Canada Slim and the Anachronic Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 October 2018

anachronic: not belonging to the time where one finds oneself

 

There are some places in the world where a person is immediately drawn to explore, either because of the sheer immensity of the place or because there is something truly remarkable there that cries out to be visited.

Kilchberg, a small town just south of Zürich on the western shore of the Lake of Zürich, fits neither description.

Kilchberg - Albis-Uetliberg - ZSG Pfannenstiel 2013-09-09 14-34-19.JPG

Kilchberg, unlike huge metropolises like London or Istanbul, does not offer surprises around every corner.

It takes only a well-planned excursion to see what little there is to see in this town: the Mann legacy of house and gravesites, the chocolate factory, and a museum dedicated to an anachronic man.

This post is this anachronic man’s story.

His museum is, to be frank, only of interest to those who can read fluently in German, for there are no descriptions in any other language within his last abode and his works seem to be only available in the Teutonic tongue.

The Museum, though named after the man who lived there, is not exclusively about him, as the scattered collections also focus on the bulk of the Klaus Mann family who lived and died in Kilchberg, as well as the local history of the community.

And those who run the Museum certainly do nothing to make a person want to make an effort to visit it, as the Museum is open only six hours a week on Wednesdays and Sundays from 2 to 5 pm.

 

(To be fair to the Museum, limited opening times and almost non-existent promotion are a typical problem of many museums in Switzerland.

The motivation to see such an attraction must have been driven from yourself, for it won’t have been created by anything the Swiss did.

For example, there is a Police and Criminal Museum in St. Gallen I knew nothing about until recently, despite my having worked in St. Gallen for the past eight years.

Now that I know it exists I am compelled to visit it soon, but its promised treasures are available for viewing at very limited opening times and with next to nothing and no one actively promoting it.)

 

As related in the previous post Canada Slim and the Family of Mann, my visit on 12 August 2018 to Kilchberg’s Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Museum was a third and final attempt to learn about Meyer.

And though Meyer is of little interest to most folks except those with either a passion for local history or Swiss literature, there are certain aspects about the life of Meyer with which I (and maybe you too, my gentle reader)can relate.

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer was born on 11 October 1825 in Zürich of patrician descent (i.e. nobility).

Conrad Ferdinand Meyer.gif

Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825 – 1898)

 

His father, who died early, was a statesman and historian, while his mother was a highly cultured woman.

Throughout Meyer’s childhood two traits were observed that later characterized the man and the writer:

  • He had a most scrupulous regard for neatness and cleanliness (a place for everything and everything in its place to the point of cleanliness nest to godliness).
  • He lived and experienced more deeply in memory than in the immediate present.

 

(Blogger’s personal note:

I have always been surprised that any museum one visits always show the subject of the museum as an organized and tidy individual, when it has been my experience that those of a creative nature rarely are.)

 

Meyer suffered from bouts of mental illness, sometimes requiring hospitalization.

His mother, similarly but more severely affected, killed herself.

 

I am reminded of Lewis Carroll….

Image result for all the best people are crazy

 

Once Meyer’s secondary education was completed, he took up the study of law, but history and the humanities were of greater interest to him.

He spent considerable amounts of time in Lausanne, Genève, Paris and Italy, immersed in historical research.

The two historians who influenced Meyer the most were Louis Vulliemin at Lausanne and Jacob Burkhardt in Basel whose book on the Culture of the Renaissance stimulated his imagination and interest.

Jacburc2.gif

Above: Jacob Burkhardt (1818 – 1897)

 

From Meyer’s travels in France and Italy, he derived much inspiration for the settings and characters of his historical novels.

Meyer’s master of realism was uncanny to the point that the reader is convinced that he lived what he wrote.

Reading his historical novels or narrative ballads the readers feel that they are living the past settings now.

 

What follows is the stuff of science fiction and immense improbability….

 

It is uncertain if time travel to the past is physically possible, but there are solutions in general relativity that allow for it, though the solutions require conditions not feasible with current technology.

The earliest science fiction work about backwards time travel is uncertain.

 

Samuel Madden’s Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) is a series of letters from British ambassadors in 1997 and 1998 to diplomats in the past, conveying the political and religious conditions of the future.

Above: Samuel Madden (1686 – 1765)

 

In the science fiction anthology Far Boundaries (1951), editor August Darleth claims that the earliest short story about time travel is “Missing One’s Coach: An Anachronism“, written for the Dublin Literary Magazine by an anonymous author in 1838.

The narrator of this short story waits under a tree for a coach to take him out of Newcastle, when he is transported in time over a thousand years.

The narrator encounters the Venerable Bede (672 – 735) in a monastery and explains to him the developments of the coming centuries.

The Venerable Bede translates John 1902.jpg

Above: Bede the Venerable

 

The story never makes it clear whether these events are real or a dream.

 

There are a number of science fiction classics that suggest that the mind can transport a person back into the past.

 

Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)(Tom Sawyer / Huckleberry Finn), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889):

Connecticut engineer Hank Morgan receives a severe blow to the head and is somehow transported in time and space to England during the reign of King Arthur.

After some initial confusion and his capture by one of Arthur’s knights, Hank realizes that he is actually in the past, and he uses his knowledge to make people believe that he is a powerful magician.

He attempts to modernize the past in order to make people’s lives better, but in the end he is unable to prevent the death of Arthur and an interdict against him by the Catholic Church of the time which grows fearful of his power….

Portrait by Mathew Brady, February 1871

Above: Mark Twain (pen name of Samuel Clemens)

 

Daphne du Maurier (1907 – 1989)(Rebecca / Jamaica Inn), The House on the Strand (1969):

Dick Young, has given up his job and been offered the use of the ancient Cornish house of Kilmarth by an old university friend Magnus Lane, a leading biophysicist in London.

He reluctantly agrees to act as a test subject for a drug that Magnus has secretly developed.

On taking it for the first time, Dick finds that it enables him to enter into the landscape around him as it existed during the early 14th century.

He becomes drawn into the lives of the people he sees there and is soon addicted to the experience….

The young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930)

Above: Daphne du Maurier

 

Jack Finney (1911 – 1995)(The Body Snatchers), Time and Again (1970)

In November 1970, Simon Morley, an advertising sketch artist, is approached by U.S. Army Major Ruben Prien to participate in a secret government project.

He is taken to a huge warehouse on the West Side of Manhattan, where he views what seem to be movie sets, with people acting on them. It seems this is a project to learn whether it is feasible to send people back into the past by what amounts to self-hypnosis—whether, by convincing oneself that one is in the past, not the present, one can make it so.

As it turns out, Simon (usually called Si) has a good reason to want to go back to the past—his girlfriend, Kate, has a mystery linked to New York City in 1882.

She has a letter dated from that year, mailed to an Andrew Carmody (a fictional minor figure who was associated with Grover Cleveland).

The letter seems innocuous enough—a request for a meeting to discuss marble—but there is a note which, though half burned, seems to say that the sending of the letter led to “the destruction by fire of the entire world“, followed by a missing word.

Carmody, the writer of the note, mentioned his blame for that incident.

He then killed himself.

Si agrees to participate in the project, and requests permission to go back to New York City in 1882 in order to watch the letter being mailed (the postmark makes clear when it was mailed).

The elderly Dr. E.E. Danziger, head of the project, agrees, and expresses his regret that he can’t go with Si, because he would love to see his parents’ first meeting, which also occurred in New York City in 1882.

The project rents an apartment at the famous Dakota apartment building.

Si uses the apartment as both a staging area and a means to help him with self-hypnosis, since the building’s style is so much of the period in which it was built and faces a section of Central Park which, when viewed from the apartment’s window, is unchanged from 1882.

Si is successful in going back to 1882….

Time and Again.jpg

 

Richard Matheson (1926 – 2013)(I Am Legend), Bid Time Return (1975):

Richard Collier is a 36-year-old screenwriter who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and has decided, after a coin flip, to spend his last days hanging around the Hotel del Coronado.

Most of the novel represents a private journal he is continually updating throughout the story.

He becomes obsessed with the photograph of a famous stage actress, Elise McKenna, who performed at the hotel in the 1890s.

Through research, he learns that she had an overprotective manager named William Fawcett Robinson, that she never married and that she seemed to have had a brief affair with a mysterious man while staying at this hotel in 1896.

The more Richard learns, the more he becomes convinced that it is his destiny to travel back in time and become that mysterious man.

Through research, he develops a method of time travel that involves using his mind to transport himself into the past.

After much struggle, he succeeds.

At first, he experiences feelings of disorientation and constantly worries that he will be drawn back into the present, but soon these feelings dissipate.

He is unsure what to say to Elise when he finally does meet her, but to his surprise she immediately asks, “Is it you?

(She later explains that two psychics told her she would meet a mysterious man at that exact time and place.)

Without telling her where (or, rather, when) he comes from, he pursues a relationship with her, while struggling to adapt himself to the conventions of the time.

Inexplicably, his daily headaches are gone, and he believes that his memory of having come from the future will ultimately disappear.

But Robinson, who assumes that Richard is simply after Elise’s wealth, hires two men to abduct Richard and leave him in a shed while Elise departs on a train.

Richard manages to escape and make his way back to the hotel, where he finds that Elise never left.

They go to a hotel room and passionately make love.

In the middle of the night, Richard leaves the room and bumps into Robinson.

After a brief physical struggle, Richard quickly runs back into the room, and he casually picks a coin out of his pocket.

Realizing too late that it is a 1970s coin, the sight of it pushes him back into the present.

At the end of the book, we find out that Richard died soon after.

A doctor claims that the time-traveling experience occurred only in Richard’s mind, the desperate fantasy of a dying man, but Richard’s brother, who has chosen to publish the journal, is not completely convinced….

BidTimeReturn.jpg

 

There have been various accounts of persons who allegedly travelled through time reported by the press or circulated on the Internet.

These reports have generally turned out either to be hoaxes or to be based on incorrect assumptions, incomplete information, or interpretation of fiction as fact, many being now recognized as urban legends.

 

I am not suggesting that Meyer’s writing is superior to other historical writers.

Nor am I suggesting at all that Conrad Ferdinand Meyer was a time traveller, but rather he was an anachronic man, a man more at home in the memory of the past than the reality of the present.

Perhaps Meyer had even hypnotized himself into believing he had visited the past upon which he wrote so convincingly, but there is absolutely not a shred of proof to support such a wild hypothesis.

Above: Conrad Ferdinand Meyer

 

In 1875, Meyer settled at Kirchberg.

Meyer found his calling only late in life.

(He was 46 when his first work Hutten’s Last Days was published.)

Being fluently bilingual, Meyer wavered between French and German.

The Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871) cemented his final decision to write in German.

In Meyer’s novels, a great crisis releases latent energies and precipitates a catastrophe.

In the same manner, his own life, which before the War had been one of dreaming and experimenting, was stirred to the very depths by the events of 1870.

Meyer identified himself with the German cause and as a manifesto of his sympathies published the aforementioned Hutten’s Last Days in 1871.

After that his works appeared in rapid succession and were collected into eight volumes in 1912, fourteen years after his death.

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

The periods of the Renaissance (14th to 17th centuries) and the Counter Reformation (1545 – 1648) furnished the subjects for most of his novels.

Most of his plots spring from the deeper conflict between freedom and fate and culminate in a dramatic crisis in which the hero, in the face of a great temptation, loses his moral freedom and is forced to fulfill the higher law of destiny.

 

His two most famous novels are gripping and provocative.

In Jürg Jenatsch (1876), which takes place in Swiss Canton Graubünden during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), a Protestant minister and fanatic patriot who, in his determination to preserve the independence of Switzerland, does not shrink from murder and treason and in whom noble and base motives are strangely blended.

Georg Jenatsch.jpg

Above: Jörg Jenatsch (1596 – 1639)

 

In The Wedding of the Monk (1884), the renowned writer Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321) is introduced at the court of Cangrande in Verona, who narrates the strange adventure of a monk who, after the death of his brother, is forced by his father to break his monastic vows but who, instead of marrying the widow, falls in love with another young girl and runs blindly to his fate.

head-and-chest side portrait of Dante in red and white coat and cowl

Above: Dante Aligheri

 

Meyer has written about the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (the night of 23 – 24 August 1572)(The Amulet), Thomas Becket (1119 – 1170)(The Saint), the Renaissance in Switzerland (Plautus in the Nunnery), France during the reign of Louis XIV (1638 – 1715)(The Suffering of a Boy), Charlemagne (742 – 814) and his Palace School (The Judge), and a tale of a great crisis in the life of Fernando d’Ávalos (1489 – 1525)(The Temptation of Pescara).

Yet if Meyer is remembered by the Swiss at all, it is as a master of narrative ballads, such as the aforementioned Hutten’s Last Days.

Meyer fascinated a man whose name is more recognizable to my gentle readers: psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

Freud in reflecting on Meyer’s life and works argued that there is a widespread existence among neurotics of a fable in which the present day parents are imposters, replacing a real and more aristocratic pair.

In repudiating the parents of today, the child is merely “turning away from the father whom he knows today to the father he believed in the earliest years of his childhood“.

He identified this psychological complex as the family romance.

Sigmund Freud, by Max Halberstadt (cropped).jpg

Above: Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939)

 

(I am reminded of Joanne Greenberg’s semi-autobiographical novel – written under the pen name Hannah GreenI Never Promised You a Rose Garden, where Hannah shares a room with a memory-impaired girl who gives herself multiple sets of musical celebrity parents. “My father is (Igancy Jan) Paderewski (1860 – 1941) and my mother is Sophie Tucker (1886 – 1996).”

Greenberg’s novel was made into a film in 1977 and a play in 2004.

Perhaps it may have inspired Lynn Anderson’s 1967 song Rose Garden.)

INeverPromisedYouARoseGarden.jpg

 

Perhaps Meyer’s legacy of a father’s early death and a mother’s suicide made Meyer retreat from his grim reality and escape into the past.

Perhaps his pain made it possible for him to write so convincingly about a past he never personally witnessed except through his research.

Meyer’s genius is such that his readers are made to believe that they too are in the midst of the past stories he relates.

 

(If years rather than places were made into travel guides for time travellers I would suggest adapting Meyer’s works into such a form.

Imagine such a concept….

1313: A Travel Guide

This time travel guide is invaluable for showing the prospective reader what dates to visit, what places are “happening” then, and all the dangers and delights of the time of the Battle of Gamelsdorf and the Siege of Rostock, the birth of the Infanta Maria of Portugal and the death of Austrian Saint Notburga.

Don’t leave your era without it!“)

 

Perhaps the difference, then as now, between a good artist and a great one is not only a question of talent….

Perhaps it is a question of successfully marketing that talent….

Though Meyer is lost in the shadows of time, perhaps a consideration of who he was and what he wrote is finally due.

Perhaps his story makes his Museum, even with German-only captions, worth a visit….

Image result for c f meyer museum kilchberg

Sources: Wikipedia, http://www.kilchberg.ch

Above: The TARDIS, BBC Doctor Who

 

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Canada Slim and the Visionary

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 7 October 2018

I caution you.

Expect much!

(Hugo Gernsback, Electrical Experimenter, January 1919)

Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown

Above: Hugo Grensback (1884 – 1967)

 

In my apartment we have many things.

Flag of Switzerland

These things seem so commonplace that we have taken this electrical world in which we live in for granted.

Amongst the flotsam and jetsam and choas that is a modern apartment, much is powered by electricity: the lamps and overhead lights, the computer upon which I type this blog, the TV and two radios, the toaster, the kettle, the dishwasher, the fridge, the freezer, my wife’s hairdryer and iron, the vacuum cleaner, and batteries and cables used for mobile devices.

Our apartment is by no means super-modern nor overly luxurious in terms of all the bells and whistles other flats might produce, but we are nevertheless grateful for the manner in which our lives are blessed, materialistically and otherwise.

There are names you might have heard of in regards to the history of electricity: Thales, Aristophanes, Euclid, Pliny, William Gilbert, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley, Charles Coulomb, Luigi Galvini, Alessandro Volta, Humphrey Davy, André-Marie Ampère, Georg Ohm, Michael Faraday, Samuel Morse, James Prescott Joule, Thomas Edison and Heinrich Hertz.

