Canada Slim and the Privileged Place

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 January 2018

This morning I feel somewhat like Punxsawtawney Phil, the groundhog of the film Groundhog Day, chattering away furiously, while Bill Murray holds me firmly as he drives a car over a cliff sardonically telling me:

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Don´t drive angry.

Perhaps this might be extended to encompass writing as well.

Don´t write angry.

But recent events in world politics and memories of walking through one of the richest areas in Switzerland are making it difficult to write and keep my composure at the same time.


I mean I shouldn´t have been shocked by what Trump said.

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The man will literally say or do anything.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, during the 2006 presidential campaign, carefully reviewed Trump´s race-related history, and found – including the 1,021 pages of legal documents from racial discrimination suits against him – a consistent, 40-year pattern of insults and discrimination.

It seems there is no one to save us from his racism.

But he sunk to a new xenophobic, racist low on 12 January, when on the eve of the 8th anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, “President” Trump, in the Oval Office, wondered aloud why America should allow immigration from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations.

Flag of Haiti

Above: Flag of Haiti

Sadly, the “President” is not alone in thinking so poorly about the poor.

An America that created a man like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr remains burdened by bigotry, racism and discrimination by a minority who dominate the majority.

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Above: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 – 1968)

Where is the dream of a world where people are judged by who they are and not by how they look or where they come from?

Did the dream die with Dr. King?

Has Trump shown the true colours of too many people who having lived privileged lives have a jaundiced opinion of those who haven´t?

This week, Switzerland will host this colossal jackass at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

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For the first time in my life I have considered joining in a protest.

I probably won´t, because Trump´s presence in Davos coincides with my work schedule in St. Gallen, but the temptation nonetheless exists.

Being an event happening in Switzerland I am fairly certain that there will be Swiss people in attendance at this event – other than the ones providing services to the high and mighty – who they themselves are rich and powerful.

And it would not surprise me to find that some of these rich and powerful Swiss attendees come from Schindellegi, Canton Schwyz, which I visited, as part of my Zwingli Project, on 23 November 2017.


Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)


Einsiedeln to Richterswil, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

The day started as planned: early out the door, train to St. Gallen, another to Ziegelbrücke and a final to Glarus.

On the train to Ziegelbrücke I met Vadym of the Ukraine, a recently acquired friend who I knew as a regular Starbucks St. Gallen customer, on his way to work at his new job in Schindellegi.

Above: Canada Slim and Vadym, Restaurant Adler, Schindellegi


He is a pastry chef at the Restaurant Adler in Schindellegi.

We spoke of mutual acquaintances in St. Gallen and Poland, and by the time he left the train at Uznach I had told him of my intentions to follow the suggested walks found in Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch which would find me eventually walking through the town of Schindellegi from the monastery town of Einsiedeln to the Lake of Zürich.

He suggested that whenever I am in Schindellegi that I should visit him at the Adler.

Neither one of us expected me to take up the invitation that same day.

As mentioned in Canada Slim and the Monks of the Dark Forest of this blog, the walks suggested from Glarus to Einsiedeln could not be accomplished this day because of both a lack of transportation from Glarus and the valid concern that snowfall might have obscured the intended footpaths through the mountains.

Above: Glarus

So two trains and two hours later after leaving Glarus disappointed, I found myself in Einsiedeln from where – after a quick visit to the Abbey – I began walking in earnest towards the Lake of Zürich.

Above: Einsiedeln Abbey

The 20 km walk (approximately) suggested by the Steiners has the walker climb 200 metres from the town of Einsiedeln to Katzenstrick Summit, and then, with the exception of a 50-metre ascent from Biberbrugg Station, the trail is one continuous descent towards the Zürichsee.


Above: Katzenstrick/Chatzenstrick Pass

At almost the halfway point the walker arrives at Biberbrugg, an eternal village whose only claim to fame seems to be that it is a midpoint with a bridge crossing the Biber River.


In 1877, a train station of the railway line Wädenswil – Einsiedeln was built.

Fourteen years later, the Südostbahn (SOB) established the line St. Gallen – Schwyz and Biberbrugg became a transport hub yet never more than a hamlet.

Today, Biberbrugg is also a point on the famous Voralpen Express between St. Gallen and Luzern and of the motorway between St. Gallen and Schwyz.

The village´s railway station is also a stop of the Zürich S-Bahn on line S13 to Wädenswil and S40 to Rapperswil.

The sole reason to stop in Biberbrugg is to have a meal at the Restaurant Post on the hill above the Station.

Lunch consumed, I walked another three kilometres to Schindellegi, the Mecca of Switzerland´s super rich.

The municipality of Feusisberg, of which Schindellegi is a part of, has a population of nearly 5,300.

Most are well-educated good Roman Catholics who live in Paradise.

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Above: St. Anna Church, Schindellegi

Paradise that is when one speaks of taxes as this municipality has the lowest taxes in the entirety of the nation.

Here the anonymous super rich have addresses in this municipality, including Sergio Marchionne (CEO of Fiat), Jörg Wolle (CEO of DKSH – Diethelm Keller Siber Hegner – deeply rooted in communities all across Asia Pacific – 780 locations in 36 countries), Andreas Rihs (CEO of Sonova, which specializes in hearing care solutions, like hearing aids, ear implants and wireless communication), Boris Collardi (CEO of the Bank Julius Bär – a most private bank) and Katharina Liebherr (co-owner of the Southampton Football Club).

Their wealth has an amazing amount of zeros, which has financed athletes like tennis star Martina Hingis and skijumper Simon Amman.

The ability to live in this municipality and become almost invisible verges on the magical that local magician/illusionist Peter Marvey would appreciate.

Above: Peter Marvey, the Magician without Limits

(Check out his Magic House when you are here.)

But this quiet money was revealed, at least to the rest of Switzerland, when Austrian resident in Schindellegi Hans Thomas Gross, selfmade millionaire and the 276th richest man in the world (estimated value CHF 175,000,000) began dating the “famous for being famous” American celebrity Paris Hilton.

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Above: Hans Thomas Gross

(See Remembering Marilyn / Plastered by Paris of this blog.)

Gross, who made his fortune by marketing a drink distribution system for aircraft, owner/part-owner in the companies HTG Ventures, SkyTender, Preciflex, Tetral and Tetrapak and a 56-metre yacht dubbed Galaxy, dated Paris Hilton for about a year.

(For a discussion of Swiss packaging, please see Wolves in sheep packaging of this blog.)

Paris was said to be a big fan of grocery shopping in the Coop store in nearby Richterswil.

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Paris is, for all the criticism that is hurled at her for being famous despite lacking talent, first and foremost a businesswoman.

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Above: Paris Hilton

So even though she is better known for being a socialite, a TV and media personality, model (Trump Model Management), actress, singer and DJ, this great-granddaughter of Conrad Hilton, the founder of Hilton Hotels, is as clever a businessperson as Hans Gross.

Perhaps cleverer.

Her fragrances have earned $1.5 billion.

There are currently three Paris Hilton apartment complexes and 44 Paris Hilton stores worldwide.

Paris earns over $10 million a year from product sales.

As a celebrity, she is paid about $300,000 for appearances in clubs and events.

(Which makes it hard to picture her buying frozen vegetables at the local grocery store.)

(And it is the former presence of Paris in Schindellegi and the upcoming presence in Davos of her former employer and father of her friend Ivana, Donald Trump, that leads me to consider the lifestyles of the rich and famous.)

Don´t forget that Schindellegi is small and had no one told you that it was a taxation mecca for the super rich, it would be an easy place to ignore, for outside of the Magic House (for large groups only) only the town´s Church of St. Anna is worth a glance.

Schindellegi has the lowest taxes in Switzerland and in Switzerland anonymity is the watchword.

Above: Schindellegi

But a hint that the super rich call Schindellegi home is the Restaurant Adler.

At first glance, the Adler seems no different than any other Swiss restaurant in any other Swiss town, but the attention to detail and the need to have a qualified pastry chef beyond the normal kitchen staff found in a typical gastronomic village establishment suggests that the Adler is no stranger to the wealthy restauranteur.

Vadym (Remember Vadym?) creates such tasty delights that the tongue reminds the body why it is great to be alive.

I surprised Vadym by my visit, but I assured him it was not my intention to disturb him at work for more than a few minutes.

Despite my protestations, he insisted I have a Coke and a piece of his palate-pleasing pastry before proceeding on my path.

The Sri Lankan owner-operator of the Adler could probably have rattled off a list of the Who´s Who that have visited the Restaurant, but I sensed it was best not to linger too long.

Being just past normal lunch hours the staff were eating their own midday meal and I felt that they deserved to eat undisturbed by outside visitors.

My entire stay was probably no more than a half-hour at the most.

Schindellegi midday midweek was quiet.

Few cars on the streets, few pedestrians on the sidewalk.

I followed yellow diamond signposts that lead hikers through streets, fields and forests, valleys and mountains, across Switzerland.

My path from Schindellegi to the Lake of Zürich leads me from the railway to apartment blocks and pastures descending to Richterswil where one of the first tax revolts, one of a series of peasant revolts across Switzerland, occurred.

Richterswiler Weibel Rudolf Goldschmid was executed in Zürich following the failure of the revolt.

During the 1st War of Villmergen (5 January to 7 March 1656) when Protestant Zürich and Bern fought Catholic central Switzerland, Richterswil was invaded by an army from Schwyz.

During the 2nd War of Villmergen (also known as the Toggenburg War or the Swiss Civil War of 1712)(12 April to 11 August 1712) when Catholic cantons (including St. Gallen) fought against Protestant Bern and Zürich and Toggenburg, Richterswil was again invaded by Catholic forces.

But unlike 1656, the newly built fortifications above the town meant the siege of Richterswil was unsuccessful.

Under the French-established Helvetic Republic (1793 – 1803), Richterswil was made part of the district of Horgen and thus had a higher tax rate than surrounding villages, and as part of this higher tax it was forced to house French troops during the War of the Second Coalition (1799).

