Canada Slim and the Holy Field of Sparrows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 July 2018

I have three books in my possession that offer three different ways to consider the Serbian capital city of Belgrade….

I can choose to be as Chris Farmer and be Grumpy in Belgrade, I can choose to be as Momo Kapor and feel The Magic of Belgrade, or I can follow Aleksandar Diklic´s advice and take a sentimental journey through history of Belgrade: The Eternal City.

What is certain is that I experienced these emotions and more when I was in Belgrade this past April.

I spent six glorious days in Serbia as a guest of my Starbucks St. Gallen colleague Nesha, and there is much I learned that I wish to share with you, my gentle readers, in the hopes that you too will discover the unsung delights that are the fascinating cities of Belgrade and Nis.

Perhaps my stories will encourage you to visit….

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Above: The City of Belgrade

Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday 5 April 2018

The day, my first full one, began with a regret, my first full one.

During the evening as a result of excessive eating and drinking – first with Nesha and his mama Strawberry, and then later with Nesha and the godparents of Nesha´s daughter – in Belgrade, which, like New York City, never sleeps – I found that my night clothing had paid the penalty for my pastimes.

It had been a difficult time – my leg itched, I couldn´t get comfortable on my air mattress bed, and the gigantic teddy bears that shared the room seemed to be watching me.

I dreamt of Amadeus Mozart gambling – his name spelled Mozzart like the chain of Serbian betting offices seen everywhere.

Above: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

 

As the ladies of the harbour offered me comfort for the night, raccoon-eyed, hard-working, hard-living Nesha kept telling me:

“Listen to me, Adami.  I´ll sleep when I´m dead.”

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Above: Nesha Obranovic, the man, the legend

The begging boys by the Danube reminded me that no concentration camps are open on the Orthodox Easter weekend.

I take my night clothing into the shower, attempting to multi-task my morning cleanliness with a wee bit of laundry.

Not knowing how Nesha´s shower worked, I turn the bathroom floor into a swimming pool.

Yet Nesha is in good spirits, despite his lungs are tobacco leaf folders.

His kitchen is not ideally set up for elaborate cooking so after discussion about this and that we have latté and Turkish coffee at the Café Alphonse de Lamartine.

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Named after French writer/poet/politician Alphonse de Lamartine (1790 – 1869) the Café stands across from Park Lamartine.

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Above: Alphonse de Lamartine

Lamartine is memorialized by this park and café as well as a monument in Karadordev Park.

Lamartine was born in Macon, France, on 21 October 1790.

His family were members of the French provincial nobility and Lamartine spent his youth at the family estate.

Lamartine made his entrance into the field of poetry by a masterpiece, Les Méditations Poétiques (1820) and awoke to find himself famous.

He was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour in 1825.

He worked for the French embassy in Italy from 1825 to 1828.

In 1829, he was elected a member of the Académie française.

He was elected a deputy in 1833.

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Above: Flag of modern France

In 1835 he published the Voyage en Orient, a brilliant and bold account of the journey he had just made, in royal luxury, to the countries of the Orient.

Alphonse de Lamartine was an Orientalist with a particular interest in Lebanon and the Middle East.

He travelled to Lebanon, Syria and the Holy Land via Serbia in 1832–33.

During that trip, while he was in Beirut, on 7 December 1832, he lost his only remaining child, Julia.

During his trip to Lebanon he had met Prince Bashir Shihab II and Prince Simon Karam, who were enthusiasts of poetry.

A valley in Lebanon is still called the Valley of Lamartine as a commemoration of that visit and the Lebanon cedar forest still harbors the Lamartine Cedar, which is said to be the cedar under which Lamartine had sat 200 years ago.

“Highlanders with innate manners, shepherds who live for freedom and women as beautiful as ladies from Swiss cantons…”

This is how Lamartine saw the people of Serbia during his visit in 1833.

Was Alphonse de Lamartine actually the one who has established French-Serbian friendship, and not World War I, as it was considered for a long time?

Lamartine was the first man whose opinion mattered and who spread the word across Europe about sufferings of peoples in the Balkans under  Ottoman rule and the great courage of Serbs fighting for freedom.

Till than France was on good terms with the Ottoman Empire, but it all changed after what Lamartine had to say.

He visited Serbia, met the villagers that hosted him in their modest peasant houses, talked to princes and warriors.

Finally Lamartine came to a conclusion that “among them there is very little material inequality and the only grandeur they have are their weapons” used to defend their freedom.

He liked the Serbian language and considered it “harmonious, musical, and rhythmic”.

There was something in the country of this small nation from the Balkans that deeply touched the heart of this romantic poet.

Lamartine was so influenced by his trip that he staged his 1838 epic poem La Chute d’un ange (The Fall of an Angel).

From then on he confined himself to prose.

 

He was briefly in charge of the French government during the turbulence of 1848.

He was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 24 February 1848 to 11 May 1848.

Due to his great age, Jacques-Charles Dupont de l’Eure, Chairman of the Provisional Government, effectively delegated many of his duties to Lamartine.

He was then a member of the Executive Commission, the political body which served as France’s joint Head of State.

Lamartine was instrumental in the founding of the Second Republic of France, having met with Republican Deputies and journalists in the Hôtel de Ville to agree on the makeup of its provisional government.

Lamartine himself was chosen to declare the Republic in traditional form in the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville and ensured the continuation of the Tricolore as the flag of the nation.

During his term as a politician in the Second Republic, he led efforts that culminated in the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, as well as the enshrinement of the right to work and the short-lived national workshop programs.

A political idealist who supported democracy and pacifism, his moderate stance on most issues caused many of his followers to desert him.

He was an unsuccessful candidate in the presidential election of 10 December 1848, receiving fewer than 19,000 votes.

He subsequently retired from politics and dedicated himself to literature.

He published volumes on the most varied subjects (history, criticism, personal confidences, literary conversations) especially during the Empire, when, having retired to private life and having become the prey of his creditors, he condemned himself to what he calls “literary hard-labor in order to exist and pay his debts“.

Lamartine ended his life in poverty, publishing monthly installments of the Cours familier de littérature to support himself.

He died in Paris in 1869.

Above: The tomb of Alphonse de Lamartine, Paris

 

The square where Nesha´s apartment stands is named after this poet.

Nesha and I say little at breakfast, as he is determined that I am “set up electronically for Serbia” and magically manipulates my mobile so that I am not plagued by roaming phone charges.

Then we part company as he has business to conduct in distant Tara National Park.

I am left the use of Nesha´s Belgrade apartment and I am to remain solo until late Saturday night.

 

With the exception of a few Serbian words my bought-in-Switzerland guidebook provides, I am rendered mostly mute as a Canadian stranger in a strange land – a feeling that is simultaneously terrifying and exhilirating.

 

I continue down the street upon which the Café Lamartine stands and have breakfast at Restaurant Voulez-Vous: another latté and a serving of posinana jaja Benedict with home fries.

I am told by the waiters, resplendent in azure blue long-sleeved shirts with grey collars, that I must eat outside on the café terrace as “only the insane eat indoors on a sunny day.”

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Armed with guidebook and maps obtained from yesterday´s arrival at the airport, I am a man with a plan:

Try to see as much as I can, as leisurely as possible, allowing myself to occasionally get lost.

My steps are as unsteady as the aim of an amateur archer.

I am pointed towards a target but there is no guarantee that I will reach the target.

 

I make my way to the closest tourist attraction to Lamartine: the St. Sava Cathedral.

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The small rise upon which the Cathedral sits was once called Savinac, then later Vrapcije Polje (field of sparrows).

Over time and through the language variation that time creates, the name evolved into Vracarsko Polje and was eventually shortened to Vracar.

To appreciate Serbia fully, one must come to understand the importance of this Cathedral in the history of the country.

And much like Serbia itself, like Belgrade itself, the Cathedral has always been in a state of construction and renovation.

 

“There is a belief that the history of mankind is actually a history of waging war.

The voyage through history of our civilization´s soul leads us to Belgrade, one of the oldest and most often destroyed cities of the world.

When Le Corbusier, the famous architect, said that “Belgrade was the ugliest city at the most beautiful place“, he certainly had in mind the image of the results caused by the continual destruction of the city over many centuries as well as its inadequate renewal and reconstruction.

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Above:  Charles-Édouard Le Corbuisier (1887 – 1965)

It is for certain that the most beautiful Belgrade has disappeared without a trace, vanished, impossible to touch.

History cherishes many stories about this city that are hard to be reconstructed exactly due to its continuous destruction, shifts and intertwining of a large number of cultures and prominent people whose life paths have passed through Belgrade, the eternal city….”

(Aleksander Diklac)

 

Before 1236, no individual among the Serbs had been woven into the consciousness and being of the people as St. Sava.

Though certainly there were those who tried.

 

As Greek legend has it, the Argonauts, a team of mythical sailors under Jason´s command, stole the Golden Fleece and sailed into the river Danube.

It is believed that when Apollonius of Rhodes wrote his Argonautica (300 BC) he was copying a legend much older than himself, known from a time predating the Trojan War.

In the magnificent legend about the Argonauts, Apollonius tells us about the hospitality of the Sindi people who lived at a place where the waters part, a locality already heavily inhabited.

Above: The Argo, Konstantinos Volanakis (1837 – 1907)

According to other legends, the Danube River is one of the four rivers originating in Paradise.

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Above: The course of the Danube, flowing east from west

 

Singidun, Belgrade´s first name to be entered into the annals of history, is ascribed to the fearless Celtic tribe of Scordisci who, soon after Alexander the Great’s death in 323 BC, invaded and conquered the area of Serbia.

However generations later, as it happens in history, no alliances, no singularities of culture, no dexterous manufacture and handling of weapons could repel the advancing Roman army, whose military order and war tactics made it a revolutionary apparatus for killing, subordination and enslavement.

The arrival of the Romans into Singidun hastened the complete assimiliation of the Scordisci and Romanized the name into Singidunum, but the region was not stabilized until the era of the formidable Octavian / Caesar Augustus.

Singidunum gained fortifications, magnificent edifices and villas, a precious water pipeline, roads and even artist´s workshops, which made life in the city quite pleasant.

Roman Singidunum became a strategic area and an important base connecting the fortifications and settlements along the Danube border.

An epitaph from Roman Belgrade, blazing like a flash of light across the centuries and with a disregard for time, comes to us with a pain that quivers.

The powerfully engraved text is the cry of a soldier, a father filled with sorrow over his prematurely departed son:

“To the gods of the underground world!

Traveller, ye who walks the roads, whoever ye be, please, hear.

When, in his 15th year of age, the fuzz of his first beard sprouted over the cheeks of the young man´s face, he was taken by the boat on which the dead are transported to the other world and deprived his unlucky father of his only consolation.

He is lying here now.

Taken from his father´s embrace, as the plough cuts the flower from the soil.

Still, the small flower shall blossom again in pleasant meadows.

But ye dead I can no longer revive.”

We feel the pain inherent, although 17 centuries have passed since the tragic event.

 

Signidunum was a city with developed civilized manners, wealthy people, active soldiers, and veterans.

Life was facilitated by an abundance of food: grains, vegetables, fish and excellent fruit of the vine.

Fishermen and shepherds were free men, while construction and farm labour was performed by slaves.

The ancient city saw numerous imperial processions as many Roman emperors (17) passed through Belgrade or stayed in it.

Christians first appeared in the 3rd century when the priest Montanus and his wife Maxima died, accompanied by around 40 fathful Christians.

They were killed in 315 when Emperor Licinius ruled the eastern part of the Roman Empire while Constantine the Great ruled in the west.

Together the Christians suffered brutal torture and were jointly sentenced to death, shut into a chest and cast into the Danube River alive.

Ten years later, Licinius made a bid for power, unleashing carnage in a series of rebellions and battles.

Constantine ordered him killed together with his young son, Licinius II.

Harmony did not reign among the first Christians, either.

 

Long ago, in 441, the legendary conqueror Attila the Hun (406 – 453) besieged and captured Singidunum.

He destroyed and killed everything that moves and single-handedly brought an end to the ancient past of the city of Belgrade.

Rivers of human bones and the odor of death testified to Attila´s barbaric cruel campaigns.

Attila died on the first night of his marriage.

After destroying Singidunum and forever extinguishing the Roman lamp within it, Attila died in the arms of a woman called Ildiko.

The wedding day progressed with the customary feasting, singing, inebriation and gluttony.

When night finally fell, the drunk and lecherous groom naturally led the bride to intimate quarters.

He was found the next morning, long dead, while beside him was his terrified bride, who had trembled the whole night.

As to the possible cause of death of the 47-year-old leader?

An enormous quantity of alcohol, vast quantities of food, poison?

According to one narrative, Attila was buried somewhere in the waters of Singidunum, as per Khazar custom.

After Attila, Belgrade was subsequently razed by the Sarmats, then the East Goths, and then the Gepids, before the city of Singidunum was restored by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (482 – 563).

Justinian with significant funds and even greater visions reached the Sava and Danube around 535 and rebuilt Singidunum.

Justinian was an important man for the history of Europe, especially Christianity, but it is clear that the true power of this ruler originated from the other half of his wedding bed.

The Emperor was a slow and indecisive man, practically a pawn in comparison with Empress Theodora, a charismatic courtesan with a brilliant mind.

Justinian gave orders for the construction of both Singidunum´s new fortifications as well as Constantinople´s Hagia Sophia, possibly the most beautiful place of worship in the world.

Ten thousand people over many years built the temple that marked a new era in the history of Christian architecture.

The best marble, as well as gold, silver and ivory were transported from the most distant regions of the empire.

Even with these divine components, the architects demanded that there be no lack of taste.

Thus, Hagia Sophia is a composition of the most refined artistic sensitivity towards space and materials, a rhapsody of diversity that successfully demonstrates the greatness of God imitated on Earth.