I have even written at great length about Alessandro Volta….

Alessandro Volta.jpeg

Above: Alessandro Volta (1745 – 1827)

(See Canada Slim and the Life Electric of this blog.)

 

There are names equally important to the development of electricity that you may have never heard of: Shen Kuo, Alexander Neckham, Pierre de Maricourt, Gerolamo Cardano, Cabaeus, Sir Thomas Browne (who first coined the word “electricity“), Otto von Guericke, Robert Boyle, Francis Hauksbee, Stephan Gray and the Reverend Granville Wheler, Charles Francois de Cisternay du Fay, Pieter van Musschenbroek of Leyden, Ewald Georg von Kleist, William Watson, C.M. of Scotland (still unidentifiable to this day), Georges-Louis LeSage, William Nicholson, Anthony Carlisle,  Johann Ritter, Gian Domenico Romagnosi, Thomas Young, Étienne-Louis Malus, Hans Christian Orsted, Johann Schweigger, Thomas Seebeck, William Sturgeon, Francesco Zantedeschi, Paul Schilling, Heinrich Lenz, Jean-Charles Peltier, Joseph Henry, David Alter, Alexandre Becquerel, James Clark Maxwell, John Kerr, Oliver Heaviside, Galileo Ferraris, John Fleming, Heike Onnes, Louis de Broglie and Martin Ryte.

To name a few….

 

There is one man who we might never had heard of were it not for his greatest fan’s determination to demonstrate to the world his hero’s legacy.

A legacy remembered in Croatia, Serbia, Austria, Hungary and America.

A determined traveller can find plaques and memorials to this man in Smilijan (Croatia), Zagreb (Croatia), Niagara Falls (USA / Canada), Baku (Azerbaijan), Wardenclyffe (USA), Manhattan (USA), Palo Alto (USA), Hamilton (Canada) and Belgrade (Serbia).

This great inventor has had his name given to a ship, a song, a high school, a planetoid, a crater on the Moon, a power plant, a museum-archive, an airport, a unit of measurement, an electric vehicle rally, three holidays, a rock band, an electrotechnical conglomerate, an electric car manufacturer and a major scientific award.

His name has endured in books, films, radio, TV, music, live theater, comics and video games, and most recently a new Hollywood film (The Current War) and a Netflix documentary.

But much like Sherlock Holmes needed Dr. John Watson for his fame, so we are grateful to Hugo Gernsback (“The man who invented the future“) for the fame of a man he called “the greatest inventor of all time“: Nikola Tesla.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Above: Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

 

Were it not for Tesla’s eccentric personality and a poor sense of financial management, he might have ended up as famous as Edison or Einstein.

Tesla was the electrical engineer who invented the AC (alternating current) induction motor, which made the universal transmission and distribution of electricity possible.

 

This spring I spent six days, by invitation from my good friend Nesha, in Serbia, a country that everyone in the West thinks they know but hardly anyone in the West really knows.

(For a further description of Serbia, please see Canada Slim and the Holy Field of Sparrows & Canada Slim and the Land of Long Life of this blog.)

Flag of Serbia

Above: The flag of Serbia

 

Ask the average North American what little they know about Serbia and chances are strong they will mention NATO bombings, Milosevician atrocities and…. Nikola Tesla.

 

I have often believed that Americans are the world’s best marketers and there is a grain of truth to the song dedicated to the American metropolis of New York City, but applicable to America as a whole….

If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

East Side of Midtown Manhattan, showing the terraced crown of the Chrysler Building lit at twilight

In other words, until America knows you, very few others will.

 

Were it not for Tesla’s work in America and Gernsback’s American technical science monthly magazine for which Tesla wrote for and in which his autobiography appears, the world might not remember as it does the name of Tesla.

 

Were it not for my visit to the Tesla Museum in Belgrade I might never have learned of the legacy of Tesla and his greatest publicist….

Despite a lack of enduring international recognition, Tesla remains a Serbian national hero and it is his face that currently decorates the 100 dinar note.

The Museum has captions in English and guidebooks available in Serbian and English.

Regular tours in English are given by the enthusiastic and knowledgable staff.

Some of the rooms relate to Tesla’s scientific work and have a number of hands-on displays and dynamic working models that are fun for children and adults alike.

Two more rooms are dedicated to the personal life of the physicist.

The urn containing his ashes is housed here too as well as his death mask.

Museum of Nikola Tesla, Belgrade, Serbia-cropped.JPG

Above: Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia

 

Belgrade, Serbia, 5 April 2018

To say that Hugo Gernsback was a fan of Nikola Tesla is an understatement.

In Gernsback’s own words:

Nikola Tesla, in the opinion of authorities, today is conceded to be the greatest inventor of all time. 

Tesla has more original inventions to his credit than any other man in history. 

He is considered greater than Archimedes, Faraday or Edison. 

His basic, as well as revolutionary, discoveries for sheer audacity have no equal in the annals of the world. 

His master mind is easily one of the seven wonders of the intellectual world.

Tesla has secured more than 100 patents on inventions, many of which have proved revolutionary.

Science accords to him over 75 original discoveries, not mere mechanical improvements.

90% of the entire electrical industry pays tribute to his genius.

The question as to why the world at large does not know Tesla is answered best by stating that he committed the unpardonable crime of not having a permanent press agent to shout his greatness from the housetops.

Then, too, most of Tesla’s inventions, at least to the public mind, are more or less intangible on account of the fact that they are very technical and, therefore, do not catch the popular imagination, as, for instance, wireless, the X-ray, the airplane or the telephone.

Tesla is a man of extraordinary knowledge.

He is remarkably well read and has a photographic memory whereby it is possible for him to recite page after page of nearly every classical work, be it Goethe, Voltaire or Shakespeare.

He speaks and writes twelve languages.

He is an accomplished calculator, who has little use for tables and textbooks and holds the slide rule in contempt.”

My Inventions - The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla.jpg

Nikola Tesla’s autobiography, My Inventions, appeared in Hugo Gernsback’s magazine Electrical Experimenter in six monthly installments (February to June 1919 and October 1919) and is in a hard cover book offered by the Nikola Tesla Museum, which has been in operation since the 150th anniversary of Tesla’s birth (2006).

To fully appreciate and comprehend both men and the Museum dedicated to Tesla and Tesla’s autobiography printed by Gernsback, we need to look back at not only both men’s histories but as well back to an age where electricity existed in a realm that lay somewhere between magic, science and commerce.

 

Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) was born an ethnic Serb in the village of Smiljan, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now Croatia.

Above: Tesla’s house, Smiljan, Croatia

 

His father Milutin was a Serbian Orthodox priest, his mother Duka was the daughter of another priest.

Above: Milutin Tesla, Nikola’s father

Milutin was the son of an officer who served in Napoleon’s army and, in common with Nikola’s uncle, a professor of mathematics, had received a military education but later embraced the clergy in which vocation he achieved eminence.

Milutin was a very erudite man, a veritable natural philosopher, poet and writer.

Nikola’s father had a prodigious memory and frequently recited at length from works in several languages.

Milutin often remarked playfully that if some of the classics were lost he could restore them.

His style of writing was much admired.

He penned sentences short and terse and was full of wit and satire.

 

Nikola’s mother, Duka, descended from one of the oldest families in the country and a line of inventors.

Both her father and grandfather originated numerous implements for household, agricultural and other uses.

Duka had a talent for making homemade craft tools and mechanical appliances and the ability to memorize lengthy Serbian epic poems, even though she had never received a formal education.

Tesla credited his eidetic memory and creative abilities to his mother’s genetics and influence.

Nikola was the 4th of five children.

 

Nikola Tesla was born during a lightning storm at the stroke of midnight on 10 July 1856.

His midwife is reported to have exclaimed:

He’ll be a child of the storm.

To which his mother replied:

No, of light.

How does the world’s greatest inventor invent?

How does he carry out an invention?

What sort of mentality does Nikole Tesla have?

Was his early life as commonplace as ours?

(Hugo Gernsback, foreword to Nikola Tesla’s My Inventions, 1: My Early Life, Electrical Experimenter, February 1919)

 

Our first endeavours are purely instinctive, promptings of an imagination vivid and undisciplined.

As we grow older, reason asserts itself and we become more and more systematic and designing.

But those early impulses, though not immediately productive, are of the greatest moment and may shape our very destinies.

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

Nikola had three sisters (Milka, Angelina and Marica) and an older brother named Dane, who was killed in a horse riding accident when Tesla was five.

Nikola attended primary school in Smiljan and Gospic and middle school in the latter town.

View of Gospić

Above: Gospic, Croatia

 

In my boyhood I suffered from a peculiar affliction due to the appearance of images, often accompanied by strong flashes of light, which marred the sights of real objects and interfered with my thought and action.

They were pictures of things and scenes which I had really seen, never of those I imagined.

When a word was spoken to me the image of the object it designated would present itself vividly to my vision and sometimes I was quite unable to distinguish whether what I saw was tangible or not.

This caused me great discomfort and anxiety….

To free myself of these tormenting appearances, I tried to concentrate my mind on something else I had seen, and in this way I would often obtain temporary relief.

But in order to get it I had to conjure continuously new images….”

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

In 1870, Tesla moved far north to Karlovac to attend high school where he became interested in demonstrations of electricity by his physics teacher.

Tesla noted that these demonstrations of this “mysterious phenomena” made him want “to know more of this wonderful force.”

Tesla was able to perform integral calculus in his head, which prompted his teachers to believe that he was cheating.

Nonetheless he finished a four-year term, in three years, graduating in 1873.

Karlovac Train Station with HŽ 7122.jpg

This (mental imaging) I did constantly until I was about 17 when my thoughts turned seriously to invention.

Then I observed to my great delight that I could visualize with the greatest facility.

I needed no models, drawings or experiments.

I could picture them all as real in my mind.

(Nikola Tesla, My Inventions)

 

That same year, Tesla returned to Smiljan.

Shortly after he arrived, he contracted cholera, was bedridden for nine months and was near death multiple times.

 

In 1874 Tesla evaded conscription into the Austro-Hungarian army by running away southeast to Tomingaj.

There he explored the mountains wearing hunter’s garb, believing that this contact with nature made him stronger, both physically and mentally.

Tesla read many books while in Tomingaj and later said that Mark Twain’s works had helped him to miraculously recover from his earlier illness.

Image result for tomingaj

Above: Tomingaj, Croatia

 

In 1875, Tesla enrolled at Austrian Polytechnic in Graz, on a military frontier scholarship.

The Schlossberg (Castle Hill) with the clock tower (Uhrturm), as seen from town hall

Above: Graz, Austria

 

During his first year, he never missed a lecture, earned the highest grades possible, passed nine exams (twice as many as were required), started a Serbian cultural club, and received a letter of recommendation from the dean of the technical faculty to his father, which stated:

Your son is a star of the first rank.

Tesla claimed that he worked from 3 a.m. to 11 p.m., no Sundays or holidays excepted.

 

(After Milutin’s death in 1879, Nikola found a package of letters from his professors to his father, warning that unless Nikola were removed from the school, he would die through overwork.)

 

At the end of his second year, Tesla lost his scholarship and became addicted to gambling.

During his third year, Tesla gambled away his allowance and his tuition money, later winning back his initial losses and returning the balance to his family.

When examination time came, Tesla was unprepared and asked for an extension to study, but was denied.

He did not receive grades for the last semester of the third year and he never graduated.

 

In December 1878, Tesla left Graz and severed all relations with his family to hide the fact that he dropped out of school.

His friends thought that he had drowned in the nearby Mur River.

 

Tesla moved to Maribor where he worked as a draftsman, spending his spare time playing cards with local men on the streets.

In March 1879, Tesla’s father went to Maribor to beg his son to return home, but he refused.

Nikola suffered a nervous breakdown.

Maribor's Old Town along the Drava River

Above: Maribor, Slovenia

 

On 24 March 1879, Tesla was returned to Gospic under police guard for not having a residence permit.

On 17 April 1879, Milutin Tesla died.

That year Nikola taught a large class of students in his old school in Gospic.

 

In January 1880, two of Tesla’s uncles put together enough money to help him leave Gospic for Prague, where he attended lectures in philosophy at Charles Ferdinand University as an auditor but did not receive grades for the courses.

Charles Bridge - Prague, Czech Republic - panoramio.jpg

Above: Prague, Czech Republic

 

In 1881 Tesla moved to Budapest to work as chief electrician for the Budapest Telephone Exchange.

Upon arrival, Tesla realized that the company, then under construction, was not functional, so he worked as a draftsman in the Central Telegraph Office.

Within a few months, the Budapest Telephone Exchange became functional and Tesla was allocated the chief electrician position.

During his time with the BTE, Tesla made many improvements to the Central Station Equipment and invented a device known as the telephone repeater, a precursor to the modern wireless telephone.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest at night.jpg

Above: Budapest, Hungary

 

In 1882, Tesla moved to Paris to work for the Continental Edison Company, in what was then a brand new industry, installing indoor incandescent lighting citywide in the form of an electric power utility.

Seine and Eiffel Tower from Tour Saint Jacques 2013-08.JPG

Above: Paris, France

Logo of Consolidated Edison

Management took notice of Tesla’s advanced knowledge in engineering and physics and soon had him designing and building improved versions of generating dynamos and motors, as well as sending him on to troubleshoot engineering problems at other Edison utilities being built across France and Germany.

In 1884, Edison manager Charles Batchelor, who had been overseeing the Paris Installation, was brought back to the US to manage the Edison Machine Works, a manufacturing division situated in New York City, and asked that Tesla be brought to the US as well.

Above: Charles Batchelor (1845 – 1910)

 

In June 1884, Tesla left Paris for New York City and the United States.

An amazing future awaited him.

Fame, fortune and amazing creativity would be both his bane and his blessing.

And there would literally be blood as two business magnates fought a merciless war for power….electrical power….with Tesla in the middle and Gernsback and the world as witness….

(To be continued….)

Sources: Wikipedia / Bradt Serbia / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions

Multiple lightning strikes on a city at night

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Body Snatchers

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 4 September 2018

I should be dead.

In fact, for at least a quarter of a century.

Back in Canada, I tried to chop a log.

The axe bounced off the log and sliced into my foot.

A mile in the bush limp, a drive home, a quick dash to the local hospital and an ambulance ride from there to the metropolis of Montréal, followed by surgery, hospitalization and convalescence….

And I am alive to tell the tale.

This injury, sadly, was the first of many unfortunate accidents I have had, transforming my body from a wonderland into a battlefield.

In earlier days, blood loss or infection might have ended my life, but I live, as many others live, longer and healthier.

We live in an age where the human anatomy has been mapped, where an abundance of drugs are available, where antiseptic conditions are par for the course in all medical institutions, where medical professionals are highly trained and qualified, where the deliverance of babies is no longer such a danger for infant or mother.

A time of liver and lung, uterus and penis, skull and scalp, arm and hand, face and heart, eye and hip replacements, appendectomies and mastectomies….

A time of virtual and remote, robot-assisted and laser-aided, plastic and emergency surgery….

Days of disinfectant, inoculation, anesthesia, x-rays, MRIs and ultrasound….

 

I take my survival for granted, confident in the advances available to me in case of injury or illness.

 

Sometimes it is good to visit places that remind one of how and why mankind has been able to survive the rigours and ravages inflicted upon the body.

Such a place is in London at a venue of body snatchers and “the fastest knife in the West End“.

The tale begins last fall and travels back in time.

Welcome….

25 October 2017

We spend 80% of our adult lives working, but, on average, 80% of workers often confess that they dislike the work that they do.

My wife is among the happy minority of those who do what they love and love what they do.

My wife is a doctor.

When we travel together it is not uncommon to find us visiting, among many, tourist attractions that are medically themed.

During our week in London we would visit at least three attractions of this nature.

 

(For other London attractions not medically themed, please see: Canada Slim and….

