Canada Slim and the Injured Queen

Cernabbio, Lago di Como, Italia, 1 August 2017

We disembarked from the lake steamer, the wife and I on vacation, eager to visit the Villa d´Este and Villa Erba.

The day would make me consider the role of women in the world and especially the role of my wife in my own.

The Villa d´Este, originally called the Villa del Garovo, is a Renaissance residence in Cernabbio on the shores of Lago di Como, which began as a convent and now functions as a luxury hotel.

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Gerardo Landriani, Bishop of Como (1437 – 1445), founded a nunnery here at the mouth of the Garrovo torrent in 1442.

Learning this, I asked myself:

What would inspire a woman to become “a bride of Christ”, chaste for the rest of her days?

There does exist people who are simply non-sexual and may not feel the urges average folks do.

Their biggest problem is not lack of stimulation as much as the non-acceptance by others for their inclination, for it remains a universal that those who are not understood are often rejected.

And a true belief in a divine power beyond ourselves coupled with a warm welcome into an institution that insists that there should be no distraction away from worshiping the divine may have lead women who have willingly chosen to be nuns – historically not all women have had the choice – feeling content with their cloistered existence.

A century later Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio demolished the convent and commissioned Pellegrino Tibaldi to design a residence for the Cardinal´s own use.

Above: Cardinal Tolomeo Gallio (1527 – 1607)

The Villa del Garovo, together with its luxuriant gardens, was constructed during the years 1565 to 1570 and during the Cardinal´s lifetime it became a resort for politicians, intellectuals and ecclesiastics.

I asked myself:

Why would a man desire a garden beyond the practicality of a fruit orchid or a vegetable garden?

Beyond the interest in botany or medicine that may pique some men´s curiosity, every man whose wife has dragged him into a greenhouse or a florist´s shop or a botanical garden seems damnably discomfited and visibly bored.

Many men see colours, but most don´t make fine distinctions in subtlety of shade.

We see flora but know few names for individual flowers and even less about the odd symbolism humanity attaches to these flowers.

Many men see beauty, but more as an abstract concept, and with the notable exception of the insecure teenage years, don´t see beauty as so applicable to men ourselves as much as it is to women.

And though many men will buy flowers for their ladies, usually as compensation for deeds done wrong in the past or insurance against deeds that will be done wrong in the future, the thinkers amongst my gender reflect how odd a custom it is to cut down flowers, toss them in a vase of water and then slowly watch them die – a rather cruel way to appreciate beauty.

I wonder if the collection of flowers and the observation of their slow demise could be extended into a metaphor about the fairer sex.

Girls are raised to be aware of beauty, often inspired to reflect that beauty, and some even equate their sense of self-worth based on the degree to which they are found beautiful by others, feeling their value diminishes as their beauty fades with the passage of time.

What a strange and terrible idea.

On Gallio´s death the Villa passed to his family who, over the years, allowed it to sink into a state of decay and disrepair.

From 1749 to 1769 Garovo was a Jesuit centre for spiritual exercises, after which it was acquired first by Count Mario Odescalchi and then in 1778 by Count Marliani.

In 1784, Garovo passed to the Milanese Calderari family who undertook a major restoration project and created a new park all´Italiana with an impressive nymphaeum and a temple displaying a 17th-century statue of Hercules hurling Lichas into the sea.

Terrible symbolism of might making right, very macho.

After the death of Marquis Calderari, his wife, Vittoria “la Pelusina” Peluso, a former ballerina at La Scala, married a Napoleonic general, Count Domenico Pino and a mock fortress was erected in the park in his honour.

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Above: Portrait of Count Domenico Pico (1760 – 1826)

A ballerina marrying a general – seems like an odd pairing….

Almost as odd as a teaching barista being married to a doctor….

In 1815 Garovo became the residence of Caroline of Brunswick, the estranged wife of future King George IV.

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Above: Caroline of Brunswick (1768 – 1821)

“Its garden seems almost suspended in the air and forms a scene of complete enchantment.”, she wrote in her diary.

Life ain´t easy, and for women life has challenges unique to her gender that men may try to share but most will never fully understand.

Life ain´t easy for women and historically it rarely has been.

Take my wife.

Please!

There are times she would thank you if you did!

For living with me cannot be easy.

In our apartment lives a grumpy old man and a lovely younger lady.

I do not appreciate orderliness as much as I should, I dance like an elephant stranded on an ice rink and I still cling to remnants of boyhood like a love of games and superheroes.

Like an old lion in winter, I exert myself when I must, growl when disturbed and roar when provoked.

I have the fashion sense of a train wreck, my study reflects photos of a just-bombed Dresden, and my remarks are often as not as loving and poetic as they could be.

And beauty never was my trademark and more so as I age disgracefully.

My balding pate can be seen from space and what hair determinedly remains is as white as alpine snow.

My belly could be used as a baby´s trampoline and my bones complain.

What a fine mess my darling has been harnessed with!

And as much as a burden that my wife´s personal life is, she struggles mightily to get the respect that is accorded her male colleagues.

The adage that women must work twice as hard to get half as much respect is sadly a truism still prevalent in our society.

And this truism has always existed, regardless of a woman´s status in society.

Take the case of Caroline.

Caroline was born a princess of Braunschweig (Brunswick in English) in Germany.

She was brought up in a difficult family situation.

Her mother resented her father´s open adultery and Caroline often tired of being a “shuttlecock” between her parents.

Whenever Caroline was civil to one of them, she was scolded by the other.

She was educated by governesses, but the only subject in which she was given a high education was music.

By age 16, she was an attractive girl with curly, fair hair, whom French politician Honoré Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau described as “most amiable, lively, playful, witty and handsome”.

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Above: Honoré Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau (1749 – 1791)

Caroline was brought up with an extreme degree of seclusion from contact with the opposite sex even for her time.

She was constantly supervised, restricted to her room when the family was entertaining guests and ordered to keep away from the windows.

She was normally refused permission to attend balls and court functions, and when allowed, she was forbidden to dance.

Though Caroline was not allowed to socialise with men, she was allowed to ride.

During her rides, she visited the cottages of the peasantry.

Her English mother Augusta, the sister of the British King George III, desired a match between one of her children and a member of her English family.

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Above: Princess Augusta of Great Britain (1737 – 1813)

From the age of 14, Caroline received a number of proposals for marriage  – the Prince of Orange, Prince George of Hesse-Dartmouth, Duke Charles of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the second son of the Margrave of Baden – were all suggested, but none of these developed.

Caroline´s father Charles forbade her to marry a man she had fallen in love with because of his low status.

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Above: Charles William Ferdinand, Prince of Braunschweig (1735-1806)

The identity of this man is not clear, but a handsome Irish officer who lived in Braunschweig is suspected.

There was also a rumour – rumours were the bane of Caroline´s entire existence – that Caroline had given birth at the age of 15.

There is no confirmation of this rumour – nor the rumours that would follow her later in life – but it was a widely circulated rumour and referred to as a reason why she married at an older age than was customary, despite being regarded as good-looking and having received so many proposals.

In 1794, Caroline and the Prince of Wales were engaged.

They had never met, but George agreed to marry her because he was heavily in debt.

If he contracted a marriage with an eligible princess, Parliament would increase his allowance.

Caroline seemed eminently suitable: she was a Protestant of royal birth and the marriage would ally Braunschweig and Britain.

Although Braunschweig was only a tiny country, Britain was at war with revolutionary France and so was eager to obtain allies on the European continent.

On 20 November 1794, Lord Malmesbury arrived at Braunschweig to escort Caroline to her new life in Britain.

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Above: James Harris, Lord Malmesbury (1746 – 1820)

In his diary, Malmesbury recorded his reservations about Caroline´s suitability as a bride for the Prince….

She lacked judgement, decorum and tact.

She spoke her mind too readily, acted indiscreetly and often neglected to wash or change her dirty clothes!

She had “some natural but no acquired morality, and no strong innate notions of its value and necessity”.

However Malmesbury was impressed by her bravery….

On the journey to England, the party heard cannon fire, as they were not far from the French front.

While Caroline´s mother, who was accompanying them to the coast as chaperone, was concerned for their safety, Caroline was unfazed.

On meeting his future wife for the first time, George called for alcohol.

He was very disappointed in her.

So was she in him.

She told Malmesbury:

“The Prince is very fat and he´s nothing like as handsome as his portrait.”

Above: George IV (1762-1830), King of Great Britain (1820-1830)

At dinner that evening, the Prince was appalled by Caroline´s rough nature and her jibes at the expense of dinner guest Lady Jersey.

Above: Frances Villiers, Lady Jersey (1753 – 1821)

Caroline was upset and disappointed by George´s obvious preference for Lady Jersey over her.

Caroline and George were married on 8 April 1795 at the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace in London.

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Above: St. James Palace, London

At the ceremony, George was drunk.

He regarded Caroline as unattractive and unhygienic and he told Malmesbury that he suspected that she was not a virgin when they married.

He himself was not.

He himself was already secretly married to Maria Fitzherbert, but as his marriage violated the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, their marriage was not legally valid.

Above: Maria Fitzherbert (1756 – 1837)

In a letter to a friend, the Prince claimed that the couple only had coitus three times: twice on their wedding night and the third the night after.

He wrote:

“It required no small effort to conquer my aversion and overcome the disgust of her person.”

Caroline claimed that George was so drunk that “he passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate (of the fireplace), where he fell, and where I left him.”

Nine months after the wedding, Caroline gave birth to Princess Charlotte, George´s only legitimate child, on 7 January 1796.

Above: Princess Charlotte of Wales (1796 – 1817), as a child

Three days after Charlotte´s birth, George made out a new will, leaving all his property to “Maria Fitzherbert, my wife”, while to Caroline he left….

One shilling.

Gossip about Caroline and George´s troubled marriage was already circulating.

The newspapers claimed that Lady Jersey, Caroline´s Lady of the Bedchamber, opened, read and distributed the contents of Caroline´s private letters.

Caroline despised Lady Jersey and could not visit or travel anywhere without George´s permission.

The press crucified George for his extravagance and luxury at a time of war and portrayed Caroline as a wronged wife.

Caroline was cheered in public and gained plaudits for her “winning familiarity” and easy, open nature.

(Doesn´t Caroline remind you of the late Princess Diana Spencer?)

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Above: Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales (1961 – 1997)

George was dismayed at her popularity and his own unpopularity, and felt trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman he loathed.

He wanted a separation.

In August 1797, Caroline moved out to a private residence.

No longer constrained by her husband, or, according to rumour, by her marital vows, Caroline entertained whomever she pleased.

Charlotte was placed in the care of a governess and Caroline visited her often.

In 1802, Caroline adopted a three-month-old boy, William Austin, and took him into her home, Montagu House, in Blackheath.

Above: Montagu House

By 1805, Caroline had fallen out with her closest neighbours, Lady and Sir John Douglas, who claimed that Caroline had sent them obscene and harassing letters and accused Caroline of infidelity and alleged that William was Caroline´s illegitimate son.

In 1806, a secret commission was set up, known as the “Delicate Investigation” to examine Lady Douglas´ claims.