Hagia Sophia was consecrated in 537.

Belgrade’s monumental Temple of St. Sava, with its skyscraping cross at 82 metres above ground, is one of the tallest and largest temples in the Christian world.

Front view of Church of Saint Sava

It was intended to resemble the magnificent Hagia Sophia.

These days the Temple is consecrated to St. Sava, but what of the saint himself?

Patience, my gentle readers, we are getting there.

 

Many people and many conquerors to the banks of the Sava and the Danube came, for Singidunum was for most of its history the end point of a large number of organized states, and thus was a frequent target of attack and destruction.

None of the conquerors could boast of their humanity towards the population they found.

Though the flow of the rivers brought changes and new tyrants, the appeal of the location as a place of life endures to this day.

So fierce and frequent were the attacks from all sides that Singidunum, as a fortified and significant military fortification, could not and did not manage to repel them, regardless of the height of the defensive walls or the skill of the defenders.

By the end of the 6th century, ancient Singidunum was ultimately destroyed though never abandoned, as the Slavs appeared.

 

The first mention of the Slavic name Belgrade appears on 16 April 878, when the city’s name appears on a letter from Pope John VIII sent to the Bulgarian Prince (Knyaz) Boris Mihail, referring to the dismissal of the Belgrade Bishop Sergios.

Pope John VIII is remembered by history as a great advocate for the use of the Slavic languages in the liturgy.

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However it should be mentioned that this Pope may have been a female in disguise.

John was poisoned by the wife of the spouse she fell in love with, then she was finished off by blows of a hammer to the head by the accomplices of the jealous wife, dying on 15 December 882.

 

Some decades after her letter to the Knyaz, once again armies and conquerors came a-callin’.

 

Charlemagne (Charles the Great)(742 – 814) during his reign conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III Roman Emperor in order to restore the hopes and dreams of a wealthy and holy Roman Empire.

Along the course of Charlemagne´s campaigns, he demolished Belgrade.

The severity of his campaigns was such that tribes begged for Peace and agreed to be baptized and embrace Christianity.

Rulers die and empires fall.

The Frankish rule over Belgrade was superseded by the Bulgarians and theirs by the Hungarians.

 

At the end of the 10th century, Samuilo (997 – 1014) created a large empire of southern Slavs taking over the region that is today´s Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Romanian Dobruja, northern Bulgaria and northern Greece, adopting for himself the title of Emperor of Bulgaria.

After several victories and defeats, the final showdown between Samuilo and Byzantium took place on Belasica Mountain in 1014.

The Bulgars were massacred.

Around 14,000 Bulgar captives were blinded by order of the Byzantine Emperor, with every 100th man left with one eye so as to be able to guide the others home.

As a consequence of such cruelty, Byzantine Emperor Basil II was given the epithet “Bulgar slayer“.

It is reported that Samuilo, at the sight of his chained and blinded army, died on the spot from a heart attack.

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Above: Forensic reconstruction of Samuilo

 

Belgrade again became a significant border fortress to the Byzantine Empire.

During the 11th and 12th centuries the rival powers of Bulgaria, Byzantium and Hungary contended for Belgrade.

Enter, St. Sava (1169 – 1236)

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Rastko Nemanjic was born in 1169 in Gradina (modern Podgorica, Montenegro) as the youngest son of Grand Prince Stefan Nemanjic and his wife Ana, alongside his brothers Vukan and Stefan.

The brothers received a good education in the Byzantine tradition, which exercised great political, cultural and religious influence in Serbia.

Rastko grew up in a time of great foreign relations activities in Serbia.

He showed himself serious and ascetic when he was made Prince of Hum at an early age in 1190.

(Hum was a province between Neretva and Dubrovnik.)

Having his own court with magnates (velmoze), senior officials and selected local nobility, governance in Hum was not only an honorary title but constituted a practical school of state administration.

Rastko, as a ruler, was said to be “mild and gentle, kind to everyone, loving the poor as few others and very respecting of the monastic life.”

He showed no interest in fame, wealth or the throne.

 

Meanwhile….

Frederick Barbarossa (1122 – 1190), following his reconciliation with the Pope and wearing the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, embarked on the Third Crusade to liberate from Muslim control the holy sites of Christendom, especially Christ’s empty tomb in Jerusalem.

His European counterparts, the French under Philip II Augustus and the English under Richard the Lionheart, joined the Crusade.

Richard and Philip approached Jerusalem by sea, while the German Emperor Barbarossa preferred land, over which he marched through Hungary and Serbia.

Under Barbarossa’s leadership, 190,000 warriors marched into Belgrade and left it in ruins, razed to the ground.

He then stopped in Nis where they were politely welcomed by Rastko who personally tended to the ailing Barbarossa, who continued on his journey.

Frederick Barbarossa, though successful at traversing Belgrade’s rivers, drowned on 10 June 1190 when crossing the small river of Saleph in Cilicia.

Thrown by a horse, the shock of the cold water induced a heart attack in the German king, who at the time of his unexpected death was 68.

 

After two years as ruler, in the autumn of 1192, Rastko left Hum for Mount Athos.

Upon arriving at Athos, Rastko entered the Russian St. Panteleimon Monastery where he received the monastic name of Sava (Sabbas).

He later entered the Greek Vatopedi Monastery, where he would stay for the next seven years, becoming acquainted with Greek theological and church administrational literature.

Sava´s father tried to persuade him to return to Serbia, but Sava was determined and replied:

“You have accomplished all that a Christian sovereign should do.

Come now and join me in the true Christian life.”

Stefan Nemanja took his son’s advice and abdicated on 25 March 1196, giving the throne to his middle son Stefan.

The next day Stefan and Ana took monastic vows.

Stefan took the monastic name Simeon and stayed in Studenica until leaving for Mt. Athos in the autumn of 1197.

Simeon’s arrival was greatly pleasing to Sava and the Athonite community as Stefan as a ruler had donated much to the community.

The two, with the consent of monastic head (hegumen) Theostyriktos of Vatopedi, went on a tour of Athos in late autumn 1197 in order for Simeon to familiarize with all of its churches and sacred places.

When Sava guested the Byzantine Emperor Alexios III Angelos at Constantinople, he mentioned the neglected and abandoned Hilandar, and asked him that he and his father be given the permit to restore the monastery and grant it to Vatopedi.

The Emperor approved and sent a special letter and much gold to his friend Stefan Nemanja (monk Simeon).

Sava then addressed the Protos of Athos, asking them to support the effort that the monastery of Hilandar becomes the haven of the Serb monks.

All Athonite monasteries, except Vatopedi, accepted the proposal, and in July 1198 Emperor Alexios III authored a charter which revoked the earlier decision, and instead not only granted Hilandar, but also the other abandoned monasteries in Mileis, to Simeon and Sava, to be a haven and shelter for Serb monks in Athos.

The restoration of Hilandar quickly began and Grand Prince Stefan sent money and other necessities, and issued the founding charter for Hilandar in 1199.

Sava wrote a typikon (liturgical office order) for Hilandar, modeled on the typikon of the monastery of The Mother of God Euergetes in Constantinople.

Besides Hilandar, Sava was the ktetor (founder) of the hermitage at Karyes (seat of Athos) for the monks who devoted themselves to solitude and prayer.

In 1199, he authored the typikon of Karyes.

Along with the hermitage, he built the chapel dedicated to Sabbas the Sanctified, whose name he received upon monastic vows.

His father died on 13 February 1199.

 

On 13 April 1204, Sava received the rank of archimandrite.

That same year, with the establishment of the Latin Empire, Rome increased its power over Serbia.

As Nemanja had earlier decided to give the rule to Stefan, and not the eldest, Vukan, in the meantime, back home, the latter began plotting against Stefan.

He found an ally in Hungarian king Emeric with whom he banished Stefan to Bulgaria and Vukan usurped the Serbian throne.

Stefan returned to Serbia with an army in 1204 and pushed Vukan to Zeta, his hereditary land.

After problems at Athos with Latin bishops and Boniface of Montferrat following the Fourth Crusade, Sava returned to Serbia in the winter of 1206, with the remains of his father which he relocated to his father’s endowment, the Studenica Monastery, and then reconciled his quarreling brothers.

Sava saved the country from further political crisis by ending the dynastic fight.

Simeon was canonized in 1206.

 

Having spent 14 years in Mount Athos, Sava had extensive theological knowledge and spiritual power, so he was asked to teach the court and the people of Serbia Christian laws and traditions and “in that way enwisen and educate.”

Since his return in 1206, Sava had become the hegumen of Studenica.

He used the general chaos in which the Byzantine Empire found itself after the Crusader siege of Constantinople (1204) and the strained relations between the Despotate of Epirus (to which the Serbian Church was subject to) and the Ecumenical Patriarchiate of Nicaea to his advantage.

He declared that “Here, therefore, no one is have authority, neither Bishop nor anyone else.” over Studenica.

In 1217, Sava´s brother King Stefan made a switch in politics, marrying a noblewoman of Venice, and asked the Pope for a crown and moral support.

Stefan was crowned in Zica, now equal to other kings, and was called by Rome “the first crowned King of all Serb lands“.

Stefan´s allegiance to Rome over Constantinople in matters of religion did not sit well with the Serbian people.

Serbia embraced and Sava represented the Orthodox Church, Stefan the Catholic Church.

The elevation of Serbia into a kingdom did not fully mark the independence of the country, according to that time´s understanding, unless the same was achieved with its church.

On 15 August 1219, Sava was consecrated as the first Archbishop of the independent Serbian church, which was vitally important as the church was the supporter and an important factor in state sovereignty as well as political and national identity.

That same year, Sava published Zakonopravilo (Sava´s Nomocanon), the first constitution of Serbia, uniting both politics and religion.

In 1229, after the son of Stefan, Radoslav was crowned King of Serbia, Sava left for a trip to Palestine.

After another throne change in 1234, when Radoslav was replaced by his brother Vladislav, Sava began a second trip to the Holy Land.

Sava, after much work and years of travelling, arrived at the Bulgarian then-capital of Trnovo a tired and sick man.

He died on 14 January 1235.

Above: Where Sava died, Trnovo, Bulgaria

 

Sava became known as the protector of the Serbian people – of their churches, families, schools and artisans.

He is regarded as the father of Serbian education and literature.

Many songs, tales and legends were created about his life, work, merit, goodness, fairness and wisdom.

His relics became a topic of nationalism, a political cult, a focus of liberation, a danger to foreign rule.

Belgrade is not only the capital of the Serbian state but as well Serbia´s most important economic, cultural and religious centre.

So it comes as no surprise that Serbia´s most important cathedral, dedicated to Sava, should be in Belgrade.

 

In 1319, Belgrade was seized, and again destroyed, by the Hungarians.

The ruined and deserted city became a border base.

The continued existence of the Serbian state and the reconstruction of Belgrade was necessary for the Hungarians as Serbia served as a desirable military buffer against greater barbarians and conquerors.

 

As such, Belgrade welcomed the 15th century when the Turks, a new large conquering force, entered the historical arena of Europe.

Belgrade would soon gain the rank of Antemurale Christianitatis, the Bulwark of Christianity.

For an entire century, Belgrade resisted Turkish incursions.

The Turks, under the leadership of Sultan Suleiman I (“the Magnificent“), would finally conquer Belgrade, on their third attempt, on 28 August 1521, and the key of defense to western Europe.

The reign of Suleiman I has been described as the Golden Age of the Ottoman Empire.

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Above: Suleiman I (1494 – 1566)

 

At the end of his reign, however, constant wars had taken their toll, damaging the economy.

The faulty politics that followed shook the economy and the foundations of Ottoman society: state officials became poor, their pay worthless, corruption and briberies common.

Mutiny struck throughout the Ottoman Empire.

 

Over the next few centuries there were many Serbian uprisings against Turkish rule.

In 1594, during the Austrian-Turkish War (1593 – 1606), a Serbian insurrection was staged in the Banat region north of the Danube River.

The Turkish Sultan responded by skinning alive and hanging the Serbian Patriarch, Teodor, before bringing the relics of St. Sava to Vracar to be burned and his ashes scattered on 27 April 1594, because the figure of St. Sava had adorned the flags of the Serbian rebels.

There was great violence carried out against the Serbian clergy and devastation of their monasteries.

The Ottomans sought to symbolically and in reality to set fire to the Serb determination of freedom.

But this desecration was considered to be an unimaginably sacrilegious act by all Serbs.

Rather than discouraging dissent, St. Sava’s desecration fomented and cemented rebellion.

One day the Serbians would rally around the idea of St. Sava and expel the Ottoman Turks from their land.

 

The Church of St. Sava was built near the place where his relics were burned.

Construction began on 10 May 1935, 340 years after the burning of Sava’s relics, and was “completed” in 2004, but the Church much like the Serbia it serves is never complete.

Construction was halted when the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941.

The occupying German army used the unfinished church as a parking lot.

Later in 1944 Russia’s Red Army and later the Yugoslav People’s Army would do the same.

For a while after, the Church was used for storage by various companies.

Construction resumed on 12 August 1985.

After the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, construction was halted again.

Serbian Patriarch Pavle thought that the expense of building a massive Cathedral was inappropriate when people are beaten and impoverished.

After becoming Prime Minister, Zoran Dindic spoke with the Patriarch and convinced him to have construction resumed.

By 2017, the exterior of the church was complete.

Work continues on the interior.

The church is centrally planned, having the form of a Greek cross.

It has a large central dome supported on four pendentives and buttressed on each side by a lower semi-dome over an apse.

Beneath each semi-dome is a gallery supported on an arcade.

The dome is 70 m (230 ft) high, while the main gold plated cross is another 12 m (39 ft) high, which gives a total of 82 m (269 ft) to the height of the Church of Saint Sava.

The peak is 134 m (440 ft) above the sea level (64 m (210 ft) above the Sava river).