  • the Danger Zone
  • the Paddington Arrival
  • the Street Walked Too Often
  • Underground
  • the Outcast
  • the Wonders on the Wall
  • the Calculated Cathedral
  • the Right Man
  • the Queen’s Horsemen
  • the Royal Peculiar
  • the Uncertainty Principle
  • the Museum of Many

For medically themed London attractions, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Lamp Ladies
  • the Breviary of Bartholomew)

 

London has its fair share of quirkiness:

Near Wimbledon there is an authentic Buddhist temple that feels like it was discretely teleported directly from Thailand. (Buddhapadipa Temple)

One can climb a castle as if it were the rock face of Mount Everest or the Matterhorn. (Castle Climbing Centre)

Or visit a house lacking electricity and modern plumbing on a Monday night, Silent Night, candlelight tour. (Dennis Severs’ House)

Or tread softly in the necropolis that is Highgate Cemetery.

Come and watch people swing from the gallows. (London Dungeon)

Listen to Anne Boleyn plead her case just before her head is deftly separated from her soft narrow shoulders. (London Dungeon)

Walk by moonlight the Whitechapel backstreets as Jack the Ripper knew them. (London Dungeon)

London Dungeon Logo.jpg

 

We did none of these things, but this is not to suggest that our time was devoid of quirkiness….

 

Time is often not our friend when we travel, so we took the Tube to London Bridge Station instead of walking across the Thames River upon the London Bridge.

We would later sail underneath it but we denied ourselves the tactile experience of trodding upon it.

The River Thames is the longest river in England and the second longest in Britain (after the Severn) and is crossed by over 200 bridges, 27 tunnels, six public ferries, a cable car and a ford.

Thames map.png

Prior to the commencement of my relationship with my wife, I followed on foot the Thames from its source near Cirencester to Oxford.

I would, on visits to London, also spend time by its banks.

 

There has been a London Bridge spanning the Thames since AD 50 and it could be argued that without a London Bridge there might never have been a London.

London Bridge Illuminated.jpg

 

The first London Bridge was built by the Romans (“What have they ever done for us?“) as part of their road-building programme, to help consolidate their conquest.

This Bridge, and those London Bridge constructions that followed until 1209, was built of wood.

These timber crossings would fall into disrepair, be rebuilt and destroyed by both Saxons and Danes, be destroyed by the London tornado of 1091 and the fire of 1136.

The nursery rhyme “London Bridge is falling down” is connected to the Bridge’s historic collapses.

 

After the murder of friend/foe Thomas à Becket, the penitent King Henry II commissioned a new stone bridge with a chapel in the centre dedicated to Becket as martyr.

Begun in 1176, London Bridge was completed in 1209 during the reign of King John.

The Old London Bridge (1209 – 1831) was 26 feet / 8 metres wide, 900 feet / 270 metres long, supported by 19 irregularly spaced arches.

It had a drawbridge to allow for the passage of tall ships and defensive gatehouses on both ends.

By 1358 it was already crowded with 138 shops.

The buildings on London Bridge were a major fire hazard and the increased load on the arches required their reconstruction over the centuries.

In 1212, fire broke out on both sides of the Bridge simultaneously trapping many people in the middle.

Houses on the Bridge were destroyed during Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt (1381) and Jack Cade’s Rebellion (1450).

By the time of the Tudors there were over 200 buildings on the Bridge, some seven stories high, some overhanging the river by seven feet, others overhanging the road forming a dark tunnel through which traffic had to pass.

Yet this did not prevent the addition, in 1577, of the palatial Nonsuch House to the buildings that crowded the span.

The available roadway was just 12 feet / 4 metres wide , divided into two lanes, so that in each direction, carts, wagons, coaches and pedestrians shared a single file lane 6 feet / 2 metres wide.

 

The bridge’s southern gatehouse became the scene of one of London’s most gruesome sights – a display of the severed heads of traitors, impaled on pikes, dipped in tar and boiled to preserve them against the elements.

The head of William Wallace was the first to appear on the gate in 1305, starting a tradition that was to continue for another 355 years.

 

(Keep this morbid tradition in mind while remembering that before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts.)

 

Other famous heads on London Bridge pikes included Jack Cade (1450), Thomas More (1535), Bishop John Fisher (1535) and Thomas Cromwell (1540).

In 1598, a German visitor to London, Paul Hentzner, counted over 30 heads on the Bridge.

John Evelyn’s Diary noted that the practice stopped in 1660, following the Restoration of King Charles II, but heads were reported at the site as late as 1772.

By 1722 congestion was becoming so serious that the Lord Mayor decreed that “all carts, coaches and other carriages coming out of Southwark into this City do keep all along the west side of the Bridge, and all carts and coaches going out of the City do keep along the east side of the Bridge.”

This has been suggested as one possible origin for the practice of traffic in Britain driving on the left.

By 1762, all houses and shops on the Bridge had been demolished through an Act of Parliament.

Even so, the Bridge was narrow, decrepit and long past its useful life.

alt text

 

The New London Bridge (1831 – 1967) was completed in 1831, and was 928 feet / 283 metres long and 49 feet / 15 metres wide.

By 1896 the Bridge was the busiest point in London and one of its most congested: 8,000 pedestrians and 900 vehicles crossed every hour.

This Bridge is a prominent landmark in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland“, wherein he compares the shuffling commuters across London Bridge to the hellbound souls of Limbo, the first circle of Hell, in Dante’s Inferno.

Subsequent surveys showed that the Bridge was sinking an inch / 2.5 cm every eight years.

By 1924 the east side of the Bridge had sunk 4 inches / 9 cm lower than the west side.

The Bridge would have to be removed and replaced.

In 1967 the City of London placed the Bridge on the market.

 

On 18 April 1868, the Bridge was purchased by Missouri oil entrepreneur Robert McCullough for US $2,460,000.

As the Bridge was dismantled, each piece was meticulously numbered, then shipped via the Panama Canal to California and then trucked from Long Beach to Lake Havasu City in Arizona.

This Bridge was rebuilt across the Bridgewater Channel canal and opened on 10 October 1971.

Gary Nunn’s song “London Homesick Blues” includes the lyrics:

Even London Bridge has fallen down and moved to Arizona.

Now I know why.

The modern, current London Bridge was opened on 17 March 1973, with a length of 928 feet / 283 metres.

 

Emerging from the London Bridge Tube Station I recall John Davidson’s poem “London Bridge” and think to myself that clearly Heathrow Airport hadn’t been built when he wrote it:

Inside the Station, everything’s so old,

So inconvenient, of such manifold

Perplexity, and, as a mole might see

So strictly what a Station shouldn’t be,

That no idea minifies the crude

And yet elaborate ineptitude.

The main line station is the oldest railway station in London fare zone 1 and one of the oldest in the world having opened on 14 December 1836.

It is one of two main line termini in London to the south of the River Thames (the other being Waterloo) and is the fourth-busiest station in London, handling over 50 million customers a year.

London Bridge tube stn Tooley Street entrance.JPG

 

In Tudor and Stuart London, the chief reason for crossing the Thames, to what is now Southwark, was to visit the disreputable Bankside for its pubs, brothels and bear-baiting pits around the south end of London Bridge.

Four hundred years later, Londoners have rediscovered the habit of heading to Southwark, thanks to the traffic-free riverside path and a wealth of top attractions, with the charge led by the mighty Tate Modern.

Of these attractions, the most educational and strangest is the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret, at 9a St. Thomas Street.

The Old Operating Theatre Museum, St. Thomas St. - geograph.org.uk - 1073353.jpg

The operating theatre and garret (1822 – 1862) were originally part of St. Thomas Hospital, itself part of the Augustinian Priory of St. Mary Overie, founded in 1106.

The Priory, which stood on the present site of Southwark Cathedral, provided care for the poor and gave board and lodgings to pilgrims.

The “spital” of St. Mary Overie was named St. Thomas in 1173 in tribute to Thomas à Becket, the Christian martyr murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

When the Priory and the Hospital were destroyed by fire in 1212, the Bishop of Winchester, Pierre des Roches, paid for them to be rebuilt.

The new Hospital, independent of the Priory, was opened in 1215.

It continued to be staffed by monks and nuns, but surgical work was carried out by barbers since the Council of Tours (1163) had ordained that the shedding of blood was incompatible with holy office.

St. Thomas still provided hospitality for pilgrims.

 

Funds for the Hospital were largely provided by donations from individuals who believed giving to the poor would speed their spiritual journey to heaven.

One donation came from Alice de Bregerake who gifted her property in return for a yearly rent of one single rose.

 

(“There’s a lady who knows all that glitters is gold and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.“)

 

During the early 1500s, Southwark was a thriving community and St. Thomas was at its heart.

Within St. Thomas was the Southwark School of Glaziers, where the stained glass windows for King’s College Chapel in Cambridge were made.

In 1537, the first complete edition of the Holy Bible in English was completed here.

In January 1540 the Priory was dissolved by King Henry VIII, as part of his reforms of the church in England, and the Hospital closed.

In 1551 the Hospital was purchased and repaired by the City of London and two years later Henry’s son Edward VI awarded it a Royal Charter alongside four other London hospitals.

In 1681 fire led to the loss of 24 Hospital buildings.

By 1702 the main Hospital consisted of three grand classical courtyards.

 

In 1703, Dr. Richard Mead (1673 – 1754), one of London’s most famous physicians, was appointed to the Hospital staff.

At the time one of the most common ailments of St. Thomas in-patients, who were treated in the foul wards at the rear of the Hospital, was venereal disease.

Richard Mead 2.jpg

Above: Richard Mead

 

(Remember the aforementioned brothels?)

 

Mead’s recommended cure, aqua limacum (snail water), was included in the Pharmacopoeia Pauperum (a directory of medical treatments to be used in London hospitals) in 1718:

Take garden snails, cleansed and bruised, 6 gallons; earthworms, washed and bruised, 3 gallons; common wormwood, ground ivy and carduus, each one pound and half penny royal; juniper berries, fennel seeds, aniseeds, each half a pound; cloves and cubebs bruised, each 3 ounces; spirit of wine and spring water, of each 8 gallons.

Digest them together for the space of 24 hours and then draw it off in a common alembick.

This is admirably well contrived both for cheapness and efficacy.

It is as good a snail water as can be made….

Mostly given in consumption contracted for viscous practices and venereal contagions, this is the constant drink of those who are under the weakness and decays….

Grapevinesnail 01.jpg

Improvements to the facilities continued throughout the following 150 years.

 

St. Thomas’ Grand Committee Minutes of 21 October 1821 record that the women’s operating theatre be moved from the west end of one of the women’s wards and that “the herb garret over the church be fitted up and in future used as a theatre for such operations instead of the present theatre.

The new operating theatre opened in 1822.

 

John Flint South (1797 – 1882), the son of a Southwark druggist, began his medical training at St. Thomas in 1814.

He was appointed Conservator of the Hospital’s anatomy Museum in 1820 and was made Joint Lecturer in Anatomy in 1823.

In 1841 he was appointed surgeon at St. Thomas, a post he held until 1863.

He was also appointed surgeon to the Female Orphan Asylum in 1843.

South’s Career at St. Thomas spans the entire period of the Old Operating Theatre’s history and as such his memoir, John Flint South Memorials, published 20 years after his death, provides a remarkable insight into how the operating theatre functioned.

Above: John Flint South

 

The Murder Act of 1752 decreed that only executed murderers could be used for dissection, but this did not provide enough subjects for the medical and anatomical schools.

By the 19th century only about 56 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year, but with the expansion of medical schools as many as 500 cadavers were needed annually.

Body snatching – the secret removal of corpses from burial sites to sell them to medical schools – became so prevalent that it was not unusual for relatives and friends of someone who had just died to watch over the body until burial and then keep watch after burial to stop it being violated.

Interfering with a grave was a misdemeanour, not a felony, and therefore only punishable with a fine and imprisonment rather than exile or execution.

The body snatching trade was a sufficiently lucrative business to run the risk of detection, particularly as the authorities ignored what they considered a necessary evil.

In Edinburgh, during 1827 and 1828, William Burke and William Hare brought a new dimension to the trade of selling corpses “to the doctors” by murdering rather than grave robbing and supplying their victims’ fresh corpses for medical dissection.

The murders raised public awareness of the need for bodies for medical research and contributed to the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832, which allowed unclaimed bodies and those donated by relatives to be used for the study of anatomy and required the licensing of anatomy teachers, effectively ending the body snatching trade.

 

When pioneering health reformer, Florence Nightingale, returned to London from the Crimean War in 1856 she set up a fund “to establish and control an institute for the training, sustenance and protection of nurses paid and unpaid.

The specialist training of nurses was not universally supported and many doctors viewed it as a threat to their authority.

The work left for nurses, it was believed, required little more than “on-the-job” training.

There were prejudices too against “delicate“, educated women undertaking manual work or having contact with the coarse realities of the hospital wards.

However, Nightingale was an influential and convincing advocate for reform.

The Nightingale Fund raised almost 50,000 pounds.

She chose to establish her School of Nursing at St. Thomas.

The two main deciding factors were Nightingale’s admiration for Sarah Wardroper, St. Thomas Matron and Superintendent of Nurses, and the fact that the Hospital would soon move to a new site where the School could be built to the latest, Nightingale-inspired plan.

The School of Nursing opened at the St. Thomas Southwark site on 24 June 1860 with 15 students.

Florence Nightingale (H Hering NPG x82368).jpg

Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

 

In June 1862, the Hospital moved to make way for a railway line to Charing Cross.

 

With the move, the operating theatre, situated in the attic of St. Thomas Church, was sealed up and lay in darkness for nearly a century.

After the Hospital closed the only access to the roof space of the Church was through an opening, 20 metres above floor level, in the north wall of the first floor chamber of the bell tower.

 

In 1956, Raymond Russell (1922 – 1964), while researching the history of St. Thomas decided to investigate the attic.

He found the garret in darkness, the skylight above the operating theatre had been replaced by slates and the other windows were black with a century of dirt.

Russell’s find was extraordinary:

No other early 19th century operating theatre in Europe has survived.

Image showing operating table and viewing galleries in the operating theatre

It is likely that the use of the garret of St. Thomas as a Hospital apothecary dates back to the present Church’s construction in 1703.

Hooks, ropes and nail holes in the roof and dried opium poppy heads discovered under the floorboards in the 1970s are all evidence of the garret’s former use.

Herbs have been used as medicine since ancient times and before the development of the chemical industry, medicinal compounds were made from natural materials, mostly plants.

Even today, the majority of medicines originate from plant sources.

At St. Thomas, quantities of herbs were purchased from a visiting “herb woman” and the Hospital had its own botanical garden and apothecary’s shop within its grounds.

The apothecary was the chief resident medical officer of the Hospital and was responsible for prescriptions for surgical cases and, in the absence of the physician, for dispensing medicine to all the Hospital’s patients.

In 1822 part of the Herb Garret was converted into a purpose-built operating theatre.

The patients were mainly poor people who were expected to contribute to their care if they could afford it.

Rich patients were treated and operated on at home, probably on the kitchen table, rather than in hospital.

The patients at the Old Operating Theatre were all women.

 

A description of the students packing the theatre to witness an operation has been left by Dr. South:

The operating theatre was of utterly inadequate size for the numbers of pupils who congregated….

The general arrangement of all the theatres was the same: a semicircular floor and rows of semicircular standings, rising above one another to the large skylight which lit the theatre.

On the floor the surgeon operating, with his dressers, other surgeons and apprentices and the visitors stood about the table, upon which the patient lay, so placed that the best possible view of what was going on was given to all present.

The floor was separated by a partition from the rising stand-places, the first two rows were occupied by the other dressers.

Behind a second partition stood the pupils, packed like herrings in a Barrel, but not so quiet, as those behind them were continually pressing on those before and were continually struggling to relieve themselves of it, and had not infrequently to be got out exhausted.

There was also a continual calling out of “Heads, Heads” to those about the table whose heads interfered with the sightseers.

The confusion and crushing was indeed at all times very great, especially when any operation of importance was to be performed.

I have often known even the floor so crowded that the surgeon could not operate till it had been partially cleared.”

 

Patients put up with the audience in their distress because they received medical treatment from some of the best surgeons in the land, which they otherwise they could not afford.

The majority of cases were for amputations or superficial complaints as, without antiseptic conditions, it was too dangerous to do internal operations.

The risk of death at the hands of a surgeon was likely, as there was a lack of understanding of the causes of infection.

Beneath the table was a sawdust box for collecting blood.

The death rate was further heightened by the shock of the operation and because operations took place as a last resort, patients tended to have few reserves of strength.

