Canada Slim and the Greatest Villain

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 May 2017

I read the news and I feel sometimes that all the media seems to report is bad news – news that angers or saddens me.

To be fair, it’s not the media’s fault completely…

Bad things happen in the world.

It is a terrible thing to admit, but nothing encourages us to remember Life more than a sudden threat to it or its sudden ending.

Recently Chris Cornell, former lead singer of the rock groups Audioslave and Soundgarden, died.

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Suddenly I am reminded of two of his songs: Black Hole Sun and You Know My Name (the theme song of the Bond film Casino Royale), which play again and again like a skipping vinyl record in the jukebox of my mind.

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On 22 May, a suicide bombing was carried out at Manchester Arena after a concert by American singer Ariana Grande.

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The attacker was identified by police as Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old of Libyan ancestry, who detonated a homemade explosive device as concertgoers were leaving the Arena.

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23 people, including Abedi himself, were killed and approximately 120 were injured.

My ignorance of things Mancunian, Libyan and the music of Ariana Grande is made manifest and I find myself suddenly searching literature both hard copy and electronic to know more about these things in an attempt to understand an event that is incomprehensible.

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Increased hits on search engines like Google show that I am not alone in this regard.

I am saddened by the loss of those so young whose only desire was to celebrate life’s rhythms.

I am saddened by the insanity that would drive a young man to commit such an atrocity.

I am angered that the Right will use this incident as a justification for their Islamophobia, making a cowed and frightened populace accept the usurpation of their freedom in the name of “guaranteed” security and create further hate and violence against others whose only “crime” is being of a different faith.

I am angered by those who would use religion as a justification for violence.

I am saddened that the tendency to label entire groups of people by the actions of a few still remains a constant impulse.

I am saddened that only those who think and act upon their consciences seek justice and compassion, while too many of us crave bloody revenge for this carnage committed against innocents.

I am saddened that those who have been chosen to lead us failed to protect us and may have been partially responsible for the violence visited upon us.

The lines between black and white, villain and hero, remain blurred.

Only the victims seem untainted of blame.

I, like many others, ask what could possibly be gained by anyone committing such an act.

A fearful populace brought to its knees who will seek to appease their attackers?

A spotlight thrown upon our vulnerability?

A desperate attack made to show the consequences of the actions made against others by those who lead us?

Events like Manchester also bring out the conspiracy theorists, whom are much harder to dismiss after a tragedy such as this.

The identification of the villains that inspired such violence is not so clear.

The child within me wishes for an obvious hero to combat such villainy, to save us as we cannot save ourselves.

A hero obvious who tells us: You know my name.

A hero like Bond.

James Bond.

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A person with a license to kill, to mete out revenge disguised as justice.

But is Ian Fleming’s fictional creation, immortalised in literature and film, truly a hero?

“James Bond lives in a nightmarish world where laws are written at the point of a gun, where coercion and rape are considered valour and murder is a funny trick.

Bond’s job is to guard the interests of the property class, and he is no better than the youths Hitler boasted he would bring up like wild beasts to be able to kill without thinking.”

(Yuri Zhukov, Pravda, 30 September 1965)

Harsh criticism, but was this journalist completely inaccurate?

“It was part of his profession to kill people.

He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it.

As a secret agent who held the rare double-O prefix – the license to kill in the Secret Service – it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon.

If it happened, it happened.

Regret was unprofessional – worse, it was a death-watch beetle in the soul.”

(Ian Fleming, Goldfinger)

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But, by this analysis, where do we draw the line between soldier and criminal?

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Is every act justifiable if it is done for Queen and country, or in the name of religion?

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Since 1953, Bond has been in the public consciousness from Fleming’s literature and since 1962 from a never-ending series of films.

We are reminded of Bond these days, not only for the death of Chris Connell, but for the death, the day after Manchester, of one of the seven actors who have played Bond in the 26 films starring this character (including the Woody Allen spoof of Casino Royale and the independent film Never Say Never Again), Roger Moore, who played the secret agent in seven feature films between 1973 and 1985.

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Above: Sir Roger Moore (1927 – 2017)

Roger Moore died on 23 May 2017, age 89, in his home in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

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It is easy to think of Bond as a hero, for his villains are easy to identify.

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And perhaps it is this dispatching of these villains that has somehow given the character its own immortality, regardless of the mortality of those who portray him on the silver screen.

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Those who portray Bond have a terrible time afterwards of being identified only for the role as Bond.

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Roger Moore, who played Bond more than any other actor, had this typecasting problem.

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But unlike the villains Bond dispatched or the victims of real-life villains that strike down civilians, Moore did not end his days violently.

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In his acting roles, Moore encountered his share of villains who would have delighted in his demise, yet, with the exception of one film, Moore’s character of the moment would survive any and all opposition.

(In the 1956 film Diane, Moore, in the role of French King Henri II, is killed in a jousting tournament.)

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Moore’s characters were survivors, whether he was a highwayman against the armed might of a Duke (The Lion’s Thief, 1955) or a soldier in the Battle of Salamanca (The Miracle, 1959).

Moore played more roles than he is remembered for.

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Moore played Sir William of Ivanhoe (1958 – 59), Silky Harris (The Alaskans, 1959 – 60), 14 Carat John (The Roaring Twenties, 1960 – 62), Beau Maverick (1960 – 61), Simon Templar (The Saint, 1962 – 69), Gary Fenn (Crossplot, 1969), Harold Pelham (The Man Who Haunted Himself, 1970), Lord Brett Sinclair (The Persuaders, 1971), Rod Slater (Gold, 1974), Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes in New York, 1976), Sebastian Oldsmith (Shout at the Devil, 1976), Shawn Fynn (The Wild Geese, 1978), Rufus Excalibar ffolkes (North Sea Hijack, 1979), Major Otto Hecht (Escape to Athena, 1979), Captain Gavin Stewart (The Sea Wolves, 1980),Seymour Goldfarb Jr. (Cannonball Run, 1981), Inspector Clouseau (The Curse of the Pink Panther, 1983), “Adam” (Bed and Breakfast, 1992), Lord Edgar Dobbs (The Quest, 1996), “The Chief” (Spice World, 1997) and Lloyd Faversham (Boat Trip, 2002).

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These TV/movie roles, which can still be seen on websites like YouTube, are just some of the roles Moore played in a long and successful acting career.

Most of these roles had him play the hero.

Most of these roles had moments when the hero’s life was in grave danger.

As Ivanhoe, Moore suffered broken ribs and a battleaxe blow to his helmet.

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In The Man Who Haunted Himself, Moore’s character briefly suffered clinical death after a car accident, but the movie’s director Basil Dearden would die for real in a car accident shortly thereafter.

In For Your Eyes Only, Moore, as Bond, would mourn the death of his wife, though in real life Moore would himself marry four times and was the father of three children.

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Moore acted the hero in more than his screen appearances:

He was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (1991) and the voice of Father Christmas in a UNICEF cartoon (2004) and narrated a video for PETA protesting against the production and wholesale of foie gras (2008).

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Moore’s greatest villain was poor health.

He nearly died from double pneumonia when he was five.

He was a long-term sufferer of kidney stones and needed to be hospitalised during the making of the Bond film Live and Let Die (1973) and again during the production of Bond film Moonraker (1979).

In 1993, Moore was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and underwent successful surgery for the disease.

He collapsed on stage while appearing on Broadway in 2003 and was fitted with a pacemaker to treat a potentially deadly slow heartbeat.

In 2012, Moore revealed he had been treated for skin cancer several times.

In 2013, he was diagnosed with diabetes.

His greatest villain, cancer, finally beat him on 23 May 2017.

Terrorism is a villainous act I shall never understand, because despite the headlines it garnishes it is only common to my own life indirectly in headlines.

Diseases, like cancer, on the other hand, are something I, like the common man, can relate to.

In my own life I have lost classmates, my mother and my two foster parents to this disease.

The obituary pages are filled with names of people whose lives were snuffed out by disease.

Still we tend to find death’s arrival after a long battle against a disease easier to cope with, for there is a sense of preparedness / readiness for the fatal end, as unwanted as it may be.

Deaths from accident or from incidents such as Manchester are much harder to accept, for we weren’t ready for our loved ones suddenly departing from our lives.

We are saddened by the deaths of entertainment legends, for we feel that their entertainment touched our lives, but their deaths remind us that, like us, they were mortal too.

But when we compare the death of Moore to the deaths of Manchester, we are left with a sense of unfairness.

Moore was 89 and had lived a full life.