Following an unsuccessful uprising in 1804´s Bockenkrieg against Zürich, Richterswil was severely punished.

Things have calmed down since then.

Richterswil enjoys its position on the Lake of Zürich and is accessible by the A3 motorway, the Lake Zürich Left Bank railway line, the Zürich S-Bahn Services S2 and S8 and the Wädenswil-Einsiedeln line.

Above: Richterswil

The Zimmerberg busline connects the Zimmerberg Region and parts of the Sihl valley to Richterswil.

American painter John Caspar Wild (1804 – 1846) was born in Richterswil.

Above: Wild´s final resting place, Davenport, Iowa

In this town I see clear traces of someone´s love for Canada: a carved totem pole and maple leaf flags adorn the backyard of a Richterswil household.

I see the Coop store that Paris Hilton shopped at as I make my way to the Station, feet aching but smile upon my face.

I don´t have CHF 175 million in my bank account.

Nor do I have a 56-metre yacht to impress American hotel heiresses.

What I do have are walking boots and a willingness to use them.

What I do have is curiosity and enthusiasm.

As I suspected, Switzerland won´t always have Paris Hilton, but I have had the tiniest glimpse of wealth, have seen the exclusive stores of Dusseldorf, Cortina and St. Moritz, have witnessed gamblers unafraid to risk fortunes on gambling tables in Baden Baden and all I see is a golden shell empty of spirit.

What I don´t have I don´t miss, so I don´t envy those who do have what I don´t.

Over 80% of the superwealthy in the world inherited their fortune, despite claims to the contrary of hard work and sacrifice.

The poor have never lacked motivation, only opportunity.

What Paris never understood, what Donald doesn´t get, is that wealth may make the acquisition of material goods easier but it will never earn the true satisfaction of simply enjoying the world in all its quiet splendour.

Did Hans take Paris hiking?

Did he pick wildflowers for her from the fields outside Schindellegi?

Had a more sophisticated place to shop existed for Paris in Schindellegi or Richterwil, would she have shopped there?

Or did she make secret excursions to Zürich for shopping to maintain her lavish lifestyle?

I don´t hate the rich nor do I love them.

Their arrogance is accidental, their ignorance of lives other than their own is sublime.

I will return to Schindellegi for more of Vadym´s pastry.

I might walk into Richterwil´s Coop and wonder what Paris might have bought.

I will, on occasion, buy a lottery ticket in the hopes that a win might ease our financial insecurities.

How Hans made his fortune may have been legit….

Paris may actually work to maintain hers….

I wish them well.

Our worlds will never meet.

I am OK with that.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Facebook / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis /




Canada Slim and the Monks of the Dark Forest

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 January 2018

The Common Era year 2017 ended a week ago, which means the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation also ended.

1 January 2018 was the 534th anniversary of the birth of Huldrych Zwingli, the Swiss German-speaking Reformer, whose life I have been retracing on foot through the advice of Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch since 10 October 2018.


Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

(Please see Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation, Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg, Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows, Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect, Canada Slim and the Vienna Waltz, and Canada Slim and the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul of this blog for an account of the life of Zwingli in Wildhaus, Weesen, Basel, Vienna and Glarus and an account of my own experiences with these places.)

So, by all accounts, you, gentle Reader, should now be spared any more mention of Zwingli and the Reformation in Switzerland, but both Zwingli´s life and my adventures following his life did not end in Glarus.

The abovementioned book of the Steiners divides the on foot exploration of Zwingli´s life into nine stages, four of which I have walked and written about.

What follows in today´s blog is a description of my attempts to follow Zwingli from Glarus to Zürich.

There will still remain the final stage of both the book and Zwingli´s life to be followed from Zürich to his final destination of Kappel am Albis, which will be written about in a future blogpost.

I ask for the reader´s patience in retracing Zwingli´s and my footsteps, for what it is discovered en route should make for interesting reading.

(I hope.)


Glarus, Switzerland, 23 November 2017 (American Thanksgiving)

A man must accept his limitations or those limitations placed upon him.

Flag of Switzerland

My limitations are time (I live and work in Switzerland and obligations of my domestic life and my professional life as barista and teacher must be taken into account.), money (As much as my wife is supportive of my little pet projects she doesn´t like to see money spent too “frivolously” on overnight accommodation if a return home the same day of a hike can be arranged.) and season (Much of Switzerland´s infrastructure closed down once winter has begun and a decrease of daylight were factors that had to be considered.).

As previously mentioned in former blogposts, the Steiners don´t claim that the walking routes they recommend were actually walked by Zwingli himself, just that they lead to places where he once resided.

The Steiners recommended, in a two-stage, two-day walk, that the historic walker could walk from Glarus to Einsiedeln via the Klontalersee and the Saaspass.

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Above: Klon Valley Lake, Canton Glarus

I was keen to do so, but uncertainty as to whether these routes would be passable and visible or if they were blocked by snow, and the inability to return from the Klon Valley Lake by bus back to Glarus before darkness set in, made me reconsider the wisdom of walking to Einsiedeln in winter without the proper gear.

Arriving in Glarus and learning that buses between the Lake and Glarus were not running until April, I returned to the train station and instead decided to make the journey by train.

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Above: Glarus Railway Station

Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

The small village of Einsiedeln in the hills of northern Schwyz Canton has been Switzerland´s most important site of pilgrimage for a thousand years and still draws a quarter of a million devout believers every year.

The village itself is unremarkable, but the mighty Benedictine monastery which dominates it is exceptional, and worth a detour whether you are drawn by faith or curiosity.

Einsiedeln means hermitage and is named for St. Meinrad the Hermit, a monk from the monastery of Reichenau, who withdrew to what was then wilderness known as the Dark Forest in 828 AD.


Meinrad was born circa 800, somewhere between the German towns of Tübingen and Rottenburg.

His parents sent him to the world-famous monastic school at Reichenau, where he later entered the monastery.

Coat of arms

Above: Reichenau Coat of Arms

However, his true vocation was for the life of a hermit.

He withdrew into the solitude of the Dark Forest.

The spot where the Lady Chapel stands today is where Meinrad built his hermit´s cell and oratory in 835.

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He built a small chapel and living quarters and remained there 26 years until the day of his death.

And it was where he was murdered by two thieves on 21 January 861 after a life of self-denial and prayer.

They found nothing of value, because he had taken a vow of poverty and had always given away everything he received.

Two ravens that lived with Meinrad pursued the murderers and brought their crime to light.

The murderers were arrested and burnt at the stake for their crime

In commemoration of this the Abbey of Einsiedeln has since the 13th century borne two ravens on its coat of arms.

Meinrad´s body was retrieved by the monks from Reichenau and returned to their monastery, where he was reverently laid to rest.

(His body was sometime later returned to Einsiedeln where it is considered the Abbey´s most precious relic.

Meinrad´s head reposes in a silver case in the high altar of the Church.

Meinrad´s skull has got a fissure from the blow of a club.)

Following Meinrad´s death, his hermitage remained deserted for more than 40 years.

Eventually Benno, a priest from Strasbourg, settled there with a number of followers, cleared the forest and rebuilt the chapel.

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

Benno and his followers built cells in the neighbourhood, living as hermits in an informal brotherly union.

In September 934, a relation of Benno named Eberhard of Nellenburg came to the Meinradzelle with a larger following and considerable financial resources and founded a Benedictine community, becoming the monastery´s first abbott.

Emperor Otto I (912 – 973) was in the process of building up a powerful empire like his great predecessor Charlemagne.

To do this he needed the support of the Church against the over-mighty princes and nobles of his realm.

Otto made bishops and abbots into worldly leaders and conferred upon them far-reaching powers and extensive landholdings.

The young monastery “in the depths of the forest” was no exception.

In the year 934 Otto signed the Document for Immediacy, making the monastery directly answerable to himself.

Abbott Eberhard invited the Bishop of Konstanz to perform the consecration of a new church on the site on 14 September 948.

The Bishop was about to do so, when a voice was heard ringing through the church, insisting three times over that God Himself had already consecrated the church.


God Himself has consecrated this building.”

(This Miraculous Consecration was a real time saver)

The Pope declared this to be a miracle and issued a papal bull blessing the pilgrimage to Einsiedeln.

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Above: John XI, Pope (931 – 935)

From then on, the monastery enjoyed special privilege, with large royal grants and positions of honour for the abbots.

Duchess Regenlind of Swabia and the Ottonian emperors provided the monastery with generous endowments, as the young religious community typified the monastic ideal.

This is attested by the works produced in the Abbey´s scriptorium.

This secular protection became a permanent bone of contention.

When the arch enemies of the Swiss, the Habsburgs took over the protectorship of the monastery in 1283, the conflict came to a head.

On the night of Epiphany 1314, the Swiss attacked the monastery, plundered it and held the monks captive for weeks.

The Habsburgs now had an excuse for the punitive expedition they had long planned against the Swiss.

However, this ended in a defeat for the Habsburgs at Morgarten, and after the Battle of Sempach, the Swiss forced the Habsburgs to return the protectorship of the monastery to them.

In the 13th century admission to the novitiate in Einsiedeln became restricted to the nobility, so by the late Middle Ages the Abbey´s membership had fallen sharply.

By 1286 the Chapel of Our Lady, built over the remains of Meinrad´s cell, was already a focal point.

It was adorned after a destructive fire in 1468 with a statuette of Mary with the infant Christ, carved in wood some time before 1440.

It is this figure which became the focus of pilgrimage as the Black Madonna.

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Monza, Italy, 8 – 13 September 1515

Zwingli had marched as armed chaplain for the Glarner battalion six days from the Septimer Pass to Milan and Monza.

On Saturday 8 September, Zwingli preached a sermon from the Loggia of the Palazzo del Arengario to the assembled representatives of the fighting strength, Swiss Confederation troops and additional fighting partners.

In his sermon Zwingli warned them of defeat against the French due to disagreement within the Confederation.

Above: Basilica di San Giovanni, Melegnano (formerly Marignano)

On Sunday the Pope and the leaders of the Holy League held a Council of War here.