Until 1847, surgeons had no recourse to anaesthetics and depended on swift technique, the mental preparation of the patient, and alcohol or opiates to dull the patient’s senses.

 

(Dr. Robert Liston (1794 – 1847) was described as “the fastest knife in the West End. 

He could amputate a leg in 2 1/2 minutes.

Indeed he is reputed to have been able to complete operations in a matter of seconds, at a time when speed was essential to reduce pain and improve the odds of survival of a patient.)

Portrait of Robert Liston painted in 1847 by Samuel John Stump

Above: Robert Liston

 

After 1847, ether or choloroform was used.

 

The small room at the side of the Theatre was used to spare the patient the sudden alarm of being brought straight into the Theatre full of students, with the operating table and instruments on view.

Soon after….another female was brought in blindfolded and placed on to the table for the purpose of undergoing an operation for the removal of the leg below the knee.

(The Lancet, October 1829)

 

These were the days before antisepsis (eliminating possible infection in the wound after the operation) or asepsis (avoiding any contamination from the start).

Unsterilized clothes were blood and pus stained while undisinfected hands used undisinfected instruments and sponges from previous operations.

In those days, “surgeons operated in blood-stiffened frock coats – the stiffer the coat, the prouder the busy surgeon“. (Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes)

Holmes c. 1879

Above: American Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809 – 1894)

 

There was no object in being clean.

Indeed cleanliness was out of place.

It was considered to be finicky and affected.

An executioner might as well manicure his nails before chopping off a head.” (Sir Frederick Treves)

Image-Fredericktreves.jpg

Above: Frederick Treves (1853 – 1923)

 

No one wore a face mask or rubber gloves.

There were no blood transfusions nor vaccines.

Neurosurgery, cataract surgery, cardiac surgery, transplant surgery, Caesarian sections and hip replacements were either unknown or too dangerous to attempt.

 

Charles Bell (1774 – 1842), in his Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery (1821), describes the five most complex operations undertaken during the time of the Old Operating Theatre.

Below is a description of what the visitor would expect to see:

To one side a table with instruments, covered with a cloth to preserve the edges of the cutting instruments.

On it we expect to see:

  1. A large cushion with tenacula (sharp hooks), needles, pins and forceps.
  2. Ligatures (binding materials) of every variety, well arranged.
  3. Adhesive straps, well made and not requiring heating, but if they should, let chafing dishes be at hand.
  4. Lint, compresses, flannel and calico bandages, double and single headed rollers, tow, cereate spread on lint.  Let there be no want of sponges, so that when the surgeon calls for a sponge, you have not to seek it among the patient’s clothes.  When a sponge falls among the sand, let it be not necessary to touch the wound with it.
  5. Wine and water and hartshorn (ammonia solution used as smelling salts).
  6. A kettle of hot water, a stoup (flagon) of cold water, basins, bucket, plenty of towels, apron and sleeves.”

Photograph of Sir Charles Bell

Above: Scottish Dr. Charles Bell (1774 – 1842)

 

On the wall are two inscriptions:

 

Miseratione non Mercede (Latin for “For compassion, not for gain“)

 

The other sets out the Regulations for the Theatre as approved by the Hospital’s surgeons:

Apprentices and the dressers of the surgeon who operates are to stand around the table.

The dressers of the other surgeons are to occupy the three front rows.

The surgeon’s pupils are to take their places in the rows above.

Visitors are admitted by permission of the surgeon who operates.

 

The blackboard is a reminder of the Theatre’s use for lectures as a report in The Lancet of November 1923 records:

25 November 1923:  At half past one this day, the following clinical remarks were delivered by Mr. Travers, in the female operating theatre, in reference more particularly to the case of compound fracture….

 

The operating table is made of Scots pine, has four stout legs, and at 60 cm high is low by modern standards.

It has an inclined headboard and a long wooden slide extension at the foot end.

The table stands with the foot end towards the audience.

Beneath the table is the aforementioned wooden box of sawdust.

Distinguished visitors (generally foreign professors) were given seats on chairs, stools or a bench at the foot of the table.

The two small side tables held instruments and equipment.

The cupboard contained the instruments, dressing materials and lotions.

There is a wash stand, also of Scots pine, holding a small basin and ewer of blue and white china.

Above this is a tiny looking glass and a row of pegs from which hang the purple frock coats with grocer’s bib and apron.

A low sturdy wooden chair is used by the surgeon chiefly for cases of piles (hemorrhoids) and leg amputations.

 

The Museum also contains a collection of artefacts revealing the horrors of medicine before the age of science, including instruments for cupping (skin sunction), bloodletting, trepanning (drilling a circular hole in the skull) and childbirth.

There are also displays on monastic health care, the history of St. Thomas’s, Florence Nightingale and nursing, medical and herbal medicine.

 

Once upon a time body snatchers stole corpses so doctors could practice their skills and students learn anatomy.

Once upon a time doctors created more corpses and snatched lives from bodies than surviving patients.

Now doctors snatch many bodies from the jaws of death and generally make them whole.

 

Without Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, ancient Greek and Islamic medicine….

Without the trials and errors of dissection and pathological examinations….

Without the development of cell and neuron and molecular theory….

We would not have evolved to the discoveries and understanding of the body that we as a civilization now possess.

Without an understanding of blood circulation, the evolution of dealing with mental illness, the discovery of germs and the dangers of insects, the founding of the talking cures of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, the study of hormones and immunology, the genetic revelation of genes and genomes, could we have a fighting chance in understanding health and disease in the manner that we do.

Without the stethoscope, the microscope, the hypodermic syringe, the thermometer, x-rays and radiotherapy, the sphygmomanometer (blood pressure measurement), the defibrillator, lasers, the endoscope, ultrasound and CT (computerized tomographic) scanning, MRI (magnetic resonance Imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography), the incubator and medical robots, we would lack the tools that doctors need to heal us and prolong our lives.

Mankind has survived the plague, typhus, cholera, puerperal fever, tuberculosis, influenza, smallpox, polio, cancer and AIDS, and thanks to great discoveries in medicine, though the battle against these scourges remains inconclusive, we still have a greater opportunity to overcome than prior generations had.

Opium provides pleasure and pain relief, quinine treats malaria, digitalis is a tonic for the heart, penicillin cures syphilis and gangrene, the birth control pill offers a woman freedom, drugs for the mind ease mental suffering, ventolin helps us breathe easier, Insulin aids the diabetic, dialysis cleans the kidney, statins lower our cholesterol and vitamins compensate for whatever our diets may lack.

Wounds are properly dressed, anaesthesia makes surgery painless, operations are clean, blood is transfused, exploration of the brain is possible, eyesight can be restored, mothers are less likely to die giving birth, hearts can be healed, organs transplanted, hips replaced and scars reduced by less invasive keyhole methods.

 

Truly, compared to the past, we live in an age of miracles.

 

Sometimes we take modern medicine for granted.

Stand in the middle of the Old Operating Theatre and be reminded how lucky we are to live in this day and age and how far we have travelled to get here.

Above: The Rod of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and Medicine

Sources: Wikipedia / William and Helen Bynum, Great Discoveries in Medicine / The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret Museum Guide / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / http://www.thegarret.org.uk

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Magnificent Homeland

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 August 2018

There is something about the politics of a number of nations today (the United States, North Korea, the Philippines, Venezuela) that reminds me again and again of the late Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

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Above: Il Duce Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945)

I have written about Mussolini before – his birth and his youth, his exile in Switzerland, his rise to power, his reign as Il Duce, his fall from power, his temporary reprieve through German assistance, his capture and his death – (See Canada Slim and the Apostle of Violence) – when speaking of the Lake Como town of Dongo and the village of Giulino de Mezzegra.

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Above: Dongo, where Mussolini was captured while fleeing to Switzerland

But I feel the need to speak of him again for we (the wife and I) visited the Lake Garda town of Salò which served as Mussolini’s de facto capital of the Italian Social Republic (23 September 1943 – 25 April 1945), a German puppet state of the Third Reich.

How did a man who once possessed absolute power over the whole of Italy (28 October 1922 – 25 July 1943) find himself reduced to being a mere figurehead for Nazi Germany?

And could one get a sense of that by visiting Salò over half a century later?

 

Salò, Lake Garda, Italy, Sunday 6 August 2017

Salò is one of the most important commercial and tourist centres of Lago Garda.

It lies in a spacious, seductive gulf on the slopes of Monte San Bartolomeo.

From the hills, resplendent in villas and olive yards, the viewer is rewarded by the grand immensity and glory of the Lake.

View of Salò and its bay

Above: Aerial view of Salò

According to a legend, Salò was founded by the Etruscan Queen Salonica.

There are some traces of the Roman colony Pagus Salodium: in the Lugone necropolis at via Sant’ Jago and findings of vase flasks and funeral steles in the Civic Archaeological Museum within the Communal Palace.

In 1377 Beatrice della Scala, Bernabó Visconti’s wife, chose Salò as the capital of Magnifica Patria (“the Magnificent Homeland“).

Bernabò e Beatrice Visconti.jpg

Above: Bernabo Visconti (1323 – 85) and Beatrice della Scala (1331 – 84)

Beatrice had walls propped up and a new castle built, of which sadly nothing remains.

On 13 May 1426, after a long period of war, the towns of the western bank  of Lake Garda spontaneously joined the Republic of Venice wherein they would remain for the following three centuries.

Above: Winged lion column of St. Mark (symbol of Venice)

Sansovino built the Palace of the Captain Rector (now the town hall) and during the 15th and 16th centuries the Duomo (Cathedral) took form.

Among the famous men who were native to Salò we must remember:

  • Gaspare Bertolotti (1540 – 1609) aka Gasparo da Salò, a famous maker of stringed instruments and inventor of the violin, whose bust is kept in the town hall.
  • Above: The bust of Gasparo da Salò
  • Pietro Bellotto (1625 – 1700), a painter who painted portraits for cardinals, popes and dukes and who after wandering from court to court he returned to Lake Garda to die
  • Above: The Old Pilgrim, by Pietro Belloto
  • Ferdinando Bertoni (1725 – 1813), composer, organist and prolific writer of church music and 70 operas
  • Ferdinando Bertoni.jpg
  • Above: Fernando Bertoni
  • Marco Enrico Bossi (1861 – 1925), composer, organist and music teacher, who established the standards of organ studies still used in Italy today and made numerous international organ recital tours
  • Above: Marco Enrico Bossi
  • Sante Cattaneo (1739 – 1819), painter known for his religious painting
  • Angelo Zanelli (1879 – 1942), sculptor who created the large Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the statue of Goddess Rome
  • Luigi Comencini (1916 – 2007), film director known for his Commedia all’italiana (Italian-style comedy) movies:
    • La bella di Roma (The Belle of Rome)
    • Tutti a casa (Everybody Go Home)
    • La ragazza di Bube (Bebo’s Girl)
    • Incompreso (Misunderstood)
    • Le avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio)
    • Lo scopone scientifico (The Scientific Cardplayer)
    • La donna della domenica (The Sunday Woman)
    • Buon Natale…buon anno (Merry Christmas…Happy New Year)
    • Un ragazzo di Calabria (A Boy from Calabria)
    • La storia (History)
    • Voltati Eugenio (Turn Around Eugenio)
    • L’ingorgo (Traffic Jam)
    • Signore e signori, buonanotte (Good Night, Ladies and Gentlemen)
    • Quelle strane occasioni (Strange Occasion)
    • Delitto d’amore (Somewhere Beyond Love)
    • Senza Sapere niente di lei (The Unknown Woman)
    • Infanzia, vocazione e prime esperienze di Giacomo Casanova, veneziano (Giacomo Casanova: Childhood and Adolescence)
    • Il nostro agente Natlino Tartufato (Italian Secret Service)
    • Le bambole (The Dolls)
    • Il commissario (The Police Commissioner)
    • A Cavallo della tigre (On the Tiger’s Back (US) / Jailbreak (GB))
    • Und das am Montagmorgen (And That on Monday Morning)
    • Le sorprese dell’amore (Surprise of Love)
    • Mogli pericolose (Dangerous Wives)
    • Mariti in città (Husbands in the City)
    • La finestra sul Luna Park (The Window to Luna Park)
    • Pane, amore e gelosia (Bread, Love and Jealousy)
    • Pane, amore e Fantasia (Bread, Love and Dreams (GB)/ Frisky (US))
    • La valigia dei sogni (Suitcase of Dreams)
    • La Tratta delle bianche (Girls Marked Danger)
    • Heidi
    • Persiane chiuse (Behind Closed Shutters)
    • L’imperatore di Capri (The Emperor of Capri)
    • Proibito rubare (Hey Boy)
    • Tre notti d’amore (Three Nights of Love)
    • La mia Signora (My Wife)
    • Il compagno Don Camillo (Don Camillo in Moscow)
    • La bugiarda  (Six Days a Week)
    • Mio Dio come sono caduta in basso! (Till Marriage Do Us Part)
    • Il gatto (The Cat)
    • Luigi Comencini 1971.jpg
    • Above: Luigi Comencini

Comencini’s films tell wonderful stories:

  • A missionary on his way to Africa has his suitcase stolen in Naples and, while trying to locate it, he comes to realize the suffering and poverty in the city needs his attention more.
  • A beautiful gold digger, mistakes a waiter in a Neapolitan hotel, for an Arab prince.
  • A woman searches for her missing sister in the morally degraded seaside of Genoa.
  • A police chief wants to marry and selects a woman as his bride but she is already in love with his shy constable.  Rejected, the chief turns his attention to the town midwife who returns his love but is hiding a secret….
  • A junior officer is shocked when Germans storm the base where he is stationed and his fellow Italian officers simply want to go home.
  • After receiving a tractor as a gift from a Soviet village, the mayor plans to twin the village with theirs. The priest tricks the Mayor into including him on the trip to Russia.
  • An aging American millionairess journeys to Rome each year with her chauffeur to play cards with a destitute man and his wife.  The annual scenario never changes: she donates the money so the Romans can play, then she wins the game shattering their dreams of escaping their poverty.  But now the Roman couple’s daughter wants revenge….
  • A girl raised by nuns marries a man only to discover on her wedding night that she married her brother….
  • Thousands of motorists are stuck in a terrible traffic jam for 24 hours.

But as films go the Italian horror art film Salò: The 120 Days of Sodom, directed by Paolo Pasolini, is shockingly more frightening than the Italian Social Republic ever was.

Salò focuses on four wealthy, corrupt Italian libertines, during the time of the Social Republic, who kidnap 18 teenagers and subject them to four months of extreme violence, sadism, perversion, sex and fascism.

Salò has been banned in several countries because of all the graphic sex and violence and portrayals of rape, torture and murder.

Pasolini’s intentions were to use sex as a metaphor for the relationship between power and its subjects.

Saloposter.jpg

In Salò, the historically-informed mind is filled with confusion about a place so filled with contradictions:

Musicians and painters and movies that bring to brightest light the glorious potential that is man’s creative genius contrasted with a Führer’s puppet fascist frontier and a pornographic snuff film intended to somehow make a political statement revealing the darkest depths man can sink to.

 

But what can the visitor see today?

The Duomo di Santa Maria Annunziata has a memorable Renaissance portal by Gasparo Cairano and Antonio Mangiacavalli, 16th century paintings by Zenone Veronese, a polyptych of Paolo Veneziano and a Madonna and Saints by Romanino.

The Palazzo della Magnifica Patria is home to the Historical Museum of the Azure Ribbon, an exhibition of documents on Renaissance history, on Italy’s colonial wars, the Spanish Civil War and the resistance against fascism.

This latter part of the museum may feel ironic at first glance as Salò was the seat of government of Mussolini’s Nazi-backed puppet state, the Italian Social Republic.

Villa Castagna was the seat of the police headquarters, Villa Amedei was the head office of the Ministry of Popular Culture, Villa Simonin (today’s Hotel Laurin) was the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and on via Brunati was located the Stefani Agency, Italy’s leading press agency during World War II.

Salò is a seismicity.

As the area around the lake is a seismic zone (a good place to measure earthquakes), in 1877 a meterological observatory and in 1889 a geophysical observatory (seismic station) were built, which became an important scientific research centre after the 1901 and 2004 earthquakes.

Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and brimstone.

Salò and Mussolini?

The former by earthquake one day?

The latter by gunfire.

 

Salò, despite its beauty, despite its importance, despite its hard work and industry, is a town branded by history, a place forever associated with a dying republic and a failed leader.

So as the mind meanders through the streets of Salò, let’s consider the man Mussolini and wonder how his personality compares with politicians of today.

 

What follows is a description of Il Duce as remembered by one of his contemporaries Luigi Barzini:

Luigi Barzini Jr.jpg

Above: Luigi Barzini, Jr. (1908 – 1984)

 

Mussolini grew up hating:

The Church, the army, the king, the police, the law, the rich, the well-educated, the well-washed, the successful, any kind of authority….

All the things he was later to defend.

 

He was a turbulent boy, determined to be first at everything, proud, quarrelsome, boastful, superstitious and not always very brave.

He picked quarrels for the sake of the fight.

When he won at games he wanted more than the stake.

When he lost he refused to pay.

He was expelled from two schools for having knifed two schoolmates.

Many of his companions hated him.

A few loved him dearly, fanatically, and followed him as their leader.

He is remembered for his harsh charm, his winning smile and his fierce loyalty to his friends and followers.

 

He was always persuaded that a great destiny was reserved for him.

Benito said to his mother when he was still a boy:

One day I will make the earth tremble.

He did.

 

Mussolini became a school teacher in 1901.

The following year he fled to Switzerland to avoid conscription.

At that time, the duty of a serious revolutionary.

Above: Police record of Benito Mussolini following arrest (19 June 1903)

He returned to Italy in 1904, as an heir had been born to the king and a general amnesty had been granted.

He became a village school teacher, served in the army (He turned out to be a good soldier, after all.), earned a new diploma as teacher of French in high schools, and did odd jobs as a journalist, socialist agitator and organizer.

Above: Young Benito Mussolini

He began to improve his oratory, slowly developing a technique which was to make him one of the best and most moving speakers in Italy.

He paid little attention to the logic and truth of what he said as long as it was energetic and stirring.

His gestures had rhythm and vigour.

He used short, staccato sentences, with no clear connexion between them, often with long and dramatic pauses, sometimes changing voice and expression in a crescendo of violence and ending in a tornado of abuse.

When the audience was carried away by his oratory he would sometimes stop and put to them a rheotrical question.

They roared their answer.

This established a sort of heated dialogue, through which the spectators became involved in decisions they had no time to meditate on.

 

By means of violent writing and incendiary eloquence, Mussolini rose in the socialist organization until, by 1912, he was made editor of the party newspaper, Avanti!.

Above: Benito Mussolini as editor of Avanti!

He was a very successful editor.

The paper’s circulation rose from 50,000 copies to 200,000 under his leadership.

The role of journalist was one of the few in his life he did not have to act.

He really was one, perhaps the best popular journalist of his day in Italy, addressing himself not to the sober cultured minority, but to the practically illiterate masses, easily swept by primitive emotions.

Those very qualities which made him an excellent rabble-rousing editor made him a disastrous statesman:

  • His intuitive and superficial intelligence
  • His capacity to oversimplify and dramatize
  • A day-by-day interest only in the most striking events
  • A strictly partisan point of view
  • The disregard for truth, accuracy, objectivity and consistency when they interfered with his aims
  • The talent for doing his job undisturbed by scruples, doubts or criticisms
  • Above all, an instinctive ability to ride the emotional wave of the day, whatever it was, to know what people wanted to be told and by what low collective passions they would more easily be swept away.

He made strange grimaces when he talked, used violent and unprintable words, had an impatient temper….

 

Yet Mussolini managed to attract faithful friends and fanatical followers.

Some of whom clung to him until the end.

 

There was something about him that startled and fascinated almost everybody, including some of his enemies.

Most people who knew him well, who spoke frequently with him, who worked for him, were the victims of his inexplicable charm.

They fell in love with him, unreasoningly and blindly, ready to forgive him everything: his rudeness, his errors, his lies, his pretentiousness, his obstinacy and his ignorance.

 

One of the men who had worked for him since 1914, Manlio Morgagni, committed suicide in July 1943, after writing these words on a piece of paper:

Il Duce has resigned.

My life is finished.

Viva Mussolini!

 

Mussolini attracted many women.

He treated them roughly, as he had the peasant girls of Forli (where he grew up), taking them without preliminary explanation on the hard floor of his study or standing them against a wall.

 

Few sensed his timidity, his insecurity, his desire for admiration and affection.

Mussolini was obstinate, deaf to criticism, self-willed and suspicious, as well as erratic and indecisive most of the time, prone to adopt the most recent opinion he heard.

He was irresolute and afraid.

 

In the summer of 1914, Mussolini denounced warmongers.

He headed one of his violent articles:

Who drives us to war betrays us“.

 

But then the journalist in him wavered when he felt he would lose followers by supporting the cautious government policy.

On 18 October 1914, without taking orders from or consulting the party leaders, Mussolini published an editorial urging war.

He was immediately dismissed from his job and expelled from the party in a stormy session.

He walked out crying dramatically:

You hate me because you cannot help loving me!”

 

With foreign and Italian money, Mussolini started his own newspaper, Popolo d’Italia (People of Italy), which came out on 14 November 1914.

He immediately managed to gather more followers than he had had when editing Avanti! and more readers.

 

Italy entered World War I on 24 May 1915.

Mussolini went to war when he was called and served well as a corporal until he was wounded.

standing photo of Mussolini in 1917 as an Italian soldier

Above: Soldier Mussolini, 1917

After the war, when the frail structure of Italian political unity was endangered by civil strife, economic difficulties and the collapse of government, Mussolini used his paper to give vent to all his passions, to rally all the hot-headed veterans who found it difficult to return to dull civilian life, the very young men who felt that they had been cheated by not having been in the war, and all those who wanted a revolution, any kind of revolution.

 

On 23 March 1919, in Milan, he founded I Fasc (the League), a vague but determined organization which adopted a fiery and contradictory programme, so contradictory that it attracted dissatisfied and restless men from the right and left, anarchists and conservatives, businessmen and artists.

the Fasci italiani di combattimento manifesto as published in Il Popolo d'Italia on 6 June 1919

The confusion of the Fasci di combattimento (ex-servicemen league) reflected the disorderly but brilliant mind of Mussolini, his lack of principles and his constant inconsistency.

 

What Mussolini’s rheotric created, other men developed and their successes he would claim as his personal own.

Disgruntled anarchists across Italy violently seized regions and called them Fascist.

The March on Rome that would convince the King to make Mussolini Prime Minister wasn’t joined by the Fascist leader.

Mussolini and the Quadrumviri during the March on Rome in 1922

He arrived by train in Rome, borrowed a black shirt from one of the marchers and presented himself to the King as leader of the defiant assembly.

Even the black shirts themselves had been inspired by another man, Gabriele d’Annunzio, poet and self-proclaimed world’s greatest lover, who on 12 September 1919 led a band of 1,000 men to Fiume and conquered it for an Italy that had felt, despite being on the winning Allied side, that it had been cheated of territory and martial glory.

Gabriele D'Anunnzio.png

Above: Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863 – 1938)

 

And in one of history’s ironies, Hitler would borrow from Mussolini’s ideology his own brand of fascism and soon the student would far surpass and finally control the teacher.

 

Mussolini was dictator of Italy for two decades (1922 – 1943).

He was 39 when he seized power and 60 when he was forced to relinquish it.

Benito Mussolini seated portrait in suit and tie facing left

Above: Mussolini, at start of his dictatorship

He had shaped Italy according to his wishes, organized according to his theories, staffed by men educated and selected by him.

His powers were limitless.

Where his legal prerogatives ended, his undisputed authority and immense personal prestige began.

He ran the only official political party, so invasive and widespread that it interfered with the daily habits of millions of people 24/7 from the cradle to the tomb.

He decided the contents of all written material.

He had no opposition.

Mussolini was sole legislator, judge, censor, policeman, ambassador, general, the head of government, president of the Grand Council, President of the Council of Ministers, Minister of the Interior, of Foreign Affairs, of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, of Corporations.

What he didn’t run he controlled indirectly.

 

He was defeated by one man alone.

Himself.

 

He would become impotent in front of his enemies and of the arrogant ally he had encouraged and cultivated.

His grasp of world politics was over-rated.

He chose the wrong commanders, wrong strategies and wrong weapons.

He underestimated the will of the Italian people to suffer and die for a war they did not understand.

He believed his own propaganda.

He thought he had all the answers to all the riddles of the modern world.

 

He lacked raw materials, fuel and food to wage a long world war.

 

He lacked merchant ships to supply the far-flung theatres of war he had chosen to fight in.

 

His tanks were small, weak, slow, tin affairs, easily pierced by machine gun fire.

He had chosen them because they were cheaper and could buy them in bulk.

He said they were faster than the heavier models and more “attuned to the quick reflexes of the Italian soldier“.

 

He had no aircraft carriers.

His planes were good but too few to count and were not replaced fast enough.

 

His navy was efficient but not big or advanced enough to challenge the combined fleets he attacked.

They lacked radar which they never suspected existed.

What was missing in Italy wasn’t the courage or the will to fight but rather any kind of serious planning and organization behind the fighting men.

 

What had Mussolini really done with his time as dictator?

He promoted public works, built harbours, railways, roads, schools, autostrade, monuments, aqueducts, hospitals, irrigation and drainage networks, public buildings, bridges, etc.

But to get the exact measure of his achievements one must, first of all, subtract from the total all that would have been accomplished by any government in his place.

Subtract again how many projects that were just plain mistakes, decided for political and spectacular reasons rather than the hope of practical results.

Calculate how much money disappeared into the hands of dishonest contractors.

As a result, the sum total of Mussolini’s achievements is far out of proportion to the noise surrounding them, their fame and their moral cost.

 

What is the explanation for the inaction and ineffectiveness of Mussolini and why did he fail?

Mussolini was not stupid.

He was shrewd, quick to learn, wary, astute.

He could grasp a complex circumstance in a few minutes, face resolute opponents with success and usually take what intuitive decision any situation required.

The explanation of his failure is that he was not a failure.

He lost the war, his country, his mistress, his place in history and his life, but he succeeded in what he had always wanted to do.

It was not to make Italy safe and prsoperous.

It was not to organize Italy for a modern war and victory.

Mussolini had dedicated his life just to putting up a good show, a stirring show.

He played versatile and multi-faceted roles: the heroic soldier, the cold Machiavellian thinker, the Lenin-like leader of a revolutionary minority, the steely-minded dictator, the humanitarian despot, the Casanova lover,  the Nietzschean superman, the Napoleonic genius and the socialist renovator of society.

He was none of these things.

In the end, like an old actor, he no longer remembered what he really was, felt, believed or wanted.

As a showman his success was incredible.

Mussolini was more popular in Italy than anybody had ever been and possibly ever will be.

His pictures were cut out of newspapers and magazines and pasted on the walls of poor peasant cottages.

Schoolgirls fell in love with him as with a film star.

His most memorable words were written large on village houses for all to read.

One of his followers exclaimed, after listening to Mussolini announce in May 1936 that Ethiopia had been conquered and that Rome had again become the capital of an empire:

He is like a god.

Another responded:

Like a god?

No, no, he is a god.

Benito Mussolini saluting crowd

We laugh now when we see him in old newsreels.

His showmanship is like some wines which do not last or travel well, but which are excellent when consumed the year they are made in their native surroundings.

His technique was flamboyant, juvenile, ridiculous and highly effective.

Mussolini deceived the people.

He enjoyed a monopoly and was able to multiply his deceit by making good use of the newest communication techniques.

His slanted views and fabrications filled newspapers, posters, the radio, film screens, books, magazines and public discourse.

The majority of his captive audience believed most of what he wanted them to believe.

He loved a good show, enjoyed a good military parade, was comforted by a naval review and strengthened by a vast ocean of supporters in a city square.

He believed his own slogans.

He was amazed by the statistics he invented, thrilled by the boasts he made, stirred to tears by his own oratory.

He confused appearances for reality.

Truth was what it looked like and what most people liked to believe.

His show was always new and startling.

Only by keeping his public interested, thrilled, puzzled, frightened and entertained, could he make them forget the sacrifice of their liberty and their miserable poverty, unite them behind him, dishearten and divide his opposition, assure internal order and international prestige.

Mussolini was corrupted by his own spectacle and the people who surrounded him.

 

Great leaders, drunk with their own great importance and vast intelligence, think themselves infallible, surrounded by sychophants, all stumble and commit fatal mistakes.

Mussolini thought World War II was almost over when he entered Italy into it in June 1940.

He counted on the aid of Hitler in an emergency.

He trusted his own intuition and his luck.

But any reasonably prudent dictator should also have been prepared for unforeseen circumstances.

Mussolini was not.

He never knew what every military attaché in every foreign embassy in Rome knew.

Italy was ridiculously and tragically unprepared.

What blinded him?

He never even suspected that practically nothing was behind his show.

He never knew how really weak, disarmed and demoralized his country was.

He was badly informed, but he wanted to be badly informed.

The master of make-believe could not detect make-believe when practised by others on him.

His resistance to deception, which was never very strong, gradually dwindled and eventually disappeared altogether.

He needed bigger and bigger doses of flattery and deception each year.

In the end, the most sickening and improbable lies, as long as they adulated his idea of himself and confirmed his prejudices, seemed to him the plain and unadorned expression of objective truth.

In the end, Mussolini lived within his own private imaginary world of his own making.

He was shown only the things and the people that would please and comfort him.

Everything else was efficiently hidden.

 

The technique was so smooth that it even deceived Hitler.

Mussolini and Hitler saluting troops

Hitler’s favourable opinion of Mussolini, of Italian military preparations and the people’s devotion to the régime and to the Axis, made him commit several miscalculations which cost Germany the war.

Hitler had taken a big risk when he attacked Russia and tried to fight the war on two fronts, but he had a reasonable chance of winning despite heavy odds.

Hitler believed that he lost the Russian campaign because he had started four weeks too late.

He was four weeks too late because he wasted time to rescue the Italians bogged down in Albania in Mussolini’s ill-prepared attack on Greece.

 

Mussolini fell from power on 25 July 1943.

The allied armies had invaded Sicily only a few days before, all overseas possessions were lost, the Italian army had been destroyed in Russia, in the Balkans and in Africa, Italy was battered and paralysed by massive air bombardments, Germans were retreating.

All the big Fascist chiefs took part in a fateful meeting of the Grand Council and demanded that the command of all armed forces be turned over to the King.

Mussolini pleaded with them, cajoled them, threatened them and finally accepted his demotion.

 

The following day King Victor Emmanuel received Mussolini in his private villa and ordered his arrest.

 

There was no Fascist revolt when the news spread.

No faithful followers rose in arms.

Nobody kept the Fascist oath:

I swear to defend the revolution with my blood.

Nothing happened.

The show was over.

That’s all.

The people rejoiced simultaneously, for Mussolini had cost them much.

 

Mussolini was transported here and there in search of a place the Germans could not reach, to some islands at first, then to a ski resort hotel in the mountains of Abruzzi.

The Germans found him anyway, in spite of the fact that there was no road to the hotel and only a cable railway connected it with the lowlands.

They used gliders.

 

Mussolini arrived at Hitler’s headquarters, thanked his liberator, donned his old uniform and was named president of the puppet régime, the Italian Social Republic.

four color map of northern Italy with Italian Socialist Republic in tan, 1943

Mussolini’s capital was in Salò, comfortably on the direct road to the Brenner Pass, in case of sudden retreat to Switzerland.

As puppet president, Mussolini’s life was dismal.

He knew everything was lost.

He was a failure.

He had plunged Italy into the wrong war, at the wrong time, with practically no weapons.

The few moral and materialistic resources which existed, including the heroic courage of thousands of soldiers, were squandered by an amateur strategist who wanted to show his ally that he too was a mastermind.

Mussolini paid no attention to current affairs, read many books, wrote an enormous quantity of insignificance.

He was interested in only one thing:

How history would see him.

 

He knew the end had come.

 

Mussolini decided to trust his art as an actor: to disguise himself and flee.