The youngest victim of the Manchester bombing was 8.

Chris Cornell and Salman Abedi could be compared in that they both committed suicide because they were both psychologically unhealthy, but Cornell brought value to the world while Abedi took it away.

So, in these times living in the shadow of death, who or what is the greatest villain?

I believe the greatest villain is: apathy.

When someone dies, whether we knew them or not, it should matter to us.

And it shouldn’t take the death of someone for us to finally realise their value to us.

Don’t take your loved ones for granted.

Don’t take life and health for granted.

Manchester bothers me.

It was senseless and sad.

I refuse to hate.

Abedi was one man, but not all are cast in the same mold.

I refuse to be afraid.

I will live my life to the fullest, knowing that there is no way to predict when my final moment will arrive.

I hope I never forget to be grateful for the life I have and the people within it.

To those reading these words, please know that you are loved and have value.

And it is my hope, whether my life ends in tragic suddenness in some senseless attack or unexpected accident, or if I cling to life against the onslaught of age or disease, that I will be considered to have lived a life of value because I cared.

The greatest villain is apathy.

The best solution is love.

Sources:

James Bond: The Secret World of 007 (Dorling Kindersley)

The James Bond Encyclopedia (Dorling Kindersley)

Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

New York Times, 24 May 2017

Wikipedia

Canada Slim and the Great Expedition

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2017

We live in an age where we take for granted many things and we only seem to question things when they don’t happen as we think they should.

We live in an age where we casually accept what is, without questioning how it came to be.

The older I get, the more I am convinced that there is no such thing as coincidence.

We may not understand why things happen, but I believe that things happen (or don’t happen) for a reason, even if we don’t know what that reason is.

“God only knows.

God makes His plans.

The information is unavailable to the mortal man.

We work at our jobs.

Collect our pay.

Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip-sliding away.”

(Paul Simon, “Slip-Sliding Away”)

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I recently discovered a book called Literaturführer Thurgau, which has me looking anew at the region where I live, through the eyes of writers who have experienced this region.

(See Dreams of Dragonflies of this blog for the start of my walking adventures tracing the literary figures of Canton Thurgau.)

Reading this book and as well about recent events have led me to consider the topic of flying.

I am very much like the John McClane character, portrayed by Bruce Willis, in the Die Hard movie series….

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I hate flying.

Or, put another way, I am the composite antithesis of the Ryan Bingham character, portrayed by George Clooney, in the film Up In the Air, whereas Bingham lives to fly, I will fly only when I truly feel I have no other choice.

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I am an English teacher who has found himself, much to my own surprise, teaching aircraft technicians and engineers, pilots and cabin crew, the necessary English they need to do their jobs more professionally.

So, ignorance is bliss…

For knowing what keeps a plane functioning, what allows it to fly, land and take off safely, and what passengers know and don’t know about the flight happening around them…

This knowledge does not comfort me.

I know what can go wrong.

I like to travel and to do so I have flown across continents and oceans.

I have been buffeted by winds that have caused my pants to get stained by coffee.

I have been bumped up to first class and have been bumped off flights that had been overbooked.

I have missed flights due to changes in either the airline schedule or my inability to meet the airline schedule.

All part of the experience…

Overbooking, also known as overselling, is the sale of a good or service in excess of the actual supply,  or ability to supply, that good or service.

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It is a common practice in the travel industry, because it is expected that some people will cancel or miss their flights.

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By overselling, the supplier is ensured that 100% of the available supply will be used, resulting in the maximum return on the supplier’s investment.

But if most customers do wish to purchase or use the good or service, this practice of overselling leaves some customers lacking the good or service they paid for and expected to receive.

Overselling is regulated, but rarely prohibited.

Companies that practice overbooking are usually required to offer large amounts of compensation to customers as an incentive for them to not claim their purchase.

An alternative to overbooking is discouraging customers from buying services they don’t actually intend to use by making reservations non-refundable or requiring them to pay a termination fee.

An airline can book more customers onto a flight than can actually be accommodated by the aircraft, allowing the airline to have a full aircraft on most flights, even if some customers are denied their flight.

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Airlines may ask for volunteers to give away their seats or refuse boarding to certain passengers in exchange for a compensation that may include an additional free ticket or an upgrade on a later flight.

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Airlines can do this and still make more money than if they booked only to the plane’s capacity and had taken off with empty seats.

Some airlines do not overbook as a policy that provides incentive and avoids customer disappointment.

By making their tickets non-refundable, these airlines lower the chances of passengers missing their flights.

A few airline frequent flier programs allow a customer the privilege of flying an already overbooked flight, requiring other customers being asked to deplane.

Often it is only Economy Class that is overbooked, while higher classes are not, allowing the airlines to upgrade some passengers to otherwise unused seats while providing assurance to higher paying customers.

Chicago O’Hare Airport, 9 April 2017

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Early April 2017 saw severe weather on the east coast of the United States, causing many flight cancellations.

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Due to the large number of stranded passengers trying to board flights, many flights were far too overbooked.

On this date of 9 April 2017, United Airlines Express Flight 3411 was scheduled to leave O’Hare at 5:19 pm/1719 hours.

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After passengers were seated in the aircraft, bound for Louisville, Kentucky, but while the plane was still at the gate, the flight crew announced that they needed to remove four passengers to accommodate four staff members who had to cover an unstaffed flight at another location.

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Passengers were initially offered $400 US in vouchers for future travel, a hotel stay and a seat on a plane leaving more than 21 hours later, if they voluntarily deplaned.

No volunteers.

The offer was increased to $800 in vouchers.

Still no volunteers.

A manager boarded and informed the flight that four people would be chosen by computer (based on specific factors such as priority to remain aboard for frequent fliers and those who had paid higher fares).

Three of the computer-selected customers agreed to deplane.

The 4th selected passenger, Asian American 69-year-old Dr. David Dao of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, refused, saying he needed to see patients the next day at his clinic.

 Dr David Dao has been revealed as the man who was dragged from a United flight in Chicago on Sunday. He is pictured with his wife, Teresa, and one of their grandchildren. It was his wife who alerted authorities to his inappropriate relationship with a patient

Above: Dr. David Dao (on the left) with his family

United Airlines decided it required assistance from Chicago Department of Aviation Security officers.

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A security officer threw the Doctor against the armrest of his seat, causing injuries to the physician’s head and mouth (a broken nose, the loss of two front teeth, sinus injuries and a concussion), before dragging Dao down the aisle by his arms unconscious.

Other passengers on the flight recorded the incident on video using their Smartphone cameras and the incident was quickly and widely circulated on social media and was picked up by the mainstream media agencies.

The violent methods used by the security personnel distressed a number of passengers who voluntarily left the aircraft along with the three passengers who had been selected for deplaning.

Four United Airlines staff promptly sat in the now vacated seats.

The flight departed at 1921 hours – two hours and two minutes behind schedule – and arrived at Louisville at 2101 hours – two hours behind schedule.

Back in Chicago, Dao was taken to hospital and would require reconstructive surgery.

No one has been fired as a result of this incident, which could have been avoided had United simply had the computer choose another passenger when Dao had refused to leave.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2017

Imagine how differently things might have been had the effects of overbooking and a methodology had been practiced to deal with dissatisfied customers by United.

In fairness, running an airline is not an easy task.

So far we have considered ourselves only with the issue of assigning and seating the passengers, but now let’s think about the men and women who actually pilot these aircraft.

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What must they plan for?

Part of a pilot’s job is straightforward and traditional: inspecting the aircraft about to be piloted.

The pilot looks at the external surfaces of the aircraft for signs of damage, then he/she checks the nose undercarriage for excessive wear and the tires for any cuts.

The leading edges of the wings are inspected for damage, the fastenings on the engine cowling are checked and the visible fan blades on the engine are examined.

Moving along the fuselage to the tail, the pilot does the same visual checks over all surfaces before ensuring that all cargo doors and access hatches are securely fastened.

All pretty standard operating procedure….

But not only must the pilot be concerned as to whether the craft can fly, but as well thought must be brought to bear on the actual flight itself.

In the very early days of powered flight, pilots were contented with simply getting airborne and flying short distances.

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Navigational aids did not exist and the basic technique followed was pilotage – flights were at low altitudes and the pilot simply looked out the window and navigated with reference to known landmarks.

In some cases, it was just a question of the pilot following a road, river or railway to the desired destination.

Planes nowadays fly further, so they need a method to find their way safely and efficiently to their final flight arrival.

As well an airplace can only carry a limited amount of fuel.

