiences would have understood.

Cover for The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation

Crystal´s work is designed to enable theatre companies to put on plays spoken in their original pronunciation.

In Hamlet, the title character tells the audience:

“Frailty, thy name is woman.”

A pun of the period was to pronounce woman, with a long vowel so that it sounded like “woe-man“.

When a scurrilous Greek named Thersites insults the warrior Ajax, in Troilus and Cressida, merely by saying his name, one thinks:

“Why is that an insult?”

You have to know that Ajax was pronounced “a jakes“, which was an Elizabethean word for “shithouse“.” (The Times, 16 February 2016)

Back in high school, I found myself often surprised and shocked by how rude and ribald Shakespeare could be, when I was not distracted by our English teacher Miss Duke´s tendency to wear short skirts as she taught!

“For centuries theories have swirled about whether Shakespeare´s heart – as well as his muse – resided in Stratford-upon-Avon rather than London.

Now those in charge of excavating his final home believe that they have established that instead of merely retiring to Stratford after a glittering career in the capital, Shakespeare based himself there, with only the occasional commute to London.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has been charged with reimagining Shakespeare´s final home, New Place, which he bought in Stratford in 1597, but which was destroyed in the years after his death in 1616.

Archaeological excavations at the site – a five-million-pound project for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare´s death – have unearthed what they believe is a pleasure palace that nobody would want to leave for lodgings in London.

There were up to 30 rooms, 10 hearths, a beer-brewing room, the only house in town with a courtyard, and a Long Gallery – in short, a good house for parties.

“This is not a house you would want to stay away from if you owned it.” 

(Dr. Paul Edmondson, head of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust)

Beyond the charms of the family home, there was also the presence of a London courier, William Greenway, across the road from New House, who could have brought the playwright books and messages from the capital, reducing Shakespeare´s own need to undertake the three-day journey.

Shakespeare, as far as it is known, only ever lodged in London, which was unusual for actors of the day who often bought properties.

Shakespeare is known to have bought one London property – at Blackfriars Gatehouse – which he immediately rented out to tenants.

There is in fact little evidence of Shakespeare being in the capital at all, although there is little doubt he would have attended performances of his plays at court and theatres.

The Trust is convinced that the playwright would not have hung around in London if he had a country place to go to.

Stratford-upon-Avon offered the inspirations Shakespeare needed to write his timeless works.

“A picture emerges of Shakespeare being nothing more than an intermittent lodger in London.  New Place is part of how Shakespeare had a rhythm to his writing.  He was writing two to three plays a year.  He had to produce blockbusters.  He needed time, focus and energy to do that.”(Edmondson)”

(The Times, 6 February 2016)

Stratford would have great effect upon my life as well.

St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, February 1991

“Hitting the open road with a open mind to match is the agenda for Adam Kerr (25) during the next five years…completing his adventure – a “walkabout” across Canada…

…the backpack-laden Mr. Kerr wandered into Stratford for a brief stay…

“The reason to travel is to meet people – people are what make a country.”

But in as much as his journey is an adventure, it is also a learning experience and a test of resilience.

“I don´t take being told “No” personally anymore.”

But “no” is what he sometimes hears when he knocks on farmhouse doors looking for someplace warm to sleep on cold winter nights.

Although he carries a “supposedly” four-season two-man tent and down-filled sleeping bag, he said nights can get really cold.

The other night in Shakespeare, Kerr got turned down everywhere he went, prejudicing his opinion against the hamlet.

“If you didn´t know who William Shakespeare was and you walked into Shakespeare, Ontario, you´d think he was a truck-driving antique dealer.”

As for Stratford, Kerr frankly said he was disappointed.

Kerr compared the East End up to Romeo Street to suburban Scarborough in Toronto.

Things improve after that, with Ontario Street conjuring up images of Shakespeare´s The Winter´s Tale.

The county courthouse and the city hall also drew high praise.

Above: City Hall, Stratford, Ontario, Canada

“If the OMB (Ontario Municipal Board) gods looked down, they´d say “Bravo”.”

But Kerr´s overall impression of Stratford trying to imitate its namesake in England has turned out more like “Tweed-upon-the-river-Nith”…

(St. Thomas Times-Journal, 28 February 1991)

To say that my remarks annoyed the locals of Stratford and Shakespeare would be an understatement!

