Canada Slim and the Author’s Apartment 1: Learning

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Thursday 13 June 2019

In everyone’s life there are marker moments that separate who you were from who you are, as significant to the individual as BC and AD are to the Western calendar.

I have had my share of such moments in my own life.

Some are as obvious as scar tissue from accidents and operations.

Others are so subtle, so intimate, that they are as soft as a lover’s whisper in the night, and are no less important, nay, sometimes are far more important, than moments that clearly marked and marred you in the eyes of others.

Who we were, who we are and who we will become are often determined by what happens where we happen to be.

 

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Certainly there are those who argue that we make our own destiny, that we create our own karma, but it is usually those who have known little hardship who wax poetically upon how they would have acted differently had they been in situations alien to their experience and understanding.

Their songs of self-praise usually play to the tune of “had I been there I would have….“.

“If I had been living in Germany during the Second World War I would have sheltered Jews.”

“If my country suffered a famine I would not remain.”

“If I lived in North Korea I would rise in revolt against the Kim dynasty.”

 

Flag of North Korea

 

Truth be told, we may have the potential to freely make such brave decisions, but in the harsh chill of grim reality whether we would actually possess the needed courage and have the opportunity to successfully act is highly debatable.

If the consequence of helping others might lead to your death and the death of your loved ones, would you really risk everything to shelter those whom your government deems enemies of the state?

Would you be able to abandon your family to famine to save yourself?

Would you really defy your entire country’s military might to speak truth to power and say that what is being done in the name of nationalism is wrong for the nation?

 

Flag of the United States

 

It is easy to condemn the Germans of the National Socialist nightmare, the starving masses in Africa and India, the North Koreans under the Kims, and suggest that they were weak to allow themselves to be dominated by circumstances.

The self-righteous will argue with such platitudes like “Evil can only triumph when the good stay silent.“, but martyrdom’s recklessness is not easily embraced by everyone.

 

Flag of Germany

 

I was born in an age and have lived in places where I have never personally experienced the ravages of war firsthand.

I have known hunger and thirst but have never been hungry or thirsty to the brink of my own demise.

I have been fortunate to live in places where democracy, though imperfectly applied at times, dominated society rather than being sacrificed for security.

As a Canadian born in the 60s, who has never been in a military conflict, it is not easy for me to fully appreciate the difficulties of others that I myself have never experienced.

 

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

 

I count former refugees among my circle of friends, but I cannot claim to fully comprehend what they have endured or what they continue to quietly endure.

I have known those who chose not to be part of a military machine, despite the accusation of treason and disloyalty to their nation this suggests, because they chose not to act in the name of a nation that does not respect a person’s rights to choose not to kill their fellow human beings.

 

 

I love my homeland of Canada but I have never been called to defend her, have never had to choose between patriotism and humanity.

Canada’s leaders I have known may not have been great statesmen, but neither have they been as reprehensible as the leadership of other nations.

Can it be easy to be a true believer in Turkey under a tyrant like Erdogan?

 

Flag of Turkey

 

Can it be easy to be a patriotic American with an amateur like Trump?

Can it be easy to call yourself a native of a nation whose government does things that disgust the conscience and stain the soil?

 

 

I grew up in Québec as an Anglophone Canadian and fortunately I have never been forced to choose between the province and the nation.

 

Flag of Quebec

 

I now live in a nation that certainly isn’t a paradise for everyone within its boundaries, but its nationalism has not tested my resolve nor has it required the surrender of my conscience.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

Oh, what a lucky man I have been!

Others have not been so fortunate.

 

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I have visited places that have reminded me of my good fortune because of their contrast to that good fortune.

I have seen the ruins of the Berlin Wall and the grim reality of Cyprus’s Green Wall.

 

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I have stood inside an underground tunnel between the two nations of South and North Korea, where two soldiers stand back-to-back 100 meters apart, and though they share the same language and the same culture, they are ordered to kill the other should the other speak.

 

Korea DMZ.svg

 

I have seen cemeteries of fallen soldiers and the ravaged ruins that wars past have left behind.

 

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.

 

I have seen the settings of holocaust and have witnessed racism firsthand.

I have heard the condemnation of others for the crime of being different.

 

 

How dare they love who they choose!

How dare they believe differently than we!

How dare they look not as we do!

How dare they exist!

 

Some places are scar marks on the conscience, wounds on the world.

Some places whisper the intimate injury of injustice and barely breathe the breeze of silent bravery against insurmountable obstacles.

I have not lived in a nation torn against itself where bully bastards hide their cruelty behind an ideological -ism that is a thinly disguised mask for their sadism.

 

 

What follows is the tale of one man who did, a man who lived in Belgrade, Serbia’s eternal city, and gave the world an image of the place’s perpetuity, the mirage of immortality….

A man’s whose life has made me consider my own….

 

Above: Belgrade

 

Some folk tales have such universal appeal that we forget when and where we heard or read them, and they live on in our minds as memories of our personal experiences.

Such is, for example, the story of a young man who, wandering the Earth in pursuit of happiness, strayed onto a dangerous road, which led into an unknown direction.

To avoid losing his way, the young man marked the trees along the road with his hatchet, to help him find his way home.

That young man is the personification of general, eternal human destiny on one hand, there is a dangerous and uncertain road, and on the other, a great human need to not lose one’s way, to survive and to leave behind a legacy.

The signs we leave behind us might not avoid the fate of everything that is human: transience and oblivion.

Perhaps they will be passed by completely unnoticed?

Perhaps nobody will understand them?

And yet, they are necessary, just as it is natural and necessary for us humans to convey and reveal our thoughts to one another.

Even if those brief and unclear signs fail to spare us all wandering and temptation, they can alleviate them and, at least, be of help by convincing us that we are not alone in anything we experience, nor are we the first and only ones who have ever been in that position.

(Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside)

 

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Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, 5 April 2018

The weather was worsening but my spirits were high.

I was on a mini-vacation, a separate holiday without my spouse, in a nation completely alien to me.

My good friend Nesha had graciously offered me the use of his apartment while he was away on business in Tara National Park, and so I was at liberty to come and go as I pleased without any obligations to anyone else but myself.

 

Flag of Serbia

Above: Flag of Serbia

 

The day had started well.

I had visited Saint Sava Cathedral, the Nikola Tesla Museum and had serendipitiously stumbled upon a second-hand music store that sold Serbian music that my guidebooks had recommended I discover.

 

Front view of Church of Saint Sava

Above: Saint Sava Cathedral

 

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Above: Nikola Tesla Museum

 

(For details of these, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Land of Long Life
  • the Holy Field of Sparrows
  • the Visionary
  • the Current War
  • the Man Who Invented the Future)

 

I was happy and so I would remain in the glorious week I spent in Belgrade and Nis.

I was learning so much!

(I still am.)

This journey I was making reminded me once again of just how ignorant I was (and am) of the world beyond my experience.

 

 

Before I began travelling the existence of life outside my senses remained naught more than rumours.

For example, I remember distinctly reading of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but it was far removed from my life until I moved to Germany and later visited Berlin before I began to understand why this had been a significant event, a big deal.

 

 

I partially blame my ignorance on the circumstances of my life in Canada.

Canadian news dominates Canadian media, which isn’t surprising as we are more interested in that which is closest to our experience.

English-language literature remains more accessible in Anglophone parts of Canada than other languages and so that is mostly what we know.

Too few Canadians speak more than their native tongues of either English or French.

Only 10% of Canadians are truly bilingual and not necessarily in the other official Canadian language.

How sad it is that so many North Americans know so little of the outside world unless there is a military conflict or diplomatic gesture in which they are involved.

Send a Canadian soldier or the Canadian Prime Minister to Serbia then a few Canadians might make a curious effort to find Serbia on a world map.

 

A map of Canada showing its 13 provinces and territories

 

Part of the problem and the reason why world peace and true unity eludes humanity is nationalism.

Why care about those who are not us?

If “us” is defined and limited by our national boundaries then how can we include “them” in our vision of fellow human beings?

Only the truly exceptional of that which is foreign grabs our momentary attention.

How can we understand one another if that which has shaped us is unknown by others and that which has shaped them is alien to us?

 

Flag of the United Nations

 

Can a Serbian truly understand a Canadian without knowing of Terry Fox and Wayne Gretzky, Robert W. Service and Margaret Atwood, Just for Laughs and Stephan Leacock, the Stanley Cup and the CBC, Sergeant Renfrew and Constable Benton Fraser?

 

Statue of Fox running set on a plinth engraved with "Somewhere the hurting must stop..."

 

Can a Canadian truly understand a Serbian without knowing of Novak Djokovic and Nemanja Vidic, the Turija sausage fest and the Novi Sad Exit, the Drina Regatta and the Nisville Jazz Festival, Emir Kusturica and Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac and Ivo Andric?

 

Frontal view of a bespectacled man

Above: Ivo Andric (1892 – 1975)

 

Possibly not.

 

I often think that it would be a good idea for the young to not only read what is / was written in their own tongue but as well to read Nobel Prize winning books translated from other languages.

It might even be a step towards world unity.

In my school years I was exposed to the writing of Nobel Prize winners Kipling, O’Neill, Buck, Eliot, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Bellow.

I had to travel to discover other Nobel laureates like Pamuk, Jelinek, Saramango, Neruda, Sartre, Camus, Marquez, Solzhenitsyn, Gidé, Mann and Andric by accident.

How much we miss when we stick to only our own!

How can we possibly have world peace when we are so ignorant of the world’s music, art and literature?

 

A golden medallion with an embossed image of Alfred Nobel facing left in profile. To the left of the man is the text "ALFR•" then "NOBEL", and on the right, the text (smaller) "NAT•" then "MDCCCXXXIII" above, followed by (smaller) "OB•" then "MDCCCXCVI" below.

 

The street that runs beside Belgrade’s New Palace, now the seat of the President of Serbia, is named Andrićev venac (Andrić’s Crescent) in his honour.

It includes a life-sized statue of the writer.

 

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The flat in which Andrić spent his final years has been turned into a museum.

 

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Several of Serbia’s other major cities, such as Novi Sad and Kragujevac, have streets named after Andrić.

Streets in a number of cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Višegrad, also carry his name.

 

 

Andrić remains the only writer from the former Yugoslavia to have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Given his use of the Ekavian dialect, and the fact that most of his novels and short stories were written in Belgrade, his works have become associated almost exclusively with Serbian literature.

 

(I asked my good friend Nesha whether Serbians can communicate with Bosnians and Croatians in a similar language, whether there was a Slavic tongue that unites the three.

He responded that it is all one Serbo-Croatian language with a difference in dialects that changes from region to region and divided by three different accents: Ekavica, Jekavic and Ijekavica

Even though Slovenians and Macedonians speak a little differently, they all understand and speak a Serbian-type speech.)

 

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The Slavonic studies professor Bojan Aleksov characterizes Andrić as one of Serbian literature’s two central pillars, the other being Njegoš.

The plasticity of his narrative,” Moravcevich writes, “the depth of his psychological insight, and the universality of his symbolism remain unsurpassed in all of Serbian literature.

 

 

Though it has been said that the Serbian novel did not begin with Ivo Andric – (that honour lies with Borisav Stankovic (1867 – 1927) who explored the contradictions of man’s spiritual and sensory life in his 1910 work Bad Blood, the first Serbian novel to receive praise in its foreign translations) – it was Andric who took Serbian literature’s oral traditions and epic poetry and developed and perfected its narrative form.

 

Image result for Borislav Stankovic the tainted blood

 

To this day, Andric remains probably the most famous writer from former Yugoslavia.

And, sadly, I had never heard of him prior to this day.

A visit to the Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric (to give its official title) this day helped correct this imbalance….

 

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By a decision of the Belgrade City Assembly, the property of Ivo Andric was heritage-listed and entrusted to the Belgrade City Museum immediately following Andric’s death on 13 March 1975.

It was an act meant to express the city’s deep respect for Andric as a writer and as a person.

In accordance with the practice common all over the world, Belgrade wished to preserve the original appearance of the writer’s apartment, surrounded by the Belgrade Old and New Courts and Pionirski Park, in its picturesque environment, to honour its famous citizen.

The establishment of this Memorial Museum also throws light on a very remarkable period in history encompassing the two world wars, as well as the post-war years, on which Andric left a strong personal and creative impact.

The holdings of Ivo Andric’s legacy chiefly consist of items found and inventoried at his apartment after his death – the underlying idea being to reflect the spirit and atmosphere of privacy and nobility surrounding him.

Andric’s personal library contains 3,373 items, along with archival materials, manuscripts, works of fine and applied arts, diplomas and decorations, 1,070 personal belongings and 803 photographs.

The apartment covers an area of 144 square metres (somewhat larger than my own apartment) and is divided into three units:

  • the authentic interior, encompassing an entrance hall, a drawing room and Andric’s study
  • the exhibition rooms, created by the adaptation of two bedrooms
  • the curators’ and guides offices and the museum storerooms, occupying the former kitchen, the maid’s room, the bathroom and the lobby

It is both an unusual and a subtle combination of ambiguously private and unabasedly public, presenting an overview of Andric’s private life while depicting his vivid diplomatic, national, cultural and educational activities.

Ivo Andric was an unusual man who lived in unusual times, a life captured by a small apartment museum that like Andric himself is deceptively normal in appearance….

 

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The original appearance and the function of the entrance hall have been preserved to a great extent.

The showcase with publications and souvenirs of the Belgrade City Museum is the only sign indicating that a visitor, though in residential premises, is actually in a Museum.

Already at the entrance to the Museum, an open bookshelf populated with thick volumes of Serbo-Croatian and foreign language dictionaries and encyclopedias and literary works in French, German and English, symbolizes Andric’s communication with European and world literature, history and philosophy as well as his own creative endeavours.

This is where the story of the writer begins to unfold….

 

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Ivan Andrić was born in the village of Dolac, near Travnik, on 10 October 1892, while his mother, Katarina (née Pejić), was in the town visiting relatives.

 

Above: The house in which Andric was born, now a museum

 

(Travnik has a strong culture, mostly dating back to its time as the center of local government in the Ottoman Empire.

Travnik has a popular old town district however, which dates back to the period of Bosnian independence during the first half of the 15th century.

Numerous mosques and churches exist in the region, as do tombs of important historical figures and excellent examples of Ottoman architecture.

The city museum, built in 1950, is one of the more impressive cultural institutions in the region.

Travnik became famous by important persons who were born or lived in the city.

The most important of which are Ivo Andrić, Miroslav Ćiro Blažević (football coach of the Croatian national team, won third place 1998 in France), Josip Pejaković (actor), Seid Memić (pop singer) and Davor Džalto (artist and art historian, the youngest PhD in Germany and in the South-East European region).

 

Skyline of Travnik

Above: Images of Travnik

 

One of the main works of Ivo Andrić is the Bosnian Chronicle, depicting life in Travnik during the Napoleonic Wars and written during World War II.

In this work Travnik and its people – with their variety of ethnic and religious communities – are described with a mixture of affection and exasperation.

 

Ivo Andriac, Ivo Andric - Bosnian Chronicle

 

The Bosnian Tornjak, one of Bosnia’s two major dog breeds and national symbol, originated in the area, found around Mount Vlašić.)

 

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Andrić’s parents were both Catholic Croats.

He was his parents’ only child.

(I too was raised as an only child.)

 

His father, Antun, was a struggling silversmith who resorted to working as a school janitor in Sarajevo, where he lived with his wife and infant son.

(The Museum disagrees with Wikipedia, describing Antun as a court attendant.)

 

At the age of 32, Antun died of tuberculosis, like most of his siblings.

Andrić was only two years old at the time.

(My mother died, of cancer, when I was three.)

 

Widowed and penniless, Andrić’s mother took him to Višegrad and placed him in the care of her sister-in-law Ana and brother-in-law Ivan Matković, a police officer at the border military police station.

The couple were financially stable but childless, so they agreed to look after the infant and brought him up as their own in their house on the bank of the Drina River.

Meanwhile, Andrić’s mother returned to Sarajevo seeking employment.

Andrić was raised in a country that had changed little since the Ottoman period despite being mandated to Austria-Hungary at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

Eastern and Western culture intermingled in Bosnia to a far greater extent than anywhere else in the Balkan peninsula.

Having lived there from an early age, Andrić came to cherish Višegrad, calling it “my real home“.

Though it was a small provincial town (or kasaba), Višegrad proved to be an enduring source of inspiration.

It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional town, the predominant groups being Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks).

 

Višegrad

Above: Images of Visegrad

 

(Like Andric, I was born elsewhere than the place I think of as home, though to Andric’s credit he lovingly wrote about his birthplace in The Travnik Chronicle.

I could imagine writing about St. Philippe, my childhood hometown, but I feel no intimate connection to St. Eustache, my birthplace, whatsoever, despite the latter having a larger claim to fame than the “blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” village of my youth.)

 

Above: St. Eustache City Hall

 

(My imagination plays with the notion of St. Philippe as “St. Jerusalem” and St. Eustache described during the Rebellion of 1837.)

 

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Above: The Battle of St. Eustache, 14 December 1837

 

From an early age, Andrić closely observed the customs of the local people.

These customs, and the particularities of life in eastern Bosnia, would later be detailed in his works.

Andrić made his first friends in Višegrad, playing with them along the Drina River and the town’s famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge.

 

Visegrad bridge by Klackalica.jpg

 

(The area was part of the medieval Serbian state of the Nemanjić dynasty.

It was part of the Grand Principality of Serbia under Stefan Nemanja (r. 1166–96).

In the Middle Ages, Dobrun was a place within the border area with Bosnia, on the road towards Višegrad.

After the death of Emperor Stefan Dušan (r. 1331–55), the region came under the rule of magnate Vojislav Vojinović, and then his nephew, župan (count) Nikola Altomanović.

The Dobrun Monastery was founded by župan Pribil and his family, some time before the 1370s.

 

Above: Dobrun Monastery

 

The area then came under the rule of the Kingdom of Bosnia, part of the estate of the Pavlović noble family.

The settlement of Višegrad is mentioned in 1407, but is starting to be more often mentioned after 1427.

In the period of 1433–37, a relatively short period, caravans crossed the settlement many times.

Many people from Višegrad worked for the Republic of Ragusa.

Srebrenica and Višegrad and its surroundings were again in Serbian hands in 1448 after Despot Đurađ Branković defeated Bosnian forces.

 

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Above: Durad Brankovic (1377 – 1456)

 

According to Turkish sources, in 1454, Višegrad was conquered by the Ottoman Empire led by Osman Pasha.

It remained under the Ottoman rule until the Berlin Congress (1878), when Austria-Hungary took control of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

 

The Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge was built by the Ottoman architect and engineer Mimar Sinan for Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha.

Construction of the bridge took place between 1571 and 1577.

It still stands, and it is now a tourist attraction, after being inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

 

UNESCO logo English.svg

 

The Bosnian Eastern Railway from Sarajevo to Uvac and Vardište was built through Višegrad during the Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Construction of the line started in 1903.