Failure to reach a destination before the fuel runs out might have fatal consequences.

In modern times all flights operate under VFR (visual flight rules) or IFR (instrument flight rules).

A VFR pilot is qualified and authorised to fly only in good weather conditions and is responsible for maintaining separation from other aircraft and obstructions based on what can be seen.

An IFR pilot is permitted to fly in all weather conditions, including when visibility may be low, relying on flight instruments and navigational aids to follow a safe course.

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While an IFR pilot may still use VFR pilotage techniques, it is advisable for all pilots that their flights be planned careful before taking off, using detailed navigational charts.

Pilots plan their routes, taking into consideration natural obstacles and airspace which may be restricted, which they then mark on their charts.

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Planning a flight is dependent upon a number of factors: topographical, geographical and meteorological.

An area needs to have been mapped out, navigational beacons established, geographical features noted and the weather conditions monitored.

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But in the pioneering days of public air transportation, there were few maps, few beacons, few airports and few refuelling locations.

Before satellites, there was only one way to ascertain what route lay ahead, someone had to go there first.

As well, as any reader of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War can tell you, one cannot defeat a potential enemy if one is unprepared for the terrain upon which one might be forced to battle.

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So geographical knowledge is not only an exercise in exploration, it is crucial for the planning of strategy, both politically and militarily.

Konstanz, Germany, 4 January 1927

It was a time of great change.

Germany was still the Weimar Republic and to reduce the state’s cost of funding two airlines, Deutsch Aero Lloyd and Junkers Luftverkehr, a merger of the two under the composite name of Deutsche Luft Hansa (German Air Hanseatic) was born on 6 January 1926.

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British and Belgian troops had left German soil and many of the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, that marked Germany’s World War One defeat, had been lifted, enabling Deutsche Luft Hansa to expand its routes beyond the borders of Germany worldwide.

Luft Hansa planned an airline connection between Berlin and Beijing and needed to know the meteorological conditions of the land over which it planned to fly – Mongolia, the Gobi Desert and the Chinese province of Xinjian (then known as East Turkestan) – as well as possible locations for landing, weather monitoring and refuelling.

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The top man for such an expedition, the only man capable of leading such an expedition, was someone who had experience in such matters.

Swedish geographer, topographer, explorer, photographer, travel writer and illustrator Sven Anders Hedin (1865 – 1952) was the man chosen to lead this Sino-Swedish Expedition of 1927 – 1928.

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Already Hedin had made four expeditions to Central Asia, explored the Himalayas, located the sources of the rivers Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej, mapped the “wandering lake” Lop Nur and discovered the remains of cities, grave sites and the Great Wall of China in the deserts of the Tarim Basin.

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Hedin had visited Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, India, China, Russia and Japan, in an age where air travel was not common, trains were not everywhere and where the automobile had yet to be developed to a point of affordable utility.

Hedin would enter uncharted territory and literally put these places on the map, filling the “white spaces” up with his discoveries.

On the Sino-Swedish Expedition, Hedin, age 62, would be accompanied by a multinational team of 29 men, among them a humble bookkeeper who would serve as the Expedition’s logistics manager.

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This bookkeeper, the son of a Konstanz pharmacist, would later write about his adventures in Mongolia (and his explorations of the Lake of Constance upon his return home), which would be published by a small Lengwil publisher.

Fritz Mühlenweg (1898 – 1961), educated as a chemist in Bielefeld and taking over his family’s business when his father died, left Konstanz for Berlin and began to work for Deutsche Luft Hansa.

On this day of 4 January 1927, Mühlenweg said his final farewells to his family in Konstanz and boarded a train bound for Berlin where the Expedition would begin, not knowing when or if he would ever return.

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Landschlacht, Switzerland, 25 May 2017

Through Mühlenweg’s youthful eyes – he was 29 at the start of the Expedition –  and masterful writing, not only is the reader exposed firsthand to countries that, even today, few Westerners visit, but as well the reader is given the common man’s perspective of travelling with a legendary explorer.

 Fritz Muehlenweg, Drei Mal Mongolei

 

 

 

I have been inspired by the writing of Fritz Mühlenweg, for he sought not just to see the places he visited but to understand what he saw, to see the romance in the commonplace, the exotic in the familiar and the familiar in the exotic.

Like Mühlenweg, I intend to expose my readers to both the exotic and familiar in the hopes that they too will see the wonder of the world as I do.

Men like Mühlenweg and Hedin have been mostly forgotten and our ability to traverse oceans and continents taken for granted.

Journeys that once took months now take only hours.

Journeys that once demanded much time and money are now expected to be quick and affordable.

We now move through and over landscapes that once meant something, that have now been reduced to simply spaces of transit, where everything is temporary and everyone is just passing through.

The wonder of the distinctiveness of a place has been replaced with a disdain for the local and an indifference to the uniqueness of every locality.

Human progress is now measured out in air miles, while communities find their common ground in cyberspace rather than terra firma.

We live in an age where we wish the world to be fully codified and collated, a world where ambiguity and ambivalence have been so sponged away that we know exactly and objectively where everything is and what it is called.

We want to arrive, instead of travel.

The case of Dr. Dao and United Airlines is a malaise particular to our modern age.

We conveniently forget that for every gain there is a loss.

Completeness removes the possibility of exploration, escape and hope.

We need the unnamed and the unexplored.

We need to examine our discarded sense of place and explore places both distant and at our doorstep.

For romance needs place and in a world “fully” discovered exploration must never stop.

The idea of exploration now needs to be reinvented.

We must not only see a place but as well observe it for its uniqueness and romance.

Let’s go on a journey – to the ends of the Earth and the other side of the street, as far or as close as we need to go to get away from the familiar and the routine prisons we have built for ourselves.

Whether they be good or bad, scary or wonderful, we need unruly and unexplored places that defy our expectations and make us question our preconceptions.

Love of place can never and should never be extinguished or sated.

Utopia (from the Greek for “no place”) is a happy land.

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Sometimes the most fascinating places are often also the most disturbing, entrapping and appalling and often temporary.

In ten years’ time, most places will look very different.

Some will no longer exist, because nature is often horrible and life is transitory.

Love of place is not finding a place that is cute and cuddly, but rather love of place is a fierce love, a dark enchantment, that runs deep and demands our attention.

As Herman Melville wrote, in Moby Dick, when the first mate of the Pequod was describing his home:

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“It is not down in any map. 

True places never are.”

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Sources:

Alastair Bonnett, Off the Map: Lost Spaces, Invisible Cities, Forgotten Islands, Feral Places and What They Tell Us About the World

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Scandal in Bohemia

Albert M. Debrunner, Literaturführer Thurgau

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Fritz Mühlenweg, Drei Mal Mongolei

Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

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.

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(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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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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The sick man of Europe (4): Bullets and ballots

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 April 2017

On Easter Sunday, the Turkish people had an election and chose to support President Recep Erdogan by a slim minority of votes. (3% victory margin)

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Depending on who you listen to, this means that either the President has now received a mandate to exercise unbridled power or he can now make democratic reform a reality.

I have been closely watching Turkey over the past few years and in particular the actions of His Excellency Recep Erdogan and I think that one needs to closely look at the President of Turkey to better understand the dynamics of Turkish politics and how these dynamics can affect global affairs.

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In three previous blogposts (The sick man of Europe 1: The sons of Karbala / The sick man of Europe 2: The sorrow of Batman / The sick man of Europe 3: The rise of Recep) I wrote about the relationship between the Turkish people and the Kurds, with the latest post examining the rise of Recep Erdogan to the post of Prime Minister.

His tenure of Prime Minister (Turkish head of government) and his actions since he was elected President (Turkish head of state) are critically worth examining as his recent proposed reforms involve dissolving the post of Prime Minister and incorporating these powers into the position of the Turkish Presidency.

For non-Turkish readers I believe that the vigilant observation of Turkey is important for the world as Turkey has been and continues to be the bridge between Europe and Asia, between secularism and fundamentalism, between Christianity and Islam, between the West and the East and the Middle East.

And, of course, Europeans are keenly interested in Turkey as, at present, Turkey harbours millions of Syrian refugees and prevents them from entering, in uncontrollable numbers, the European Union and other countries of the West.

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Above: A Syrian refugee centre on the Turkish border 80 km from Aleppo, Syria (3 August 2012)

So what affects Turkey has a rippling effect on the rest of the world.

In my last Turkey-related blogpost I ended by suggesting that Recep Erdogan has begun his political reign quite successfully.