He made up his mind to go directly to Switzerland, without wasting time in futile and bloody heroics, carrying all his money and documents to defend himself if he were tried as a war criminal.

On the road to Switzerland, he was found and arrested.

On 25 April 1945, Mussolini was executed and his body hung on display above a Milan petrol station.

Above: Mussolini (second from left)

Even in disgrace and death Mussolini had put on a public show.

 

In our journeys through Lombardy and around and amongst the northern Italian lakes, we neither sought out nor were overly interested in the life of this man over half a century deceased, but somehow Mussolini’s legacy quietly lingers here.

We would drive through Brenner Pass and later find ourselves spontaneously detour our Lake Como travels to the ornate gate of the pompous villa in the tiny village where he was executed, fascinated by the morbidity of everything.

Now on our homeward journey along the shores of Lake Garda we once again encounter the dark spectre of the man-monster that was Mussolini.

Salò once the home of musical genius and artistic endeavour seems now reduced to the embarrassing legacy of failed Fascist capital and unsavoury snuff film locale.

The August sun and horrid humid air seems somewhat chilled by the ghosts of the past.

Only the ignorant feel bliss here.

 

I wonder where and when the next dark Salò will be:

Somewhere in America?

Deep within North Korea?

On an island of the Philippines?

A village in Venezuela?

And as the world burns someone plays the violin….

{{{coat_alt}}}

Above: Coat of arms of the Italian Social Republic (or the Republic of Salò)

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy / Luigi Barzini, The Italians / R.J.B. Bosworth, Mussolini

Canada Slim and the Museum of Innocence

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 August 2018

It has been ages since I have written about Turkey, but those who know me are aware that there are both many things I adore about this bridge between Asia and Europe and many things I abhor.

Flag of Turkey

Of the little exploration I have done in this great republic (the Turquoise Coast with Alanya and Antalya, Kas and Kale, Egirdir and Pamukkale, and the great city of Istanbul)….

I fell immediately and forever in love with Istanbul.

I spent only three days there.

I would have loved to have spent three decades there.

See caption

I have written a wee bit about this amazing and ancient metropolis.

(See: Canada Slip and the Lamp Ladies, The sorrow of Batman, The fashionable dead, Take Me Back to Constantinople, Fireworks in the Fog, and Silence and Gold, of this blog.)

 

Of the little I know and understand about Turkey I find myself more and more disliking the present leader of Turkey and former mayor of Istanbul, Recep Erdogan, and so I have written a wee bit about him as well.

(See:  Bullets and Ballots and The rise of Recep of this blog.)

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Above: His Excellency President Recep Erdogan

 

There is so much to see and do in Istanbul that it is difficult to know what to recommend.

Does one go to the district of Sultanahmet and visit Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern?

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Does one look for souvenirs in the historic Arasta Bazaar?

Does one watch whirling dervishes whirl or wind down at a nargile café?

Is life a bazaar and should one explore the labyrinthine lanes and hidden caravanserais of the world-famous Grand Bazaar, or is it better to follow the steady stream of local shoppers making their way to the Spice Bazaar?

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Can a person remain the same after visiting that most magnificent of all Ottoman mosques, the Süleymaniye or after watching the sunset as one walks across the Galata Bridge?

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Is it wrong to envy the lifestyles of sultans at Topkapi Palace or to indulge sultan-like in the steamy luxury of a hamam (Turkish bath)?

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Can one forget the Bosphorus or be unimpressed by the Istanbul Modern Museum?

 

How did one live before Istanbul?

How can one live afterwards?

 

How does one discover Istanbul through literature?

It depends on what kind of Istanbul you seek.

 

Rose Macauley’s The Towers of Trebizond is a largely auotbiographical novel that focuses on a group of lively and eccentric travellers on the way from Istanbul to Trebizond (Trabzon on the Black Sea coast of northeast Turkey).

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Read this and you will soon find yourself on a boat between these cities.

 

Then there is The Prophet Murders by Mehmet Murat Somer:

Most tourists come and visit the historical sights of Istanbul, but we have very modern parts and life is completely different there….

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The reader is transplanted into a subculture of the city, the transvestite club scene.

 

As Venice has Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti and Edinburgh has Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus, Istanbul has Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen crime series.

The first of the series, Belshazzar’s Daughter, finds the Ikmen examining the torture and murder of an elderly Jewish man, a crime that sends shock waves through Istanbul.

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Elia Shafak’s highly acclaimed The Flea Palace focuses on the residents of the Bonbon Palace, a once Grand residency built by a Russian émigré at the end of the Tsarist period, but now a sadly rundown block of flats.

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Think A Thousand and One Nights in modern Istanbul.

 

Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk is one of Turkey’s most celebrated authors and much of what he has written is essentially a love letter to his city of Istanbul.

Orhan Pamuk in 2009

Above: Orhan Pamuk

Pamuk shows through both his Istanbul: Memories and the City and his novels  – (at least those I have found and read) –  The Red-Haired Woman, A Strangeness in My Mind, The White Castle and The Museum of Innocence  – sides to Istanbul that most tourists never see nor will ever see.

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To savour Istanbul’s backstreets, to appreciate the vines and trees that endow its ruins with accidental grace, you must, first and foremost, be a stranger to them.

 

From Lonely Planet’s Istanbul:

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“His status as a Nobel laureate deserves respect, but we feel obliged to say that we think Orhan Pamuk is a bit cheeky to charge a whopping 25 liras for entrance to his Museum of Innocence.

That said, this long-anticipated piece of conceptual art is worth a visit, particularly if you have read and admired the novel it celebrates.

The Museum is set in a 19th-century house and seeks to re-create and evoke aspects of Pamuk’s 1988 novel The Museum of Innocence by displaying found objects in traditional museum-style glass cases.

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The Museum also includes strangely beautiful installations, such as a wall displaying the 4,213 cigarette butts supposedly smoked by the narrator’s lover Füsun.

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The exhibits seek to evoke what Pamuk as described as “the melancholy of the period” in which he grew up and in which the novel is set.”

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The narrative and the Museum offer a glimpse into upper-class Istanbul life from the 1970s to the early 2000s.

The novel details the story of Kemal, a wealthy Istanbulite who falls in love with his poorer cousin, and the Museum displays the artefacts of their love story.

Kemal, of the wealthy Nisantasi family, is due to marry Sibel, a girl from his own social class, when he falls in love with his distant relative Füsun, who works as a sales assistant in a shop.

Kemal and Füsun begin to meet in dusty rooms filled with old furniture and memories.

After Füsun marries someone else, Kemal spends eight years visiting her.

After every visit, he takes away with him an object that reminds him of her.

These objects form the collection of the Museum of Innocence.

According to the Museum website, the collection, which includes more than a thousand objects, presents what the novel’s characters “used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and display cabinets.

The Museum of Innocence is based on the assumption that objects used for different purposes and evocative of the most disparate memories can, when placed side by side, bring forth unprecedented thoughts and emotions.

 

On the floor at the entrance of the Museum, the Spiral of Time can be seen from every floor.

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If Aristotle thought of time as a line joining moments worth remembering, Pamuk sees time as a line joining objects.

 

“The idea for my museum came to me when I met His Imperial Highness Prince Ali Vâsib for the first time in 1982 at a family reunion in Istanbul….

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Above: Ali Vâsib (1903 – 1983)

My curiosity at the family table prompted the elderly Prince to share some stories.

Among them was King Farouk’s kleptomania.

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Above: King Farouk I of Egypt (1920 – 1965)

During a visit to the Antoniadis Palace and Museum, Farouk had, unbeknowst to anyone, opened a cabinet and taken away an antique plate he had set his sights on for his own palace in Cairo.

Above: Antoniadis Palace, Alexandria, Egypt

Prince Ali was looking for a job that would provide him with an income and enable him to settle down in Turkey permanently after 50 years in exile.

During his exile (1924 – 1982), the Prince, for many years, made a living by working as a ticket taker and then as director of Antoniadis Palace and Museum in Alexandria, Egypt.

Someone at Pamuk’s table suggested that the Prince might find employment as a museum guide at Ihlamur Palace, where he had spent so much time as a child.

Above: Ihlamur Palace, Istanbul

Upon this suggestion, the Prince and all those at the table began to imagine, in complete seriousness and without a trace of irony, how Ali might show visitors around the rooms where he had rested and studied as a child.

I remember that I later built on these imaginings with the zeal of a young novelist looking for new perspectives:

And here, sirs, is where I sat 70 years ago studying mathematics with my aide-de-camp.

He would walk away from the ticket-toting crowd, step over the line that visitors are not allowed to cross – marked by those old-style velvet cords that hangs between brass stands – and sit once again at the desk he used in his youth….

I imagined the joy of being a guide to a museum and one of the museum’s artifacts at the same time, and the thrill of explaining to visitors a life, with all its paraphenalia, many years after it was lived.”

(Orhan Pamuk, The Innocence of Objects: The Museum of Innocence, Istanbul)

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“I had not said:

This trip to Paris is not on business, Mother.

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For if she had asked my reason, I could not have offered her a proper answer, having concealed the purpose even from myself….

I felt such consolation, the same deep understanding, as I wandered idly around museums.

I do not mean the Louvre or the Beaubourg or the other crowded, ostentatious ones of that ilk.

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Above: The Louvre, Paris

I am speaking now of the many empty museums I found in Paris, the collections that no one ever visits.

There was the Musée Édith Piaf, founded by a great admirer, where by appointment I viewed hairbrushes, combs and teddy bears….

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Above: French singer Édith Piaf (1915 – 1963)

 

And the Musée de la Préfecture de Police, where I spent an entire day….

And the Musée Jacquemart-André, where other objects were arranged alongside paintings in a most original way.

 

I saw empty chairs, chandeliers and haunting unfurnished spaces there.

Whenever wandering alone through museums like this, I felt myself uplifted….

I would dream happily of a museum where I could display my life, where I could tell my story through the things left behind, as lesson to us all.

 

On visiting the Musée Nissim de Camondo,  I was emboldened to believe that the Keskins’ set of plates, forks, knives, and my seven-year collection of salt shakers, I too could have something worthy of proud display.

Above: Béatrice (sister) and Nissim de Cumondo (1892 – 1917)

 

The notion set me free.

 

The Musée de la Poste made me realize I could display letters….

And the Micromusée du Service des Objets Trouvés legitimated the inclusion of a wide range of things, as long as they reminded me….

 

It took me an hour in a taxi to reach the Musée Maurice Ravel, formerly the famous composer’s house, and when I saw his toothbrush, coffee cups, china figurines, various dolls, toys and an iron cage….

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Above: French composer Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)

 

I very nearly wept.

 

To stroll through these Paris museums was to be released from the shame of my collection….

No longer an oddball embarrassed by the things he had hoarded, I was gradually awakening to the pride of a collector.

 

One evening while drinking alone in the bar of the Hôtel du Nord, gazing at the strangers around me, I caught myself asking the questions that occur to every Turk who goes abroad (if he has some education and a bit of money):

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What did these Europeans think about me?

What did they think about us all?

 

Eventually I thought about how I might describe what Füsun meant to me to someone who knew nothing about Istanbul….

 

I was coming to see myself as someone who had travelled to distant countries and remained there for many years:

Say, an anthropologist who had fallen in love with an native girl while living among the indigenous folk of New Zealand, to study and catalog their habits and rituals, how they worked and relaxed, and had fun….

My observations and the love I had lived had become intertwined.

Now the only way I could ever hope tp make sense of those years was to display all that I had gathered together – the pots and pans, the trinkets, the clothes and the paintings – just as an anthropologist might have done.

 

During my last days in Paris, with….a bit of time to kill, I went to the Musée Gustave Moreau, because Proust had held this painter in such high esteem.

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Above: French painter Gustave Moreau (1826 – 1898)

I couldn’t bring myself to like Moreau’s classical, mannered historical paintings, but I liked the Museum.

In his final years, the painter Moreau had set about changing the family house where he had spent most of his life into a place where his thousands of paintings might be displayed after his death.

This house in due course became a museum….

Once converted, the house became a house of memories, a “sentimental museum“, in which every object shimmered with meaning.

As I walked through empty rooms, across creaking parquet floors and past dozing guards, I was seized by a passion that I might almost call religious….

 

My visit to Paris served as the model for my subsequent travels.

 

On arriving in a new city I would move into the old but comfortable and centrally located hotel that I had booked from Istanbul, and armed with the knowledge acquired from the books and guides read in advance, I would begin my rounds of the city’s most noteworthy museums, never rushing, never skipping a single one, like a student meticulously completing an assignment.

And then I would scan the flea markets, the shops selling trinkets and knickknacks, a few antique dealers.

If I happened on a salt shaker, an ashtray or a bottle opener identical to one I had seen in the Keskin household, or if anything else struck my fancy, I would buy it.

No matter where I was – Rio de Janeiro, Hamburg, Baku, Kyoto or Lisbon.

At suppertime I would take a long walk through the back streets and far-flung neighbourhoods.

Peering through the windows, I would search out rooms with families eating in front of the television, mothers cooking in kitchens that also served as dining rooms, children and fathers, young women with their disappointing husbands, and even the rich distant relations secretly in love with the girl in the house.

In the morning, after a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, I would kill time on the avenues and in the cafés until the little museums had opened.

I would write postcards to my mother and aunt, peruse the local papers, trying to figure out what had happened in Istanbul and the world, and at 11 o’clock I would pick up my notebook and set out hopefully on the day’s program.”

(Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence)

 

Pamuk goes on to relate his experiences in other museums around the world:

  • Helsinki City Museum
  • Museum of Cazelles, France
  • State Museum of Württemberg in Stuttgart
  • Musée International de la Parfumerie, Grasse
  • Alte Pinakothek, Munich
  • Musée de la Vie Romantique, Paris
  • Historiska Museum, Göteborg, Sweden
  • Brevik Town Museum, Norway
  • Civico Museo del Mare, Trieste, Italy
  • Museum of Insects and Butterflies, La Ceiba, Honduras
  • Museum of Chinese Medicine, Hangzhou
  • Musée du Tabac, Paris
  • Musée de l’Atelier de Paul Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence
  • Rockox House, Antwerp, Belgium
  • Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna
  • Museum of London
  • Florence Nightingale Museum, London
  • Musée de Temps, Besancon, France
  • Teylers Museum, Haarlem, the Netherlands
  • Fort St. George Museum, Madras, India
  • Castelvecchio Museum, Verona
  • Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things), Berlin
  • Uffizi Museum, Florence
  • Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
  • Museu Frederic Marès, Barcelona
  • Glove Museum, New York City
  • Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City, California
  • Ava Gardner Museum, Smithfield, North Carolina
  • Museum of Beverage Containers and Advertising, Nashville
  • Tragedy in US History Museum, Saint Augustine, Florida
  • Stalin Museum, Gori, Georgia, Russia
  • Museum of the Romantic Era, Porto, Portugal

(In darker font are the places your humble blogger has also visited….)

 

So many museums, so many places, so many memories….

 

But for Kemal Bey each museum was appreciated (or not) more for its connection to Füsan and emotions evoked, rather than for the virtues of the museum itself.

Helsinki had familiar medicine bottles, Cazelles – hats his parents wore, Stuttgart convinced him that possessions deserved display in splendour, Grasse had him trying to remember Füsan’s scent, Munich’s Pinakothek’s stairs would serve as a model for the Museum of Innocence while Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Sacrifice of Abraham reminded him of having told Füsan this story and of the moral of giving up the thing most precious to us and expecting nothing in return.

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And so on.

 

And what does Pamuk / Kemal want from the Museum?

 

“Do you know who it was that taught me the central place of pride in a museum?….

The museum guards, of course.

No matter where I went in the world, the guards would answer my every question with passion and pride….

If someone asks a question at our Museum, the guards must describe the history of the collection, the love I feel for Füsan, and the meanings invested in her possessions, with the same dignified air….

The guards’ job is not, as is commonly thought, to hush noisy visitors, protect the objects on display (though of course everything connected to Füsan must be preserved for eternity!) and issue warnings to kissing couples and people chewing gum.

Their job is to make visitors feel that they are in a place of worship that, like a mosque, should awaken in them feelings of humility, respect and reverence.

