Canada Slim and the Humanitarian Adventure

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Tuesday 10 December 2019

There are things in Switzerland (and in our existence) that we simply take for granted:

And the thing about Swiss stereotypes is that some of them are true.

Diplomatic?

Yes.

Efficient?

Absolutely.

Boring?

Only at first glance.

Despite being one of the most visited countries in Europe, Switzerland remains one of the least understood.

It is more than simply the well-ordered land of cheese, chocolate, banks and watches.

It is more than a warm summer mountain holiday upon a cobalt blue lake, more than skiing down the slopes of some vertiginous Alp, more than postcard pristine beauty.

It is easy for the tourist to remain blissfully unaware of Swiss community spirit, that it speaks four official languages, that it possesses stark regional differences from canton to canton, that it has exubrant carnivals, culinary traditions and sophisticated urban centres.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

With its beautiful lakeside setting, Geneva (Genève) is a cosmopolitan city whose modest size belies its wealth and importance on the world stage.

French-speaking and Calvinistic it is a dynamic centre of business with an outward-looking character tempered by a certain reserve.

Geneva’s major sights are split by the Rhône River that flows into Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) and through the city’s several distinct neighbourhoods.

On the south bank (rive gauche), mainstream shopping districts Rive and Eaux-Vives climb from the water’s edge to Plainpalais and Vieille Ville, while the north bank (rive droite) holds grungy bars and hot clubbing Pâquis, the train station area and some world organizations.

 

A view over Geneva and the lake

 

A little over 1 km north of the train station is the international area, home to dozens of international organizations that are based in Geneva –  everything from the World Council of Churches to Eurovision.

Trains and buses roll up to the Place des Nations.

Gates on the Place des Nations open to the Palais des Nations, now occupied by UNOG, the United Nations Office at Geneva, the European headquarters of the United Nations, accessible only to visitors who sign up for a tour.

The huge monolith just off the square to the west, that looks like a bent playing card on its edge, is WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization), the highrise to the south is ITU (the International Telecommunications Union), just to the east is UNHCR (the United Nations High Commission for Refugees), and so on, and so on, and so on, an infinite combination of letters of the alphabet in an infinite variety of abbreviations and acronyms.

The giant Broken Chair which looms over the square was installed in 1997 for the international conference in Ottawa (Canada’s capital) banning the use of land mines, a graphic symbol of the victims of such weapons.

 

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Geneva is also the birthplace of the International Red Cross / Crescent / Crystal Movement.

And it was the latter, along with the International Museum of the Reformation, that compelled me to visit Geneva.

 

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(For details about the Musée Internationale de la Réforme, please see Canada Slim and the Third Man in my other blog, The Chronicles of Canada Slim.)

 

Genevè, Suisse, mardi le 23 janvier 2018

Housed within the HQ of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Musée International de la Croix-Rouge et du Croissant Rouge chronicles the history of modern conflict and the role the Red Cross has played in providing aid to combatants and civilians caught up in war and natural disasters.

Enter through a trench in the hillside opposite the public entrance of UNOG and emerge into an enclosed glass courtyard beside a group of bound and blindfolded stone figures.

The stone gathering represents the continual worldwide violation of human rights.

 

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Inside, above the ticket desk, is a quotation in French from Dostoevsky:

Everyone is responsible to everyone else for everything.

 

Portrait by Vasili Perov, 1872

Above: Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881)

 

A free audioguide takes you through the Museum.

 

Twenty-five years ago, Laurent Marti, a former ICRC delegate, had the idea of creating the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum.

 

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Above: Laurent Marti

 

Marti won the wives of US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Gorbachev over to his cause in a bid to obtain the support of their respective countries, together with that of local and international societies and personages and of various multinational companies representing a full range of human activities.

 

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Above: Nancy Reagan (née Davis) (1921 – 2016)

 

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Above: Raisa Gorbacheva (née Titarenko) (1932 – 1999)

 

The goal of the Museum is to emanate a very powerful atmosphere where no one leaves without having been shaken and deeply moved by what they had seen.

Suffering, death, wounds and mutiliations can be followed by a time of healing, restoration, reunification and an opportunity to be happy again, a right that seemed to have been withdrawn.

Of course, the scars remain deep within the human soul, but the hope of restoration and of a return to normalcy is the message of the Museum.

 

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The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is dedicated to preventing and alleviating human suffering in warfare and in emergencies, such as earthquakes, epidemics and floods.

The Movement is composed of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the 188 individual national societies.

Each has its own legal identity and role, but they are all united by seven fundamental principles:

  •  humanity
  •  impartiality
  •  neutrality
  •  independence
  •  voluntary service
  •  unity
  •  universality

The interactive chronology covers one and a half centuries of history, starting with the creation of the Red Cross.

For each year, the events listed include:

  •  armed conflicts which caused the death of more than 10,000 people and/or affected more than one million people
  •  epidemics and disasters that caused the deaths of more than 1,000 people and/or affected more than one million people
  •  significant events in the history of the Movement
  •  cultural and scientific milestones

 

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In 1859 Henri Dunant was travelling on business through northern Italy.

 

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

 

He found himself close to the Solferino battlefield just after the fighting.

The battle of Solferino was a key episode in the Italian Wars.

 

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With the support of France under Napoleon III, Victor Emmanuel II of Savoy, King of Piedmont, endeavoured to unite the different Italian states.

In spring 1859 the Piedmont forces clashed with the Austrian Empire, which had control over Lombardy and Venetia.

On 24 June 1859, the Franco-Piedmontese troops defeated the Austrians at Solferino, in a battle that left more than 40,000 dead and wounded.

Overwhelmed by the sight of thousands of wounded soldiers left without medical care, Dunant organized basic relief with the assistance of the local people.

 

 

On that memorable 24th of June 1859, more than 300,000 men stood facing each other.

The fighting continued for more than 15 hours.

No quarter is given.

It is a sheer butchery, a struggle between savage beasts.

The poor wounded men that were picked up all day long were ghastly pale and exhausted.

Some, who had been the most badly hurt, had a stupified look.

How many brave soldiers, undettered by their first wounds, kept pressing on until a fresh shot brought them to earth.

Men of all nations lay side by side on the flagstone floors of the churches of Castiglione.

The shortage of assistants, orderlies and helpers was cruelly felt.

I sought to organize as best I could relief.

The women of Castiglione, seeing that I made no distinction between nationalities, followed my example.

Siamo tutti fratelli” (we are all brothers), they repeated feelingly.

 

Above: Ossuary of Solferino

 

But why have I told of all these scenes of pain and distress?

Is it not a matter of urgency to press forward to prevent or at least alleviate the horrors of war?

Would it not be possible, in time of peace and quiet, to form relief societies given to the wounded in wartime?

Societies of this kind, once formed and their permanent existence assured, would be always organized and ready for the possibility of war.

Would it not be desirable to formulate some international principle, sanctioned by a Convention inviolate in character, which, once agreed upon and ratified, might constitute the basis for societies for the relief of the wounded?

 

Above: Ossuary of Solferino

 

Back home in Geneva, Dunant wrote A Memory of Solferino.

The book was published in 1862 and was an immediate success.

 

 

In it, Dunant made two proposals:

  • the formation of relief societies which would care for wounded soldiers
  • the establishment of an international convention to guarantee their safety

Those ideas led, the following year, to the foundation of the Red Cross, and ten months later to the first Geneva Convention.

 

 

In 1863, in response to Dunant’s appeal, Gustave Moynier persuaded the Geneva Public Welfare Society to consider the possibility of training groups of volunteer nurses to provide relief for the wounded.

A committee was set up, the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded, the future ICRC, was born.

 

Above: Gustave Moynier (1826 – 1910)

 

The need to defend human dignity has been a constant concern throughout history.

From the Code of Hammurabi (1750 BC) to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), texts from all periods and cultures exist to testify to that.

Those texts were frequently written in response to incidents in which human dignity was shown no consideration – slavery, chemical weapons, civilian bombing, concentration camps, atomic bombing, sexual violence, landmines, child soldiers, prisoners with no legal status.

Throughout time mankind has determined:

  • that the strong should not suppress the weak (Code of Hammurabi – Mwaopotamia 1750 BC)

Above: Stele of the Code of Hammurabi

 

  • that peace is possible between warring nations (Treaty of Kadesh, the oldest peace treaty known to man and the first written international treaty –  Egypt 1279 BC)

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Above: Treaty of Kadesh

 

  • that we should be free to practice our own religions (Cyrus Cylinder – Persia 539 BC)

Front view of a barrel-shaped clay cylinder resting on a stand. The cylinder is covered with lines of cuneiform text

Above: Cyrus Cylinder

 

  • that we should not do unto others what we don’t wish done to ourselves (The Analects of Confucius – China 480 BC)

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Above: The Analects

  • that we should live lives of non-violence with respect towards all (The Edicts of Ashoka – India 260 BC)

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Above: The Edicts of Ashoka

 

  • that power should not be used arbitrarily nor imprisonment without just cause (The Magna Carta – England 1215)

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Above: Magna Carta

 

  • that all persons are free and that no one is a slave to another (The Manden Charter – Mali 1222)

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Above: The Manden Charter

 

  • that women and children and the insane have dignity and rights that must be respected (The Viqayet – Muslim Spain 1280)

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  • that mankind has natural and inalienable rights (freedom, equality, justice, community) (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen – France 1789)

 

  • that the wounded need to be treated regardless of nationality, that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and in rights (Universal Declaration of Human Rights – United Nations 1948)

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The original title of the initial Geneva Convention was the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field.

It had only ten articles and one sole objective:

To limit the suffering caused by war.

Article 7 provided for the creation of the protective emblem of the red cross.

This document laid the foundations of international humanitarian law, marks the start of the humanitarian adventure.

By 2013, 194 nations are party to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949.

(See http://www.icrc.org for the complete list.)

 

The Museum explains how the Geneva Conventions developed from one man’s battlefield encounter.

After Dunant’s publication of A Memory of Solferino in November 1862, Gustave Moynier (1826 – 1910), chairman of the Geneva Public Welfare Society, in response to Dunant’s appeal, persuaded Society members the following February to consider the possibility of training groups of volunteer nurses to provide relief for the war wounded.

An ad hoc committee was set up – the International Committee for Relief to the Wounded.

The future ICRC was born.

 

Above: ICRC Headquarters, Geneva

 

Ambulances and military hospitals shall be recognized as neutral and as such protected and respected by the belligerants as long as they accommodate wounded and sick.” (Article 1)

Inhabitants of the country who bring help to the wounded shall be respected and shall remain free.” (Article 5)

Wounded or sick combatants, to whatever nation they may belong, shall be collected and cared for.” (Article 6)

A distinctive and uniform flag shall be adopted for hospitals, ambulances and evacuation parties.” (Article 7)

A red cross on a white background was adopted in 1863, followed by a red crescent, a red lion and red sun (1929) and a red crystal (2005).

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Flag of the Red Crescent.svg

Red Lion with Sun.svgFlag of the Red Crystal.svg

 

To protect the victims of conflict, the ICRC has at its disposal several instruments defined by international humanitarian law.

“At all times, parties to the conflict shall, without delay, take all possible measures to search for and collect the wounded and sick.”

“The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.”

“The parties to the conflict shall endeavour to conclude local agreements for the passage of medical personnel and medical equipment.”

“Civilian hospitals may in no circumstances be the object of attack.”

“It is prohibited to commit any acts of hostility directed against historic monuments, works of art or places of worship.”

“Works or installations containing dangerous forces, namely dams, dykes and nuclear stations shall not be made the object of attack.”

“It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensible to the survival of the civilian population.”

 

Above: The Red Cross in action, 1864

 

The Second World War (1939 – 1945) involved 61 countries in war and caused the death of around 60 million people, more than half of whom were civilians.

In 1945 more than 20 million people had been displaced.

In 1995 the ICRC publicly described its attitude to the Second World War Holocaust as a “moral failure“.

 

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Above: Images of World War II (1939 – 1945)

 

The persecution of the Jews by the Nazis began shortly after Hitler came to power in 1933 and subsequently continued to intensify, culminating in systematic extermination from 1942 onwards.

 

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Above: Auschwitz, Poland, May 1944

 

At the time, the ICRC had no legal instrument to protect civilians.

The 1929 Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War applied only to members of the armed forces.

The organization thus considered itself powerless in the face of the anti-Semitic fury of the Nazi dictatorship.

 

Flag of Germany

 

Thus in October 1942 the Committee refused, in particular, to launch a public appeal on behalf of civilians affected by the conflict.

Although the International Red Cross endeavoured to provide aid for Jewish civilians, it erred on the side of caution.

 

Above: Jewish women, occupied Paris, June 1942

 

It was not until the spring of 1944 that a change of strategy took shape.

As Germany’s war efforts collapsed, ICRC delegates belatedly managed to enter some concentration camps, becoming voluntary hostages in order to prevent the further massacre or forced evacution of the prisoners.

 

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Above: Auschwitz, May 1944

 

The harsh lesson of the Second World War had been learned.

In 1949 the Fourth Geneva Convention was adopted:

It provides protection for civilians during armed conflict.

It was complemented in 1977 by additional protocols which reinforce the protection given to victims of armed conflicts, international or domestic.

In particular, the additional protocols established the distinction between civilians and combatants.

 

In an armed conflict, the ICRC’s mandate is to ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions.

When the ICRC observes serious violations of the Conventions, it points them out to the countries concerned in confidential reports.

However, on occasion, that information has been published in the press:

  • Le Monde during the Algerian War

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Above: Images of the Algerian War (1954 – 1962)

 

  • The Wall Street Journal about Abu Ghraib Prison

Above: Lynndie England with “Gus“, Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq

 

  • The New York Review of Books / Wikileaks about Guantanamo Prison

Above: Guantanamo “Gitmo” Prison, Cuba

 

Such leaks put the ICRC in a difficult position as discretion is a necessary part of its work and its discussions with the authorities.

Its confidentialiy policy actually facilitates access to detainees, wounded people and groups of civilians.

When humanitarian diplomacy fails, the ICRC then resorts to a more open form of communication.

It then issues press releases publicly condemning serious violations of the Conventions.

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In the 1980s the United Nations Security Council set up ad hoc tribunals to judge the crimes committed in former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda.

In 1998 the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established.

It was a permanent institution with the power to open investigations, to prosecute and to try people accused of committing war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity.

The ICC began its work in 2005 by opening three investigations into crimes:

  • in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • in Uganda
  • in the Sudan

The existence of a permanent international court gives the world the means of determining facts and of punishing those responsible for the crimes.

It gives victims an opportunity to have their voice heard.

 

Official logo of International Criminal Court Cour pénale internationale  (French)

Above: Logo of the International Criminal Court

 

Poverty, migration, urban violence….

All of them are present-day threats to human dignity.

All over the world, large sections of the population are living in extremely precarious hygenic conditions.

 

Economic changes are forcing more and more people to emigrate.

Those migrants, who frequently have no identity documents, are exploited and ostracized.

In some megacities, whole districts are at the mercy of armed groups which terrorize the inhabitants.

Each of those situations presents a challenge to which a response must be found.

 

Above: Syrian refugees, Ramtha, Jordan, August 2013

 

Since the First World War, the ICRC has had the right to visit prisoners of war and civilian detainees during an international armed conflict.

In other situations, the right to meet prisoners must be negotiated with the authorities.

Visiting prisons, talking to the detainees and making lists of their names are ways of preventing disappearances and ill treatment.

After each prison visit, ICRC delegates write a report.

They must have access to all places of detention and be allowed to repeat their visits as often as necessary.

The visits always follow the same procedure.

Following a meeting with those in charge of the prison, the delegates inspect the premises: cells, dormitories, toilets, the exercise yard, the kitchen and any workshops.

They draw up a list of prisoners and interview them in private without witnesses.

At the end of the visit, the delegates inform those in charge of the prison of their observations.

They then prepare a confidential report for the authorities.

 

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The visitor sees many photographs of prison visits, including those to a German POW camp in Morocco, to French POWs in a German Stalag, political detainees in Chile, detainees in Djibouti….

But it is items from these visits given by prisoners to the ICRC delegates that tell far more emotional stories.

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Some examples:

  • a model village showing ICRC activities in Rwanda
  • a doll figure of a female delegate made in an Argentinian prison
  • a pearl snake made by Ottoman prisoners
  • a necklace with a Red Cross pendant made by a lady prisoner in Lebanon
  • a ciborium (a container for Catholic mass hosts – symbols of the body of Christ) made of bread by Polish prisoners of conscience
  • a bar of soap carved into the shape of a detainee in a cell made by a Burmese artist imprisoned for suspected ties to the opposition party

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An installation in the Museum that followed seemed somewhat incongruous….

Therein the visitor can change and produce large flows of different colours by touching a wall.

The idea is that the larger the number of visitors, the richer the flow of colours, so as to provide an interactive experience that appeals to people’s senses, emotions and feelings, thus all visitors become part of a colourful celebration of human dignity.

Honestly….

This felt more like a gimmick to capture children’s hyperactive attention than an exhibit that strengthens human unity, designed more to entertain than educate.

 

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Human beings are social beings who are defined by their links with others.

When those links are broken, we lose part of our identity and our bearings.

Of the many activities the ICRC performs, the giving and receiving of news and finding one’s loved ones again are understood to be elements of stability that are critical during crisis situations.

 

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This Museum has, like the Reformation Museum in this city, as other museums in other cities and countries I have visited, its own Chamber of Witnesses – video testimonials whose lifelike likenesses are meant to invoke within the voyeur a sense of how we are not unlike those speaking with us electronically.