The attack on Marignano took place on the following Thursday 13 September due to pressure from Cardinal Schiner resulting in disastrous defeat.

Above: Battle of Marignano, 13 – 14 September 1515

Zwingli experienced, at close range, the power and political decisions of the Pope´s regency and the fatal dependence of the Confederation on mercenary warfare.

He became increasingly more doubtful of the mercenary situation.

The decisive defeat of the Swiss in the Battle of Marignano caused a shift in mood at Glarus in favour of the French rather than the Pope.

Zwingli, the papal partisan, found himself in rather a difficult position and decided to retreat to Einsiedeln.

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

Some of his earliest writing, such as The Ox (1510) and The Labyrinth (1516) attacked the mercenary system using allegory and satire.

His countrymen were presented as virtuous people caught within a French, imperial and papal triangle.

Zwingli stayed in Einsiedeln for two years during which he withdrew completely from politics in favour of ecclesiastical activities and personal studies and contemplation.

Later Zwingli would write:

“I started to preach the Christian Gospel in 1516.”

His Bible studies and practical experience during his decade in Glarus were decisive contributing factors.

On the eve of the Reformation, there were only two monks left in the monastery, one who occupied the office of abbott and the other of administrator.

All pastoral duties were carried out by chaplains, amongst them Huldrych Zwingli.

As people´s priest in Einsiedeln, Zwingli took the time to consider the whole.

His humanistic competence, contacts and studies for a reliable Interpretation of the Bible absorbed him.

He came to the conclusion in Einsiedeln that essential revision was necessary within the Church and the Confederation.

The guiding principle and compass for that revision had to be the message exclusively from the Bible.

“You are God´s tools.

He requires your service, not your inactivity.”

His time in Glarus and Einsiedeln was characterised by inner growth and development.

Zwingli perfected his Greek and took up the study of Hebrew.

His personal library contained over three hundred volumes from which he was able to draw upon classical and scholastic works.

He exchanged correspondence with a circle of Swiss humanists and began to study the works of Erasmus.


Above: Desiderus Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536)

Zwingli took the opportunity to meet Erasmus when the Dutchman was in Basel between August 1514 and May 1516.

Zwingli´s turn to relative pacifism and his focus on preaching can be traced to the influence of Erasmus.


Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

At the beginning of the 16th century the monastery was headed towards total disintegration.

The Schwyzians, the patrons of the monastery, stepped in and turned to St. Gallen for a new abbott.

Coat of arms of Kanton Schwyz

Above: Coat of Arms of Canton Schwyz

He saved the monastery by opening up the novitiate to commoners.

The monastery complex was rebuilt from 1704 to 1726 in the most lavish of late-Baroque styles, the handiwork of monk Kaspar Moosbrugger.

The baroque Abbey was still new when the French occupied Switzerland after the Revolution.

On 3 May 1798, 6000 soldiers under General Schauenburg invaded the area, confiscated the Abbey and expelled the Abbot and monks.

On their flight to St. Gerold in Austria, they were able to take only their most valuable possessions.

Above: Benedictine monastery, Sankt Gerold, Austria

Schauenburg allowed his soldiers to plunder the Abbey and in the two weeks that followed they removed everything they could carry away.

The officers made one another presents to the magnificent horses from the Abbey stables, the library was completely sacked and the Church desecrated.

The miraculous statue of the Black Madonna was dispatched to Paris where it proved to be an imitation.

The monks had replaced the original before the arrival of the French and smuggled it to Austria.

To put a stop to pilgrimages for all time, the French then destroyed the Lady Chapel.

Three years later, after Napoleon had seized power in France, the Abbott and monks were able to return  – to a picture of devastation.

In the 19th and 20th centuries the monastery´s sphere of activities entered a period of marked growth.

In 1854 it founded the Archabbey of St. Meinrad in Indiana, and in 1925 worked to establish an agricultural school in Pfäffikon on the Lake of Zürich.

Above: St. Meinrad Archabbey Church, Indiana

In 1948 the Abbey founded the Priory of Los Toldos in Argentina.

Above: Monasterio Benedictino Santa Maria, Los Toldos, Argentina

The former small abbey school was expanded into a grammar/high school which is frequented by 300 boys and girls.

In 2008 the convent numbered 80 monks.

Einsiedeln´s train station and post office are in the town centre opposite Dorfplatz.

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Above: Einsiedeln Train Station

I headed through this square and turned left onto Hauptstrasse, following other obvious tourists flowing towards this edifice at the end of the street overlooking Klosterplatz – a ten-minute walk.

As you emerge from the cluster of the village centre, the vast Klosterplatz opens out in front.

The rather plain sandstone front of the Church, with its twin towers rising from an immense 140 metre long facade, is framed by unusual semicircular sunken arcades.

The ornate Well of Our Lady in the square taps the waters of Meginrat´s spring – pilgrims traditionally drink from each of the fourteen spouts in turn on their approach to the Church.

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The interior is breathtaking.

The nave is decorated with detailed frescoes by Cosmas Damian Asam.

Every part of the lofty white interior is detailed in lavish gold.

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An intricate wrought-iron choir screen gives into the stunning pink Rococo choir with a ceiling bedecked with animated sculptures of angels.

However the focus of all the pilgrims´ attention is the black marble Chapel of Our Lady, positioned in a huge octagonal bay just inside the main portal.

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The Black Madonna, a little over one metre tall and usually dressed in a jewelled and tasselled golden dress donated by Canton Uri in 1734, stands illuminated within.

Every day, the monks of Einsiedeln sing the anthem “Salve Regina” (“Hail to thee, oh Queen, Mother of Mercy”) in the chapel of the Black Madonna.

The Salve has been sung since 1547.

In his book Poetry and Truth, Goethe described the Chapel:

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Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

“The little chapel in the church, the hermit´s cell inhabited by the saint, is encrusted with marble and as far as possible transformed into a decent chapel.

It was something new to me, something I had never seen before, this tiny compartment, surrounded and enclosed by pillars and domes.

It led me to think that a single spark of piety and morality had ignited an eternally burning flame to which crowds of pilgrims were to undertake their arduous journey in order to light their own candles at the holy flame.

Be that as it may, it indicates a deep longing on the part of humanity for the same light, the same warmth, such as the first hermit Meinrad drew from his deepest inner conviction.”

Pilgrims often ask:

“Why is the Madonna black?”

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There is one obvious explanation: the soot from candles, incense and oil lamps has darkened the original colour gradually through the ages.

The flight from the French did the Madonna no good either, and she suffered greatly from damp weather.

Before the Madonna returned from Austria, an artist restored the statue returning the face and hands of the Virgin and the skin of the Christ Child the colour of flesh.

Then the monks in exile set the image up for a few days for public viewing in front of the church in Bludenz.

Above: The Priory of St. Peter, Bludenz, Austria

The appearance of a black Madonna had become so popular and the disappointment so great that the artist repainted the skin black.

It would never change.

Einsiedeln remains a fully functioning monastic community of 80 priests and 20 brothers.

Mass is celebrated several times a day.

Of the many annual pilgrimage festivals, the most colourful is the Feast of the Miraculous Consecration on 14 September, which culminates in a candlelit procession around the square.

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Let me blunt.

My first gut reaction to Einsiedeln was, and mostly remains, here is yet another big fancy church.

I remember walking Jakobsweg (St. James Way) from Rapperswil to Einsiedeln.

(“Europe was created on St. James Way.”, Goethe once wrote.

He was not wrong, for the history of the St. James Way is deeply connected with the history of Europe and was therefore deemed a part of the world´s cultural heritage in 1987.

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St. James Way consists of a wide net of routes which spread across Europe like many loose threads that intertwine as they head toward Santiago de Compostela in Spain where the supposed remains of St. James were found by a hermit in a neighbouring field.)

I remember visiting Einsiedeln with my wife in the first summer we lived in Switzerland (2010) and feeling overwhelmed by the thousands of tourists that seemed to be visiting the Abbey that same day.

But I know that Einsiedeln Abbey and the town itself deserved a second look.

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Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 4 January 2018

(For more on this day, please see …and the ravens cried “Nevermore” of my other blog Building Everest.)

To the non-follower of Catholicism, the cult of Marianism (the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as being divine because God decided to choose her to bear His Son, thus making her the instrument through which we can get intercession from God) seems quite strange and somewhat smacking of idolatry.

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Yet this veneration of Mary encompasses prayer, acts of piety, visual arts, poetry and music.

Popes encourage it, but are always cautioning Catholics not to confuse respect for her duty with any actual divinity said duty may have given her.

Let there be no doubt.

Einsiedeln Abbey is most definitely a Marian pilgrimage site.

In 1996, the working group Shrines of Europe was founded with the purpose of uniting Europe´s principal Marian pilgrimage sites, which now are listed as Fatima, Portugal; Altötting, Germany; Loreto, Italy; Czestochowa, Poland; Lourdes, France; Einsiedeln, Switzerland; and Mariazell, Austria.

Shrines of Europe

“At all these holy places, pilgrims hope to gain a new sense of the message given to them by their belief.

The strain and occurences which they experience on their way there give them more insight.

Their experiences at the holy place itself provide many people with new strength and energy – for the story they hear of the shrine, the rituals which are held, and the praying people all create an atmosphere in which the soul can open and find peace.”

A wet and stormy day finds me back in Einsiedeln on this my first day off after two days working.

I revisit the Abbey Church and remain impressed by the frescoes and stucco works and the gorgeous Baroque architecture.

I wonder at the devotion of the half-dozen worshippers praying by the Lady Chapel´s Black Madonna.

I will miss hearing the Gregorian Vesper at 1630 and the Salve Regina singing that will follow, but console myself with the thought of buying an audiovisual record of them in the Cloister Shop.

I view the Great Hall, the audience chamber of the monastery and can well imagine a concert filling the place with magnificent music.

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I long to visit the Abbey Library with rare manuscripts and books Dating back to the foundation of the monastery in the 10th century, but am told that the Library can only be visited as part of a large guided German-language tour.