It was completed in 1906, using the 760 mm (2 ft 5 1516 in) track gauge.

With the cost of 75 million gold crowns, which approximately translates to 450 thousand gold crowns per kilometer, it was one of the most expensive railways in the world built by that time.

This part of the line was eventually extended to Belgrade in 1928.

Višegrad is today part of the narrow-gauge heritage railway Šargan Eight.

 

The area was a site of Partisan–German battles during World War II.

Višegrad is one of several towns along the River Drina in close proximity to the Serbian border.

The town was strategically important during the Bosnian War conflict.

A nearby hydroelectric dam provided electricity and also controlled the level of the River Drina, preventing flooding downstream areas.

The town is situated on the main road connecting Belgrade and Užice in Serbia with Goražde and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a vital link for the Užice Corps of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) with the Uzamnica camp as well as other strategic locations implicated in the conflict.

 

 

On 6 April 1992, JNA artillery bombarded the town, in particular Bosniak-inhabited neighbourhoods and nearby villages.

Murat Šabanović and a group of Bosniak men took several local Serbs hostage and seized control of the hydroelectric dam, threatening to blow it up.

Water was released from the dam causing flooding to some houses and streets.

Eventually on 12 April, JNA commandos seized the dam.

 

Бањска стена - Тешке боје.jpg

 

The next day the JNA’s Užice Corps took control of Višegrad, positioning tanks and heavy artillery around the town.

The population that had fled the town during the crisis returned and the climate in the town remained relatively calm and stable during the later part of April and the first two weeks of May.

On 19 May 1992 the Užice Corps officially withdrew from the town and local Serb leaders established control over Višegrad and all municipal government offices.

 

Soon after, local Serbs, police and paramilitaries began one of the most notorious campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the conflict.

There was widespread looting and destruction of houses, and terrorizing of Bosniak civilians, with instances of rape, with a large number of Bosniaks killed in the town, with many bodies were dumped in the River Drina.

Men were detained at the barracks at Uzamnica, the Vilina Vlas Hotel and other sites in the area.

Vilina Vlas also served as a “brothel“, in which Bosniak women and girls (some not yet 14 years old), were brought to by police officers and paramilitary members (White Eagles and Arkan’s Tigers).

 

Visegradska banja vilina vlas by Klackalica.jpg

Above: Vilina Vlas Hotel today

 

Bosniaks detained at Uzamnica were subjected to inhumane conditions, including regular beatings, torture and strenuous forced labour.

Both of the town’s mosques were razed.

According to victims’ reports some 3,000 Bosniaks were murdered in Višegrad and its surroundings, including some 600 women and 119 children.

According to the Research and Documentation Center, at least 1,661 Bosniaks were killed/missing in Višegrad.

 

With the Dayton Agreement, which put an end to the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, the latter which Višegrad became part of.

 

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Above: Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Before the war, 63% of the town residents were Bosniak.

In 2009, only a handful of survivors had returned to what is now a predominantly Serb town.

On 5 August 2001, survivors of the massacre returned to Višegrad for the burial of 180 bodies exhumed from mass graves.

The exhumation lasted for two years and the bodies were found in 19 different mass graves.

The charges of mass rape were unapproved as the prosecutors failed to request them in time.

Cousins Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić were convicted on 20 July 2009, to life in prison and 30 years, respectively, for a 1992 killing spree of Muslims.

 

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Above: Milan Lukic

 

The Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge was popularized by Andric in his novel The Bridge on the Drina.

A tourist site called Andricgrad (Andric Town) dedicated to Andric, is located near the Bridge.

Construction of Andrićgrad, also known as Kamengrad (Каменград, “Stonetown“) started on 28 June 2011, and was officially opened on 28 June 2014, on Vidovdan.)

 

Above: Main Street, Andricgrad

 

Throughout his life Andric was tied to Visegrad by pleasant reminiscences and bright memories of childhood.

 

The Bridge on the Drina.jpg

Above: First edition of The Bridge on the Drina (Serbian)

 

At the age of ten, he received a three-year scholarship from a Croat cultural group called Napredak (Progress) to study in Sarajevo.

In the autumn of 1902, he was registered at the Great Sarajevo Gymnasium (Serbo-Croatian: Velika Sarajevska gimnazija), the oldest secondary school in Bosnia.

While in Sarajevo, Andrić lived with his mother, who worked in a rug factory as a weaver.

 

 

(Today Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a population of 275,524 in its administrative limits.

The Sarajevo metropolitan area,  is home to 555,210 inhabitants.

Nestled within the greater Sarajevo valley of Bosnia, it is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River in the heart of the Balkans.

Sarajevo is the political, financial, social and cultural center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a prominent center of culture in the Balkans, with its region-wide influence in entertainment, media, fashion, and the arts.

Due to its long and rich history of religious and cultural diversity, Sarajevo is sometimes called the “Jerusalem of Europeor “Jerusalem of the Balkans“.

It is one of only a few major European cities which have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue in the same neighborhood.

A regional center in education, the city is home to the Balkans first institution of tertiary education in the form of an Islamic polytechnic called the Saraybosna Osmanlı Medrese, today part of the University of Sarajevo.

Although settlement in the area stretches back to prehistoric times, the modern city arose as an Ottoman stronghold in the 15th century.

Sarajevo has attracted international attention several times throughout its history.

In 1885, Sarajevo was the first city in Europe and the second city in the world to have a full-time electric tram network running through the city, following San Francisco….)

 

 

At the time, the city was overflowing with civil servants from all parts of Austria-Hungary, and thus many languages could be heard in its restaurants, cafés and on its streets.

Culturally, the city boasted a strong Germanic element, and the curriculum in educational institutions was designed to reflect this.

From a total of 83 teachers that worked at Andrić’s school over a twenty-year period, only three were natives of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The teaching program,” biographer Celia Hawkesworth notes, “was devoted to producing dedicated supporters of the Habsburg Monarchy.”

Andrić disapproved.

All that came at secondary school and university,” he wrote, “was rough, crude, automatic, without concern, faith, humanity, warmth or love.

 

Andrić experienced difficulty in his studies, finding mathematics particularly challenging, and had to repeat the sixth grade.

For a time, he lost his scholarship due to poor grades.

Hawkesworth attributes Andrić’s initial lack of academic success at least partly to his alienation from most of his teachers.

Nonetheless, he excelled in languages, particularly Latin, Greek and German.

Although he initially showed substantial interest in natural sciences, he later began focusing on literature, likely under the influence of his two Croat instructors, writer and politician Đuro Šurmin and poet Tugomir Alaupović.

Of all his teachers in Sarajevo, Andrić liked Alaupović best and the two became lifelong friends.

 

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Above: Tugomir Alaupovic (1870 – 1958)

 

Andrić felt he was destined to become a writer.

He began writing in secondary school, but received little encouragement from his mother.

He recalled that when he showed her one of his first works, she replied:

“Did you write this? What did you do that for?”

Andrić published his first poem “U sumrak” (At dusk)  in 1911 in a journal called Bosanska vila (Bosnian Fairy), which promoted Serbo-Croat unity.

At the time, he was still a secondary school student.

His poems, essays, reviews, and translations appeared in journals such as Vihor (Whirlwind), Savremenik (The Contemporary), Hrvatski pokret (The Croatian Movement), and Književne novine (Literary News).

One of Andrić’s favorite literary forms was lyrical reflective prose, and many of his essays and shorter pieces are prose poems.

The historian Wayne S. Vucinich describes Andrić’s poetry from this period as “subjective and mostly melancholic“.

Andrić’s translations of August Strindberg’s novel Black Flag, Walt Whitman, and a number of Slovene authors also appeared around this time.

 

August Strindberg

Above: Swedish writer August Strindberg (1849 – 1912)

 

In 1908, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the chagrin of South Slav nationalists like Andrić.

In late 1911, Andrić was elected the first president of the Serbo-Croat Progressive Movement (Serbo-Croatian: Srpsko-Hrvatska Napredna Organizacija; SHNO), a Sarajevo-based secret society that promoted unity and friendship between Serb and Croat youth and opposed the Austro-Hungarian occupation.

Its members were vehemently criticized by both Serb and Croat nationalists, who dismissed them as “traitors to their nations“.

Unfazed, Andrić continued agitating against the Austro-Hungarians.

On 28 February 1912, he spoke before a crowd of 100 student protesters at Sarajevo’s railway station, urging them to continue their demonstrations.

The Austro-Hungarian police later began harassing and prosecuting SHNO members.

Ten were expelled from their schools or penalized in some other way, though Andrić himself escaped punishment.

Andrić also joined the South Slav student movement known as Young Bosnia, becoming one of its most prominent members.

 

 

In 1912, Andrić registered at the University of Zagreb, having received a scholarship from an educational foundation in Sarajevo.

He enrolled in the department of mathematics and natural sciences because these were the only fields for which scholarships were offered, but was able to take some courses in Croatian literature.

 

University of Zagreb logo.svg

 

(Today Zagreb is the capital and the largest city of Croatia.

It is located in the northwest of the country, along the Sava River, at the southern slopes of Mount Medvednica.

 

 

The climate of Zagreb is classified as an oceanic climate, but with significant continental influences and very closely bordering on a humid Continental climate as well as a humid subtropical climate.

Zagreb has four separate seasons.

Summers are warm, at the end of May the temperatures start rising and it is often pleasant with occasional thunderstorms.

Heatwaves can occur but are short-lived.

Temperatures rise above 30 °C (86 °F) on an average 14.6 days each summer.

Rainfall is abundant in the summertime and it continues to be in autumn as well.

Zagreb is Europe’s 9th wettest capital, behind Luxembourg and ahead of Brussels, Belgium.

Autumn in its early stages is mild with an increase of rainy days and precipitation as well as a steady temperature fall towards its end.

Morning fog is common from mid-October to January with northern city districts at the foothills of the Medvednica mountain as well as those along the Sava river being more prone to all-day fog accumulation.

Winters are cold with a precipitation decrease pattern.

Even though there is no discernible dry season, February is the driest month with 39 mm of precipitation.

On average there are 29 days with snowfall with first snow falling in early November.

Springs are generally mild and pleasant with frequent weather changes and are windier than other seasons.

Sometimes cold spells can occur, mostly in its early stages.

The average daily mean temperature in the winter is around 1 °C (34 °F) (from December to February) and the average temperature in the summer is 22.0 °C (71.6 °F).

 

 

Zagreb is a city with a rich history dating from the Roman times to the present day.

The oldest settlement located in the vicinity of the city was the Roman Andautonia, in today’s Ščitarjevo.

The name “Zagreb” is recorded in 1134, in reference to the foundation of the settlement at Kaptol in 1094.

Zagreb became a free royal town in 1242.

In 1851 Zagreb had its first mayor, Janko Kamauf.

After the 1880 Zagreb earthquake, up to the 1914 outbreak of World War I, development flourished and the town received the characteristic layout which it has today.

 

 

Zagreb still occasionally experiences earthquakes, due to the proximity of Žumberak-Medvednica fault zone.

It’s classified as an area of high seismic activity.

The area around Medvednica was the epicentre of the 1880 Zagreb earthquake (magnitude 6.3), and the area is known for occasional landslide threatening houses in the area.

The proximity of strong seismic sources presents a real danger of strong earthquakes.

Croatian Chief of Office of Emergency Management Pavle Kalinić stated Zagreb experiences around 400 earthquakes a year, most of them being imperceptible.

However, in case of a strong earthquake, it’s expected that 3,000 people would die and up to 15,000 would be wounded.

 

Zagreb Cathedral interior 1880.jpg

Above: Damage done to Zagreb Cathedral, 9 November 1880

 

The first horse-drawn tram was used in 1891.

The construction of the railway lines enabled the old suburbs to merge gradually into Donji Grad, characterised by a regular block pattern that prevails in Central European cities.

This bustling core hosts many imposing buildings, monuments, and parks as well as a multitude of museums, theatres and cinemas.

An electric power plant was built in 1907.

 

Since 1 January 1877, the Grič cannon is fired daily from the Lotrščak Tower on Grič to mark midday.

 

 

The first half of the 20th century saw a considerable expansion of Zagreb.

Before World War I, the city expanded and neighbourhoods like Stara Peščenica in the east and Črnomerec in the west were created.

The transport connections, concentration of industry, scientific, and research institutions and industrial tradition underlie its leading economic position in Croatia.

Zagreb is the seat of the central government, administrative bodies, and almost all government ministries.

Almost all of the largest Croatian companies, media, and scientific institutions have their headquarters in the city.

Zagreb is the most important transport hub in Croatia where Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Southeast Europe meet, making the Zagreb area the centre of the road, rail and air networks of Croatia.

It is a city known for its diverse economy, high quality of living, museums, sporting and entertainment events.

Its main branches of economy are high-tech industries and the service sector.

 

 

Zagreb is an important tourist centre, not only in terms of passengers travelling from the rest of Europe to the Adriatic Sea, but also as a travel destination itself.

It attracts close to a million visitors annually, mainly from Austria, Germany and Italy, and in recent years many tourists from the Far East (South Korea, Japan, China and India).

It has become an important tourist destination, not only in Croatia, but considering the whole region of southeastern Europe.

There are many interesting sights and happenings for tourists to attend in Zagreb, for example, the two statues of Saint George, one at the Republic of Croatia Square, the other at Kamenita vrata, where the image of Virgin Mary is said to be only thing that hasn’t burned in the 17th-century fire.

Also, there is an art installation starting in Bogovićeva street, called Nine Views.

Most people don’t know what the statue “Prizemljeno Sunce” (The Grounded Sun) is for, and just scrawl graffiti or signatures on it, but it’s actually the Sun scaled down, with many planets situated all over Zagreb in scale with the Sun.

There are also many festivals and events throughout the year, making Zagreb a year-round tourist destination.

The historical part of the city to the north of Ban Jelačić Square is composed of the Gornji Grad and Kaptol, a medieval urban complex of churches, palaces, museums, galleries and government buildings that are popular with tourists on sightseeing tours.

The historic district can be reached on foot, starting from Jelačić Square, the centre of Zagreb, or by a funicular on nearby Tomićeva Street.

Each Saturday, (April – September), on St. Mark’s Square in the Upper town, tourists can meet members of the Order of The Silver Dragon (Red Srebrnog Zmaja), who reenact famous historical conflicts between Gradec and Kaptol.

It’s a great opportunity for all visitors to take photographs of authentic and fully functional historical replicas of medieval armour.

 

 

Numerous shops, boutiques, store houses and shopping centres offer a variety of quality clothing.

There are about fourteen big shopping centres in Zagreb.

Zagreb’s offerings include crystal, china and ceramics, wicker or straw baskets, and top-quality Croatian wines and gastronomic products.

Notable Zagreb souvenirs are the tie or cravat, an accessory named after Croats who wore characteristic scarves around their necks in the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century and the ball-point pen, a tool developed from the inventions by Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, an inventor and a citizen of Zagreb.

Many Zagreb restaurants offer various specialties of national and international cuisine.

Domestic products which deserve to be tasted include turkey, duck or goose with mlinci (a kind of pasta), štrukli (cottage cheese strudel), sir i vrhnje (cottage cheese with cream), kremšnite (custard slices in flaky pastry) and orehnjača (traditional walnut roll). )

 

 

Andrić was well received by South Slav nationalists in Zagreb and regularly participated in on-campus demonstrations.

This led to his being reprimanded by the university.

In 1913, after completing two semesters in Zagreb, Andrić transferred to the University of Vienna, where he resumed his studies.

 

Uni-Vienna-seal.png

 

(Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria.

Vienna is Austria’s principal city, with a population of about 1.9 million (2.6 million within the metropolitan area, nearly one third of the country’s population), and its cultural, economic and political centre.

It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants.

Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin.

Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC.

The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

These regions work together in a European Centrope border region.

Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants.

In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psychoanalyst – Sigmund Freud.

The city’s roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements that transformed into a Medieval and Baroque city, and then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It is well known for having played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century.

The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstraße lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.

Vienna is known for its high quality of life.

In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the city first (in a tie with Vancouver and San Francisco) for the world’s most liveable cities.

Between 2011 and 2015, Vienna was ranked second, behind Melbourne.

In 2018, it replaced Melbourne as the number one spot.

For ten consecutive years (2009–2019), the human-resource-consulting firm Mercer ranked Vienna first in its annual “Quality of Living” survey of hundreds of cities around the world.

Monocle’s 2015 “Quality of Life Survey” ranked Vienna second on a list of the top 25 cities in the world “to make a base within.”

The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013.

The city was ranked 1st globally for its culture of innovation in 2007 and 2008, and sixth globally (out of 256 cities) in the 2014 Innovation Cities Index, which analyzed 162 indicators in covering three areas: culture, infrastructure, and markets.

Vienna regularly hosts urban planning conferences and is often used as a case study by urban planners.

Between 2005 and 2010, Vienna was the world’s number-one destination for international congresses and conventions.

It attracts over 6.8 million tourists a year.)

 

From top, left to right: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna City Hall, St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna State Opera, and Austrian Parliament Building

Above: Images of Vienna (Wien)

 

While in Vienna, Andric joined South Slav students in promoting the cause of Yugoslav unity and worked closely with two Yugoslav student societies, the Serbian cultural society Zora (Dawn) and the Croatian student club Zvonimir, which shared his views on “integral Yugoslavism” (the eventual assimilation of all South Slav cultures into one).

Andric became acquainted with Soren Kierkegaard’s book Either / Or, which would have a lasting influence on him.

 

A head-and-shoulders portrait sketch of a young man in his twenties that emphasizes his face, full hair, open and forward-looking eyes and a hint of a smile. He wears a formal necktie and lapel.

Above: Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

 

Despite finding like-minded students in Vienna, the city’s climate took a toll on Andrić’s health.

He contracted tuberculosis and became seriously ill, then asked to leave Vienna on medical grounds and continue his studies elsewhere, though Hawkesworth believes he may actually have been taking part in a protest of South Slav students that were boycotting German-speaking universities and transferring to Slavic ones.

 

For a time, Andrić had considered transferring to a school in Russia but ultimately decided to complete his fourth semester at Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

 

POL Jagiellonian University logo.svg

Above: Logo of Jagiellonian University

 

(Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland.

Situated on the Vistula River, the city dates back to the 7th century.

Kraków was the official capital of Poland until 1596 and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, economic, cultural and artistic life.

Cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, its Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city.

It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading centre of Central Europe in 965.

With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic centre.

The city has a population of about 770,000, with approximately 8 million additional people living within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of its main square.

 

 

After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany at the start of World War II, the newly defined Distrikt Krakau (Kraków District) became the capital of Germany’s General Government.

The Jewish population of the city was forced into a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto, from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz never to return, and the Nazi concentration camps like Płaszów.