The commissioners (the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Home Secretary) decided that there was “no foundation” for the allegations.

Despite being a supposedly secret investigation, it proved impossible to prevent gossip from spreading, and news of the investigation leaked to the press.

Caroline´s conduct with her gentlemen friends was considered improper, but there was no direct proof that she had been guilty of anything more than flirtation.

Later that year, Caroline learned that Braunschweig had been overrun by the French and her father was killed in the battle of Jena-Auerstadt.

Her mother and brother Frederick fled to England.

With much of Europe controlled by the French, Caroline could not leave Britain as much as she wanted so desperately to do.

During the Delicate Investigation, Caroline was not permitted to see Charlotte.

Afterwards her visits were restricted to once a week and only in the presence of Caroline´s mother.

By the end of 1811, King George III was declared permanently insane and the Prince of Wales was appointed as Regent.

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Above: George III, in later life (1738 – 1820), King of Britain (1760 -1801)

The Prince restricted Caroline´s access to her daughter further, and Caroline became more socially isolated as members of high society chose to patronise George´s extravagant parties rather than hers.

Needing a powerful ally to help her oppose George´s increasing ability to prevent her from seeing her daughter, with the help of Henry Brougham, an ambitious Whig political reformer, they began a propaganda campaign against George.

Charlotte favoured her mother´s point of view, as did most of the public.

Author Jane Austen wrote of Caroline:

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Above: Jane Austen (1775 – 1817)

“Poor woman!

I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a woman and because I hate her husband.”

In 1814, after Napoleon´s defeat, nobility from throughout Europe attended celebrations in London.

Caroline was excluded.

George´s relationship with his daughter was deteriorating as Charlotte sought greater freedom from her father´s restrictions.

On 12 July, George informed Charlotte that she would be confined to Cranbourne Lodge in Windsor, that her trusted household would be replaced and that she could have no visitors except his mother, Queen Charlotte, once a week.

 

Above: Cranbourne Lodge

Horrified, Charlotte ran away to her mother.

After an anxious night, Charlotte was eventually persuaded to return to her father, since legally Charlotte was in her father´s care and there was a danger of public disorder against George, which might prejudice Charlotte´s position if she continued to disobey him.

Caroline, desperately unhappy with her situation and treatment in Britain, negotiated a deal, agreeing to leave the country in exchange for an annual allowance.

After a two-week visit to Braunschweig, Caroline headed for Italy through Switzerland.

Along the way, she hired Bartolomeo Pergami as her most trusted servant and friend.

In 1815, Caroline bought the Villa, even though her finances were stretched.

Caroline gave it the name Nuova Villa d´Este and the park landscaped in the English style.

Meanwhile Charlotte married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld.

Above: Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold

From early 1816, Caroline, accompanied by Pergami, went on a cruise around the Mediterranean.

By this time, gossip about Caroline was everywhere.

Lord Byron wrote to his publisher that Caroline and Pergami were lovers.

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Above: English poet Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 – 1824)

Baron Friedrich Ompteda, a Hannoverian spy, bribed one of Caroline´s servants for proof of adultery.

None was found.

In 1817 as her debts were growing, she sold the Villa d´Este and moved to the smaller Villa Caprile near Pesaro.

In November 1817, Charlotte died after giving birth to her only child, a stillborn son.

The loss of her daughter meant Caroline lost any chance of regaining her position in England.

George was determined to press ahead with a divorce and set up a commission to gather evidence of Caroline´s adultery.

As the commission was assembling more and more evidence, Caroline was worried.

She informed that she would agree to a divorce in exchange for money.

However, at this time in England, divorce by mutual consent was illegal.

It was possible to divorce if one of the partners admitted or was found guilty of adultery.

Caroline said it was impossible for her to admit that.

On 29 January 1820 King George III died.

Caroline´s husband became King, and, at least in name, Caroline was Queen of the United Kingdom.

Instead of being treated like a Queen, Caroline found her estranged husband´s accession made her position worse.

The King demanded that his Ministers get rid of her, but they would not agree to a divorce because they feared the effect of a public trial.

The government was weak and unpopular, a trial detailing juicy details of both Caroline´s and George´s separate love lives was certain to destabilise the government further.

Rather than run the risk, the government entered into negotiations with Caroline, offering her an increased annual allowance if she stayed abroad.

She rejected the offer and embarked for England.

When she arrived on 5 June, riots broke out in support of her.

Caroline had become a figurehead for the growing radical movement that demanded political Reform and opposed the unpopular King.

Nevertheless, the King still adamantly desired a divorce.

On 15 June, the guards in the King´s Mews mutinied.

The mutiny was contained, but the government was fearful of further unrest.

In July, the government introduced a bill in Parliament, the Pains and Penalties Bill of 1820, to strip Caroline of the title of Queen and dissolve her marriage.

The government claimed that Caroline had committed adultery with Pergami.

Various “witnesses” were called during the reading of the Bill, which was effectively a public trial of the Queen.

The trial caused a sensation.

Above: The Trial of Queen Caroline, 1820

Caroline joked that she had indeed committed adultery once – with the husband of Maria Fitzherbert, the King.

Even during the trial, the Queen remained immensely popular, with over 800 petitions and nearly a million signatures favouring her cause.

As a figurehead of the opposition movement demanding reform, many revolutionary pronouncements were made in Caroline´s name.

At the end of the Trial, the government again extended the offer of an increased allowance, this time without preconditions, and Caroline accepted.

Soon after her husband´s coronation, from which she was barred, Caroline fell ill.

Above: The Coronation of George IV, 19 July 1821

She died on 7 August 1821, at the age of 53.

She is buried in her native Braunschweig in a tomb bearing the inscription:

“Here lies Caroline, the Injured Queen of England.”

Even today, nearly two centuries later, the double standard of men acceptably being promiscous while women remain condemned for the same remains.

The Villa was briefly owned by the Tsarina Maria Feodorowna, mother of the last Tsar of Russia Nicholas II, but was never visited by her and remained abandoned.

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Above: Tsarina Maria Feodorowna (Dagmar of Denmark)(1847 – 1928)

It was converted into a deluxe hotel for the nobility and the high bourgeoisie in 1873, and kept the name Villa d´Este to take advantage of the apparent link with the more famous Villa d´Este in Tivoli, near Roma.

Visiting the garden in 1903 for Century Magazine, Edith Wharton found Este to be “the only old garden on Como which keeps more than a fragment of its original architecture”.

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Above: US Pulitzer Prize writer Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937)

A gala dinner held at the Villa d´Este on 15 September 1948 was the scene for the celebrated murder of the wealthy silk manufacturer Carlo Sachi, shot dead by his lover Countess Pia Bellentani with her husband´s automatic pistol.

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She spent the rest of her days committed to an insane asylum.

Today, with room rates averaging €1,000 / $1,122 a night and executive suites averaging €3,500 / $3,926 per night, the Villa is a luxury hotel for wealthy people and a high level congress centre.

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In 2008, Travel and Leisure magazine listed the Villa as the 15th best hotel in Europe and the 69th best hotel in the world.

In 2009, Forbes reckoned that the Villa was the best hotel in the world.

Every April, the hotel hosts the Concorso d´Eleganza Villa d´Este for vintage and concept cars.

Every September, it has hosted since 1975 the annual Ambrosetti Forum, an international workshop attended by prominent figures from the fields of politics, finance and business.

The European House Ambrosetti

The Ambrosetti Forum is organised by The European House – Ambrosetti, a consulting firm, and brings together heads of state, ministers, Nobel laureates and businessmen to discuss current challenges to the world´s economies and societies.

It presents forecasts of the economic and geo-political outlooks for the world, Europe and Italy and analyses the main scientific and technological developments and their impacts on the future of business and society.

Forum participants are privately invited and the event takes place behind closed doors.

Yet media coverage of the event is very relevant, given the presence of over 400 Italian and international journalists.

In addition, BBC World, CNBC, CNN, Financial Times and RAI produce talk shows and in-depth live interviews with the speakers of the Forum for broadcast around the globe.

The Villa Erba is a 19th century villa, built by the founder of the first Italian pharmaceutical company, Luigi Erba, to show off his wealth, and now used as an exposition and congress centre.

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In 2004, Erba served as a filming location for the movie Ocean´s Twelve.

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(See Canada Slim and the Quest for George Clooney of this blog.)

In 2005, American singer Gwen Stefani shot the music video for her single, Cool, on the Villa´s grounds.

A blond woman is looking back over her right shoulder. She is wearing a dark blue blouse and red lipstick, and she is in a room. Above her image are two stripes. The upper is blue and the words "Stereo" and "Fidelity" are written in light yellow, and between them there is a long red arrow (←→). The second strip is yellow; on it the words "Gwen Stefani · Cool" are written in navy blue capital letters.

Later that same year, a concert of Anastacia´s Live at Last tour was hosted in the Villa´s park.

Above: Anastacia Lynn Newkirk in 2005

So many women with such a large influence on the world all passing through Cernobbia directly or indirectly: nuns, a ballerina, a queen, a tsarina, a countess/murderess, movie stars, singers, a doctor/my wife….

All have made a difference – the last abovementioned a difference in my life.

Men often have a way of disappointing the women in their lives: kings rejecting queens, manufacturers driving countess to insanity, teaching baristas driving doctors to distraction….

My wife will be disappointed that I have mentioned her yet again in my blog.

And she hates when I have called her “She Who Must Be Obeyed” on Facebook or in this blog, but if she could only realise that by “obeyed” I mean “honoured and respected” because I realise that like many women she probably married beneath her, that she might be happier with someone more appropriate and that, despite our differences, she is a far far better life partner than I deserve.

She is my injured queen, for whom I am forever grateful and to whom I wish nothing but happiness.

 

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Canada Slim and the Quest for George Clooney

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 28 September 2017

Celebrities ARE different.

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

They usually have far more wealth than we do.

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

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

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

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

Ancient Rome also glorified actors and gladiators.

Some have had to die to achieve fame.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Goethe in the Roman countryside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We´re more popular than Jesus now.”

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

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

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

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

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

Outside of Switzerland, who knows DJ Bobo?

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Above: D J Bobo

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

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

Outside of Quebec, who remembers Mitsou?

Above: Canadian actress/singer Mitsou Gélinas

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

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

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Above: Canadian athlete Steve O`Brien

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

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

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

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Above: Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg since 2013

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

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

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Above: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis

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

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Above: Lhamo Thondup aka the 14th Dalai Lama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unscientific know Albert Einstein.

Even criminals become famous if their crimes are sensational enough.

Celebrities often have fame comparable to royalty.

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

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

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

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

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

It is a fallacy, but a manic belief nonetheless.

 

Lago di Como, Italia, 1 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Stendhal (1783 – 1842)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing stops us.

Nothing frightens us.

We are a flood that never dries up.

We come from all over.

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

We follow urges we cannot explain.

Italy once experienced first hand never loses its charms.

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

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

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

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

Lonely Planet Italy describes Como:

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

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

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

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

The rows of villas seem endless.

So many Villas!