We see Toshihiko Suzuki, a dentist and specialist in craniofacial anatomy, tell us how he identified victims of the 2011 tsunami.

We learn of the experience of Sami El Haj, an Al Jazeera journalist held in Guantanamo from 2002 to 2008.

We consider the life of Liliose Iraguha, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide.

We marvel at the resilience of human beings by listening to Boris Cyrulnik, a French neuropsychiatrist and ethologist.

 

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During a conflict or a natural disaster, many people are cut off from their families – by capitivity, separation or disappearance.

Tracing one’s loved ones and passing on one’s news become basic needs.

 

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Originally intended for victims of war, the ICRC tracing services subsequently expanded to include persecuted civilians.

More recently, tracing activities have been extended to families who have become separated as a result of natural disasters or migration.

The International Prisoners of War Agency (1914 – 1923) was established by the ICRC, shortly after the start of the First World War – which involved 44 states and their colonies and caused the death of more than 8 million people, 20 million wounded and in the immediate post-war period of epidemics, famine and destitution another 30 million deaths.

Organised in national sections, its archives contain six million index cards that document what happened to two million people: prisoners of war, civilian internees and missing civilians from occupied areas.

The cards contain information about individual detainees. when they were taken captive, where they were held and, if relevant, when they died.

People who were without news of a loved one could present a request to the Agency, which would then send them what information it had.

Today the Agency’s documents are still used to reply to requests from families as well as to enquiries from historians.

And, as far as I could tell, the Agency is now in the Museum.

It contains:

  • 5,119 boxes with 6 million index cards
  • 2,413 files containing information provided by the belligerents
  • 600,000 pages filling 20 linear metres of general files

This location is fitting for it was in the Rath Museum in Geneva where the Agency once was.

In all, more than 3,000 volunteers, most of them women, worked there during the conflict.

During the War, the Agency dispatched 20 million messages between detainees and their families and forwarded nearly 2 million individual parcels as well as several tonnes of collective relief.

The Agency’s role was also to obtain the repatriation of prisoners who had been taken captive in breach of the Geneva Conventions: doctors, nurses, stretcher bearers and military chaplains.

It helped to ensure that the wounded were returned home or interned in neutral countries.

 

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The pacifist writer Romain Rolland was one of the Agency’s first volunteers:

Its peaceful work, its impartial knowledge of the actual facts in the belligerent countries, contribute to modify the hatred which wild stories have exasperated and to reveal what remains of humanity in the most envenomed enemy.

 

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Above: Romain Rolland (1866 – 1944)

 

It was not until the end of the Second World War that Europe realized the extent of the tragedy affecting civilians.

The International Tracing Service (ITS) was then established.

The ITS has files on more than 17 million people: civilians persecuted by the Nazis, displaced persons, children under the age of 18 who had become separated from their families, forced labourers and people held in concentration camps or labour camps.

The ITS was set up in Bad Arolsen, Germany, and has helped millions of people to trace their loved ones.

 

Above: International Tracing Services, Bad Arolsen, Germany

 

Nowadays, the need to trace missing people also extends to the victims of natural disasters and to migrants, using not only index cards, but photo tracing (used to find nearly 20,000 children missing during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda), distributions of name lists (for example, the Angola Gazette – a list of people who went missing during the Angolan Civil War from 1975 to 2002) and the Internet (for example, http://www.familylinks.icrc.org).

 

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Despite all tracing efforts, sometimes missing people do not get found, do not go home.

In that case, receiving confirmation of death puts an end to uncertainty and enables families to begin the process of mourning and to start to rebuild their lives.

The erection of memorials is one way of honouring the dead and of giving them a place of dignity in the collective memory.

 

 

For example, in 1995 the city of Srebrenica was attacked by forces under the command of General Radko Mladic.

 

 

Mladic had the women and children of this refuge of hounded Muslim civilians separated from the men and forced to leave Srebrenica.

The men were hunted down and killed.

More than 8,000 people went missing.

By 2010 only 4,500 victims had been identified and buried.

 

 

When faced with a collective tragedy and without a dead body, families are completely at a loss.

A memorial is sometimes their only means of paying tribute to the dead, of giving them a place in the collective consciousness and of recalling the events that led to those disappearances.

Examples include victims from:

  • the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima

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Above: Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbuko Dome)

 

  • the deportation of Jews from France

 

  • the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia

 

  • the Soviet gulags

Solovetsky Stone

 

  • the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine

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  • the civil war in Peru

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  • the earthquake in Sichuan, China

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  • the 9/11 attack in New York City

 

Communication is often disrupted during a conflict or a natural disaster.

In circumstances like that, receiving news from one’s family is a source of joy and relief.

There are different ways of sending news:

  • Red Cross messages (in use for more than a century)
  • Radio messages
  • Videoconferencing
  • Satellite telephones

 

A Red Cross message is a short personal missive that was first used in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 – 1871).

It is still in use today.

Each year, thousands of messages are distributed in more than 65 countries with the help of the ICRC.

To make sure that they reach the addressees, messengers sometimes travel long distances to extremely remote areas.

The messages themselves are generally very simple.

The main thing is to enable people to pass brief news on to their loved ones – their state of health, their place of shelter or detention.

 

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For example, the Museum shows messages:

  • sent by a French POW to his godmother in Switzerland
  • exchanged by a French POW in Morocco and Algeria and his family in France
  • written by aircraft passengers taken hostage in Jordan in 1970
  • illustrated by children during the Yugoslav conflict in 1994
  • by a Sudanese detainee in Guantanamo
  • from a Greek child refugee following the Cyprus conflict of 1974
  • from a mother to her son in Liberia
  • from a little girl writing to her parents in the Congo
  • written by a woman to her brother in prison in Kirghizstan

 

In Columbia, the radio programme Las voces del secuestro broadcasts family messages to people held hostage in the jungle, enabling more than 18,000 people to send news to their loved ones.

 

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In Bagram Prison in Afghanistan, no family visits are allowed, so in 2008 the ICRC and the American authorities developed a videoconferencing system to enable the detainees to communicate with their loved ones.

In the space of just a few months, 70% of the detainees were able to contact their families.

 

Above: Parwan Detention Facility, Bagram, Afghanistan

 

And finally the Restoring Family Links exhibition concludes with works by Congolese artist Chuck Ledy and Benin artist Romuald Hazouma.

 

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Humanity has progressed by refusing to accept the inevitability of the phenomena that endanger it.

In the face of natural disasters and epidemics, communities take action to prevent the worst, to save lives and to preserve resources.

Another Chamber of Witnesses:

  • Benter Aoko Odhiambo, the head of a Kenyan orphanage and the initiator of a market gardening programme
  • Abul Hasnat, a Bangladeshi school teacher and a Red Crescent volunteer
  • Madeleen Helmer, the Dutch head of the ICRC Climate Centre
  • Jiaqi Kang, a Chinese student in Switzerland

 

After all, prevention concerns us all.

Blast Theory, a group of British artists, designed the game Hurricane to test the effectiveness of natural disaster preparedness activities.

Planting mangroves, constructing high-level shelters, building up reserve stocks of food and organizing evacuation exercises are all part of the game and involve actors such as ICRC delegates, village leaders, experts and volunteers.

As the hurricane strikes, the players have to evacuate the villagers.

At the end of the game tells us how many lives were saved.

 

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Posters are key communication instruments in prevention initiatives.

The link between pictures and text makes the messages easy for everyone to understand.

The Museum’s collection of some 12,000 posters from more than 120 countries tells of the many different activities developed by the ICRC.

Nowadays, as the impact of global warming becomes clearer, the ICRC is increasingly involved in natural disaster preparedness.

 

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The ICRC was very quick to perceive the role that the cinema could play in promoting its activities.

Some films focused on prevention – hygiene, epidemics and accidents.

Others on training volunteers in first aid or life saving.

While preventing illnesses and accidents is ancient history, the management of risks associated with natural disasters is a more recent development.

A workshop at the Haute école d’art et de design (Gèneve) was given a free hand to create new montages using more than 1,000 films from the Museum’s collection.

 

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Above: Haute école d’art et de design, Genève

 

Prevention is first and foremost about saving lives.

A number of different measures can be taken to provide protection: building shelters, installing early warning systems, carrying out evacuation exercises and providing hygiene education.

All these activities mobilize the local communities and the humanitarian organizations.

They sometimes call for substantial investment.

It is easy to raise funds during disasters when emotions are running high.

It is more difficult to raise funds for longer-term work.

Nonetheless, one dollar invested in prevention is two to ten dollars saved in emergency relief and reconstruction work.

 

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All of this is brought into sharp focus by the three “théâtres optiques” (Cyclone, Tsunami and Latrines), created for the Museum by the French artist Pierrick Sorin.

 

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Above: Pierrick Sorin

 

Let’s take, for example, Bangladesh.

 

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Above: Flag of Bangladesh

 

In 1970, Cyclone Bhola caused one of the worst natural disasters in history.

A 10-metre high wave and winds of 220 km/hour caused the death of 500,000 people here.

A cyclone preparedness programme was then launched, which included an early warning system, the construction of shelters and the training of evacuation volunteers.

 

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In November 2007, Cyclone Sidr, one of the most powerful ever recorded, hit parts of Bengal and Bangladesh, affecting nearly 9 million people and causing vast economic damage.

1.5 million people were evacuated before the Cyclone struck.

Although 3,500 people died, this number of deaths was far below the 1970 disaster.

 

 

Or let’s consider Brazil.

 

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Above: Flag of Brazil

 

Infectious diarrhoea can affect people throughout the world.

It is most frequently caused by water that has been contaminated by faeces.

Around 2 million people die from diarrhoea every year, most of them children in developing countries.

In 2008 more than 2 billion individuals were without suitable latrines.

Almost half of them defecated in the open air.

In 1997, the authorities in Salvador de Bahia in Brazil launched a water purification programme in the city.

A university team monitored 2,000 children under the age of 3, most of whome were living in impoverished urban districts.

The results showed that water purification had a direct impact on health:

The overall number of cases of diarrhoea fell by 22% in the city and by 43% in the poorest areas.

 

From the top, clockwise: Pelourinho with the Church of the Third Order of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black People; view of the Lacerda Elevator from the Comércio neighborhood; Barra Lighthouse; the Historic Center seen from the Bay of All Saints; monument to the heroes of the battles of Independence of Bahia and panorama of Ponta de Santo Antônio and the district of Barra.

Above: Images of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil

 

The Museum was never designed with the intention of casting blame or lavishing praise upon particular countries or particular individuals, but rather it shows the situations, both general and particular, in which the ICRC functions and to further a better understanding of what they do.

The ICRC aids victims, not on account of their particular nationality or their particular cause, but purely and simply because they are human beings who are suffering and are in need of help.

It strives to assuage all human distress which has no hope of effective aid from other sources.

The ICRC desires to relieve above all that suffering which is brought about by man, brought about by man’s inhumanity to man, and is more painful on that account and more difficult to relieve.

 

The most terrible form of man’s inhumanity to man is war and that is why the idea of the Red Cross was born in the field of battle.

The Red Cross is a third front above and across two belligerent fronts, a third front directed against neither of them but for the benefit of both.

The combatants in this third front are interested only in the suffering of the defenceless human being, irrespective of his nationality, his convictions or his past.

The ICRC fights wherever they can against all inhumanity, against every degradation of the human personality, against all injustice directed against the defenceless.

These neutrals on this humanitarian front are free of the prejudice and hostility which is so natural to men engaged in warfare.

The dominant idea and the essence of the Geneva Convention is equality of treatment for all sick and wounded persons whether they are friends or enemies.

 

It is the fulfilment of the cry of Solferine:

Siamo tutti fratelli.

We are all brothers.

 

 

The Museum is a living embodiment of that humanitarian adventure.

It is an edifice of humanity working for humanity.

And it is good.

 

John Lennon

 

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Switzerland / Rough Guide to Switzerland / Red Cross Museum, The Humanitarian Adventure / The International Committee of the Red Cross, Basic Rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols / Dr. Marcel Junod, Warrior without Weapons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Current War

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 17 October 2018

(Continued from Canada Slim and the Visionary)

What has gone before….

I visited Serbia this past April and spent a few wonderful days exploring the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

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Of the many wonders to explore and of the many things Belgrade and Serbia have to offer, one particular attraction that stands out is the Nikola Tesla Museum.

Nikola Tesla was a great Serb physicist and inventor who almost, but not quite, became an international household name.

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

Above: Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943)

Many say that if it were not for occasional stubbornness and a poor sense of financial management, Tesla might have ended up as famous as Edison or Einstein.

Despite a lack of international recognition, Tesla remains a Serbian national hero.

It is his face that currently decorates the 100 dinar note.

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In the first part of three (this is the second) I briefly spoke of Hugo Gernsback that made Tesla as famous as he did become and I spoke of his life before he left for the United States.

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Above: Hugo Gernsback (1884 – 1967)

 

What follows is the sad story of a prisoner execution, a deadly blizzard and a very ugly battle between two business magnates with Tesla smack dab in the middle of it all….

 

But first….

Let there be light.

 

The first type of widely used electric light was the arc lamp.

These lamps had been around for most of the 19th century but by the late 1870s were beginning to be installed in cities in large scale systems powered by central generating plants.

Arc lighting systems were extremely brilliant and capable of lighting whole streets, factory yards, or the interior of large buildings.

They needed high voltages (above 3,000 volts) and some ran better on alternating current.

Alternating current had been under development for a while in Europe with contributions being made to the field by Guillaume Duchenne (1850s), the dynamo work of Zénobe Gramme, Ganz Works (1870s), Sebastian Ziani de Ferranti (1880s), Lucien Gaulard, and Galileo Ferraris.

The high voltages allowed a central generating station to supply a large area, up to 7-mile (11 km) long circuits since the capacity of a wire is proportional to the square of the current traveling on it, each doubling of the voltage allowed the same size cable to transmit the same amount of power four times the distance.

1880 saw the installation of large-scale arc lighting systems in several US cities including a central station set up by the Brush Electric Company in December 1880 to supply a 2-mile (3.2 km) length of Broadway in New York City with a 3,500–volt demonstration arc lighting system.

The disadvantages of arc lighting were:

It was maintenance intensive, buzzed, flickered, constituted a fire hazard, was really only suitable for outdoor lighting, and, at the high voltages used, was dangerous to work with.

 

In 1878 inventor Thomas Edison saw a market for a system that could bring electric lighting directly into a customer’s business or home, a niche not served by arc lighting systems.

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Above: Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931)

 

By 1882 the investor-owned utility Edison Illuminating Company was established in New York City.

Edison designed his “utility” to compete with the then established gas lighting utilities, basing it on a relatively low 110 volt direct current supply to power a high resistance incandescent lamp he had invented for the system.

Edison direct current systems would be sold to cities throughout the United States, making it a standard with Edison controlling all technical development and holding all the key patents.

 

Direct current worked well with incandescent lamps, which were the principal load of the day.

Direct-current systems could be directly used with storage batteries, providing valuable load-leveling and backup power during interruptions of generator operation.

Direct-current generators could be easily paralleled, allowing economical operation by using smaller machines during periods of light load and improving reliability.

Edison had invented a meter to allow customers to be billed for energy proportional to consumption, but this meter worked only with direct current.

Direct current also worked well with electric motors, an advantage DC held throughout the 1880s.

The primary drawback with the Edison direct current system was that it ran at 110 volts from generation to its final destination giving it a relatively short useful transmission range:

To keep the size of the expensive copper conductors down generating plants had to be situated in the middle of population centers and could only supply customers less than a mile from the plant.

 

Starting in the 1880s, alternating current gained its key advantage over direct current with the development of functional transformers that allowed the voltage to be “stepped up” to much higher transmission voltages and then dropped down to a lower end user voltage for business and residential use.

Using induction coils to transfer power between electrical circuits had been around for 40 years with Pavel Yablochkov using them in his lighting system in 1876 and Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs using the principle to create a “step down” transformer in 1882, but the design was not very efficient.

A prototype of the high efficiency, closed core shunt connection transformer was made by the Hungarian “Z.B.D.” team (composed of Károly Zipernowsky, Ottó Bláthy and Miksa Déri) at Ganz Works in 1884.

Above: (left to right) Károly Zipernowsky, Otto Bláthy, Miksa Déri

The new Z.B.D. transformers were 3.4 times more efficient than the open core bipolar devices of Gaulard and Gibbs.

Transformers in use today are designed based on principles discovered by the three engineers.

Their patents included another major related innovation:

The use of parallel connected (as opposed to series connected) power distribution.

Ottó Bláthy also invented the first AC electricity meter.

The reliability of this type of AC technology received impetus after the Ganz Works electrified Rome, a large metropolis, in 1886.

 

In North America the inventor and entrepreneur George Westinghouse entered the electric lighting business in 1884 when he started to develop a DC system and hired William Stanley, Jr. to work on it.

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Above: George Westinghouse (1846 – 1914)

Westinghouse became aware of the new European transformer based AC systems in 1885 when he read about them in the UK technical journal Engineering.

He grasped that AC combined with transformers meant greater economies of scale could be achieved with large centralized power plants transmitting stepped up voltage very long distances to be used in arc lighting as well lower voltage home and commercial incandescent lighting supplied via a “step down” transformer at the other end.

Westinghouse saw a way to build a truly competitive system instead of simply building another barely competitive DC lighting system using patents just different enough to get around the Edison patents.

The Edison DC system of centralized DC plants with their short transmission range also meant there was a patchwork of un-supplied customers between Edison’s plants that Westinghouse could easily supply with AC power.