 

Krakow Ghetto Gate 73170.jpg

 

In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II—the first Slavic pope ever and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

 

John Paul II on 12 August 1993 in Denver, Colorado

Above: Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005)

 

Also that year, UNESCO approved the first ever sites for its new World Heritage List, including the entire Old Town in inscribing Kraków’s Historic Centre.

Kraków is classified as a global city with the ranking of high sufficiency by GaWC.

Its extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture includes the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula, the St. Mary’s Basilica, Saints Peter and Paul Church and the largest medieval market square in Europe, the Rynek Główny.

Kraków is home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world and traditionally Poland’s most reputable institution of higher learning.

In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture.

In 2013 Kraków was officially approved as a UNESCO City of Literature.

The city hosted the World Youth Day in July 2016.)

 

 

Throughout his life Andric would feel that he owed much to the Polish excursion.

Andric met and mingled with painters Jovan Bijelic, Roman Petrovic and Peter Tijesic.

He transferred in early 1914 and continued to publish translations, poems and reviews.

Six poems written by Andric were included in the anthology Hrvatska Mlada Linka (Young Christian Lyricists).

In the words of literary critics:

As unhappy as any artist.  Ambitious.  Sensitive.  Briefly speaking, he has a future.

 

Flag of Poland

Above: Flag of Poland

 

(This perspective has always made me wonder….

Must a man suffer before he can call himself an artist?)

 

A portrait of Vincent van Gogh from the right; he is wearing a winter hat, his ear is bandaged and he has no beard.

 

Certainly, Andric lost his father and was separated from his mother in his childhood and the domination of his homeland by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire clearly bothered him, nonetheless Andric had had the distinct privilege of living and studying in four of the most beautiful and cultural cities that Eastern Europe offers.

Certainly, Andric would be plagued with ill health often during the course of his lifetime, but it would not be until the outbreak of war in 1914 that his, and Europe’s, suffering would truly begin….

(To be continued….)

Image result for ivo andric museum belgrade images

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Eastern Europe / Belgrade City Museum, Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric Guide / Komshe Travel Guides, Serbia in Your Hands / Top Travel Guides, Belgrade / Bradt Guides, Serbia / Aleksandar Diklic, Belgrade: The Eternal City / Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina / Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside

Canada Slim Underground

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 9 November 2017

I don´t drive.

I never learned how.

(I know….strange for a Canadian adult to say that, eh?)

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

We own a car.

My wife drives it.

My work takes me to places well outside of reasonable walking distance, so I spend a lot of time on buses and trains.

And as much as I dislike bus travel and loathe the SBB (Schweizerisches Bundesbahnen or Swiss Federal Railways), the one advantage that constant passenger travel offers me is the opportunity to read.

SBB-CFF-FFS.svg

Recently I have been reading Ben Aaronovitch´s Rivers of London, the first in his series of Peter Grant novels.

Rivers of London.jpg

“Meet DC Peter Grant. 

He will show you his city. 

But it´s not the capital that you all see as you make your way from tube to bus, from Elephant to Castle. 

It´s a city that under its dark surface is packed full of crime. 

And of magic. 

A city that you never suspected….”

Monday, after a frustrating day at work, I bought myself J. K. Rowling´s The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Tales of Beedle the Bard.jpg

Inspired by this purchase, today I bought the British Museum´s Harry Potter: A Journey through the History of Magic.

Just ten days ago I bought at Heathrow Airport a keychain train ticket passage from London to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, departing from King´s Cross Station´s Platform 9 3/4.

If there is one thing that Aaronovitch and Rowling (the Harry Potter series) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes series) have taught me is that there is much we take for granted and that magic lies just below the surface of what we see.

Just yesterday, I went into Kreuzlingen and Konstanz to get our phone repaired and to do some shopping to change the funky mood I have been in since Monday, and I serendiptiously made some discoveries.

I had lunch in a Japanese café I had not known existed on the Hauptstrasse and was served by a young woman from Newcastle, England.

I visited the Kreuzlingen Tourist Information Centre and I found myself astonished to bring home many brochures and pamplets from my visit.

Later still I found a street in Konstanz that leads from the border post to  Rosengartenstraße, offering restaurants previously undiscovered and a second hand shop that gives away free CDs and books from time to time.

So often I think I know a place and then I am surprised by something new that had escaped my previous attention.

As tourists we visit places with preconceptions of places that often are quite different from reality.

From 23 to 29 October, the wife and I visited London and, of necessity, we rode the London Underground with its own magic just under the surface….

London Underground logo, known as the roundel, is made of a red circle with a horizontal blue bar.

London, England, 23 October 2017

It was inevitable.

First day in London and we were compelled to use the Tube, London´s nickname/brandname for its Underground subterranean railway system.

The world´s first below-ground railway, first began operations in 1863, the Underground handles over 1 billion passengers a year, at an average of 8 million per day, and yet it is not the world´s busiest metro system.

Ten other cities have busier systems with Beijing the busiest.

Beijing Subway logo.svg

Though the entire London Underground comprises a total of 250 miles/400 km of track, Shanghai has the longest route system.

Shanghai Metro Full Logo.svg

Although the Underground has 270 stations, New York City has more.

File:MTA New York City Subway logo.svg

There are 157 cities in 55 countries that possess a metro system.

This country boy has only ridden the metro systems in 21 cities in 15 countries.

(As fellow Canadian Michael J. Fox commented in the NYC-set 1993 movie The Concierge / For Love or Money, “I take the subway like any other animal.”)

ForLoveorMoney1993.jpg

And the idea of having a metro system keeps expanding, with Australian cities like Melbourne and Sydney constructing new metro systems, and even Honolulu getting into the metro scene.

But the London Tube, being the oldest, is the metro system with the longest history of being under attack.

As early as 30 October 1883 (Paddington Station) and as late as 15 September 2017 (Parsons Green), the Tube has been bombed (or has been attempted to be bombed) for over 150 years.

ParsonsGreen1.jpg

And the memory of the 7/7 Tube attacks in 2005 remains fresh in many people´s minds, when bombs were set off between Aldgate and Liverpool Street stations, Russell Square and Kings Cross St. Pancras stations, and Edgware Road and Paddington stations, and on a double decker bus above ground on Tavistock Road, resulting in the deaths of 52 UK residents of 18 different nationalities* and more than 700 people injured.

(*Every week 2,000 migrants unload at Victoria Coach Station.

Victoria Coach Station, Buckingham Palace Road 4711332 af8ae6e6.jpg

At least 55% of people living in London are not ethnically white British.

There are more people in London with little or no English than the entire population of the city of Newcastle.)

Still Londoners and visitors keep calm and ride the Tube.*

(*Except for, sadly, those who use the Tube to commit suicide.

In the first decade of the new Millennium, there were 643 suicide attempts on the Underground between 2000 and 2010, including successful attempts.

King's Cross St Pancras underground station entrance - IMG 0746.JPG

More people commit suicide at King´s Cross and Victoria stations than at any other Tube location.

Victoria tube antrance.jpg

People who throw themselves under Tube trains are called “one-unders” by the staff.

In New York they call them “track pizza”.)

During the London Blitz in World War II many people used Tube stations as bomb shelters.

Above: Aldwych Tube Station, 1940

A Tube station was never once struck by aerial bombardment.

But on 3 March 1943, after British media reported a heavy RAF raid on Berlin on the night of 1 March, the air raid Civil Defence siren sounded at 8:17 pm, triggering a heavy but orderly flow of people down the blacked-out staircase leading to Bethal Green station from the street.

A middle-aged woman and a child fell over, three steps up from the base and others fell around her, tangled in an immovable mass, which grew as they struggled, to nearly 300 people.

Some managed to get free, but 173 people, most of them women and children, were crushed and asphixiated.

And speaking of Tube air quality, an environmental study in 2000 showed that the air quality of the Tube was 73 times worse than the air quality above ground.

In the heatwave of 2006, temperatures inside the Tube reached the sweltering extreme of 47° Celcius/117° Fahrenheit.

Still Londoners and visitors keep calm and ride the Tube in 26 of London´s 32 boroughs.

Our experience in London left me with an uncertainty of how to feel about the Tube.

It is definitely an odd sensation to stand in a Tube car where no one talks to one another as if talking on the Tube was an silent taboo everyone understood.

Is it a shared misery to ride the Tube wherein one mustn´t complain?

It is certainly an exercise in map-reading and decryption trying to navigate through London´s maze of Underground stations and lines, which always makes me wonder if the architects who designed the entire network were inspired to create a system that resembles multi-coloured strands of twisted spaghetti thrown randomly upon the heart of this great metropolis after nursing hangovers in an Italian restaurant.

It wouldn´t at all surprise me if this were true.

Setting out to explore London on two feet remains the best way to discover the city´s most interesting corners, but above ground navigation can be equally confusing.

As well, the distance between central Tube stations is always further than you think, as the schematic Tube map is very misleading.

So most Londoners find that, except for very short journeys, the Tube is the quickest way to get around and about London.

Eleven different lines cross much of the metropolis, although south of the Thames River is not very well-covered.

Each line has its own colour and name.

All you need to know is which direction you are travelling in: northbound, southbound, westbound, eastbound, unless you are taking the Circle Line then…..well, good luck, mate.

As a precaution, one must also check the final destination displayed on the front of the train, as some lines, such as the District and Northern Lines, have several different branches.

All this complexity which Londoners take simply in stride does this country boy´s head in.

I grew up in a village of less than 500 people and live today in a village with a little more than 700.

There is almost no planning or logistics computation needed to navigate from one end of the village to the other.

Only one city in Switzerland has a metro – surprisingly neither Zurich nor Geneva do – Lausanne, with its two lines and 30 stations, is the smallest city in the world to have such a system.

Pink circle with three diagonal white lozenges forming stylised letter 'm'

Above: The logo of the Lausanne Métro

So though I have visited and lived in cities with metro systems, I have never felt at ease zooming at high speed through underground tunnels in overcrowded trains.

Yet despite all this I know there is magic and history to be found in London´s Underground.

Some of the history of the Underground is horrible.

Victorian Londoners were very superstitious.

One preacher, Dr. Cuming, said that digging into the ground would be digging into Hell and the Devil would be disturbed.

(Even today people say the Underground is Hell.)

The first Tube trains ran on 10 January 1863 from Paddington to Farringdon.

Sketch showing about a dozen people standing on an underground railway platform with a train standing at the platform. Several more people are visible inside the train, which has the words "Baker St" visible on its side.

So many people got on at the start that there was no room for anyone to get on at the other stations.

(Not a lot has changed since then.)

Steam trains were used for the first 25 years, filling the tunnels with smoke.

The railway companies said the smoke was a good thing.

If you had a bad chest then Tube smoke would clear it.

(….and putting your head on the track will cure your headache.)

Electric trains were first used in 1890.

The law said a person would be fined two Pounds if he/she tried to ride on the roof of an electric train.

If you rode on the roof your head would be knocked off.

Headache gone, two Pounds saved.

To test the first escalators, of which the Tube now has 426, the operators used a man called Bumper Harris to demonstrate that even a man with two wooden legs could use the escalators safely.

The first Tube carriages had no windows and had buttoned seats, looking uncannily similar to the padded cells of insane asylums, which might lead one to question the sanity of riding the Tube.

The tunnels were cleaned at night by ladies with feather dusters, dustpans and brushes.

They were known as “fluffers”!

Many carriages are too small today for many people who travel on the Tube, as the tunnels were built in the 1860s when people were smaller.

And, of course, an old Underground must be rumoured to be haunted.

An actress from the Royal Strand Theatre, knocked down to build Aldwych Station, is said to haunt Aldwych.

Station entrance when open: a canopy covers the station's previous name.

(More on Aldwych in a moment…)

Sarah Whitehead became a nun and haunts Bank Station, because she is searching for her brother Philip who was executed in 1811 for forging bank notes.

Bankwbankofengland.jpg

Above: Entry to Bank Station, in front of the Bank of England

The ghost of Amen-Ra, an Egyptian pharoah who died in about 1500 BC was said to haunt the abandoned British Museum station, because the trains disturbed its eternal slumber.

Wearing only a loincloth and Egyptian headdress, he was said to scream so loudly that the sound would carry down the tunnels to the adjoining Holborn tube station.

The rumour grew so strong that in 1932 a newspaper offered a reward to anyone who would spend the night there.

No one took up the challenge.

The story takes a stranger turn after the closure of the station on 25 September 1933.

The comedy thriller Bulldog Jack, made in 1935, featured a chase through a secret tunnel that led from the station (called Bloomsbury in the film) to the Egyptian Room of the Museum, from where a necklace belonging to Amen-Ra was stolen.

UK film poster - Bulldog Jack.jpg

On the very night that the film was released, two women are said to have disappeared from the platform at Holborn – the next station along from the British Museum station.

Oblique angle view of pedestrians on a wide pavement passing the station entrance in a stone building. A long blue canopy bears the words "Holborn station" and a clear glazed screen above contains the London Underground roundel in blue, white and red glass.

Strange marks were later found on the walls of the closed station.

More sightings of the ghost were reported, along with weird moanings from within the tunnels.

London Underground has always denied the existence of a tunnel from the station to the Egyptian Room.

The actor William Terriss was stabbed to death in 1897 and is said to haunt the Covent Garden station.

Above: William Terriss (1847 – 1897)

One can hear the tapping of footsteps and doors flung open at the Elephant and Castle station.

“The Screaming Spectre” of Anne Naylor, who was murdered and chopped to pieces by her mistress in 1758, is said to haunt Farringdon Station.

Farringdon station new building open 2012.JPG

There is no Tube station at Muswell Hill as there is supposed to be, as construction workers came across a deep pit full of the skeletons of people buried during the Plague.

And there are, of course, the urban legends with just enough truth in the telling to make the tales believable.

An art student, a woman was travelling on the Underground back to her campus from central London late at night – she no remembers which line – alone except for one other person – a man in his 30s – in an empty carriage when three people boarded – she can´t recall which station – and sat opposite her.

The art student decided that the trio looked like drug addicts and avoided making eye contact with them.

Then the 30-something man started acting strangely.

He walked over to the student and behaved as if he knew her, asking:

“Hi.  How are you?  I´ve not spoken to you in a long time.”

….before leaning into her and whispering:

“Get off at the next stop.”

The student was wary of this, but did not wish to be left alone on the train with what she thought were three drug addicts, so she followed the man off the train and onto the platform.

Once they were off the train, the man revealed to the student that the girl in the trio was dead.

He had seen the two men drag her onto the train with a pair of scissors embedded in the back of her skull.

The story of the corpse on the train….simply an urban legend….just a horror story about travelling with strangers in enclosed spaces?

People do die on London´s public transport.

There are instances when bodies have been found on the Tube, if rumour and gossip are to be believed.

A train arrived at the East Finchley station at the end of the morning peak time.

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The crew inspected the train and found a man slumped in a seat, who they tried to wake.

They discovered that the man was dead, and had been for so long that rigor mortis had set in and he was rigid in his seat.

The body had to be removed by being laid sideways on a stretcher to prevent it rolling off.

While rigor mortis begins three to four hours after death – so it was possible after the morning peak – maximum stiffness does not set in until around twelve hours.

It is possible the body was left overnight on the Tube.

On the eastbound Piccadilly Line at Southfields, a passenger raised the alarm when a man on the packed train seemed “a bit poorly”.

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The guard did not wish to delay the train so he persuaded a couple of passengers to help him drag the corpse off the train and left it sitting upright on a bench.

The police were called and complained about the disrespectful treatment of a body.

The guard then responded with:

“What else could I do?  I couldn´t delay the train, could I?”

121 Westminster Bridge Road was once the site of London´s strangest railway station – the terminus of the Necropolis Railway, which operated between 1854 and 1941.

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In the mid-nineteenth century, cemetery spaces in London were becoming increasingly limited due to the rapid increase in population and the legacy of the cholera outbreaks of recent years.

So, in an effort to find a solution, Richard Bourn started the Necropolis Railway Company.

A station was first set up in York Street, opposite Waterloo, from where trains could transport the London dead to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

Map of a city surrounded by small cemeteries, and two larger proposed cemeteries slightly further out. A railway line runs from the city to a single large cemetery to the southwest, a long way further out.

When Waterloo was expanded at the turn of the 20th century, the Necropolis line had to be relocated to allow more room for regular train services, so a new terminus was opened in Westminster Bridge Road in 1902.

The railway was divided both by class and by religion with 1st, 2nd and 3rd class tickets for each.

Railway ticket labelled "Southern Railways London Necropolis Coffin Ticket, Waterloo to Brookwood, Third Class

These class divisions didn´t just apply to the travelling mourners; they also affected the style in which the deceased travelled, with more ornate coffins and storage compartments for 1st class, while in 3rd class the plain coffins were stacked up and crammed into a hearse carriage.

On arrival at the terminus, mourners would be led to an appropriate class waiting room, while the coffin was discreetly unloaded from the hearse and sent to platform level by lift.

At its peak, 50 corpses a day were transported along this line.

One of the more notable bodies to be carried by the train was that of Friedrich Engels, the German socialist political theorist and philosopher, who died in London on 5 August 1895.

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Above: Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895)

Engels had expressed a wish to be cremated and for his ashes to be cremated at sea, but at the time there was no crematorium near London, so he was taken first to Brookwood, then on to Woking Crematorium.

By the 1930s London had more cemeteries and crematoria of its own, so the service was reduced to two trains a week.

During the Second World War the station was heavily damaged in an air raid, which brought the Necropolis Railway to a halt.

The repair work was not seen as financially worthwhile, so at the end of the War the station building was sold as office space.

The track to the cemetery was removed in 1947.

As previously stated above, there are 267 tube stations in operation.

Twenty-one have been taken offline since 1900.

Most of them were closed when London Transport was created in 1933, merging several independent transit operators who had been stations very close to each other to compete for passengers.

Some were a real loss for commuters, while others had just been badly designed.

Most of these ghost stations have been abandoned or walled up.

Visiting these ghost stations is largely impossible.

Closed since 1994, the ox-blood red brick facade of Aldwych Underground still stands on the corner of the Strand and Surrey Street.

During WW II, Aldwych was used as an air raid shelter, while treasures from the British Museum were stashed away in the tunnels.

Today, the abandoned station is often featured in films (Patriot Games, Die Another Day, V for Vendetta).

View along platform in 1994.

Access to the public is denied, but visits can sometimes be arranged through the London Transport Museum.

I suspect that most of the millions who ride these rails every day, year after year, neither know nor care about corpses, ghosts or ghost stations, and they choose not to remember the Tube´s history of being attacked.

With Oyster Cards firmly in hands and a bland uncaring resigned look on their faces, London passengers keep calm and carry on with their journey, reading one of the many free papers distributed at many central London stations, looking down at their mobile electronic gizmos or grimly staring off into the distance at the space between spaces.

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(The Oyster Cards, “smart” cards that register your entry and exit from tube stations and debit your travel account accordingly, are named after the idea that “the world is your oyster”, that the world is just waiting to be discovered like a pearl of great value.)