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

Colored painting depicting Napoleon crowning his wife inside of a cathedral

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

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

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

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Above: Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 – 1882)

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

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Above: Carlo Dossi (1849 – 1910)

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

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

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Above: Marie Taglioni (1804 – 1884)

Then….

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

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Above: American actor George Clooney

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

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

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The boatload of passengers were suitably impressed.

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

Above: Cristina Belgioiso (1808 – 1871)

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

And on and on…

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

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

Above: Villa Oleandra

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

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

We foreigners don’t just come to Italia.

We keep coming back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He has been parodied by South Park and American Dad.

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

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

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling

He is a supporter of gay rights.

In 2003, he opposed the Iraq War, saying:

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

Instead you create an entire generation of people seeking revenge.

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

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

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

We can´t beat anyone any more.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Flag of the United Nations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still I don´t envy George.

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

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

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

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

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

George has dated.

A lot.

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

Above: Italian actress/model Elisabetta Canalis

And why not?

Women have found him attractive, both physically and socially.

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

Or inside his main home in Los Angeles….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Amal and George Clooney, 2016 Berlin Film Festival

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

“George, thanks for keeping your shirt on.”

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Sources: Wikipedia / Rough Guide Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

Canada Slim and Our Lady of St. Petersburg

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 September 2017

It has been a hard year for my heart in my dual roles of teacher and barista.

In the former role, I have been disappointed that my preferred profession of choice, teaching, has sadly not been as busy lately as I might have hoped.

In the latter, I have been saddened by the grim reality that the gastronomy industry has always had lots of personnel turnover.

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Above: The Starbucks logo

In plainer language, I keep having to say good bye to colleagues whom I love.

I have had to say good bye to Anna, a lovely multilingual young lady, and Ricarda, so sensitive and shy, for reasons of health.

Some have left for love, like Katja, Vanessa and Alanna bringing new life into this old world.

Some have left for better work opportunities, like Bryan, Kasia, Ricardo, Natalie, Valentina, Anne Catherine and Coco.

Some have returned to their homelands, like the aforementioned Bryan of Newcastle, Julia of Poland and Natan of Italy.

And though I have warmly welcomed into the fold new Partners, like Sukako of Japan and Michaela of Sweden, and I am truly happy that partners like Volkan, Roger, Jackie, Pedro, Eden, Dino, David, Alicia, Nesha, Christa and Rosio still remain, my poor old heart still has trouble letting go of those partners who leave us behind.

(And apologies to those whose names have been forgotten at this time of writing.)

Tonight we say good bye to yet another partner whose departure affects me in ways complicated to express, for Lyudmila of St. Petersburg, Russia, a place that is prominent in my latest blog posts, will move next week to Canada, my homeland, to live in Annapolis Royal, Canada´s oldest town and where my walking adventures across Canada ended.

Seaward view at Annapolis Royal

Above: Seaward view from Annapolis Royal

(My tale of Annapolis Royal and the end of my walking adventures in Canada will be told, God willing, at another time.)

Lyudmila is a very open and caring woman.

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Her husband is clearly a very fortunate man, for Lyudmila´s outer beauty is only diminished by her amazing inner beauty of imagination, passion and compassion.

Her spirit is as bright as summer midnight in Siberia, her tenderness towards others makes her as huggable as a soft teddy bear and her red hair, as crimson as the old Soviet flag, blazes and brands a memory in every man´s mind.

Sadly I did not work that often with Lyudmila as she was mostly at Starbuck´s Arena store and I remained mostly at the other two St. Gallen locations, the Bahnhof and Marktgasse.

Yet despite this, we were always delighted to see one another and the warmth between us was real and open.

I will miss her.

How ironic it is that her new home will be in my homeland.

How ironic that she is beginning a new life where I left an old one behind.

How far she has travelled from her old home in St. Petersburg.

I have an odd hobby.

When I meet a partner whose homeland I have never visited I buy a guidebook to their countries and plan a visit there.

My home library, for example, contains guidebooks of places never visited, yet because of the warm feeling that the partners from these countries give me I know that one day I will visit Valentina and Nesha´s Serbia, Vanessa´s Macedonia, Julia and Kashia´s Poland, Pedro and Natalie´s Brazil, Alicia´s Nepal, Eden´s Ethiopia and now Lyudmila´s Russia.

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Landschlacht, 24 September 2017

There were a combination of factors that diminished the bittersweet good bye party I had unconsciously wished for last night:

A head cold (Nothing worse than a man´s cold, ladies!),

Fatigue (I have been doing A LOT of extra hours at Starbucks because of a shortage of personnel at present, including a double shift earlier today.),

Location (We all met inside the basement restaurant Tres Amigos, which was hot, crowded and noisy.),

Numbers (Too many people had been invited, making conversations, at a level more than superficial, impossible.) and…

Age (I truly felt like an old man last night since so many of those invited were either significantly younger than me or were much better at faking a youthful spirit than I was.).

I have over the past few months stopped colouring my hair and have let nature show my age with silver hair and balding pate, and last night my age showed.

I felt shy and awkward and three pina coladas didn´t help.

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But the party wasn´t about me nor should it have been.

It was a farewell party for a beloved and lovely colleague.

And it was nice to see colleagues I don´t see that often.

And seeing the ladies all fancied up, wearing make-up and colourful clothing, made my eyes delighted with the images they presented.

And I lost in the comparison amongst the men, for I had unwisely changed into a shirt that exposed a middle-aged belly and the zipper on my pants chose yesterday of all days to break.

Plus it must be said that youthful bearded men, full of vim and vigour like Volkan and Dino, always have a distinct advantage over me in the attractiveness factor.

Had I been trying to attract one of the ladies last night, I was a drooping daisy that could not compete with all the bright sunflowers around me!

But enough about me and my self pity.

Lyudmila looked lovely and excited about the new life she will begin next week.

Since I have known of her impending departure, I have often thought of how far a road she has travelled from St. Petersburg to Annapolis Royal via St. Gallen.

I wish I had had the opportunity to have spoken to her about her life and the journey that her life had taken her, but, despite our mutual liking of one another, ours was never a relationship that was as close as one she shared with the girl friends she worked with at Starbucks.

I have lived in both Canada and Switzerland, but I have never had the opportunity to visit Russia.

Flag of Russia

And my only exposure to Russians I have had has been with Lyudmila in St. Gallen and the Russian women I met during my days in South Korea.

My knowledge of Russia has been limited to what I have read and the biased media coverage that the Western media provides us.

I am surprised to discover how few books I own in regards to Russia and the media leaves me with the notion, without direct experience or proof, that all Russian leaders in my lifetime have been men of questionable morality, that Russia is a bleak and cold desolate land, and that Russians are humourless bullies obsessed with the notion of the Russian soul.

It is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution and its connection to Switzerland has compelled me into trying to discover the truth, as best as I can, about Russia past and present.

What must it have been like to grow up in St. Petersburg?

Above: Pictures of St. Petersburg: St. Isaac´s Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, Peter and Paul Fortress, Senate Square horseman, Trinity Cathedral, Peterhof Palace, the Winter Palace.

Originally founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as “Russia´s Window to Europe”, St. Petersburg was constructed on swampland by thousands of serfs, many of whom perished, their bones laying the city´s foundations.

St. Petersburg became the capital of Russia in 1712 and remained so until 1918.

The city´s name was changed to the more Russian-sounding Petrograd in 1914, then to Leningrad in 1924., after the death of Vladimir Lenin.

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Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

Its original name was restored following the collapse of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991.

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Above: Flag of the Soviet Union / USSR (1922 – 1991)

St. Petersburg is a name suggesting great literature.

Alexander Pushkin was the first writer to explore the rich potential of the Russian language as spoken by the common people.

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Above: Russian poet/playwright/novelist Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)

His masterpiece is Evgeniy Onegin, a novel set in verse form.

Nikolai Gogol, although a Ukranian by birth, a huge amount of his striking original work is set in St. Petersburg, including The Nose and The Overcoat.

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Above: Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)

Fyodor Dostoevsky, the author of some of the world´s most profound literature, such as Crime and Punishment, spent much of his life in St. Petersburg, where in 1849 he was subjected to a mock execution for “revolutionary activities” – a trauma which affected him the rest of his days.

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Above: Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

Osip Mandelstam, the author of symbolic taut poetry, in 1933, composed a poem about Stalin in which he wrote that the dictator´s “fingers were as fat as grubs” and that he possessed “cockroach whiskers”.

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Above: Russian Poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)

This poem ultimately led to Mandelstam´s death and became known as the “16-line death sentence.”

Daniil Kharms wrote some of the strangest and most original Russian literature, which was suppressed by Stalin due to its downright oddness rather than any overt political message.

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Above: Russian writer Daniil Kharms (1905-1942)

Kharms starved to death in the WW2 siege of the city.

Andrey Bely, although Moscow-born, reached the pinnacle of his career with his symbolist masterpiece Petersburg, a choatic, prophetic novel that has been favourably compared to the works of Irish writer James Joyce.

Above: Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev, aka Andrey Bely (1880-1934)

Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg and grew up trilingual speaking Russian, English and French.

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Above: Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)

His family moved to Europe in 1918 and Nabokov wrote many of his novels in English, including his best known work, Lolita.

Joseph Brodsky won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, after leaving the Soviet Union in 1972 after his works were attacked by the authorities.

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Above. Russian writer Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

The poetess Anna Akhmatova, branded a “half-harlot, half-nun” by Soviet authorities, wrote Requiem, her tragic masterpiece about the terrifying Stalin years, which was banned in the USSR until 1989.

Akhmatova in 1922 (Portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin)

Above: Anna Andreyevna Govenko, aka Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

Alexander Blok developed complex poetic symbols, especially in his most controversial work The Twelve, which likens Bolshevik soldiers to Christ´s Apostles.

Above: Russian poet Alexander Blok (1880-1921)

Many films have been set in St. Petersburg, with the most familiar to the West probably being Golden Eye, wherein James Bond (007)(played by actor Pierce Brosnan) carries out a daring raid involving the Russian Mafia.

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Above: Poster for 1995 film Golden Eye

The 1990s in which Golden Eye was filmed and set, a criminal class had sprung up, willing and able to do anything to build up fortunes, earning St. Petersburg the reputation as “the Crime Capital of Russia”.

Clearly St. Petersburg is quite inspirational.

 

Landschlacht, 25 September 2017

To get from the platform where I disembark in St. Gallen to the Starbucks where I usually work in the city centre on Marktgasse, I normally stop on Platform 1 and chat with the Starbucks Bahnhof personnel who happen to be working at the time.

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Yesterday I had the late shift (1500 – closing).

On duty at the Bahnhof were Lyudmila and Sukako.

How typical of Starbucks to work a Partner right up to her departure day!

(Lyudmila flies to Canada on Thursday.)

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How interesting to see a Russian and a Japanese working harmoniously together when only a little over a century ago their countries were mortal enemies.

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Above: Scenes from the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905)

I call Sukako privately “Suzi Q” (reminiscient of the old Creedance Clearwater Revival (CCR) song) and publicly “Tampopo”(“Butterfly”)(from the only Japanese movie I never forgot).

I showed Lyudmila my old second hand copy of a St. Petersburg guide book I had brought with me and she nostalgically pointed out where in downtown St. Petersburg she once lived.