Westinghouse purchased the US patents rights to the Gaulard-Gibbs transformer and imported several of those as well as Siemens AC generators to begin experimenting with an AC-based lighting system in Pittsburgh.

 

William Stanley used the Gaulard-Gibbs design and designs from the ZBD transformer to develop the first practical transformer.

The Westinghouse Electric Company was formed at the beginning of 1886.

In March 1886 Stanley, with Westinghouse’s backing, installed the first multiple-voltage AC power system, a demonstration incandescent lighting system, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

Expanded to the point where it could light 23 businesses along main street with very little power loss over 4000 feet, the system used transformers to step 500 AC volts at the street down to 100 volts to power incandescent lamps at each location.

By fall of 1886 Westinghouse, Stanley, and Oliver B. Shallenberger had built the first commercial AC power system in the US in Buffalo, New York.

By the end of 1887 Westinghouse had 68 alternating current power stations to Edison’s 121 DC-based stations.

Above: William Stanley (1858 – 1916)

 

To make matters worse for Edison, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts (another competitor offering AC- and DC-based systems) had built 22 power stations.

Thomson-Houston was expanding their business while trying to avoid patent conflicts with Westinghouse, arranging deals such as coming to agreements over lighting company territory, paying a royalty to use the Stanley AC transformer patent, and allowing Westinghouse to use their Sawyer-Man incandescent bulb patent.

 

Besides Thomson-Houston and Brush there were other competitors at the time included the United States Illuminating Company and the Waterhouse Electric Light Company.

 

All of the companies had their own electric power systems, arc lighting systems, and even incandescent lamp designs for domestic lighting, leading to constant lawsuits and patent battles between themselves and with Edison.

 

Elihu Thomson of Thomson-Houston was concerned about AC safety and put a great deal of effort into developing a lightning arrestor for high-tension power lines as well as a magnetic blowout switch that could shut the system down in a power surge, a safety feature the Westinghouse system did not have.

Thomson also worried what would happen with the equipment after they sold it, assuming customers would follow a risky practice of installing as many lights and generators as they could get away with.

He also thought the idea of using AC lighting in residential homes was too dangerous and had the company hold back on that type of installations until a safer transformer could be developed.

 

Due to the hazards presented by high voltage electrical lines most European cities and the city of Chicago in the US required them to be buried underground.

The City of New York did not require burying and had little in the way of regulation so by the end of 1887 the mishmash of overhead wires for telephone, telegraph, fire and burglar alarm systems in Manhattan were now mixed with haphazardly strung AC lighting system wires carrying up to 6000 volts.

Insulation on power lines was rudimentary, with one electrician referring to it as having as much value “as a molasses covered rag“, and exposure to the elements was eroding it over time.

A third of the wires were simply abandoned by defunct companies and slowly deteriorating, causing damage to, and shorting out the other lines.

In June 1884, Tesla emigrated to the United States from Paris.

He arrived in America with four cents in his pocket (he had been robbed aboard ship), a book of poetry and a letter of recommendation.

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“I wish that I could put into words my first impressions of this country.

In the Arabian Tales I read how genii transported people into a land of dreams to live through delightful adventures.

My case was just the reverse.

What I had left was beautiful, artistic and fascinating in every way.

What I saw here was machined, rough and unattractive.

A burly policeman was twirling his stick which looked to me as big as a log.

I approached him politely with the request to direct me.

Six blocks down, then to the left.“, he said, with murder in his eyes.

Is this America?“, I asked myself in painful surprise.

It is a century behind Europe in civilization.

When I went abroad in 1889 – five years having elapsed since my arrival here – I became convinced that it was more than one hundred years AHEAD of Europe and nothing has happened to this day to change my opinion.”

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“The meeting with Edison was a memorable event in my life.

I was amazed at this wonderful man who, without early advantages and scientific training, had accomplished so much.

I had studied a dozen languages, delved in literature and art, and had spent my best years in libraries reading all sorts of stuff that fell into my Hands, from Newton’s Principia to the novels of Paul de Kock, and felt that most of my life had been squandered.

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Above: Isaac Newton (1642 – 1727)

But it did not take long before I recognized that it was the best thing I could have done.

Within a few weeks I had won Edison’s confidence and it came about this way:

The SS Oregon, the fastest passenger steamship at the time, had both of its lighting machines disabled and its sailing delayed.

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As the superstructure had been built after their installation it was impossible to remove them from the hold.

The predicament was a serious one and Edison was much annoyed.

In the evening I took the necessary instruments with me and went aboard the vessel where I stayed for the night.

The dynamos were in bad condition, having several short circuits and breaks, but with the assistance of the crew I succeeded in putting them in good shape.

At five o’clock in the morning, when passing along 5th Avenue on my way to the shop, I met Edison with Batchelor and a few others as they were returning home to retire.

Above: Charles Batchelor (1845 – 1910)

Here is our Parisian running around at night.“, he said.

When I told him that I was coming from the Oregon and had repaired both machines, he looked at me in silence and walked away without another word.

But when he had gone some distance I heard him remark:

Batchelor, this is a damn good man.

 

From that time on I had full freedom in directing the work.

 

For nearly a year my regular hours were from 10:30 am to 5 o’clock the next morning without a day’s exception.

 

Edison said to me:

I have had many hard-working assistants but you take the cake.

 

During this period I designed 24 different types of standard machines with short cores and of uniform pattern which replaced the old ones.”

(A few notes for those of an unscientific background:

Imagine a blanket that covers everything and stretches into infinity.

Imagine that this blanket consists of two types of energy: that which remains stationary (magnetic) and that which is constantly in motion (electrical).

Further imagine that within all matter there is, on the subatomic level, particles of a positive nature (protons) and a negative nature (electrons) and that they create fields that either attract or repel other particles towards or away from them.

This force’s presence and motions between these particles is manifested in current (how this flow varies over time) by either direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC).

Direct current means that there is a one-way flow from positive magnetic spot to negative magnetic spot.

Alternating current means that the current flow can reverse direction repeatedly.

Direct current means direct contact with a conductor, for example, a copper wire, but much energy is lost as heat due to wire resistance.

Alternating current means that the waves of electromagnetic radiation (manifested in the form of heat) rather than travelling through a wire will instead ride upon the surface of the wire.

Direct current motors sparked, needed constant replacements and servicing, and offered limited range.

But until Tesla no one had found an effective method to create an AC motor.)

 

Meanwhile, Hugo Gernsback (né Gernsbacher)(1884 – 1967) was born in Luxembourg Ville to Moritz Gernsbacher, a Jewish winemaker, and his wife Berta (née Dürlacher).

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Above: Flag of Luxembourg

 

Tesla began working almost immediately at the Machine Works on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in an overcrowded shop with a workforce of several hundred machinists, labourers, managing staff and 20 field engineers struggling with the task of building the largest electric utility in New York City.

As in Paris, Tesla was working on troubleshooting installations and improving generators.

Tesla met Thomas Alva Edison only a couple of times.

Edison called Tesla “the Poet of Science“, for both men had very different approaches.

Where Edison was a practical, mercantile, trial and error man, Nikola Tesla was a theoretical, well-educated business-naive visionary who never fully understood the American tendency to disbelief in science unless it was cloaked in the “show me” sensibility.

Tesla had been working at the Machine Works for a total of six months when he quit.

Tesla had made considerable improvements on DC dynamos, but when he approached Edison for the money he had been promised he was told:

Tesla, you don’t understand American humour.

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Above: Nikola Tesla

 

This caused Tesla to resign and to form his own company, Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing, but this came to nought as his investors pulled out over his plan for an alternating current motor.

Soon after leaving the Edison company, Tesla was working on patenting an arc lighting system.

Tesla worked for the rest of the year obtaining the patents that included an improved AC generator, but investors showed little interest in his ideas for new types of alternating current motors and electrical transmission equipment.

By 1886 the inventor was left penniless so he had to work at various electrical repair jobs and as a ditch digger.

 

In late 1886, Tesla met Alfred S. Brown, a Western Union superintendent, and New York attorney Charles F. Peck.

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The two men were experienced in setting up companies and promoting inventions and patents for financial gain.

Based on Tesla’s new ideas for electrical equipment, including a thermo-magnetic motor idea, they agreed to back the inventor financially and handle his patents.

Together they formed the Tesla Electric Company in April 1887, with an agreement that profits from generated patents would go 1/3 to Tesla, 1/3 to Peck and Brown, and 1/3 to fund development.

They set up a laboratory for Tesla at 89 Liberty Street in Manhattan, where he worked on improving and developing new types of electric motors, generators, and other devices.

 

In 1887, Tesla developed an induction motor that ran on AC, a power system format that was rapidly expanding in Europe and the United States because of the advantages in long-distance, high-voltage transmission.

The motor used polyphase current, which generated a rotating magnetic field to turn the motor.

This innovative electric motor had a simple self-starting design that avoided sparking and the high maintenance of constantly servicing and replacing mechanical brushes.

Along with getting Tesla’s motor patented, Peck and Brown arranged to get the motor publicized, starting with independent testing to verify that it was a functional improvement, followed by press releases sent to technical publications for articles to run concurrent with the issue of the patent.

Physicist William Arnold Anthony (who tested the motor) and Electrical World magazine editor Thomas Commerford Martin arranged for Tesla to demonstrate his AC motor on 16 May 1888 at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Engineers working for the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company reported to George Westinghouse that Tesla had a viable AC motor and related power system – something Westinghouse needed for the alternating current system he was already marketing.

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Westinghouse decided that Tesla’s patent would probably control the market.

In July 1888, Brown and Peck negotiated a licensing deal with George Westinghouse for Tesla’s polyphase induction motor and transformer designs for $60,000 in cash and stock and a royalty of $2.50 per AC horsepower produced by each motor.

Westinghouse also hired Tesla for one year for the large fee of $2,000 ($54,500 in today’s dollars) per month to be a consultant at the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company’s Pittsburgh labs.

During that year, Tesla worked in Pittsburgh, helping to create an alternating current system to power the city’s streetcars.

He found it a frustrating period because of conflicts with the other Westinghouse engineers over how best to implement AC power.

Between them, they settled on a 60-cycle AC system that Tesla proposed (to match the working frequency of Tesla’s motor), but they soon found that it would not work for streetcars, since Tesla’s induction motor could run only at a constant speed.

They ended up using a DC traction motor instead.

 

Tesla’s demonstration of his induction motor and Westinghouse’s subsequent licensing of the patent, both in 1888, came at the time of extreme competition between electric companies.

The three big firms, Westinghouse, Edison, and Thompson-Houston, were trying to grow in a capital-intensive business while financially undercutting each other.

There was even a propaganda campaign going on with Edison Electric trying to claim their direct current system was better and safer than the Westinghouse alternating current system.

Competing in this market meant Westinghouse would not have the cash or engineering resources to develop Tesla’s motor and the related polyphase system right away.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 (11 – 14 March 1888) was one of the most severe recorded blizzards in the history of the United States of America.

The storm, referred to as the Great White Hurricane, paralyzed the East Coast from Chesapeake Bay to Maine, as well as the Atlantic provinces of Canada.

Snowfalls of 10 to 58 inches (25 to 147 cm) fell in parts of New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, and sustained winds of more than 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet (15 m).

Railroads were shut down, and people were confined to their houses for up to a week.

Railway and telegraph lines were disabled, and this provided the impetus to move these pieces of infrastructure underground.

Emergency services were also affected.

 

The Great Blizzard of 1888 tore down a large number of the lines, cutting off utilities in the city.

This spurred on the idea of having these lines moved underground but it was stopped by a court injunction obtained by Western Union.

Legislation to give all the utilities 90 days to move their lines into underground conduits supplied by the city was slowly making its way through the government but that was also being fought in court by the United States Illuminating Company, who claimed their AC lines were perfectly safe.

As AC systems continued to spread into territories covered by DC systems, with the companies seeming to impinge on Edison patents including incandescent lighting, things got worse for the company.

The price of copper was rising, adding to the expense of Edison’s low voltage DC system, which required much heavier copper wires than higher voltage AC systems.

Thomas Edison’s own colleagues and engineers were trying to get him to consider AC.

Edison’s sales force was continually losing bids in municipalities that opted for cheaper AC Systems and Edison Electric Illuminating Company president Edward Hibberd Johnson pointed out that if the company stuck with an all DC system it would not be able to do business in small towns and even mid-sized cities.

Edison Electric had a patent option on the ZBD transformer, and a confidential in-house report recommended that the company go AC, but Thomas Edison was against the idea.

 

After Westinghouse installed his first large scale system Edison wrote in a November 1886 private letter to Edward Johnson:

Just as certain as death Westinghouse will kill a customer within six months after he puts in a system of any size.

He has got a new thing and it will require a great deal of experimenting to get it working practically.

 

Edison seemed to hold a view that the very high voltage used in AC systems was too dangerous and that it would take many years to develop a safe and workable system.

Safety and avoiding the bad press of killing a customer had been one of the goals in designing his DC system and he worried that a death caused by a mis-installed AC system could hold back the use of electricity in general, Edison’s understanding of how AC systems worked seemed to be extensive.

He noted what he saw as inefficiencies and that, combined with the capital costs in trying to finance very large generating plants, led him to believe there would be very little cost savings in an AC venture.

Edison was also of the opinion that DC was a superior system (a fact that he was sure the public would come to recognize) and inferior AC technology was being used by other companies as a way to get around his DC patents.

 

In February 1888 Edison Electric president Edward Johnson published an 84-page pamphlet titled “A Warning from the Edison Electric Light Company” and sent it to newspapers and to companies that had purchased or were planning to purchase electrical equipment from Edison competitors, including Westinghouse and Thomson Houston, stating that the competitors were infringing on Edison’s incandescent light and other electrical patents.

It warned that purchasers could find themselves on the losing side of a court case if those patents were upheld.

The pamphlet also emphasized the safety and efficiency of direct current, with the claim DC had not caused a single death, and included newspaper stories of accidental electrocutions caused by alternating current.

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As arc lighting systems spread so did stories of how the high voltages involved were killing people, usually unwary linemen, a strange new phenomenon that seemed to instantaneously strike a victim dead.

One such story in 1881 of a drunken dock worker dying after he grabbed a large electric dynamo led Buffalo, New York, dentist Alfred P. Southwick to seek some application for the curious phenomenon.

He worked with local physician George E. Fell and the Buffalo ASPCA, electrocuting hundreds of stray dogs, to come up with a method to euthanize animals via electricity.

Southwick’s 1882 and 1883 articles on how electrocution could be a replacement for hanging, using a restraint similar to a dental chair (an electric chair) caught the attention of New York State politicians who, following a series of botched hangings, were desperately seeking an alternative.

An 1886 commission appointed by New York governor David B. Hill, which including Southwick, recommended in 1888 that executions be carried out by electricity using the electric chair.

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Above: William Kemmler (1860 – 1890), the world’s first person to be executed by electric chair (6 August 1890)

 

There were early indications that this new form of execution would become mixed up with the war of currents.

As part of their fact-finding, the commission sent out surveys to hundreds of experts on law and medicine, seeking their opinions, as well as contacting electrical experts, including Elihu Thomson and Thomas Edison.

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Above: Elihu Thomson (1853 – 1937)

 

In late 1887, when death penalty commission member Southwick contacted Edison, the inventor stated he was against capital punishment and wanted nothing to do with the matter.

After further prompting, Edison hit out at his chief electric power competitor, George Westinghouse, in what may have been the opening salvo in the war of currents, stating in a December 1887 letter to Southwick that it would be best to use current generated by “‘alternating machines,’ manufactured principally in this country by George Westinghouse“.

 

Soon after the execution by electricity bill passed in June 1888, Edison was asked by a New York government official what means would be the best way to implement the state’s new form of execution.

“Hire out your criminals as linemen to the New York electric lighting companies” was Edison’s tongue in cheek answer.

 

As the number of deaths attributed to high voltage lighting around the country continued to mount, a cluster of deaths in New York City in the spring of 1888 related to AC arc lighting set off a media frenzy against the “deadly arc-lighting currentand the seemingly callous lighting companies that used it.

These deaths included a 15-year-old boy killed on 15 April by a broken telegraph line that had energized with alternating current from a United States Illuminating Company line, a clerk killed two weeks later by an AC line, and a Brush Electric Company lineman killed in May by the AC line he was cutting.

The press in New York seemed to switch overnight from stories about electric lights vs gas lighting to “death by wire” incidents, with each new report seeming to fan public resentment against high voltage AC and the dangerously tangled overhead electrical wires in the city.

 

Tesla became a US citizen in 1889.

In 1889, Tesla moved out of the Liberty Street shop Peck and Brown had rented and for the next dozen years would work out of a series of workshop/laboratory spaces in Manhattan.

These included a lab at 175 Grand Street (1889–1892), the fourth floor of 33–35 South Fifth Avenue (1892–1895), and sixth and seventh floors of 46 & 48 East Houston Street (1895–1902).

Mark Twain in Tesla's lab, 1894

Above: Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) at Tesla’s 5th Avenue laboratory

 

Tesla and his hired staff would conduct some of his most significant work in these workshops.

 

In the summer of 1889, Tesla traveled to the Exposition Universelle in Paris and learned of Heinrich Hertz’s 1886–88 experiments that proved the existence of electromagnetic radiation, including radio waves.

Tesla found this new discovery “refreshing” and decided to explore it more fully.

In repeating, and then expanding on, these experiments, Tesla tried powering a Ruhmkorff coil with a high speed alternator he had been developing as part of an improved arc lighting system but found that the high frequency current overheated the iron core and melted the insulation between the primary and secondary windings in the coil.