Our first Tube ride together took us from Paddington Station to Piccadilly Circus (on the Bakerloo Line via Edgware Road, Marylebone, Baker Street, Regent´s Park and Oxford Circus) to pick up our Internet-ordered London Passes from the Tourist Information Kiosk at Leicester Square.

We encountered no corpses, no ghosts, no ghost stations then nor during our seven-day sojourn in London.

We never felt threatened nor nervous about being attacked either above ground or below it.

We ate well, drank well and had a merry old time.

We used the Tube, because it was convenient, but like a marriage of convenience, there was not much love felt for the experience.

Perhaps there is magic beneath the streets of London, a world of possibility behind the sliding doors of the Tube carriages.

I honestly can´t say I felt it within the crowded, friendless confines of a speeding carriage hurtling its way through dark and damp tunnels.

I quickly lost count of how many staircases I climbed, how many times I used my Oyster Card, how often I felt confused by the complexity and tangle of train maps and schedules, how many miles I walked without seeing the sun or the stars or feeling fresh air against my face.

Perhaps the Tube is a part of London life, but it is a life that I cannot eagerly embrace, for one doesn´t ride the Tube as much as one haunts it.

Like a ghost that cannot leave until its goal is realised, one cannot abandon the use of the Underground until one´s destination is reached.

Rail romance has been replaced by Underground urgency.

Without travelling companions or time restrictions, I would rather walk.

Too much of modern day reality is rushed and packaged.

A free man prefers to walk.

Sources:  Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Terry Deary, Horrible Histories London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Ben Judah, This Is London: Life and Death in the World City / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London: Tales of a City / Scott Wood, London Urban Legends: The Corpse on the Tube and other stories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Quest for George Clooney

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 September 2017

Celebrities ARE different.

They get more public attention and media exposure than we do.

They usually have far more wealth than we do.

Some achieve celebrity status through their successful careers in sports or entertainment or politics.

Some become famous due to media attention on their lifestyle, wealth or controversial actions, or for their connection to another famous person.

And rewarding mere mortals godlike celebrity status is not a new thing.

Athletes in ancient Greece were welcomed home as heroes, had songs and poems written in their honour, and received free food and gifts from those seeking celebrity endorement.

Ancient Rome also glorified actors and gladiators.

Some have had to die to achieve fame.

In the early 12th century, Thomas Becket (1119 – 1170) became famous following his murder.

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He was promoted by the Roman Catholic Church as a martyr and images of him and scenes from his life became widespread in just a few years.

And in a pattern often repeated throughout history, what started out as an explosion of popularity, or mania, turned into longlasting fame.

In the case of Becket, pilgrimages to Canterbury Cathedral where he was murdered became instantly fashionable and the fascination with his life and death has inspired many plays and films.

The cult of personality (particularly in the West) can be traced back to the Romantics in the 18th century, whose livelihood as artists and poets depended on the currency of their reputation.

(Which makes Johann Wolfgang von Goethe´s (1749 – 1832) escape from his fame (somewhat) in Germany to make his Italian Journey (1786 – 1788) even more remarkable.)

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Above: Goethe in the Roman countryside

The establishment of cultural hotspots became an important factor in the process of generating fame.

Newspapers started gossip columns and certain clubs and events became places to be seen in order to receive publicity.

With the global spread of the movie industry in the 20th century, we now have the familar concept of the instantly recognizable faces of its superstars.

Yet, celebrity status wasn´t always tied to film actors, when cinema was starting out as a medium.

“In the first decade of the 20th century, American film companies withheld the names of film performers, despite requests from audiences, fearing that public recognition would drive performers to demand higher salaries.”

(Paul McDonald, The Star System: Hollywood´s Production of Popular Identities)

Public fascination went well beyond the on-screen exploits of movie stars and their private lives became headline news.

Television and popular music brought new forms of celebrity, such as the rock star and the pop group, as shown by Elvis Presley or the Beatles.

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

Above: The Beatles (clockwise from top left: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison)

John Lennon´s (1940 – 1980) highly controversial 1966 quote:

“We´re more popular than Jesus now.”

….which he later insisted was not a boast, and that he was not in any way comparing himself with Christ, gives an insight into both the adulation and notoriety fame can bring.

Unlike movies, television created celebrities who were not primarily actors, like presenters, talk show hosts and news readers.

Still only a few of these have broken through to a wide stardom.

The book publishing industry began to persuade major celebrities to put their names on autobiographies (many ghost written) and other titles to create a genre called celebrity publishing.

Cultures and regions with significant populations have their own independent celebrity systems, with their own distinct hierarchies.

Outside of Switzerland, who knows DJ Bobo?

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Above: D J Bobo

Outside of German-speaking parts of Europe, who knows Michelle Hunziger?

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Above: Swiss-born TV hostess/actress/model/singer Michelle Hunziger

Outside of Quebec, who remembers Mitsou?

Above: Canadian actress/singer Mitsou Gélinas

Regions within a country, or cultural communities (linguistic, ethnic or religious) can also have their own celebrity systems.

Regional radio personalities, newcasters, politicians or community leaders may be local or regional celebrities, much like my foster cousin Steve, a local athlete, is instantly recognisible within the confines of Argenteuil County in Quebec, Canada, but mostly unknown beyond there.

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Above: Canadian athlete Steve O`Brien

In politics, certain politicians are recognisable to many people, usually Presidents or Prime Ministers.

Yet only the heads of state who play a major role in international politics have a good chance of recognisability beyond their country´s borders.

Do you know who the Prime Minister of Luxembourg is and would you recognise him/her on the street?

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Above: Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg since 2013

But, because so much media attention is brought to bear on the US President, Donald Trump has become, unfortunately, world famous.

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In contrast, some people are more famous under their official titles rather than their actual names, such as the Pope or the Dalai Lama.

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Above: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis

Do you know the Pope´s birth certificate name? The Dalai Lama´s?

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Above: Lhamo Thondup aka the 14th Dalai Lama

Some politicians remain famous even decades or centuries after they were in power, because of the historical deeds associated with their names and kept in memory in history classes, like Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Abraham Lincoln, etc.

Scandal can also make people famous, regardless of how accomplished they were in their chosen professions.

Who can tell me what were the legislative accomplishments of Anthony Wiener or can you only recall his exposing himself and sexting?

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Above: Anthony David Weiner, US Congressman (1999 – 2011)

Some things are associated with fame, like appearing on the cover of Time, being spoofed by Mad, having a wax statue in Madame Tussauds or receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Some people are well known even to folks unfamilar with the area in which the celebrity excelled.

I never followed boxing, but I know the names Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson.

Even those who aren´t interested in art, recognise Pablo Picasso.

The unscientific know Albert Einstein.

Even criminals become famous if their crimes are sensational enough.

Celebrities often have fame comparable to royalty.

Some celebrities are hated for being celebrated, and due to their high visibility the successes and shortcomings of even their private lives are made very public.

Celebrities are also portrayed as glowing examples of perfection, as possessing skills and abilities beyond average people, beyond us mere mortals.

Even those celebrities with limited education or experience are viewed as experts on complicated issues and some have been very vocal with their political views regardless of their understanding of these views.

And sometimes it is a person´s celebrity status that can bring an issue´s importance into the spotlight with the public and the media.

It is believed that because very few people can become celebrities, this must mean that those that do must be superior to those who, for many reasons, cannot become famous.

It is a fallacy, but a manic belief nonetheless.

 

Lago di Como, Italia, 1 August 2017

We had booked three nights at the Convento San Antonio Bed & Breakfast, and I was determined that Ute (my wife) would not drive our car except between accommodation stops.

We had driven a lot the previous day and it had been a frustrating and hot drive along the western shore of Lago di Como to arrive in the city of Como.

(See Canada Slim and the Evil Road, Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence, and Canada Slim and the Road to the Open of this blog for details of that first day.)

So I hoped that Ute (and I, of course) could relax and enjoy our vacation if we were not bound to our Peugeot throughout the trip.

Of all the lakes that Italy possesses, it is the forked Lago di Como that comes most heavily praised.

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Marie Henri Beyle first set foot on the shores of Lago di Como (also known as Lago Lario) as a 17-year-old conscript under Napoleon.

Years later, as Stendhal, he wrote in La Chartreuse de Parme that the blue-green waters of the Lake and the grandeur of the Alps made it the most beautiful place in the world.

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Above: Stendhal (1783 – 1842)

The hordes of Italian and foreign tourists who have flocked here ever since suggest that Stendhal was onto something.

Wordsworth thought it “a treasure which the Earth keeps to itself.”

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Above: English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

Today, despite the influx of tourists, the Lake is still surrounded by abundant vegetation and zigzagging across the water on a steamer still seems ridiculously romantic.

And Como, come summertime, is packed out with British and German tourists.

Now I understand how Italians can be both puzzled and delighted by us, the foreign visitors, the peaceful invaders.

There are over 20 million of us every year and we still keep coming.

Nothing stops us.

Nothing frightens us.

We are a flood that never dries up.

We come from all over.

We are well-fed, self-satisfied and well-behaved.

We follow urges we cannot explain.

Italy once experienced first hand never loses its charms.

We are never satiated by the sights, climate, food, music and life.

The cities of Italy are emptied of Italians, save those who cater to we dusty and perspiring tourists.

Rough Guide Italy does not sing Como´s praises, describing it as “a rather dispiriting place to arrive, with little of the picture-postcard prettiness you would expect from a lakeside town.

As the nearest resort to Milano and a popular stopoff on the main road into Switzerland, Como is both heavily touristed and fairly industrialised.”

Lonely Planet Italy describes Como:

“Elegant Como, 50 km north of Milano, is the main access town to the Lake and sits at the base of the 146 sq km body of water.

Como has relatively few attractions in its own right, although the lakeside location is stunning, its narrow pedestrian lanes are a pleasure to explore and there are numerous bars and cafés where you can relax with a cold drink on a balmy day.”

Ferries operated by Como-based company Navigazione Lago di Como crisscross the Lake year-round.

We buy a map “The Villas Seen from the Lake”, so from the boat we will able to identify the many villas and interesting places that one can see from the Lake, from Como to Bellagio on the east bank and from Como to Griante on the west.

The rows of villas seem endless.

So many Villas!

Villa Carminati Scacchi, Villa Saporiti (“the Rotunda” and Napoleon´s residence during his stay in Como in 1797)….

Colored painting depicting Napoleon crowning his wife inside of a cathedral

Above: The Coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821), 2 December 1804

Villa Gallia, Villa Parravicini Thaon de Revel, Villa Pisa Colli Canepa, Villa Geno (a former hospital and convent of the Humiliati Friars), Villa Volonté….

Villa Olma (host to kings and queens and emperors and Garibaldi who unified Italy. Here Garibaldi fell in love with Josephine, a daughter of the owner of the Villa. Their marriage lasted…30 minutes!)….

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Above: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 – 1882)

Villa Mirabella, Villa Pisani Dossi (built by the Italian writer Carlo Dossi, including the famous “porch of friends” with columns engraved with the names of important artists close to Dossi)….

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Above: Carlo Dossi (1849 – 1910)

Villa Troubetzkoy (“the Swiss Chalet” built by Russian Prince Alexander Troubetzkoy and used after he had been sentenced to six years of hard labour in Siberia for an attempt on the Tsar´s life), Villa Sforni, Villa Dozzio, Villa Cademartori (once owned by the Artaria family, publishers of the compositions of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, etc)….

Villa Taglioni (built in 1840 by Marie Taglioni, the famous dancer who invented ballet “en pointe”, who once was so rich she also possessed five palaces by the Grand Canal in Venezia, but lost her fortune when her father made poor investments. She died penniless in Marseille.)….

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Above: Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884)

Then….

Day 2 of our vacation was turning out to be the Quest for George Clooney.

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Above: American actor George Clooney

Villa Erba in Cernobbio, west bank of the Lake, was built in 1894 by the grandparents of the famous director Luchino Visconti.

Some important scenes of Ocean´s 12, the 2001 film starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones, were shot here.

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The boatload of passengers were suitably impressed.

Villa Allamel, Villa Belgioioso Schouvaloff (in Blevio, east bank of the Lake, built by Russian Prince Schouvaloff and owned today by casino prince Oleg Boyko. It once belonged to Cristina Trivulzio Belgioioso, an exceptional woman who, despite failing health, led a very interesting and adventurous life, working hand in hand with those who fought to release Italy from Austrian rule.)….

Above: Cristina Belgioiso (1808 – 1871)

Villa Cima (where the noble intellectual beauty, rich and refined Vittoria Cima della Scala once lived), Villa Belvedere (belonged to the Imbonati Family, whose grandson, the famous Italian writer, Alessandro Manzoni spent many happy summers)….

And on and on…

Till the mind could not take in any more Villas and the tales they harboured.

Then the boat threatens to tip to one side as we all rush to get a glimpse of Villa Oleandra, to the left of the church of Laglio, owned by George Clooney (and his wife (his 2nd marriage) human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, of British-Lebanese heritage), near the former residence of Italian author Ada Negri.

Above: Villa Oleandra

Above: Julia Roberts with George and Amal Clooney at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival

Why did Mr. American Apple Pie buy property in Italy?

We foreigners don’t just come to Italia.

We keep coming back.

Hollywood actors like Clooney come and stay, because the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants more money from him than he feels they deserve.

He wants the reassurance of noble surroundings, to show off his excellent taste, his genius, his charisma and importance in a land that still appreciates such things.

He does not realise that Italians treat him as one treats children, with courtesy and sympathy.

But the reality of being Italian is too disturbing, too difficult, too mysterious, too undefinable, for folks like George or myself.

A boatload of female fans were disappointed as George was not seen.

The women still love George, at least those over 30.

George Timothy Clooney, born 6 May 1961, exactly 4 years and 8 days before yours truly, is an American actor, director, producer, screenwriter, activist, businessman and philanthropist.

He has received three Golden Globes and two Academy Awards for his work in Hollywood.

His rise to fame came when he played Dr. Doug Ross on NBC´s medical drama ER (1994 – 1999).

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His first major Hollywood role was in the horror-comedy-crime thriller From Dusk till Dawn, co-starring Harvey Keitel.

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He then increased his profile in the romantic comedy One Fine Day (with Michelle Pfeiffer), the action-thriller The Peacemaker (with Nicole Kidman), the superhero movie Batman and Robin (with Arnold Schwarznegger, Uma Therman and Chris O`Donnell), crime comedy Out of Sight (with Jennifer Lopez) and  the war satire Three Kings all while still on contract to ER.

Three men in army fatigues

After leaving ER, Clooney starred in the disaster drama The Perfect Storm, the adventure comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and the heist comedy Ocean´s 11 – Clooney´s most successful film with him in the lead role.

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Clooney made his directorial debut in the 2002 film Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, based on the autobiography of TV producer Chuck Barris.

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He then starred in Syriana, a story based loosely on former CIA Agent Robert Baer´s memoirs of his Service in the Middle East.

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He then directed, produced and starred in Good Night, and Good Luck, a film about 1950s TV Journalist Edward R. Murrow´s famous war of words with Senator Joseph McCarthy.

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Clooney next appeared in the film noir The Good German set in post WW2 Germany, then in the legal thriller Michael Clayton.

A blurred pictured of a man with the words "The Truth Can Be Adjusted" superimposed

He directed and starred the sports comedy Leatherheads, costarred with Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey in the war parody The Men Who Stare at Goats, starred in the comedy-drama Up in the Air, produced and starred in the thriller The American, starred in the drama The Descendants, and in the political drama The Ides of March, and produced the thriller Argo.

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He co-starred with Sandra Bullock in the science fiction thriller Gravity, co-wrote, directed and starred in the WW2 thriller The Monuments Men, produced August: Orange County (starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts), starred in science fiction adventure Tomorrowland and in the 1950s Hollywood spoof Hail, Caesar!, reunited with Julia Roberts for Money Monster and directed Suburbicon (starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore).

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Clooney is the only person in Academy Award history to be nominated for Oscars in six different categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Clooney has appeared in commercials outside the US for Fiat, Nespresso, Martini vermouth, and Omega.

Clooney was named one of Time magazine´s “100 Most Influential People in the World” (2007, 2008, 2009) and has been described as one of the most handsome men in the world.

TV Guide ranked Clooney #1 on its “50 Sexiest Stars of All Time” list. (2005)

He has been parodied by South Park and American Dad.

Director Alexander Cartio made his debut feature film, Convincing Clooney, about a LA artist who, faced with rejection as an actor and screenwriter, tries to get Clooney to star in his first-ever low-budget short film.

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As an activist, Clooney supported President Obama´s campaigns in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

He is a supporter of gay rights.

In 2003, he opposed the Iraq War, saying:

“You can´t beat your enemy any more through wars. 

Instead you create an entire generation of people seeking revenge.

Our opponents are going to resort to car bombs and suicide attacks because they have no other way to win.

I believe Donald Rumsfeld thinks this is a war that can be won, but there is no such thing anymore.

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Above: Donald Rumsfeld, 13th and 21st US Secretary of Defense (1975-1977 and 2001-2006

We can´t beat anyone any more.”

In 2016, Clooney endorsed Hillary Clinton for the presidential election.

He is involved with Not On Our Watch Project, an organisation that focuses global attention and resources to stop and prevent mass atrocities.

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He organised the telethon Hope for Haiti Now after the 2010 earthquake.

Clooney performed with Martin Sheen and Brad Pitt in Dustin Black´s play 8, re-enacting the federal trial that overturned California´s Proposition 8 ban on same sex marriage, raising money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Clooney advocated a resolution of the Dafur conflict, spending ten days in Chad and Sudan making the TV special “A Journey to Dafur” reflecting the situation of Darfur´s refugees, with proceeds donated to the International Rescue Committee.

He spoke to the UN Security Council to ask the UN to find a solution to the conflict and to help the people of Dafur, and he visited China and Egypt to ask both governments to pressure Sudan´s government.

Flag of United Nations Arabic: الأمم المتحدةSimplified Chinese: 联合国French: Organisation des Nations uniesRussian: Организация Объединённых НацийSpanish: Naciones Unidas

Above: Flag of the United Nations

He sent an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling on the European Union to take decisive cction in the region given the failure of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to respond to UN Resolutions.

He narrated and produced the documentary Sand and Sorrow and also appeared in the documentary Dafur Now.

The United Nations announced Clooney´s appointment as a UN Messenger of Peace in 2008.

Clooney initiated the Satellite Sentinel Project to monitor armed activity for signs of renewed civil war between Sudan and South Sudan and to detect and deter mass atrocities along the border regions there.

Clooney is an avid supporter of the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and is one of the chief associates of the 100 Lives Initiative, a project which aims to remember the lives lost during the event.

He has urged various American government officials to support the United States´ recognition of the Armenian Genocide and he visited Armenia to commemorate the 101st anniversary of the event in April 2016.

In May 2015, Clooney told the BBC that the Syrian conflict was too complicated politically to get involved in and he wanted to focus on helping the refugees.