She smiled and said she tries to visit St. Petersburg at least twice a year if she can and told me she still has many friends and family members there.

Knowing someone like Lyudmila makes me wonder just how wrong the images I have of Russia and Russians might be.

Perhaps I make the same mistake about Russia as many people do about America: judging the country by the leadership.

An ancient habit carried over from the days when kings and queens were their countries as theirs was the only authority, yet this is a habit that just won´t fade away quietly.

We shouldn´t judge Russia by the only Russian most people have heard of: Vladimir Putin.

Nor should we judge America by the American most people wish they had never heard of: Donald Trump.

I am reminded of the old song “Russians” by Sting where the listener is reminded that “the Russians love their children too”.

Lyudmila warmly encouraged me to visit St. Petersburg one day and my reading about it does make the city seem attractive.

From the pre-revolutionary grandeur of the Hermitage (the former residence of the tsars and now home to art collected from around the world) and the Mariinskiy Theatre (Russia is famous for its ballet and opera.) to the unavoidable reminders of the Soviet period, St. Petersburg promises to be a city where eras and architectural styles collide.

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Above: The Hermitage Museum, formerly the Winter Palace

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Above: The Mariinskiy Theatre

Blessed with some of the world´s most magnificent skylines and known throughout Russia as “the Venice of the North”, Russia´s second city is a place of wonder and enigma, of white summer nights and long. freezing winters.

And it seems one could easily spend a week, or a lifetime, discovering the city.

Nevskiy Prospekt, the cultural heart of the city, is home to many of St. Petersburg´s top sights, including the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.

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Above: Winter on Nevskiy Prospekt

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Above: Kazan Cathedral

A stroll along Nevskiy Prospekt is a journey through time, from tsarist-era splendours to the cafés and chic boutiques of modern day St. Petersburg.

Immortalised in literature, this 4.5 km/3-mile stretch has been the hub of the city´s social life since the 18th century.

If in Europe all roads lead to Rome, then in St. Petersburg all roads converge on Nevskiy Prospekt.

Just off Nevskiy Prospekt, the Church on Spilled Blood, built as a memorial to Tsar Alexander II in 1881 on the site of his execution, is a kaleidoscope of wondrous colourful mosaics and icons.

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Above: The Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Ground

The Russian Museum is an exclusively Russian affair, collecting only works made by Russians.

Above: The Russian Museum in the former Mikhailovsky Palace

The history of St. Petersburg dates from the founding of the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1703, originally intended to defend the city against Swedish invaders, it contains a magnificent cathedral, dark and damp cells, a popular beach(!) and fine examples of Baroque architecture and much like the city itself, much like Russia herself, the Fortress is a contradictory wonder that simultaneously exhilarates the spirit and chills the bones.

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Above: The Peter and Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island on the Neva River

And these abovementioned half-dozen sites are just the tiniest sample of all there is to see and do in St. Petersburg.

(I have never been to Russia´s second city, but I have been to its Floridan namesake, which is another adventure that I will share with you, my gentle readers, at a later time.)

Much of what is Russian history happened in St. Petersburg.

To understand the Russia of today, I believe one needs to understand how Russia got to where she is now.

I have previously spoken of the founding of St. Petersburg, “Bloody Sunday” 9 January 1905, the dawn of the February Revolution of 1917, the 900-day WW2 siege of the city when author Daniil Kharms perished from starvation, and the criminal 1990s.

But St. Petersburg is more than these events…

It has seen its share of powerful political figures….

Peter the Great, the driving force behind the city, ruled Russia from 1682 to 1725.

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Above: Russian Tsar Peter the Great (1672 – 1725)

Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, was killed by the Bolsheviks following the October Revolution of 1917.

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Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

Gregori Rasputin was a peasant mystic whose scandalous lifestyle helped discredit Tsar Nicholas II´s rule.

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Above: Gregori Rasputin (1869 – 1918)

St. Petersburg was home to Mikhail Bakunin, a revolutionary involved in insurrections all over Europe and is generally considered to be “the father of modern anarchism”.

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Above: Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814 – 1876)

Lenin returned to Russia and St. Petersburg to become the leader of the October/Bolshevik Revolution and the Soviet Union´s first head.

Soviet revolutionary Sergey Kirov´s assassination would mark the beginning of a series of bloody purges in the 1930s.

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Above: Bolshevik politician Sergey Kirov (1886 – 1934)

Anatoly Sobchak would become St. Petersburg´s first democratically elected Mayor in 1991.

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Above: Anatoly Sobchak (1937 – 2000), St. Petersburg Mayor (1991-1996)

Galina Starovoitova (1946 – 1998), a politician known for her democratic principles and assassinated in 1998, would have a funeral attended by thousands of Russian mourners.

Above: Burial site of Galina Starovoitova, Nikolskoye Cemetery, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, St. Petersburg

Valentina Matvienko, the Governor of St. Petersburg,  remains a rare female figure in male-dominated Russian politics.

St. Petersburg native and former KGB head Vladimir Putin, who rose to power as Acting President on New Year´s Eve 1999, remains Russia´s dominant leader who has overseen the country´s economic growth while simultaneously cracking down on press freedom and repressing dissent to his rule wherever it may arise.

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Above: Vladimir Putin (born 1952), President of Russia since 2012

But once again we need to remind ourselves that the leadership of a place does not mean that all of its people resemble those leaders.

I would like to think that Lyudmila is perhaps a truer representative, a better ambassador, to the wonder of St. Petersburg and the potential of Russia than Putin or his ilk could ever be.

Sadly, like many things in life, it has taken her departure for me to truly appreciate who Lyudmila is and what she represents to me.

Though it was the commemoration of the Russian Revolution in Swiss museums this year that has evoked curiosity within me about Russia and its relationship with Switzerland, my present country of residence, I am now inspired by Lyudmila to research, and hopefully one day visit, Russia.

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Above: Flag of Switzerland

And maybe, one day, Lyudmila and her husband along with my wife and I will share coffee together on Nevskiy Prospekt, with Lyudmila having an understanding of my homeland and I with a greater understanding of hers.

I still have hope.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Marc Bennetts, Top Ten St. Petersburg, Dorling & Kindersley Eyewitness Travel, 2008

Canada Slim and the Road into the Open

Cadenabbia di Griante, Italia, Monday 7 September 1840

“We leave Cadenabbia in a day or two. 

I go unwillingly.

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

The calm weather invites my stay, by dispelling my fears.

The heat is great in the middle of the day and I read a great deal to beguile the time….

I breathe the air.

I am sheltered by the hills and woods that give its balmy breath, which lend their glorious colouring….”

(Mary Shelly, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Rambles in Germany and Italy was Mary Shelley´s last published work.

The text describes two European trips Shelley took with her son, Percy, and several of his university friends.

After crossing Switzerland by carriage and railway, the group spent two months at Cadenabbia on Lago Como, where Shelley relaxed and reminisced about the years she had lived in Italy with her husband.

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 September 2017

Below is how the local tourism board of Cadenabbia tries to seduce the traveller to stop for a while….

Cadenabbia is the ashore cluster of Griante. The origins of its name are bound to different etymological traditions, one of which says that it comes from the contraction of Ca’ dei Nauli (boatmen’s house). As a matter of facts, in old times, on that very spot there was an inn to which all boatmen coming from Como or Lecco to deliver their goods to the along shore villages used to stop and taste the excellent local wine: the Griantino. At the beginning of the 19th century, Gianella turned it into the very first hotel for tourists and visitors on this area, which immediately became well known among travellers all over the world. For a long time Cadenabbia has been one of the favoured places for the British and a large community lived here. For that reason it was built the Anglican Church, the very first one on Italian soil, which was consecrated in 1891.

 

Griante The village lies on a wide plateau overlooking the lake, at about 50 mt. above lake level. It faces the promontory of Bellagio with the dolomite massifs of the Grigna and Grignetta in the background, which gives the opportunity to enjoy unique landscape views both for beauty and charm.

For many centuries Griante gave hospitality to a number of great visitors. It would be enough to quote Giuseppe Verdi, who in the quietness of Villa Margherita wrote the most beautiful airs of his La Traviata. Stendhal, who dedicated many pages of his masterpiece La Chartreuse de Parme to describe the village and its environment. The enchanting beauty of the place enraptured Longfellow, the American poet, who wrote many poems about this place.

Here came the British Queen Victoria, the German Kaiser William II, Nicolas II of Russia, the Prince of Piedmont (the last Italian King), Pius XI, until he was elected Pope, and the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who used to call Griante: my second hometown.

Many pages of modern history have been written in the peaceful atmosphere of Griante, the village the Celts called Griant – Tir, that is to say: The land of the sun.

Ah, to be in Cadenabbia right now instead of here!

Here where rain is more frequent than paycheques and fine weather is invisible and ignored by the demands of work.

Cadenabbia´s great beauty of scenery and vegetation, at its utmost with the blossoms of spring or the changing of the leaves of autumn, beckons my spirit, yet the demands of the flesh maintain my tiresome sojourn here.

Cadenabbia di Griante, Tuesday, 14 July 1840

“The steamer, however, did not stop (in Bellaggio), but on the opposite shore, Cadenabbia, which looked southward and commanded a view of Bellaggio and the mountains beyond surmounting Varenna….

Strange to say, there is discontent among us.

The weather is dreary, the Lake tempest-tossed.

And, stranger still, we are tired of mountains.

I, who thinks a flat country insupportable, yet wish for lower hills and a view of a wider expanse of sky.

The eye longs for space.”

(Mary Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Cadenabbia di Griante, Monday 31 July 2017

The heat is intense, our mood is dreary and our conversation tempest-tossed.

And, in so short a space of time from the northern tip of Lake Como to this town of Cadenabbia, 15 miles north of the city of Como, we – the wife and I – have grown tired of one another´s personality quirks shown in the car journey southwards.

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The car ride is insupportable.

The mind longs for solitude and space.

But we are on vacation, chained to one another by obligation and prearranged travel details.

She has exhausted her patience trying to locate for me Mussolini`s execution spot while negotiating rush hour traffic.

(See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence of this blog.)

Her impatience has exhausted my tolerance.

Yet, stranger still, we persevere.

Cadenabbia, Friday 17 July 1840

“Descriptions with difficulty convey definite impressions, and any picture or print of our part of the Lake will better than my words describe the scenery around me….

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High mountains rise behind, their lower terraces bearing olives, vines and Indian corn – midway clothed by chestnut woods; bare, rugged, sublime at their summits….

These Alps are in shape more abrupt and fantastic than any I ever saw.

I wish I could, by my imperfect words, bring before you not only the grander features, but every minute peculiarity, every varying hue, of this matchless scene.

The progress of each day brings with it its appropriate change.

When I rise in the morning and look out, our own side is bathed in sunshine, and we see the opposite mountains raising their black masses in sharp relief against the eastern sky, while dark shadows are flung by the abrupt precipices on the fair Lake beneath.

This very scene glows in sunshine later in the day, till at evening the shadows climb up, first darkening the banks, and slowly ascending till they leave exposed the naked summits alone, which are long gladdened by the golden radiance of the sinking sun, till the bright rays disappear, and, cold and gray, the granite peaks stand pointing to the stars, which one by one gather above.