To fix this problem Tesla came up with his Tesla coil with an air gap instead of insulating material between the primary and secondary windings and an iron core that could be moved to different positions in or out of the coil.

Two years after signing the Tesla contract, Westinghouse Electric was in trouble.

The near collapse of Barings Bank in London triggered the financial panic of 1890, causing investors to call in their loans to Westinghouse Electric.

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The sudden cash shortage forced the company to refinance its debts.

The new lenders demanded that Westinghouse cut back on what looked like excessive spending on acquisition of other companies, research, and patents, including the per motor royalty in the Tesla contract.

At that point, the Tesla induction motor had been unsuccessful and was stuck in development.

Westinghouse was paying a $15,000-a-year guaranteed royalty even though operating examples of the motor were rare and polyphase power systems needed to run it were even rarer.

 

After 1890, Tesla experimented with transmitting power by inductive and capacitive coupling using high AC voltages generated with his Tesla coil.

He attempted to develop a wireless lighting system based on near-field inductive and capacitive coupling and conducted a series of public demonstrations where he lit Geissler tubes and even incandescent light bulbs from across a stage.

He would spend most of the decade working on variations of this new form of lighting with the help of various investors but none of the ventures succeeded in making a commercial product out of his findings.

 

In 1891 Tesla established his own laboratory in Houston Street, where he lit up vacuum tubes as evidence for the potential of wireless power transmission.

 

In early 1891, George Westinghouse explained his financial difficulties to Tesla in stark terms, saying that, if he did not meet the demands of his lenders, he would no longer be in control of Westinghouse Electric and Tesla would have to “deal with the bankers” to try to collect future royalties.

The advantages of having Westinghouse continue to champion the motor probably seemed obvious to Tesla and he agreed to release the company from the royalty payment clause in the contract.

 

At the beginning of 1893, Westinghouse engineer Benjamin Lamme had made great progress developing an efficient version of Tesla’s induction motor and Westinghouse Electric started branding their complete polyphase AC system as the “Tesla Polyphase System“.

Westinghouse Electric asked Tesla to participate in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago where the company had a large space in a building devoted to electrical exhibits.

Looking West From Peristyle, Court of Honor and Grand Basin, 1893.jpg

Westinghouse Electric won the bid to light the Exposition with alternating current and it was a key event in the history of AC power, as the company demonstrated to the American public the safety, reliability, and efficiency of a fully integrated alternating current system.

 

Tesla showed a series of electrical effects related to alternating current as well as his wireless lighting system, using a demonstration he had previously performed throughout America and Europe.

These included using high-voltage, high-frequency alternating current to light a wireless gas-discharge lamp.

An observer noted:

“Within the room were suspended two hard-rubber plates covered with tin foil.

These were about fifteen feet apart and served as terminals of the wires leading from the transformers.

When the current was turned on, the lamps or tubes, which had no wires connected to them, but lay on a table between the suspended plates, or which might be held in the hand in almost any part of the room, were made luminous.

These were the same experiments and the same apparatus shown by Tesla in London about two years previous, where they produced so much wonder and astonishment.”

 

Tesla also explained the principles of the rotating magnetic field in an induction motor by demonstrating how to make a copper egg stand on end, using a device that he constructed known as the Egg of Columbus and introduced his new steam powered oscillator AC generator.

The Egg of Columbus

 

At St. Louis’s Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the National Electric Light Association, Tesla told his audience that he was sure a system like his could eventually conduct “intelligible signals or perhaps even power to any distance without the use of wires” by conducting it through the Earth.

 

Edward Dean Adams, who headed up the Niagara Falls Cataract Construction Company, sought Tesla’s opinion on what system would be best to transmit power generated at the falls.

The city of Niagara Falls. In the foreground are the waterfalls known as the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, respectively, from left to right.

Over several years, there had been a series of proposals and open competitions on how best to use power generated by the falls.

Among the systems proposed by several US and European companies were two-phase and three-phase AC, high-voltage DC and compressed air.

Adams pumped Tesla for information about the current state of all the competing systems.

Tesla advised Adams that a two-phased system would be the most reliable, and that there was a Westinghouse system to light incandescent bulbs using two-phase alternating current.

The company awarded a contract to Westinghouse Electric for building a two-phase AC generating system at the Niagara Falls, based on Tesla’s advice and Westinghouse’s demonstration at the Columbian Exposition that they could build a complete AC system.

At the same time, a further contract was awarded to General Electric to build the AC distribution system.

Westinghouse Generators at Niagara Falls.jpg

In 1897 Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s patent for a lump sum payment of $216,000 as part of a patent-sharing agreement signed with General Electric (a company created from the 1892 merger of Edison and Thompson-Houston).

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The money Tesla made from licensing his AC patents made him independently wealthy and gave him the time and funds to pursue his own interests.

And it would be this pursuit of his own interests that would take a highly-respected engineer and, through Hugo Gernsback, make him into a legend….

Sources:  Wikipedia / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions

Canada Slim and the Family of Mann

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 August 2018

Perhaps I should have been recovering from yesterday’s Street Parade in Zürich, at present the most attended techno-parade in the world.

Officially it is a demonstration for freedom, love and tolerance attended by up to one million people.

In reality it has all the character of a popular festival, despite (technically) being a political demonstration.

The streets are packed, the music is loud and live, electronics throb and flash, dancing till dizziness, alcohol flows, drugs dispensed….

Somehow the message is we should all live together in peace and tolerance.

In my experience a mob of drunken stoned revellers doesn’t suggest peace and tolerance.

Instead I quietly celebrated a sad anniversary today.

 

On this day in 1955 the Nobel Prize-winning German author Thomas Mann died.

 

Kilchberg, Swizerland, 12 August 2018

German author Thomas Mann and his family made their home in Kilchberg near Zürich overlooking the Lake of Zürich, and most of them are buried here.

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As well, Swiss author Conrad Ferdinand Meyer lived and died in Kilchberg and is honoured by a Museum here.

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(Today was my third and finally successful attempt to visit this Museum.

More on this in a future blog….)

The chocolatier David Sprüngli-Schwartz of the chocolate manufacturer Lindt & Sprüngli died in Kilchberg, now the headquarters of the company.

(More on Lindt in a future blog….)

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Prior to moving to Switzerland in 2010, I had never met nor heard of anyone named Golo, which to my mind sounds like an instruction….

I’ll take the high road. 

You, go low.

In this region, Golo is associated with, among other things, Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955), the Nobel Prize (1929) winning author of Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain, and his brood.

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Above: Thomas Mann

Thomas and his wife Katia (1883 – 1980) had six children:

  • Erika (1905 – 1969)
  • Klaus (1906 – 1949)
  • Golo (1909 – 1994)
  • Monika (1910 – 1992)
  • Elisabeth (1918 – 2002)
  • Michael (1919 – 1977)

With the notable exception of Klaus who rests in peace in a cemetery in Cannes (France), Thomas lies buried with his wife and their other children in the same final resting ground of Kilchberg Cemetery just south of the city of Zürich.

 

Thomas, Katia, Erika, Monika, Elisabeth and Michael all share the same gravesite in the Kilchberg Cemetery.

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Though Golo is in the same cemetery, his grave stands separated away from the rest of his Kilchberg-interred family, in fulfillment of his last will and testament.

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There is no denying that Golo’s desire to be buried separately from his family made me curious….

 

During my convalescence in Klinik Schloss Mammern (19 May – 15 June) I took a day trip across the Lake of Constance to the German village of Gaienhofen with its Hermann Hesse Museum’s exhibition: “The Manns at Lake Constance“.

Above: Hermann Hesse Museum, Gaienhofen, Germany

(More on Hermann Hesse in future blogs…)

 

Also, I have long known that Golo Mann brought his family, in the summers of 1956 and 1957, to Altnau (the next town east on the Lake from Landschlacht).

Above: The guesthouse Zur Krone where Golo worked on his German History of the 19th and 20th Centuries, Altnau, Switzerland

 

In this day and age where many of us forget what we ate for supper without a photo on Instagram, many people (predominantly German speakers) still recall the name of Thomas Mann, but, as is common with the passage of time, we rarely recall the obscure names of the children of the more-famous parents.

 

Pop Quiz:

What were the names of the children of world famous William Shakespeare (1584 – 1616) or Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)?

Give up?

So did I.

I had to search on Wikipedia.

 

William’s:

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Above: William Shakespeare

Susanna (1583 – 1649), Hamnet (1585 – 1596) and Judith (1585-1662)

 

Albert’s:

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Above: Albert Einstein

Lieserl (1902 – 1903), Hans (1904 – 1973) and Eduard (1910 – 1965)

 

This is not to suggest that these six individuals are not worth remembering but rather that their memory is overshadowed by the fame of their fathers and the passage of time.

 

(To be fair, famous children have also been known to overshadow their progenitors.

Who knows the names of Sammy Davis Sr., Martin Luther King Sr., or Robert Downey Sr. without the fame of their sons?)

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Above: Robert Downey Jr. (Chaplin, Air America, Iron Man)

 

So, I confess, my repeated encounters with the name of Golo Mann made me curious about him and his famous father.

 

Paul Thomas Mann (full name) was born in Lübeck, Germany, the second son of Lutheran Thomas Mann (grain merchant/senator) and Brazilian-born Roman Catholic Julia da Silva Bruhns.

Mann’s father died in 1891 and his trading firm liquidated.

Julia moved the family to Munich, where Thomas studied at the University of Munich to become a journalist.

Thomas lived in Munich until 1933, with the exception of a year spent in Palestrina, Italy, with his elder brother Heinrich.

Above: Heinrich Mann (1871 – 1950)

 

Thomas’s career as a writer began when he wrote for the magazine Simplicissimus, publishing his first short story “Little Mr. Freidemann” in 1898.

In 1901, Mann’s first novel Buddenbrooks was published.

Based on Mann’s own family, Buddenbrooks relates the decline of a merchant family in Lübeck over the course of three generations.

 

That same year, Mann met Englishwoman Mary Smith, but Mann was a friend of the violinist/painter Paul Ehrenberg, for whom he had feelings which caused Mann difficulty and discomfort and were an obstacle to marrying Smith.

By 1903, Mann’s feelings for Ehrenberg had cooled.

 

In 1905, Mann married Katia Pringsheim (1883 – 1980), daughter of a wealthy, secular Jewish industrial family.

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Above: Thomas Mann and Katia Pringsheim-Mann

 

Erika was born that same year.

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Above: Erika Mann-Auden (1905 – 1969)

Mann expressed in a letter to Heinrich his disappointment about the birth of his first child:

It is a girl.

A disappointment for me, as I want to admit between us, because I had greatly desired a son and will not stop to hold such a desire.

I feel a son is much more full of poetry, more than a sequel and restart for myself under new circumstances.

 

Klaus was born the following year, with whom Erika was personally close her entire life.

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Above: Klaus Mann (1906 – 1949)

They went about “like twins” and Klaus would describe their closeness as:

Our solidarity was absolute and without reservation.”

 

Golo (remember him?) was born in 1909.

Above: Golo Mann (1909 – 1994)

 

In her diary his mother Katia described him in his early years as sensitive, nervous and frightened.

His father hardly concealed his disappointment and rarely mentioned Golo in his diary.

Golo in turn described Mann:

Indeed he was able to radiate some kindness, but mostly it was silence, strictness, nervousness or rage.

Golo was closest with Klaus and disliked the dogmatism and radical views of Erika.

 

Monika, the 4th child of Mann and Katia, was born in 1910.

Above:(from left to right) Monika, Golo, Michael, Katia, Klaus, Elisabeth and Erika Mann, 1919

 

Mann’s diaries reveal his struggles with his homosexuality and longing for pederasty (sex between men and boys).

His diaries reveal how consumed his life had been with unrequited and subliminated passion.

In the summer of 1911, Mann stayed at the Grand Hotel des Bains on the Lido of Venice with Katia and his brother Heinrich, when Mann became enraptured by Wladyslaw Moes, a 10-year-old Polish boy.

Above: Grand Hotel des Bains, Venezia

This attraction found reflection in Mann’s Death in Venice (1912), most prominently through the obsession of the elderly Aschenbach for the 14-year-old Polish boy Tadzio.

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Mann’s old enemy, Alfred Kerr, sarcastically blamed Death in Venice for having made pederasty acceptable to the cultivated middle classes.

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Above: Alfred Kerr (né Kempner)(1867 – 1948)

 

That same year, Katia was ill with a lung complaint.

Above: Wald Sanatorium, Davos

In 1912, Thomas and Katia moved to the Wald Sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, which was to inspire his 1924 book The Magic Mountain – the tale of an engineering student who, planning to visit his cousin at a Swiss sanatorium for only three weeks, finds his departure from the sanatorium delayed.

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In 1914, the Mann family obtained a villa, “Poshi“,  in Munich.

Above: The Mann residence “Poshi“, Munich

By 1917, Mann had a particular trust in Erika as she exercised a great influence on his important decisions.

Little Erika must salt the soup.” was an often-used phrase in the Mann family.

Elisabeth, Mann’s youngest daughter, was born in 1918.

That same year, Mann’s diary records his attraction to his own 13-year-old son “Eissi” – Klaus:

5 June 1918: “In love with Klaus during these days“.

22 June 1918: “Klaus to whom I feel very drawn“.

11 July 1918: “Eissi, who enchants me right now“.

25 July 1918:  “Delight over Eissi, who in his bath is terribly handsome.  Find it very natural that I am in love with my son….Eissi lay reading in bed with his Brown Torso naked, which disconcerted me.

 

In 1919, the last child and the youngest son, Michael was born.

 

On 10 March 1920, Mann confessed frankly in his diary that, of his six children, he preferred the two oldest, Klaus and Erika, and little Elisabeth:

“….preferred, of the six, the two oldest and Little Elisabeth with a strange decisiveness.”

(Golo and Michael are not mentioned.)

17 October 1920:  “I heard noise in the boys’ room and surprised Eissi completely naked in front of Golo’s bed acting foolish.  Strong impression of his premasculine, gleaming body.  Disquiet.”

 

Klaus’s early life was troubled.

His homosexuality often made him the target of bigotry and he had a difficult relationship with his father.

 

In 1921, Erika transferred to the Luisen Gymnasium (high school).

While there she founded an ambitious theatre troupe, the Laienbund Deutscher Miniker and was engaged to appear on the stage of the Deutsches Theater in Berlin for the first time.

The pranks she pulled with her Herzog Park Gang prompted Mann and Katia to send her and Klaus to a progressive residential school, the Bergschule Hochwaldhausen in Vogelsberg, for a few months.

Increasingly sensing his parents’ home as a burden, Golo attempted a kind of break-out by joining the Boy Scouts in the spring of 1921.

Sadly, on one of the holiday marches, Golo was the victim of a sexual violation by his group leader.

 

New horizons opened up for Golo in 1923, when he entered the boarding school in Salem, feeling liberated from home and enjoying the new educational approach.

There in the countryside near Lake Constance, Golo developed an enduring passion for hiking through the mountains, although he suffered from a lifelong knee injury.

 

Klaus began writing short stories in 1924, while Erika graduated and began her theatrical studies in Berlin, which were frequently interrupted by performances in Hamburg, Munich, Berlin, Bremen, and other places in Germany.

In 1925 Klaus became drama critic for a Berlin newspaper and wrote the play Anja und Esther – about a group of four friends who were in love with each other – which opened in October 1925 to considerable publicity.

Actor Gustaf Gründgens played one of the lead male roles alongside Klaus while Klaus’s childhood friend Pamela Wedekind and Erika played the lead female roles.

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Above: Gustaf Gründgens (1899 – 1963)

During the year they all worked together, Klaus became engaged with Pamela and Erika with Gustaf, while Erika and Pamela and Klaus and Gustaf had homosexual relationships with each other.

That same year Golo suffered a severe mental crisis that overshadowed the rest of his life.

In those days the doubt entered my life, or rather, broke in with tremendous power.

I was seized by darkest melancholy.

 

For Erika and Gustaf’s honeymoon in July 1926, they stayed in the same hotel that Erika and Pamela had used as a couple, with Pamela checking in dressed as a man.

 

In 1927, Golo commenced his law studies in Munich, moving the same year to Berlin, switching to history and philosophy.

Klaus travelled with Erika around the world, visiting the US in 1927, and reported about this in essays published as a colloborative travelogue, Rundherum: Das Abenteuer einer Weltreise (All the Way Round) in 1929.

 

Klaus broke off his engagement with Pamela in 1928.

Golo used the summer of 1928 to learn French in Paris and to get to know “real work” in a coal mine in eastern Germany, abruptly stopping because of new knee injuries.

Erika became active in journalism and politics.

 

Golo entered the University of Heidelberg in 1929.

Erika and Gustaf divorced.

Meanwhile Mann had a cottage built in the fishing village of Nida, Lithuania, where there was a German artists colony, spending the summers of 1930 – 1932 working on Joseph and His Brothers.

(It took Mann 16 years to complete this.)

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Above: Joseph the Provider, the 4th and last volume of the Joseph and His Brothers tetralogy (1943)

(Today, the cottage is a cultural centre dedicated to him.)

Above: Thomas Mann Cultural Centre, Nida, Lithuania

Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1929.

That same year, Klaus travelled with Erika to North Africa, where they made the acquaintance of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, a Swiss writer and photographer, who remained close to them for the next few years.