In March 2016, George and Amal met with Syrian refugees living in Berlin to mark the 5th anniversary of the conflict, before meeting with Mrs. Merkel to thank her for Germany´s open door policy.

All of this about George was unknown by the ladies on our boat and, quite frankly, I don´t think they would have cared to know.

As access to celebrities is strictly controlled by their entourage of staff, including managers, publicists, agents, personal assistants and bodyguards, this makes it difficult for even journalists to have access to them.

We on the boat knew that most of us would never meet George face to face in our lifetimes.

Still I don´t envy George.

While being famous offers some advantages such as wealth and easier access to things that are more difficult for non-famous people to access – like the ability to easily meet other famous or powerful people – being famous comes with the disadvantage of creating conditions in which the celebrity finds himself acting in superficial, inauthentic fashion.

Being famous means a life without anonymity, often without privacy.

And a private persona that is different from the public persona that the celebrity created can lead to difficulties in accepting the celebrity for the person he/she really is.

But ironically there remains a strong public curiosity about celebrities´ private affairs.

George´s love life prior to his marriage to Amal interested a great many people and….

George has dated.

A lot.

He has dated actress Kelly Preston, actress Talia Balsam, porn star Ginger Lynn Allen, French TV personality Céline Balitran, British model Lisa Snowdon, actress Renée Zellweger, actress Krista Allen, dating reality personality Sarah Lawson, Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis, wrestling diva Stacy Kiebler and finally his present wife Amal Alamuddin.

Above: Italian actress/model Elisabetta Canalis

And why not?

Women have found him attractive, both physically and socially.

Perhaps the ladies gawking and craning their necks to shore hoped to see George without his shirt, but perhaps the recent births of twins to George and Amal has kept him secluded inside the Villa Oleandra….

Or inside his main home in Los Angeles….

Or in his home in Los Cabos, Mexico, next door to supermodel Cindy Crawford….

Or in his new home, the Mill House, on an island in the River Thames at Sonning Eye in England.

The ladies aboard sailed past the Villa Oleandra disappointed but not surprised.

I met a celebrity only once in my life, riding the same elevator as myself, riding up to do separate interviews for CBC Radio inside the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, Canada.

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Former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark and I had little to say to one another and I am certain his meeting me was quickly forgotten.

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Above: Joe Clark, 16th Prime Minister of Canada (1979 – 1980)

And I am certain that whatever it was that I said in my stunned surprise was both unintelligible and unintelligent.

And I am certain that if George Clooney ever crossed my path I would have absolutely no idea what it is I would say to him.

Above: Amal and George Clooney, 2016 Berlin Film Festival

But considering that my wife has always lusted after George since she first began watching ER I think I would say:

“George, thanks for keeping your shirt on.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / Rough Guide Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

Canada Slim and the Evil Road

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

I am determined to not write myself into too predictable a rut.

There have been a number of themes running through the posts of this blog since I started it back on 18 May 2015.

I have written of many things: my travels in Switzerland and abroad, topics currently relevant at the time of writing, and occasional glimpses into the comedy that is everyday life.

I have started themes that have yet to be completed, like the Brontes and Brussels, my own solo travels prior to this blog, the crucial importance of Turkish politics and history, and, of course, the current political malaise that is the US Trump Administration.

After a long break from blog writing over the summer I have found two themes that interest me greatly: travelling in Italy, and the Russian Revolution and how it was shaped from Switzerland.

To keep both the reader´s attention and my creative juices flowing I have decided to alternate between these themes.

This is not to say that current events are not worthy of my attention….

They have it.

The monsoons in Bangladesh, the destructiveness of hurricanes in America, the reversal of DACA resulting in over 800,000 people forced to leave their homes in America and return to birthplaces they have never really known, the tragedy of Standing Rock and international indigenous peoples, the ongoing farce that is Brexit, the abyss of race relations in the US, world poverty, immigration and refugees, the relevance of the media in modern times, terrorism….

The list and the complexity of world events seems endless and daunting for a simple blogger such as myself to tackle.

But be patient, gentle readers, over time I shall try to weave these events and more into the ongoing saga that is the Chronicles of Canada Slim.

At present, I want to talk about a place that at first glance seems easy to ignore.

The Splügen Pass (Italian: Passo dello Spluga) is a 2,115-metre high mountain pass which marks the boundary between the Lepontine and Rhaetian Alps, respectively dividing the Western Alps from the Eastern.

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The pass road connects the Swiss Hinterrhein valley and the hamlet of Splügen in Graubünden Canton with the Valle Spluga and the town of Chiavenna in the Italian province of Sondrio, the road continuing on to Lago Como.

The Pass is the water divide between the drainage basins of the Rhine, which flows into the North Sea, and the Po, which flows into the Adriatic.

On the Italian side of the Pass is the small three-street village of Montespluga, which is cut off from both Italy and Switzerland during the winter.

Above: Montespluga in summer

So the best time of year to travel this quiet pass is June to October.

The Pass was already in use in the Roman era.

The route follows historic mule trails and was recorded in the Roman Empire´s list of arterial roads as it followed an almost dead-straight link between southern Germany and Lombardy.

Path and road construction, transport services and trading traffic, spiritual exchange and creative artistic power have influenced the landscape and settlements as well as improving living standards and broadening horizons for local farmers.

The name Splügen/Spluga is possibly derived from the Latin specula (lookout).

From 1818 to 1823 the modern road was built at the request of Austrian authorities then ruling the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia in the south.

In 1840, English author Mary Shelley (best known for her gothic novel Frankenstein) travelled through the Pass on the way to Lake Como with her son Percy Florence.

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

This was not her first trip to Italy and one might wonder why she would return to a country that had seen her suffer great sorrow.

The threat of debtor´s prison, combined with their ill health and fears of losing custody of their two children, her husband Percy Bysshe and Mary left England for Italy in 1818.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

They had no intention of returning to England.

The Shelleys then embarked on a roving existence, never settling in any one place for long.

They devoted their time to writing, reading, learning, sightseeing and socialising.

Their Italian adventure was blighted by the deaths of both their children:  Clara, in September 1818 in Venice; and William, in June 1819 in Rome.

These losses left Mary in a deep depression that isolated her from her husband.

For a time, Mary found comfort only in her writing.

The birth of her son Percy Florence, on 12 November 1819, lifted her spirits, though she nursed the memory of her lost children till the end of her life.

On 8 July 1822, her husband and Edward Williams set out on a return sailing journey from Livorno to Lerici with their 18-year-old boatsman Charles Vivian.

They never reached their destination.

Ten days after the storm that arose after they sailed from Livorno, their three bodies washed up on the coast near Viareggio, midway between Livorno and Lerici.

Mary eventually returned to England to raise her son.

In 1840, mother Mary (age 43) and son Percy (21), along with three of his friends, travelled together on the Continent.

This journey and a subsequent journey together in 1842 would result in the travel narrative Rambles in Germany and Italy.

Map showing routes of Shelley's European trips. 1840 trip begins in Brighton, proceeds to Dover, crosses the Channel to Calais, proceeds south to Paris, east Metz, north to Coblenz, east to Frankfurt, south to Freiburg, south to Milan, west to Lyons, and north to Paris and Calais. 1842–43 trip begins in Southampton, proceeds to London, crosses the Channel to Antwerp, proceeds southeast to Frankfurt, northeast to Berlin, south to Prague, Salzburg, Padua, Rome, and Naples.

Although her husband and her two children had died there, Italy had become for Mary “a country which memory painted as Paradise”.

From their home in north London, they travelled to Paris and Metz.

From Metz, they went down the Moselle by boat to Koblenz and then up the Rhine to Mainz, Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Baden Baden.

Feeling ill, Mary rested at a spa in Baden Baden.

Above: Baden-Baden

She had wracking pains in her head and convulsive shudders, symptoms of the meningioma that would eventually kill her.

(Meningioma is a tumor that attacks the brain and spinal cord.)

This forced stop dismayed Percy and his friends as it provided no entertainment for them, but because none of them spoke any German they were forced to remain together.

The group eventually travelled on to Freiburg im Breisgau, Schaffhausen, Zürich to arrive at the Splügen Pass.

She describes the Pass in her travel narrative, Rambles in Germany and Italy, published in 1844:

Chiavenna, Italy, Monday 13 July 1840

“At five in the morning we were in the yard of the diligence (stagecoach) office (at Chur).

We were in high spirits – for that night we should sleep in Italy.

The diligence was a very comfortable one.

There were few other passengers and those were of a respectable class.

We still continued along the valley of the Rhine, and at length entered the pass of the Via Mala (the evil road), where we alighted to walk.

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It is here that the giant wall of the Alps shuts out the Swiss from Italy.

Before the Alp itself (the Splügen) is reached, another huge mountain rises to divide the countries.

A few years ago, there was no path except across this mountain, which being very exposed , and difficult even to danger, the Splügen was only traversed by shepherds and travellers of the country on mules or on foot.

But now, a new and most marvellous road has been constructed.

The mountain in question is, to the extent of several miles, cleft from the summit to the base, and a sheer precipice of 4,000 feet rises on either side.

The Rhine, swift and strong, but in width a span, flows in the narrow depth below.

The road has been constructed on the face of the precipice, now cut into the side, now perforated through the living rock into galleries.

It passes, at intervals, from one side of the ravine to the other, and bridges of a single arch span the chasm.

The precipices, indeed, approach so near, in parts, that a fallen tree could not reach the river below, but lay wedged in midway.

It may be imagined how singular and sublime this pass is, in its naked simplicity.

After proceeding about a mile, you look back and see the country you had left, through the narrow opening of the gigantic crags, set like a painting in this cloud-reaching frame.

It is giddy work to look down over the parapet that protects the road, and mark the arrowy rushing of the imprisoned river.

Midway in the pass, the precipices approach so near that you might fancy a strong man could leap across.

This was the region visited by storm, flood and desolation in 1834.

The Rhine had risen several hundred feet, and, aided by torrents from the mountains, had torn up the road, swept away a bridge, and laid waste the whole region.

An English traveller, a Mr. Hayward, then on his road to Chiavenna, relates that he traversed the chasm on a rotten uneven plank, and found but a few inches remaining of the road overhanging the river.

It was an awful invasion of one element on another.

The whole road to Chiavenna was broken up, and the face of the mountain so changed that, when reconstructed, the direction of the route was in many places entirely altered.

The region of these changes was pointed out to us, but no discernible traces remained of where the road had been.

All here was devastation – the giant ruins of a primaeval world; and the puny remnants of Man´s handiwork were utterly obiliterated.

Puny, however, as our operations are, when Nature decrees by one effort that they should cease to exist, while She reposes they may be regarded proudly and commodiously traversed by the antlike insects that make it their path.

We dined at the village of Splügen.

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Above: Splügen in summer

It was cold and we had a fire.

Here we dropped all our fellow travellers – some were going over the San Bernandino – and proceeded very comfortably alone.

It was a dreary-looking mountain that we had to cross, by zigzags, at first long, and diminishing as we ascended.

The day, too, was drear, and we were immersed in a snowstorm towards the summit.

Naked and sublime the mountain stretched out around, and dim mists, chilling blasts and driving snow added to its grandeur.

We reached the dogana (Italian customs) at the top and here our things were examined.

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Above: Spluga Pass, present day

The customs house officer was very civil – complained of his station, where it always rained – at that moment it was raining – and, having caused the lids of one or two trunks to be lifted, they were closed again and the ceremony was over.

More time, however, was consumed in signing passports and papers.

We then set off downhill, swiftly and merrily, with two horses – the leaders being unharnessed and trotting down gravely after us, without anyone to lead or drive them.

All Italian travellers know what it is, after toiling up the bleak, bare, northern, Swiss side of an Alp, to descend into ever vernal Italy.

The rhododendron, in thick bushes, in full bloom, first adorned the mountain sides, then pine forests, then chestnut groves.

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The mountain was cleft into woody ravines.

The waterfalls scattered their spray and their gracious melody.

Flowery and green, and clothed in radiance and gifted with plenty, Italy opened upon us.

Thus – and be not shocked by the illustration, for it is all God´s creation – after dreary old age and the sickening pass of death, does the saint open his eyes on Paradise.” (Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

After Chiavenna, Mary and her travelling companions would spend two months at Lake Como and then go on to Milan.

In Milan, the young men left Mary to go back to their studies in England, while Mary slwoly made her way back home via Geneva and Paris.

Upon her return, she became depressed.

“In Italy I might live as once I lived: hoping, loving, aspiring, enjoying.

I am placid now and the days go by….and darkness creeps over my intellect.”

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

In 1843 the road was further expanded with a 312-metre/1,024-foot long avalanche gallery designed by Swiss engineer Richard La Nicca which today is out of use but largely preserved.

Above: Richard La Nicca (1794 – 1883)

Plans to build a railroad line across Splügen Pass were abandoned in favour of the Gotthard Railway opened in 1882.

The author Sir Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle as well as his beloved creation Sherlock Holmes, a creation that Doyle himself was not particularly fond of, are inextricably linked to Switzerland.

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Above: Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, M.D. (1859 – 1930)

Doyle, who spent most of his childhood and youth in boarding schools, spent some time at Stella Matutina in Feldkirch, Austria.

On his journey back home to Edinburgh in 1876, Doyle had his first contact with Switzerland.

Many years later, 34-year-old Dr. Doyle came to Switzerland in August 1893 to give a series of talks in Lucerne.

Doyle was a sporty doctor.

He had seen skiing in Norway and imported one of the first pair of Norwegian skis to Davos.

Along with the Branger brothers, Doyle scaled the saddle of the Jacobshorn in the Albula range, now served by cable car and renowned for snowboarding.

They then tackled the 2,253-metre pass between Davos and Arosa, rising at 4 am, heading to Frauenkirch, crossing the Maienfelder Furka Pass and sliding down to Arosa.

Since 2008 this area has been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, traversed by the Rhaetian Railway and by “lads leaping about on planks tied to their feet”. (Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain)

Doyle predicted that “the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season”. (Conan Doyle, “An Alpine Pass on Ski”, The Strand, August 1894)

Time has proved him right.

Doyle would then travel on to Maloja and Caux with his wife.

On 6 November 1895, the Doyles left Caux for Italy.

Did he enter Italy through the Splügen Pass?

I have no information so far about his exact route.

After a few days in Rome, the family left Brindisi by ship to Egypt, where they would spend the winter in Cairo.

It remains a question of debate whether Doyle ever came back to Switzerland after his journey to Egypt and his subsequent return to his home in England.

Besides skiing, Doyle left his mark on Switzerland by setting the Holmes Story “The Final Problem” at Reichenbach Falls.

(See Canada Slim and the Final Problem of this blog.)

Splügen Pass is mentioned in Doyle`s “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, a Holmes story published in 1924.

“Both Holmes and I (Dr. Watson, the narrator) had a weakness for the Turkish bath….

On the upper floor of the Northumberland Avenue establishment, there is an isolated corner where two couches lie side by side, and it was on these that we lay upon 3 September 1902, the day when the narrative begins.

I had asked him whether anything was stirring, and for answer he had shot his long, thin, nervous arm out of the sheets which enveloped him and had drawn an envelope from the inside pocket of the coat which hung beside him….

…This is what I read:

“Sir James Damery presents his compliments to Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and will call upon him at 4:30 tomorrow….”

Sir James comes to see Holmes and Watson about his illustrious client´s problem.

(The client´s identity is never revealed to the reader, although Watson finds out at the end of the story, it is heavily implied to be King Edward VII.)

Edward VII in coronation robes.jpg

Above: Edward VII, King of Great Britain (1901 – 1910), (1841 – 1910)

General de Merville`s young daughter Violet has fallen in love with the roguish and sadistic Austrian Baron Adelbert Gruner….

Damery: “…for we are dealing on this occasion, Mr. Holmes, with a man to whom violence is familiar and who will, literally, stick at nothing.”

I should say that there is no more dangerous man in Europe.”

Holmes: “….May I ask his name?”

Damery: “Have you ever heard of Baron Gruner?”

Holmes: “You mean the Austrian murderer?”

Damery: “There is no getting past you, Mr. Holmes! Wonderful! So you have already sized him up as a murderer?”

Holmes: “It is my business to follow the details of Continental crime.  Who could possibly have read what happened at Prague and have any doubts as to the man´s guilt?  It was a purely technical legal point and the suspicious death of a witness that saved him!  I am as sure that he killed his wife when the so-called “accident” happened in the Splügen Pass as if I had seen him do it….”

The Granada TV series (1984 – 1994), with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, is faithful to the original story as penned by Doyle, though it takes some artistic licence regarding the Bruner wife murder.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.jpg

“The Illustrious Client” shows the fallen Baroness, to whom Gruner rushes to her side, accusing him with her dying breath of pushing her off the mountainside.

The viewer sees the scene is witnessed by a young boy, whom we are told by Holmes in his interview with Sir James that he suspected that Gruner had seduced his mother to poison the shepherd boy.

In “The View from Olympus”, the 18th episode of the 3rd season of the US modernised adaptation Elementary, with Holmes as a recovering drug addict who aids the New York City police accompanied by a female Dr. Joan Watson, Holmes mentions a previous case about a man who killed his wife on the Splügen Pass and tried to make her murder look like an accident.

Elementary intertitle.png

In this blog`s Canada Slim and the Lure of Italian Journeys, I wrote of how my wife (aka She Who Must Be Obeyed) and I travelled from our home by the Lake of Constance in Landschlacht to Chur.

“We leave the Autobahn and enter a wild land – a land of deep, narrow valleys, ancient forests, mountain torrents and villages that have seen little excitement or change since Roman times.

Past Rhäzüns and its isolated chapel of Sogn Gieri/St. George to the town of Thusis loomed over by threatening mountains and mysterious forests, the road, the Evil Road / Via Mala plunges into a narrow ravine, with sheer rock walls rising over 500 metres from the bed of the foaming Hinterrhein River.”

Above: The Chapel of Sogn Gieri, Rhäzüns

Via Mala, that ancient and notorious section of an abomination of a path along the Hinterrhein River between Zillis and Thusis in Graubünden Canton….

Via Mala, that narrow gorge that blocks the approach to two mountain sorties that defiantly declares that the traveller shall not pass….

Via Mala, so beautifully maleviolent and enchanting that the German director Werner Herzog filmed his 1976 psychological drama Heart of Glass there….

Heart of Glass DVD.jpg

(Heart of Glass is the story of an 18th-century Bavarian town with a glassblowing factory that produces a brilliant red ruby glass.

When the master glass blower dies, the secret to producing the ruby glass is lost.

The local Baron and factory owner is obsessed with the ruby glass and believes it to have magical properties.

With the loss of the secret, he soon descends into madness along with the rest of the townspeople.

The main character is Hias, a seer from the hills, who predicts the destruction of the factory in a fire.

During shooting, almost all of the actors performed while under hypnosis.

Every actor in every scene was hypnotized, with the exception of the character Hias and the professional glassblowers who appear in the film.