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I risk life and limb walking treacherous ice to visit the stables behind the monastery to find lady grooms unwelcoming and horses indifferent.

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The monastery´s stables are considered to be the oldest stud farm in Europe still in operation.

The baroque stables were built between 1764 and 1767.

Einsiedeln Abbey horses were highly admired all over Europe.

In Italy they were known as the Cavalli della Madonna (the Madonna´s cavalry).

Yet there is more to Einsiedeln than just the Abbey, for it is a place not only of pilgrimage but as well culture.

See the Jerusalem Panorama that shows the Crucifixion from Good Friday until All Saints´ Day.

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See the Bethlehem Diorama illustrating the Christmas story complete with announcement-receiving shepherds, the Nativity Scene (minus a little drummer boy), the arrival of the Three Kings (no, not George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube, but instead Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) and the Holy Family´s escape to Egypt, from All Saints´ Day to Epiphany.

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Cross the Devil´s Bridge, a stone bridge covered by a wooden roof on St. James Way, constructed in 1699 to transport the stones needed to construct the monastery from the quarry on the Etzel River to Einsiedeln.

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In the middle of the bridge is a statue of St. John of Nepomuk.

The famous physician Paracelsus was born close to the bridge in 1493.

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Above: Theophrastus von Hohenheim aka Paracelsus (1493 – 1541)

I will never again make a gingerbread latté without thinking of the Goldapfel Gingerbread Bakery Museum with its old baking utensils and wooden forms, and the sale of Schaffböcke, or pilgrim biscuits, made from flour, water, honey and spices or the brown and white filled Kräpfli or speciality gingerbread.

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In the cellar of the Bethlehem Diorama is the Museum of Minerals, a collection of over 1,000 minerals from all over the world – from Alpine quartz to colourful crystals from China and South America.

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A special feature is the flourescent cabin where inconspicuous stones reveal an unexpected blaze of colours under ultaviolet light.

The Fram Museum is an historical museum about Einsiedeln, dedicated to the most important events during the town´s long history, including the Benzinger Publishing Company and the famous physician/alchemist Paracelsus.

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And there are activities to enjoy besides museums and buildings of holy intent:

You can swim off Roblosen Beach on Lake Sihl, or in the Hallenbad indoor swimming pool or at the Alpamare water park.

Cruising on Switzerland´s largest reservoir, Lake Sihl, is an unforgettable natural experience.

Catch a movie in the cinema, play minigolf, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, enjoy a ride aboard the Blatten Garden steam train, take a tandem hang glide, indulge yourself with a luxury tour on an original Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, visit the largest and newest indoor beach volleyball complex in Switzerland or play on one of three outdoor volleyball courts.

There are bike paths and hiking trails, rope parks and rope slides, an 18-hole golf course and windsurfing on the lake.

There is a cable car, Europe´s longest hanging footbridge, a summer toboggan run, a bouncy castle and playgrounds for the kids in nearby Sattel.

Not far away in Gossau, you can visit the Landscape and Animal Park – 34 hectares that is home to more than 100 different native and European species living in almost wild conditions.

Feed the deer, see the bears, howl with the wolves.

The military buff amongst the group will be delighted to find that the Canton of Schwyz has the Reduit Defence Line, a series of more than 400 interconnected fortifications, restored and refurbished with original Equipment including Fort Grynau, antitank defences, artillery casemates, a control centre and a fire control post.

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Between Einsiedeln and the Lake of Zürich in Schindellegi, you can experience the most modern ski jumps in Switzerland and the training ground of four-time Olympic gold medal winner Simon Ammann up close and personal.

A resurrected Meinrad the Hermit probably would no longer recognize what Einsiedeln has become, but I have the distinct impression he might not be displeased at what he would see.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Monika Hanna, Der Schweizer Jakobsweg: Vom Bodensee zum Vierwaldstättersee / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis / Rough Guide to Switzerland /  Einsiedeln Tourismus / Kloster Einsiedeln


Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London, England, 24 October 2017

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


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

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

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

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

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

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

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

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

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

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

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

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

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


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

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

Come one, come all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Tate Britain

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

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

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

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

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

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

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

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

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

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

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

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

She died three days later.

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

She died the next morning.

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

Above: Louise Harvey

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

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.


Both women died in agony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

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

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

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Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

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

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

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

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

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

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

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

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

Above: Embley Park

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

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

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

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

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

Florence received several marriage proposals.

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

Her parents were aghast.

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

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

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

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

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

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

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


Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

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

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

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

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

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

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

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

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Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

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

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

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Above: The Parthenon

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

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Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

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

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

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

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

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

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

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

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

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

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

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

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

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

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

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

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

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

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

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

“It is of appalling horror!

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

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

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

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

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

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a team effort.

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

Her work went beyond nursing care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The men worshipped her.

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

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

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs and poems were written about her.

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

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

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

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

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

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

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum /


Canada Slim and the Last Walk of Robert Walser

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Christmas Day 2017

As my wife works – she is a doctor – I wonder what I am going to do with my days off.

Weather is rather grey for walking and I am not particularly motivated to accomplish much housecleaning despite the need to do so.

Of course, I could drag out from my DVD collection the classic holiday movies: Die Hard, Home Alone, National Lampoon´s Christmas Vacation, Skipping Christmas, The Sound of Music, It´s a Wonderful Life, Love….Actually, etc.

But I feel somewhat guilty to be watching DVDs on the couch while my wife slaves away in the hospital.

I´ll get over it.

It is Christmas Day, the day of Christ´s Mass, when Christians (they all crawl out of their comfortable hidey-holes at Christmas and Easter) celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, though high church leaders do admit that there is no real way to ascertain with precision what day Christ was born or even what year Christ was born.

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The early Church determined that the Roman festival of Saturnalia seemed as good a time as any to fix a date of birth for the namesake of Christianity and decided to let the annually-changing lunar calendar determine when to commemorate Jesus being crucified and resurrected.

Religion cannot be an effective opiate of the people unless it is organized, with standards set and traditions established.

I will not and cannot diminish what Christianity means to the true practioner nor would I want to.

But having been raised in a land that calls itself Christian with the belief that Christmas and Easter should be honoured as simply more than excuses to have a school or work vacation, I wonder at the evolution of my beliefs since the days of my childhood and my youth.

When did I begin to question the validity of what I had once viewed as infallible and unquestionable?

Part of my problem with those who profess to be followers of a faith is that many of them do not actually practice what they preach, except within the confines of a temple of worship.

Some will even violate the basic tenets of their faith in defence of that faith.

(For example, the strict rule against murdering one´s fellow man is somehow justifiable if it is in defence of the faith that forbids killing.)

(The instruction to love one another seems always dismissable to the degree by which the other person disagrees with us.)

I am reminded of the Genesis song, Jesus He Knows Me:

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“‘Cause Jesus He knows me and He knows I’m right.
I’ve been talking to Jesus all my life.
Oh, yes, He knows me and He knows I’m right.
And He’s been telling me everything´s gonna be alright.

I believe in the family with my everloving wife beside me,
But she don’t know about my girlfriend or the man I met last night….”

(This also suggests that love must be restricted to the marriage bond and between opposite genders, as if love itself must be defined by the religious rule makers.)

God may be divine, but religion is a human invention.

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Above: The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo

So if a person believes in the existence of God, even if the greatest proof of His existence is the inability to disprove His existence, and if a person believes that His divinity should be worshipped, then what is the best way to go about it?

It seems there is no right answer universally agreed upon.

My way of worshipping God, if one could say that is something I actually do, is to walk.

God cannot, and in my opinion should not, be confined within walls or behind altars.

If God exists, then He is within and without, part of all that surrounds us and composes us,

I ask no one to follow me and ask no one to do or believe as I do.

For me, there is something about being Outside, away from the corrupting influence of civilization and the rules and regulations, customs and conflicts that define it, that suggests to me a sense of the divine far more real and powerful than any mighty cathedral or grand temple can offer.

I believe two Swiss men, both sadly departed, may have felt as I do.

Huldrych Zwingli, for all his flaws, may have felt a touch of the divine simply having lived in remarkably beautiful areas of Switzerland like Wildhaus, Weesen and Glarus.


Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

I think it was his living in cities or enclosing himself within the manmade walls of monasteries or cathedrals that made him question the certainty of his faith and his allegiance to the Church.

I personally find it difficult to doubt the existence of God and the surety of faith when I am walking in the wilderness.

I find it bothersome to believe in God and the certainty of religion when I see what passes for civilization in human communities.

(More on Zwingli and his questioning of his beliefs in a future blogpost….)

Robert Walser was born in Berne in 1878.

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Above: Robert Walser (1878 – 1956)

Walser was born into a family with many children.

His brother Karl Walser became a well-known stage designer and painter.

Walser grew up in Biel, Switzerland, on the language border between the German- and French-speaking cantons of Switzerland, and grew up speaking both languages.

Old Town of Bienne

Above: The old town of Biel / Bienne

He attended primary school and high school, which he had to leave before the final exam when his family could no longer bear the cost.

From his early years on, he was an enthusiastic theatre-goer.

His favourite play was The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller.

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Above: Friedrich Schiller (1759 – 1805)

From 1892 to 1895, Walser served an apprenticeship at the Bernische Kantonalbank in Biel.

Afterwards he worked for a short time in Basel.

Walser’s mother, who was emotionally disturbed, died in 1894 after being under medical care for a long period.

In 1895, Walser went to Stuttgart where his brother Karl lived.

Clockwise from top left: Staatstheater, Cannstatter Volksfest in Bad Cannstatt, fountain at Schlossplatz, Fruchtkasten façade and the statue of Friedrich Schiller at Schillerplatz, New Palace, and Old Castle at Schillerplatz

Above: Pictures of Stuttgart (clockwise from top left: Staatstheater / Cannstätter Volksfest in Bad Cannstatt / Schloßplatz / Schillerplatz / New Palace / Old Castle )

He was an office worker at the Deutsche Verlagsanstalt and at the Cotta’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

He also tried, without success, to become an actor.

On foot, he returned to Switzerland where he registered in 1896 as a Zürich resident.