He had risen from the role of one of Istanbul’s best mayors to the post of Prime Minister.

Erdogan served as the 25th Prime Minister of Turkey from 2003 to 2014 and is at present the 12th President of the Republic and remains the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which he established in 2001.

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So, let’s examine his record in power…

In 2002, Erdogan inherited a Turkish economy that was just beginning to recover from a recession as a result of reforms implemented by then Minister of State for Economic Affairs Kemal Dervis.

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Erdogan supported Finance Minister Ali Babacan in enforcing macroeconomic policies and he tried to attract more foreign investors to Turkey by lifting many government regulations.

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In his tenure as Prime Minister, Erdogan reduced Turkey’s debt to the International Monetary Fund from $23. 5 billion to $0.9 billion, increased the Turkish Central Bank’s reserves from $26.5 billion to $92.2 billion, reduced Turkey’s inflation rate from 32% to 9%, reduced Turkey’s public debt from 74% to 39%, but he was unable to curb the increase in unemployment rates in his country.

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In 2003, Erdogan’s government pushed through the Labor Act, a comprehensive reform of Turkey’s labor laws, greatly expanding the rights of employees, establishing a 45-hour workweek and limiting overtime work to 270 hours a year, providing legal protection against discrimination due to gender, religion or political affliation, prohibiting discrimation between permanent and temporary employees, entitling employees terminated without valid cause to compensation and mandating written contracts for employment arrangements lasting a year or more.

In 2003, the Turkish government, together with UNICEF, started a campaign called “Come on girls, let’s go to school!”(Haydi Kizlar Okula!), with the goal of closing the gender gap in primary school enrollment through the provision of a quality basic education for all girls, especially in southeast Turkey (Kurdish populated).

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After assuming power in 2003, Erdogan’s government embarked on a sweeping reform program of the Turkish healthcare system, called the Health Transformation Program (HTP), to greatly increase the quality of healthcare and protect all citizens from financial risks.

On 18 April 2003, BBC News reported that the US had named 30 countries which were prepared to be publicly associated with the US (George W. Bush Administration)’s action against Iraq.

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All of the Arab states, Israel, Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, most of Latin America and most of Africa did not support the US action, but Turkey along with 29 other countries (including Britain and Australia) did join this “Coalition of the Willing” in the war against Iraq.

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Above: The flag of Iraq

Besides his government’s Haydi Kizlar Okula campaign, Erdogan would go on to increase the budget of the Ministry of Education (from 7.5 billion Turkish lira in 2002 to 34 billion Turkish lira by 2011), would raise the age of compulsory education from 8 years to 12, and would ensure that every province in Turkey would have its own university, doubling the number of universities from 98 in 2002 to 186 by 2012.

In 2004 textbooks became free of charge.

The construction of Marmaray, an undersea rail tunnel under the Bosphorus Strait separating Asia from Europe, was started in 2004, and, when completed, will be the world’s deepest undersea immersed tube tunnel.

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As well in 2004, as part of the government’s health care reforms, the Green Card program, which provides health benefits to the poor, was expanded, aiming to increase the ratio of private health care to state-run healthcare, which, along with long lines in state-run hospitals, resulting in the rise of private medical care, forcing state-run hospitals to compete by increasing quality.

And his reforms would attract the world’s attention…

In 2004, Erdogan would be listed in Time magazine one of the 100 most influential people in the world, “a builder of bridges”, and be named European of the Year by the weekly European Voice, for having put Turkey on the road to reform.

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During Erdogan’s Prime Minstership, Turkish relations with Greece both politically and economically improved significantly.

In 2004, Erdogan and his party strongly supported the EU-backed referendum to reunify Cyprus, thus inspiring the EU to promise to end the economic isolation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

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Above: The flag of Northern Cyprus

In 2004, Syrian President Bashar al-Assan arrived in Turkey for the first official visit by a Syrian President in 57 years, signing a free trade agreement with one another.

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Above: Bashar al-Assan, 15th President of Syria since 2000, born 1965

And at the end of the year, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Turkey – only the second presidential visit in the history of Turkish-Russian relations after Chairman Podgorny’s visit of 1972.

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Above: Vladimir Putin, Russian President (2000-2008/2012- ), Prime Minister (1999-2000/2008-2012), born 1952

In 2005 Erdogan seemed to continue his exemplary reforms and positive foreign relations.

Erdogan and the main opposition party leader Deniz Baykal wrote a letter to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, proposing the creation of a joint Turkish-Armenian commission of historians, archaeologists, political scientists and other experts to acknowledge the mass killings of up to 1.5 million Armenians during World War I as genocide.

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Above: The flag of Armenia

Armenian Foriegn Minister Vartan Oskanian rejected the offer, because he asserted that the proposal was “insincere and not serious”.

“This issue cannot be considered at historical level with Turks, who themselves politicized the problem.”

The Turkish Parliament granted amnesty to students expelled from university before 2003, on academic or disciplinary grounds.

On 1 May 2005, in a rare state visit by a leader of a Muslim majority country, Erdogan came to Israel offering to serve as a Middle East peace mediator and looking to build on trade and military ties, bringing with him a delegation of businessmen.

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During his visit to Israel, Erdogan also visited the Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust).

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Above: Aerial view of Yad Vashem

In November 2005, Russian President Putin attended the inauguration of a jointly constructed natural gas pipeline in Turkey, considering it their strategic goal to achieve “multidimensional cooperation” in the fields of energy, transport and the military.

Erdogan was a co-founder of the Alliance of Civilisations (AOC), first proposed by Spanish Prime Minister José Rodriguez Zapatero at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005, seeking to galvanize international action against extremism through the forging of international, intercultural and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation.

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Erdogan said that “Turkey’s accession shows that Europe is a continent where civilisation reconcile and not clash.”

On 3 October 2005 negotiations for Turkey’s accession to the EU formally started.

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Above: The flag of the European Union

In 2006, a Turkish-Armenian friendship monument, the Monument to Humanity, was commissioned in Kars, representing the rapprochement of the two countries after many years of dispute over the events of the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

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Above: The Statue of Humanity (2009 – 2011)

But Turkey’s troubles and questions regarding Erdogan’s questionable methods began to arise…

In March 2006, the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) held a press conference to publicly protest his obstruction of the appointment of judges to the high courts for over 10 months, saying that Erdogan wanted to fill the vacant posts with his own appointees.

Erdogan was accused of creating a rift with Turkey’s highest court of appeal, the Yargitay, and high administrative court, the Danistay.

Erdogan said the constitution gave him the power to assign these posts to his elected party.

Yet reforms still seemed underway as Erdogan unveiled a social security reform package demanded by the IMF under a loan deal.

The move which Erdogan called “one of the most radical reforms ever”, was passed with fierce opposition.

Turkey’s three social security bodies were united under one roof, bringing equal health services and retirement benefits for members of all three bodies.

The previous system had been criticized for reserving the best healthcare for civil servants and relating others to wait in long queues.

Under the 2006 bill, everyone under the age of 18 was entitled to free health services, while starting from 2036, the retirement age was increased to 65 for both men and women.

In August 2006, Saudi King Abdullah as-Saud made a visit to Turkey – the first visit by a Saudi monarch to Turkey in four decades, increasing their trading volume as their strategic locations meant their economies were in a a position to supplement each other.

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Above: The flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Erdogan received the Outstanding Service Award from the humanitarian organization Red Crescent (Islamic equivalent to the Red Cross).

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But 2006 would mark the last year where people were mostly praising Erdogan…

In May 2007, the head of Turkey’s High Court asked prosecutors to consider whether Erdogan should be charged over critical comments he made the previous month regarding the election of Abdullah Gül as President.

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Above: Abdullah Gül, 11th President of Turkey (2007 – 2014) / 24th Prime Minister of Turkey (2002 – 2003)

Erdogan said the High Court ruling was “a disgrace to the justice system” and criticized the Constitutional Court which had invalidated a presidential vote because a boycott by other parties meant there was no quorum.

Prosecutors investigated his earlier comments, saying Erdogan had fired a “bullet at democracy”.

Tülay Tuglu, head of the Constitutional Court, condemned the Prime Minister for “threats, insults and hostility” towards the justice system.

On a positive note, the Turkish Parliament agreed to reduce the age of candidacy to elected office from 30 to 25 and abolished the death penalty in all instances, including war time.

Both the military and the judiciary are widely known for their secular credentials (that is, the separation of religion from government), so both therefore represent a threat to Erdogan’s moderately Islamic government.

2007 was an election year.