The guards at the Museum of Innocence are to wear velvet business suits the colour of dark wood – this being in keeping with the collection’s ambience and also Füsan’s spirit – with light pink shirts and special Museum ties embroidered with images of Füsan’s earrings.

They should leave gum chewers and kissing couples to their own devices.

The Museum of Innocence will be forever open to lovers who can’t find other place to kiss in Istanbul….

Never forget that the logic of my museum must be that wherever one stands in it, it should be possible to see the entire collection, all the display cases and everything else.

Because all the objects in my museum – and with them, my entire story – can be seen at the same time from any perspective, visitors will lose all sense of time.

This is the greatest consolation in life.

In poetically well-built museums, formed from the heart’s compulsions, we are consoled not by finding in them old objects that we love, but by losing all sense of time….

And let those who have read the book enjoy free admission to the Museum when they visit for the first time.

This is best accomplished by placing a ticket in every copy.

The Museum of Innocence will have a special stamp and when visitors present their copy of the book, the guard at the door will stamp this ticket before ushering them in.”

(Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence)

 

And, sure enough, at the bottom of page 713 (invalid if torn from the book), the reader finds a free ticket for a single admission to the Museum.

The butterfly stamp is reminiscient of the Museum’s Spiral of Time.

 

The Museum of Innocence, both the novel and the building, offers a glimpse into upper class Istanbul life from the 1970s to the early years of the Second Millennium.

The collection includes more than a thousand objects and presents what the novel’s characters used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of, all meticulously arranged in boxes and cabinets.

 

In the Museum’s catalogue, The Innocence of Objects, Pamuk lays out a manifesto for museums.

Pamuk calls for exchanging large national museums, such as the Louvre and the Hermitage, for smaller, more individualistic and cheaper museums, that tell stories in the place of histories.

“A museum should work in its capacity to reveal the humanity of individuals.”

 

To get to the Museum took some effort on my part as a first-time solo visitor.

My Istanbul accommodation was in the southeast district of Cagaloglu on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait.

The Museum is also on the European side but required crossing the Golden Horn via the Galata Bridge, which demanded either half the afternoon to walk that distance or at least an hour using public transport.

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It was warm, at least by this Canadian’s standards, so I opted for public transport – tram and bus.

 

And as Pamuk writes in Istanbul: Memories and the City, “there was more to my world than I could see“.

 

I had, before Istanbul, many books I wished to read and Pamuk’s books remain on my list after Istanbul, but reading his works and visiting his museum I began to understand why his writing has sold over 13 million books in 63 languages making him Turkey’s best selling author.

 

Pamuk has tried to highlight issues relating to freedom of speech at a time when his President is trying to destroy it.

He is among a group of authors tried for writing essays that criticized (and rightly so) Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds.

In 2005, after Pamuk made a statement regarding the Armenian Genocide and mass killings of Kurds, a criminal case was opened against the author based on a complaint filed by ultra-nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz.

The criminal charges against Pamuk resulted from remarks he made during an interview in February 2005 with the Swiss publication Das Magazin, a weekly supplement to a number of Swiss newspapers: the Tages-Anzeiger, the Basler Zeitung and the Solothuner Tagblatt, to name but a few.

Flag of Switzerland

In this interview, Pamuk stated:

Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here and a million Armenians. 

And nobody dares to mention that. 

So I do.

He was consequently subjected to a hate campaign that forced him to flee the country.

(I am uncertain whether he lives in Istanbul again or not.)

In an 2005 interview with BBC News, Pamuk said that he wanted to defend freedom of speech, which was Turkey’s only hope for coming to terms with its history:

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What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation.

It was a taboo.

But we have to be able to talk about the past.

In Bilecik, Pamuk’s books were burnt in a nationalist rally.

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Above: Bilecik, Turkey

Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code states:

A person who publicly insults the Republic or the Turkish Grand Assembly, shall be punishable by imprisonment of six months to three years.

The charges against Pamuk caused an international outcry and led to questions about Turkey’s then-desired entry into the European Union.

Amnesty International released a statement calling for Article 301 to be repealed and for Pamuk and six other people awaiting trial under the Article be set free.

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Above: Logo for Amnesty International

PEN (Poets, Essayists, Novelists and all other writers) also denounced the charges against Pamuk:

PEN finds it extraordinary that a state that has ratified both the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which see freedom of expression as central, should have a Penal Code that includes a clause that is so clearly contrary to these very same principles.

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Eight world-renowned authors (José Saramango, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Günter Grass, Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, Juan Goytisolo, John Updike and Mario Vargas Llosa) issued a joint statement supporting Pamuk and decrying the charges against him as a violation of human rights.

On 27 March 2011, Pamuk was found guilty and was ordered to pay 6,000 liras in total compensation to five people for having insulted their honour.

 

I strongly feel that the art of the novel is based on the human capacity, though it is a limited capacity, to be able to identify with ‘the other’.

Only human beings can do this.

It requires imagination, a sort of morality, a self-imposed goal of understanding this person who is different from us, which is a rarity.

(Orhan Pamuk, Carol Becker interview, The Brooklyn Rail, February 2008)

 

What literature needs most to tell and investigate are humanity’s basic fears: the fears of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears, the collective humiliations, vulnerabilities, slights, grievances, sensitivities and imagined insults, and the nationalist boasts and inflations that are their next of kin.

Whenever I am confronted by such sentiments and by the irrational overstated language in which they are usually expressed, I know they touch on a darkness inside me.

We have often witnessed peoples, societies and nations outside the Western world – and I can identify with them easily – succumbing to fears that sometimes lead them to commit stupidities, all because of their fears of humiliation and their sensitivities.

I also know that in the West – a world which I can identify with the same ease – nations and peoples taking an excessive pride in their wealth, and in their having brought us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and modernism, have, from time to time, succumbed to a self-satisfaction that is almost as stupid.”

(Orhan Pamuk, Nobel lecture, 7 December 2006)

 

The Museum of Innocence is five levels of emotional complexity, much like Pamuk’s writing.

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On the ground floor is where the visitor can buy tickets (if his novel isn’t available), pick up an audio guide, read the acknowledgements wall, watch a movie and videos and see Box #68 with the aforementioned 4,213 cigarette stubs (more than the Musée du Tabac).

 

On the first floor, we witness Kemal’s happiest moment of his life, the Sanzelize Boutique, photographs of distant relations, love at the office, matchbooks from fuaye restaurants, Füsun’s tears collected in a yellow jug, the Merhamet Apartments, Turkey’s first fruit soda (Meltem), the F box, city lights and happiness, the feast of the sacrifice, photos to be kissed on the lips, and how love, courage and modernity are represented by the night, the stars and other people’s lives.

The eyes through photographs wander down Istanbul’s streets, across bridges, over hills and into squares.

I discover a few unpalatable anthropological truths about Turkish culture:

  • If a man tried to wriggle out of marrying the girl he slept with and the girl in Question was under the age of 18, an angry father might take the philanderer to court to force him to marry.
  • These cases attracted press attention, so it was customary for newspapers to run photographs of the “violated” girls (not the “violating” men) with black bands over the ladies’ eyes to spare their being identified in this shameful situation. (No names were published, but it does seem odd that photos needed to be printed at all if the avoidance of shame truly was the goal.)
  • The press used the same black eyeband in photographs of adultresses (“…and here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson“), rape victims and prostitutes (“Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light.“) so often that reading a Turkish newspaper was like wandering through a masquerade ball.
  • Turkish newspapers ran very few photographs of Turkish women without black bands unless they were singers, actresses or Beauty contestants.
  • These were presumed to be of easy virtue anyway.Image result for museum of innocence istanbul photos

I witness Ahmet Isikci’s enigmatic art, how one’s whole life depends on the taxis of Istanbul.

I learn the story of Belki, the sorrow of funerals, a father’s gift of earrings to his mistress, the hand of Rahmi Efendi that almost pats the dog (“Take this longing from my tongue and all the guilty things these hands have done.“), the spell that (“the sound of“) silence casts, and an engagement party at the Istanbul Hilton.

Oh, the agony of waiting can be relieved if you carefully study an anatomical chart of love pains!

And, remember, don’t lean back that way or you might fall.

Pamuk wants his visitor to take consolation in objects and how they can remind a person of those they love.

By now there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t thinking about her.

I would awake to the same pain, as if a black lamp were burning eternally inside me, radiating darkness.

Sadly, Füsun doesn’t live here anymore, though there are streets that remind me of her and shadows and ghosts I mistake for her, life has left me with nothing but vulgar distractions.

I am an unnamed dog sent into outer space.

A dog which dares not entertain even a small hope that might allay his heartache.

Life is an empty house, an end-of-summer party without guests.

I make my confession to the Bosphorous and seek consolation in a yali.

Soon I am swimming on my back between Istanbul’s ships.

The melancholy of autumn leads to cold and lonely November days spent wandering the neighbourhood between the Fatih Hotel and the Golden Horn.

Maybe I need a holiday on Uludag.

I wonder:

Is it normal to leave your fiancée in the lurch?

I mourn my father’s death, realizing that the most important thing in life is to be happy.

I was going to ask her to marry me, because happiness means being close to the one you love, that’s all.

 

On the second floor, I learn that a film about life and agony should be sincere and that an indignant and broken heart is of no use to anyone.

I contemplate the spiral of time and I ask that you come again tomorrow and we can sit together again.

These are lemon films I watch but I am unable to stand up and leave.

A game of tombula should get past the censors as we share evenings on the Bosphorus at the Huzur Restaurant.

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We make the gossip column.

We are our own fire on the Bosphorus.

Dogs are everywhere and the air reeks of cologne.

 

So climb up to the top floor to Kemal’s room.

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Then down to the basement for a complimentary Turkish coffee.

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Such is the Museum of Innocence.

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Istanbul / Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence / Orhan Pamuk, The Innocence of Objects / Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City

 

 

Canada Slim and the War of the Oranges

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 August 2018

Back a few days ago from my third trip to Portugal, my first to Porto and the north of the country.

The most western nation of continental Europe, Portugal shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, but this land of foggy fishing villages and tiny hamlets set deep in cork forests has a quarter of Spain’s population, is less than a fifth of Spain’s geographical size and in Portugal they don’t speak Spanish, they speak Portuguese.

Flag of Portugal

Above: Flag of Portugal

 

Loud, exuberent Spain is paella and bullfights.

Reserved Portugal is the mournful wailing of fado and legendary sightings of the Virgin Mary.

The Spanish are fiercely proud of their past accomplishments.

The Portuguese are quietly proud of their future potential.

Disregard the critics who will gleefully tell you that Portugal is the graveyard of ambition, a kingdom of mediocrity where the national hobby is complaining and the ambitious leave.

Instead….

Picture Portugal as a land of resilience.

An earthquake may have cost them an empire, but Portugal still stands.

Dictators may have halted their progress for decades, but Portugal still stands.

Imagine a land that was economically isolated and politically smothered now striving to overcome an international reputation that suggests that the Portuguese are unproductive, unfit, unhealthy and unattractive.

Spend time with them and realize that though there are some that fit these negative descriptions, the vast majority of the people are simply and quietly going about their business.

They don’t lack self-esteem.

They simply haven’t practiced self-marketing as successfully as their European counterparts, for why tout your superiority when you know who you are and what you can do?

 

To be fair, judging Portugal by one’s impressions of Porto is a lot like judging America from only a visit to Chicago or England from time spent exclusively in Birmingham.

Just as New York and London overshadow hard-working Chicago and Birmingham so does Lisboa (Lisbon) dominate people’s minds over Porto.

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Above: Images of Porto

 

Traditionally Portugal’s wine distribution centre, the scenic city of Porto – Portugal’s second biggest city – straddles the Douro River and is a lively transport hub, in part due to its famous export, port.

If the adage “Lisbon plays, Porto pays, Coimbra prays” can be believed, then Porto is the hardest working place in Portugal.

Historically (and practically) Porto puts the Portu in Portugal as the name dates from Roman times, when Lusitanian settlements straddled both sides of the Rio Douro.

The area was briefly in the hands of Moors but was reconquered by the year 1000 and reorganized as the County of Portucale with Porto as its capital.

Henri of Burgundy was granted the land in 1095 and it was from here that Henri’s son and Portuguese hero Afonso Henriques launched the Reconquista (Christian reconquest), ultimately winning Portugal the status of an independent kingdom….part of the Iberian Peninsula, but not part of Spain.

Above: King Afonso I Henriques of Portugal (1106 – 1185)

 

The Portuguese are akin to Canadians, Swiss and New Zealanders in that they do not care to be mistaken for being a countryman of their more powerful and prominent neighbour.

When addressed in Spanish by a foreigner, a Portuguese would rather answer in English or French.

Spain is the loud neighbour with the big house and the trees that block out the light.

To get to Portugal the rest of Europe passes through Spain, leaving tourist revenues and business investment on Spanish shores.

The Spanish are not the neighbours from Hell, but they are neighbours the Portuguese resent.

Neither good winds nor good marriages come from Spain.” goes the well-known Portuguese saying.

Over 400 years ago Spain relinquished occupation of Portugal, but distrust runs deep after a bloody history of wars and border skirmishes.

Even now, many Portuguese claim the town of Olivenca in Spanish Extremadura as their own invoking a treaty of 1815 which Spain continues to conveniently forget.

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Portugal’s economy hangs on the coat tails of Spain much as Canada’s economy is dependent on American trade and Switzerland’s upon trade with Germany.

We all look with alarm when German companies take over slices of Switzerland’s economy or Americans financially invade Canada or the Spanish seize Portuguese banks or real estate.

Yet for the Swiss to go to Germany or Canadians to go to America or  Portuguese to go to Spain is a certain sign that you’ve entered the Big Time.

Big time.  I’m on my way. I’m making it….big time.” (Peter Gabriel)

Many of Portugal’s top footballers leap at the chance to play for Real Madrid, much like Canadian hockey players jump for joy when recruited by American teams.

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Above: Real Madrid Football Club logo

 

(The world is strange.

How are hockey teams in two nations considered part of one National Hockey League?

Why is the finale in North American baseball called the World Series when only (with rare exception, Canada’s Toronto Blue Jays) American teams compete?

I am so confused.)

 

Nobel Prize winning author José Saramago (The History of the Siege of Lisbon / Blindness) left Portugal to live in Spanish Tenerife, much like Wayne Gretzky and Jim Carrey left Canada to live in LA.

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Above: José Saramago (1922 – 2010)

 

Like the British and Canadians are cynical about Americans, like Austrians and Swiss are cynical about Germans, the Portuguese too are cynical about the Spanish.

And like Anglos with America and Swiss with Germany, the Portuguese secretly hanker to be like the Spanish.

The first day of my third Portuguese adventure was a reminder of this problematic relationship with Spain.

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Above: The Iberian Peninsula

 

Porto, Portugal, 24 July 2018

I have nothing against the Spanish.

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Above: Flag of Spain

I enjoyed my two previous visits to Spain’s San Sebastian (let’s leave questions of Basque independence aside at this time) and Barcelona (ditto for Catalona).

I am emotionally unaffected by the planning that resulted in flying two Spanish airlines (Iberia and Vueling) from Zürich to Porto and return.

The flights booked through the Internet, which might not have been the least expensive method, was at least the most efficient way to go.

 

(Most Internet travel agencies work by connecting a website to a computerized reservation service (CRS) that in turn is linked to the airlines.

Because the airlines and the CRSs only list official, published fares in their databases, most Internet travel agencies only sell tickets at published fares and have no discounts.

Most international air ticket prices are not shown in any CRS, are not available directly from the airline, and are not available from any Internet site that depends on airlines and/or CRSs as a source of fares.)

 

Still I may not have had a choice as TAP, Portugal’s national airline, flies only to the western Swiss city of Genève rather than that most convenient airport of Zürich in eastern Switzerland.

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So, can Spanish airlines be blamed too harshly for taking up the Portuguese slack?

Iberia flight 1077, Zürich (ZUR) to Porto (POR) with a stopover in Madrid (MAD), is aboard an Airbus A319 plane named the Ciudad de Baiez.

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Intercom announcements and seat pocket literature are in English and Spanish.