Top: View over Zürich and the lakeMiddle: Fraumünster Church on the river Limmat (left) and the Sunrise Tower (right)Bottom: Night view of Zürich from Uetliberg

Above: Pictures of Zürich: View of Zürich and Lake Zürich (Zürichsee)(top)/ Fraumünster Church (middle left) / Sunrise Tower (middle right) / Night view of Zürich (bottom)

In the following years, he often worked as an office clerk, but irregularly and in many different places.

As a result, he was one of the first Swiss writers to introduce into literature a description of the life of a salaried employee.

In 1898, the influential critic Joseph Victor Widmann published a series of poems by Walser in the Bernese newspaper Der Bund.

This came to the attention of Franz Blei, who introduced Walser to the art nouveau people around the magazine Die Insel.

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Above: Franz Blei (1871 – 1942)

Numerous short stories and poems by Walser appeared in Die Insel.

Until 1905, Walser lived mainly in Zürich, though he often changed lodgings and also lived for a time in Thun, Solothurn, Winterthur and Munich.

In 1903, he fulfilled his military service obligation and, beginning that summer, was the aide of an engineer and inventor in Wädenswil near Zürich.

This episode became the basis of his 1908 novel Der Gehülfe (The Assistant).

In 1904, his first book, Fritz Kochers Aufsätze, appeared in the Insel Verlag.

At the end of 1905 he attended a course in order to become a servant at the castle of Dambrau in Upper Silesia, Poland.

Above: Dambrau Castle

“I myself am one of those fellows who find it nice not to think.

Also, I hold the principle of service in immensely high esteem.”

The theme of serving would characterize his work in the following years, especially in the novel Jakob von Gunten (1909).

In 1905, he went to live in Berlin, where his brother Karl Walser, who was working as a theater painter, introduced him to other figures in literature, publishing and the theatre.

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Above: Skyline of modern Berlin

Occasionally, Walser worked as secretary for the artists’ corporation Berliner Secession.

In Berlin, Walser wrote the novels Geschwister Tanner, Der Gehülfe and Jakob von Gunten.

They were issued by the publishing house of Bruno Cassirer, where Christian Morgenstern worked as editor.

Above: Bruno Cassirer (1872 – 1941)

Apart from the novels, he wrote many short stories, sketching popular bars from the point of view of a poor “Flaneur” (a person who takes leisurely walks) in a very playful and subjective language.

There was a very positive echo to his writings.

Robert Musil and Kurt Tucholsky, among others, stated their admiration for Walser’s prose, and authors like Hermann Hesse and Franz Kafka counted him among their favorite writers.

Walser published numerous short stories in newspapers and magazines, many for instance in the Schaubühne.

They became his trademark.

The larger part of his work is composed of short stories – literary sketches that elude a ready categorization.

Selections of these short stories were published in the volumes Aufsätze (1913) and Geschichten (1914).

In 1913, Walser returned to Switzerland.

He lived for a short time with his sister Lisa in the mental home in Bellelay, where she worked as a teacher.

Above: Bellelay Abbey, Canton Bern

There, he got to know Lisa Mermet, a washerwoman with whom he developed a close friendship.

After a short stay with his father in Biel, he went to live in a mansard in the Biel hotel Blaues Kreuz.

In 1914, his father died.

In Biel, Walser wrote a number of shorter stories that appeared in newspapers and magazines in Germany and Switzerland and selections of which were published in Der Spaziergang (1917), Prosastücke (1917), Poetenleben (1918), Seeland (1919) and Die Rose (1925).

Walser, who had always been an enthusiastic wanderer, began to take extended walks, often by night.

In his stories from that period, texts written from the point of view of a wanderer walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods alternate with playful essays on writers and artists.

During World War One, Walser repeatedly had to go into military service.

At the end of 1916, his brother Ernst died after a time of mental illness in the Waldau mental home.

In 1919, Walser’s brother Hermann, geography professor in Bern, committed suicide.

Walser himself became isolated in that time when there was almost no communication with Germany because of the war.

Even though he worked hard, he could barely support himself as a freelance writer.

At the beginning of 1921, he moved to Bern in order to work at the public record office.

Above: Old town, Bern

He often changed lodgings and lived a very solitary life.

During his time in Bern, Walser’s style became more radical.

In a more and more condensed form, he wrote “micrograms”, called thus because of his minuscule pencil hand that is very difficult to decipher.

He wrote poems, prose, dramolets and novels, including The Robber (Der Räuber).

In these texts, his playful, subjective style moved toward a higher abstraction.

Many texts of that time work on multiple levels – they can be read as naive-playful Feuilleton (newspaper supplements) or as highly complex montages full of allusions.

Walser absorbed influences from serious literature as well as from formula fiction and retold, for example, the plot of a pulp novel in a way that the original (the title of which he never revealed) was unrecognizable.

Much of his work was written during these very productive years in Bern.

In the beginning of 1929, Walser, who had suffered from anxieties and hallucinations for quite a time, went to the Bernese mental home Waldau, after a mental breakdown, at his sister Fani’s urging.

Above: Main building, Klinik Waldau, Bern

In his medical records it says: “The patient confessed hearing voices.”

Therefore, this can hardly be called a voluntary commitment.

He was eventually diagnosed with catatonic schizophrenia.

While in the mental home, his state of mind quickly returned to normal, and he went on writing and publishing.

More and more, he used the way of writing he called the “pencil method”:

He wrote poems and prose in a diminutive Sütterlin hand, the letters of which measured about a millimeter of height by the end of that very productive phase.


Above: A magnified sample of Sütterlin writing

Werner Morlang and Bernhard Echte were the first ones who attempted to decipher these writings.

In the 1990s, they published a six-volume edition, Aus dem Bleistiftgebiet (‘From the pencil zone’).

Only when Walser was, against his will, moved to the sanatorium of Herisau did he quit writing, later telling Carl Seelig:

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Above: Main building, Klinik Herisau

“I am not here to write, but to be mad.”

Another reason might have been that with the rise of the Nazis in Germany, his works could no longer be published in any case.

In 1936, his admirer Carl Seelig began to visit him.


He later wrote a book, Wanderungen mit Robert Walser, about their talks.

Seelig tried to revive interest in Walser’s work by reissuing some of his writings.

After the death of Walser’s brother Karl in 1943 and of his sister Lisa in 1944, Seelig became Walser’s legal guardian.

Though free of outward signs of mental illness for a long time, Walser was crotchety and repeatedly refused to leave the sanatorium.

In 1955, Walser’s Der Spaziergang (The Walk) was translated into English by Christopher Middleton.


It was the first English translation of his writing and the only one that would appear during his lifetime.

Upon learning of Middleton’s translation, Walser, who had fallen out of the public eye, responded by musing:

“Well, look at that.”

Robert Walser loved long lonely walks.

Children discovered his frozen body, dead of a heart attack, in a snow-covered field, on Christmas Day 1956.

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“Colors fill up your mind too much with all sorts of muddled stuff.

Colors are too sweet a muddle, nothing more.

I love things in one color, monotonous things.

Snow is such a monotonous song.

Why shouldn’t a color be able to make the same impression as singing?

White is like a murmuring, whispering, praying.

Fiery colors, like, for instance, autumn colors, are a shriek.

Green in midsummer is a many-voiced song with all the highest notes.”

The photographs of the dead walker in the snow are almost eerily reminiscent of a similar image of a dead man in the snow in Walser’s first novel, Geschwister Tanner.

Walser was better known in his lifetime than many other German-language writers, were known in their lifetimes.

“Each sentence has the sole purpose of rendering the previous one forgotten.” (Walter Benjamin)

W. G. Sebald has remarked that Walser’s writing “has the tendency to dissolve upon reading, so that only a few hours later one can barely remember the ephemeral figures, events and things of which it spoke…

Everything written in these incomparable books has—as their author might himself have said—a tendency to vanish into thin air.”

Walser has disappeared from the consciousness of even German-language readers in this most modern of times.

But self-negation, a stepping aside out of the way, was his trademark.

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Above: Robert Walser

Herisau, Switzerland, 16 June 2017

Today I followed the footsteps of Swiss author Robert Walser.

Walser wrote that “without walking I would have died” so Herisau commemorates him through the Robert Walser Path and a Walser exhibition in the Herisau Museum.

Museum Herisau - Robert Walser Zimmer

Above: Entry to Herisau Museum (top), Walser Exhibit (bottom)

This Path is the first literary path in Switzerland.

Walser struggled with psychological problems and spent much time at the Herisau Psychiatric Centre which he described as “a prison between the earth and sky.”

Happily one of his best works, The Walk and other stories is available in English.

Only in German, Carl Seelig’s Wanderungen mit Robert Walser gives a very personal glimpse into this troubled yet powerful Swiss writer.

To climb hills and walk the streets that a man largely ignored by non-German readers, this is not so terrible a plan, is it?

Today I followed in the footsteps of a different literary figure: Robert Walser, the Mad Poet of Herisau.


Above: Robert Walser Fountain, Herisau

I followed what may have been his last walk, visiting Klinik Haus 1 of the Herisau Psychiatric Centre where Walser spent the last 23 years of his life, the spot where his body was discovered on 25 December 1956, the grave where he was buried, the fountain built in his honour and the Robert Walser exhibition inside the Herisau Museum.

Klinik Haus 1

Above: Klinik Haus I (foreground), Klinik Herisau

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The Path is much like Walser´s descriptions in “A Little Ramble”:

“I walked through the mountains today….

….the road was soft and in places very clean.

The walk on the wonderful road gave me more and more pleasure….

A village was especially beautiful with humble dwellings….

We don´t need to see anything out of the ordinary.

We already see so much.”

From “The Road”:

“….I do not know any more for sure what time it was, as the desire to take a walk came over me.

I put my hat on my head, left my writing room….and ran down the stairs to hurry out into the street….

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Above: Robert Walser

As far as I can remember as I write this down, I found myself, as I walked into the open, bright and cheerful street, in a romantically adventurous state of mind, which pleased me profoundly.