Therefore the church holds a dominant position in Belgrade’s cityscape and is visible from all approaches to the city.

Above: The Church of St. Sava and the National Library of Serbia

The church is 91 m (299 ft) long from east to west and 81 m (266 ft) from north to south.

It is 70 m (230 ft) tall, with the main gold-plated cross extending for 12 m (39 ft) more.

Its domes have 18 more gold-plated crosses of various sizes, while the bell towers have 49 bells of the Austrian bell foundry Grassmayr.

It has a surface area of 3,500 m2 (37,674 sq ft) on the ground floor, with three galleries of 1,500 m2 (16,146 sq ft) on the first level and a 120 m2 (1,292 sq ft) gallery on the second level.

The Church can receive 10,000 faithful at any one time.

The choir gallery seats 800 singers.

The basement contains a crypt, the treasury of Saint Sava, and the grave church of Saint Lazar the Hieromartyr, with a total surface of 1,800 m2 (19,375 sq ft) .

Above: The crypt of the Church of St. Sava

The central dome mosaic depicts the Ascension of Jesus and represents Resurrected Christ, sitting on a rainbow and right hand raised in blessing, surrounded by four angels, Apostles and Theotokos.

This composition is inspired by mosaic in main dome of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

The lower sections are influenced by the Gospel of Luke and the first narratives of the Acts of the Apostles.

The texts held by the angels are written in the Church Slavonic language, while the names of the depicted persons are written in Greek.

The first points to the pan-Slavic sentiment while the latter connects it to the Byzantine traditions.

The total painted area of the dome is 1,230 m2 (13,200 sq ft).

It is one of the largest curved area decorated with the mosaic technique and when the work is completely finished, Saint Sava will be the largest church ornamented this way.

Magnificient is the legacy that is St. Sava’s Church.

 

It is my feeling that Serbia and Serbians will remain incomprehensible to the foreigner who has never visited St. Sava Church or has never read why this church remains integral to the Serbian identity, for Religion has Always played a defining role in the history of the Serbs.

The main religion of Serbia remains that of Sava: Serbian Orthodox Christianity, which is practiced by 84% of the population.

The Serbian Orthodox Church is an independent Church, ranking 6th in order of seniority of the Orthodox Churches after Constantinople (Istanbul), Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Russia.

Above: Flag of the Serbian Orthodox Church

Serbian Orthodoxy is also practiced by 74% of the population of Montenegro, 36% in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 4.4% in Croatia.

Religion plays an important role in Serbian daily life.

The religious calendar is filled with a profusion of saints’ days, celebrated by families in the traditional way – usually involving a visit to church, prayers and the lighting of candles.

 

As a barbaric heathen I cannot claim to understand the Serbian need to kiss icons as passionately and as frequently as they do, but it makes them happy so who am I to argue?

All I know is a visit to St. Sava, especially if one researches the history behind it, is as awe-inspiring as a visit to the Sistine Chapel in Rome or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, but unlike the Vatican City or Turkish temples of worship St. Sava has a feeling of warmth and personability that the others lack.

As much as it is splendid to feel the almighty grandeur of a glorious God in an edifice meant to impress and intimidate, I feel that religion, being the personal and private set of values and beliefs unique to each individual, should whisper into the ears and seductively warm the hearts of salvation’s seekers rather than frighten and cow people into a submissive state little related to the promise of eternal blessing from a loving deity.

Certainly St. Sava is not lacking in pomp and circumstance as a church should shine above the standards of the common Household, but one cannot have a personal relationship with God if one does not feel to have anything in common to that person inside God’s house.

And somehow St. Sava captures that nuance.

I left the church to explore more of the city, knowing one certainty upon which I stake my experience upon.

There is little danger (or hope) that I shall ever become a Serbian Orthodox Christian but to deny the feeling that there is a need to believe in something or someone beyond one’s self is a primal passion that St. Sava church quietly shares.

It is waiting to share this passion with you.

My explorations of Belgrade (and later Nis) would continue, but in the beginning God….

Sources:  Aleksander Diklic, Belgrade the Eternal City / Culture Smart Serbia / Momo Kapor, A Guide to the Serbian Mentality / Wikipedia / Facebook

 

 

 

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Canada Slim and the Lady of Lovere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 January 2018

As another New Year begins the question turns to New Year´s resolutions, to make them or avoid them, and if made what those resolutions should be.

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Above: New Year´s Eve, Sydney, Australia

For example, some of us resolve to become fitter in the following twelve months, but those that know us know better than us that the sacrifice of time, effort and money required to do so isn´t truly who we are or really want to be.

Sometimes a person can be too close to a situation to properly see it for what it is.

Two women in my life recently caused themselves and others great friction, because they never accepted that their behaviour is harmful and refused to change their behaviour, despite being warned of consequences.

In fairness to them, it is often difficult to see beyond our own perspectives, regardless of what is said to us or what happens around us.

For example, I never truly appreciated how much I am liked by some of my regular customers when two evenings ago one of them spontaneously entered the Café and gave me a hug wishing me “Happy Holidays”.

Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

It wasn´t until I have reflected upon this several hours later that I realised that my response might not have been as warm and welcoming to him as it should have been.

Visiting him at his place of business bearing gifts of apology and remorse for my unintended coldheartedness is the first of my New Year´s resolutions.

For every person there are also situations that trigger a kind of blindness that makes it difficult to see anything besides the emotions the situations generate.

For example, nothing makes me see red more than bullies.

So, as a result, I have the most difficult time seeing American, Turkish or Filipino politics open-mindedly, for Trump, Erdogan and Duterte strike me as being the epitome of bullies in their behaviour.

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Above: Donald Trump, 45th US President since 20 January 2017

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Above: Recep Erdogan, 12th President of Turkey since 2014, 25th Prime Minister of Turkey (2003 – 2014)

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Above: Rodrigo Duterte, 16th President of the Philippines since 2016

These leaders and their followers can´t see, won´t see, what they are doing is wrong and truly believe that they are doing what is best and can´t comprehend, won´t comprehend, why others don´t see things as they do.

I was reminded of this last summer when we visited Lovere…..

Lovere, Italy, 4 August 2017

The Rough Guide to Italy doesn´t love Lovere very much.

“Lago d´Iseo raises your expectations:

Lake Iseo1.png

Descending from Clusone, the road passes through steep gorges, thick forests and stark angular mountains, at the foot of which lies the Lake.

(For a description of Clusone, please see Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre of this blog.)

LagoIseo.jpg

As Iseo is the 5th largest of the northern lakes and the least known outside Italy, you would imagine it to be more undiscovered than the others but the apartment blocks, harbourside boutiques, ice cream parlours and heavy industry of Lovere put paid to any notions that Lago Iseo might have escaped either tourist exploitation or industrialization.”

Lonely Planet Italy isn´t complimentary either.

“Lago d´Iseo is the least known and least attractive of the lakes.

Shut in by mountains, Iseo is scarred by industry and a string of tunnels at its northeastern end around Castro and Lovere, although driving through the blasted rock face at the water´s edge can be enjoyable.” 

And herein lies the problem.

Because so many English-speaking readers trust and faithfully follow the advice given by these two popular travel guides, they fail to discover that there might be more to Heaven and Earth than is expounded by these two guidebooks´ philosophies.

Automobiles are quick, efficient and quite liberating from the quirks of predetermined routes and set schedules, but much is missed if the destination is deemed superior to the possible discoveries that can be made if one stops and explores along the journey.

My wife and I, like many other automobile travellers, were restricted by time and money to how often we could leisurely stop and explore.

And that is a shame.

For had we taken the train from Bergamo to the harbour town of Iseo then a ferry from there to Lovere, we might have discovered a town far more deserving of compliments than the aforementioned guidebooks give it credit.

Lovere is much like Lecco in that it is considered far more unremarkable than it truly is.

(For Lecco, see Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town of this blog.)

Bildergebnis für lovere

At first glance of Lovere a person might be forgiven for thinking that somehow the road had led the traveller somehow back to Switzerland, for the houses in this town (of 5,000 residents) have overhanging wooden roofs, typical of Switzerland, yet united with the heavy stone arcades of Italy.

Lovere faces the Lago Iseo and is held in the warm embrace of a semi-circle of mountains behind.

The Tourism Council of the Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani includes Lovere as one of the I Borghi piu belli d´Italia, one of the small Italian towns of artistic and historical interest and one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

I borghi più belli d'Italia logo.png

Being part of the crossroads of culture and conflict that this region has been for centuries, Lovere has seen different peoples struggle to possess it: the Celts, Romans, Lombards, Franks, the monks of the Marmoutier Abbey (Tours, France), the Bishops of Bergamo, the Republic of Venice, the Napoleonic French, the Austrians and finally Italians.

There are a few sights in town worthy of a look and a linger of a few hours: the Church of Santa Maria in Valvendra with works by Cavagna, Carpinoni and Marone; the Palazzo Tadini which is both historic palace and art gallery, with many beautiful paintings and magnificent marble sculptures, along with terracotta, porcelain, antique armaments, furniture and zoological collections; the Church of San Giorgio with Cavagana´s Last Supper and Palma the Younger´s Trinity with the Virgin; the Clarissan monastery of Santa Chiara; the frescoes of the Oratorio San Martino; the ancient fortifications of Il Castelliere Gallico.

Above: Basilica Santa Maria in Valvendia, Lovere

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Above: Palazzo Tadini, Lovere

Above: Church of San Giorgio, Lovere

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Above: Convent of Santa Chiara, Lovere

Above: Church of San Martino, Lovere

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Above: Fortifications of Castelliere Gallico, Lovere

This town is truly deserving of mention and preservation.

Yes, Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, there is industry here in Lovere, for the town possesses a metallurgic plant, Lucchini, which employs about 1,300 people and specializes in the manufacture of railroad wheels and axles.

Lucchini RS Group.jpg

But this town is more than industry and churches and it has produced or adopted a few folks worthy of mention:

The English aristocrat, letter writer and poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) resided in Lovere for ten years.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu (1689 – 1762)

The 1906 Nobel Prize for Medicine recipient Camillo Golgi studied in Lovere´s Liceo Classico.

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Above: Camillo Golgi (1843 – 1926)

(Golgi was known for his work on the central nervous system and his discovery of a staining technique called black reaction or Golgi´s method, used to visualize nerve tissue under light microscopes.)

The all-time leader in victories in motorcycle Grand Prix history, Giacomo Agostini was born in Lovere in 1942.

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Above: Giacomo Agostini

Leading cinema critic and author Enrico Ghezzi was born in Lovere in 1952.

Above: Enrico Ghezzi

And while these abovementioned four have world recognition (at least in their day), Italians and the locals of Lovere also won´t forget that the town has also produced Santa Vincenza Gerosa, Santa Bartolomea Capitanio, acrobatic pilot Mario Stoppani, as well as Italian liberators, athletes and politicians.

Of the more famous four the person that captures my imagination the most is the Lady Montagu.

The Lady Mary Pierrepont Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) is today chiefly remembered for her letters from travels to the Ottoman Empire as wife to the British Ambassador, which have been described as “the very fine example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient”.

Aside from her writing, Lady Mary is known for introducing and advocating for smallpox inoculation in Britain after her return from Turkey.

Her writings address and challenge the hindering contemporary social attitudes towards women and their intellectual and social growth.

Mary began her education in her father´s home and to supplement the instruction of a despised governess, Mary used the library in Thoresbury Hall to “steal” her education, teaching herself Latin, a language reserved for men at the time.

By 1705, at the age of 14, Mary had written two albums filled with poetry, a brief epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents), and a romance modelled after Aphra Behn´s Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684).

By 1710, Mary had two possible suitors to choose from: Edward Wortley Montagu (1678 – 1761) and Clotworthy Skeffington.

May corresponded with Edward, but Mary´s father rejected Edward as a prospect pressuring her to marry Skeffington.

In order to avoid marriage to Skeffington, Mary and Edward eloped in 1712.

The early years of Mary´s married life were spent in the countryside.

She had a son, Edward Jr., on 16 May 1713.

On 1 July 1713, Mary´s brother died of smallpox, leaving behind two small children for Mary and Edward Sr. to raise.

On 13 October 1714, Edward Sr. accepted the post of Junior Commissioner of the Treasury.

When Mary joined him in London, her wit and beauty soon made her a prominent figure at court.

Her famous beauty was marred by a bout with smallpox in 1715.

In 1716, Edward Sr. was appointed Ambassador to Istanbul, where they remained until 1718.

After unsuccessful negotiations between Austria and the Ottoman Empire, the Montagus set sail for England via the Mediterranean, finally reaching London on 2 October 1718.

The story of this voyage and of her observations of Eastern life is told in her Letters from Turkey, a series of lively letters full of graphic descriptions.

Flag of Turkey

Above: Flag of Turkey

Letters is often credited as being an inspiration for subsequent female travellers/writers.

During her visit Mary was sincerely charmed by the beauty and hospitality of the Ottoman women she encountered and she recorded her experiences in a Turkish bath.

She recorded a particularly amusing incident in which a group of Turkish women at a bath in Sofia, horrified by the sight of the corset she was wearing, exclaimed that “the husbands in England were much worse than in the East, for they tied up their wives in little boxes, for the shape of their bodies”.

Mary wrote about misconceptions previous travellers, specifically male travellers, had recorded about the religion, traditions and the treatment of women in the Ottoman Empire.

Mary´s gender and class status provided her with access to female spaces that were closed off to males.

Her personal interactions wth Ottoman women enabled her to provide, in her view, a more accurate account of Turkish women, their dress, habits, traditions, limitations and liberties, at times irrefutably more a critique of the West than a praise of the East.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu in Turkish dress

Mary returned to the West with knowledge of the Ottoman practice of inoculation against smallpox.