Here then we are in peace, with a feeling of being settled in….”

(Mary Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy)

Cadenabbia, Monday 31 July 2017

As we struggle, crawling and cursing ever southwards to a city called Como that seems forever out of reach, I am reminded that Cadenabbia is known for more than Mary Shelley.

CADENABBIA
E. W. Longfellow- Summer 1872

No sound of wheels or hoof beat breaks
The silence of the summer day.
As by the loveliest of all lakes
I while the idle hours away.

I pace the leafy colonnade.
Where level branches of the plane
Above me waves a roof of shade
Impervious to the sun or rain.

At times a sudden rush of air
Flutters, the lazy leaves o’ erhead
And gleams of sunshine toss and flare
Like torches down the path I tread.

By Sommariva’s garden gate
I make the marble stairs my seat,
and hear the water as I wait
lapping the steps beneath my feet.

The undulation sinks and swell
Along the stony parapets,
and far away the floating bells
tinkle upon the fisher’s nets.

Silent and slow by tower and town
The freightened barges come and go,
their pendent shadows gliding down
by town and tower submerged below

The hills sweep upward from the shore
With villas scattered one by one,
upon their wooded spurs, and lower
Bellagio blazing in the sun.

And dimly seen a tangled mass
Of walls and woods of light and shade,
stands beckoning up the Stelvio Pass
Varenna with its white cascade.

I ask myself is this a dream?
Will it all vanish into air?
Is there a land of such supreme
And perfect beauty anywhere?


Sweet vision! Do not fade away;
linger until my heart shall take
into itself the summer day,
and all the beauty of the lake.

Linger until upon my brain
Is stamped an image of the scene;
then fade into the air again,
and be as if thou hadst not been.

GRIANTE
STENDHAL: “LA CHARTREUSE DE PARMA” description di GRIANTE

Everything is noble and delicate. Everything speaks of love. Nothing reminds the ugliness of civilisation. The villages placed halfway up the hills are sheltered by trees, and above the tops of the trees rises the fine architecture of their slender bell towers. If, from time to time, some small fields, fifty yard wide, interrupt the “bouquets” of chestnut and cherry wild trees, the satisfied eye sees the plants growing happier and more vigorous then anywhere else. Beyond these hills, which host some hermitages where everyone would like to live, the enchanted eyes discover the picks of the Alps, always covered with snow, and their majestic austerity reminds the strife of life, and this increases the voluptuousness of the present hour.
The imagination is moved by the far away twinkling of a bell, coming from some small village hidden under the trees; and the sounds brought by the water that sweeten them, assume the colour of soft melancholy and meekness that seems to tell men: “Life passes by quickly. Do not be reluctant towards the happiness that comes to you. Reach out and enjoy it.” The language of these enchanting places, that have no equal in the world, gave back to the Countess’ heart the feelings of when she was sixteen.

Above are descriptions of Cadenabbia by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Stendhal (penname of Marie-Henri Beyle).

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

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Above: Stendhal (1783 – 1851)

In 1853, Giulio Ricordi built a mansion here, the Villa Margherita Ricordi where Giuseppe Verdi visited and is said to have composed some parts of La Traviata here.

Above: Giulio Ricordi (1840 – 1912)

Above: Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)

Lake Como - between Cadenabbia and Menaggio

Above: The Villa Margherita Ricordi

Visits by Giuseppe Verdi to this mansion may have been related to the successful strategy of luring the aging composer out of his retirement with the composition of his two final works, Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893).

But Ricordi had the good sense to promote younger composers of merit, including Giacomo Puccini, said to be the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi.

Above: Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924)

Ricardo was something of a father figure to Puccini, feared (and often needed to be censorious over Puccini´s dilatory work habits) but deeply trusted.

Arthur Schnitzler wrote movingly about Cadenabbia´s cemetery in his 1908 novel The Road into the Open.

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Above: Arthur Schnitzler, M.D. (1862 – 1931)

My research of the places on our itinerary bring to mind the works and life of Schnitzler beyond his account of Cadenabbia’s final resting place for its dead.

Schnitzler was the son of a Viennese doctor and the grandson, through his mother, of another Viennese doctor.

Schnitzler himself was a doctor until he abandoned the practice of medicine in favour of writing.

(I could never imagine my wife, also a doctor, abandoning her long years of study and practice to try another profession.

I am sceptical of her allowing me to pursue a writing career without working fulltime at some other profession, whether respectable as teaching or steady as in the hospitality service.)

At age 40, Schnitzler married Olga Gussmann, a 21-year-old aspiring actress and singer, with whom he had already produced a son the year previously.

In their 6th year of marriage, they also had a daughter, who committed suicide at the tender age of 19.

The Schnitzlers separated shortly thereafter.

Schnitzler´s works were, to say the least, even today, controversial, for their frank description of sexuality.

In a letter to Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud confessed:

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Above: Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis (1856 – 1939)

“I have gained the impression that you have learned through intuition – although actually as a result of sensitive introspection – everything that I have had to unearth by labourious work on other persons.”

Schnitzler was branded as a pornographer after the release of his play Reigen, in which ten pairs of characters are shown before and after the sexual act, leading and ending with a prostitute.

Reigen was made into a French language film in 1950 as La Ronde, (starring Simone Signoret) achieving considerable success in the English-speaking world, with the result that Schnitzler´s play is better known there under its French title.

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(Whether the designers of Montréal´s La Ronde amusement park had the film in their mind when they made the park remains a mystery.)

Roger Vadim´s film Circle of Love (1964)(starring Jane Fonda) and Otto Schenk´s Der Reigen (1973) and Fernando Meirelles´ film 360° (starring Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law and Rachel Weisz) are all based on the play.

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Schnitzler´s novella Fräulein Else is a first-person stream of consciousness narrative by a young aristocratic woman in the throes of a moral dilemma that ends tragically.

This novella has been adapted a number of times, including the German silent film Fräulein Else (1929)(starring Elisabeth Bergner) and the Argentine film The Naked Angel (1946)(starring Olga Zubarry).

The Naked Angel is the story of a sculptor who agrees to lend a bankrupt man money provided that his beautiful daughter pose nude for his latest work of art.

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In response to an interviewer who asked Schnitzler what he thought about the critical view that his works all seemed to treat the same subjects, he replied:

“I write of love and death.

What other subjects are there?”

Indeed.

(As I sneakily look into the passenger mirror above the car´s dashboard, my balding pate and silver hair remind me that there are probably fewer years ahead of me than I have left behind.

As I watch my wife struggle with the frustrations of Italian traffic and think that we have been a couple for two decades having known few others before our union, I am reminded that regardless of the moments that she may annoy me I remain passionately in love with this tumultous woman.

Love and death are much on my mind today.

How much must I love this woman even to tolerate her at her worst?

How much must she love me to tolerate me at my worst?

How dangerous these streets are!

How easy to be struck or to strike others!)

The bedroom is often the focus of many of Schnitzler´s works and he himself had an affair with one of his actresses, Adele Sandrock.

An exception to his farcicial attitude towards the bedroom and the games adults play within it, Professor Bernhardi, a play about a Jewish doctor who turns away a Catholic priest in order to spare a patient the realisation that she is on the point of death, is his only major dramatic work without a sexual theme.

(These modern times simply demand a modernised adaptation of this play.)

(I ask myself: “Would I want to know when I am dying?”

My honest answer is “No”.

I prefer the deception, the illusion, that the closing of my eyes is a mere prelude to temporary rest rather than the final curtain over a permanent slumber.)

Schnitzler toyed with formal as well as social convention.

With his short story Lieutenant Gustl, he was the first to write German fiction in stream-of-consciousness narration in a story of a soldier and the army´s obsessive code of formal honour.

This story caused Schnitzler to be stripped of his commission as a reserve officer in the medical corps.

(It is a curious thing how man disguises the murder of other men in cloaks of honour wrapped in flags, thinking that this somehow justifies the barbarity of the act and the senselessness of the sacrifice.)

Schnitzler wrote two full-length novels: the above-mentioned The Road into the Open (the story of an aristocratic young composer Georg von Wergenthin-Recco, who has talent but lacks the drive to get down to work and spends most of his time socialising with others like himself, and his ultimately unhappy affair with a Catholic lower middle class girl named Anna Rosner) and Therese (the story of a woman, who gives birth to an illegitimate child during the final decades of the First World War, and who, having to live in poverty herself, is unable to secure an education for her son, so she has a succession of lovers all of whom act irresponsibly towards her until she meets a wealthy Jewish entrepreneur who proposes to her, but dies before they can get married thwarting all her hopes of the good life, and, in the end, she is killed by her ungrateful and estranged son Franz).

(Did Schnitzler have Puccini in mind when he wrote The Road into the Open?)

In addition to his plays and fiction, Schnitzler meticulously kept a diary from the age of 17 until two days before his death.

Running to almost 8,000 pages, the diary is most notable for Schnitzler`s casual descriptions of sexual conquests – he was often in relationships with several women at once, and for a period of several years he kept a record of every orgasm he experienced (!).

(Who does this sort of thing?)

Schnitzler´s works were called “Jewish filth” by Adolf Hitler and were banned by the Nazis in Austria and Germany.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

In 1933, when Joseph Goebbels organised book burnings in Berlin and other cities, Schnitzler´s works were thrown into the flames along with those of other Jews, including Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud and Stefan Zweig.

I am reminded of Schnitzler`s Dream Story, which was later adapted into the Stanley Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut (starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kiddmann).

A framed image of a nude couple kissing – she with her eye open – against a purple background. Below the picture frame are the film's credits.

Though the film remains one of my least favourite films, and Nicole Kiddmann one of my least favourite actresses, this story of a doctor who is shocked when his wife had contemplated having an affair a year earlier, so he is thus inspired to embark on an adventure during which he infiltrates a massive masked orgy of an unnamed secret society, still stirs something inside me when I consider one particular scene where Dr. Harford claims to know his wife completely.

Alice finds his confidence in his ability to understand women extremely amusing.

The idea of openness intrigues me as our car seems stuck in perpetual gridlock.

Do I really want to tell my wife of moments when she has disappointed me, or of moments when the mind has thoughts of an impure nature for those who are not her?

And if my thoughts are those of occasional displeasure with her and pleasure with others, wouldn´t it be hypocritical of me to imagine that there are not similar moments, similar thoughts for her?

In the novella and the film the participants in the private orgy have their faces covered by Venetian masks.

Historians, travel guide authors, novelists and, of course, merchants of Venetian masks have all noted that these have a long history of being worn during promiscous activities.

Tim Kreider and Thomas Nelson have linked the film’s usage of these masks to Venice´s reputation as a centre of both eroticism and mercantilism.

Carolin Ruwe argues that the mask is the prime symbol of the film, reflecting the masks that we all wear in society.