The world spread out before my eyes appeared as beautiful to me as if I saw it for the first time.

Everything I saw made upon me a delightful impression of friendliness, of goodliness and of youth.

I quickly forgot that up in my room I had only just a moment before been brooding gloomily over a blank sheet of paper.

All sorrow, all pain and all grave thoughts were as vanished, although I vividly sensed a certain seriousness, a tone, still before me and hehind me.

I was tense with eager expectation of whatever might encounter me or cross my way on my walk.

My steps were measured and calm, and, as far as I know, I presented, as I went my way, a fairly dignified appearance….

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As I went on my way, like a better sort of tramp, a vagabond and pickpocket, or idler and vagrant of a sort finer than some, past all sorts of gardens planted and stuffed full with placid, contented vegetables, past flowers and fragrance of flowers, üast fruit trees and past beanstalks and shrubs full of beans, past towering crops of rye, barley and wheat, past a woodyard containing much wood and wood shavings, past juicy grass and past a gently splashing little warerway, rivulet or stream, past all sorts of people, and past a clubhouse decoratively hung with banners flying for a celebration or for joy, and also past many other good-hearted and useful things, past a particularly beautiful and sweet little fairy apple tree, and past God knows what else in the way of feasible things….

….all sorts of more or less beautiful pleasant thoughts continued to preoccupy me, since, when I´m out walking, many notions, flashes of light and lightning flashes quite of their own accord intrude and Interrupt, to be carefully pondered upon….

Without looking back….I walked on and soon afterwards, proceeding thus in the warm yielding air….

I came into a pine forest, through which coiled a smiling, serpentine, and at the same time roguishly graceful path, which I followed with pleasure.

Path and forest floor were as a carpet, and here within the forest it was quiet as in a happy human soul, as in the interior of a temple, as in a palace and enchanted dream-wrapped fairytale castle, as in Sleeping Beauty´s Castle, where all sleep, and all are hushed for centuries of long years.

I penetrated deeper, and I speak perhars a little indulgently if I say that to myself I seemed like a prince….

So solemn was it in the forest that lovely and solemn imaginings, quite of their own accord, took possession of the sensitive walker there.

How glad I was at this sweet forest softness and repose!

From time to time, from outside, a slight sound or two penetrated the delicious seclusion and bewitching darkness, perhaps a bang, a whistle, or some other noise, whose distant note would only intensify the prevailing soundlessness, which I inhaled to my very heart´s content, and whose virtues I drank and quaffed with due ceremomy.

Here and there in all this tranquillity and quietude a bird let his blithe voice be heard out of his charmed and holy hiding place.

Thus I stood and listened, and suddenly there came upon me an inexpressible feeling for the world, and, together with it, a feeling of gratitude which broke powerfully out of my soul.

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The pines stood straight as pillars there, and not the least thing moved in the whole delicate forest, throughout which all kinds of inaudible noises seemed to echo and sound.

Music from out of the primeval world, from whence I cannot tell, stole on my ear.

Oh,thus, if it must be, shall I then willingly end and die.

A memory will then delight me even in the grave, and a gratitude enliven me even in death.

A thanksgiving for life and a joy at joy.

High up, a gentle rustling, whispering down from the treetops, could be heard.

“To love and to kiss here must be divinely beautiful.“, I told myself.

Simply to tread on the pleasant ground became a joy, and the stillness kindled prayers in the feeling soul.

“To be dead here, and to lie inconspicuous in the cool forest earth must be sweet.

Oh, that one could sense and enjoy death even in death!

Perhaps one can.

To have a small, quiet grave in the forest would be lovely.

Perhaps I should hear the singing of the birds and the forest rustling above me.

I would like that.”

Marvellous between trunks of oaks a pillar of sunbeams fell into the forest, which to me seemed like a delicious green grave.

Soon I stepped out into the radiant open again, and into life.

In the bright, hot midday sun I would stop for a moment to rest under a fir, beech, or oak tree, stretching out in the moss or grass…

But where am I?

Am I actually on a hike right now?

How is that possible?”

“Walk” was my answer.

I definitely must, to invigorate myself and to maintain contact with the living world, without perceiving which I could not write the half of one more single word, or produce the tiniest poem in verse or prose.

Without walking, I would be dead, and my profession, which I love passionately, would be destroyed.

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Also, without walking and gathering reports, I would not be able to render one single further report, or the tiniest of essays, let alone a real, long story.

Without walking, I would not be able to make any observations or any studies at all.

Such a clever and enlightened man as you are, you may and will understand this at once.

On a lovely and far-wandering walk a thousand usable and useful thoughts occur to me.

Shut in at home, I would miserably decay and dry up.

Walking is for me not only healthy and lovely, it is also of service and useful.

A walk advances me professionally and provides me at the same time also with amusement and joy.

It refreshes and comforts and delights me, is a pleasure for me, and simultaneously, it has the peculiarity that it allures meand spurs me on to further creation, since it offers me as material numerous small and large objectivities upon which I later work at home, diligently and industriously.

A walk is always filled with significant phenomena, which are valuable to see and to feel.

A pleasant walk often teems with imageries and living poems, with enchantments and natural beauties, be they ever so small….

Without walking and the contemplation of nature which is connected with it, without this equally delicious and admonishing search, I deem myself lost, and I am lost.”

“The present time, surrounding you, singing and making noise, cannot be put down in writing in any satisfactory way.”

“It is as though you could hear Thought itself softly whispering, softly stirring.

It’s like the scurrying of little white mice.”

As I look outside my writing room window I see no scurrying white mice, but the thought of Walser softly whispers in my mind.

I wish to walk again, for like Walser felt without it:

I am lost.

Sources: Wikipedia / Benjamin Lerner, “Robert Waler´s Disappearing Acts”, The New Yorker, 3 September 2013 / Carl Seelig, Wanderungen mit Robert Walser / Robert Walser, A Schoolboy´s Diary / Robert Walser, The Walk and other stories / Robert Walser Zentrum, Robert Walsers Bücher zu Lebzeiten / Peter Witschi, Robert Walser: Herisauer Jahre (1933 – 1956) / Herisau Tourismus, “Robert Walser Pfad”

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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.

Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

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.

Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg

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.

Lombardy in Italy.svg

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.

Lega Nord Salvini.png

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.


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.


Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy







Canada Slim and the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 18 December 2017

Battlefields can be deceptive when viewed long after the battles have been fought.

Take the example of Waterloo.

Battle of Waterloo 1815.PNG

Above: The Battle of Waterloo, Belgium, 18 June 1815

Once the tourist gets beyond the huge pyramid and the facilities set up to view and visit it he/she finds him/her self in quiet tranquil dairy country.

(For a glimpse of today´s Waterloo, please see That Which Survives: A Matter of Perspective of this blog.)

Go to Battle, near Hastings, and beyond the markers that indicate that major events took place here in 1066 resulting in the Norman Conquest of England, it is difficult to picture these tranquil fields the scene of anything beyond a hiker´s pleasant place for a stroll.

Bayeux Tapestry scene57 Harold death.jpg

Above: The Bayeux Tapestry, showing the Battle of Hastings, England, 14 October 1066

Yes, even today a few poppies grow between the crosses row by row in Flanders Field, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in World War One.

A page from a book. The first stanza of the poem is printed above an illustration of a white cross amidst a field of red poppies while two cannons fire in the background.

And while no birds sang back then, today ignorant avian creatures soar and swoop above farmers´ fields that have known the plow for centuries before and will probably know the plow for centuries to come.

It is difficult to understand the past through the eyes of the present.

It is difficult to understand the people of the past through our present perspectives.

As a resident in Switzerland these past seven years I find myself still waging an internal war within, between my preconceptions of the Swiss before I lived here and the reality and the history of who the Swiss actually are and how they got that way.

File:Flag of Switzerland (Pantone).svg

I once viewed the Swiss as nothing more than banking gnomes with the passion of dry toast, similar to the goblins that run Gringot´s Bank in the Harry Potter series.

My view later expanded to see the Swiss through the eyes of Johanna Spyri´s children´s classic Heidi and I began to imagine the rural Swiss as hayseed farmers leading processions of bell-ringing bovine over hills reminiscient of Salzburg, Austria, where Julie Andrews reminds us that those hills are alive with the Sound of Music.

Above: Swiss CHF50 commemorative coin (2001)

To be fair, Switzerland does indeed have bankers and farmers that partially validate my preconceptions, but the Swiss are so much more than these.

If we consider that two symbols of Switzerland are the Swiss Army knife and the Swiss Guard that protects the Pope, it might help us to view the Swiss militarily as well.

Today we view Switzerland simply as a place where conflicting groups go to Geneva, have a little chocolate, discuss a bit of politics, shake hands and sign treaties.

We forget that once the Swiss were considered the world´s fiercest warriors and that warring nations eagerly bought their mercenaries from Switzerland, for even then: Swiss meant quality.

We forget that had it been in Swiss nature to be conquerors beyond their frontiers and had they acted when they held military superiority, today´s political map might look quite different.

Little did I know as I followed the footsteps of religious reformer Huldrych Zwingli that I would encounter the very events that would determine Swiss independence from Hapsburg rule, compel the country to adapt a policy of neutrality and redefine the role of the Swiss mercenary.


Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)


Glarus, Switzerland, 15 November 2017

The walk continues.

My little Zwingli Project begun a month previously has brought me here, back to the Walensee, a beautiful lake  – 24.1 square kilometres of mysterious water that never fails to capture one´s breath.

Walensee vom Kerenzerberg gegen Osten

Above: Walensee and Kerenzerburg Mountain

I had already  walked from Zwingli´s birthplace in Wildhaus to Strichboden (13 km / 4 hours walk), to Arvenbüel (9 km / 3 hours walk), to Weesen (five km / 2 hours walk) and had learned and seen a lot.

(See Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation, ….and the Wild Child of Toggenburg, ….and the Thundering Hollows, ….and the Basel Butterfly Effect, ….and the Vienna Waltz for the events and background of the Zwingli Project in this blog.)