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Above: Annemarie Schwarzenbach (1908 – 1942)

 

In 1930, Mann gave a public address in Berlin (“An Appeal to Reason“) strongly denouncing National Socialism (Nazis) and encouraging resistance against them by the working class.

Golo joined a socialist student group in Heidelberg.

Meanwhile, Monika, after boarding school at Schloss Salem, trained as a pianist in Lausanne and spent her youth in Paris, Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin.

 

In 1931, Erika was an actor in the Leontine Sagan film about lesbianism, Mädchen in Uniform (Maidens in Uniform) but left the production before its completion.

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With Klaus, she published The Book of the Riviera: Things You Won’t Find in Baedekers.

 

In 1932, she published Stoffel fliegt übers Meer (Stoffel flies over the ocean), the first of seven children’s books.

That year, Erika was denounced by the Brownshirts after she read a pacifist poem to an anti-war meeting.

As a result she was fired from an acting role after the theatre concerned was threatened with a boycott by the Nazis.

She successfully sued both the theatre and a Nazi-run newspaper.

She had a role, alongside Therese Giehse, in the film Peter Voss, Thief of Millions.

Peter Voss, Thief of Millions (1932 film).jpg

In January 1933, Erika and Klaus and Therese Giehse founded a cabaret in Munich called Die Pfeffermühle (the pepper mill), for which Erika wrote most of the material, much of which was anti-Fascist.

The cabaret lasted two months before the Nazis forced it to close and Erika left Germany.

She was the last member of the Mann family to leave Germany after the Nazi regime was elected.

She saved many of Mann’s papers from their Munich home when she escaped to Zürich.

 

Heinrich, Mann’s brother, was the first person to be stripped of German citizenship when the Nazis took office.

When the Nazis came to power Mann and Katia were on holiday in Switzerland.

While at Sanary-sur-Mer in the southeast of France, (where Monika joined her parents) Mann learned from his children Klaus and Erika in Munich that it would not be safe for him to return to Germany due to Mann’s strident denunciation of Nazi policies.

A view of the harbour and waterfront in Sanary-sur-Mer

Above: Sanary-sur-Mer, France

Golo looked after the Mann house in Munich in April, helped Monika, Elisabeth and Michael leave the country and brought most of his parents’ savings via Karlsruhe and the German embassy in Paris to Switzerland.

On 31 May 1933, Golo left Germany for the French town of Bandol.

He spent the summer at the mansion of the American travel writer William Seabrook near Sanary-sur-Mer and lived six weeks at the new family home in Küsnacht.

Above: List of literary celebrities who fled the Nazis and once lived in Sanary-sur-Mer (Not mentioned are Jacques Cousteau, Frederic Dumas and Ernest Blanc – oceanographers Cousteau and Dumas lived and invented the aqualung here while native Blanc was a famous opera performer.)

In November Golo joined the École Supérieure at Saint-Cloud (near Paris) as a German language teacher and wrote for the emigrants’ journal Die Sammlung (The Collection) founded by Klaus.

 

In 1934 Monika studied music and art history in Firenze, where she met Hungarian art historian Jenö Lányi.

In November 1934 Klaus was stripped of German citizenship by the Nazi government.

He became a Czechoslovak citizen through Czech businessman Rudolf Fleischmann, an admirer of Mann’s work, who arranged Klaus’ naturalization to his Bohemian town of Prosec.

Golo wanted to take the opportunity to continue his studies in Prague, but soon stopped the experiment.

 

In 1935, when it became apparent that the Nazis were intending to strip Erika of her German citizenship, she asked Christopher Isherwood (1904 – 1986) if he would marry her so she could become a British citizen.

Above: Christopher Isherwood (left) and W.H. Auden (right)

He declined but suggested the gay poet W.H. Auden (1907 – 1973) who readily agreed to a marriage of convenience.

Erika and Auden never lived together, but remained on good terms throughout their lives and were still married when Erika died in 1969, leaving him with a small bequest in her will.

In November, Golo accepted a position to teach German and German literature at the University of Rennes.

Golo’s travels to Switzerland prove that his relationship with his father had become easier as Mann had learned to appreciate his son’s political knowledge.

But it was only when Golo helped edit his father’s diaries in later years that he realized fully how much acceptance he had gained.

In a confidential note to the German critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Golo wrote:

It was inevitable that I had to wish his death, but I was completely broken heartedly when he passed away.

 

In 1936, the Nazi government also revoked Mann’s German citizenship.

Mann also received Czechoslovak citizenship and passport that same year through Fleischmann, but after the Nazis took over Czechoslovakia, he then emigrated with Klaus to the United States where he taught at Princeton University.

Klaus Mann’s most famous novel, Mephisto, a thinly-disguised portrait of Gustaf, was written this year and published in Amsterdam.

Die Pfeffermühle opened again in Zürich and became a rallying point for German exiles.

Auden introduced Erika’s lover Therese Giehse to the English writer John Hampson.

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Above: Therese Giehse (1898 – 1975)

Giehse and Hampson married so she could leave Germany.

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Above: Howard Castor as John Hampson (1901 – 1955)

 

In the summer of 1937, Klaus met his partner for the rest of the year Thomas Quinn Curtis.

Erika moved to New York where Die Pfeffermühle reopened its doors again.

There she lived with Klaus, Giehse and Annemarie Scharzenbach, amid a large group of artists in exile.

 

In 1938 Monika and Jenö left Firenze for London, while Erika and Klaus reported on the Spanish Civil War.

Erika’s book School for Barbarians, a critique of Nazi Germany’s educational system, was published.

 

Mann completed Lotte in Weimar (1939) in which he returned to Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther (1774).

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Katia wrote to Klaus (in Princeton) on 29 August that she was determined not to say any more unfriendly words about Monika and to be kind and helpful.

 

Monika was NOT her parents’ favourite.

In family letters and chronicles, Monika was often described as weird:

After a three-week stay here (in Küsnacht) she is still the same old dull quaint Mönle (her nickname in the family), pilfering from the larder….

 

Klaus’s novel Der Vulkan (Escape to Life), co-written with Erika, remains one of the 20th century’s most famous novels about German exiles during World War II.

Early that year Golo travelled to Princeton where his father worked.

Although war was drawing closer, he hesitantly returned to Zürich in August to become the editor of the migrant journal Maß und Wert (Measure and Value).

Monika and Jenö married on 2 March 1939.

On 6 March 1939, Michael married the Swiss-born Gret Moser (1916 – 2007) in New York.

With her he would have two sons, Frido and Toni, as well as an adopted daughter.

The outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939 prompted Mann to offer anti-Nazi speeches in German to the German people via the BBC.

Erika worked as a journalist in London, making radio broadcasts in German, for the BBC throughout the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.

Monika and Jenö left for Canada on the SS City of Benares, which on 17 September was sunk by a torpedo from a German submarine.

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Above: SS City of Benares

Monika survived by clinging to a large piece of wood, but Jenö drowned.

After 20 hours Monika was rescued by a British ship and taken to Scotland.

Also in 1939, Elisabeth married the anti-Fascist Italian writer Giuseppe Borgese (1882 – 1952), 36 years her senior.

Above: Giuseppe Borgese

As a reaction to Hitler’s successes in the West in May 1940, Golo decided to fight against the Nazis by joining a Czech military unit on French soil.

Upon crossing the Swiss border into Annecy, France, he was arrested and brought to the French concentration camp of Les Milles, a brickyard near Aix-en-Provence.

Above: Camp des Milles, Annecy, France

In August, Golo was released through the intervention of an American committee.

On 13 September 1940, he undertook a daring escape from Perpignan across the Pyrenees to Spain with his uncle Heinrich, Heinrich’s wife Nelly Kröger, Alma Mahler-Werfel and Franz Werfel.

They crossed the Atlantic from Lisbon to New York in October on board the Greek Steamer Nea Hellas.

Once in the US, Golo was initially condemned to inactivity.

He stayed with his parents in Princeton, then in New York.

Monika reached New York on 28 October 1940 on the troopship Cameronia and joined her parents.

They showed little sympathy for her.

Monika’s traumatic loss of her husband and her attempts at a new beginning were ignored.

In October 1940, Mann began monthly broadcasts (“Deutsche Hörer“- “German listeners“), recorded in the US and flown to London where the BBC broadcasted them to Germany.

In his eight-minute addresses, Mann condemned Hitler and his “paladins” as crude Philistines completely out of touch with European culture.

“The war is horrible, but it has the advantage of keeping Hitler from making speeches about culture.”

During the war, Klaus served as a Staff Sergeant of the 5th US Army in Italy.

 

In 1941, Elisabeth became an American citizen.

 

Mann was one of the few publicly active opponents of Nazism among German expatriates in America.

In 1942, the Mann family moved to Los Angeles, while Golo taught history at Olivet College in Michigan.

Between 1942 and 1947 Michael was a violinist in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

 

Klaus became a US citizen in 1943 as Golo joined the US Army.

After basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, Golo worked at the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)(forerunner of the CIA) in Washington DC.

Office of Strategic Services Insignia.svg

Above: OSS insignia

As intelligence officer, it was his duty to collect and translate relevant information.

From 1943 to 1952 Monika lived in New York.

After attempts to renew her career as a pianist she turned to employment as a writer.

 

In April 1944, Golo was sent to London where he made radio commentaries for the German language division of the American Broadcasting Station (ABS).

On 23 June 1944, Thomas Mann was naturalized as a citizen of the United States.

After D-Day, Erika became a war correspondent attached to the Allied Forces advancing across Europe, reporting from recent battlefields in France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

 

For the last months of World War II Golo worked for a military propaganda station in Luxembourg, then he helped organize the foundation of Radio Frankfurt.

During his journeys across Germany he was shocked at the extent of destruction, especially that caused by Allied bombing.

In the summer of 1945, Klaus was sent by Stars and Stripes to report from postwar Germany.

Stars and Stripes (newspaper) logo.gif

Erika entered Germany in June and was among the first Allied personnel to enter Aachen.

As soon as it was possible, she went to Munich to register a claim for the return of the Mann family home.

Arriving in Berlin on 3 July 1945, Erika was shocked at the level of destruction, describing the city as “a sea of devastation, shoreless and infinite.

She was angry at the complete lack of guilt displayed by some of the German civilians and officials that she met.

During this period, as well as wearing an American uniform, Erika adopted an Anglo-American accent.

She attended the Nuremberg Trial each day from the opening session on 20 November 1945 until the court adjourned for Christmas.

Above: Nuremberg Courthouse where the Trials were held

She interviewed the defense lawyers and ridiculed their arguments in her reports and made clear that she thought the court was indulging the behaviour of the defendants, in particular Hermann Göring.

Above: Nuremberg Trial – Hermann Göring (far left, 1st row)

When the court adjourned for Christmas, Erika went to Zürich to spend time with Klaus, Betty Knox and Giehse.

 

Erika’s health was poor and on 1 January 1946 she collapsed and was hospitalized.

She was diagnosed with pleurisy.

After a spell recovering at a spa in Arosa, Erika returned to Nuremberg in March 1946 to continue covering the war crimes trial.

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Above: Arosa

In May 1946, she left Germany for California to help look after Mann who was being treated for lung cancer.

That same year, Golo left the US Army by his own request, but nevertheless kept a job as civil control officer, watching the war crimes trial at Nuremberg in this capacity.

Also in 1946, Golo saw the publication of his first book of lasting value, a biography of the 19th century diplomat Friedrich von Gentz.

Black and white drawing of Friedrich von Gentz

Above: Friedrich von Gentz (1764 – 1832)

Mann completed Doktor Faustus, the story of composer Adrian Leverkühn and the corruption of German culture before and during World War II in 1947.

From America, Erika continued to comment on and write about the situation in Germany.

She considered it a scandal that Göring had managed to commit suicide and was furious at the slow pace of the denazification process.

In particular, Erika objected to what she considered the lenient treatment of cultural figures who had remained in Germany throughout the Nazi period.

Her views on Russia and on the Berlin Airlift (24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949) led to her being branded a Communist in America.

In the autumn of 1947, Golo became an assistant professor of history at Claremont Men’s College in California.

In hindsight he recalled the nine-year engagement as “the happiest of my life“.

On the other hand he complained:

My students are scornful, unfriendly and painfully stupid as never before.”

 

With the start of the Cold War, Mann was increasingly frustrated by rising McCarthyism.

As a “suspected Communist“, Mann was required to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) who accused him as being “one of the world’s foremost apologists for Stalin and company“.

Both Klaus and Erika came under an FBI investigation into their political views and rumoured homosexuality.

 

On 21 May 1949, Klaus died in Cannes of an overdose of sleeping pills, though whether he committed suicide is uncertain, but he had become increasingly depressed and disillusioned over postwar Germany.

He is buried in Cannes’ Cimetière du Grand Jas.

Klaus’s death devastated Erika.

In an interview with the Toledo Blade (25 July 1949), Mann declared that he was not a Communist, but that Communism at least had some relation to the ideals of humanity and of a better future.

Image result for toledo blade

He said that the transition of Communism through revolution into an autocratic regime was a tragedy, while Nazism was only “devilish nihilism“.

Being in his own words a non-Communist rather than an anti-Communist, Mann openly opposed the HUAC allegations:

“As an American citizen of German birth I finally testify that I am painfully familiar with certain political trends.

Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged ‘state of emergency’….

That is how it started in Germany.”

As Mann joined protests against the jailing of the Hollywood Ten (ten individuals working in Hollywood cited for contempt of Congress and blacklisted after refusing to answer questions about their alleged involvement with the Communist Party) and the firing of schoolteachers suspected of being Communists, Mann found “the media had been closed to him“.

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In 1950, Mann met 19-year-old waiter Franz Westermeier, confiding in his diary:

Once again this, once again love.

(In 1975, when Mann’s diaries were published, creating a national sensation in Germany, the retired Westermeier was tracked down in the United States.

He was flattered to learn that he had been the object of Mann’s obsession, but was shocked at its depth.)

 

Due to the anti-communist red scare and numerous accusations from the McCarthy Committee, Mann was forced to quit his position as a consultant in Germanic literature at the Library of Congress in 1952, the Mann family left the US and moved back to Switzerland .

Erika began to help her father with his writing and became one of his closest confidantes.

Monika was granted US citizenship, but she had already planned to return to Europe.

In September she travelled with her sister Elisabeth’s family to Italy.

Elizabeth’s husband Giuseppe died that year and she would raise their two daughters, Angelica (b. 1941) and Dominica (b. 1944) as a single parent, though she would live with a new partner, Corrado Tumiati, from 1953 to 1967.

After a few months in Genoa, Bordighera and Rome, Monika fulfilled her desire to move to Capri, where she lived in the Villa Monacone with her partner, Antonio Spadaro.

In Capri she blossomed.

During this period she wrote five books and contributed regular features to Swiss, German and Italian newspapers and magazines.

Monika would remain in Capri for 32 years.

 

In March 1954, there were finally prospects of progress that Thomas Mann could buy a house in the old country road in the municipality of Kilchberg.

Above: Mann residence, Alten Landstrasse 39, Kilchberg

Kilchberg is an idyllic place, surrounded by meadows, vineyards and flower gardens.

The church on a hillside, with views over the Lake, dominate the place.

Mann would not live long to enjoy the home that was finally his.

Thomas Mann died on 12 August 1855, at age 80, of arteriosclerosis in a hospital in Zürich and is buried in Kilchberg.

 

Katia was not just the good spirit of the family, but the connection point that kept them all together.

She taught her children, was her husband’s manager, and was the family provider.

Katia outlived three of her children (Klaus, Erika and Michael) and her husband.

She died in 1980 and is buried in Kilchberg.

 

Erika died in 1969, age 63, of a brain tumor in a hospital in Zürich and is buried in Kilchberg.

 

Golo, after years of chronic overwork in his dual capacities of freelance historian and writer, died in Leverkusen in 1994, age 85.

A few days prior to his demise, Golo acknowledged his homosexuality in a TV interview:

“I did not fall in love often.  I often kept it to myself.  Maybe that was a mistake.  It also was forbidden, even in America, and one had to be a little careful.”

According to Tilman Lahme, Golo’s biographer, he did not act out his homosexuality as openly as his brother Klaus but he had had love relationships since his student days.

His urn was buried in Kilchberg, but – in fulfillment of his last will – outside the communal family grave.

 

Monika, after her Capri partner Antonio died in 1986, spent her last years with Golo’s family in Leverkusen and died in 1992.

She is buried in the family grave in Kilchberg.

 

Elisabeth was in the mid-1960s the executive secretary of the board of Encyclopedia Britannica in Chicago.

At the age of 52, she had established herself as an international expert on the oceans.

Elisabeth was the founder and organizer of the first conference on the law of the sea, Peace in the Oceans, held in Malta in 1970.

From 1973 to 1982, she was part of the expert group of the Austrian delegation during the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

At the age of 59, in 1977, Elisabeth became a professor of political science in Canada’s Dalhousie University.

She became a Canadian citizen in 1983 and was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1988 at age 70.

Elisabeth kept up her teaching duties until age 81.

She died unexpectedly at the age of 83, during a skiing holiday in St. Moritz in 2002, and is buried in Kilchberg.

 

Michael, the youngest, made concert tours as a viola soloist until he was forced to give up professional music due to a neuropathy.

He then studied German literature at Harvard and later worked as a professor at the University of California in Berkeley.

Michael suffered from depression and died from the combined consumption of alcohol and barbituates in Orinda, California, in 1977.

He too lies in Kirchberg Cemetery, by the church on a hillside, with views over the Lake of Zürich, that dominates the town.

Kilchberg, 27 November 2017

It all began with an impulse.