The stage was set for a fight for legitimacy in the eyes of voters between Erdogan’s government and the second largest party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

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On 14 April 2007, an estimated 300,000 people marched in Ankara to protest against the possible candidacy of Erdogan in the Presidential election, afraid that if elected Erdogan would alter the secular nature of the Turkish state.

Ten days later, Erdogan announced that his party had nominated Abdullah Gül as the AKP candidate in the Presidential election.

Protests continued over the next several weeks, with over one million people reported to have turned out as a 29 April rally in Istanbul, tens of thousands at separate protests on 4 May in Manisa and Canakkale, and one million in Izmir on 13 May.

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Above: Protest rally of 14 April 2007, Ankara

Early parliamentary elections were called after the failure of the parties in Parliament to agree on the next Turkish President.

The opposition parties boycotted the parliamentary vote and deadlocked the election process.

Erdogan spoke of a failure of the Turkish political system and proposed to modify the Turkish constitution.

Gül was later elected President after the general elections on 22 July 2007 that saw the AKP and Erdogan brought back to power with 46% of the vote.

Later in 2007, a Turkish constitutional referendum was approved with the support of 69% of the voters to modify the constitution to allow the people, not Parliament, to elect the President.

This reform also reduced the Presidential term from seven years to five, allowed the President to stand for re-election for a second term, determined that general elections would be held every four years instead of five and reduced the quorum of lawmakers needed for parliamentary decisions from 367 to 184.

During this chaotic elction, the military issued an electronic memorandum warning the government to keep within the boundaries of secularism when choosing a candidate, because Erdogan had close relations with Fethullah Gülen and his Hizmet movement.

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Above: Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, born 1941

(Muhammed Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish preacher, former imam, writer and political figure, as he has been actively involved in the societal debate concerning the future of the Turkish state and Islam in the modern world.

Gülen has been described in English-language media as an imam “who promotes a tolerant Islam which emphasises altruism, hard work and education” and as “one of the world’s most important Muslim figures”.

The Gülen movement has millions of followers in Turkey and abroad.

Beyond the schools – over 1,000 schools around the world –  established by Gülen’s followers, it is believed that many Gülenists hold positions of power in Turkey’s police forces and judiciary.

Gülen has stated that he believes in science, interfaith dialogue and multiparty democracy.

In his sermons, Gülen has reportedly stated:  “Studying physics, mathematics and chemistry is worshipping God.”

He has initiated dialogue with the Vatican and some Jewish organisations and has personally met with Pope John Paul II, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and Israeli Sephardic Head Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron.

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Above: Gülen with Pope John Paul II, 1998

Gülen teaches that the Muslim community has a duty of service to the “common good” of the community and to the nation and to Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world, and that the Muslim community is obliged to conduct dialogue with not just the People of the Book (Christians and Jews) and people of other religions, but also with agnostics and atheists.

Gülen has said that he favours cooperation between followers of different religions as well as religious and secular elements within society.

Among his strongest supporters and collaborators has been for years the Greek Orthodox Turcologist and Professor at the University of Ottawa, Dimitri Kitsikis.

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Above: Crest of the University of Ottawa

Though Gülen has criticized secularism in Turkey as “reductionist materialism”, he has said that a secular approach is not “anti-religious” and “allows for freedom of religion and belief, compatible with Islam”.

Gülen has supported Turkey’s bid to join the European Union and has said that neither Turkey nor the EU have anything to fear, but have much to gain, from a future of full Turkish membership in the EU.

Gülen has condemned terrorism and has warned against the phenomenon of arbitrary violence and aggression against civilians, saying it “has no place in Islam”.

Gülen wrote a condemnation article in the Washington Post on 12 September 2001, one day after the 9/11 attacks and stated:

“A Muslim cannot be a terrorist nor can a terrorist be a true Muslim.”

File:National Park Service 9-11 Statue of Liberty and WTC fire.jpg

Gülen lamented the “hijacking of Islam” by terrorists.)

In 2007, Erdogan’s government developed the SECSIS secure vote counting system in order to reduce fraud.

However SECSIS has been criticized for being prone to manipulation, and, according to one of its critics Neval Kavcar, “with this electoral system, the AKP can be elected for a thousand years”.

However, not all the news regarding Erdogan that year was bad.

The President of Israel Shimon Peres addressed the Turkish Parliament during his November visit, the first time an Israeli leader had addressed the legislature of a predominantly Muslim nation.

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Above: Shimon Peres (1923 – 2016), 9th President of Israel (2007-2014) / 8th Prime Minister of Israel (1995-1996)

And that same month, Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis met on the bridge over the Evros River, at the border between Greece and Turkey, for the inauguration of the Greek-Turkish natural gas pipeline, linking these longtime rivals and giving Caspian gas its first direct Western outlet, easing Russia’s energy dominance.

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Above: The flag of Greece

Erdogan received awards for his efforts from the President of Tatarstan, the Prime Minister of Spain, the Chancellor of Germany, and the United Nations.

2008 didn’t garnish much world attention for Erdogan or for Turkey.

In December 2008, Erdogan criticized the “I Apologize” campaign by Turkish intellectuals to recognize the Armenian Genocide saying:

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Above: An Armenian woman kneeling beside a dead child in field within sight of help and safety at Aleppo, 1915

“I neither accept nor support this campaign.

We did not commit a crime, therefore we do not need to apologize.

It will not have any benefit other than stirring up trouble, disturbing our peace and undoing the steps that have been taken.”

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Above: Headline of New York Times, 15 December 1915

Erdogan supported the continuation of Turkey’s high population growth rate and commented that to ensure the Turkish population remained young every family would need to have at least three children.

He has repeated this statement on numerous occasions.

In 2008, the Turkish Parliament adopted a law to prohibit smoking in most public places.

Erdogan is outspokenly anti-smoking.

On 14 March 2008, Turkey’s Chief Prosecutor asked the country’s Constitutional Court to ban Erdogan’s governing party.

The AKP escaped a ban on 30 July 2008, although judges did cut the party’s funding by 50%.

As 2009 dawned, though Erdogan was not loved by everyone within Turkey itself, Erdogan had, for the most part, the support of the world community.

This would begin to change as Erdogan’s relations with Israel and the Kurds would become problematic…

(To be continued)

Sources: Wikipedia / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know / Richard Stoneman, A Traveller’s History of Turkey

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Above: The national emblem of Turkey

Dreams of dragonflies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Good Friday 2017

Perhaps a sacrifice is necessary for good to be achieved.

Over 2,000 years ago, it is said that the crucifixion of one man led to the salvation of all mankind.

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Perhaps this is so.

Clearly this man of God had to give up much to achieve a greater good.

And perhaps the same can be said for writing and getting that writing published.

Sometimes one needs to sacrifice energy and effort, comfort and leisure, pride and fear, to achieve something worthwhile for others to read.

It has been said that there are usually reasons for success, but often only excuses for failure.

I offer neither for the time elapsed since my last entry, except to say that I want to try a couple of new approaches in my writing contributions.

I still feel that I need to occasionally express my thoughts about world events for it has often been said that evil triumphs when good men say nothing.

There remains much that is interesting to discuss in this regard and worthy of discussion and thought.

But it would be remiss of me to suggest that I am any wiser than those who represent us in these matters.

It is not that my opinion in these matters doesn’t matter – it does – but rather I have more authority and accuracy if I also write about what is most familiar to me.

So, this blog, the Chronicles of Canada Slim, will also begin to incorporate travel writing.

While my much-neglected blog Building Everest will serve double duty as a platform to write fictional stories, as well as the creation of a textbook I feel has been lacking in the teaching of Technical English.

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(Look for fiction prefaced with the words, The Forest of Shadows, and technical stories under the title Tech Talk in the Building Everest blog.)

While I wait – impatiently – for my local bookseller to receive a copy of The Writer`s Market, I now spend my freetime exploring the local area where I live and reading about how to write.

Lengwil, Switzerland, Monday 10 April 2017

Up at 0500 in my Landschlacht apartment, left at 0700, 0714 train to Kreuzlingen, followed by 0729 train to Lengwil.

Why visit Lengwil?

Certainly the guidebooks give it no mention.

Those not from Thurgau Canton have no clue where in Switzerland it is located – south of Kreuzlingen-Konstanz on the rail route towards Weinfelden – and little reason to visit, for Lengwil hasn’t a lot to attract the visitor.