The hypnotized actors give very strange performances, which Herzog intended to suggest the trance-like state of the townspeople in the story.

Herzog provided the actors with most of their dialogue, memorised during hypnosis.

However, many of the hypnotised actors’ gestures and movements occurred spontaneously during filming.)

As I look into the gorge of the Via Mala, my heart grips tightly in fear….

As we navigate the climbing hairpin curves leading to the Paradise of Italy, my heart grips tightly in fear….

For my wife is driving.

She is mostly a fine driver but give her a challenging, cliff-hanging, narrow road and suddenly she becomes a Grand Prix Formula race car driver, a Maria Andretti or a Michaela Schumacher.

Of all the duties that are split between man and spouse, my wife has assumed the role of driver.

This has never bothered me, for I had never the urge to learn to drive and as a result I believe I am a great passenger.

Perhaps because ignorance is bliss, she could drive down a one-way pedestrian street knocking over a half dozen old ladies in the process and I would not react because I foolishly assume she knows what she is doing.

Now I have read statistics that say when partners are in a car together, the man is four times likely more to drive.

And perhaps I should feel more emasculated when she is driving, but she loves to drive and I make an excellent navigator (despite what the wife says).

But cliff hanging races and breakneck curves make me reassess my masculinity and I once again, especially on this trip, wonder if I will somehow survive my marriage (unlike Baron Gruner`s wife) or make it through the Evil Road of the shadow of Death to Italian Paradise (like Mary Shelley).

Sharing a car ride with my wife is a lot like being an unwilling participant in a hostage situation – you don´t know what´s going to happen and you hope you will survive the experience.

I am reminded once again of Canadian comedian Lorne Elliott´s comments on driving through the mountains:

Bildergebnis

“Not only can you fall down these mountain things, these mountain things can fall down on you!”

The climb up to Splügen reminds me of the lacing of a corset thrusting the hills into prominence.

Corsets?

How fear emasculates!

After 20 years together there are very few off-putting things we don´t know about one another, but I have learned, the hard way, that a little paranoia is a good thing in marriage.

Normally she does not want to kill her husband….

But my wife is driving.

I am not certain whether we will arrive in an Italy that resembles Paradise or in a Paradise that resembles Italy.

I will keep you posted….

Sources: Wikipedia / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client”, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes / Nicole Glücklich (Editor), The Adventures of Two British Gentlemen in Switzerland: In the Footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes / Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland / Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy

 

 

Canada Slim and the Bimetallic Question

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 18 May 2017

In my last blogpost, Canada Slim and the Final Problem, I told of my visit to the Reichenbach Falls where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930) ended the life of his detective hero.

Sherlock Holmes is dead.

So suggests the plaque marking the spot where Holmes and Professor Moriarty wrestled before plunging into the Reichenbach Falls.

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The plaque was erected in 1992 by The Bimetallic Question of Montréal and The Reichenbach Irregulars of Switzerland.

File:Sherlock Holmes plaque.jpg

(More about those responsible for this plaque follows…)

In the last story, The Adventure of the Final Problem, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Sherlock Holmes short story collection, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1893), Doyle consigned his hero to the watery depths of the Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen, Switzerland.

File:Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.jpg

Despite the success of the collections, Doyle had grown bored with his creation and wanted to spend more time writing historical fiction.

File:Arthur Conany Doyle by Walter Benington, 1914.png

As well his wife Louise had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and his father Charles had just died in an asylum, so Doyle defended himself by saying that the demise of Sherlock Holmes…

“It was not murder, but justifiable homicide in self-defence, since if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me.”

Doyle had long felt that Holmes was taking up too much of his life and churning out story after story to a deadline was a demanding task that took precious time away from more serious literary work.

The public response was instant and powerful.

Holmes was very much a product of his age, as Victorians had an intense and morbid fascination with crime, particularly murder, and the idea that a man of genius, through the relentless application of logic and science, could bring light and clarity to the darkest and most terrifying human secrets was intensely appealing.

Though the two novels in which Holmes first appeared – A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four – had been moderately popular, the short stories in the Strand propelled the detective to the giddy heights of fame.

The 24 stories with illustrations on every page and quick bursts of adventure and satisfying resolutions proved perfect for the monthly magazine.

Readers went crazy for Holmes and the Strand became Britain’s best-selling magazine.

When The Final Problem was published in the Strand Magazine, the public’s reaction was consternation, shock and outrage.

Fans reacted as if Doyle had killed a real person.

Letter after letter of protest arrived on the desks of the Strand and Doyle.

One woman famously began her note to Doyle with the words: “You, brute!”

In London, black armbands were worn and the circulation of the Strand dropped so substantially that it almost closed down.

Readers were so outraged that more than 20,000 of them cancelled their subscriptions and Doyle was frequently accosted in the street.

Holmes’ death was referred to as “the dreadful event”.

Ignoring the public howls of complaint about his murder of Holmes, Doyle concentrated on a wide range of other writing projects.

But without Holmes, Doyle found himself in need of further income, as he was planning to build a new home called “Undershaw”, so he decided to take Holmes to the stage and wrote a play.

Bringing Holmes to the stage was not an original idea of Doyle’s, for already other authors had produced Holmesian plays, Under the Clock (1893) and Sherlock Holmes (1894).

But Doyle was no playwright.

Doyle’s literary agent A. P. Watt noted that Doyle’s play needed a lot of work and sent the script to Charles Frohman.

Frohman suggested that the American William Gillette (1853 – 1937), actor, manager and playwright, would be best suited to create a successful adaptation of Doyle’s stories to the stage.

File:William Gillette cph.3a03734.jpg

Gillette was already well-known as being amongst the premier matinee idols of his day, for his patenting of a mechanical reproduction of the sound effects of horses and his introduction of realism into sets and props.

Prior to Gillette, the British had a very low opinion of American art in any form.

Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes consisted of four acts combining elements of Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia and The Final Problem, but with the exception of Holmes, Watson and Moriarity, all the characters in Gillette’s play were Gillette’s own creations.

(Doyle would later use Gillette’s Billy Buttons as Holmes’ pageboy in The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone in 1921.)

Gillette’s portrayl of Holmes helped create the modern image of the detective, with his use of the deerstalker cap and curved pipe which became enduring symbols of the character.

Gillette assumed the role of Holmes more than 1,300 times over 30 years, on stage, in the 1916 silent motion picture based on his Holmes play and as the voice of Holmes on the radio.

File:Charles Frohman presents William Gillette in his new four act drama, Sherlock Holmes (LOC var 1364) (edit).jpg

It is sometimes said the Doyle was forced to bring Holmes back to life by public pressure.

If that was the case, then why did it take him a whole decade to do so?

Sherlock’s return after Reichenbach Falls in The Adventure of the Empty House (1903) came not as a result of public pressure, but rather Doyle was swayed by a substantial financial deal being offered by the US periodical Collier’s Weekly.

Doyle would go on to write another 32 Holmes stories and two other Holmes novels and the Great Detective soon became famous all over the world and has remained an international phenomenon ever since.

Doyle accepted that Holmes had his own “life” out in the world, so he never attempted to stop other people trying their hands writing about Holmes.

And other writers quickly did.

The first authors to adopt Holmes parodied him, often with amusing adaptations of his name.

In 1892, the Idler magazine published The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs.

In 1893 Punch magazine featured The Adventure of Picklock Holes.

In 1903 P. G. Wodehouse wrote Dudley Jones, Bore Hunter, while Mark Twain produced A Double-Barrelled Detective Story, in which Holmes goes to California.

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Above: P. G. Wodehouse (1881 – 1975)

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Above. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)(1835 – 1910)

Many writers have attempted to imitate Doyle’s efforts at creating reasoning detectives in the Holmesian mold.

Among them, Stephen King, famed American mystery writer John Dickson Carr in collaboration with Adrian Conan Doyle (Arthur’s son)(The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, 1954) and Anthony Horowitz who continues to publish Sherlock Holmes novels with the approval of the Doyle estate. (The House of Silk, 2011 / Moriarty, 2014)

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Above: Stephen King (b. 1947)

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Some authors have written about characters from the Sherlockian tales other than Holmes himself: Inspector Lestrade, Irene Adler (“The Woman” from A Scandal in Bohemia), Mrs. Hudson (Baker Street housekeeper), Mycroft Holmes and Professor Moriarty.

(Even former NBA basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tried his hand by writing 2015’s Mycroft Holmes.)

File:Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar Lipofsky.jpg

Holmes mania spread to the Continent.

A German magazine of 1908 described the Holmes craze as “a literary disease similiar to Werther-mania and romantic Byronism.”

(“Werther-mania” refers to the excitement generated by Goethe’s publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther, considered to be literature’s first romantic novel.)

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When two sensational murders occurred in Paris, French newspapers ran imaginary interviews with Holmes to try to get to the bottom of the cases.

Though not the first fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes is the most well-known, with the Guinness Book of World Records listing him as the “most-portrayed movie character” in history, with more than 70 actors playing the part in over 200 films.

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(There have also been more than 750 radio adaptations in English alone.)

His first screen appearance was in the 1900 film Sherlock Holmes Baffled.

In the early 1900s, H. A. Saintsbury took over the role of Holmes in Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes play and in Doyle’s stage adaptation of The Adventure of the Speckled Band, portraying Holmes over 1,000 times.

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Above: Harry Arthur Saintsbury (1869 – 1939)

Basil Rathbone played Holmes in 14 US films and in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on the radio from 1939 to 1946.

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Above: Basil Rathbone (1892 – 1967)

Between 1979 and 1986, Soviet TV produced a series of five TV films, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with Vasily Livanov as the Great Detective.

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Above: Vasily Livanov (b. 1935)

The 1984 – 1985 Japanese anime series Sherlock Hound adapted the Holmes stories for children, with its characters being dogs.

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Jeremy Brett, considered by many to be the definitive Holmes, played the detective in four series of Sherlock Holmes for Britain’s Granada Television from 1984 to 1994.

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Above: Jeremy Brett (1933 – 1995)

In the 21st century, the world’s fascination with Holmes is as strong as ever.

Robert Downey Jr. played Holmes in the Guy Ritchie directed films Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011).

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Meanwhile, on the small screen, Holmes has been throughly and modernly reimagined.

In Elementary, begun in 2012, Sherlock Holmes is a recovering drug addict who helps the New York City Police Department solve crimes, assisted by a female Dr. Watson.

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The even more popular BBC TV series Sherlock, begun in 2010 and starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, has created a new generation of Holmes fans.

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Holmes is so popular and famous that many people have believed him to be not a fictional character but a real individual.

Widely considered a British cultural icon, the character and stories of Sherlock Holmes continue to have a profound and lasting effect on mystery writing and pop culture, with both Doyle’s original tales as well as thousands written by other authors being adapted into stage and radio plays, TV, films, video games and other media for over one hundred years.

In 1911 Ronald Knox, a young Oxford academic theologian, wrote an analysis of the Holmes stories, Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes.

Intended as a spoof of detailed, scholarly textual analyses of the Bible, Studies used Biblical terms – such as the “Canon”, or the “Sacred Writings” – to refer to the stories of Holmes.

Thereafter, Doyle’s Sherlock tales are known as “the Canon” and the countless stories written by others as “non-canonical works” by Holmes fans.

Numerous literary and fan societies have been founded that pretend that Holmes had indeed been real.

Above: The logo of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London

Two Holmes scholars, Ronald Knox and Christopher Morley founded the first societies devoted to the Holmes Canon – the Sherlock Holmes Society in London and the Baker Street Irregulars (BSI) in New York – in 1934.

The BSI logo

(The BSI is named after Holmes’ helpful band of little street children.

In a number of his investigations Holmes was aided by this invisible army of helpers, whom Watson described in A Study in Scarlet as “half a dozen of the dirtiest and most ragged…that ever I clapped eyes on”, but Holmes knew their value, calling them “the Baker Street division of the detective police force”, for they could “go everywhere and hear everything”, because no one but Holmes paid any attention to dirty little street children.)

BSI members have included such important figures as Isaac Asimov and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Above: Isaac Asimov (1919 – 1992)

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Above: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945), 32nd US President (1933 – 1945)

The BSI is an invitation-only group that oversees a host of “scion societies” across North America – ranging from the Red Circle of Washington (named after Doyle’s 1911 tale The Adventure of the Red Circle) to the Dancing Men of Providence (named after Doyle’s 1903 short story The Adventure of the Dancing Men).

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Each of these societies have their own obscure rituals, but in general members meet up to chat about the Great Detective, watch films, dress up and exchange views about details of the adventures.)

The Sherlock Holmes Society has published, since 1952, The Sherlock Holmes Journal, featuring Holmesian news, reviews, essays and criticism.

Today there are at least 400 groups devoted to Holmes worldwide.

Japan is home to more than 30 Holmes societies, among them the Japan Sherlock Holmes Club, which boasts 1,200 members.

Japan Sherlock Holmes Club

Portugal has the Norah Creina Castaways of Lisbon, named after the ship that went down off the Portuguese coast in Doyle’s 1893 tale The Resident Patient in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes short story collection.

There are also numerous Holmes societies in India, Russia, Germany and around the world.

In my homeland of Canada the equivalent to America’s BSI is The Bootmakers of Toronto, who, like the BSI, have their own scion societies in five other Canadian cities: the Spence Munros of Halifax, the Bimetallic Question of Montreal, the Stratford Sherlock Holmes Society, the Singular Society of the Baker Street Dozen of Calgary and the Stormy Petrels of British Columbia based in Vancouver.

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That Canada would have Holmesian societies should come as no surprise, for not only are the Anglo roots to England quite strong in Canada – our head of state is still the Queen of England Elizabeth II – but Doyle refers to Canada a number of times in his Sherlock Holmes stories.

The overseer of Canada’s Holmesian groups, The Bootmakers of Toronto acquired the idea for their name from Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Meyers in Bog

(A boot is stolen from Sir Henry Baskerville, for its scent was intended to let a fierce hound to track and kill Sir Henry.

The boot was fashioned in Toronto by a bootmaker named Meyers.

Each year the leader of the Toronto Holmes society is called “Meyers”.)

The Spence Munros of Halifax acquired their society name from Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Breeches, wherein Violet Hunter, a young governess, tells Holmes that she had been employed for five years in the family of Colonel Spence Munro, but she lost that position two months previously when the Colonel received a new posting in Halifax and took his family with him.

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The Stormy Petrels of Vancouver have a name that requires more explanation than simply a reference to Holmesian literature…

In the Holmes story The Last Bow, the detective warns the world about the menace of Germany:

“There’s an east wind coming…such a wind as never blew on England yet.

It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither…

But it’s God’s own wind nonetheless, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”

Vancouver is a coastal city.

There is a small seabird, generally with dark plumage, that is found in most of the world’s oceans, that takes shelter on the leeside of ships away from the direction from which the wind blows during a storm.

The bird is called a storm petrel.

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In naval parliance, a person who brings or predicts trouble is called a “stormy petrel”.

Montréal’s Holmesian society name, The Bimetallic Question, is in reference to an explanation made by Sherlock to Watson as to the importance of the detective’s brother Mycroft in the affairs of the British government:

“We will suppose that a Minister needs information as to a point which involves the Navy, India, Canada and the bimetallic question…” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans)

Sherlock’s elder brother Mycroft is a vibrant element in the Holmes Canon – although, like Moriarty, Mycroft only appears directly in two stories.

The reader learns that Mycroft is seven years older than Sherlock and, if it is possible, even cleverer than the Great Detective.

Mycroft is described in various places in the Canon as having “the tidiest and most orderly brain with the greatest capacity for storing facts of any man living”.

Mycroft’s brilliance has given him a place at the heart of the secret government machinery of Britain and he is a crucial source of intelligence.

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In this scope of intelligence, it is hinted that economic expertise is also included with the mention of “the bimetallic question.”

Since 1971, most of the world’s currencies are unconnected to the value of silver or gold but operate by a free floating standard that fluctates in active trading in stock markets around the world.

Money represents value.

Before 1971 the value of a monetary unit was defined by how much of a quantity of metal, typically gold and silver, it could purchase.

A country’s wealth was determined by exactly how much gold and/or silver it possessed.

In Doyle’s day, there was a great deal of scholarly debate and political controversy regarding monometallism and bimetallism, whether a country should only use gold as a standard by which money is valued or if silver should also be included along with gold.

Before the Klondike and the South African Gold Rushes, the supply of gold was minimal, so it was questionable how accurate gold was as a determination of value, thus putting pressure for greater use of silver.

The fact that Mycroft understood the bimetallic question was an indication of just how intelligent he was.

Why Montréal chose The Bimetallic Question for its name might be connected with the society’s postal address in Montréal’s Stock Exchange Tower.

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That is the bimetallic question, isn’t it?

(Christopher Plummer, famed for his role as Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 film The Sound of Music, is also called “the Canadian Holmes”.

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Plummer played the role of Sherlock Holmes in the Canadian/British 1978 film production, Murder by Decree, wherein Holmes tackles Jack the Ripper.)

The Reichenbach Irregulars is the Holmesian society of Switzerland, keeping the memories of Holmes and Doyle alive over here.

 

 

 

The Reichenbach Irregulars were founded in Meiringen (near the Reichenbach Falls) in 1989 by a group of young Holmesians (or Sherlockians) lead by Marcus Geisser.

Together with The Bimetallic Question of Montréal, the Reichenbach Irregulars erected the commemorative plaque that marks the fateful encounter between Holmes and Moriarty.

More than 300 of these groups are devoted to piecing together the “true” events of the “lives” of Holmes and Watson.

Calling this pursuit “the Grand Game” (after Holmes’ famous exclamation “The game is afoot.”), the Game assumes that Holmes and Watson were real historical figures and the Canon a record of true events.

Doyle is explained as being their literary agent.

Any inevitable mistakes on the part of a fast-working, under pressure of a deadline, author (Doyle) are explained away as deliberate attempts to mislead or simply forgetfulness on the part of the stories’ narrator (usually Watson).

(Gamers are particularly intrigued by the period – named “The Great Hiatus” –  between Holmes’ “death” at Reichenbach Falls and his reappearance in The Adventure of the Empty House.

Doyle left off writing about Holmes from 1893 to 1901, though this first new story The Hound of the Baskervilles was said to occur two years prior to The Adventure of the Final Problem.

Doyle returned to the chronology of Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House in 1903, Holmes’ reappearance after Reichenbach Falls.

But Doyle’s dating of the Holmes’ adventures has Holmes disappear at Reichenbach Falls on 4 May 1891 and reappear in London in 1894 to investigate the Park Lane mystery, the strange murder of the Honourable Ronald Adair.

In The Adventure of the Empty House, Doyle drops hints about what Holmes was up to in these three years – travels to Florence and Tibet, role-playing as a Norwegian explorer, visiting Persia (modern day Iran), Mecca (Saudi Arabia) and Khartoum (Sudan), research work in Montpelier – but these are only hints.)