In the Ottoman Empire, Mary visited the women in their segregated zenanas, making friends and learning about Turkish customs.

There she witnessed the practice of inoculation and eager to spare her children, she had Edward Jr. vaccinated.

On her return to London, Mary enthusiastically promoted the procedure, but encountered a great deal of resistance from the medical establishment, because vaccination was an Eastern custom.

In April 1721, when a smallpox epidemic struck England, Mary had her daughter inoculated and published the event.

She persuaded Princess Caroline to test the treatment.

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Above: Caroline of Ansbach (1683 – 1737), Queen of England (1727 – 1737)

In August 1721, seven prisoners at Newgate Prison awaiting execution were offered the chance to undergo vaccination instead of execution.

All seven survived and were released.

After returning to England, Mary took less interest in court compared to her earlier days.

Instead she was more focused on the upbringing of her children, reading, writing and editing her travel letters – which she then chose not to publish.

In 1736, Mary met and fell in love with Count Francesco Algarotti.

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Above: Francesco Algarotti (1712 – 1764)

She wrote many letters to Algarotti in English and French after his departure in September 1736.

In July 1739, Mary departed England “for health reasons” declaring her intentions to winter in the south of France.

In reality, Mary left to visit and live with Algarotti in Venice.

Their relationship ended in 1741, but Mary stayed abroad and travelled extensively.

She would finally settle in Avignon and then later Lovere.

After August 1756, she resided in Venice and resumed her relationship with Algarotti.

Mary received news of her husband Edward´s death in 1761 and left Venice for England.

En route to London, she handed her Letters from Turkey to Benjamin Sowden of Rotterdam, for safekeeping “to be disposed of as he thinks proper”.

Mary´s Letters from Turkey was only one set of memoirs written by Europeans who had been to the Ottoman Empire:

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522 – 1592) was a diplomat in the Holy Roman Empire sent to the Ottoman Empire to discuss the disputed territory of Transylvania.

Above: Ogier de Busbecq

Upon returning to his country Busbecq published the letters he had written to his colleague Nicholas Michault under the title Turkish Epistles.

Busbecq is also known for his introduction of the tulip from Turkey to Europe.

Above: Tulip cultivation, Netherlands

Kelemen Mikes (1690 – 1761) was a Hungarian essayist, noted for his rebellious activities against the Habsburg Monarchy.

Above: Kelemen Mikes

Although backed by the Ottoman Empire, Hungarian rebels were defeated and Mikes had to choose a life in exile.

After 1715, Mikes spent the rest of his life in Tekirdag (near Istanbul).

His work is known as Letters from Turkey.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800 – 1891) was an officer in the Prussian army.

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Above: Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

He spent four years in the Ottoman Empire as a military advisor between 1835 and 1839.

Upon returning to Germany, Moltke published Letters on Conditions and Events in Turkey (1835 – 1839).

As I ponder my visit to Lovere and think of how necessary and important the Lady Montagu observations about Turkey were, I am left with two distinct impressions:

First, Lady Mary saw what others did not see.

She viewed Turkey through her own perspective, inspiring generations of writers and travellers to express themselves in their own unique fashion.

Second, Lady Mary saw something about Lovere, a town possibly as ignored in her day as it is ignored in these modern times, that inspired her to remain until the siren call of love compelled her return to Venice and an old flame.

All of which reminds me that I, in my own humble way, have my own unique perspective on places that guidebooks ignore and that people might be inspired to visit.

And, as well, perhaps my observations about places and politics that are often misunderstood or ignored might encourage others to advocate positive changes to both our perspectives on these places and a rallying call to empathise with people rather than judging them for the inadequate governments that suppress them.

So, if I have any New Year´s resolutions, it would be to continue reading, travelling and writing about places both near and far.

Who knows what ripples my wee pebbles can cause?

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 December 2017

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have yet to feel that Yuletide spirit.

Part of the problem is that I never seem to see the oft-promised peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Trump and his cronies have passed a tax bill that will hurt the most vulnerable members of American society.

Flag of the United States

Indonesia is arresting gays for the crime of not being straight.

Flag of Indonesia

Above: Flag of Indonesia

The war in Yemen continues causing untold amount of disease, devastation and famine.

Flag of Yemen

Above: Flag of Yemen

Music is morbid, traumatized and defensive.

Lack of progress in holding bishops accountable for covering up sex abuse in the Church continues.

Flag of Vatican City

Above: Flag of Vatican City

Alarming cases of child malnutrition are reported in Venezuela.

Flag of Venezuela

Above: Flag of Venezuela

And these are just a few events being reported by the New York Times.

As I watched shoppers madly scramble to get Christmas gifts for their loved ones, the cynic in me wondered whether the gift giving is truly heartfelt or whether this generosity is an attempt to buy affection that had not been reciprocated the rest of the year.

Ignore friends and family all year, but hope that presents will redeem you in their eyes once again.

Above: Christmas gift-Bringers in Western Europe

As for those without friends or family….

They are invisible.

The homeless will still lack shelter, the unemployed will still lack a job, the lonely will still lack love this Christmas.

The Beatles once sang that “money can´t buy me love”, but is that true?

Can't Buy Me Love - The Beatles (1964 US release).jpg

Money can buy friends, love, power, prestige, respect, happiness, can´t it?

So we are taught to believe.

And perversely we will sacrifice happiness, respect, prestige, power and love in pursuit of profit.

There was once a time when we believed that we could buy ourselves a stairway to Heaven or a get out of Purgatory free card.

Above: Purgatorio by Ludovico Carracci

And yet my cynicism disappears whenever I think about life beyond the headlines and outside of administrative offices.

For even in the wealthiest of nations there still exists places where money remains simply a means to an end rather than an end itself.

Take Switzerland, for example.

Flag of Switzerland

This is truly a land where profits predominate people, but step inside a religious institution and feel the faith and love.

Hop on a local transit bus or a Postbus and see everyday people living ordinary lives.

Visit a local museum and quietly marvel at the time and attention to detail put into every exhibit whether or not the museum is frequently visited or not.

Stroll through a Christmas market, and though those who run the stalls wish to make money for their efforts, the visitors to the market seem more relaxed than they would in an ordinary place of purchase.

The Christmas market visitor strolls rather than strides, observes rather than ignores what he/she isn´t looking for, converses rather than simply communicates only what is needed to be said.

Even in our wee Starbucks in Marktgasse there are two perspectives.

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Management will bring pressure to bear on the baristas to sell, sell, sell.

But the wise barista knows that the hard sell only works a small percentage of the time, because the customers come to Starbucks to enjoy themselves in a coffeehouse.

As American a firm that this chain is, it is in old Europe.

Here folks want to sit in a Café and linger.

Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh (1888)

They want to find a comfortable corner, a cozy niche, and quietly read a book, or study for their exams, or enjoy each other´s company.

Outside the winds of change toss and turn their lives, but inside a Café the visitor hopes to find an oasis of calm, a harbour of welcome.

The further removed from the day-to-day experience of a Café that management is, the less I feel connected to management.

Money is made from repeat business, the desire to return.

Repeat business is generated from the welcome the guest feels when he/she comes to my store, not from special offers or promotions.

The more management pressures staff to sell, the more pressure the customer feels from the staff that serve them.

The customer is reduced to being an entry on a balance sheet, rather than being the royal entity of the moment.

We are pressured by management if there is a line-up of people forced to wait for service to suddenly rush through our processes and yet somehow still sell, sell, sell the same amounts that normally require more effort on the part of the salesperson.

Yet compassionate friendly attention paid to each individual customer, with an occasional reassuring word to the folks waiting to be served that they are also important and that their patience is appreciated, goes further to keeping customers happy than a quick stressful promptness and dismissiveness to “keep the line moving” ever does.

Management only partially gets this.

The higher up the ladder, the less management understands this.

Management´s destination is the coffers of the company.

But the destination is only possible if the journey is successfully accomplished, if the customer looks forward to coming back to a place where they truly felt welcome.

This malaise felt in our wee Starbucks is a microcosm of what life is in Switzerland.

The Swiss, as a general rule, seem so focused on making money that they have forgotten that money may buy things, but things only distract – they don´t diminish unhappiness felt in a life offering nothing more than a fuller bank account.

The richer the country, the more miserable the people seem to be.

Yet beyond the banks and past the profits is a land of amazing vistas and panoramas so breathtakingly beautiful as to inspire poetry from a pauper and music from the mute.

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It is easy to forget that outside the pellmell of the pursuit of profit that life, wonderful life, is waiting to be discovered in all of its subtle and savoury awesomeness.

Money cannot buy happiness nor guarantee salvation.

This message came crystal clear to my wife and I in an unexpected corner of the richest part of Italy this summer…..

Flag of Italy

Above: Flag of Italy

 

Clusone, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lombardy is Italy´s richest and most developed region.

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Above: Lombardy (in red)

It has always been and still remains a commercial crossroads.

It has been coveted and controlled by the French and the Austrians and takes its name from the Lombards who invaded the region and took it from the Romans.

As a border region, accessible through numerous mountainous passes, Lombardy has always been vulnerable to invasion.

It has long been viewed by northern Europeans as the true capital of Italy.

Emperors from Charlemagne to Napoleon came to Lombardy to be crowned and northern European business magnates take Milan more seriously than Rome (much like they take New York more seriously than Washington, Toronto more seriously than Ottawa, or Zürich more seriously than Bern).

Lombardy´s landscape has paid the price for economic success.

Industry chokes the air, sprawls across the plains and spreads tentacles in all directions that it can.

Nonetheless the casual traveller can still find oases of calm and harbingers of welcome.

The upper reaches of Lombardy´s valleys remain unspoilt.

Even the most sophisticated and ultra modern towns and cities retain their serendipitous medieval cores boasting amazing art and architecture.

The stunning scenery and lush landscapes of Lombardian lakes subtly seduce the unsuspecting visitor.

Much like the Swiss, the Lombardians don´t have much time for life, being too busy making a living.

Milan is a workaholic factory of fashion and innovation, forever focused on the future, impatient with the present, dismissive of the past.

Clockwise from top: Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, CityLife project, Arch of Peace, and Milan Cathedral

Above: Pictures of Milan (clockwise from top): Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, City Life Project, Arch of Peace, Milan Cathedral

The provincial towns are filled with folks focused on security and luxury and privilege.

These urban and urbane northern Italians are dismissive of the south and for them Rome is nothing more than a tragic complexity of errors.

The late 20th century has even seen the rise of a separatist political Party, the Lega Nord, demanding independence from Rome with rheotric suggesting that the North sustains the inefficient lazy South.

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Industrial development has done a dastardly thorough job of ruining the landscape around Bergamo, but if the traveller pushes up the valleys things vastly improve.

To the northwest, the Val Brembana is fringed by a garland of mountains that have borne the tread of generations of caravans of mules bringing minerals from the rocks to the cities of the plains.

Here one can take the waters of San Pellegrino Terme, Lombardy´s most fashionable spa since the start of the 20th century, sleep in a grand hotel and play games inside the casino.

Above: Grand Hotel, San Pellegrino Terme

To the northeast, through and past the Val Cavellina ruined by small factories and characterless housing, the Valle Seriana is also overly developed and overcrowded with apartments appropriating forests and rivers reduced to streams by hydroelectric eyesores.

But in the upper reaches of the Seriana are still untouched stretches of unspoilt pastoral and wild paradise.

Clusone is the main stop, perhaps the only stop, worth making in the entirety of the Valle Seriana.

Panorama of the town in winter

Above: Clusone in winter

It is a picturesque hilltop town well worth a wander.

This is a stroller´s town.

Visit the Church of St. Luigi, the Church of St. Anna, the Church of Paradise, the Church of St. Defendente, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Church of St. Lucio and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Rocco.

Above: The Church of San Defendente

Linger in the Palazzo Comunale or the Palazzo Fogaccia or the Palazzo Marinoni Barca, the Palazzo Bonicelli della Vite, or the Palazzo Carrara Spinelli Maffei.

Above: Palazzo Fogaccia

With steep curving streets and shops selling sausage and cheese, Clusone is the kind of quiet town that invites lingering, where a person is encouraged to linger for hours over lunch and coffee, a place of peaceful contemplation.

In this town where time doesn´t matter, time is nonetheless carefully calculated and measured.

The Piazza dell´ Orologio is named for the fiendishly complicated 16th century clock on the tower of the Palazzo Communale.

Above: Piazza dell´ Orologio

If you have the time and the patience, you can work out the date, the sign of the zodiac, the duration of the night and the phase of the moon from the mechanical movements of the clock.

It takes time to understand time.

Then as you take time to contemplate time, climb upwards to the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta with its Oratorio dei Disciplini (the Oratory of the Disciples) that draws visitors from all over.

Above: Oratorio dei Disciplini

There is little of interest within the walls of the church, but the two 15th century frescoes on the church exterior more than compensate the weary walker for his trek up the hill.

The frescoes were painted by Giacomo Borlone de Buschis in 1485.

The upper fresco, The Triumph of Death, concentrates on the attitude of the wealthy towards death, with three noblemen returning from the hunt, discovering an open tomb containing the worm-infested corpses of the Pope and the Emperor, surrounded by snakes, frogs and scorpions.

A huge skeleton clothed in cloak and crown, larger than life, representing triumphant Death, balances on the edge of the tomb, while other skeletons take aim at people gathered around the tomb.

Death stands on a sepulchre around which the figures of a cardinal, a bishop, a king and a philosopher are offering her gifts.

These onlookers are incorruptible figures, uninterested in the bribes being offered them.

“Everyone dies and leaves the world, those who offend God leave bitterly.”

“For the love of God, don´t have fear to come to the Dance, but joyfully come and be happy.”

The lower fresco, The Dance of Death, continues the tale of morality and mortality, contrasting the corrupt upper classes with a procession of contented commoners, each dancing his way towards death quite happily unconcerned.