After a train to St. Gallen, another to Uznach and a third to Ziegelbrücke, followed by a bus to Weesen, I set off for Glarus, Zwingli´s first ecclesiastical post.

I walked past Weesen Harbour, the path clinging to the shoreline of the Walensee.

Weesen Hafen.jpg

Above: Harbour, Weesen, Walensee

Summer had clearly abandoned the lake: no boats afloat, no campfires burning, no kiosks surrounded by clamouring kids.

I saw only the occasional woman or retired gentleman walking their dogs.

The path left the lake, climbed to the highway leading to Ziegelbrücke, clung to a bridge crossing the Linth Canal that goes to where the Promised Land of Zürich beckons, descended back to the lake through a campground to a second canal – the Escher.

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

I followed canal and towpath straight south, but less than a kilometre later the signage and my travelling companion guidebook failed me.

There were no signs and as beautiful as the ascent and the walk atop the mountains could have been, I lacked important information:

Were there cable cars, up the mountains, then, after hours of walking, back down the mountains, operating?

It was a workday and summer had long since passed.

If there were cable cars in operation, how passable were the mountains?

Were the paths blocked by snow?

Were trail markings still visible?

I decided to err on the side of caution and continued to follow the Escher Canal.

My guidebook ultimately leads the hiker to Glarus and my topographic map suggested the Canal continued straight south to Glarus, so – mountain views be damned – from the Canal I would not stray.

The territory I was walking through wasn´t so alien for me.

I had previously walked from where the Escher Canal (which manages the Linth River) begins in Linthal to Glarus.

I had taken a cable car from Linthal to visit the cars-free town of Braunwald.

Skyline of Braunwald

Above: The village of Braunwald

I had ridden a Postbus from Linthal to Klausenpass and the Uri cantonal capital Altdorf.

Above: Klausen Pass

And to accomplish these adventures to and from Glarus and Linthal I had ridden the train a number of times from Ziegelbrücke.

(For a glimpse of this, please see Glarus: Every Person a Genius of this blog.)


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

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

Above: Fridolin (left), Urso (middle) and Landolf (right). Urso´s brother Landolf protests against his brother´s landholdings being passed to Fridolin,  so Fridolin resurrects Urso to confirm the land grant.

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

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

St. Fridolin has never been forgotten.

Canton Glarus joined the Swiss Confederation in 1352.

On 9 July 1386, the Swiss Confederation attacked and conquered the Habsburg village of Weesen.

The following year Canton Glarus rose up against the Habsburgs and destroyed Windegg Castle.

In response, on the night of 21-22 February 1388, a Habsburg army attacked the village of Weesen and drove out the Confederation forces.

In the beginning of April, two Habsburg armies marched out to cut off Canton Glaurus from the rest of the Confederation.

The main Confederation army, with about 5,000 men, marched towards Näfels under the command of Count Donat of Toggenburg and the knight Peter von Thorberg.

A second column, with about 1,500 men under the command of Count Hans von Werdenberg-Sargans, marched over the Kerenzerberg Pass above the Walensee.

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

The main army, under Toggenburg and Thorberg, attacked and captured the fortifications around Näfels.

As they retreated, the Austrian army spread out to plunder the villages and farms.

The Glarners then emerged from the snow and fog to take the Habsburg troops by surprise as they were preoccupied with looting.

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

2,500 Austrians died.

Only 54 men of Glaurus were killed.

The disorganized Austrians broke and fled towards Weesen, but the collapse of the bridge over the Linth River dropped much of their army into the water where they drowned.

In 1389, a seven years´ peace treaty was signed in Vienna.

Above: Monument to the Battle of Näfels (9 April 1388)

That same year, the first Näfelserfahrt (Näfels pilgrimage) to the site of the battle was held.

Bildergebnis für näfelser fahrt bilder

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

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

Glaris-coat of arms.svg

I lingered in Näfels after an hour´s stroll along the Escher Canal.

I visited the Glarus Cantonal Museum in the Freulerpalast (Freuler Palace), the Church of St. Hilarius with the grave of General Niklaus Franz von Bachmann (1740 – 1831) who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, and the Battlefield Memorial.

Above: Freuler Palace, Näfels, Canton Glarus

The diverse history of the Canton is shown here with precious objects and paintings.

Here you can learn interesting facts on immigration and emigration, the practice of direct democracy and the Great Fire of Glarus.

(On the first Sunday in May, the Landesgemeinde brings out traditionally clad voters who publicly debate and decide politics in a manner rarely seen elsewhere.)

Bildergebnis für landsgemeinde glarus

Above: Landesgemeinde Glarus

You can see the development of textile printing that once was the most important industry in Glarnerland, the military and defence of Glarus and the significance of the region in alpine ski sport.

(The Museum is open from 1 April to 30 November, 1000-1200/1400-1730.  Please see

The towpath along the Escher Canal continues to Netstal, a town that lies beneath Wiggis Mountain where the Löntsch River (from the Klöntal) meets the Linth.

Above: Netstal

Here one finds both a Catholic and a Reformed church, a beautiful half-timbered house (the Stählihaus), a plaque on the side of the Ambühlhaus in memory of Battle of Näfels warrior Mathias Ambühl, and a memorial stone regarding an unfortunate mine launcher accident that took place on 15 December 1941 resulting in the loss of four soldiers´ lives.

Netstal was home to cartographer Rudolf Leuzinger (1826 – 1896), the youngest Swiss traitor ever executed Fridolin Beeler (1921 – 1943) and writers Ludwig Hohl (1904 – 1980) and Marcel Schwander (1929 – 2010).

In the 118 years between the Battle of Näfels and Zwingli assuming his post as priest in Glarus in 1506, Switzerland was far from being a peaceful place, for when the Swiss weren´t fighting against others they were fighting amongst themselves.

There had been the Appenzell Wars (1403 – 1428), war with Milan (1403 – 1428), the Basel War (1409), the annexations of Aargau (1415) and Thurgau (1460), the Raron Affair (1418 – 1419), the Old Zürich War (1436 – 1450), the St. James War (1445 – 1449), the Freiburg War (1447 – 1448), the Waldshut War (1468), the Burgundian Wars (1474 – 1477), the St. Gallen War (1489 – 1490), the Italian Wars (1495 – 1522) and the Swabian War (1499).

(The Swabian War is called the Swiss War by the Germans and the Engadin War by the Austrians.)

(For the fascinating story of the Burgundian Wars and how it lead to the Swiss being recognized as the militarily superior force in Europe, please see The Underestimated: The Bold and the Reckless of this blog.)

Often these wars were of Cantons seeking independence from Habsburg control and the Habsburg Empire seeking to regain it.

Bloodshed and violence were commonplace.

As previously mentioned in former blog posts, Zwingli had completed his studies in Weesen, Bern, Basel and Vienna, was ordained in Konstanz and celebrated his first mass in his hometown of Wildhaus, before his first ecclesiastical post in Glarus where he would remain for a decade. (1506 – 1516)

Above: Birthplace of Huldrych Zwingli, Wildhaus

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

The hiring of young men to fight in other nations´ wars, including battles for the Pope, was one of the major industries for the Swiss.

During Zwingli´s pastorate in Glarus, the Swiss Confederation was embroiled in various campaigns with its neighbours: the French, the Habsburgs and the Papal States.

Zwingli placed himself solidly on the side of the Roman See.

In return, Pope Julius II honoured Zwingli by providing him with an annual pension.

Pope Julius II.jpg

Above: Giuliano della Rovere (1443 – 1513), “the Fearsome Warrior Pope” Pope Julius II (1503 – 1513)

Zwingli took the role of chaplain in several Swiss campaigns of the aforementioned Italian Wars.

The Italian Wars (also referred to as the Great Italian Wars or the Great Wars of Italy or the Renaissance Wars) were a series of conflicts from 1494 to 1559 that involved, at various times, most of the city-states of Italy, the Papal States, the Republic of Venice, most of the major states of Western Europe (France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, England, Swiss mercenaries and Scotland) as well as the Ottoman Empire.

The Italian Wars are: the First Italian War / King Charles VIII´s War (1494 – 1498), ….

Charles VIII Ecole Francaise 16th century Musee de Conde Chantilly.jpg

Above: Charles VIII of France (1470 – 1498), King (1483 – 1498)

(Charles VIII of France invaded Italy with 25,000 men, including 8,000 Swiss mercenaries.)

….the Second Italian War / King Louis XII´s War (1499 – 1504), ….


Above: Louis XII of France (1462 – 1515), King (1499 – 1515)

(Louis XII of France invaded Italy with 27,000 men, including 5,000 Swiss mercenaries.  Julius II became Pope in 1503.)

….the Third Italian War / the War of the League of Cambrai (1508 – 1516), ….

(The Pope hired 6,000 Swiss mercenaries in the War against the French.)

….the Italian War of 1521 – 1526, the War of the League of Cognac (1526 – 1530), the Italian War of 1536 – 1538, the Italian War of 1542 – 1546, and the Habsburg-Valois War of 1551 – 1559.

The attentive reader may note that I do not mention Swiss mercenary involvement in the last five Italian conflicts.

That is because three battles – one in King Louis´ War and two in the War of the League of Cambrai – would make the Swiss question themselves as regards to their military role and their allegiance to the Catholic Church.

While Zwingli was in Vienna, he probably had heard of the Treason of Novara in 1500.

King Louis XII of France had conquered the Duchy of Milan in 1499 with the help of Swiss mercenaries.

In the spring of 1500, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, in his turn hired Swiss mercenaries in his bid to reconquer the Duchy.

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Above: Ludovico Sforza (1452 – 1508), Duke (1494 – 1499)

The two groups of Swiss mercenaries found themselves on both sides of a conflict.

The two mercenary armies confronted one another at Novara, a city west of Milan.

6,000 Swiss under the command of Sforza defended the city, while 10,000 Swiss under the command of Louis laid siege to it.

A meeting of delegates from the Swiss soldiers´ individual cantons called for negotiations between the two sides in an attempt to prevent the worst case scenario of the Swiss being forced to slaughter one another, “brothers against brothers and fathers against sons”.