For the 1951 Festival of Britain, Holmes’ living room was reconstructed as part of a Sherlock Holmes exhibition with a collection of original material.

After the Festival, items were transferred to The Sherlock Holmes (a London pub) and the Conan Doyle collection housed in the Chateau Lucens, near Lausanne, by the author’s son Adrian.

Both exhibitions, each with a Baker Street sitting room reconstruction, are open to the public.

In 1990, the Sherlock Holmes Museum opened on Baker Street in London, followed the next year by a Sherlock Holmes Museum in the English Church in Meiringen at Doyle Place.

Walk Along Baker Street!

(Meiringen also has a reconstruction of Holmes’ Baker Street sitting room.)

A private Conan Doyle collection is on permanent exhibit at the Portsmouth City Museum, as Doyle once lived and worked there as a physician.

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The London Metropolitan Railway named one of its 20 electric locomotives deployed in the 1920s for Sherlock Holmes – the only fictional character so honoured.

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In London one can find streets named Sherlock Mews and Watson’s Mews.

Five statues of the Great Detective have been erected across the globe in Edinburgh (the birthplace of Doyle), Meiringen, London (on Baker Street), Moscow and Karuizawa, Japan.

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Above: Sherlock Holmes Statue, Edinburgh

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Above: Sherlock Holmes Statue, London

Monument to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson Foto

Above: Holmes/Watson Statues, Moscow

Above: Sherlock Holmes Statue, Karuizawa

In 2014, 113 Sherlock devotees, dressed in deerstalkers and capes, gathered near University College in London in an attempt to create a world record for the largest group of people dressed as Sherlock Holmes.

People dressed as Sherlock Holmes

So, where does your humble blogger fit into all of this Holmes mania?

I confess that it was Sherlock that drew me into Holmes lore.

I had, of course, known of Holmes, but he had struck me as unapproachable because he was a product of the Victorian age, while Elementary felt more like an Americanisation of the Canon than I imagined.

But it was my best friend Iain of Liverpool who introduced me to the BBC TV series Sherlock and it was this series that has encouraged me to explore and discover Doyle’s works for myself.

It has been my desire to explore the possibilities of Swizerland, my country of residence since 2010, that led me to Reichenbach Falls and Meiringen.

I am now left with my own bimetallic question:

Do I prefer the Holmes from the golden age of Doyle’s writing or the Holmes from the silver screen (TV and movies)?

Either way I don’t need Mycroft Holmes to show me just how valuable his brother has been to the shaping of our modern society.

As Irene Adler said in the Sherlock episode A Scandal in Belgravia:

“Intelligent is the new sexy.”

And I wholeheartedly agree with “Canada’s Sherlock Holmes” Christopher Plummer:

“I don’t think anybody will ever get tired of Sherlock Holmes.

I don’t think the public will ever let him die just as they wouldn’t let Doyle kill him.”

While we remember him, Sherlock Holmes can never die.

Sources:

Dorling Kindersley, The Sherlock Holmes Book

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes Canon

Wikipedia

http://www.bakerstreetdozen.com

http://www.221b.ch (The Reichenbach Irregulars)

http://www.bimetallicquestion.org

http://www.torontobootmakers.com

Quelle: weheartit.com

 

 

Canada Slim and the Final Problem

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 May 2017

They almost have lives and yet we cannot forget them, for they haunt us in the worlds of literature, film, TV, advertising and video games.

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Ours is a world inhabited by Sherlock Holmes and Indiana Jones, Wonder Woman and Darth Vader, Santa Claus and Cinderella, James Bond and Harry Potter.

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They exist as permanent parts of our culture and yet they have never existed as living breathing people.

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They are all around us.

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They are our hopes and fears, our constant companions, our signposts in our rites of passage.

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They are us, for we have created ourselves through them.

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And we recognize these characters within ourselves.

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We all know Cassandra for whom the half-full glass is always half-empty, Scrooge who derives pleasure from wealth, Don Juan who stalks every woman and Peter Pan who will never grow up.

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The basic characteristics of humanity have become the fictional characters that shape that humanity.

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Southsea, Hampshire, England, 1887

Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, MD, was a Scotsman, born in Edinburgh on 22 May 1859, the eldest of 10 children, to a Scottish civil servant/occasional artist father and an Irish mother.

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Charles Doyle was prone to fits of epilepsy and bouts of depression and alcoholism.

Mary, despite her struggles to maintain a large family on a meagre income, would tell her children tales of history filled with high adventure and heroic deeds.

In order to help Arthur escape his depressing homelife, Mary saved enough money to send him to Stonyhurst College, a strict Jesuit boarding school in an isolated part of Lancashire.

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It was at Stonyhurst that he encountered a fellow pupil called Moriarity – a name that Arthur would use to great effect later.

Arthur left Stonyhurst in 1875 and after studying a further year with the Jesuits in Feldkirch, Austria, he surprised his family by choosing to study medicine at Edinburgh University.

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During his time at the University (1876 – 1881), Doyle encountered Dr. Joseph Bell, whose method of deducing the history and circumstances of his patients seemed magical.

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Bell was the model and inspiration for Sherlock Holmes.

After graduating in 1882, Doyle became a partner in Plymouth, but the partnership soon disintegrated and Doyle set up a practice of his own in Southsea.

By this time Doyle had already tried his hand at writing fiction and had several short stories published, but it was while at Southsea that he made a more determined effort to achieve success as an author.

As he slowly built up his medical practice, Doyle toyed with the idea of creating a detective story in which the protagonist solved a crime by deductive reasoning in the manner of Dr. Bell.

“Reading some detective stories, I was struck by the fact that their results were obtained in nearly every case by chance.

I thought I would try my hand at writing a story in which the hero would treat crime as Dr. Bell treated disease and where science would take the place of romance.”

This idea materialised in the form of the novel A Study in Scarlet – writtten in only a few weeks -and the Sherlock Holmes legend was born.

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Following A Study in Scarlet‘s publication, Doyle turned his attention to historical fiction – his first love, inspired by his mother’s stories and his admiration for the works of Sir Walter Scott.

The result was Micah Clarke (1889), a tale based on the Monmouth Rebellion.

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(The Monmouth Rebellion, or the West Country Rebellion, was an attempt by James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, to overthrow English King James II in 1685.)

Micah Clarke was a great critical and financial success and it was this book – and not the Sherlock Holmes stories – that convinced Doyle that his future lay in writing.

The US-based Lippincott’s Magazine commissioned a second Sherlock Holmes novel in 1890 and Doyle produced The Sign of Four in less than a month.

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Then Doyle approached the Strand Magazine:

“It had struck me that a single character running through a series, if it only engaged the reader, would bind the reader to the magazine.”

In 1891 the Strand Magazine began the Sherlock Holmes series of 12 short stories (later collected and known as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and the public began to embrace the detective.

Within six months of the Baker Street detective’s first appearance in the Strand, in A Scandal in Bohemia, the main selling point of the magazine was each new Holmes adventure.

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In 1891, Doyle – married since 1885 – moved from Southsea to London to be closer to the literary world.

Despite the success of the first series of Holmes tales, Doyle quickly became bored with his creation, and although Doyle succumbed to the offer of an increased fee for a second series, he was determined that this series would be Sherlock’s last.

Doyle wanted to spend more time writing more historical fiction, which he saw as a more worthy pursuit and one that would gain him greater recognition as a serious writer.

Doyle wrote to his mother in November 1891:

“I think of slaying Holmes….and winding him up for good and all.

He takes my mind from better things.”

34-year-old Doyle came to Switzerland with his wife in August 1893 to give a series of talks in Lucerne.

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Perhaps it was his final school year spent with the Jesuits in Feldkirch, Austria, that gave Doyle a taste for the Alps.

Unlike his wife Louise Hawkins who was in constant ill health, Doyle was a sporty doctor.

He has seen skiing in Norway and imported one of the first pair of Norwegian skis to Davos.

Doyle scaled the Jacobshorn in the Albula Range and then tackled the Maienfelder Furka Pass between Davos and Arosa.

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Doyle wrote up his travels for the Strand:

“But now we had a pleasure which boots can never give.

For a third of a mile we shot along over gently dipping curves, skimming down into the valley without a motion of our feet.

In that great untrodden waste, with snowfields bounding our vision on every side and no marks of life save the tracks of chamois and of foxes, it was glorious to whizz along in the easy fashion.”

Doyle predicted that “the time will come when hundreds of Englishmen will come to Switzerland for a skiing season.”

Time has proved him right.

Arthur and Louise discovered the village of Meiringen in the Bernese Alps, famous for the nearby Reichenbach Falls.

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The Doyles were shown the Reichenbach Falls by their host Sir Henry Lunn, of the Park Hotel du Sauvage, who suggested to Arthur that he “push him (Holmes) over the falls.”

The Reichenbach Falls are a series of waterfalls on the Reichen Stream – a tributary of the Aare River – in the Bernese Highlands, 2 km south of the town of Meiringen and 25 km east of Interlaken.

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The Falls have a total drop of 250 metres / 820 feet and are one of the highest waterfalls in the Alps and among the most spectacular in Europe.

They were painted by the English Romanticist painter J. M. W. Turner in 1804.

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Doyle describes the Falls in The Adventure of the Final Problem:

“It is, indeed, a fearful place.

The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house.

The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening, coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged curtain of spray hissing forever upwards, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour.

We (Holmes and Watson) stood near the edge peering down at the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.”

It would be here that Doyle would kill off Holmes, getting Doyle’s writing career back on track.

The Reichenbach Falls was a place that would “make a worthy tomb for poor Sherlock, even if I buried my banking account along with him.”

But how to let Holmes go?

Doyle decided to let Holmes go down in a blaze of glory, having rid the world of a criminal so powerful and dangerous that any further task would be trivial by comparison.

“I (Holmes speaking) think I may go so far as to say, Watson, that I have not lived wholly in vain.

If my record were closed tonight I could still survey it with equanamity.

The air of London is the sweeter for my presence.

In over a thousand cases I am not aware that I have ever used my powers upon the wrong side.

Of late I have been tempted to look into the problems furnished by nature rather than those more superficial ones for which our artificial state of society is responsible.

Your memoirs will draw to an end, Watson, upon the day that I crown my career by the capture or extinction of the most dangerous and capable criminal in Europe.”

Doyle would create Professor James Moriarty simply to provide a fitting opponent with whom his hero could grapple during his goodbye to the world in The Final Problem, for killing off Holmes was exactly the final problem that Doyle had.

Doyle did not want his literary legacy to be only that of his creation Sherlock Holmes.

Meiringen, Switzerland, 13 May 2017

Weeks have gone by since I have written my blog.

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From mid-April to mid-May much has felt wrong.

I felt poorly, both in mind and body, and worked little as a teacher, a Barista or as a writer, for as I have previously written I occasionally find myself battling depression.

(See Taming the black dog of this blog.)

But this was complicated by a touch of the flu and a touch of mild thrombosis in my left leg causing it to swell like a red Zeppelin airship.

As regular readers of my blog or Facebook know, Switzerland has not been favourable to me personally or professionally since I moved here back in 2010.

I found myself lacking motivation to devote my best efforts to improving my situation and I felt dissatisfied for myself for feeling this way.

A weekend in hospital and a week enforced confinement at home gave me opportunity to think.

Teaching no longer gives me the fulfillment it once did and Starbucks will always remain a mere end to a means of maintaining a steady income.

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I thought backwards in time to events in my life that lead me here and asked myself what inspired me then and still inspires me now.

And what I have enjoyed the most has been travelling and writing.

My travels, like most people’s travels, have been restricted over the years of the constraints of both time and income.

My writing has been hampered by both a lack of discipline and an awareness of how to generate income from its practice.

I felt discouraged.

The health problems ended employment in Winterthur and caused employers in St. Gallen to reflect upon the wisdom of engaging my services.

Over the past few years my wife has made it a point to take me away from Landschlacht on the weekend including or closest to my birthday.

(For example, last year we went to Vevey to see the newly opened Charlie Chaplin Museum, and the year before that we visited Jungfrau and the Top of Europe…both topics of future blog posts…)

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I spoke of a desire to see the Reichenbach Falls where Sherlock Holmes “fatally” grappled with Professor Moriarity, for I had seen and enjoyed the third and final episode of the second season of the TV series Sherlock – a modern version of the detective with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes – wherein Holmes falls from the London roof of the Reichenbach building – and I wanted to see for myself the story location not too far removed in distance from my home.

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I had heard that Meiringen has a Sherlock Holmes Museum – one of two in Switzerland, the other in Lucens near Lausanne – and I wanted to see both the Falls as well as the Museum.

(Meiringen has another claim to fame besides the Reichenbach Falls:

It is also known for its claim to have been the place where the meringue was first created.)

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There are a number of ways to reach Meiringen:

Meiringen is served by trains: the Brünig line (a narrow gauge railway connecting Interlaken to Lucerne), an hourly InterRegio service between the aforementioned cities and it is also the endstop of an hourly Regio service from Interlaken as well as the local Meiringen – Innertkirchen railway which traverses through the Aareschlucht (Aare Gorge).

A six-minute bus ride or a twenty-minute walk away in nearby Willingen is the lower terminus of the Reichenbachfall funicular which links the village to the Reichenbach Falls.

While on the opposite side of the Meiringen valley, a cable car runs to Reuti, from where a system of gondola lifts runs to Planplatten (2,200 metres / 7, 200 feet) via Mägisalp.

Nearby is the Meiringen Air Base, one of three main air bases of the Swiss Air Force, in Unterbach, which operates mainly F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets.

The wife and I travelled by car from Landschlacht (on the Lake of Constance) bypassing Zürich and Bern, a journey of approximately three hours.

Meiringen (population nearly 4,700) sits quietly in an outdoor wonderland laced with hiking and cycling paths that crisscross wild valleys, waterfalls and high alpine moors, but the inhabitants of Meiringen remain eternally grateful to Doyle and Holmes for ensuring the worldwide fame of Reichenbach Falls and the promotion of tourism to their town.

There are a number of tourist accommodations available in Meiringen: the smart, modern Hotel Sherlock Holmes, the Alpin Sherpa Hotel, the Hotel Alpbach, and, of course, Doyle’s old haunt, the Park Hotel du Sauvage.

Appropriately, my wife booked us in the Hotel Sherlock Holmes, with carpets bearing an image of Holmes in deerstalker cap, an excellent restaurant, a swimming pool and wellness centre on the 4th floor.

We arrived mid-afternoon and quickly set out for the Falls as the weather forecast warned of the possibility of rain over the weekend and we hoped to see the Falls before bad weather denied us the chance.

I was looking forward to this weekend as I felt that maybe a change of scenery would get me out of the funk I had been in and the exercise might do my body good as well.

The signposted Sherlock Holmes Path leads from the Meiringen train station through the town, crosses the Aare River and leads away from the funicular to climb the slopes of the summit of the Falls.

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The wife, 11 years my junior, was, as usual, in fine form, while I, who only the day before had ended my homebound convalescence, slowly, breathing heavily, made my slow progress upwards behind her.

Thoughts of Doyle and Holmes were much upon my mind.

Here Doyle ended his most famous character’s “life”.

Here Holmes would battle his greatest adversary to ensure that Moriarity could cause no more harm to others.

But why was I here?

Was I too searching for a solution to my final problem?

Was I seeking a solution to how to end my days with more dignity than I had previously known?

Doyle did not want to known as only the writer of detective stories.

I do not want to be known only as an occasionally motivated/motivating freelance teacher and part-time Barista, but to be remembered as leaving the air “sweeter for my presence”.

Moriarity said to Holmes:

“I am quite sure that a man of your intelligence will see that there can be but one outcome to this affair….

…You have worked things in such a fashion that we have only one recourse left.”

But does there remain a sense of inevitability to the present course of my life?

Or should I tell myself like Holmes responded:

“Danger is part of my trade.”?

Perhaps I need to risk more and follow the spur of my heart, rather than simply do the appropriate things that have sustained my income but at the sacrifice of my spirit?

Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, 4 May 1891

“It was upon the 3rd of May that we (Watson writing about Holmes and himself) reached the little village of Meiringen, where we put up at the Englischer Hof (the Hotel Park du Sauvage), then kept by Peter Steiler the elder.

Our landlord was an intelligent man and spoke excellent English, having served for three years as waiter at the Grosvenor Hotel in London.

At his advice, upon the afternoon of the 4th we set off together with the intention of crossing the hills and spending the night at the hamlet of Rosenlaui.

We had strict injunctions, however, on no account to pass the falls of Reichenbach, which are about halfway up the hill, without making a small detour to see them.”

So, who were Watson and Holmes, and why are they in Switzerland?

As previously mentioned, one of the characters from whom Doyle framed his hero Sherlock Holmes was his old teacher at Edinburgh University’s medical school, Dr. Joseph Bell (1837 – 1911).

Doyle recalled that Bell “often learned more of the patient by a few quick glances than I had done by my own questions.”

Other sources of inspiration for the character of Holmes were:

  • Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin from Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, for the idea of the locked room mystery and solving crimes by clever deduction
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  • Emile Gaboriau who wrote about a detective using forensic science and crime scene investigation
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  • Wilkie Collins’ detective inspired Holmes’ appearance
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  • Sir Henry Littlejohn who, as the Chairman of Medical Jurisprudence at the medical school as well as police surgeon and medical officer of health in Edinburgh, provided Doyle with a link between medical investigation and the detection of crime
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  • Francis “Tanky” Smith, a policeman and master of disguise who went on to become Leicester’s first private detective
  • Maximilien Heller, a depressed, antisocial, polymath, cat-loving and opium-smoking Paris-based detective by French author Henry Cauvain
  • According to Doyle, Holmes had sharp, angular features, was tall and thin, yet wiry and athletic, with reserves of strength that enabled him to cope relatively well in any physical tussle.

The popular image of Holmes wearing a tweed suit, a cape and a deerstalker cap, and carrying about his person his trademark cane and pipe, were created by Sidney Paget, the first illustrator of the Holmes stories in the Strand Magazine.

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Doyle gave away few details of Holmes’ life, but careful reading of his works can allow the reader to deduce that Holmes was born in 1854, attended a university, and had an older brother named Mycroft.

After university, Holmes moved to London and took up residence in Montague Street, near the British Musuem.

He had connections at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, which allowed him to conduct his experiments in the lab there, even though he was neither student nor staff.

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By the time Holmes met Watson in 1881 and moved into 221B Baker Street with him as his co-lodger, he had already developed his business as a consulting detective.

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Holmes was a man with exceptional powers of observation and reasoning, a master of disguise possessed of an uncanny ability to establish the truth.

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In Doyle’s The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone, Holmes declares:

“I am brain, Watson.

The rest of me is a mere appendix.”

Holmes was skilled in martial arts and was quite capable with a sword.

Dr. John Watson was the narrator of all but four of the Sherlock Holmes tales.

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Watson was the essential witness to Holmes’ brilliance and his tireless biographer.