And the line between our private lives and our public personas seems often deliberately complicated and blurred on so many issues of sexuality: breastfeeding, the rights of a woman to be as covered or uncovered as she chooses, the rights of an undeveloped fetus versus a woman´s body burdened with an unplanned pregnancy, the choice of what one wears and what is deemed feminine or masculine and what is not, the choice of with whom we choose or don´t choose to intimate with, the morality of self abuse, the acceptance or rejection of the gender nature assigned us, the question of fidelity versus being true to one´s sexual instincts even to exploration outside of monogamy….

Many questions that dominate our thinking….

Perhaps Italy is responsible for these thoughts?

“What then is this fatal spell of Italy?

Sometimes it seems almost possible to measure it exactly….by comparing the difference between a traveller´s enraptured recollection of his personal experiences and more sober and objective accounts of the same events.

What then is this fatal spell of Italy?

….that gives middle-aged and resigned people the sensation of being, if not young again, at least daring and pleasant to others, and the illusion that they could still bite the fruits of life with their false teeth?

….that makes unwanted people feel wanted, unimportant people feel important, and purposeless people believe that the real way to live intelligently is to have no earnest purpose in life?

Italy….is one of the last countries in the Western world where the great god Pan is not dead, where life is still gloriously pagan, where Christianity has not deeply disturbed the happy traditions and customs of the ancients, where the Renaissance has not spent itself.

Religion is but a thin veneer over older customs.

Foreigners come to taste la dolce vita, to play on solitary beaches, to sit in secluded caves and woods, to eat simple food with their hands, consort with vendors and workmen, living close to nature and in harmony with the vagaries and caprices of human instinct.

Italy is the world´s earthly paradise, where sin is unkown, man is still a divine animal and all loves are pure.

Italy is the right milieu for legal and illegal, natural, seminatural or unnatural honeymoons, affairs, liasons and escapades.

We long for things that have kept their natural flavour, those simple flavours threatened by industrial civilisation.

We like the guileless wines, the local cheeses which are unknown a few miles away, freshly-picked fruit warmed by the sun, fish still dripping sea water and eaten with lemon juice, home-baked bread….all combined with the simple and genuine emotions of the Italian people themselves.”

(Luigi Barzini, The Italians)

“In this beautiful country one must only make love.

Other pleasures of the soul are cramped here.

Love here is delicious.

Anywhere else is only a bad copy.” (Stendhal)

Is this why German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer regularly took his holiday in Cadenabbia?

Villa La Collina - Pool

Above: The Villa la Collina, built in 1899, where Adenauer used to stay, and since 1977, used as a conference centre by the Konrad Adenauer Institute

Konrad Adenauer was a German statesman who served as the first post-WW2 Chancellor of West Germany, leading his country from ruin to a productive and prosperous nation.

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Above: Konrad Adenauer (1876 – 1967), Chancellor (1949 – 1963)

During his years in power West Germany achieved democracy, stability, international respect and economic prosperity.

He was the first leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) political party that under his leadership became, and remains, one of the most influential parties in Germany.

Cdu-logo.svg

Adenauer, who was Chancellor until age 87, was dubbed “the old man”, as he was the oldest statesman ever to function in elected office, masking his age by his intense work habits and his uncanny political instinct.

He found relaxation and great enjoyment in the Italian game of bocce and spent a great deal of his post political career playing this game.

His favourite place to do this was in Cadenabbia.

His rented Villa has since been acquired as a conference centre by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), associated with the CDU, as the think tank of the European People´s Party (EPP).

Logo Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.svg

(The KAS´s aim is the “promotion of freedom and liberty, peace and justice through furthering European unification, improving transatlantic relations and deepening development cooperation” through the research and analysis of current political trends.

The KAS offers more than 2,500 conferences and events each year worldwide, and actively supports the political involvement and education of universally gifted youth through a prestigious scholarship program as well as an ongoing comprehensive seminar program.)

Perhaps this old man who believed so strongly in openness between nations was attracted to Italy by the simple and genuine emotions of the Italian people.

Italians have emotions and are unashamed of them and seldom try to hide them.

This tense, dramatic quality, this shameless directness about the Italians, is refreshing to foreigners accustomed to nordic self-control and frigidity of feeling.

Italians seek that combination of love, sensuality and sincerity to define their lives.

Music lives only in Italy.

Is this what continually draws the wife and me to Italy?

This trip is our 6th visit.

Perhaps we as nordic dwellers unconsciously follow the advice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

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Above: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)

“For strange effects and extraordinary combinations, we must go to Life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination.”

Cadenabbia, Saturday 1 August 1840

“The snow is gone from the mountain tops.

Warm, really warm, weather has commenced, and we begin to enjoy one of the most delicious pleasures of Life, in its way.

The repose necessitated by heat during the day, the revival in the evening, the enjoyment of the cooler hours, the enchantment of the nights – to stroll beside or linger upon the divine lake, to see the sun´s declining rays gild the mountain peaks, to watch the stars gather bright over the craggy summits, to view the vast shadows darken the waters, and hear the soft tinkling bells, put by the fishermen to mark the spot where the nets are set, come with softened sound across the water….

This has been our lot each evening.”

Cadenabbia, Monday 31 July 2017

Life is both moonlit strolls and traffic troubles.

I long for the former and tire of the latter.

I pray we reach the city of Como soon and escape from the heat and the noise and the stress.

In Como, we will park our car and refuse to move it for the next few days.

We will stroll along the lake in the cool of the evening and lounge on the shore in the heat of the afternoon, and drink from the joyful cup of Life in days happy and ethereal.

And who knows?

Maybe we will learn to play bocce.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, Rambles in Germany and Italy / Luigi Barzini, The Italians / Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Red-Headed League”, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes / http://www.cadenabbia.it / http://www.kas.de

Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 September 2017

“History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.” (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

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Above: Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794)

“I believe that are monsters born in the world to human parents.

Some you can see.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born?

The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree.

As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience.” (John Steinbeck, East of Eden)

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Above: John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968)

History is a chronicle of the most evil characters and wicked crimes: six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, the murdered millions of the Congo, Rwanda, the Armenians, the Hereros of Namibia, the East Timorese, and many many others.

In naming and chronicling their murderers, we defy the wishes of the killers who hoped that posterity would forget their crimes.

“Who now remembers the Armenians?”, mused Hitler, ordering the Final Solution.

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Above: Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945)

His comment shows why history matters, because Hitler found encouragement and solace in the forgotten Armenian massacres.

Past and present are closely linked.

“No one remembers the boyars killed by Ivan the Terrible”, said Stalin, ordering the Great Terror.

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Above: Joseph Vissariorovich Stalin (1878 – 1953)

In the colassally audacious, incredible scale of these crimes, these monsters found a diabolical sanctuary from comprehension and judgement.

“One death is a tragedy, but a million is a statistic.”, said Stalin.

The most disgusting of these crimes were committed in the 20th century when the corrosive all-embracing utopianism of insane ideologies dovetailed with modern technology and pervasive state power to make killing easier, quicker and possible on a gargantuan scale.

(Simon Sebag Montefiore, Monsters: History´s Most Evil Men and Women)

On my summer vacation with my wife, on our very first day of the vacation, we encountered the memory of such a monster.

Lake Como / Lago Como, Italy / Italia, 31 July 2017

Perhaps the problems of contemporary Italy are too disturbing and too difficult to understand.

Flag of Italy

Local political events have always seemed mysterious and negligible to the foreign visitor or resident expatriate.

Tourists don´t want to be reminded of a place´s dark heart or imperfect history.

The Italy for foreigners is mainly an imaginary country, for we often don´t really pay attention to or see clearly the Italy that Italians see.

We know too few natives and those we see are seen through a sunny haze too bright to understand Italians and their problems.

We meet hotel concierges, waiters, shopkeepers,  and tourist information providers, but we may never know the great mass of the Italians for we are as ignorant as children in these matters.

But no matter where you go, where humans are, one can find the desperate struggles for money and power if one takes the time and looks beyond the surface impressions.

This universal struggle demands its daily sacrifices, its regular victims.

Even when violent death is not lurking in the shadows, when things look pleasant and peaceful and life seems secure, prosperous and easy, competition at every level and in every field is intense, ruthless and without pause.

Fortune is notoriously fickle and history restless.

The day had begun well.

We drove across the Swiss border into Italy and were immediately charmed by the Italian province of Lombardy, for though Italy is about as large as California the inhabitants are incredibly numerous – over 50 million of them – one does not get the feeling of crowdedness in the Italian town first encountered over the Passo Spluga: Montespluga.

Part of Montespluga´s isolation is of course related to the Splügen Pass being closed in winter months and generally avoided throughout the year by those craving speed who take the San Bernardino road tunnel, opened since 1967, to the west.

There is not much about Montespluga to warrant the praises of most guidebooks.

After all the village consists of only three main streets (Via Dogana, Via Ferre, Via Val Longa), some small shops, a couple of hotels and restaurants.

But the plus side of this isolation lends both a warm welcome to the traveller determined to visit and an amazingly beautiful and tranquil landscape.

Here wild ponies graze in the fields, just outside the pizzaria windows, calm but vigilant when humans venture the paths that bisect their  territory.

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Through here the fit and adventureous hiker can follow the 65-kilometre Via Spluga from Thusis, Switzerland to Chiavenna, Italy, totally immersed in the splendour of nature, with some of the path the remnants of old Roman roads.

After a hardy lunch and a stroll in the pasture of ponies, we drove along the Reservoir, the Lago di Montespluga, through the town of Campodolcino (home to the poet Giosue Carducci and writer/journalist Don Abramo Levi, and a centre for winter skiing) and the village of San Giacomo e Filippo to the town of Chivenna.

Chiavenna, picturesquely on the right bank of the river Mera, 16 km north of Lago Como, formerly the Roman town Clavenna, is crowned by a ruined castle.

Townscape on the Mera

It was in this castle in October 1154 that the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1122 – 1190) met with his cousin Henry “the Lion” (1129 – 1195) and fell on his knees begging Henry´s aid against the cities of the Lombard League.

After all Frederick only wanted to impress the Pope and the Italians with his power, to plunder and raze city-states, to reward friends and allies and destroy enemies.

Isn´t that what rulers are supposed to do?

In the town is a statue of Peter de Salis (1738 – 1807), an Anglo-Swiss who resisted Napoleon, and was an extremely popular governor of the commune (1771 – 1773 / 1781 – 1783).

We did not linger in Chiavenna for my wife´s guidebook recommended a side trip to the Cascata dell´ Acquafraggia waterfalls, first recorded by Leonardo da Vinci in 1495 in his Codex Atlanticus.

Acquafraggia

This stream which flows from the Pizzo del Lago near the Swiss border then joins the Mera River at Borgonuovo, 5 km east of Chiavenna, imposingly descends into a series of waterfalls 170 metres high.

But the Cascata don´t feel like a tourist attraction as much as the local family picnic area and playground.

Somehow the waterfalls reminded me of the kind of setting that the original series of Star Trek might have used to film an alien paradise world.

Russian Poet Apollon Nicolayevich Maykov once wrote enthusiatically:  “Under that fiery sun, in the roar of a waterfall, inebriated you said to me: Here we can die together, the two of us.”

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Above: Apollon Nicolayevich Maykov (1821 – 1897)

We lingered bathing our feet in the stream that collected below the cascade.

We lingered too long.