Unlike Swiss teacher Raimund Gregorius of Pascal Mercier’s Night Train to Lisbon, (begun to be read during this flight) there were no chance encounters with mysterious suicidal Portuguese bridge jumpers or tomes of philosophical enigmatic aristocrats found in dusty corners of antiquarian bookshops to inspire this trip to Portugal.

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A vacation was needed and Porto had not yet been explored.

I did not impulsively leave Switzerland as Gregorius left his job.

Flag of Switzerland

There was a plan, organization, flight and hotel reservations.

Like Gregorius, I would have preferred to travel to Portugal slower than flying, but like most tourists I am limited by constraints of time, money and responsibility.

The Ronda, Iberia’s seat pocket magazine, distracts me from the haunted journey of Gregorius.

I read about the Bloop Festival of Ibiza, Brunch in the Park in Barcelona, and recommended explorations of Japan with their 40 sumo wrestling training gyms, 3,000 public thermal baths and 21 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

I read of Barcelona and the Lavender Road of Provence, of the paradise that is Patagonia and the temptations of Tenerife, of summer flights to Croatia and of “somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember“.

I am flying to Portugal, but there is no whisper about the place aboard the flight.

The gluten-free muffins, the Linda limonada, the MIOS patatas are all Spanish.

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Above: Aeroporto Porto

After touchdown at Porto Airport, taxi into town and check-in at the Casa de Cativo in the Batalha district of central Porto, we find ourselves drawn to explore.

My eyes are immediately drawn to the Sé – Porto’s Cathedral.

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This Roman Catholic Cathedral is one of the most relevant and oldest monuments of the city.

Located in the heart of the historical centre the Sé rises from the landscape as an eye-catching icon atop a rocky outcrop a couple of hundred metres from Sao Bento Station and commands a fine view over the rooftops of Porto.

In front of the Cathedral, a lone sentinel on horseback, Vimara Peres (d. 873), the first King of the County of Portugal, stands watch over the city in stone silence.

The Sé is flanked by two square towers that stretch like arms reaching for Heaven.

Each tower is supported by two buttresses and crowned with a cupola.

On the North Tower (the one with the bell) look for the worn bas-relief depicting a 14th century ship – a coca – a reminder of the earliest days of Portugal’s maritime epic when sailors inched tentatively down the west Saharan coastline in fear of monsters.

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The facade lacks decoration and yet is not lacking in beauty.

The Baroque porch and the delicate Romanesque rose window under the crenellated arch lend the Sé the impression of a fort, a sort of setting suited for the commencement of some holy quest or mighty crusade.

Inside, the blend of Baroque, original Romanesque and Gothic architecture – a kind of structural bouillabaisse – is a strange marriage of prevading gloom.

But maybe gloom – an uneasy spectre of death – was what was sought after when the Sé was being designed.

Around 1333 the Gothic funerary chapel of Joao Gordo was added – his tomb decorated with his recumbent figure and reliefs of the Apostles – the Beatles of the New Testament in regards to their creativity.

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Gordo was a Knight Hospitalier who worked for King Dinis I (1261 – 1325).

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Above: Flag of the Knights Hospitaller

(The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as the Order of Saint John, Order of Hospitallers, Knights Hospitaller, Knights Hospitalier or Hospitallers, was a medieval Catholic military order, headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the island of Rhodes, in Malta and St Petersburg.)

(King Dinis I, also called the Farmer King and the Poet King, was King of Portugal (1279 – 1325) for over 46 years and is remembered by the Portuguese as a major contributor to the formation of a sense of national identity and an awareness of Portugal as a nation-state.

He worked to organize his country’s economy and gave an impetus to Portuguese agriculture.

He ordered the planting of a large pine forest (that still exists today) near Leiria to prevent soil degradation that threatened the region and as a source of raw materials for the construction of the royal ships.

Above: Leiria Castle

Dinis was known for his poetry, which constitutes a major contribution to the development of Portuguese as a literary language.)

(More on Dinis in a future post….)

 

In 1387, the Cathedral was embellished to celebrate the wedding of Portuguese King Jaoa I with the English Princess Philippa of Lancaster (reinforcing the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance).

Above: Wedding of Portuguese King Joao I and English Princess Philippa of Lancaster, Porto Cathedral, 11 February 1387

It was this matrimonial bond of man and wife, this Alliance of Portugal and England within this Sé that would witness within those same walls that which was a celebration of the newly-wed would become a commiseration of the bloody dead.

 

On 29 January 1801, an ultimatum from Spain and France forces Portugal to decide between France and Britain, even as its government has tried to negotiate favorable relations with the two powers rather than abrogate the Treaty of Windsor (1386).

The French sent a five-point statement to Lisbon demanding that Portugal:

  • Abandon its traditional alliance with Great Britain and close its ports to British shipping;
  • Open its ports to French and Spanish shipping;
  • Surrender one or more of its provinces, equal to one fourth part of her total area, as a guarantee for the recovery of Trinidad, Port Mahon (Menorca) and Malta;
  • Pay a war indemnity to France and Spain;
  • Review border limits with Spain.

If Portugal failed to accomplish the five conditions of this ultimatum, it would be invaded by Spain, supported by 15,000 French soldiers.

The British could not promise any effective relief, even as Prince Joao VI appealed to Hookham Frere, who arrived in November 1800.

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Above: Joao VI “the Clement” (1767 – 1826)

In February, the terms were delivered to the Prince-Regent.

Although he sent a negotiator to Madrid, war was declared.

At the time, Portugal had a poorly trained army, with less than 8,000 cavalry and 46,000 infantry troops.

Its military commander, João Carlos de Bragança e Ligne (2nd Duke of Lafões), had barely raised 2,000 horse and 16,000 troops and was compelled to contract the services of a Prussian colonel, Count Karl Alexander von der Goltz, to assume command as field marshal.

The Spanish Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief, Manuel de Godoy, had some 30,000 troops at his disposal, while the French troops under General Charles Leclerc (Napoleon’s brother-in-law) arrived in Spain too late to assist Godoy, as it was a short military campaign.

On May 20, Godoy finally entered Portugal.

This incursion was a precursor of the Peninsular War that would engulf the Iberian Peninsula.

The Spanish army quickly penetrated the Alentejo region in southern Portugal and occupied Olivença, Juromenha, Arronches, Portalegre, Castelo de Vide, Barbacena and Ouguela without resistance.

Campo Maior resisted for 18 days before falling to the Spanish army, but Elvas successfully resisted a siege by the invaders.

An episode which occurred during the siege of Elvas accounts for the name, “War of the Oranges“:

Godoy, celebrating his first experience of generalship, plucked two oranges from a tree and immediately sent them to Queen Maria Luisa of Spain, mother of Carlota Joaquina and supposedly his lover, with the message:

I lack everything, but with nothing I will go to Lisbon.

Manuel de Godoy

The conflict ended quickly when the defeated and demoralized Portuguese were forced to negotiate and accept the stipulations of the Treaty of Badajoz, signed on 6 June 1801.

As part of the peace settlement, Portugal recovered all of the strongholds previously conquered by the Spanish, with the exception of Olivença and other territories on the eastern margin of the Guadiana and a prohibition of contraband was enforced near the border between the two countries.

The treaty was ratified by the Prince-Regent on 14 June, while the King of Spain promulgated the treaty on 21 June.

A special convention (the Treaty of Madrid) on 29 September 1801 made additions to that of Badajoz whereby Portugal was forced to pay France an indemnity of 20 million francs.

This treaty was initially rejected by Napoleon, who wanted the partition of Portugal, but he accepted once he concluded a peace with Great Britain at Amiens.

Portrait of Napoleon in his forties, in high-ranking white and dark blue military dress uniform. In the original image He stands amid rich 18th-century furniture laden with papers, and gazes at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front, and his right hand is tucked in his waistcoat.

Above: Napoléon (1769 – 1821)

 

Portugal divides itself into 18 districts.

Porto is the capital city of the Porto District, which is itself divided into 18 municipalities.

Of these municipalities the close-by city of Amarante lies to the northeast of Porto.

 

During this War of the Oranges (20 May – 9 June 1801) while a battle raged in Amarante, a group of Spanish soldiers briefly took control of the Porto Cathedral before being overcome by the locals of the town.

A marble plaque hangs behind the altar in memory of those who lost their lives regaining control of the chapel.

The plaque has a magnetic backing that was chosen to order to remind those travelling near the Cathedral to orient themselves in the direction their compasses have been altered towards.

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I can´t help but wonder what Hollywood would have done with a story like this:

Soldiers seize a church.

Locals battle to regain it.

But details are hard to come by here in distant Landschlacht and there is a tragic lack of ability in my reading Portuguese.

But I can imagine it.

 

Sunday 31 May 1801, Porto, Portugal

It was the perfect opportunity.

A full moon week meant the soldiers could ride in the Saturday night moonlight and lie in wait inside the Cathedral until the faithful showed up the following morning.

The Cathedral would have gold and the parishioners – faithful tithe-givers to the last – would have money.

The soldiers simply sought profits but they would be ignored if the parishioners didn’t believe that the soldiers would slay them if they did not obey.

The locals outside the church would be half-mad with grief and worry and would do anything to ensure the safety of their loved ones within.

The Bishop would be outraged at the sacreligious nature and audacity of the soldiers’ act.

 

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 6 August 2018

At this point of planning the plot of this historical drama I would require the aforementioned details that language and long distance deny me.

Was blood shed?

By whom upon whom?

History records the soldiers were unsuccessful, but what was their fate?

Who were these people: the Bishop, the faithful, the townsfolk, the soldiers?

Do I actually need historical facts and actual accuracy to tell their story?

Take the movie Braveheart about the Scottish hero William Wallace.

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Many liberties were taken and the plot is filled with historical inaccuracies but is it a damn good movie?

Absolutely.

 

I am reminded again of Portuguese author José Saramago – a writer damnably difficult to read for his deliberate determination not to use punctuation or paragraphs but a fine storyteller nonetheless.

In his The History of the Siege of Lisbon, Saramago asks:

What happens when the facts of history are replaced by the mysteries of love?

“When Raimundo Silva, a lowly proofreader for a Lisbon publishing house, inserts a negative into a sentence of a historical text, he alters the whole course of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon.

Fearing censure he is met instead with admiration:  Dr. Maria Sara, his voluptuous new editor, encourages him to pen his own alternative history.

As his retelling draws on all his imaginative powers, Silva finds – to his nervous delight – that if the facts of the past can be rewritten as a romance then so can the details of his own dusty bachelor present.”

Saramago suggests so many scenarios one could use and have been used by other authors in the past:

What if you had the power to change the past? (time travel)(Time Cop)

What if you had the power to enter the world of literature? (fantasy)(Inkheart)

What if you deliberately altered the record of the past to better reflect and justify the present? (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four)

 

Telling the tale of the taking of Porto Cathedral also carries with it some responsibility.

I don’t wish to glorify the Portuguese, for their history is not a bloodless nor innocent one in regards to their colonialism or dark dictatorship days.

I don’t wish to increase the innate antagonism between the Portuguese and the Spanish, for, in my humble opinion, writing should seek to unite humanity rather than divide it, even if history is truly horrific.

 

Still I smell a story just begging to be written, replete with drama and suspense – a kind of Die Hard meets Braveheart scenario, maybe mixed with a dash of Timeline and Timecop.

 

Maybe this is all just idle musings, for my mind is much like the late comedian Robin Williams’ observations of former US President George W. Bush’s span of attention:

“My fellow Americans….

Oh! Look at the baby!

Squirrel!”

Above: Robin Williams (1951 – 2014)

 

What I am left with when I consider the taking of Porto Cathedral is not so much that an extraordinarily beautiful house of worship was seized or a symbol of a religious affliation defiled.

Rather I find it interesting that the very church where the English-Portuguese Alliance came into being would become a battlefield in maintaining that alliance.

The whole story has the feel of witnessing a bully at a wedding seize one of the guests and threaten to kill him if the couple continues on with the nuptial ceremony.

Couples may not always co-exist harmoniously but nothing unites a couple more than someone else trying to separate them.

Though Portugal may have lost the War of the Oranges, Portugal’s defiance of bullying Spain ensured Britain’s assistance a few years later and strengthened Portuguese resolve to maintain their own alliances on their own terms.

I don’t see prevailing gloom within the Sé of Porto but rather my mind escapes up from the shadows and into the cloisters of magnificent azulejos and ascends the grand staircase to the dazzling chapterhouse with its sweeping views from the windows.

It is all a matter of perspective.

The Spanish seized a Cathedral and lost it.

The French and the Spanish defeated Portugal and later were defeated by the very alliance they tried to destroy.

Red may have spilled from soldier wounds and the faithful injured, but red is also half the colour of the Portuguese flag: combative, hot, virile.

A singing, ardent, joyful colour ever reminding of victory despite the high cost.

I don’t hear the lamentations of the frightened nor the murmuring of prayers and exhortations to God, but rather the fever and fervour of the resilient and determined.

As the words ring out strong and clear the Portuguese national anthem proudly proclaims:

“Unfurl the unconquerable flag in the bright light of your sky!

Cry out all Europe and the whole world that Portugal has not perished.

Your happy land is kissed by the ocean that murmurs with love.

And your conquering arm has given new worlds to the world!”

Two centuries, four months and a matter of weeks later, America would on 11 September 2001, suffer an attack far more devastating and tragic than the now-and-long forgotten taking of Porto Cathedral, but nothing strengthens a nation more than adversity or unites it into determined defiance against those who would seek to diminish it.

Like the United States, no one bothers or bullies Portugal any more.

Of the trials and tribulations Portugal, like the United States, has endured, much has been created by itself and resolved by itself.

To be blunt, the Sé, this Cathedral of Porto, to this world weary traveller is quite forgettable.

What Porto Cathedral represents, isn’t.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Portugal / Porto and Northern Portugal: Journeys and Stories

Canada Slim and the Holy Field of Sparrows

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 20 July 2018

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

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

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

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

Perhaps my stories will encourage you to visit….

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Above: The City of Belgrade

Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday 5 April 2018

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

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

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

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

Above: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

 

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

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

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Above: Nesha Obranovic, the man, the legend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Alphonse de Lamartine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was elected a deputy in 1833.

Flag of France

Above: Flag of modern France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From then on he confined himself to prose.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He subsequently retired from politics and dedicated himself to literature.

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

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

He died in Paris in 1869.

Above: The tomb of Alphonse de Lamartine, Paris

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Aleksander Diklac)

 

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

Though certainly there were those who tried.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To the gods of the underground world!

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

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

He is lying here now.

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

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

But ye dead I can no longer revive.”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harmony did not reign among the first Christians, either.

 

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

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

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

Attila died on the first night of his marriage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hagia Sophia was consecrated in 537.

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

Front view of Church of Saint Sava

It was intended to resemble the magnificent Hagia Sophia.

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

Patience, my gentle readers, we are getting there.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Pope John VIII Illustration.jpg

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Rulers die and empires fall.

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

 

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

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

The Bulgars were massacred.

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

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

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

Samuil of bolgaria reconstruction.jpg

Above: Forensic reconstruction of Samuilo

 

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

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

Enter, St. Sava (1169 – 1236)

Sveti Sava Kraljeva Crkva Detalj.jpg

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

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

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

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

(Hum was a province between Neretva and Dubrovnik.)

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

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

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

 

Meanwhile….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next day Stefan and Ana took monastic vows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1199, he authored the typikon of Karyes.

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

His father died on 13 February 1199.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simeon was canonized in 1206.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He died on 14 January 1235.

Above: Where Sava died, Trnovo, Bulgaria

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The ruined and deserted city became a border base.

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

 

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

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

For an entire century, Belgrade resisted Turkish incursions.

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

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

EmperorSuleiman.jpg

Above: Suleiman I (1494 – 1566)

 

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

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

Mutiny struck throughout the Ottoman Empire.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Construction was halted when the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941.

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

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

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

Construction resumed on 12 August 1985.

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

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

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

By 2017, the exterior of the church was complete.

Work continues on the interior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The choir gallery seats 800 singers.

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

Above: The crypt of the Church of St. Sava

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Above: Flag of the Serbian Orthodox Church

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

Religion plays an important role in Serbian daily life.

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

 

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

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

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

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

And somehow St. Sava captures that nuance.

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

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

It is waiting to share this passion with you.

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

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