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No museums, no breathtaking wonders or great historical moments to draw outsiders to this community…

(Though the view of the Lake of Constance from the Lengwil station is pretty terrific…)

There are two restaurants –  the Sonne and the Sternen (the sun and the stars), both in half-timbered structures – one grocery store (the Dorfladen)(village shop) and one bank (Raiffeisen) with an ATM banking machine.

Restaurtant Sonne, Lengwil

Restaurant Sternen, Lengwil

Above: Restaurant Sonne (top picture) and Restaurant Sternen (bottom picture)

But the Gemeinde Lengwil (town hall) offers no brochures for the tourist, for clearly it doesn’t expect any.

For the working man or for the shopper, Lengwil has little to offer them as well, save for Fehr Elektrotechnik and Polymechanik Art Design: Splendid Tools.

But, unless you are into the sort of products and services these small firms offer, they are hardly sufficient to attract your attention.

So, what caught my attention about Lengwil?

Dragonflies.

Let me explain.

I have always been a bibliophile – a lover of books.

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And one of the reasons for this great love has been how good books nurture within a reader a relationship with the writer,  by the extent and ability the writer possessed in communicating his message and by the reader’s ability to identify and assimilate what the writer has written.

A good book, a great book, embraces life and teaches the reader how to live, through the lessons the writer has sought to impart through his own life experience, whether the book is fiction or fact.

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A great book is unforgettable, much like a great love, you find that you cannot forget it, you cannot stop thinking about it and your reaction to it.

A great book changes you, lifts you, fills your mind and increases your understanding.

And though there are countless millions of books that exist and continue to be published, there are very few that reward the reader for the effort of reading them.

A good book teaches the reader about the world and about ourselves, about the great endearing truths of life.

File:Urval av de bocker som har vunnit Nordiska radets litteraturpris under de 50 ar som priset funnits (3).jpg

Obviously not many books can do this for any of us, perhaps of the millions that exist, perhaps a number considerably less than a hundred.

And human beings differ in many ways other than in the power of their minds.

They have different tastes.

Different things appeal more to one person than another.

But I believe that each person should seek out the few books that give value to their lives, the books that teach us the most, the books that you want to return to over and over again, the books that help you grow.

In a way, a person’s path to intellectual enlightenment can be compared to a person’s path to spiritual enlightment.

Attainment of both is a personal discovery and an adventure that only the traveller, the explorer, can make within themselves.

My own personal path is unique to myself, but despite this the lessons of life discovered upon the journey are lessons that bind me to the rest of humanity.

Everyone has his own method of discovery of the world.

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And it might be argued that I have lived my life and have done these explorations of the world physical and intellectual in a scatterfire random way.

But this is me and what works for me.

When I explore the world physically I like to be as basic as I possibly can.

Depending on limits of time and money, I like to travel and absorb the surroundings as slowly as possible and let my emotions and thoughts guide my discoveries.

Walking and thinking at my own pace

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In the realm of the mind, I like to explore the physical region I find myself in through the literature the region has produced and, on occasion, through serendipitious discoveries made in bookshops and libraries.

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Take, as an example, the land of China.

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I have never been there, so before I would physically travel there I will have already mentally begun the journey by reading not only travel guides that suggest what to see and do once I am there but as well I would seek out literature from this place, to try and understand what it means to be human in such a place.

Perhaps I would read Han Dong’s Banished! or J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun or Gao Xingjain’s Soul Mountain or any number of books recommended to me through my guidebooks or through books like Ann Morgan’s Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer or Luisa Moncada and Scala Quinn’s Reading on Location: Great Books set in Top Travel Destinations.

But my intellectual and emotional discovery of China would not be complete until I was physically there, interacting with the people I meet there and with the literature I stumble across while I am there.

I am Canadian and I have tried (and continue to try despite the distance and expense) to read and discover the works of my fellow Canadians, in an attempt to understand what it means to be Canadian.

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I have been a resident of Switzerland for the past seven years (since 1 April 2010 to be precise), in the Canton of Thurgau, in the wee hamlet of Landschlacht, by the Lake of Constance.

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I speak and read German at a relatively low level but nonetheless while I reside in the German-speaking part of Switzerland I continue to try and converse and read in German as often as possible, for language is the means by which people express themselves.

It is not an easy task for me, for it is much easier to fall back on old habits of reading and speaking in my native English.

Reading in German is especially daunting and time-consuming and much time is spent with a German-English dictionary by my side as I slowly wade through the text I have decided to sacrifice my time and energy towards its understanding.

A book to which I have devoted time and energy to, in an attempt to understand what it means to live in Canton Thurgau has been Albert Debrunner’s Literaturführer Thurgau.

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Above: The coat of arms of Thurgau Canton, Switzerland

Debrunner’s approach is quite similar to that used by Oxford University’s Illustrated Literary Guides, in that Debrunner takes the reader to the places where writers have lived and worked in Thurgau and encourages a discovery of these places through the works of the writers who found their inspirations there.

Thus I found myself in Lengwil and the discovery of dragonflies…

Landschlacht, Easter Monday 17 April 2017

It is too early for dragonflies, for dragonflies are a summer insect, and there is little about today’s weather that suggests summer, for this Easter Monday is cloudy and cold with the threat of rain.

But when I recall last week’s visit to Lengwil, I have come to the realization that it is never too late for dragonflies…

Lengwil, 10 April 2017

The English translation of the German word “Libelle” is Odonata, an order of carnivorous insects made up of dragonflies and damselflies.

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How to tell the difference?

Well, damselflies wear dresses and are in constant need of rescuing…

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No.

Dragonflies are generally larger and perch with their wings held out to the sides.

They are strong fliers with fairly robust bodies and dragonfly eyes occupy much of their heads, touching each other across their faces.

Damselflies have slender bodies and hold their wings over their bodies while at rest.

They are more fragile than dragonflies, appear rather weak when they fly and there is a gap between their eyes.

Odonates are aquatic – they need water to survive, so that is why it is, at first, somewhat confusing that the most interesting dragonflies of Thurgau Canton are found not by the Lake of Constance, but instead inland.

To discover the Dragonflies / Libelle, after disembarking at the Lengwil station, one must first walk towards the town centre and then turn right onto Sternengarten (garden of stars) Street until one finds himself at Number Six, in front of an unremarkable single family house where a nice aging couple live.

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The doorbell that rings inside the house reveals the pair of dragonflies which have gathered here.

Their wingbeat is the rustle of thick bundles of paper, and they whiz from idea to idea, from concept to concept, from manuscript to manuscript and rest in between times upon completed tomes of excellent quality before swarming out into the great wide world.

Readers, at least German-language readers, treasure the books from this publishing house of dragonflies, the Libelle Verlag, where even the readers with the least imagination can appreciate what has been bred here.

Ueber uns / about

Above: Logo of Libelle Verlag

Like their namesakes, these dragonflies of Lengwil cannot be pinned down to one location, for they have two addresses: one in Lengwil and one in Konstanz.

Now the zoologically educated will boringly point out that dragonflies zigzag in their flight, so why shouldn’t this pair of dragonflies only remain in Baden or in Thurgau?

So what are these dragonflies?

German or Swiss?

(An incredibly important distinction for both Germans and Swiss who dislike being confused while being identified as either one.)

Papa Dragonfly, Ekkehard Faude, is a Konstanzer, while Mama Dragonfly, Elisabeth Tschiener, is from Steckborn on the Swiss side.

They hatched their cocoon of dragonflies, Libelle Verlag, in the Konstanz neighbourhood of Litzelstetten in 1979, but the Swiss are drawn back to their homeland like bees to flowers, so since 1991 Libelle Verlag has lived and thrived in Lengwil splendidly.

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Above: Konstanz harbour with the statue of Imperia

Lengwilers are proud to have these dragonflies here as long as they wish to reside there, despite their cocoon making a significant mark on the publishing world.

But Ekkehard and Elisabeth don’t care if Libelle Publishing remains described as a small or even the smallest publisher, because they don’t want to compromise quality in the name of mass production.

And this pair of dragonflies, much like the Odonates themselves with their variations of size in the variations scattered across the globe, know that size is a relative concept.

The Libelle Verlag’s most famous book in their selection is Yasmina Reza’s Kunst (Art), a slender volume that weighs less than a bar of chocolate.

Yasmina Reza, Kunst

By comparison, Manfred Bosch’s remarkable work, Boheme am Bodensee (Bohemia on the Lake of Constance), which should be in every small library, is a rich and heavy tome.

Manfred Bosch, Boheme am Bodensee

A speciality of this publishing house are the books of Fritz Mühlenweg (1898 – 1961), with its remarkable scenes of Mongolia captured beautifully in photo and prose.