As regular followers (both of them!) of my blogs (this one and Building Everest) know, I have, over the last year, retraced the “steps” of and written about the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli using the literary travel guide, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch, by Marcel and Yvonne Steiner.

(See Canada Slim and…. the Privileged Place, the Monks of the Dark Forest, the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul, the Thundering Hollows, the Road to Reformation of this blog.)

For various reasons, I have not always been able to follow the Steiners’ suggested itineraries religiously.

Their 8th itinerary (Wädenswil to Zürich) has the hiker travel above the hills of Kilchberg rather than visit the town itself, which I felt remiss of the Steiners.

I went off-book and decided to explore the town.

Though Kilchberg may lack Zwingli connections, it is both an aestically pleasing and historically significant place worth lingering in for an afternoon.

A windswept day finds me asking a black cemetery caretaker for the location of the Mann burial plot and the English teacher/wordsmith in me sees the irony of the English word “plot” being both the chronology of a story and a final resting place.

I marvel at the history of this remarkable family and see irony in Thomas’ first real success as a writer was based on the fictional retelling of his own family’s past in Buddenbrooks, when his own family’s real history was equally, if not more, fascinating post-Buddenbrooks.

I am also left with many other reflections:

  • I ponder the individual dilemmas Thomas, Erika, Klaus and Golo underwent in the expression of their sexual natures, and though in many Western nations in 2018 there is far greater openness and permissiveness towards non-heterosexual relationships, I can’t help but feel that there still remains stigma, confusion and miscommunication in mankind’s navigation of sexuality, gender and other boundaries towards loving relationships.  (Perhaps a new Buddenbrooks of Thomas Mann and his offspring needs to be written to explores this ageless dilemma that keeps so much of humanity lost and alone.)
  • I also wonder: What makes one person LGBT and another not?  Thomas and Katia produced six children: two openly gay, one a closet gay, the other three – to the best of what is known – probably straight.  So, what then determines a person’s sexual orientation? Genetics? Environment? Choice?
  • And then there is the wonder of individuality where six children all grew up together yet lived very different lives from one another.  How do we each develop our own separate personalities?
  • I ask myself whether Thomas and Golo were right to conceal their hidden selves, yet when I see how imperfect the lives of the demonstrative Erika, Klaus and Monika were, I wonder if being themselves truly made them happier.
  • I think of the Mann family and what comes to mind is conflict.  Conflict between what they desired and what they were allowed.  Conflict between their own expectations and the expectations of others. Conflict that results when speaking truth to power whether defying Nazis or HUAC.  Conflict against disease, both physical and psychological. Conflict between their changing values and the inflexibility of old hierarchies being challenged.

The Manns were a restless family living in relentless times.

Though they now rest in peace, the world they helped create remains conflicted.

Sources: Wikipedia / Facebook / Ursula Kohler, Literarisches Reisefieber / Padraig Rooney, The Gilded Chalet: Off-piste in Literary Switzerland / Steffi Memmert-Lunau & Angelika Fischer, Zürich: Eine literarische Zeitreise / Albert Debrunner, Literaturführer Thurgau / Manfred Bosch, Die Manns am Bodensee / Thomas Sprecher & Fritz Gutbrodt, Die Famille Mann in Kilchberg / Conrad Ferdinand Meyer Haus, Kilchberg / Friedhof Gemeinde Kilchberg

Canada Slim and the Privileged Place

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 26 January 2018

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

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Don´t drive angry.

Perhaps this might be extended to encompass writing as well.

Don´t write angry.

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

 

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

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The man will literally say or do anything.

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

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

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

Flag of Haiti

Above: Flag of Haiti

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

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

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

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

Did the dream die with Dr. King?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

 

Einsiedeln to Richterswil, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

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

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

Above: Canada Slim and Vadym, Restaurant Adler, Schindellegi

 

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Glarus

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

Above: Einsiedeln Abbey

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

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Above: Katzenstrick/Chatzenstrick Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: St. Anna Church, Schindellegi

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

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

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

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

Above: Peter Marvey, the Magician without Limits

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

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

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Above: Hans Thomas Gross

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Paris Hilton

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

Perhaps cleverer.

Her fragrances have earned $1.5 billion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above: Schindellegi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schindellegi midday midweek was quiet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things have calmed down since then.

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

Above: Richterswil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I do have is curiosity and enthusiasm.

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

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

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

The poor have never lacked motivation, only opportunity.

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

Did Hans take Paris hiking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Hans made his fortune may have been legit….

Paris may actually work to maintain hers….

I wish them well.

Our worlds will never meet.

I am OK with that.

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

 

 

Canada Slim and the Uncertainty Principle

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 10 January 2018

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I am reminded of this more and more these days as I watch events unfold again and again around the globe that suggest the politicization of society remains an ongoing clear and present danger.

Politicization is, at least to my way of thinking, a process where tradition and excellence are replaced by ideology and illusion.

Take, for example, two stories from the 8 January edition of the New York Times:

Windsor, England

Windsor Bridge and Town.jpg

Since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their wedding date last month, the council leader who oversees one of the richest boroughs in Britain has been on a campaign to deal with the homeless people who “sleep rough” near the wedding venue, Windsor Castle – all eight of them, according to official statistics.

An aerial photograph of a castle, with three walled areas clearly visible, stretching left to right. Straight roads stretch away in the bottom right of the photograph, and a built-up urban area can be seen outside the castle on the left. In the upper right a grey river can just be seen.

Simon Dudley, leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, wrote to the Thames Valley Police last week, demanding that they use their legal powers to tackle the issue of “aggressive begging and intimidation” before the royal wedding on 19 May.

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Last month, while on ski vacation in Wyoming, Dudley tweeted  – (Why do we give tweets so much damn influence anyway?) – about an “epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor”, which he says paints the historical market town in an “unfavourable light”.

His description of “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets  – (Sounds like my apartment!) – and “people marching tourists to cash points to withdraw cash” suggested that homeless people had somewhat taken over the quaint streets of Windsor.

But while Britain has a big homelessness issue, with 1 in every 200 people in England currently without a home, there are just 8 homeless people in all of Windsor and Maidenhead, the government says.

Local charities say the official figures may not fully capture the extent of the problem, because a number of people, known as the “hidden homeless”, beg on the streets by day and spend their nights in temporary accommodations for extended periods.

The Thames Valley Police say they deal with occasional reports of begging in the area but have not had any reports of anyone being marched to cash points to take out money.

(I will say that I have seen beggars begging near cash points but the only thing compelling me to assist them was my own conscience and not any overt intimidation from them.)

To quote some of the people interviewed by Ceylan Yeginsu:

“I think that (Dudley´s) comments are rude and heartless. 

If they are going to move us, it should be into a permanent home, not out of sight for a day just so that rich people can throw a party.”

“They are making us out to be criminals, a public safety hazard. 

What´s all that about?

We don´t bother anybody. 

We don´t go up on anyone. 

We just take whatever we are given.”

“The unpleasant sight is not what is shameful here. 

It´s the fact that we are not providing these poor people with warm homes in the middle of winter.”

“People sleeping on the street don´t do so through choice. 

They are often at their lowest point, struggling with a range of complex problems and needs, and they are extremely vulnerable, at risk from cold weather, illness and violence.”

To the mind of Dudley what matters most is not the tradition and excellence of character showing compassion and charity to those in genuine need and distress but rather it is the illusion of pretending that there is no homelessness issue in Windsor.

Haworth, England

Above: Bronte Parsonage Museum, Haworth

Should a 30-year-old supermodel help lead a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth (30 July 1818) of Emily Bronte?

Above: (from left to right) Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte

That question is at the crux of a row that broke out after the Bronte Society in Britain, one of the world´s oldest literary societies, anointed Lily Cole a “creative partner” for the upcoming festival celebrating Emily´s life.

Cole outside wearing a strapless purple dress with her hair up in a large bun, surrounded by photographers

Above: Lily Cole

The colloboration, announced last week, spurred a Bronte biographer and Society member to write a scathing blog post denouncing it as a “rank farce”.

“What would Emily Bronte think if she found that the role of chief “artist” and organizer in her celebratory year was a supermodel?”,  the biographer Nick Holland asked.

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Above: Nick Holland

Holland said Cole´s appointment smacked of a desire to be “trendy”.

Based on what I have read about Lily Cole, though she may be compassionate and intelligent in her own way, whether she is sufficiently qualified and knowledgeable enough to properly respect the literary tradition of this great writer remains doubtful to me.

It seems that the Society is more interested in attracting people to the celebration through the use of Cole´s beauty and celebrity than they are in demonstrating the excellence and tradition of Bronte´s writing.

And whether simply being beautiful qualifies a person as being sufficiently competent is a prickly issue.

For it begs the question:

Can a woman be both beautiful and competent, rather than being exclusively one or the other?

I believe that a woman can be both, but I don´t think a woman should necessarily be considered competent or incompetent because she is beautiful or not.

Cole should be judged on her knowledge of Bronte´s writing and her academic record in literature, neither of which seems to dominate her resumé.

It seems that tradition and excellence is being superseded by the illusion that all a woman needs are looks to be successful, rather than intelligence, experience or merit.

And I still remain skeptical of the value that a model serves society when basically her primary role is to walk up and down a catwalk like a living clothes hanger showing clothing that she had no hand in creating to a small minority of people who can afford the clothing being demonstrated.

In a world crying for equal respect to be paid to women, can we not find a woman who is more than a pretty face and praise her for her intelligence and insight instead of her ability to artistically apply make-up to anorexic cheekbones?

Isn´t that the point of celebrating Emily Bronte, in that we are praising her for the merits of her literature rather than for the accident of her gender?

(For more on the Bronte sisters, please see That Which Survives of this blog.)

 

The United States

Let´s look at science and truth and the disdain with which the present Administration has for these concepts.

If the facts do not support the present political agenda then they are dismissed as fake.

The illusion that the government is infallible is preferred over the tradition of hard work and the excellence of research.

File:The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

An entire community of scientists can scream until they are blue in the face that global warming is real and a danger to the continued existence of this planet and that they have the facts and research to prove it, but this is considered nonsense and invalid with a simple 5 am barely literate tweet by the President.

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Above: Donald Trump, the Twit of Twitter

 

Nazi Germany, 1935 – 1939

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On 1 April 1935 Arnold Sommerfeld achieved emeritus status at the University of Münich.

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Above: Arnold Sommerfeld (1868 – 1951)

However, Sommerfeld stayed on as his own temporary replacement during the selection process for his successor, which took until 1 December 1939.

The process was lengthy due to academic and political differences between the Munich faculty’s selection and that of both the Reichserziehungsministerium (REM, Reich Education Ministry) and the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

In 1935, the Munich faculty drew up a candidate list to replace Sommerfeld as ordinarius professor of theoretical physics and head of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Munich.

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Above: Seal of the University of Munich

There were three names on the list: Werner Heisenberg, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1932,  Peter Debye, who would receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1936, and Richard Becker — all former students of Sommerfeld.

The Munich faculty was firmly behind these candidates, with Heisenberg as their first choice.

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Above: Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976)

However, supporters of Deutsche Physik and elements in the REM had their own list of candidates and the battle commenced, dragging on for over four years.

During this time, Heisenberg came under vicious attack by the supporters of Deutsche Physik.

One such attack was published in Das Schwarze Korps, the newspaper of the Schutzstaffel, or SS, headed by Heinrich Himmler.

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Above: Heinrich Himmler (1900 – 1945)

Heisenberg had been lecturing to his students about the theory of relativity, proposed by the Jewish scientist Albert Einstein.

In the editorial, Himmler called Heisenberg a “White Jew” who should be made to “disappear.”

These verbal attacks were taken seriously, as Jews were subject to physical violence and incarceration at the time.

Heisenberg fought back with an editorial and a letter to Himmler, in an attempt to get a resolution to this matter and regain his honour.

At one point, Heisenberg’s mother visited Himmler’s mother to help bring a resolution to the affair.

The two women knew each other as a result of Heisenberg’s maternal grandfather and Himmler’s father being rectors and members of a Bavarian hiking club.

Eventually, Himmler settled the Heisenberg affair by sending two letters, one to SS-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich and one to Heisenberg, both on 21 July 1938.

In the letter to Heydrich, Himmler said Germany could not afford to lose or silence Heisenberg as he would be useful for teaching a generation of scientists.

To Heisenberg, Himmler said the letter came on recommendation of his family and he cautioned Heisenberg to make a distinction between professional physics research results and the personal and political attitudes of the involved scientists.

The letter to Heisenberg was signed under the closing “Mit freundlichem Gruss und, Heil Hitler!(“With friendly greetings and, Hail Hitler!”)

Overall, the settlement of the Heisenberg affair was a victory for academic standards and professionalism.

However, the replacement of Sommerfeld by Wilhelm Müller on 1 December 1939 was a victory of politics over academic standards.

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Above: Wilhelm Müller (?) (1880 – 1968)

Müller was not a theoretical physicist, had not published in a physics journal, and was not a member of the Deutsches Physikales Gesellschaft(DPG, German Physics Society).

His appointment as a replacement for Sommerfeld was considered a travesty and detrimental to educating a new generation of theoretical physicists.

The Nazis preferred the illusion – the ideology that scientific knowledge could only be disseminated by those of “pure Aryan blood” and “proper thinking” – over academic excellence achieved through merit.

Werner Heisenberg, known as the father of quantum physics, won his Nobel Prize for postulating his now-famous uncertainty principle which, in the simplest terms that I understand, says that the more precisely position of some particle is determined, the less precisely the momentum of the particle can be known, or vice versa, the more precisely the momentum of a particle is known, the less precisely the position can be determined.

I am no physicist and I will be damned thrice if I could properly explain the principle in any significant way, but in my own personal psychology I find the more settled a person is, the less precise his progress will be, and vice versa, the more progressive a person is, the less precise the position he holds.

If one does not travel physically or intellectually beyond one´s comfort zone, the less certain it is that the person can evolve beyond their stage of stagnation.

The more one travels physically or intellectually, the less certain he/she will be about maintaining an inflexible position on any given topic, for the exposure to new ideas offers the mind the suggestion of infinite possibilities in infinite combinations.

Travellers can nonetheless be fooled by illusion overwhelming our common sense.

Three incidents come to mind in my own personal travels.

 

Niagara Falls, New York, 1990

The city of Niagara Falls. In the foreground are the waterfalls known as the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, respectively, from left to right.

I couldn´t resist..

I had visited the Canadian Niagara Falls so I was understandingly curious to compare how the American Niagara Falls looked.

Misty spray, mighty roar, majestic scale, marvelous spectacle, I was one of millions of people who have invaded the Niagara River area that splits the land into two separate nations.

Long before tourists came, Seneca natives populated the area.

In 1678 they led the French priest Louis Hennepin (1626 – 1704) to the Falls.

His description was widely read in Europe:

“The universe does not afford its parallel.”

The Falls have attracted daredevils, including the Great Farini, who used barrels and tightropes and various contraptions in attempts to go over the Falls.

(For a description of the Great Farini, please see Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies of this blog.)

Only some survived.

Honeymooners arrive (starting with Napoleon III) in the thousands, despite jokes that the Falls will be the first (or second) disappointment of married life.

To keep tourists and their dollars for longer than it takes to view the Falls, the American side has parks and attractions like its Canadian counterpart does, but – national pride aside – I believe the Canadians have done it better.

I tried visiting the New York side of the River by crossing on foot the Rainbow Bridge that spans the expanse between the nations.

I was refused.

So I opted for the Greyhound bus entry, then played the tourist.

I viewed the American Falls, took the Prospect Point Observation Tower elevator, crossed a bridge to Goat Island to view Terrapin Point and the Three Sisters Islands in the upper rapids, and descended to the Cave of the Winds where walkways go within 25 feet of the cataracts.

The town itself with over 60,000 people struck me as a grimier and grittier place as compared to the Ontario town of 75,000 people and a visit to nearby Buffalo made me think of the Gotham City as presented by Tim Burton´s Batman movie.

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As historic as Buffalo´s Erie Canal and railroads may be, as fine as some of Buffalo´s buildings and parks are, the city felt like one huge Crime Alley, the downtown isolated and almost deserted.

Buffalo was in the 1990s a working class town known by me for only two things: the Buffalo Bills (who never seem able to win a Super Bowl) and the Anchor Bar´s Buffalo wings (deep-fried chicken wings covered in a spicy Sauce and served with blue cheese dressing and celery).

I ate the wings and boarded a bus back to Niagara Falls, New York and then waited in the bus terminal for a bus back over the border.

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I was approached by a stranger.

I never understood racism or racial profiling, for I can never forget the family vacation I took a decade previously when we were on a freeway outside of Chicago and an ebony family in a long station wagon passed alongside us.

My foster mom shrieked and insisted we bolt our doors and windows.

The family, except for the darker hue of their skin, were no more dangerous than a Norman Rockwell painting, and we were travelling together at a speed of 60 miles per hour on a crowded highway.

It was illogical, irrational and emotional.

I had seen few black people before visiting the States and those I had met were quite decent and civil individuals, so I couldn´t understand why the extreme fear demonstrated by my foster parent.

Maybe Canadians are exposed to too much American TV?

When I was approached by a black man about my age (I was in my 20s then.) I felt neither fear nor suspicion.

He gave me a song and dance about how he needed to get back home to Los Angeles but couldn´t afford the bus fare.

He gave me a LA business card of what he said was his current employer.

His manner seemed sincere, but as a last measure of caution I bought his ticket ensuring that it was non-refundable and could only be redeemed as a bus ticket.