Louis agreed to a conditional surrender which would grant free passage to the Swiss abandoning the city, under the condition that Sforza would be surrendered.

However, the Swiss on Sforza´s side, under an oath of loyalty to their employer, decided to dress Sforza as a Swiss and smuggle him out of town.

On 10 April 1500, the Swiss garrison was leaving Novara, passing a cordon formed by the Swiss on the French side.

French officers were posted to oversee their exit.

As the disguised Sforza passed the cordon, one Swiss mercenary Hans Turman of Uri made signs giving away Sforza´s identity.

Above: Sforza handed over to the French

The Duke was apprehended by the French and died eight years later as a prisoner in the castle of Loches.

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Above: Loches Castle

The French rewarded Turman for his treason with 200 gold crowns (corresponding to five years´ salary of a mercenary).

Turman escaped to France, but after three years he returned home to Uri.

He was immediately arrested for treason and executed by decapitation.

The Treason left a mark on the Swiss conscience.

Were they nothing more than men without honour, selling themselves to the highest bidder?

Was Swiss unity so cheaply sacrificed?

I am uncertain as to the exact demands required of an army chaplain in Zwingli´s day, but I suspect that in spite of his religious role he was expected to raise arms against the enemy when it was required, for it was in battle in Kappel am Albis in 1531 that Zwingli would meet his demise and Zwingli´s most prominent statue – at Zürich´s Wasserkirche –  shows him with sword firmly in hand.

Zwingli´s battle experiences would make him question the role of the Swiss as mercenaries which mainly enriched cantonal authorities.

On 6 June 1513, in the aforementioned city of Novara (Naverra) where the Swiss had gained the reputation of being treasonous, Zwingli was part of a force of some 12,000 troops that surprised the occupying French and soundly defeated them.

It was a shockingly bloody battle, with 5,000 casualities on the French side and 1,500 for the Swiss pikemen.

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Above: The Battle of Novara, 6 June 1513

After the battle, the Swiss executed the hundreds of German Landsknecht mercenaries they had captured that had fought for the French.

Having routed the French army, the Swiss were unable to launch a close pursuit because of their lack of cavalry, but nonetheless several contingents of Swiss mercenaries followed the French withdrawl all the way to Dijon before the French paid them to leave France.

This one French defeat forced Louis XII to withdraw from Milan and Italy.

Did Zwingli witness these events and contemplate the morality of such actions?

The citizenry, Zwingli´s parishioners, remained loyal to the idea of fighting for the Pope until 13 September 1515….

16 km southeast of Milan is the town of Melegnano, then called Marignano.

This battle between the French and the Swiss would change everything.

The French army was composed of the best armored lancers and artillery in Europe and led by Francis I, newly crowned King of France and one day past his 21st birthday.


Above: Francis I of France (1494 – 1547), King (1515 – 1547)

With Francis were German Landknechts, bitter mercenary rivals of the Swiss for fame and renown in war, and late arriving Venetian allies.

Prior to Marignano there were years of Swiss successes, during which French fortunes in northern Italy had suffered greatly.

The prologue to the battle was a remarkable Alpine passage, in which Francis hauled 72 large cannons over new-made roads over the Col d´Argentiere, a previously unknown route on the French-Italian border.

Above: The village of Larche, France, and the Col d´Argentiere

This was, at the time, considered one of the foremost military exploits of the age and the equal of Hannibal´s crossing of the Alps in 218 BC.

At Villafranca, the French surprised and captured the commander of the Papal forces in a daring raid deep behind enemy lines, seizing Commander Colonna and his staff, 600 horses and a great deal of booty.

The capture of Prospero Colonna, along with the startling appearance of the French army on the plains of Piedmont, stunned the Papal allies.

Above: Prospero Colonna (1452 – 1523)

The Pope and the Swiss both sought terms with Francis, while the Pope´s Spanish allies en route from Naples halted to await developments.

The main Swiss army retreated to Milan, while a large faction, tired of the War and eager to return home with the profits of years of successful campaigning, urged terms with the French.

Though the parties reached an agreement that gave Milan back to the French, the arrival of fresh and bellicose troops from the Swiss cantons annulled the agreement, as the newly arrived men had no desire to return home empty-handed and refused to abide by the treaty.

Discord swept through the Swiss forces until Matthäus Schiner, Cardinal of Sion and archenemy of Francis, inspired the Swiss with a fiery speech, reminding them of what a smaller Swiss army had achieved against as powerful a French army at the Battle of Novara.

Above: Matthäus Schiner (1465 – 1522)

Schiner pointed out the enormous profits of victory, appealed to national pride, and urged the Swiss to immediate battle.

The Swiss encountered Francis´ forces at the little burnt-out village of Marignano on a featureless plain.

A treaty signed, the French were not expecting battle.

Francis was in his tent, trying on a new suit of armor, when scouts reported the coming of the Swiss.

The French army quickly sprang into action.

The fighting, begun at sunset of 13 September, continued until smoke and the disappearance of moonlight halted the battle during the darkest hours of the night.

At dawn of 14 September the battle began again.

Above: The Battle of Marignano (13 – 14 September 1515)

The midmorning arrival of the French´s allies from Venice turned the tide against the Swiss.

Their attacks repulsed everywhere, their ranks in bloody shambles, the Swiss grudgingly gave ground and withdrew.

The battle was a decisive victory for Francis, for even though the Swiss were heavily outnumbered and outgunned, they had proved themselves during the preceding decades and had habitually emerged victorious from the most disadvantageous situations.

“I have vanquished those whom only Caesar vanquished” was printed on the medal Francis ordered struck to commemorate the victory.

Considering this battle his most cherished triumph, Francis praised Marignano as the “battle of giants” and stated that all previous battles in his lifetime had been “child´s sport”.

This battle ended once and for all Swiss aspirations for conquest.

There never was any Swiss military offensive against an external enemy again.

After lengthy negotiations, a peace treaty between the Swiss and the French was signed in Fribourg on 29 November 1516.

This treaty would be known as the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, a peace that remained unbroken until the French invaded Switzerland in 1798 during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Zwingli was present at the Battle of Marignano.

He would witness the slaughter of 6,000 of his countrymen in the service of the Pope.

Above: Dying Swiss, Retreat from Marignano, by Ferdinand Hodler (1898)

In Glarus, there had been political controversy on which side the young men seeking employment as mercenaries should take service, the side of France or the side of the Papal States.

They wanted to prevent that men of Glarus took service on both sides of the war as had been the case at Novara in 1500.

Zwingli had supported the Pope before the Battle of Marignano, and even after the Battle, he opposed the peace with France and continued to support the side of the Papal States.

Since public opinion in Glarus had shifted towards a clearly pro-French stance, Zwingli was forced to abandon his position in Glarus, taking employment elsewhere at Einsiedeln Abbey.

Above: Einsiedeln Abbey

Based on his experience in the War, Zwingli became an outspoken opponent of mercenary service, arguing with Erasmus of Rotterdam that war is sweet only to those who have not experienced it”.


Above: Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1586)

He returned from Marignano determined to abolish this mercenary practice of “selling blood for gold”.

Zwingli blamed the warmongery on the part of Cardinal Schiner for the disaster at Marignano and began to preach against the high clergy, the first sign of his radicalization that would culminate in the Swiss Reformation.


I continued to follow the Canal to the Canton Glarus capital also named Glarus.

Above: The City of Glarus

Of interest to the visitor are the Stadtkirche (city church), the Kunsthaus (art museum), the Anna Göldi Museum and the Cantonal library.

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Above: Anna Göldi (1734 – 1782)

(Anna Göldi was the last person in Europe to be executed for witchcraft.)

(For the story of witchcraft in Switzerland, please see Five Schillings´ Worth of Wood of this blog.)

Though the Stadtkirche was once the church where Zwingli presided and is today a Reformed Church, there still seems to be no love lost for Zwingli.

Above: Stadtkirche, Glarus

I explored the church inside and out, but I could find no plaques or markers indicating that he had ever been here.

Glarus´ grudge towards Zwingli was neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Glarus was not shaped by Zwingli during his lifetime, but Glarus and Zwingli´s war experiences certainly shaped him.

I have always loved Glarus, this picturesque wee capital dwarfed by the looming Glarnsch Massif.

I have always loved Glarnerland, this tract of mountain territory with widely spaced settlements and very low-key tourism.

Isolation is attractive.

Sources: Wikipedia / Glarus Tourism / Josef Schwitter and Urs Heer, Glarnerland: A Short Portrait / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis




Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 December 2017

I want to run away.

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

I want to run away.

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

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I want to run back.

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

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

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Above: Flag of Alsace

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

The little Venice, Colmar

Above: Little Venice, Colmar

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

Above: Kaysersberg

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

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

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

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


Above: Huldrych Zwingli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Albert Hoffmann

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

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

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

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

Above: The Island of the Dead (Basel Version)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eingang zur Baselworld (2005)

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

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

The first rate museums and galleries never fail to delight.

Basel is both a mix of yesterday and tomorrow.

Explore the shopping streets between Barfüsserplatz and Marktplatz.

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

Above: Basel Cathedral

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

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

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Above: Roger Diener´s Yellow House, Basel

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

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Here one can both laugh at life and dread death.

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

Above: The Tongue King

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

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

The man slaps down a card with the words:

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

The woman nods in triumph:

“And it´s won me the game!”

The Battle of the Sexes is eternal.

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

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

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

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Above: Rathaus, Basel

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

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Above: Peterskirche, Basel

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

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Above: Spalentor, Basel

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

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

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Above: St. Leonhardskirche, Basel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: St. Martinskirche, Basel

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

Above: Kunsthalle, Basel

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

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

And Basel loves Picasso.

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Above: Picasso´s Arlequin assis

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

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

“Holbein was a great painter and a poet!”

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

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Above: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 – 1881)

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

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

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Above: Basel Paper Mill

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Basel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let Zürich claim Zwingli.

Basel is doing just fine without him.

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