Watson was the warm-hearted and good-humoured everyman to Holmes’ cool pragmatist.

Watson was loyal, steadfast and utterly dependable.

He was a middle-sized, strongly built man with a square jaw, a thick neck and a moustache.

Watson was an army-trained crack shot and was once athletic, playing for the famous Blackheath Rugby Club, but by the time he met Holmes he had developed a war injury and a taste for wine and tobacco.

It is suggested that Watson was born in 1853.

Watson qualified as a medical doctor at St. Bartolomew’s Hospital in London in 1878.

After qualifying, Watson signed up as an army surgeon with the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers and was posted to the Second Afghan War (1878 – 1880), where he was shot at the Battle of Maiwand in July 1880.

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While in hospital recovering, Watson became ill with typhoid and was sent home with his health “irretrievably ruined” and was discharged from the army with a meagre pension.

With no family to turn to, Watson was left adrift in London.

It was at this low point that Stamford, Watson’s old friend from medical school, introduced him to Sherlock Holmes, who was looking for someone to share his lodgings.

For eight years, Holmes and Watson were inseparable, until in 1889 Watson fell in love with Mary Morstan and moved away from Baker Street to set up his own practice in West London.

By 1891 and the events of The Final Problem, the relationship between Watson and Holmes had become more distant after Watson’s marriage.

Professor James Moriarity made only a brief, dramatic encounter with Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls and only appeared directly in one other story, The Valley of Fear – set earlier in Holmes’ career – but his powerful spectre seemed to haunt the Holmes stories that followed.

The Professor’s power to terrify comes from the fact that he was a dark mirror image of Holmes: the man that Holmes might have become had he chosen to follow Moriarity’s sinister path.

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Both Holmes and Moriarity were tall and thin with high foreheads and sharp eyes, but the Professor’s eyes were sunken, his chin protruding, his head would move from “side to side in curiously reptilian fashion”.

Moriarity came from a privileged background and received an excellent education.

Naturally brilliant at mathematics, at the age of 21, Moriarity wrote a treatise on algebra that achieved recognition throughout Europe.

Moriarity was also celebrated for his brilliant book on the dynamics of asteroids, which Holmes remarked was so advanced that “no man in the scientific press was capable of criticising it.”

Moriarity became a Professor of Mathematics at an English university, until unspecified “dark rumours” began to circulate about him and he relocated to London to begin his criminal career.

Moriarity became the ultimate mastermind, “the Napoleon of crime”, drawing on his massive intellect to run a vast network and yet remaining invisible at its heart entirely above suspicion.

Holmes likened Moriarity to Jonathan Wild, who in the 18th century “was a master criminal…the hidden force of the London criminals, to whom he sold his brains and his organisation on a 15% commission”.

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Wild pretended to apprehend thieves, earning fame and money for the way his network caught criminals, but it was also he who was organising their crimes.

But the strongest inspiration for Moriarity was the true life criminal genius Adam Worth (1848 – 1902), who was dubbed “the Napoleon of crime” by Scotland Yard for Worth’s skill in running a major crime network from his home in London.

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Like Moriarity, Worth, for years, outfoxed the world’s police by conducting well-executed crimes without leaving a shred of incriminating evidence.

“As you are aware, Watson, there is no one who knows the higher criminal world of London so well as I do.

For years past I have continually been conscious of some power behind the malefactor, some deep organising power which forever stands in the way of the law and throws its shield over the wrongdoer.

Again and again in cases of the most varying sorts – forgery cases, robberies, murders – I have felt the presence of this force and I have deduced its action in many of those undiscovered crimes in which I have not been personally consulted.

For years I have endeavoured to break through the veil which shrouded it, and at last the time came when I seized my thread and followed it, until it led me, after a thousand cunning windings, to ex-Professor Moriarity of mathematical celebrity….

He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them….

You know my powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal.

My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration at his skill.

But at last he made a trip – only a little, little trip – but it was more than he could afford, when I was so close upon him.

I had my chance, and, starting from that point, I have woven my net around him until now it is all ready to close….”

The Final Problem has Holmes arriving at Watson’s residence one evening in an agitated state, with bruised and bleeding knuckles.

Much to Watson’s surprise, Holmes had escaped three separate murder attempts that day after a visit from Moriarity warning Holmes to withdraw from his pursuit of justice against him to avoid any regrettable consequences.

Holmes asked Watson to come to the Continent with him, giving Watson unusual instructions designed to hide his trail to Victoria Station.

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As the train pulled out of Victoria Station, Holmes spotted Moriarity on the platform, trying to get someone to stop the train.

Watson and Holmes disembarked at Canterbury, making a change to their planned route.

As they were waiting for another train to Newhaven, a special one coach train roared past, containing the Professor who had hired the train in an effort to overtake Holmes.

Holmes and Watson were forced to hide behind luggage.

Having made their way to Strasbourg via Brussels, Holmes received a message that most of Moriarity’s gang had been arrested in England but Moriarity himself had slipped out of the grasp of the English police.

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Sherlock the hunter had become the hunted.

Holmes and Watson’s journey took them to Switzerland and Meiringen.

As Holmes and Watson prepared to leave the Falls, a boy approached Watson with a letter, supposedly from the hotel landlord, asking Watson to return and tend to an Englishwoman who was dying of tuberculosis.

When Watson reached the hotel, he found that there was no sick woman awaiting his attention.

Holmes had realised that the letter was a hoax but said nothing to Watson, for he felt that the time had come for his final combat with Moriarity.

Realising that he had been tricked, Watson rushed back to the Reichenbach Falls, but he found only Holmes’ Alpinstock (walking stick) leaning against the rock.

Two sets of footprints led to a precipice above the deep chasm and there were no returning footprints.

The disturbed earth and torn branches and ferns at the edge of the path showed that there had been a struggle beside the chasm.

Watson then saw something gleaming from the top of a boulder and found Holmes’ silver cigarette case.

As Watson picked it up, a note from Holmes fluttered out of it, a note which Moriarity had allowed Holmes to write before their battle.

The note revealed that Holmes was prepared to die in order to rid the world of Moriarity.

When Watson and the police searched the scene, they found unmistakeable signs that the two men had wrestled on the brink and both fell to their deaths.

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Watson believed that he had lost the man that:

“I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known.”

Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland, 13 May 2017

The actual ledge from which Holmes and Moriarity are believed to have fallen is on the other side of the Falls from the funicular.

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Ute (my wife) and I climbed the path to the top of the Falls to the ledge where Holmes and Moriarity struggled.

The ledge is marked by a plaque written in English, French and German.

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The English inscription reads:

“At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarity, on 4 May 1891.”

A white star has been placed above the plaque so viewers across the chasm on the funicular side can identify the spot.

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The path on which the detective and the criminal mastermind wrestled was then in 1891 right beside the Falls, but over the years it has crumbled away and today it ends around 100 metres / 330 feet short of the waterfalls.

When Doyle first viewed the Falls in 1893, the path ended by the Falls, close enough to touch them, but over the hundred years since his visit, the pathway became unsafe and slowly eroded away and the Falls have receded farther back into the gorge.

Unlike the 2011 film adaptation inspired by The Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – starring Robert Downey Jr. (Holmes), Jude Law (Watson), Stephen Fry (Mycroft) and Jared Harris (Moriarity) – Reichenbach Falls does not have a large castle built over them.

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We took many photographs of the plaque and the Falls, some with a Sherlock Holmes doll my wife had given me some years back and my own Alpenstock with its Stocknageln (stick pins) showing some of the places I had hiked to.

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Though a fan of crime stories and detective novels, the Sherlock Holmes canon had never captured my wife’s imagination before, but a visit to the Falls, and then subsequently a tour of the small Sherlock Holmes Museum, (in the basement of the English Church beside the Hotel Park du Sauvage back in Meiringen), found Ute waxing enthusiastically about the experience.

I found myself in a reflective mood.

For as sad a “death” as Sherlock’s was, he “died” as he chose, in fitting response to Moriarty’s threat.

Moriarty: You hope to beat me.  If you are clever enough to bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to you.

Holmes: You have paid me several compliments, Mr. Moriarty.  Let me pay you one in return when I say that if I were assured of the former eventuality I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept the latter.

To choose how you will end your days…

“Death, where is your sting?

Grave, where is your victory?”

(I Corinthians 15:55, Holy Bible)

Sources:

Time, The 100 Most Influential People Who Never Lived

Dorling Kindersley, The Sherlock Holmes Book

Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland

Lonely Planet, Switzerland

Rough Guides, Switzerland

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Final Problem

Wikipedia

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Canada Slim and Last Year´s Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 December 2016

Now, Belgians love a good celebration, but a big night in the Belgian boozers often leads to mornings of regret and grim reflection.

Being the chaste daughter of an English curate, nights in a bar were probably not part of Charlotte Bronte´s story, but her unrequited love for a married professor must have lead her to mornings of remorse and silent rage against the fates denying her heart´s desire.

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It has been suggested by many a Bronte biographer that during Charlotte´s second sojourn in Brussels that she was unhappy and homesick, but was she also lonely?

Chances are…probably yes.

For who had she to chum around with?

Her sister Emily, who had been with her in Brussels for the first nine months of 1842, had remained at Haworth.

Although we can be fairly certain that Charlotte maintained a regular amount of correspondence with Haworth and English friends, her biographers suggest that she had no peers to confide in, she had no great affection for the girls under her charge at the Héger boarding school, nor did she venture out into Bruxellois society, Charlotte being blessed with neither great beauty nor great wealth.

In 1843 Brussels, Charlotte would probably known of, but never have spoken to, the élite of the Belgian capital.

Leopold I (1790 – 1865), the first King of the Belgians, had been on the throne since 1831, though Belgian independence went unrecognised until 1839.

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Joachim Lelewel (1786 – 1861), Polish historian, biographer, polyglot and politician, was living in exile in Brussels (1833 – 1861) during the year Charlotte was teaching again in the Héger boarding school, but he earned a scanty livelihood by his writings.

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There is no record showing that Charlotte and Joachim ever met.

And when not silently pining for Professor Héger or teaching young ladies English, Charlotte would have been distracted by problems back home in Haworth.

Charlotte´s father Patrick Bronte had lost his sight (restored in 1846), while her brother Branwell had fallen into a rapid decline of drama, drunkenness and opiate delirium.

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One hundred and fifty three years later…

Of course many historic events had happened between Charlotte´s time in Brussels (January 1843 – January 1844) and my own time there (5 – 12 November 1996).

Many people had lived and died, come and gone in Brussels:

The aforementioned Leopold I and Joachim Lelewel were long dead, as were the entire Bronte family and the operators of the Héger boarding school.

Brussels has seen the likes of:

  • French politician/philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 – 1865), the world´s first self-declared anarchist, in exile here (1858 – 1862).
  • Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker (aka Multatuli – Latin: I have suffered much.) completed his masterpiece Max Havelaar here in 1859.
  • French writer Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) completed Les Miserables here in 1851.
  • French poets Paul Verlaine (1844 – 1896) and Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891)
  • French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917)
  • French poets Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) and Louis Blanc (1811 – 1882)
  • French General Georges Boulanger (1837 – 1891) and Argentinian General / 1st Peruvian President José de San Martin (1824 – 1830)
  • French writer Alexandre Dumas Sr. (1802 -1870)
  • German philosophers Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895) wrote The Communist Manifesto here.
  • Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)
  • George Washington (1871 – 1946), the inventor and first commercial producer of instant coffee, grew up in Brussels.
  • Nobel Prize winners Jules Bordet (1870 – 1961)(Medicine, 1919), Ilye Prigogine (1917 – 2003)(Chemistry, 1977), Francois Englert (Physics, 2013) and Henri La Fontaine (1854 – 1943)(Peace, 1913)
  • Painters Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525 – 1569) and René Magritte (1898 – 1967)
  • Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536)
  • Graphic designer M.C. Escher (1898 – 1972)
  • Architects Victor Horta (1861 – 1947) and Jan van Ruysbroeck (aka Jan van der Berghe) would transform the Brussels urban landscape.
  • Novelist Emma Orczy (1865 – 1947) grew up here.
  • Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha (1908 – 1985) worked as a secretary at the Albanian consulate (1934 – 1936).
  • Rockers Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen), Plastic Bertrand, Brain Molko (Placebo) and Vini Reilly (The Duratti Column / Morrissey)
  • Régine Zylberberg, pioneer of the modern nightclub
  • Writer Hendrik Conscience (1812 – 1883)
  • Mathematician Jacques Tits (born 1930)
  • Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 1564), author of the first complete textbook on human anatomy, On the Workings of the Human Body
  • Actors Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (born 1960)(“the muscles from Brussels”)
  • Chansonnier Jacques Brel (1933 – 1978)
  • Just to name a few…these would “pitch their tents” within Brussels.

1993 was a dramatic year in respect to the Belgian monarchy:

The 5th King of the Belgians, Baudouin, died on 31 July.

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Within hours the Royal Palace gates and enclosure were covered with flowers that people brought spontaneously.

Baudouin had become King of the Belgians when his father Leopold III, surrounded by controversy, abdicated the throne in favour of his son.

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(Leopold III was unpopular because he married an English-born Belgian commoner after Baudoin´s mother had been killed in a car crash, and because he had surrendered Belgium to the Nazis when they invaded in 1940.

Many Belgians questioned Leopold´s loyalties and though he was exonerated of treason after WW2 it was felt by many that he no longer deserved the throne.)

The King and Queen had no children.

During Baudouin´s reign the Belgian Congo became independent.

At the last ceremonial inspection of the Force Publique, the royal sabre of the King was stolen during the parade.

The famous picture travelled the world newspapers.

The next day the King attended the official reception.

His speech received a blistering public response from the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

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This duality of humiliation of the King became the symbol of the independence of the Congo.

In 1990 Baudouin refused to sign into law a bill permitting abortion.

Due to his religious convictions…

(As well, all of the Queen´s five pregnancies had ended in premature miscarriages.)

…Baudouin asked the Belgian government to declare him temporarily unable to reign so that he could avoid signing the measure.

The Belgian government compiled with his request, because, according to the provisions of the Belgian constitution, in the event that the King is temporarily unable to reign, the government fulfills the role of the Head of State.

All members of the government signed the bill on 4 April 1990.

The next day the government declared that Badouin was capable of reigning again.

His successor Albert II assumed the throne on 9 August and would abdicate the throne in favour of his son Philippe in 2013.

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Brussels, Belgium, 7 November 1996

“Zoé”, a former girlfriend (of the year previous) with whom I “pitched my tent” during my Brussels stay, had been one of the 500,000 people who came to pay their respects and to view Baudouin´s body lying in state at the Royal Palace, waiting in line for hours in sweltering heat to see their King one last time.

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When I visited Brussels in November 1996, Belgium still felt like a country still in deep mourning.

The souvenir shops were still selling postcards of Baudoin as well as postcards of Albert II.

(Ironically I would see another spontaneous bringing of flowers in memorium when the death of Diana, Princess of Wales was announced while I was back in Brussels the following year.)

Zoé, like Charlotte Bronte, also lacked spectacular wealth and beauty.

So they also shared a loneliness they were both desperate to alleviate.

Your humble blogger too lacked great wealth or looks…

(That hasn´t changed!)

…but I had been accustomed to a life of solitude since I had begun travelling five years previously (hitching around North America, walking in Canada), so as much as I too had my moments of isolated loneliness this isolation no longer frightened me.

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Zoé was terrified of isolation.

Escaping from Zoé´s side was more difficult than accomplishing any one of the Twelve Labours of Heracles!

Zoé had to have noise always about her and listened to the radio or watched TV constantly.

At the time of her life I visited her, Zoé was very découragé with everything: her apartment, her job prospects, her family…

During our year apart I had changed.

I was no longer the last year´s man she had known.

Thursday 7 November was a dark and dismal rainy day in Brussels so we spent most of the day in her apartment.

The apartment, belonging to her father, was by no means a cure for the blues…

It was dirty, dingy, infested by slugs(!), peeling paint, clutter and unidentifiable powerfully unpleasant odours.

Zoé would have liked to live elsewhere but without employment she was dependent upon her father´s assistance.

I did not wish to add to her financial burdens once my savings ran out and finding employment as a teacher didn´t pan out.

I met her father that day and was shocked to see the contrast between them.

“Francois”, 65, was tall (by Belgian standards), stylish, debonair, cultured, and, though I never discovered what his source of income was, able to maintain two mistresses.

Zoé´s mother was never a topic of discussion.

I felt I was in a world alien to my experience.

What kind of morality or conscience guided Francois?

What kind of woman was attracted to someone like Francois?

Had he no compassion for these women, or was that limited to the chase rather than the capture?

Were these women as desperate and hungry for affection as Zoé was?

Could Francois´ womanizing have something to do with the woman Zoé was?

I was no psychologist nor an expert in women.

Zoé had heard of open invitations to become spectators for RTL TVI Station 15´s talk show “Balle Centrale”(?) that evening.

(Perhaps today´s “De quoi je me mêle”?)

The station originated in Luxembourg but is now based in Belgium.

Zoé drove us through the driving rain to the studios to watch journalists, sports figures, singers, actresses and comedians strut their stuff.

My rusty French and the programme´s Belgian accent and vocabulary left me feeling somewhat diminished, while a comedian enraged me with his comments that there was no difference between Canada and the US!!

Zoé had already introduced me to Belgian comedy:

I particularly enjoyed Les Snuls (1989 -1983).

Their humour was mostly inspired by self-mockery and nonsense, much like the British comedy troupe Monty Python or Canada´s Royal Canadian Air Farce, and hijacking national symbols of Belgium (moules-frites, Manneken Pis, Tintin, beer, chocolate, sprouts…).

This quintet of comedy amused me, but also made me consider the similarities between Canada and Belgium.

In the 15 August 1912 Revue de Belgique, Walloon socialist politician Jules Destrée wrote his famous and notorious “Letter to the King on the separation of Wallonia and Flanders”:

“In Belgium there are Walloons and Flemings.  There are no Belgians.”

There remain moments where I have wondered:

In Canada there are Anglophones and Francophones, English Canada and Québec.

Are there Canadians?

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Perhaps had I not grown up Anglo in Québec I might be like 90% of Canadians who are strictly unilingual.

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Above: Flag of Québec

Perhaps I might feel either Anglo or Franco.

In the merging of two into one, can the separate identity of both be maintained?

Should it be?

And then I thought of my time with Zoé since we had been reunited.

So desperate to get me into her world and hold me within…

I had not come to Europe to lose my identity, but rather to discover it by comparison.

In thinking of my identity, both personal and national, I thought much on the music of Montréal Anglo Leonard Cohen.

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Above: Leonard Cohen, 1988

As Zoé slumbered beside me, sleep denied its comfort and I listened to the whispering rain fall outside the window.

And in the jukebox of my mind, from his lonely wooden Tower of Song, Leonard quietly and mournfully reminded me that…

“The rain falls down on the works of last year´s man…”

Above: The flag of Belgium