Beautiful scenery, the stage setting for a peaceful dream, is suddenly cluttered by thousands upon thousands of men, women and children, Vespas and noxious automobiles, bright lights and intense noise, construction, constriction and complication.

For the western shore of Lago Como from Sorico all the way down to Como was crowded, traffic insane, a rush hour when commuters were unable to rush, bumper to bumper with no relief.

And it was in this spirit of impatience and annoyance that we discovered a monster.

Between the towns of Gravedona and Musso, 40 km/25 miles northeast of the city of Como, one can find the Comune Dongo, with its two main sights: the Palazzo del Vescovo (Bishop´s Palace) – home to the International Piano Academy where seven pianists, chosen annually from a worldwide field of over 1,000 applicants, including many prizewinners, have the opportunity of studying for a week with piano virtusos – and the Palazzo Manzi – the town administrative centre and the Museo della Fine della Guerra (Museum of the End of the War) with displays of partisan activity in Dongo and the north Lake Como area from the time of the Italian armistice in September 1943 up to the end of the Second World War in 1945.

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Above: The Palazzo Manzi

Why is this museum in this town?

Because it was in Dongo, on 27 April 1945, that Il Duce, Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945), Prime Minister of Italy (1922 – 1925), Dictator of Italy (1925 – 1943), Dictator of the Italian Social Republic (1943 – 1945) and the founder of fascism, was, along with other fascists, fleeing from Milano towards the Swiss border, captured by Urbano Lazzaro and other partisans and held prisoner within the walls of the Palazzo Manzi for most of the night before  his last day alive.

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Ruthlessly suppressing any form of dissent in Italy, Mussolini, a greedy colonialist with delusions of creating a post-modern new Roman Empire, was directly responsible for the deaths of over 30,000 Ethiopians in his infamous Abyssinian campaign, as well as being complicit, through his alliance with Adolf Hitler, in the atrocities of Nazi Germany.

Mussolini was born on 29 July 1883 in Dovia di Predappio, as the son of a blacksmith and a schoolteacher, a profession he tried in 1901 but swiftly abandoned.

vernacular stone building, birthplace of Benito Mussolini, now a museum

Above: Birthplace of Mussolini, now a museum

In 1902 Mussolini fled to Switzerland to avoid conscription.

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In Lausanne, Mussolini tried, once or twice, actually to become a member of the working class by getting a job as a labourer but discovered he didn´t like hard work.

He much preferred revolutionary literature and talking.

Mussolini preached indiscriminate violence to his Italian countrymen who were so impressed they elected him secretary of the bricklayers trade union.

Mussolini sought the company of other revolutionaries who were at the time mostly Russians who called him Benitushka.

Mussolini called himself an “apostle of violence”.

He never washed, seldom shaved and lived where he could.

The Swiss police watched him and arrested him several times for vagrancy.

Mussolini watched himself playing the great role he was inventing as he went along, hammering at it with gusto.

No earnest revolutionary in Switzerland at the time was as visibly frightening as he was.

Certainly not Lenin who resembled a little professor.

Above: Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, aka Lenin (1870 – 1924)

In his twenties, following in the footsteps of his father, Mussolini became a committed socialist, editing a newspaper called La Lotta di Classe (the class struggle), before, in 1910, becoming secretary of the local socialist Party in Forli, where he edited the paper Avanti! (forward!).

Mussolini also wrote an unsuccessful novel called The Cardinal´s Mistress.

Increasingly known to the authorities for inciting disorder, Mussolini was imprisoned in 1911 for producing pacifist propaganda after Italy declared war on Turkey.

Mussolini initially opposed Italy´s entry in the First World War, but, believing a major conflict would overthrow capitalism, he changed his mind, which saw him expelled from the Socialist Party.

Mussolini became fascinated with militarism, founding a new paper, Il Popolo d’Italia, as well as the pro-war group Fasci d’Azione Rivoluzionaria (the Revolutionary Fascist Party).

His own military service was cut short in 1917 following injuries sustained in a grenade explosion in training.

Mussolini was now a confirmed anti-socialist, convinced that only authoritarian government could overcome the economic and social problems endemic in postwar Italy, as violent street gangs (including his own Fascisti) battled for supremacy.

In March 1919, the first Fascist movement in Europe cristallised under his leadership.

His black-shirted supporters, in stark contrast to the flailing liberal governments of the time, successfully broke up industrial strikes and dispersed socialists from the streets.

Though Mussolini was defeated in the 1919 elections, he was elected to Parliament in 1921, along with 34 other fascists.

In October 1922, after hostility between left wing and right wing Groups had escalated into near anarchy, Mussolini – with thousands of his Blackshirts – staged the March on Rome, presenting himself as the only man who could restore order.

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Above: The March on Rome, 28 October 1922

In desperation, King Vittorio Emanuele III asked Mussolini to form a government.

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Above: Vittorio Emanuele III (1869 – 1947), King of Italy

Mussolini’s regime was built on fear.

By 1926, Mussolini had dismantled parliamentary democracy and stamped his personal authority on every aspect of government.

By 1928, Italy had become a one-party police state.

In 1935, seeking to make his dreams of Mediterranean domination and a North African empire, Mussolini ordered the invasion of Ethiopia.

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Above: Italian artillery, Tembien, Ethiopia, 1936

His use of mustard gas there (300 to 500 tonnes), followed by the vicious suppression of a rebellion against Italian rule, lead the League of Nations (the precursor to today´s United Nations) to impose sanctions on Italy.

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Above: Flag of the League of Nations, HQ in Geneva (1920 – 1945)

Increasingly isolated, Mussolini left the League and allied himself with Hitler in 1937, emulating the Führer in pushing through a series of anti-Semitic laws.

It soon became clear, however, that Mussolini was the minor partner in the relationship, Hitler failing to consult him on almost all military decisions.

After Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Mussolini ordered the Invasion (7 – 12 April 1939) of neighbouring Albania, his troops easily brushing aside the tiny army of King Zog.

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Above: Italian troops in Albania

In May 1939, Hitler and Mussolini declared a Pact of Steel, pledging to support the other in the event of war.

Italy did not enter the Second World War until the fall of France in June 1940, when it looked like Germany was on course for a quick victory, but the Italian war was a total disaster.

For all the puffed-up militarism of his regime, Mussolini´s army was disastrously unprepared for war on this scale.

Following the Allied arrival on the shores of Sicily in June 1943, Mussolini´s fascist followers abandoned him and had him arrested, only for German commandos to rescue him from imprisonment and place him at the head of a puppet protectorate, the Italian Social Republic based at the town of Salo near Lago Garda in the north of Italy.

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Above: Flag of the Italian Social Republic (1943 – 1945)

By 1944, the Salo Republic was threatened not only by the Allies advancing from the south bit also internally by Italian anti-fascist partisans in a brutal conflict that was to become known as the Italian Civil War.

Slowly fighting their way up the Italian peninsula, the Allies took Roma and Firenze in the summer of 1944 and later that year began advancing into northern Italy.

With the final collapse of the German army´s Gothic Line in April 1945, total defeat for the Salo Republic was imminent.

From mid-April 1945, Mussolini based himself in Milano, taking up residence in the city´s Prefecture.

At the end of the month, the partisan leadership, the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia (CLNAI) declared a general uprising in the main northern cities as the German forces retreated.

With the CLNAI´s assumption of control in Milano and the German army about to surrender, Mussolini fled the city on 25 April and attempted to escape north to Switzerland.

Above: Mussolini abandoning the Prefecture in Milan, 25 April 1945. This photo is believed the last photo of Mussolini alive.

On the same day as Mussolini left Milano, the CNLAI declared:

“The members of the fascist government and those fascist leaders who are guilty of having suppressed constitutional guarantee, destroyed the people´s freedoms, created the fascist regime, compromised and betrayed the country, bringing it to the current catastrophe are to be punished with the penalty of death.”

(CLNAI Decree, 25 April 1945)

On 27 April 1945, Mussolini and his mistress Claretta Petacci, together with other fascist leaders, were travelling in a German convoy near the village of Dongo.

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Above: Claretta Petacci (1912 – 1945)

A group of local communist Partisans led by Pier Luigi Bellini delle Stelle and Urbano Lazzaro attacked the convoy and forced it to halt.

The Partisans recognised one Italian fascist leader in the convoy, but not Mussolini at this stage, and made the Germans hand over all the Italians in Exchange for allowing the Germans to proceed.

Eventually Mussolini was discovered slumped in one of the convoy vehicles.

Lazzaro later said:

“His face was like wax and his stare glassy, but somehow blind.

I read utter exhaustion, but not fear.

Mussolini seemed completely lacking in will, spiritually dead.”

The partisans arrested Mussolini and took him to Dongo, where he spent part of the night in the local barracks in the Palazzo Manzi.

In all, over 50 Fascist leaders and their families were found in the convoy and arrested by the partisans.

Aside from Mussolini and Petacci, 16 of the most prominent of them would be summarily shot in Dongo the following day and a further 10 would be killed over two successive nights.

Fighting was still going on in the area around Dongo.

Fearing that Mussolini and Petacci would be rescued by fascist supporters, the partisans drove them, in the middle of the night, to a nearby farm of a peasant family named De Maria.

They believed this would be a safe place to hold them.

Mussolini and Petacci spent the rest of the night and most of the following day there.

On the evening of Mussolini´s capture, Sandro Pertini, the socialist partisan leader in northern Italy, announced on Radio Milano:

“The head of this association of delinquents, Mussolini, while yellow with rancour and fear and trying to cross the Swiss frontier, has been arrested.

He must be handed over to a tribunal of the people so it can judge him quickly.

We want this, even though we think an executive platoon is too much of an honour for this man.

He would deserve to be killed like a mangy dog.”

“Everyone dies the death that corresponds to his character.”

(Benito Mussolini, 1932)

Luigi Longo, a senior communist in Milano, instructed a communist partisan of the General Command, Walter Audisio, to go immediately to Dongo…

Above: Walter Audisio (1909 – 1973)

Go and shoot him (Mussolini)”.

Longo asked another partisan, Aldo Lampredi, to go as well because Longo thought Audisio was “impudent, too inflexible and rash”.

Audisio and Lampredi left Milano for Dongo early on the morning of 28 April to carry out Longo´s orders.

On arrival in Dongo, they met Bellini delle Stelle, the local partisan commander, to arrange for Mussolini to be handed over to them.

In the afternoon, Audisio, with other partisans, drove to the De Maria farmhouse to collect Mussolini and Petacci.

After they were picked up, they drove a short distance to the village of Giulino de Mezzegra.

So did we 72 years and 64 days later.

At the entrance of the Villa Belmonte on the narrow road XXIV maggio, Mussolini and Petacci were told to get out and stand by the Villa´s wall.

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Audisio then shot them at 1610 hours, with a submachine gun.

Above: The French-made MAS-38 submachine gun, used by Walter Audisio to shoot Benito Mussolini, National Historical Museum, Tirane, Albania

My wife was tired and impatiently wanting to get to Como and our B & B.

I took photos of the execution site.

We drove on.

In the evening of 28 April 1945, the bodies of Mussolini, Petacci and the other executed fascists were loaded onto a van and trucked south to Milano.