I am reminded of an old song I learned back in my high school days:

“Dance, dance, whomever you may be

I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

“And I´ll lead you all whomever you may be

For I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

But this is not only a place of Death, Clusone has been the birthplace of artists and athletes:

  • Domenico Carpinoni (1566 – 1658), painter
  • Cosimo Fanzago (1591 – 1678), architect / sculptor
  • Antonio Cifrondi (1656 – 1730), painter
  • Bartolomeo Nazari (1699 – 1758), painter
  • Antonio Percassi, chairman of the Percassi Holding Company
  • Attilio Rota, cyclist
  • Paolo Savoldelli, cyclist
  • Kevin Ceccon, race car driver

Domenico, Cosimo, Antonio C. and Bartolomeo are united in death, despite their accomplishments.

Antonio P., Attilio, Paolo and Kevin probably won´t live forever, regardless of what they do or don´t do.

We all do the Danse Macabre, no matter one´s station in life.

Above: The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

Whether Pope, peasant or Emperor, King or kid, lazy or labourer, each day is a memento mori, a reminder of the fragility of our lives and of how vain and pointless are the glories of earthly life.

It is this equality in which I take comfort in.

I am destined to die one day, so I won´t have to endure living eternally while others die around me.

And, so far, man has yet to create a dystopian future where people stop aging but have clocks in their arms that determine how long they have to live.

I don´t want to know how much time remains on my life clock, for this uncertainty makes me appreciate every present moment as if it were my last.

At present, the rich cannot buy additional time, additional life.

Imagine if you can how truly horrific the scenario in the movie In Time would be if it ever became our reality instead of just simply entertaining science fiction.

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A hell where time has become the universal currency, where the rich hoard time for themselves to live forever while constantly increasing the cost of living to ensure the poor die.

It is the miracle of birth that Christians celebrate this Christmas season, yet places like Clusone remind me that death, as painful as it is for those left behind to mourn the loss of the deceased, is in its own way also a miracle of sorts.

Without death, life loses its precious value.

Without death, pain is eternal and suffering endless.

Without death, a place cannot sustain a population that constantly increases without limits.

I don´t want to die, but I don´t want to live forever.

It is said by Christians that Christ came so that all who believe in Him might enjoy eternal life.

A depiction of Jesus on the cross

We fear death because we fear the nothingness of non-existence.

We tell ourselves tales, wrapped in religious impulse, that there is something somewhere somehow beyond life.

This idea of something beyond life reassures us that the inadequacies of life can somehow be recompensed in some alternate realm of being.

I for one will never discourage those from believing in what helps them cope with life and its eventual ending.

Perhaps this is what I can take away from Christmas this year….

In this celebration of new life and the promise of life eternal, let us appreciate this moment of life we are living now.

Then perhaps everyday will be a Christmas worth celebrating.

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Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 December 2017

This week I returned back to work after being absent at home for the past two weeks.

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It was a warm welcome with hugs and expressions of delight.

So much so that one witnessing customer commented:

“I want to work here!” 

Back home after work:

First World problems.

Ah, the problem of having too many choices!

I don´t own (and happily don´t owe) much in this world.

What I possess is an (over)abundance of books and DVDs for a man of my modest income.

If I had to estimate I would say that I probably have at least 1,000 or more DVDs.

Of these I would safely say that there are only about a dozen films that I find myself watching again and again.

For example, I recently watched for the nth time the 1974 Billy Wilder film The Front Page starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau.

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Director Wilder, a newspaperman in his younger days recalled:

“A reporter was a glamourous fellow in those days, the way he wore a hat and a raincoat and a swagger, and had a camaderie with fellow reporters and with local police, always hot on the trail of tips from them and from the fringes of the underworld.”

Wilder set the movie in 1929, because the daily newspaper was no longer the dominant news medium in 1974.

(Even less so in 2017….)

The movie has reminded me of the old idea that there are basically only two types of people: those who make the News and those who follow the News.

Those who are remembered by history are those who have made history, who have made the News.

And if there is one place where a person´s legacy seems to matter is within the confines of a famous cathedral.

The decision to create a mausoleum or memorial for a person is determined by what the person accomplished in their life.

Especially for the Christian West it seems the bigger the mausoleum, the grander the grave, the more remarkable the memorial, the more attention and recognition is paid (or should be paid) to the legacy a person left behind.

The downside of this thinking is the presumption that those without a mausoleum, those lacking a memorial, those without a grave, must then be undeserving of respect, unworthy of memory, unloved and forgettable.

First World thinking and materialist obsessiveness carry on even beyond one´s life and onwards in the legacy of those who no longer live.

This kind of thinking was quite evident in our visit to London in October….

 

London, England, 24 October 2017

The Houses of Parliament overshadow a much older neighbour, Westminster Abbey.

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Westminster Abbey has stood in London longer than any other building and embodies much of the history of England.

It was so named to differentiate it from the “east minster“, St. Paul´s Cathedral.

It is the finest Gothic building in London, the most important religious building in England, with the highest nave of any English church.

Over the centuries Westminster Abbey has meant many things to many people.

The Abbey has been the venue for every Coronation since the time of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087)

It has been the site of every royal burial for some 500 years between the reigns of Henry III (1207 – 1272) and George II (1683 – 1760).

Scores of the nation´s most famous citizens are honoured here and the interior of the Abbey is cluttered with hundreds of monuments, reliefs and statues.

With over 3,300 people buried beneath the Abbey´s flagstones and countless others commemorated here, Westminster is, in essence, a massive mausoleum, more tourist attraction than house of God.

Would a modern day Jesus´ visit to this temple result in His repeating:

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, Washington version, by El Greco

Above: Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (El Greco)

“Make not My Father´s house a house of merchandise.” ?

Would the Black Adder of the first BBC series wherein his father makes him the Archbishop of Canterbury (Episode 3)(transplanted to today) gleefully rub his hands together at all the modern wealth to be generated by the faithful and the curious?

"Prince Edmund, Baldrick and Lord Percy in purplse clerical cassocks"

Above: Tony Robinson / Baldrick (left), Tim McInnery / Lord Percy Percy (middle), and Rowan Atkinson / The Black Adder / Prince Edmund / The Archbishop of Canterbury

“Holy Moses! Take a look!

Flesh decayed in every nook!

Some rare bits of brain lie here,

Mortal loads of beef and beer.”

(Amanda McKittrick Ros, “Visiting Westminster Abbey”)

No one knows exactly when the first church was built on this site, but it was well over a thousand years ago.

At its genesis, this area was a swampy and inhospitable place on the outskirts of London.

The church stood on an island called Thorney Island, surrounded by tributaries of the River Thames.

In 960, Dunstan, the Bishop of London, brought 12 Benedictine monks from Glastonbury to found a monastery at Westminster.

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Above: Dunstan (909 – 988)

One hundred years later King Edward the Confessor founded his church on the site.

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Above: Edward the Confessor of England (1003 – 1066), King (1042 – 1066)

Edward was driven from England by the Danes.

During his exile in Normandy, Edward vowed that if his kingdom was restored to him, he would make a pilgrimage to Rome.

When Edward did eventually reclaim his throne in 1042, there was so much unrest in the kingdom that he was advised not to make the perilous journey in case a coup occurred while he was away.

The Pope absolved Edward of his vow on condition that he raise or restore a church in honour of St. Peter.

Edward´s Abbey was consecrated on 28 December 1065, but the King was too ill to attend.

He died a few days later and was buried before the high altar.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Edward´s body being carried into the Abbey for burial.

After Edward´s death his reputation as a holy man grew.

Miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb.

In 1161, Edward was made a saint.

King Henry III held the Confessor in such reverance that he resolved to build a new shrine for Edward in a yet more glorious church.

Manuscript picture of Henry III's coronation

Above: Henry III of England (1207 – 1272), King (1216 – 1272)

The new church was consecrated on 13 October 1269.

In 1539, England´s monastries faced a crisis.

Henry VIII had fallen out with the Pope because the Pope refused to annul the King´s marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

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Above: Henry VIII of England (1491 – 1547), King (1509 – 1547)

Henry declared himself supreme head of the Church of England.

In 1540, Henry dissolved the monasteries and seized their assets.

Westminster Abbey fared better than most religious houses, because of its royal connections, so instead of being stripped and aband0ned it was refounded as a cathedral, with a Bishop and a Dean.

In 1553 Queen Mary succeeded Henry´s son, Edward VI, and Roman Catholicism became once more the approved religion.

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Above: Mary I of England (1516 – 1558), Queen (1553 – 1558)

Mary made the Abbey a monastery again and the monks returned.

Her successor, Queen Elizabeth I, who came to the throne just five years later, in 1558, reversed Mary´s changes and refounded the Abbey yet again, this time with a Dean and a Chapter.

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Above: Elizabeth I of England (1533 – 1603), Queen (1553 – 1603)

The Dean was answerable to no one but herself as sovereign, and it is in this form, not subject to the jurisdiction of a Bishop, as are most churches, but as a special church under the Queen – an institution known as a Royal Peculiar.

During the English Civil War, which culminated in the execution of Charles I and the establishment in 1649 of Oliver Cromwell´s Commonwealth, the Abbey was damaged when Puritans smashed altars, destroyed religious images and the organ, and seized the crown jewels.

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), Lord Protector (1553 – 1558)

The Puritans were keen to rid the Abbey of all symbols of religious “superstition”.

Although the Abbey escaped wanton destruction better than many churches, it still bears the scars to this day.

The Abbey faced new peril during the Second World War.

Westminster miraculously survived, although bombs destroyed parts of it.

Walk with me through the Abbey.

Edward the Confessor´s church was the first in England to be built in the form of a cross, with the North and South Transepts forming its arms.

Most visitors, as did my wife and I, enter the Abbey via the North Transept.

The first impression one gets is of the soaring height of the vaulting.

At 102 feet, it is the highest in Britain.

The rose window above the entrance dates from 1722 and depicts the Apostles, excluding Judas Iscariot.

The rose window in the opposite transept depicts a variety of religious and other figures.

The North Transept is also known as the Statesmen´s Aisle, because it is littered with overblown monuments to long-forgotten empire builders and 19th century politicians, including Prime Ministers Viscount Palmerston (1784 – 1865), Robert Peel (1788 – 1850), Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881) and William Gladstone (1809 – 1898) who are buried nearby.

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Above: William Gladstone (1809 – 1898), UK Prime Minister (1868 – 1874 / 1880 – 1885 / 1886 / 1892 – 1894

Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder (1708 – 1778) is featured in a 30-foot memorial, buried alongside his son Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), who became Prime Minister at the age of  just 24 and whose monument is over the Abbey´s west door.

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Above: William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), Prime Minister (1783 – 1806)

The North Transept leads down to the crossing – the centre of the church.

To the west is the Quire – an intimate space forming essentially a church within a church.

This was where the monks worshipped and this is where the Choir sits for the eight regular Choral Services (Matins, Holy Communion (4x), Eucharist, Evensong and Evening Service) each week.

The Choir consists of 12 men, known as Lay Vicars, and 24 boys, who come from the Abbey´s own choir School, now the only school in England exclusively for the education of choristers.

In the Middle Ages the Quire was the scene of a horrible murder.

In those days criminals could seek sanctuary in the Abbey.

Once they were within the walls, the law could not reach them.

But in 1378 fifty of the King´s men, ignoring the right of sanctuary, chased a prisoner into the Quire.

One of the soldiers “clove his head to the very brains” and also killed a monk who tried to rescue the poor man.

From the Statesmen´s Aisle, go straight to the central Sanctuary, site of the royal coronations.

Look down at the floor.

This precious work of art is the 13th century (1268) Italian floor mosaic known as the Cosmati Pavement, which consists of about 80,000 pieces of red and green porphyry, glass and onyx set into marble.

Bildergebnis für cosmati pavement

The swirling patterns of the universe were designed to encourage the monks in their contemplation.

Look for the inscription in brass letters, which foretells when the universe will end – 19,683 years after the Creation.

On the north side of the Sanctuary is an important group of medieval tombs.

Nearest the steps is the tomb of Countess Aveline of Lancaster.

In 1269, aged just 12, she was married to Edmund Crouchback, the youngest son of Henry III, in the Abbey´s first royal wedding.

Above: Royal seal of Edmund Crouchback (1245 – 1296)

Aveline lived only five more years and died in 1274.

Nearest the altar screen is the tomb of her husband, who outlived his child bride by 22 years, dying in 1296.

Between husband and wife is the tomb of Edmund´s cousin Earl Aymer de Valence of Pembroke, who died in 1324.

These three tombs were originally beautifully coloured and decorated, so that in the candlelight they shimmered with an extraordinary luminescence now lost in time.

The elaborate gilded screen behind the High Altar once protected Henry III´s original altarpiece (“retable”), dating from 1270, the oldest oil painting in Britain and now on display in the Abbey Museum.

The Feeding of the 5000 is an exceptionally important work, and though the centuries have not treated it kindly, what remains gives a tantalising insight into what it must once have been like.

Behind the Altar is St. Edward the Confessor´s Chapel, the spiritual heart of the Abbey.

It was here in 2010 that Pope Benedict XVI, making the first ever visit of a Pope to the Abbey, prayed alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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Above: Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927), Pope Benedict XVI (2005 – 2013)

Around the shrine in the centre, which contains Edward´s body, lie five kings and four queens.

Here is the double tomb of King Richard II (1367 – 1399) and his Queen, Anne of Bohemia (1366 – 1394).

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Above: Richard II of England (1367 – 1399), King (1377 – 1399)

They were married in the Abbey in 1382.

Richard´s body was not allowed to rest in peace.

In the 18th century someone drilled a hole on the side of his tomb through which visitors could put their hand.

A number of bones went missing, including Richard´s jawbone which was only restored to the corpse in 1906.