But I felt then, as I still feel today, that Canada should have an identity of its own rather than be a copy of the colonial powers that usurped the land from the native populations already residing there and whose names for places were both original and beautiful.

I don´t want London, Ontario to be a pale awkward imitation of London, England, but instead I want it to have an identity separate and proud.

As much as I admire Stratford´s dedication to the heritage of William Shakespeare, and have had nothing but the highest of praise for its excellent Shakespeare Festival Theatre and its performances, Stratford should celebrate its uniqueness as Canadian and not a namesake of a far distant city in England.

(Above: Shakespeare Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario, Canada)

And what was wrong with the first name, Little Thomas, that the colonists chose before Thomas Mercer Jones, of the British land development company, Canada Company, dubbed the place Stratford?

I have always felt it rather arrogant and historically disrespectful of folks to rename a place with little regard to the name it first had.

History and the names we give places are truly written by the conquerors.

Stratford-upon-Avon, England, 27 July 1996

After my walkabout and after a time of working and saving money in Ottawa, I decided I wanted to follow another dream of mine: to explore Europe.

And it would be in Stratford-upon-Avon where a new chapter of my life would begin:

“I had everything planned for travelling about Europe.

I had bought an open-ended airline ticket valid for a year.

I had work waiting for me in Oxford.

I was footloose and fancy-free, no ties, no commitments.

That year, my 31st, I worked in Oxford, Leicester, Nottingham and Cardiff at various “McJobs” I could find: in factories, in old age homes, on the street, in a youth hostel, for the University.

SHE meanwhile was studying medicine in Freiburg im Breisgau in the Black Forest of Germany and was doing an apprenticeship in Liverpool.

I was working in Leicester at this time.

One long weekend, I impulsively decided to visit Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare’s birthplace.

(Above: John Shakespeare’s house, William Shakespeare´s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, England)

SHE, having completed her apprenticeship period, was travelling around England.

We met that evening of 27 July 1996 at the youth hostel in Stratford.

(Above: YHA hostel, Stratford-upon-Avon, England)

It was love at first sight.

I thought she was HOT.

SHE thought my guidebooks were terrific.

For five years, we lived on separate continents: SHE remaining in Freiburg, I in Canada, then in South Korea.

For another five years, we lived together in Freiburg.

We’ve been married for ten years.”

(“How SHE came to be”, The Chronicles of Canada Slim, 6 August 2015)

Ute and I explored Stratford-upon-Avon together, not only learning about one another, Stratford-upon-Avon taught us many things about Shakespeare we had never known:

  • Shakespeare invented many new words in the English word, including the word “assassination”.
  • The English language owes a great debt to Shakespeare: He invented over 1,700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.
  • Shakespeare willed his fortune to his daughter and only a bed to his wife.
  • Shakespeare wrote a total of 154 sonnets and 36 plays.
  • There have been more than 500 film and TV adaptations of Shakespeare´s dramas.
  • Shakespeare was said to have had a huge vocabulary:  His works contained some 30,000 words compared to just 3,000 used by the average adult today.
  • Shakespeare is generally acknowledged to be the greatest imaginative writer in the English language and his works have been translated into most of the world´s languages and are read, taught and performed all over the globe.

Suwon, South Korea, 1999 – 2000

To ensure myself an easier time finding work in Germany, to join my German girlfriend living in Freiburg im Breisgau, I decided I needed to work / teach overseas / out of Canada.

I worked in Suwon, a 30-minute train ride south of Seoul, teaching English to children ages 4 to 14 at a hogwan (private school) and conversational / medical English to doctors at a hospital.

As impressive as Shakespeare was in regards to inventing new words into the English language, I learned that a note of respect must also be extended to Korean King Sejong the Great (1397 – 1450), who took a spoken language that had been considered only to be a Chinese dialect and created a written language that forged a nationality that only the Second World War could sever.

조선의 제4대 국왕 (Korean for King Sejong the Great)

The Korean language, hangul in Korean, like its cousins Chinese and Japanese, is a very tonal language where a slip of the tongue could find yourself calling your mother-in-law bountiful (as in overweight) rather than beautiful (!), but it is surprisingly a relatively easy language to learn to read as it possesses only 14 consonant symbols and 6 vowel symbols, so within a short time I was able to read bus and train signs.