Fritz Muehlenweg, Mongolische Heimlichkeiten

No other publishing house can claim to have horizons that stretch to central Asia.

Fritz Muehlenweg, Drei Mal Mongolei

While Libelle’s crime novels of Ulrich Ritzel clearly are their most well-known publications amongst adults, children enjoy Fritz Mühlenweg’s wonderful book Nuni, as well as other bestsellers such as Hans Brügelmann’s Kinder auf dem Weg zur Schrift (Children on the way to writing).

 Fritz Muehlenweg, Nuni

 

 

 

Ernst Peter Fischer’s books open cosmic dimensions, while for those for whom Fischer is too expansive, Arno Borst’s Ritte über den Bodensee (Rides over the Lake of Constance) is highly recommended.

Arno Borst, Ritte über den Bodensee

 

 

 

In short, Libelle makes books for everyone without sacrificing quality to do so.

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“Habent sua fata libelli”, the Roman poet Horace (65 – 8 BC) once wrote (Roughly translated from the Latin, ours is the fate of dragonflies.) and such is the destiny of Libelle Verlag, for though it has, like other publishing houses, gone through its share of both setbacks and successes, that its welfare rests solely upon the shoulders of Ekkehard and Elisabeth make this business endeavour quite vulnerable and strong simultaneously.

Libelle Verlag is over 30 years old and considering that it is owned and operated solely by this couple suggests that they have achieved their dreams enormously.

Though Debrunner’s Literaturführer Thurgau led me to their door, I did not disturb the couple in their private residence, for I had no appointment and had not prepared myself for any sort of an interview with them.

But reading Debrunner´s commentary on the dragonflies of Lengwil and seeing their home from the outside and later finding some of their published works in the public library of St. Gallen has inspired me.

What the dragonflies of Lengwil tell me is simple…

Follow your dreams and trust your instincts by being the best you can be.

The dragonflies of Lengwil measure their success not by comparison with others but by their ability to produce what they want to produce.

And though there will be setbacks, there will always be successes, if I remain true to myself and what I want.

Lengwil is an unremarkable village, but even the unremarkable can produce quality.

Never underestimate the “unremarkable”.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading / Albert M. Debrunner, Literaturführer Thurgau / Luisa Moncada and Scala Quin, Reading on Location: Great Books Set in Top Travel Destinations / Ann Morgan, Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer / http://www.libelle.ch

 

 

 

A Revolution of One: Seize the Day

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 March 2017

Everyone has their own ideas about what is wrong with the world.

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

We will argue amongst ourselves about which are the most important issues.

But I think we all agree that things could be a lot better than they are.

Something really needs to be done.

We are all fired up with passion, with a thirst to change the world.

But then what?

Do we just leave it to governments and international institutions?

White House north and south sides.jpg

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

Or are there things we can do that will actually make a difference?

The issues that confront us are HUGE, complicated, difficult.

It is hard to believe that anything we can do will have a meaningful impact.

But…there are a lot of us in the world.

A lot of people doing a lot of little things could have a HUGE impact.

By doing something, we also demonstrate that lots of people really do care.

That isn’t only a world of sadness and sorrow, of only the bad and corrupt, it is also filled with average, ordinary, loving, compassionate people.

So where should you begin?

Begin with you.

San Francisco, California, 26 November 1974

San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin Headlands

“What would happen if I forced myself over a period of several months to sluice my mind the way I sluiced dirt in my gold-hunting days, using a journal as a sluicebox to trap whatever flakes of insight might turn up?”

Eric Hoffer asked himself this question in his journal.

He did NOT expect a happy outcome.

“I had the feeling that I had been scraping the bottom of the barrel and I doubted whether I would ever get involved in a new seminal train of thought.

Would it be possible to reanimate and cultivate the alertness to the first faint stirrings of thought?”

No philosopher’s beginnings were messier than Eric Hoffer’s.

“You might say I went straight from the nursery to the gutter.”, Hoffer confessed in an interview.

Hoffer was born in 1898 in the Bronx of New York City to Knut and Elsa Hoffer.

four-story houses along a city street

His parents were immigrants from Alsace.

Flag of Alsace

Above: Flag of Alsace, France

By age 5, Hoffer could already read in both English and his parents’ native German.

That same year, Elsa fell down the stairs with him in her arms.

She did not recover and died in the second year after the fall.

Hoffer lost his sight.

At the age of 9, Hoffer was told by Martha, who raised him after Elsa’s death and the person he trusted the most, that –  with his short-lived parents’ genes –  he would definitely not live past the age of 40.

“I believed her absolutely.

When I was almost 20, my life was half over, so what was the point of getting excited about anything?”

Hoffer’s sight inexplicably returned when he was 15.

Fearing he might lose it again, Hoffer seized on the opportunity to read as much as he could.

His recovery proved permanent, but Hoffer never abandoned his reading habit.

Hoffer was a young man when he also lost his father Knut.

The cabinetmaker’s union paid for Knut Hoffer’s funeral and gave Eric about $300 insurance money.

“I made up my mind to go to California because California was the place for the poor.

Flag of California

So I bought a bus ticket to Los Angeles and I landed on Skid Row and I stayed there for the next ten years.”

San Julian Street south of 5th, part of the Skid Row area

He still kept reading, occasionally writing, and working at odd jobs.

In 1931, Hoffer considered suicide by drinking a solution of oxalic acid, but he could not bring himself to do it.

Toxic

He left Skid Row and became a migrant worker, following the harvests in California.

Hoffer did only manual work: dishwashing, claw-the-Earth prospecting, railroading, lumbering, migrant farmwork and later mostly waterfront day labour on the San Francisco docks.

A lumberjack c. 1900

A loner all his life, Hoffer was entirely self-educated.

Hoffer was a voracious reader.

He had library cards from virtually every library up and down the California railroad lines.

There was no subject he was afraid to tackle, no author who intimidated him.

Yet he felt no compulsion to pursue, let alone admire, certain authors generally considered essential reading for an intellectual.

Hoffer freely admitted never to have read Freud and confessed he “never got anything from Plato.”

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Above: Bust of Plato (428 BC – 348 BC)

“Socrates was supposed to be a workingman, wasn’t he?

A bust of Socrates

Above: Bust of Socrates (470 BC – 399 BC)

A stonemason or something.

But this is not the way a self-taught mason would argue.

He would tell stories to illustrate his points.

How can you convince anybody by going after him the way Socrates did – another question, another question – showing him how stupid he is?”

Prospecting for gold in the mountains and snowed in for the winter, Hoffer read Montaigne’s Essays and Hoffer had his first flash that he himself might become a writer:

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Above: Original manuscript of Michel de Montaigne’s Essais

“Here was this 16th century aristocrat…and I found out that he was talking about nothing else but Eric Hoffer!

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Above: Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592)

That’s how I learned about human brotherhood.”

Montaigne impressed Hoffer deeply and Hoffer often made reference to him.

He also developed a respect for America’s underclass, whom he said was “lumpy with talent.”

Hoffer was influenced by his modest roots and working class surroundings, seeing in it vast human potential.

“When I got out of the woods and back to town, I had money.

First I bought all new clothes and threw the old ones away.

Then I went to the Japanese barber where he and his wife not only cut my hair but got way down into my ears and nose to clean them out.

Then I got myself a room halfway between the library and the whorehouse.

Both were equally important.”

Hoffer wrote a novel, Four Years in Young Hank’s Life, and a novella, Chance and Mr. Kunze, both partly autobiographical.

He also penned a long article based on his experiences in a federal work camp, “Tramps and Pioneers”.

Hoffer tried to enlist in the US Army at age 40 during World War II but was rejected because of a hernia.

Wappen des Department of the Army

He began work as a longshoreman on the docks of San Francisco in 1943 and began to write seriously.

“A common labourer who had been blind in childhood, who had then recovered his eyesight and proceeded to educate himself entirely by his own efforts, whose reading had been broader and deeper than that of many leading intellectuals in United States and Europe, whose ideas were frequently more penetrating and provocative than theirs, and whose prose style was a monument to economy and precision.

‘Who the hell is Eric Hoffer?’, I asked myself as I read his books and how did he happen?” (James Koerner)

How Hoffer “happened” – how he found his ideas, cultivated them and did his research – was outrageously unconventional and wonderfully quickening for our own creativity.

“I’m not a professional philosopher. 

My train of thought grew out of my life just the way a leaf or a branch grows out of a tree.”

Hoffer’s thinking and writing occurred as a regular part of his life.