Here are also buried King Edward III (1312 – 1377) and his wife Philippa (1310 – 1369).

Above: Effigy of Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), King (1327 – 1377)

The Confessor´s devotee King Henry III has his tomb here as well – beautifully decorated, cast in bronze and gilt.

Photograph of Henry's tomb

Here lie the remains of Queen Eleanor of Castille (1241 – 1290), first wife of Edward I.

Above: Statue of Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 1290), Queen (1272 – 1290)

And here lies Edward I (1239 – 1307), at 6 feet 2 inches, very tall for those days, hence his nickname Edward Longshanks.

A man in half figure with short, curly hair and a hint of beard is facing left. He wears a coronet and holds a sceptre in his right hand. He has a blue robe over a red tunic, and his hands are covered by white, embroidered gloves. His left hand seems to be pointing left, to something outside the picture.

Above: Edward I of England (1239 – 1307), King (1272 – 1307)

And seek here the tomb of Henry V (1387 – 1422) beside that of his wife Catherine de Valois (1401 – 1437).

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Above: Wedding of Henry V and Catherine de Valois

Her coffin and corpse were in full public view for centuries.

Henry V was considered one of England´s greatest monarchs, a fine military commander and an outstanding statesman.

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Above: Henry V of England (1386 – 1422), King (1413 – 1422)

(His archers beat the French at Agincourt.)

The English were devastated when he died suddenly in 1422, aged only 35.

He was buried in the Abbey on 7 November, “with such solemn ceremony, such mourning of Lords, such prayer of priests, such lamentation of the common people as never was before that day seen in the realm of England.”

The diarist Samuel Pepys, on a visit to the Abbey in 1669, kissed Catherine´s leathery lips, wrote:

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Above: Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)

“This was my birthday, 36 years old and I did first kiss a queen.”

Henry and Catherine are now protected by an iron grille.

The chairs and footstools in front were given in 1949 by the people of Canada for royal use.

To the south of the Altar are the medieval seats (“sedilia”) for the priests.

Above their heads are the paintings of Henry III and Edward I.

To the west of the sedilia is the flat-topped tomb of Anne of Cleves, the 4th wife of Henry VIII.

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Above: Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Queen (1540)

There are more than 600 tombs and monuments in the Abbey, some of them quite massive.

Many people commemorated here are remembered because of their distinguished careers, but quite a few owe their presence in the Abbey more to their wealth or social status.

Today distinguished figures are still commemorated in the Abbey, but our tributes today are rather muted compared with the flamboyance of previous centuries.

The huge monument in the North Ambulatory to General James Wolfe (1727 – 1759) reflects the 18th and 19th centuries´ glorification of military figures, especially when they have died at the moment of victory.

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Above: James Wolfe (1727 – 1759)

Wolfe was killed, aged 32, while fighting on the Plains of Abraham, Québec City, in order to capture Canada from the French.

His opponent, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, being French who also died on the Plains, is given no mention.

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Above: Louis-Joseph de Montcalm (1712 – 1759)

Some of the best funereal art is tucked away in St. Michael´s Chapel, east of the Statesmen´s Aisle.

Admire the remarkable monument to Francis Vere (1560 – 1609), one of the greatest soldiers of the Elizabethan period, made out of two slabs of black marble, between which lies Sir Francis.

On the upper slab, supported by four knights, Francis´ armor is laid out, to show that he died away from the field of battle.

Near this a most striking grave, in which Elizabeth Nightingale, who died from a miscarriage, collapses in her husband Joseph´s arms while he tries to fight off the spear aimed at her by the skeletal figure of Death, who is climbing out of the tomb.

Lady Elizabeth & Joseph Nightingale

Above: Tomb of Joseph (1695 – 1752) and Elizabeth Nightingale (1704 – 1731)

In the North Ambulatory, two more chapels contain ostentatious Tudor and Stuart tombs.

One of the most extravagant tombs is that of Lord Hunsdon, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I, which not only dominates the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, it is, at 36 feet in height, the tallest tombs in the entire Abbey.

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Above: Henry Carey, Lord Dunsdon (1526 – 1596)

From the second chapel, the Chapel of St. Paul, climb the stairs and enter the Lady Chapel (or Henry VII´s Chapel), the most dazzling part of the Abbey.

Begun by Henry VII in 1503 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Lady Chapel is beautiful, light, intricately carved vaulting, fan.shaped gilded Pendants and the statues of nearly one hundred Saints, high above the choir stalls decorated with banners and emblems.

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Above: Henry VII of England (1457 – 1509), King (1485 – 1509)

George II, the last King to be buried in the Abbey, lies under your feet, along with his Queen Caroline – their coffins fitted with removable sides so that their remains can mingle.

George sitting on a throne

Above: George II of England (1683 – 1760), King (1727 – 1760)

(Certainly a different idea of necrophilia…)

Beneath the altar is the grave of Edward IV, the single sickly son of Henry VIII.

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Above: Edward IV of England (1442 – 1483), King (1461 – 1470 / 1471 – 1483)

Behind the Chapel´s centrepiece, the black marble sacrophagus of Henry VII and his spouse – their lifelike gilded effigies are perfectly obscured an ornate grille, designed by an artist more famous for fleeing Italy after breaking Michelangelo´s nose than for his own art: Pietro Torrigiano.

Above: Bust of Henry VII by Pietro Torrignano (1472 – 1528)

His funeral on 11 May 1509 was lavish:

“All the heralds cast their coats of armor off and hung them upon the rails of the hearse, crying lamentably in French – ´Le noble roi Henri le septieme est mort.´ – and as soon as they had done so, every herald put on his armor again and cried with a loud voice – ´Vive le roi Henri le huiteme.´”

Here one finds James I as well as James´ lover Duke George Villiers of Buckingham, the first non-royal to be buried in the Abbey.

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Above: George Villiers (1592 – 1628)

Villiers was killed by one of his own disgruntled soldiers.

To the east the Royal Air Force Chapel: stained glass with airmen and angels in the Battle of Britain.

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In the floor, a plaque marks the spot where Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell rested….

Briefly.

Until the Restoration, whereupon his mummified body was unearthed, dragged through the streets, hanged and beheaded.

To the north four maidens hold up a vast bronze canopy and weep for another of James I´s “favourites”, Ludovic Stuart.

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Above: Ludovic Stuart (1574 – 1624)

Before descending the steps back into the Ambulatory, pop into the Chapel´s north aisle.

Here siblings and hated rivals in life now lie side by side reconciled in death, Elizabeth I and her Catholic half-sister “Bloody” Mary.

“All those who divided at the Reformation by different convictions laid down their lives for Christ and conscience´s sake.”

At the far end is Innocents´ Corner.

Here James I´s infant daughters lie: Princess Sophia who died aged 3 days (1607) and Princess Mary who died the same year aged 2 (1605 – 1607)

Ähnliches Foto

Set in the wall between the sisters is the urn containing the bones of the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and his younger brother Richard.

Above: Richard (1473 – 1483) and Edward V of England (1470 – 1483)

As you leave the Lady Chapel, look for the Coronation Chair, a decrepit oak graffiti-covered throne which has been used in every coronation since 1308.

It was custom-built to incorporate the Stone of Scone (the Stone of Destiny), a great slab of redstone which acted as the Scottish coronation stone for centuries before Edward I stole it in 1296.

A replica of the Stone of Scone

William the Conqueror was crowned here on 25 December 1066.

Above: Coin of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087), King (1066 – 1087)

It did not go well.

“When Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutences asked the Normans, if they would accept William as their King, all of them gladly shouted out with one voice, if not in one language, that they would.

The armed guard (William´s Norman troops), hearing the tumult of the joyful crowd in the church and the harsh accents of a foreign tongue, imagined that some treachery was afoot and foolishly set fire to some of the buildings.

The fire spread rapidly from house to house.

The crowd that had been rejoicing in the church took fright and throngs of men and women of every rank and condition rushed out of the church in haste.

Only the Bishops and a few clergy and Monks remained, terrified, in the Sanctuary, and with difficulty completed the consecration of the King, who was trembling from head to foot.”

On 25 February 1308 Edward II´s ceremony was dominated by his boyfriend Piers Gaveston (1284 – 1312).

Above: Edward II and Piers Gaveston by Marcus Stone (1872)

“Seeking his own glory rather than the King´s”, Gaveston wore an outfit of royal purple, trimmed with pearls.

Nor should he have walked in front of the King in the procession, nor carried Edward´s crown.

The barons were so annoyed at Galveston´s presumption that there was talk of killing him on the spot.

Both Edward and Piers would be assassinated later.

Henry VIII was only 17 at his coronation on 24 June 1509.

He walked to the Abbey from Westminster Palace along a carpet of royal blue.

The crowd was so enthusiastic that they fell on the carpet and cut it up for souvenirs.

Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII´s six wives, was crowned Queen on 1 June 1533.

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Above: Anne Boleyn (1501 – 1536)

The ceremony lasted 8 hours and at one point Archbishop Cranmer required Anne to lie on her face in front of the altar – not easy, when she was six months pregnant.

William III´s coronation in 1689 was spoiled by having his money pickpocketed.

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Above: William III of England (1650 – 1702), King (1689 – 1702)

To the south is the Abbey´s most popular spot: The Poets´ Corner.

Above: Poets´ Corner with Shakespeare Memorial in the centre

The first occupant, Geoffrey Chaucer, was buried here in 1400.

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Above: Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 1400)

When Edmund Spenser chose to be buried close to Chaucer in 1599, his fellow poets – Shakespeare among them – threw their own works and quills into the grave.

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Above: Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599)

More than 100 poets, dramatists and prose writers are buried or commemorated here, as well as the composer George Frederick Handel.

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Above: George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759)

(Handel´s funeral on 20 April 1759 was supposed to be private.

3,000 people turned up.)

“Upon the Poets´ Corner in Westminster Abbey

Hail, sacred relics of the tuneful train!

Here ever honoured, ever loved remain.

No other dust of the once great or wise,

As each beneath the hallowed pavement lies,

To this old dome a juster reverence brings….”

Who decides who is to be immortalized in Poets´ Corner?

The Dean of Westminster consults his colleagues in the Chapter and in the literary world, before reaching a decision which, by law, is his alone to make.

It is rare for a recently deceased poet to be memorialized.

The longest period between a poet´s death and memorialization is 1,3oo years: Caedmon (657 – 680), regarded as the first English language poet.

Above: Caedmon Memorial, St. Mary´s Churchyard, Whitby

The Corner has become a Valhalla for poets and a place of pilgrimage for lovers of literature.

The Poets´ Corner´s most famous memorial is that to William Shakespeare, erected 124 years after his death.

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Above: William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

His body remains in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, with the inscription:

“Good friend, for Jesus´ sake, forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here!

Blest be the man that spares these stones

And curst be he that moves my bones.”

Why tempt fate?

The Abbey recalls actors: David Garrick, Henry Irving, William Walton, Laurence Olivier, William Walton and Peggy Ashcroft.

Here one finds a controversy:

Ben Jonson was an arrogant man who did not suffer fools and frequently quarrelled with his fellow dramatists.

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Above: Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637)

He lived apart from his wife, whom he described as “a shrew, yet honest.”

One of his plays caused grave offence by its lewdness and he was imprisoned.

He later killed a man in a duel and narrowly escaped the gallows.

As Jonson grew older he became fat and alcoholic.

He was too poor for a proper grave and said that a two-foot square would be enough for him.

And that´s what he got, as he was buried standing up.

His bones and coffin have been exposed three times since his burial.

His skull is missing.

Christopher Marlowe was memorialized 409 years after his death because it was felt the Poets´ Corner was already overcrowded.

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Above: Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593)

Tennyson called Marlowe the morning star which heralded Shakespeare´s dazzling sun.

Another description called him “intemperate and of a cruel heart.”

In 1593, at a Deptford tavern in South London, aged 29, Marlowe was fatally stabbed above his right eye, over a bill for supper.

John Milton had to wait more than 60 years before being memorialized.

Above: Bust of John Milton (1608 – 1674), Temple of British Worthies, Stowe

Milton, famous for his Paradise Lost, could have used the title for his autobiography.

In 1642 he married.

She left him after a few weeks.

In 1648 he began to go blind.

By 1652 he had lost his sight completely, as well as his wife and his only son.

In 1656 Milton married again but she died shortly after giving birth to a daughter.

He was passionate about what he hated.

Anti-Catholic, he called for bishops to be executed and prophesied that they would spend eternity in hell.

Milton attacked the greed of the clergy, rallied against censorship and wrote passionately against the monarchy.

On the Restoration of the monarchy, Milton went into hiding, his arrest was ordered and his books burned.

He was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was later pardoned and released.

Charles II greatly admired Samuel Butler.

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Above: Samuel Butler (1612 – 1680)

The King enjoyed Butler´s Hudibras so much that he never ate, drank, slept or went to church without having Hudibras beside him.

Despite the King´s adoration, Butler died penniless.

“While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive

No generous patron would a dinner give!

See him, when starved to death and turned to dust

Presented with a monumental bust!

The poet´s fate is here in emblem shown

He asked for bread and he received a stone!”

Here one finds an impressive memorial to Matthew Prior, famous for sayings like:

Above: Matthew Prior (1664 – 1721)

“It takes two to quarrel, but only one to end it.”

“The ends must justify the means.”

“They never taste who always drink.

They always talk who never think.”

John Gay was said to be….

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Above: John Gay (1685 – 1732)

“In wit, a man; simplicity, a child.”

On Gay´s monument, Alexander Pope wrote a long epitaph, but Gay had the last laugh for two lines are Gay´s not Pope´s:

“Life is a jest, and all things show it.

I thought so once, and now I know it.”