Time passed.

I contacted his LA employer who informed me that the young man had indeed worked for them but had quit their employ before he asked me for bus fare.

To my own surprise I was neither angry nor disappointed.

I might have been scammed but I proved to myself that I could be a generous person.

Maybe my action resulted in his returning to LA or perhaps he managed to convince another hapless traveller to buy his ticket, still he must have needed the money or he wouldn´t have done the scam.

I wish him well, though I doubt he would remember me.

 

Barcelona, Spain, 25 May 2007

On vacation with my wife, a week in this self-confident and progressive capital of Catalunya, Barcelona was and ever shall remain a city vibrating with life and excitement.

It is a thriving port and a prosperous commercial city that one could easily spend one´s entire life in and yet barely scratch its surface.

Superb museums, Gothic and modernista architecture, world famous ramblas, beautiful beaches, beckoning promenade, every day felt like a fiesta.

We soaked in Picasso, Joan Miró and Antoni Gaudí.

We strolled, we browsed, we listened to buskers and watched street Performers.

The energy of Barcelona was and still remains boundless.

We sunbathed, we swam, we ate, we drank as if there would be no tomorrow.

We wandered the streets of Barcelona day and night unafraid, lost in a kaleidoscope of colours and a garden of smells, lost in a warren of broad boulevards and ancient and narrow streets, lost in our own private flight of fancy, seeing only joy and elegance all around us.

We did not see the dirt and neglect that is also Barcelona´s seedier side.

We did not see poverty, for we chose to be blind to it.

We did not see drug use, for we were high already on the wine of each other´s company and the intoxicating nature of our vacation playground.

Was there danger lurking the flanks of the ramblas?

Should we have locked our passports, tickets and wallets inside the safe of our hotel room?

Should we have kept our backpacks beneath our feet as we poured endless sangrias down our gullets?

Were there pickpockets and bag snatchers hungry for the wealth we had and they did not?

Perhaps.

Yet fear is forgotten, for hidden down alleys little changed for centuries are tapas bars, in gentrified old town quarters are designer boutiques, in workers´ taverns bargain lunches.

Gourmet restaurants, craft outlets and workshops, fin de siècle cafés, restored palaces, neighbourhood markets and specialist galleries, and that wonder of wonders, that miracle of miracles, Gaudí´s labour of love the Sagrada Familia.

Where is the fear?

Where is the danger?

We climbed a hillside, after midnight, intimately intoxicated.

Two men approach us, claiming to be plain clothes policemen.

My wife is German, so her instinct is to be lawabiding and obedient to figures of authority.

I am Canadian with a healthy trust in law and order common to a country where – unlike our neighbours to the south where settlement arose then the law followed,  we sent the law out first then settlers followed – it is assumed that those who regulate our lives do it in our best interests rather than their own.

(Naive, perhaps, but preferable to paranoia.)

Perhaps it was Niagara Falls that remained with me, but there was something about the set-up, the whole approach, that smelled bad, felt wrong.

They demanded to see our passports.

I categorically refused.

My wife was concerned, ready to be compliant.

But I was unwilling to budge.

Their badges were too quickly opened and closed to be read distinctly in the midnight lamplight.

I felt a bravado that only alcohol can provide.

I was prepared to defend my fayre maiden even had they been armed to the teeth.

I was curiously unafraid and completely certain of my stance.

I told them I thought they weren´t policemen and I brushed them aside as I dragged my wife down the street with me.

They did not follow.

Whether they were cops or crooks, they were too amateur to want to tackle a man twice their height who refused to be intimidated.

I should have been scared.

I still don´t understand why I wasn´t.

 

London, England, 24 October 2017

Soho

The Soho district has a historic reputation for tolerance.

No matter how dour daily life may be or how depressingly dull politics may become, Soho is a refuge from the rigours of reality.

Here the artistic assemble and the groups gather.

Here the media IS the message, the film is the fantasy, the advertised the attraction.

Life in high profile, in coats of many colours.

There is nowhere else in London where diversity in infinite forms congregates and clashes: businessmen boast, drunks drop, theatre goers critique, fashion leaps and falls, markets never seem to close, pimps, prostitutes and police patrol.

This is the best of times.

This is the worst of times.

A place where the song “There´s Gonna Be a Heartache Tonight” seems fitting.

We are drawn to the lights and sounds like moths to flames, for we are tourists.

We wonder if one can be sober and a teenager at the same time here.

And is everyone getting married tomorrow?

Here a stag party, here a hen party, here a drunk, there a drunk, everyone´s a drunk, drunk.

Ol´ Macdonald went to Soho, e-i-e-i-ohhh!

Sadly the wedding invitations will be as lacklustre as the imagination that went into the wandering about the streets from pub to pub the night before.

Are you not entertained?

It felt like a full day: the Churchill War Rooms (Would the man who would fight on the beaches and in the streets have defended Soho?), the Household Cavalry Rooms, Westminster Cathedral, the Florence Nightingale Museum….

Enough of the mighty and the martyrs, the pomp and pomposity, we wanted to pump passion into our veins and colour into our consciousness.

We find ourselves on Charing Cross Road, T.S. Eliot territory, where the American Eliot spent much of his time retreating from his English wife Vivienne.

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Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Their marriage was markedly miserable, in part because of Viv´s health.

In a letter to their mutual friend Ezra Pound, Vivi complained of having a high temperature, fatigue, insomnia, migraines and colitis simultaneously.

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Above: Vivienne Haigh-Wood Eliot (1888 – 1947)

Eliot retreated so often from his wife that Viv would eventually resort to marching up and down Charing Cross Road wearing a sandwich board bearing the slogan:

“I am the wife that T.S. Eliot abandoned.”

She was later diagnosed with mental instability and spent her remaining years in an asylum.

Is that what it means for a European to be married to a North American?

My poor wife.

We find ourselves wandering aimlessly trying to locate a restaurant listed in her Müller guide to London when in front of Wyndhams Theatre two young ladies in their 20s approached us.

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Would we like two free tickets to see the show about to begin?

Cautiously, we accept.

One of the ladies, her name written in ink on our tickets, Miranda Banfield had received four free tickets through her workplace and two of the ladies cancelled at last moment.

The show was Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle, our seats next to theirs.

To relieve their anxiety I opted to keep Ute between myself and them.

We were plesantly distracted and immensely grateful for the generosity.

Heisenberg is the story of Georgie Burns (Anne-Marie Duff), a 42-year-old American and Alex Priest (Kenneth Cranham), a 75-year-old English butcher, who meet in a London railway station.

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They begin a romantic relationship and eventually travel to New Jersey to search for Georgie´s missing son.

Had we been sceptical of Miranda´s unexpected kindness we might have missed out on a magical moment of theatre.

Miranda and her companion did not expect or ask for further contact or remuneration and we parted ways pleasantly after the show.

We had progressed over the years and were less certain about categorizing people into distinct categories of good and bad.

Stranded strangers could be legitimate or could be liars.

Men on midnight streets could be cops or conmen.

Generosity could be genuine and gratefully accepted.

Life is uncertain.

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Sources:  Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet USA / The Rough Guide to London / The Rough Guide to Spain

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 December 2017

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have yet to feel that Yuletide spirit.

Part of the problem is that I never seem to see the oft-promised peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Trump and his cronies have passed a tax bill that will hurt the most vulnerable members of American society.

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Indonesia is arresting gays for the crime of not being straight.

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Above: Flag of Indonesia

The war in Yemen continues causing untold amount of disease, devastation and famine.

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Above: Flag of Yemen

Music is morbid, traumatized and defensive.

Lack of progress in holding bishops accountable for covering up sex abuse in the Church continues.

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Above: Flag of Vatican City

Alarming cases of child malnutrition are reported in Venezuela.

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Above: Flag of Venezuela

And these are just a few events being reported by the New York Times.

As I watched shoppers madly scramble to get Christmas gifts for their loved ones, the cynic in me wondered whether the gift giving is truly heartfelt or whether this generosity is an attempt to buy affection that had not been reciprocated the rest of the year.

Ignore friends and family all year, but hope that presents will redeem you in their eyes once again.

Above: Christmas gift-Bringers in Western Europe

As for those without friends or family….

They are invisible.

The homeless will still lack shelter, the unemployed will still lack a job, the lonely will still lack love this Christmas.

The Beatles once sang that “money can´t buy me love”, but is that true?

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Money can buy friends, love, power, prestige, respect, happiness, can´t it?

So we are taught to believe.

And perversely we will sacrifice happiness, respect, prestige, power and love in pursuit of profit.

There was once a time when we believed that we could buy ourselves a stairway to Heaven or a get out of Purgatory free card.

Above: Purgatorio by Ludovico Carracci

And yet my cynicism disappears whenever I think about life beyond the headlines and outside of administrative offices.

For even in the wealthiest of nations there still exists places where money remains simply a means to an end rather than an end itself.

Take Switzerland, for example.

Flag of Switzerland

This is truly a land where profits predominate people, but step inside a religious institution and feel the faith and love.

Hop on a local transit bus or a Postbus and see everyday people living ordinary lives.

Visit a local museum and quietly marvel at the time and attention to detail put into every exhibit whether or not the museum is frequently visited or not.

Stroll through a Christmas market, and though those who run the stalls wish to make money for their efforts, the visitors to the market seem more relaxed than they would in an ordinary place of purchase.

The Christmas market visitor strolls rather than strides, observes rather than ignores what he/she isn´t looking for, converses rather than simply communicates only what is needed to be said.

Even in our wee Starbucks in Marktgasse there are two perspectives.

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Management will bring pressure to bear on the baristas to sell, sell, sell.

But the wise barista knows that the hard sell only works a small percentage of the time, because the customers come to Starbucks to enjoy themselves in a coffeehouse.

As American a firm that this chain is, it is in old Europe.

Here folks want to sit in a Café and linger.

Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh (1888)

They want to find a comfortable corner, a cozy niche, and quietly read a book, or study for their exams, or enjoy each other´s company.

Outside the winds of change toss and turn their lives, but inside a Café the visitor hopes to find an oasis of calm, a harbour of welcome.

The further removed from the day-to-day experience of a Café that management is, the less I feel connected to management.

Money is made from repeat business, the desire to return.

Repeat business is generated from the welcome the guest feels when he/she comes to my store, not from special offers or promotions.

The more management pressures staff to sell, the more pressure the customer feels from the staff that serve them.

The customer is reduced to being an entry on a balance sheet, rather than being the royal entity of the moment.

We are pressured by management if there is a line-up of people forced to wait for service to suddenly rush through our processes and yet somehow still sell, sell, sell the same amounts that normally require more effort on the part of the salesperson.

Yet compassionate friendly attention paid to each individual customer, with an occasional reassuring word to the folks waiting to be served that they are also important and that their patience is appreciated, goes further to keeping customers happy than a quick stressful promptness and dismissiveness to “keep the line moving” ever does.

Management only partially gets this.

The higher up the ladder, the less management understands this.

Management´s destination is the coffers of the company.

But the destination is only possible if the journey is successfully accomplished, if the customer looks forward to coming back to a place where they truly felt welcome.

This malaise felt in our wee Starbucks is a microcosm of what life is in Switzerland.

The Swiss, as a general rule, seem so focused on making money that they have forgotten that money may buy things, but things only distract – they don´t diminish unhappiness felt in a life offering nothing more than a fuller bank account.

The richer the country, the more miserable the people seem to be.

Yet beyond the banks and past the profits is a land of amazing vistas and panoramas so breathtakingly beautiful as to inspire poetry from a pauper and music from the mute.

Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg

It is easy to forget that outside the pellmell of the pursuit of profit that life, wonderful life, is waiting to be discovered in all of its subtle and savoury awesomeness.

Money cannot buy happiness nor guarantee salvation.

This message came crystal clear to my wife and I in an unexpected corner of the richest part of Italy this summer…..

Flag of Italy

Above: Flag of Italy

 

Clusone, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lombardy is Italy´s richest and most developed region.

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Above: Lombardy (in red)

It has always been and still remains a commercial crossroads.

It has been coveted and controlled by the French and the Austrians and takes its name from the Lombards who invaded the region and took it from the Romans.

As a border region, accessible through numerous mountainous passes, Lombardy has always been vulnerable to invasion.

It has long been viewed by northern Europeans as the true capital of Italy.

Emperors from Charlemagne to Napoleon came to Lombardy to be crowned and northern European business magnates take Milan more seriously than Rome (much like they take New York more seriously than Washington, Toronto more seriously than Ottawa, or Zürich more seriously than Bern).

Lombardy´s landscape has paid the price for economic success.

Industry chokes the air, sprawls across the plains and spreads tentacles in all directions that it can.

Nonetheless the casual traveller can still find oases of calm and harbingers of welcome.

The upper reaches of Lombardy´s valleys remain unspoilt.

Even the most sophisticated and ultra modern towns and cities retain their serendipitous medieval cores boasting amazing art and architecture.

The stunning scenery and lush landscapes of Lombardian lakes subtly seduce the unsuspecting visitor.

Much like the Swiss, the Lombardians don´t have much time for life, being too busy making a living.

Milan is a workaholic factory of fashion and innovation, forever focused on the future, impatient with the present, dismissive of the past.

Clockwise from top: Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, CityLife project, Arch of Peace, and Milan Cathedral

Above: Pictures of Milan (clockwise from top): Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, City Life Project, Arch of Peace, Milan Cathedral

The provincial towns are filled with folks focused on security and luxury and privilege.

These urban and urbane northern Italians are dismissive of the south and for them Rome is nothing more than a tragic complexity of errors.

The late 20th century has even seen the rise of a separatist political Party, the Lega Nord, demanding independence from Rome with rheotric suggesting that the North sustains the inefficient lazy South.

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Industrial development has done a dastardly thorough job of ruining the landscape around Bergamo, but if the traveller pushes up the valleys things vastly improve.

To the northwest, the Val Brembana is fringed by a garland of mountains that have borne the tread of generations of caravans of mules bringing minerals from the rocks to the cities of the plains.

Here one can take the waters of San Pellegrino Terme, Lombardy´s most fashionable spa since the start of the 20th century, sleep in a grand hotel and play games inside the casino.

Above: Grand Hotel, San Pellegrino Terme

To the northeast, through and past the Val Cavellina ruined by small factories and characterless housing, the Valle Seriana is also overly developed and overcrowded with apartments appropriating forests and rivers reduced to streams by hydroelectric eyesores.

But in the upper reaches of the Seriana are still untouched stretches of unspoilt pastoral and wild paradise.

Clusone is the main stop, perhaps the only stop, worth making in the entirety of the Valle Seriana.

Panorama of the town in winter

Above: Clusone in winter

It is a picturesque hilltop town well worth a wander.

This is a stroller´s town.

Visit the Church of St. Luigi, the Church of St. Anna, the Church of Paradise, the Church of St. Defendente, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Church of St. Lucio and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Rocco.

Above: The Church of San Defendente

Linger in the Palazzo Comunale or the Palazzo Fogaccia or the Palazzo Marinoni Barca, the Palazzo Bonicelli della Vite, or the Palazzo Carrara Spinelli Maffei.

Above: Palazzo Fogaccia

With steep curving streets and shops selling sausage and cheese, Clusone is the kind of quiet town that invites lingering, where a person is encouraged to linger for hours over lunch and coffee, a place of peaceful contemplation.

In this town where time doesn´t matter, time is nonetheless carefully calculated and measured.

The Piazza dell´ Orologio is named for the fiendishly complicated 16th century clock on the tower of the Palazzo Communale.

Above: Piazza dell´ Orologio

If you have the time and the patience, you can work out the date, the sign of the zodiac, the duration of the night and the phase of the moon from the mechanical movements of the clock.

It takes time to understand time.

Then as you take time to contemplate time, climb upwards to the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta with its Oratorio dei Disciplini (the Oratory of the Disciples) that draws visitors from all over.

Above: Oratorio dei Disciplini

There is little of interest within the walls of the church, but the two 15th century frescoes on the church exterior more than compensate the weary walker for his trek up the hill.

The frescoes were painted by Giacomo Borlone de Buschis in 1485.

The upper fresco, The Triumph of Death, concentrates on the attitude of the wealthy towards death, with three noblemen returning from the hunt, discovering an open tomb containing the worm-infested corpses of the Pope and the Emperor, surrounded by snakes, frogs and scorpions.

A huge skeleton clothed in cloak and crown, larger than life, representing triumphant Death, balances on the edge of the tomb, while other skeletons take aim at people gathered around the tomb.

Death stands on a sepulchre around which the figures of a cardinal, a bishop, a king and a philosopher are offering her gifts.

These onlookers are incorruptible figures, uninterested in the bribes being offered them.

“Everyone dies and leaves the world, those who offend God leave bitterly.”

“For the love of God, don´t have fear to come to the Dance, but joyfully come and be happy.”

The lower fresco, The Dance of Death, continues the tale of morality and mortality, contrasting the corrupt upper classes with a procession of contented commoners, each dancing his way towards death quite happily unconcerned.

I am reminded of an old song I learned back in my high school days:

“Dance, dance, whomever you may be

I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

“And I´ll lead you all whomever you may be

For I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

But this is not only a place of Death, Clusone has been the birthplace of artists and athletes:

  • Domenico Carpinoni (1566 – 1658), painter
  • Cosimo Fanzago (1591 – 1678), architect / sculptor
  • Antonio Cifrondi (1656 – 1730), painter
  • Bartolomeo Nazari (1699 – 1758), painter
  • Antonio Percassi, chairman of the Percassi Holding Company
  • Attilio Rota, cyclist
  • Paolo Savoldelli, cyclist
  • Kevin Ceccon, race car driver

Domenico, Cosimo, Antonio C. and Bartolomeo are united in death, despite their accomplishments.