Korean is spoken by 63 million people in North and South Korea and by 80 million people worldwide.

Not bad for an invented language…

Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, 2000 – 2004

After South Korea I moved to Germany to be with my girlfriend, who would later become my wife, and there would I learn that here too Shakespeare´s magic wound through German culture.

“Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were, and still are, revered across Europe, but even they were indebted to the English.

Goethe´s mentor Johann Gottfried Herder was convinced that in order to find their proper voice, German writers had to first look to the British Isles: Schäkespear was destined to create us Germans.

For the generation who laid the foundations of German culture, there was no way around the English playwright.

Wieland and Schlegel were considerably more famous for their Shakespeare translations than for their own writing in their lifetime.

Schiller adored Othello at school and died trying to write his own version of the play.

Goethe felt a deep inferiority complex when faced with Shakespeare:

“I am often ashamed before Shakespeare, for it often happens that at first glance I think: I would have done that differently, but soon I realise that I am a poor sinner, that nature prophesies through Shakespeare and that my characters are soap bubbles from romantic fancies….

Hamlet and his monologues are ghosts that haunt all young German souls.  Everyone knows them by heart and everybody believes that they can be as melancholic as the prince of Denmark.””

(Philip Oltermann, Keeping Up with the Germans: A History of Anglo-German Encounters)

In downtown Freiburg, in a bookshop devoted to science fiction, I would learn of Shakespeare´s effect on one of my favourite TV and movie franchises: Star Trek.

In Star Trek “historical” canon:

1986: A painting of William Shakespeare is on sale at an antique store in San Francisco. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)

2153: Shakespeare´s works are among the examples of Earth literature provided to the Vissians. Vissian Captain Drennik quotes from Hamlet and expresses admiration for Macbeth.  Captain Archer advises them to take their time in reading the plays. (Enterprise: Cogenitor)

2155: In the mirror universe Phlox commented that Shakespeare´s work is similar in both unvierses. (Enterprise: In a Mirror Darkly)

2266: The Enterprise hosts the Karidian Company of Players, a travelling Shakespearean acting troupe.  While on board they put on a performance of Hamlet. (Star Trek: The Conscience of the King)

2269: At the Elba II asylum, Marta cites Shakespeare´s Sonnet XVIII and claims that she wrote it. but Garth corrects her. (Star Trek: Whom Gods Destroy)

2293: The works of Shakespeare are already well-known to Klingons, such as Chancellor Gorkon and General Chang, with Gorkon stating that Shakespeare could only be understood in the original Klingon and Chang quoting liberally from Shakespeare´s plays. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)

Shakespeare is mentioned and often quoted in many episodes of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, showing not only an ongoing love of Shakespeare in our time of the TV production of these series but a suggestion that in the imagined future Shakespeare´s works will continue to hold sway.

But it is in the suggestion of “Shakespeare in the original Klingon” that members of the Klingon Language Institute (an independent organisation based in Flourtown, Pennsylvania) translated the text of Hamlet into Klingon.

Klingons are a fictional extraterrestrial humanoid species in the Star Trek franchise.

KlingonInsignia.svg

The key word here is fictional.

But for the sake of a sense of realism and to create empathy for aliens Star Trek manufactured alien cultural attributes akin to humanity.

As originally developed by screenwriter Gene L. Coon, Klingons were swarthy humanoids characterized mainly by prideful ruthlessness and brutality.

Totalitarian, and with a martial society relying on slave labour, they reflected analogies with both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Although Cold War tensions are apparent in the characterization, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry did not intend any explicit political parallels.

With a greatly expanded budget for makeup and effects, the Klingons were completely redesigned in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), acquiring ridged foreheads that created a continuity error not explained until 2005.

In later films and in the spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the militaristic traits of the Klingons were bolstered by an increased sense of honour and strict warrior code similar to those of the Japanese warrior code of bushido.

Among the elements created for the revised Klingons was a complete Klingon language, developed by American linguist Marc Okrand, from gibberish suggested by Canadian actor James Doohan.

Spoken Klingon has entered popular culture, even to the extent that the works of William Shakespeare and the Bible have been translated into it.