Poets´ Corner is a Who´s Who of the English dead: Longfellow, Wilde, T.S. Elliot, Lewis Carroll, Trollope, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Austen, Keats, Shelley, Burns, the Bronte sisters, Thackeray, Gray, Goldsmith, Blake, Scott, Dickens, Lear, Browning, Brooke, Dylan Thomas, Auden….

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

(Charles Dickens was buried secretly on 14 June 1870 to avoid crowds, but so many wanted to pay their respects that the grave had to be left open for a time so the public could see him.)

Just to name a few….

Before you enter the Cloisters, check out the South Choir Aisle.

See the tomb of Thomas Thynne that shows how three thugs did him in.

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Above: Tomb of Thomas Thynne (1610 – 1669)

Or consider the ironic fate of Admiral Shovell, who survived a shipwreck, was washed up alive on a beach in the Scilly Isles, only to be killed by a fisherwoman who wanted his emerald ring.

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Above: Cloudesley Shovell (1650 – 1707)

Or that of the court portrait painter Godfrey Kneller who declared:

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Above: Geofrey Kneller (1646 – 1723)

By God, I will not be buried in Westminster – they do bury fools here.”

Kneller is the only artist to be commemorated in the Abbey.

Enter the Cloisters where Parliament once met, beneath the southern wall where the Whore of Babylon rides the scarlet seven-headed beast from the Book of Revelations.

See the Pyx Chamber which acted like a medieval high security safety deposit box.

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Robbers broke in on 24 April 1303 and stole jewels and riches.

Some of them were hanged the following March.

The ringleader of the Pyx robbery was whipped and nailed to the door of the Pyx Chamber as a warning to others.

500 years later pieces of human skin could still be found in the door hinges.

Before you leave the Cloisters enter the Nave itself.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior with his garland of red poppies recalls the million British soldiers who died in World War One, with an equivalent number of women dying unmarried because there were no husbands for them.

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A tablet in the floor near the Tomb marks the spot where George Peabody, the 19th century philantropist whose housing estates in London still provide homes for those in need, was buried for a month before being exhumed and removed to Massachusetts.

Above: George Peabody (1795 – 1869)

Peabody remains the only American to have been buried in Westminster.

Above the Nave´s west door, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger at just 25 teaches Anarchy while History takes notes.

With all I have described it certainly is no wonder why Westminster Abbey is so popular with tourists.

So much to see, so much to learn and yet Westminster left me with a sense of disappointment.

Not so much with the Abbey itself as much as what the Abbey represents.

Death has become a spectacle and a source of profit.

Does a life have no value if it is not commemorated grandly after death?

Does this mean that the Hindus value life less by burning the bodies of their dead?

And what of the poor who lie in anonymous mass graves unmarked and forgotten?

What of the millions who have died in war or in prison or by dread disease?

Did all these lives have no value because there are no markers to show where their bones are piled?

Does a life have no value if it is not historically significant?

Did all these lives lose their value once their bodies turned to ashes and dust?

I believe that the value of life is in the living, in the apppreciation of the moment, in the appreciation of the Now.

I believe that as long as my life is without extreme pain – physical or psychological – and I am not causing pain to others, then my life has value, at least to myself and hopefully beyond myself.

I don´t require assurance that my remains be assigned some grand memorial in some magnificent cathedral.

I don´t require a cemetery plot or even a funeral.

(Though a drinking party where folks dance with joy celebrating that they continue to live on without me would please me greatly.)

I don´t require a dim unprovable hope that some form of existence awaits me after death.

Am I suggesting that the visitor avoid Westminster Abbey?

No.

It is truly a magnificent structure and is peculiar in its own ways.

But I would be more satisfied with plaques that spoke to me of who a deceased person was, both as a person and someone who accomplished great things.

Epitaphs sound grandiose when read aloud but they speak little about what a person was like when they were alive.

Byron´s monument:  “But there is that within me whuch shall tire torture and time and breathe when I expire.”

But who was Byron?

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Above: Lord George Byron (1788 – 1824)

T. S. Eliot: “The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.”

Fine words, but what of the poet who wrote them?

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Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Trollope: “Now I stretch out my hand and from the further shore I bid adieu to all who have cared to read any among the many words I have written.”

Wouldn´t it be more respectful to read the actual words Trollope wrote then to just simply view his gravesite?

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Above: Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1965)

D. H. Lawrence is labelled as “Home sum! The adventurer…” and G. M. Hopkins as “priest and poet, immortal diamond”.

But these words say nothing of who these genetlemen were.

The honour is in appreciating them for what they wrote and the life captured within their words.

Otherwise despite the fine artistry of the graves of Westminster, without an appreciation of who the dead were, what lies beneath slabs of stone is nothing but dust and ashes and the merest whisper of existence.

It would be better to show those that we love that they are loved, rather than mourn their passage which our dead cannot appreciate.

Westminster shows me that death is the great equalizer of us all, no matter how one wishes to decorate the tombs of kings and queens or poets and generals.

If while I live, others are happy that I do so….

“Wouldn´t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

And they´re always glad you came.

You want to go where you know troubles are all the same.

You want to go where everybody knows your name.”

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With a place like this, where everybody knows my name while I am still alive, I don´t need to be buried in some great cathedral.

A great grave doesn´t make a life great.

Great love does.                                                 

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Julian Beecroft, For the Love of London: A Companion / Nicholas Best, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Oliver Tearle, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape / http://www.westminster-abbey.org

Canada Slim and the Company Town

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 December 2017

Soon I will attempt to go back to work.

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I have spent the last two weeks suffering from an extremely durable and nasty viral infection, aka the Man Cold, but finally I believe my return back to work on Monday will be successful.

I have remained indoors, have plied my body with all the medicine – placebos or not – I could, and have slept as much as my body has allowed.

I tried working last Sunday and suffice to say I was unsuccessful at keeping what should remain inside the body from coming out.

More detail is neither necessary nor desireable.

I have missed working.

The contact with others, the employment of my days in an useful effort, the desire to achieve as much as possible not only to the benefit of an employer but as well proof that I can be worthy of a paycheque….

I sincerely doubt that I will be singing a chorus of “Thank God It´s Monday” anytime soon, but I was never meant to spend my days and nights lying in bed or sprawling on a couch for too long a period of time.

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Though I am gifted with a partner who makes a significant income, I still want to feel that my contribution to the household collective is at least appreciated.

As regular readers (both of them) of my blog know, I am a man of two paid professions….

I am a freelance teacher and a part time Starbucks barista.

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And though the former position lacks job security and the latter lacks a vast salary, I am quite content to do both these jobs to the best of my limited ability.

I am happy to have employment, for I am no longer as young as I once was and ageism is truly a problem in Switzerland, especially for those with limited skills or limited qualifications.

Flag of Switzerland

I have thought about perhaps investigating other lines of work outside of gastronomy and teaching.

I don´t have to spend eight hours a day washing dishes or stripping fruit off an orchard.

If sufficiently motivated I could make my own opportunities and go in business for myself.

If I could find within myself the initiative, the determination, the creativity needed and could identify a popular need and exploit it….

Well, who knows what I could accomplish?

Perhaps with my travelling experience and wanderlust I could learn what items can be bought cheaply in one country and be sold profitably in another.

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(Kinder eggs, because of the surprise within could injure a child if swallowed, are forbidden in the US.)

Or I could go to a place where crowds gather and offer them something that they desire: beer on the beach, warm cocoa for the ski slopes, (real) eggs for a political protest!

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I have often considered travel writing for money, but I confess I desire a bit more financial security in the marital bank account before boldly going where no one has gone before and writing about it.

I am a talented singer, a legend in my own mind, but busking requires a kind of foolhardy courage that I lack.

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Working for others in business and industry, though it shall never make me rich (unless I work on Wall Street – slim chance of that) does offer a steady income while a contract lasts.

My friends in Australia, highly skilled and talented individuals, have considered working for a company town, a town that operates oil rigs or deep mines way off in some remote area of Oz.

A blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist quarter, a large white seven-pointed star in the lower hoist quarter, and constellation of five white stars in the fly – one small five-pointed star and four, larger, seven-pointed stars.

Their idea is not novel and I have heard of towns owned and operated by just one industrial organization, like Fort McMurray in Alberta.

But it wasn´t until this past summer I finally encountered a company town….

 

Crespi d´Adda, Italy, 4 August 2017

English language guidebooks often fail us when we travel the world, so, when we can, we also travel with French and German language guidebooks that often show us places that the Anglos fail to mention.

Beate Giacovelli´s 111 Orte am Comer See die man gesehen haben muss (111 places everyone must see at the Lake of Como) mentions this town as an UNESCO site worth a detour.

Now UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is, at present, quite a controversial topic for Americans at present.

UNESCO logo English.svg

Based in Paris, UNESCO´s declared purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law and human rights along with the fundamental freedom proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

Above: The Garden of Peace, UNESCO Headquarters, Paris

UNESCO has 195 member states, which now no longer includes the United States.

Above: UNESCO member states (green)

UNESCO pursues its objectives through five major programs: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture and the communication of information.

UNESCO´s aim is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture and communication.

The United States and its present Administration have a tendency to pass laws and apply – or not apply – these laws whenever it suits America´s political interests.

Flag of the United States

Laws passed in Congress in 1990 and 1994 state that the United States cannot contribute financially to any United Nations organization that accepts Palestine as a full member.

UNESCO hasn´t.

Palestine has observer status only.

As a result the United States, under the Trump Administration, accusing the UN of having a bias against Israel and a favouritism towards Palestine, has decided to withdraw from being a member of UNESCO.

Certainly the fact that the United States owes the United Nations over 250 million dollars has no little part to play in this decision.

Flag of the United Nations

The State Department has suggested that the United Nations should be reformed and politics kept out of UNESCO, condemning, for example, the acceptance of Hebron and Jericho as World Heritage Sites because they lie within Palestinian territories.

Above: Jericho

There are, at last count prior to 2017, 1,052 World Heritage Sites around the globe in 165 countries.

814 are cultural sites that have historical or anthropological value.

203 are natural sites that include habitats for threatened species.

35 are a mixture of both cultural and natural.

229 of UNESCO sites have been identified by the World Wildlife Federation as significant for their natural value.

WWF logo

114 of these are threatened by industrial development, such as illegal logging, mining and petroleum production.

55 of these are listed as being in critical danger, some of them due to military conflicts.

For example, all six of Syria´s World Heritage Sites have been damaged or destroyed in the ongoing Syrian Civil War and the concurrent struggle against ISIS.

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Above: Flag of Syria

Making a place a World Heritage Site does bring attention and pressure to governments to protect the area, but this same publicity can also cause an upswing in tourism leading to further degradation of a location.

To be selected, a World Heritage Site must be an already classified landmark, unique in some respect as a geographically and historically identifiable place having special cultural or physical significance (such as an ancient ruin or historical structure, building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, mountain or wilderness area).

The Site may signify a remarkable accomplishment of humanity and serve as evidence of our intellectual history on the planet.

The Sites are intended for practical conservation for posterity, which otherwise would be subject to risk from human or animal trespassing, unmonitored/uncontrolled/unrestricted access or threat from local administrative negligence.

Sites are designated by UNESCO as protected zones.

The six cultural criteria to qualify as a World Heritage Site – each Site must meet at least one of the criteria – are:

  1. The site must represent a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance.
  2. The site must exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning, or landscape design.
  3. The site must bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.
  4. The site must be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
  5. The site must be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land use or sea use which is representative of a culture or human interaction with the environment.
  6. The site must be directly or tangibly associated with Events or living traditions, with ideas, with beliefs, or with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.

The UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site means that culturally sensitive sites are legally protected under the Geneva Convention which determines how war is to be conducted.

It is against the Geneva Convention to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural heritage of peoples.

It is illegal to use these sites in support of a military effort.

It is against international law to make these sites the object of reprisals or revenge.

Of all the UNESCO member countries Italy has the most World Heritage Sites: 51.

Crespi d´Adda, in the municipality of Capriate San Gervasio, in Bergamo province, 30 kilometres directly south of Lecco, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.

The town's company-built school, church and employee houses

Crespi d´Adda is an outstanding example of a 19th/early 20th century company town built in Europe and North America by enlightened industrialists to meet the workers´ needs.

Villagio Crespi, described as “an architectural jewel” and “the ideal worker´s town”, can be reached from the A4 Torino-Trieste motorway, taking the Capriate exit.

The nearest parking area, after the motorway bridge, is near the cemetery of Capriate San Gervasio.

Upon leaving your vehicle, get ready to take a step back in time.

The town is a pedestrians only zone.

Set your time machine to 1877, the year Crespi d´Adda was founded.

This excellent example of a company town is nearly intact, as though it has always been preserved under glass inside a museum.

Cristoforo Crespi, a textile entrepreneur from Busto Arsizio with a brilliant vision and a strong will, founded this village.

Above: Bust of Cristoforo Crespi (1833 – 1920), Crespi d´Adda

After several years of searching without success, Crespi found this desolate and untamed area near the Adda River and decided to build his cotton mill here.

Above: The cotton mill, Crespi d´Adda

The Adda provided the water necessary to produce energy for the plant and the nearby towns provided an abundant labour force.

In 1877 the creation of the town began.

The river was diverted, a turbine plant constructed, a spinning department built, 5,000 spindles installed, residences for the workers built, and important services (cafeteria, cemetery, clinic, hotel, school, shops and theatre) provided.

Above: Village school, Crespi d´Adda

Above: The church of Crespi d´Adda

Above: The Cooperativa di Consumo store, Crespi d´Adda

The village of Crespi d´Adda was the first village in Italy to have modern public lighting.

Production in the factory began on 25 July 1878.

The factory quickly expanded and in 1886 the first workers´ houses were built.

In 1889, Cristoforo Crespi´s son Silvio became manager of the cotton mill.

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Above: Silvio Crespi (1862 – 1944)

With the support of renowned architects and engineers, Silvio designed the village according to a symmetrical layout, creating different zones dedicated to production, family life and community life.