In one of his books Thinking and Working on the Waterfront, Hoffer wrote:

“My writing is done in railroad yards while waiting for a freight, in the fields while waiting for a truck and at noon after lunch.

Now and then I take a day off to ‘put myself in order’.

I go through the notes, pick and discard.

The residue is usually a few paragraphs.

My mind must always have something to chew on.

I think on man, America and the world.

It is not as pretentious as it sounds.”

Hoffer described how a specific key idea came to him out of an immediate experience.

One day on the docks he drew as partner the worst worker there, a clumsy and inept man avoided by everyone.

“We went to work and started to build our load.

On the docks it’s very simple – you build your side of the load and your partner builds his side, half and half.

But that day I noticed something funny.

My partner was always across the aisle, giving aid to somebody else.

He wasn’t doing his share of the work on our load, but he was helping others with theirs.

There was no reason to think he disliked me.

But I remember how that day I got started on a beautiful train of thought.

I started to think why it was that this fellow, who couldn’t do his own duty, was so eager to do things above and beyond his duty.

And the way I explained it was that if you are clumsy in doing your duty, you will be ridiculous, but that you will never be ridiculous in helping others – nobody will laugh at you.

That man was trying to drift into a situation where his clumsiness would not be conspicuous, would not be blamed.

And once I started to think like that, I abandoned him entirely.

My head was in orbit!

I started to think about avant-garde, about pioneering in art, in literature.

Above: Film The Love of Zero (1927)

I thought that all people without real talent, without skill, whether as writers or artists and so on, will try to drift into a situation where their clumsiness will be natural and expected.

What situation will that be?

Of course – innovation.

Everybody expects the new to be ill-shapen, to be clumsy.

I said to myself, the innovators, with a few exceptions, are probably people without real talent and that’s why practically all avant-garde art is ugly.

But these people, these innovators, have a necessary role to play because they keep things from ossifying, they keep the gates open and then eventually a man with real talent will move in and make use of the techniques worked out by clumsy people.

A man of talent can make use of any technique.

Oh, I worked and worked on this train of thought.

I was excited all day long and I have a whole aphorism that came as a result.

When I got back to my room all I had to do was write it down.

It often happened to me just that way – and all on the company’s time!”

To give his ideas finished form, Hoffer retreated to Golden Gate Park, following a favourite path down to where the Park meets the ocean.

GoldenGateBridge-001.jpg

The walk took him about an hour from where the bus left him at the entrance, which was just right for chewing over the concept or problem he had selected for scrutiny.

Then, sitting on a bench facing the Pacific, he transcribed the product of his thinking in his notebook, “adding crumb to crumb”.

Hoffer hated “intellectuals”, but by the term “intellectual”, he did NOT mean men and women of the mind who pursue truth and understanding for its own sake – he exemplified that breed.

The criterion for “intellectual” in his lexicon was not a passion for truth but a passion for power, especially power over people.

He defined an “intellectual” as “a self-appointed soul engineer who sees it as his sacred duty to operate on mankind with an axe.”

“I am not venting any personal grievance against the intellectual.

They have treated me fine, but anyone who wants to be a member of an elite goes against my grain, and that’s what the intellectuals who now make most of the noise really want.”, Hoffer insisted.

Hoffer knew from his own experience that intelligence, perceptiveness, understanding, mental capacity, indeed wisdom are far more widely diffused among people than we usually imagine.

“Every ‘intellectual’ thinks that talent, that genius is a rare exception.

It’s not true.

Talent and genius have been wasted on an enormous scale throughout our history.

This is all I know for sure.”

Hoffer knew for sure because he developed his own ideas through discussion with the men with whom he worked and spent his leisure time – suggesting that we too might find far more intellectual stimulation among such people than we might expect.

“I have never felt cut off intellectually, but I have never associated with literary people.

I could always talk to the people around me and discuss my ideas with them.

All experiences are equidistant from an idea if your mind is keyed up.

The crucial factor is not the set of circumstances in which we find ourselves, but the ‘keyed-up’ mind.”

In a nutshell, keeping a journal is the best way to cultivate your own “alertness to the first, faint stirrings of thought.”

Above: Facsimile of orignal diary of Anne Frank on display in Berlin

“It is more than six months since I started this diary.

I wanted to find out whether the necessity to write something significant every day would revive my flagging alertness to the first, faint stirrings of new ideas.

I also hoped that some new insight caught in flight might be the seed of a train of thought that could keep me going for years.

Did it work?

The diary flows, reads well and has something striking on every page.

Here and there I suggest that a new idea could be the subject of a book, but only one topic, ‘the role of the human factor’, gives me the feeling that I have bumped against something which is, perhaps, at the core of our present crisis.”

Virtually every important writer and thinker has kept a journal.

For example, Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Maslow, Franz Kafka, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevski, Francoise du Maurier, Eugene Delacroix, William Gibson, Paul Gauguin, John Steinbeck and Gertrude Stein all kept notebooks or journals in which they shared their thoughts and work, in steps small enough so that we can easily follow.

“Every intellectual used to keep a journal and many have been published and are more interesting and more instructive than the final formal perfected pages which are so often phony in a way – so certain, so structured, so definite.

The growth of thought from its beginnings is also instructive – maybe even more so for some purposes.” (Abraham Maslow)

Abraham Maslow.jpg

Above: Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970)

You will gradually find your own best method of generating thoughts.

The crucial thing is to start.

It is the doing that teaches us how.

“You might start by clipping and pasting newspaper articles that interest you for the next 30 days.

At the end of that time, see if there isn’t any trend suggestive of a deep-seated interest or natural inclimation.

Keep alert each day…” (Dr. Ari Kiev)

A book I cannot imagine living without is a psychology / philosophy book by Felice Leonardo Buscaglia, aka Leo Buscaglia, with the simple title: Love.

Leo F. Buscaglia

Above: Professor Leo Buscaglia (1924 – 1998)

I love this warm and wonderful book and the way Buscaglia envelops the reader in his warm embrace through his quiet simple manner.

“…they didn’t know about Papa’s rule that before we left the table, we had to tell him something new we had learned that day.

We thought that this was really horrible – what a crazy thing to do!

While my sisters and I were washing our hands and fighting over the soap, I’d say:

‘Well, we’d better learn something.’

We’d dash to the encyclopedia and flip to something like ‘The population of Iran is…’

Flag of Iran

Above: Flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran

We’d mutter to ourselves ‘The population of Iran is…’

We’d sit down and after a dinner of great big dishes of spaghetti and mounds of veal so high you couldn’t even see across the table, Papa would sit back and take out his little black cigar and say, “Felice, what did you learn new today?”

And I’d drone ‘The population of Iran is…’

Nothing was insignificant to this man.

He’d turn to my mother and say, ‘Rosa, did you know that?’

She’d reply, impressed, ‘No.’

We’d think ‘Gee, these people are crazy.’

But I’ll tell you a secret.

Even now going to bed at night, so exhausted as I often am, I still lie back and say to myself, ‘Felice, old boy, what did you learn new today?‘.

And if I can’t think of anything, I’ve got to get a book and flip to something before I can get to sleep.

Maybe this is what learning is all about.’

(Leo Buscaglia, Love)

I think keeping a journal is more than just recounting the events of your day.

It is about what you have learned from those events and from that day.

“He had no education, save that of experience.”

(Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography)

Gandhi’s father was not educated beyond the elementary grades and had nothing more than an education that gave him basic literacy.

“Of history and geography he was innocent.”, Gandhi wrote.

Nevertheless. he judged that his father’s “rich experience of practical affairs” enabled him to solve “the most intricate questions” and prepared him to manage business.

Our age is obsessed with diplomas and certificates, which are, certainly, of value.

However, it is a big mistake to minimize the value of experience – the best teacher of all.

Let your journal show you what issue(s) are important to you, that deserve your time, attention and passion.

Use your journal to think about your issue(s) and why you want to see change.

Find out what you believe in.

Find something YOU wholeheartedly believe in – and most likely others will too.

So, tell me…

What did you learn today?

Sources: Wikipedia / Eric Hoffer, Working and Thinking on the Waterfront / Eric Hoffer, Before the Sabbath / Mahatma Gandhi, An Autobiography / Alan Axelrod, Gandhi CEO / Ronald Gross, The Independent Scholar’s Handbook / Lucy-Anne Holmes, How to Start a Revolution / Michael Norton, 365 Ways to Change the World / Adam Kerr, “All You Need is Cafuné”, The Chronicles of Canada Slim, 10 October 2015)