A dictionary, a book of sayings, and a cultural guide to the language have been published.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Klingon is the world’s most popular fictional language as measured by number of speakers. (Wikipedia)

Which finally leads me to the article which inspired this post:

“A dispute over the ownership of the Klingon language is boldly going where no legal row has gone before after two major Hollywood studios cited their copyright of the fictional Star Trek tongue to block the production of a fan-funded film.

Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios are locked in a battle with the production team behind Star Trek: Axanar, an independent Star Trek prequel, amid claims that the fan film infringes copyright.

The use of the Klingon language was first spoken in the first Star Trek film in 1979 and has been used by the franchise ever since.

Estimates vary, but there are thought to be just 20 to 30 fluent Klingon speakers worldwide, though the independent Klingon Language Institute in Flourtown, Pennsylvania, is attempting to boost numbers through a scholarship programme.

However linguistic experts say the cumbersome language is struggling to attract new speakers as it is useful for discussing intergalactic warfare and blood feuds but with just 3,000 words lacks everyday vocabulary.”

(The Independent, 15 March 2016)

It is believed that 90% of the 7,000 languages currently spoken in the world will have become extinct by 2050, as the world’s language system has reached a crisis and is dramatically restructuring. (Wikipedia)

Despite the popularity of the Star Trek franchise I can´t help but wonder if this battle over a 3,000-word, 30-speaker invented language of a fictional alien species is nothing more than Much Ado about Nothing.

I remain ever grateful for the ways that William Shakespeare has woven his way through the thread of my life, but I wonder what William Shakespeare would have thought about this strange modern age we live in.

Would he say…

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” ?

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5

I wonder.

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The end of the world as we know it?

According to NASA scientists, an asteroid will do a fly-by in the skies above ol’ Earth next week.

These good folks, who have spent decades studying the skies and the stars and everything in between, assure us that there is nothing to worry about and that we are completely safe.

Of course, why should we believe cock-eyed optimistic “expert” scientists when doomsayers clearly know better?

Professor Robert Walsh, research director of the University of Central Lancashire, suggests that we better take the threat of an impending apocalyse seriously.

So, say good-bye to loved ones before next Wednesday as sometime between next Wednesday and the following Tuesday humanity will be as extinct as the dinosaurs.

Even the Donald (Trump) ‘s ego is not big enough to shelter us from harm.

A plethora of horrors will ravage the planet, including meteor strikes, earthquakes, tsunamis, fire and brimstone, dogs and cats living together, wrath of God, biblical plagues, and not even the Ghostbusters can save the day.

And even though NASA and scientists around the world regularly monitor the skies and tell us “Don’t worry. Be happy.”…

Even though the Earth is hit with about a hundred tons of extraterrestrial material every day, debris in the form of numerous small rocks, the majority of which burn up in the planet’s atmosphere…

Even though Bruce Willis is suited up and ready to go….

I say, sell your house NOW and spend the money on a nice holiday before those places to see before you die are no longer around for you to see and you are no longer around to see them.

And that nice cult leader down the road, we know HE’s ready with his electric Kool-Aid and his assurances that death is simply the threshold to an extra-dimensional paradise.

I mean if you can’t trust religion at a time like this…

So, hardware and grocery stores, stock up, for the sensible folks are comin’.

They’ve always been ready with their underground bases stocked with canned goods and bottled water, blankets and flasks of coffee.

They’ve always been ready, whether the crisis is as simple as a snowstorm or as terrifying as nuclear war or zombie invasion.

As for me and my house, we are, quite frankly, cowards.

What?

Admit the possibility of dying?

Never!

It is just too psychologically uncomfortable to think about.

So, we are planning a beer and spirits run to the local store, so when the Apocalypse comes we will be insensible to it.

After all, we partied before:

When “it was two thousand zero zero, party’s over, out of time”…

And when those ancient Mayans and their stone calendars predicted 2012 as “game over”, well, Jack Daniel profits in our part of Thurgau County were remarkably healthy that year.

So, folks, party’s at my house, bring your jammies and toothbrushes and we’ll watch DVDs until the power fails or the booze runs out, which ever comes first.

So, God, it’ll be great to meet You finally face to face.

Oh, and by the way, thanks for all the fish.