Crespi d´Adda in its day represented new trends in social thinking and scientific advancement.

Silvio rejected the idea of large multiple occupancy blocks in favour of single family homes, each with its own garden.

Above: A factory worker´s house with garden

Silvio saw gardens as conducive to harmony and a defence against industrial strife.

His policy worked.

In the fifty years of Crespi management there was no strike or any other form of social disorder within the village.

The workers´ houses are lined up along parallel roads to the east of the factory.

A tree-lined avenue separates the production zone from the houses, overlooking a chessboard road plan.

The village´s fortunes depended entirely on the factory.

The worker´s lives were inextricably bound to the Crespi family who provided services and assistance.

Therefore, right from the start, the organization was rigid, both inside and outside the factory.

With various peaks and valleys, the village continued to thrive until the end of the 1920s, but political changes (the rise of fascism), new industry trends and the Great Economic Crash of 1929 brought the Crespi family to the verge of collapse.

In the 1930s, in the midst of the Great Depression, the Crespi family sold the village.

Other managers took over while other changes and opportunities altered the social and economic fabric of the village.

In 2003 the factory closed.

No more smoke emerges from the tall chimney stack that dominates the town.

Today the village is inhabited by a community descended from the original 3,200 workers.

Here the visitor can wander the streets of Crespi d´Adda and see the residential houses, the management villa-castle, the doctor´s house and the priest´s house, the church and the washhouse, the recreational club and the hotel, the school and the hospital, the public bath and the cemetery.

Above: Crespi Castle, Crespi d´Adda

Above: The wash house, Crespi d´Adda

Crespi d´Adda is open during the work week from 0900 to 1230 and on the weekend from 1000 to 1230 during the months of July and August.

Multilingual tours are available if prebooked before arriving on site.

Crespi d´Adda, a model village, a self-contained community, a company town, is not unique in Europe.

The concept of a model village was first developed in England, where at least 29 villages of a similar design once existed.

Six could be found in Ireland, one in Scotland and two in Wales.

On the Continent, the Stadt des KdF-Wagens near Wolfsburg was built for the Volkswagen factory.

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Spain has the model town of Nuevo Baztan outside of Madrid.

Faraway New Zealand´s South Island has Barrhill.

Americans certainly will recognize the idea of company towns for it possesses one of the world´s oldest: Summit Hill, Pennsylvania, built and operated by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company (1818 – 1964).

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Above: West Hazard Street, Summit Hill, Pennsylvania

Traditional settings for company towns have often been where extractive industries such as coal, metal mines and lumber had established a monopoly.

In the former Soviet Union there were several cities (atomgrads) of nuclear scientists (atomicals), particularly in the Ukraine.

Above: Former Soviet atomgrad Krasnokamianka, Ukraine

Catalonia has a high density of company towns, known locally as industrial colonies.

These one hundred industrial colonies are small towns created around a factory, built in a rural area and therefore separate from any other population.

Each colony typically houses between 100 and 500 inhabitants.

At their peak there were over 2,500 company towns in the United States, housing 3% of the American population.

The French city of Le Creusot, the German cities of Ludwigshafen, Wolfsburg and Leverkusen and the Japanese city of Kitakyushu are all company towns.

Similar to Crespi d´Adda, Derwent Valley Mills in Derbyshire, England, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Above: Arkwright Masson Mills, Derwent Valley, Derbyshire, England

The wife and I wandered the streets of Crespi d´Adda by ourselves.

No one on the roads, no visitors at the visitors centre, the restaurant´s only guests doubled by our arrival.

The buildings were locked, the locals away working in other towns and cities.

No babies cried, no children played in the streets, no animals crossed our path, no birds sang.

It was eerie, almost spooky, as if we were participating in some nightmarish scenario from the Twilight Zone TV series.

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The town was empty and silent.

No one moved in it.

No lights on in the houses, no phones rang, no doors opened.

Beds empty and cold, no water running, only the barely perceptible hum of electricity in wires above our heads.

The cemetery was only different from the village in that the resulting silence was explainable by the lack of the living.

Above: Cemetery of Crespi d´Adda

A town where residents remained from cradle to grave now lies barren and bare, devoid of delight, empty of enthusiasm, yet not collapsing from neglect.

No houses are in need of repair, no weeds grow in sidewalk cracks, all is aligned as perfect as a picture.

It was a Friday, a workday.

Does the village resurrect itself on the weekend?

Do the residents hide themselves during visiting times only coming out when everyone else has left?

I am not sure.

We arrived when the village officially opened for the day and left when it closed.

The day was hot and humid.

I am reminded of the band America´s song “A Horse with No Name”:

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On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound…..

After nine days I let the horse run free
‘Cause the desert had turned to sea
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love

And that was what Crespi d´Adda seems to have lost: a sense of love.

The visitor is a spectre, a ghost, a mere footfall.

Crespi d´Adda is well preserved.

Its impact is its silence.

I wonder if Crespi d´Adda will ever go back to work.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Beate Giacovelli, 111 Orte am Comer See die man gesehen haben muss / http://www.crespidaddaunesco.org

 

Canada Slim and the Right Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 December 2017

Is there such a thing as an indispensable man?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But does that mean my presence then is insignificant?

I don´t believe so.

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

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

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

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

My social circle was and remains small.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Empire State Building, completed 1931

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

How indispensable was Churchill to the world?

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

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

London, England, 24 October 2017

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

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

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

Tunnels fan out from the complex to outlying government ministeries.

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

Above: Buckingham Palace

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

Every corner tells a story.

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

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

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

Should there be some sort of central war room?

Where should it be?

How should it be protected?

Who should work there?

What space and equipment would they need?

What exactly would they be doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

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

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

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

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

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Above: Hastings Ismay (1887 – 1965)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Map Room, Cabinet War Rooms

There could be no hesitation or pause in these preparations.

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

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

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

Work continued on the War Rooms.

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

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

On 27 August the Central War Room was officially opened.

On 1 September, Hitler attacked Poland.

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

Two days later, Britain was at war.

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

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

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

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

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Above: Cabinet War Room

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

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

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

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Britain weathered the Blitz for nine long months.

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

Britain was no longer fighting the Nazis alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: A V1 guided missile

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

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Above: A V2 rocket

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

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

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

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

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

Their historic value was recognised and were mostly left undisturbed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what of the Great Man himself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

An American visitor reported in late 1940 that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are a product of our time and place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Statue of Churchill, Parliament Square, London

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

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

Come to the Churchill War Rooms.

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Live the experience.

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

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

 

 

Canada Slim and the Danger Zone

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 October 2017

Tomorrow, we fly to London.

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My wife is concerned.

2017 has been a bad year for London.

22 March: Attack on Westminster Bridge – 6 dead, 40 injured

3 June: Attack on London Bridge – 11 dead, 48 injured

19 June: Attack on Finsbury Park Mosque – 1 dead, 11 injured

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Above: The North London Central Mosque, Finsbury Park

15 September: Attack on Parson´s Green Tube Station – 22 injured

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Still these pale in comparison to the 7 July 2005 Tube attacks, resulting in 52 dead and 0ver 700 people injured.

Are we walking into a danger zone?

But these days is there truly any place that is completely safe?

In Switzerland, during our vacation in Italy, a crazy man stabbed to death an Indian student just outside our Starbucks store window in St. Gallen.

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Just the year prior, another disturbed individual attacked train passengers with fire and a knife near Salez-Salenstein, mid-distance between St. Gallen and Chur.

And this is Switzerland, a neutral, peaceful country.

Flag of Switzerland

Yet, despite these events, I still continue to work at the same location of the Starbucks incident and have a number of times ridden the train between St. Gallen and Chur passing Salez-Salenstein, and I remember.

These are times that test men´s souls and cause hearts to race with fear, but nonetheless we must keep on living.

Is London dangerous?

The City of London, seen from the south bank of the Thames in September 2015

Can a city that has existed for two millennia always be safe?

Yet today over 8.7 million people continue to survive and thrive in central London, over 13.8 million in the 33 Boroughs of the Greater London area, speaking over 300 languages.

They haven´t fled in panic despite the 7/7 attacks and it would take much more than this before Londoners would lose their nerve and abandon the place.

London remains the world´s largest financial centre, has the largest concentration of wealth in the world and is the leading investment destination, which means it will continue to be a target.

Yet despite all the anguish and fear that these events create in the world press, London remains the most visited city on the planet, with the world´s largest city airport system and the oldest underground railway network.

London Underground logo, known as the roundel, is made of a red circle with a horizontal blue bar.

I confess, despite having lived in Britain before, that my knowledge of London is sparse.

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

During my time in Britain (England and Wales) when I lived in Oxford, Leicester, Nottingham and Cardiff, I did not visit London, for both the expense of the city as well as the immensity of the place intimidated me.

Only through the encouragement of my old friend Iain have I seen a wee bit of London: the Theatre District, the Greenwich Observatory, a section of the Thames Path (a 184 mile path that stretches from the Thames Barrier (where the Channel meets the River) to Kemble, just south of Cirencester) and a hodgepodge of meandering streets that confused me more than remained memories.

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Above: The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London

Now I will travel there with my wife, Ute, whom I met in Stratford-upon-Avon two decades ago.

Above: William Shakespeare´s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

She hasn´t been to London since, though we both visited Cornwall a few years ago.

Above: Land´s End, Cornwall

Tomorrow, two people who live in a village of a population under 800, who both grew up in towns not much bigger than Landschlacht, will try and explore the world´s most visited metropolis on the planet in a short seven-day period.

The true danger is not terrorist attack, but rather being overwhelmed by London´s expanse and expense.

We have tried to prepare ourselves.

The hotel and flights have been booked ages ago.

We will bring ten guidebooks with us: Top 10 London 2017, London Stories, This Is London, London for Lovers, Horrible Histories London, Secret London, Lonely Planet London, Baedeker London, Brandt/ English Heritage`s London: In the Footsteps of the Famous and the German language Müller guide to London.

And, if we remain true to our past experiences of travelling, we will curse the weight of carrying the damn books around with us, which we probably won´t read more than a few pages of, before passing out into exhausted slumber each night, because we walked around so much being lost.

There is simply too much to see and do in London: the British Museum (the world´s oldest public museum), the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye ferris wheel, the Tate Gallery, Westminister Abbey and Parliament Square, the Tower of London and St. Paul´s Cathedral.

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And these are the best known attractions in London.

We could try to see London through the eyes of famous folks who once lived here: Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chaplin, Dr. Samuel Johnson (who coined the phrase: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”), John Keats, Sigmund Freud, Georg Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Charles de Gaulle, Virginia Woolf, Mahatma Gandhi, Jimi Hendrix, Henry James, Samuel Pepys, Geoffrey Chauncer, Oscar Wilde, and, not forgetting, the British Monarchy, just to name a few.

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Above: Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

My wife´s Swabian tendencies and my ancestral Scottish blood will probably compel us to see what we can for free in London: the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, the Tate Modern Gallery, the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Institution, Free London Walking Tours, opera recitals at the Royal Opera House, the Roman ruins at the Guildhall Art Gallery, the view from the Oxo Tower Wharf, the feeding of the pelicans at St. James Park, Parliamentary debates, evensong at Westminister or St. Paul´s, stand-up comedy at the Camden Head Pub, and loads more of free entertainment across the City.

Above: Buckingham Palace, London

For three of the seven days we are in London, we shall explore the magic and mystery of London together, maybe even discovering some sites recommended by London for Lovers.

Above: Flower Walk, Kensington Gardens, London

For the four remaining days, while she attends a medical conference, I will wander about the streets on my own.

So what shall I do?

There are a number of temptations.

Do I trace Ben Judah´s explorations as chronicled in his This Is London, hoping to see London in the eyes of its beggars and bankers, cops and gangsters, sex workers and witch doctors, locals and immigrants?

Do I systematically pick neighbourhoods to explore as London Walks´ London Stories suggests?

Do I try to follow from cover to cover the alternative guidebook to London, Secret London, which promises to show me monsters in Trafalgar Square, have me check into Bedlam, praise God, buy meatballs, have a sauna, visit the House of Dreams, join the secret society to which Prince Charles belongs, and discover the secret to instant weight loss?

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Above: Trafalgar Square, London

Or do I take the pedestrian approach and take a walk through London via the Southeast London Green Chain Walk, the London Outer Orbital Path, the Jubilee Walkway, the Lee Valley Walk, the Diana Memorial Walk or the Thames Path?

Above: OXO Tower, Thames Path on the riverside of building

Of course, there is, as well, the temptation of shopping.

I am a native English speaker resident in a country where English is not one of the official languages, who will be visiting England, the birthplace of English.

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Above: The flag of England

To have unlimited access to an orgasmic cornucopia of endless variety of English language literature and music and movies….

Heaven!

I want to buy things like…. anime or foreign films that are only translated into German where I live, or music that is unknown in Switzerland, or BBC TV series that I would have to special order at high cost at a local Orell Füssli chain bookshop in St. Gallen or Zürich or at the English Bookshop across the German border in Konstanz.

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Damn the weight restrictions that airlines impose!

Hilde Cook, the owner of the English Bookshop, suggested that I won´t want to return to Switzerland once I am away in London.

She may be right.

London is dangerously seductive.

But my home and my heart are in Switzerland so I must return.

But my wife is right, London is a danger zone.

The stress of trying to see and do so much in too short a time is dangerous indeed.

Sources: Wikipedia / Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel, Top 10 London 2017 / Ben Judah, This Is London / London Walks, London Stories / Sam Hodges & Sophie Vickers, London for Lovers / Bradt & English Heritage, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Ralf Nestmeyer, Michael Müller Verlag, London / Lonely Planet, London Condensed / Baedeker´s, London / Rachel Howard & Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Terry Dreary, Horrible Histories London