On arriving in the city in the early hours of 29 April, the bodies were dumped on the ground in the Piazzale Loreto, a suburban square near the main railway station.

The choice of location was deliberate.

Fifteen partisans had been shot there in August 1944 in retaliation for partisan attacks and Allied bombing raids.

Their bodies had then been left for public display.

The fascist bodies were left in a heap and by 2100 hours a considerable crowd had gathered.

The corpses were pelted with vegetables, spat at, urinated on, shot at and kicked.

Mussolini´s face was disfigured by beatings.

An American eyewitness described the crowd as “sinister, depraved, out of control.”

After a while, the bodies were hoisted up onto the metal girder framework of a half-built Standard Oil service station, and hung upside down on meat hooks to protect the bodies from the mob.

Above: Piazza Loreto, Milano, 29 April 1945. Mussolini (second from left), Petacci (middle)

At about 1400 hours, the American Military authorities, who had arrived in Milano, ordered the bodies be taken down and delivered to the city morgue for autopsies to be carried out.

On 30 April, an autopsy was carried out on Mussolini at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Milano.

Mussolini had been shot with nine bullets.

His body now rests at his place of birth in Dovia di Predappio.

A monster long dead, an apostle of violence long removed, the undignified deaths of Mussolini (age 62) and Petacci (age 33) linger in bad memory.

We hoped Como would find our smiles for us again….

Sources: Wikipedia / Luigi Barzini, The Italians / Simon Sebag Montefiore, Monsters: History´s Most Evil Men and Women

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Evil Road

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They have it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Montespluga in summer

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

The Pass was already in use in the Roman era.

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Mary Shelley (1797 – 1851)

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

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

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

They had no intention of returning to England.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They never reached their destination.

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

Mary eventually returned to England to raise her son.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Baden-Baden

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

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

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

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

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

Chiavenna, Italy, Monday 13 July 1840

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

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

The diligence was a very comfortable one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was an awful invasion of one element on another.

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

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

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

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

We dined at the village of Splügen.

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Above: Splügen in summer

It was cold and we had a fire.

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Spluga Pass, present day

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

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

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

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

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

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The mountain was cleft into woody ravines.

The waterfalls scattered their spray and their gracious melody.

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

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

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

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

Upon her return, she became depressed.

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

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

9 September 2017, Landschlacht, Switzerland

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

Above: Richard La Nicca (1794 – 1883)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doyle was a sporty doctor.

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

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

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

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

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

Time has proved him right.

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

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

Did he enter Italy through the Splügen Pass?

I have no information so far about his exact route.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…This is what I read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holmes: “….May I ask his name?”

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

Holmes: “You mean the Austrian murderer?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: The Chapel of Sogn Gieri, Rhäzüns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For my wife is driving.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corsets?

How fear emasculates!

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

Normally she does not want to kill her husband….

But my wife is driving.

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

I will keep you posted….

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

 

 

Canada Slim and the Lure of Italian Journeys

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 September 2017

It´s not that Switzerland isn´t inspirational.

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It is.

It has inspired Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac and Albert Cohen’s Her Lover.

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Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein here and Lord Byron The Prisoner of Chillon.

From Julius Caesar to Jean Jacques Rousseau, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Le Carré, Hermann Hesse and Patricia Highsmith – writers have scratched their names on the Swiss literary landscape.

Sherlock Holmes “died” and was “resurrected” here.

H.G. Wells thought he died and Switzerland was Heaven.

Thomas Mann wrote The Magic Mountain here.

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Here were Jorge Borges, James Joyce, Erich Maria Remarque, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Vladimir Nabokov writing their classic works.

Switzerland has seen anarchists, spies and detectives: Sherlock Holmes, Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, Ian Fleming`s Bond, Le Carré´s spies and double agents.

James Bond, holding a gun and standing next to Dr. Swann in front of a masked man, with the film's title and credits

Friedrich Glauser (“the Swiss Simenon”) and Friedrich Dürrenmatt invented Swiss noir – dark detective fiction.

But much like Switzerland´s travel writers – Ella Maillart, Isabelle Eberhardt, Annemarie Schwarzenbach and Nicholas Bouvier – I often can´t wait to make my escape out of Switzerland to loftier air and warmer climate.

Over the past two decades I have found myself drawn, much like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from 1786 – 1788, to “slip away” and say that “even I managed to get to Paradise”, that “we are all pilgrims who seek Italy”.

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Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

For, like Goethe, I find that Italy is the warm passionate South as opposed to the dark cautious North, a place where the past is still alive, a kaleidoscope of landscapes, colours, manners and monuments seen only in dreams.

Goethe described himself as “the mortal enemy of empty words”.

He needed to fill the names with meaning, “to discover myself in the objects I see”, “to learn to know myself by and through the objects”.

“Some journeys  – Goethe´s was one – really are quests.”

(W. H. Auden, Epigraph on Goethe`s Italian Journey)

In the past two decades my wife and I have journeyed to six distinct regions of Italy: Campania, Roma, Alto Adige/Sud Tirol, Sardinia, Toskana, and Lombardia (including Lago Maggiore, Lago di Como, Lago d´Iseo and Lago di Garda).

Six distinct regions, six distinct experiences.

I have had this blog for only two years now and have faithfully recorded my observations on 2015´s visit to Sardinia here (See: Great expectations?; Travelling with the enemy; Jerusalem lost between Europe and Africa; VIPs of Cagliari; The timelessness of Su Casteddu; Criminals or heroes?; The Devil`s Saddle and the Alligator; Why we walk backwards; Under the Skin; Eleonor of Arborea; The Last Castle; The Emperor`s new culture of this blog).

We have recently returned from Lombardia and the Lakes and this journey like the five journeys before (We went to Toskana/Tuscany last year.) has filled with me with inspiration for many blogs to come.

(Tuscany overloaded the senses and the mind but I intend to write about this as well as Campania, Roma, and Alto Adige in future blogs as appropriate, God willing.)

As wonderful an adventure as Sardinia was, what was lacking was a part of the travel experience that flying can´t really provide….the sensory transition from leaving the familiar to get to the unknown.

With an airplane there is no subtlety, no awakening to the new culture, but rather one is ripped from one land and dropped into another.

Italian differences are best cultivated at a natural pace, ideally on foot, but failing this by ground-level horsepower.

So we set out.

Nothing can stop us.

Nothing daunts foreigners.

Nothing frightens them.

Nothing stops them.

We arrive in a steady stream, by all forms of transport and even on foot, by day or night, from the sea or over the Alps.

What is but a small trickle in the winter months grows in the spring to the size of a stream and in summer turns into a monsoon flood, breaking all dykes, covering everything in sight like mindless locusts, only retreating and receding in September, but the flow never completely dries up.

We are part of the swarm of summer, dusty and perspiring.

We are part of the flow of the famous, following consciously or unconsciously in the footsteps of Queen Victoria, Mark Twain and Aldous Huxley, Lord Byron, Richard Wagner and Cole Porter, Percy Shelley and Henry James.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

It is a peaceful invasion, an eternal pilgrimage, a quest for something beyond our personal borders.

We are fatally drawn to Italy, like flies trapped in amber.

“Simply letting yourself live is beautiful in Italy….

It is sweeter to daydream following the shapes of Italian clouds than under the ash grey dome of a German sky, a workday sky in which even clouds take on the solemn and sulky expression of little burghers and yawn with boredom.

What is, after all, pleasure if not an extraordinarily sweet pain?”

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Above: Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856), German poet

“The charm of Italy is akin to that of being in love.”

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Above: Marie-Henri Beyle, aka Stendhal (1783 – 1842), French writer

Henry James suspected that the pleasure of Italy was inseparably tied to the human element, the people who had created the landscape almost with their own hands in the course of many centuries.

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916), US author

Italy was for him, “the incomparable wrought fusion of human history and moral passion with the elements of earth and air, of colour, composition and form, that constitute her appeal and give it supreme heroic grace.”

William Dean Howells loved “the delightfully natural human beings one could always be sure of in this land of human nature unabashed.”

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Above: William Dean Howells (1837 – 1920), US novelist

Italy has mastered the great art of being happy, the only art worth learning but which can never be really mastered, the art of living.

31 July 2017: Landschlacht, Switzerland to Como, Italy (Day 1 of 14)

We drove from our apartment building by the Lake of Constance non-stop to the Splügen Pass on the Swiss-Italian border, via Romanshorn, Chur, Thusis, the Via Mala (the Evil Road) and Zillis.

(All these previously visited places will feature, God willing, in future blog posts.)

The Lake of Constance/Bodensee, that huge East-swimming fish bulge in the course of the Rhine River, 67 km from fish nose to fish fins, does not have the benefit or curse of shoreline mountains, so we get wind in our hair and breezes pushing our boats and often rough and tumble weather.

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We are the first to experience the seasons´ changes in Switzerland….the promise of spring, the humidity of summer, the briskness of autumn, the harsh bite of winter.

Landschlacht is part of the community of Münsterlingen with its 16th century Baroque church which watches the Bodensee each winter with keen interest.

Since the 16th century, the Bodensee has frozen solid only half a dozen times.

One winter a church official from Hagnau, on the German bank opposite, walked across the frozen Bodensee to Münsterlingen, saved a statuette of John the Baptist from being destroyed by Protestant Reformers and took it back to Hagnau for safekeeping.

When the Bodensee froze again some years later, he brought it back.

Since then, a freezing of the Bodensee has precipitated a solemn procession to carry the statuette to the opposite shore.

In 1830, villagers delivered it to Hagnau, where it remained until the harsh winter of 1963, when the ice was solid enough to return it to Münsterlingen church.

There it sits still, awaiting the next icy spell.

Ever southward from Romanshorn, where ferries cross to Friedrichshafen, Germany, the road leaves the Lake of Constance near Egnach (See Sunshine Sketches of the Wild, Wild East of this blog.) and takes up the genesis of a southbound autoroute/freeway.

Graubünden, Switzerland´s largest canton, is a folded landscape of deep, isolated valleys, sheer rocky summits and thick pine forests.

Map of Switzerland, location of Grisons highlighted

It is the wildest and loneliest part of Switzerland, with some of the finest scenery in the Alps.

Here is the birthplace of rivers – the Rhine to the North Sea, the Inn to the Black Sea, and other rivers flowing south to the Po River and the Adriatic Ocean.

This is a trilingual land known as Graubünden in Swiss German, Grigioni in Italian and Grischun in Romansh – Latin´s last gasp as a spoken dialect.

The Autobahn traverses the gentle foothills of Heidiland to bypass the lovely cantonal capital of Chur with its medieval cobblestone alleys and secret courtyards and sensible stocky townhouses all dominated by a huge cathedral.

Chur, looking upstream, to the west

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

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

Via Mala.jpg

Then twisting up and around, up and around, the road climbs and climbs to the 2,113-metre high Splügen Pass.

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The Italian border is close now…soon cautious North is abandoned and risky South attempted.

But the Splügen Pass had a lesson to teach…

(To be continued…)

Sources: The Italians, Luigi Barzini / The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland, Padraig Rooney

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