Antonio P., Attilio, Paolo and Kevin probably won´t live forever, regardless of what they do or don´t do.

We all do the Danse Macabre, no matter one´s station in life.

Above: The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

Whether Pope, peasant or Emperor, King or kid, lazy or labourer, each day is a memento mori, a reminder of the fragility of our lives and of how vain and pointless are the glories of earthly life.

It is this equality in which I take comfort in.

I am destined to die one day, so I won´t have to endure living eternally while others die around me.

And, so far, man has yet to create a dystopian future where people stop aging but have clocks in their arms that determine how long they have to live.

I don´t want to know how much time remains on my life clock, for this uncertainty makes me appreciate every present moment as if it were my last.

At present, the rich cannot buy additional time, additional life.

Imagine if you can how truly horrific the scenario in the movie In Time would be if it ever became our reality instead of just simply entertaining science fiction.

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A hell where time has become the universal currency, where the rich hoard time for themselves to live forever while constantly increasing the cost of living to ensure the poor die.

It is the miracle of birth that Christians celebrate this Christmas season, yet places like Clusone remind me that death, as painful as it is for those left behind to mourn the loss of the deceased, is in its own way also a miracle of sorts.

Without death, life loses its precious value.

Without death, pain is eternal and suffering endless.

Without death, a place cannot sustain a population that constantly increases without limits.

I don´t want to die, but I don´t want to live forever.

It is said by Christians that Christ came so that all who believe in Him might enjoy eternal life.

A depiction of Jesus on the cross

We fear death because we fear the nothingness of non-existence.

We tell ourselves tales, wrapped in religious impulse, that there is something somewhere somehow beyond life.

This idea of something beyond life reassures us that the inadequacies of life can somehow be recompensed in some alternate realm of being.

I for one will never discourage those from believing in what helps them cope with life and its eventual ending.

Perhaps this is what I can take away from Christmas this year….

In this celebration of new life and the promise of life eternal, let us appreciate this moment of life we are living now.

Then perhaps everyday will be a Christmas worth celebrating.

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Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Queen´s Horsemen

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 13 December 2017

There are moments in life – and isn´t travel truly a microcosm of life? – when a person realizes that his internal indecisiveness on certain issues will always remain.

“Do I contradict myself? 

Very well, then I contradict myself. 

I am large. 

I contain multitudes.”

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”, Leaves of Grass

A black-on-white engraving of Whitman standing with his arm at his side

Above: Walt Whitman (1819 – 1892)

I find myself particularly contradictory when I visit places that remain ruled as monarchies, duchies or principalities.

Do people actually need a monarchy?

To maintain the life and lifestyle of someone such as Queen Elizabeth II of Britain and the British Commonwealth is horrendously expensive.

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Above: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (born 1926, reigning since 1952)

For example, a seven-day visit to Canada by Her Majesty will cost both British and Canadian taxpayers undisclosed millions of British pounds and Canadian dollars to ensure that Her Person is protected, that strict protocols are followed and that She will appear regal and majestic wherever She goes.

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

To the average Joe like me, all that is seen seems to be naught but pomp and ceremony, and if hard pressed to define exactly what it is a monarch, especially one in a constitutional democracy, actually does with his/her working day I would be at a loss to explain it.

As Head of State, we are told that Her Majesty is meant to be the last bastion of sober second thought before a bill can be approved as law.

As Head of State, the Queen´s very presence commands reverance and respect as it is presumed that She has spent Her entire life preparing Herself for Her role, while Prime Ministers generally only learn how to do their jobs once they have acquired them.

As an English Canadian I have often defended the Queen as a sign of tradition, if for no other reason than to annoy French Canadians who lean more towards France´s republican system of government simply because they are French.

Flag of Quebec

I dare say that Her Majesty may brave a cold Ottawa winter´s day, but She would be most foolish to attempt a warm summer´s night in Chicoutimi, Québec!

If the mosquitoes didn´t get Her, the mobs of disgruntled Francophones would!

In my lifetime, Her Majesty has visited Canada at least ten times.

Since 2000, members of the Royal Family other than Her Majesty have visited Canada at least 50 times.

Somehow I never seem to get an invitation to these events.

And the only correspondence I might expect from the House of Windsor might be a card of congratulations for reaching my 100th birthday if I am resident in a Commonwealth country at the time.

Member states of the Commonwealth

Above: Member states of the British Commonwealth (green)

My wife, my own personal Queen, She Who Must Be Obeyed, remains extremely unsupportive as to my chances.

I have resigned myself to never meeting Her Majesty for I lack, and – short of events I cannot foresee – will continue to lack, both fame and power meriting time with Her Majesty.

I am a commoner.

My eating habits find wild animals gathering to watch the spectacle.

My clothing choices would hurt the eyes of the blind.

My education enables me to tie my shoes without consulting a manual.

My salary and bank account are envied only by the homeless.

My voice would stop traffic and I have a face perfect for radio.

Still I am sure that the invitations simply got lost in the mail.

Yet there´s a part of me that would be absolutely thrilled if I ever did have a chance to spend time with royalty, for though I know rationally that their consumption of Ricola cough drops would cause them to fart as they cause me to do, and that they are mortals such as I am, they exist in a stratosphere far elevated and far removed from my own.

Sometimes I think that Americans are so obsessed with their movie and music stars to the degree that they are, because in their heart of hearts there remains a regret that the Revolution cost them the right to have regents.

Flag of the United States

Say what you will about this collection of interbreeding overprivileged misfits, the Royal Family captures our hearts and imagination simply because they are the Royal Family.

Yet the socialist within, the wee anarchist beneath, wonders how truly deserving they are of such attention and admiration.

This conflict, this whirling dervish of devilish contradiction, was quite strong during our London visit….

London, England, 24 October 2017

To visit London is to be bombarded and blitzed by reminders royal.

From the National Portrait Gallery – a sort of two dimensional, high browed Madame Tussaud´s – with propaganda pictures of kings and Queens since Tudor and Stuart times, to the parade of palaces that seem to be found everywhere one goes, London is a royal place.

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Palaces, though I will visit them out of obligation to seeing them where I happen to be, generally leave me cold, for I simply cannot imagine living in such decadent luxury while there exists so many others less fortunate.

I did not visit Buckingham Palace.

Above: Buckingham Palace

I did not join the throngs of tourists watching one of the two Changing of the Guard ceremonies outside this Palace.

To be fair, I had seen the Changing of the Guard both in Quebec City´s Citadel and on Ottawa´s Parliament Hill, so I honestly don´t expect there to be any significant differences between these and London´s.

Parliament sits in the Centre Block in Ottawa

Above: Centennial Flame / Centre Block, Parliament Hill, Ottawa

Avoiding things royal in London actually takes a concerted effort.

We started the day with good intentions.

We began our tourist day, after breakfast at our Paddington B & B and the Tube to Charing Cross, by walking from Trafalgar Square to St. James´s Park and the Churchill War Rooms (which I highly recommend).

(For more on the Churchill War Rooms, please see Canada Slim and the Right Man of this blog.)

Trafalgar Square is London´s finest architectural set piece and one of the easiest parts of London to reach most of London´s major sights within a half-mile of each other.

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Above: Trafalgar Square

So, yes, this is a well-trodden tourist centre.

As one of the few large public squares in London, Trafalgar Square has not only been a tourist attraction but as well it has often been the focus for political demonstrations for over a century and a half.

The Square has seen Bloody Sunday (13 November 1887) when hundreds of demonstrators were injured, and three killed, by police.

It has seen anti-apartheid demonstrations and Poll Tax riots, but on this day the only mob is that of tourists seeking to see Nelson´s Column, which commemorates the one-armed, one-eyed Admiral who defeated the French at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 but paid for it with his life.

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Above: Battle of Trafalgar

Even though his sandstone statue atop the Column is three times lifesize, it appears miniscule when compared to the massive height (151 feet) of the Column itself.

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Above: Nelson´s Column, Trafalgar Square

Above: Nelson´s statue atop his Column

Everyone knows the four bronze lions that guard the base of Nelson´s Column, but few people realise that the lions appeared 25 years after the Column was built.

The Column itself was completed in 1843 and William Railton´s design included four lions to set it off, but a lack of funds and arguments over the choice of sculptor delayed the project.

The Board of Works in charge of the whole monument finally chose Sir Edwin Landseer – a controversial choice.

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Above: Sir Edwin Landseer (1802 – 1873)

Even though Landseer was Queen Victoria´s favourite painter with an unrivalled reputation for painting animals, he had never sculpted anything.

The project was further delayed by Landseer´s health problems so that four years after accepting the commission he was still drafting sketches.

He asked to be supplied with copies of casts of a real lion made by the Art Academy in Turin.

He spent hours studying lions in the London Zoo.

Finally he asked the Zoo for a dead lion as a studio model, but had to wait two years for one to die.

Unfortunately the lion started to rot before Landseer could finish the work, so he had to improvise, using a domestic cat as a model for the paws and a dog for the tongue.

These hybrid lions were finally installed in 1868.

On the southeast corner of Trafalgar Square is Britain´s smallest police station, unseen by the hordes of tourists posing before Nelson´s Column, a one-man sentry box fashioned from a hollowed-out granite lamp post.

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The secret police box was installed by Scotland Yard in 1926 so that the cops could keep an eye on the demonstrators and agitators who routinely gathered in the Square.

With narrow slits for windows and claustrophobic proportions, this human CCTV camera was equipped with a telephone with a direct line to Canon Row Police Station in case things got out of hand.

Originally installed in 1826, the ornamental light on the top would flash whenever the police officer trapped inside picked up the telephone, alerting his fellow officers in the vicinity to come to his rescue.

Today, the lookout post is used to store street cleaning equipment.

The only clue that links this post to the police is a faded list of bylaws hanging outside.

For the record, offences in Trafalgar Square included feeding the birds, camping, parking a caravan, public speaking, playing music, washing or drying clothes, exercising, bathing, boating or canoeing in the fountains, flying a kite or using any foot-propelled device – unless you have written permission from the Mayor.

(The devil in me would love that challenge!)

(As previously mentioned Trafalgar Square is named after the Battle of Trafalgar when 33 English ships defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet of 41 ships.)

We followed The Mall – London´s nearest equivalent to a Parisian boulevard – through the Admirality Arch….

(The Admirality Arch, once the official residence of the First Sea Lord overseeing all maritime operations, then an extension building of the Cabinet Office (2000 – 2002), and finally Prime Minister Tony Blair´s Strategy Unit (2002 – 2010), is now a property of real estate developer Rafael Serrano who is presently converting the building into a luxury Hotel slated to open in 2020.

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The Arch has often been used for ceremonial affairs such as royal weddings and coronations, state funerals and Olympic Games processions.)

….to the Victoria Memorial – King Edward VII´s 2,300 ton marble tribute to his Mama, at 25 metres/82 feet the tallest monument to a monarch in England….

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Above: The Victoria Memorial, London

…..to St. James´s Park.

The 23 hectare / 57 acre St. James´s Park is the oldest of London´s parks, having been puchased by Henry VIII in 1532, and drained and turned into a deer park by James I in 1603.

Above: St. James´ Park Lake, looking toward Buckingham Palace

It was redesigned and opened to the public by Charles II, who used to stroll through the grounds with his mistresses and courtiers, feed the ducks and even take a dip in the canal.

By the 18th century, when some 6,500 people had access to night keys for the gates, the Park had become a byword for robbery and prostitution.

Diarist James Boswell was among those who went there specifically to be solicited “by several ladies of the town”.

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Above: James Boswell (1740 – 1795)

From the diary of James Boswell:

25 March 1763: 

As I was coming home this night, I felt carnal inclinations raging through my Frame.  I determined to gratify them.  I went to St. James´s Park and like a brute I picked up a whore.  For the first time did I engage in Amour which I found but a dull satisfaction.  She who submitted to my lusty embraces was a young Shropshire girl, very good-looking.

The Park was a busy place in the 18th century.

Travelling condom salesmen did a roaring trade.

The condoms were made of animal gut, intended to protect men from venereal disease rather than to prevent pregnancy.

Giacomo Casanova frequented the Park in the same year as Boswell.

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Above: Giacomo Casanova (1725 – 1798)

Casanova went to the Park “to watch the great beauties parading”, but was disconcerted to see People defecating in the bushes instead.

Today the banks of the tree-lined lake are a favourite picnic spot for the civil servants of Whitehall and an inner-city reserve for wildfowl, which flock to West Island and Duck Island.

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James I´s two crocodiles left no descendants, but the pelicans (which have resided here since a pair was presented to Charles II by the Russian ambassador in 1664) can still be seen at the eastern end of the lake.

Here there are exotic ducks of every variation imaginable.

Just in time for the twelve days of Christmas (26 December – 6 January), the visitor can find many more than two calling birds, six geese a-laying and seven swans a-swimming, but, alas, no turtledoves, no pear trees for partridges, and no French hens, as far as fowl and feathered life goes in the Park.

The Canadian in me was thrilled to see Canada geese in the Park.

Surprisingly some writers have seen fit to use the Park as the setting for battles:

In Charlie Higson´s post apocalptic young adult horror novel The Enemy, two groups of children battle for control of the Park after a worldwide sickness has infected adults and turned them into zombies.

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In Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett´s Good Omens, the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crawley frequent the Park and feed the ducks.

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Our walk led us to the abovementioned Churchill War Rooms, but after leaving this excellent Museum we quickly became disoriented – fresh air smells funny! – and somehow found ourselves at the Household Cavalry Museum.

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Above: The Household Cavalry Regiment building

Thus my internal conflict regarding the Monarchy began….

During the day two mounted sentries and two horseless colleagues are posted at the Horse Guards Building.

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The sentries are part of the Queen´s Life Guard, provided by the Household Cavalry Regiments, who are more than just the Changing the Guard´s ceremonies (for 350 years) but are actual fighting soldiers who have served and fought for England since the Restoration (1660), in the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674) , the Glorious Revolution (1688), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the Seven Years War (the world´s first global conflict)(1756-1763), the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the Crimean War (1853-1856), the Anglo-Egyptian War (1882), the Second Boer War (1899-1902), both world wars (1914-1918/1939-1945), the Falklands War (1982), the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001), the Gulf War (1990-1991), the 2003 invasion of Iraq and various operations in Afghanistan, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.

The years after the English Civil War (1642-1651) saw King Charles I (1600-1649, King: 1625-1649) executed….

(The black dot over the number 2 on the Building´s clock face denotes the hour at which he was executed in 1649.)

….and Oliver Cromwell replace him as Lord Protector of a republican Commonwealth (1653-1659).

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Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658, Lord Protector: 1653-1658)

Upon Cromwell´s death, his Commonwealth failed and in 1660, King Charles II returned to England in triumph.

Seated man of thin build with chest-length curly black hair

Above: Charles II (1630-1685), King: 1660- 1685

Just before his Restoration, the King created a mounted bodyguard which would expand and incorporate other regiments to form what we recognise today as the Household Cavalry Guards.

Back in Charles II´s day, the King insisted that he be regularly accompanied by one of the Guards wherever he went.

While Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II remains as the Household Cavalry´s Colonel-in-Chief, I am not privy to whom guards Her security these days.

Back of the Horse Guards Building, which remains a military headquarters commanding army units in London, is the Household Cavalry Museum.

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Here you can try a trooper´s elaborate uniform, complete a horse quiz and learn about the regiments´ history.

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See swords and walking sticks, playing cards, paintings and uniforms, skulls and prosthetic legs, cuirasses and chocolate boxes, trophies and medals, trumpets and drums.

Learn of men of legendary status:

Colonel John Manners, the Marquess of Granby: He carried passionately about the welfare of his soldiers and was compulsively generous.  In 1760, in the Battle of Warburg, he led 8,000 men to victory over a French army three times larger.  His headress lost in the Battle, he saluted his commander bare headed, highly unusual at the time.  The Household Cavalry have the unique privilege in the British Army of saluting without headdress.

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Above: John Manners (1721 – 1770)

Colonel John Shaw: At over 6 feet, 3 inches / 1.9 metres and weighing 95 kg / 210 lbs, he earned money as a prizefighter.  At the Battle of Waterloo, he smashed at the enemy´s faces using the hilt of his sword as English swords were shorter than the French´s.  Then he killed more of the enemy before his sword broke and valiantly fought on with only his helmet as a weapon until he fell in battle.  His skull is on display at the Museum.

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, 18 June 1815

Colonel Fred Burnaby: An enormous and very strong man, he once carried two ponies down the stairs of the officers´ mess in Windsor, a pony under each arm.  He travelled to Khiva, deep in the Tsar´s troubled Asian territories, because the Russians had forbidden foreigners from going there. The book he wrote became a best seller.  He campaigned in Bulgaria, joined a revolt in Spain, crossed the English Channel by balloon, and was both a journalist and politician. Lionised by his soldiers, he was not meant to have been in the Sudan when he was killed at Abu Klea in January 1885.  He met his end in a manner in which he would have approved, facing overwhelming odds in hand to hand fighting.

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Above: Fred Burnaby (1842 – 1885)

Colonel David Smiley: He was parachuted behind enemy lines many times in eastern Europe and Asia.  It is suggested that both Ian Fleming´s James Bond and John le Carré´s George Smiley were modelled after the Colonel.

Colonel David Smiley has died aged 92

Above: David Smiley (centre)(1917 – 2009)

These stories are just a sampling of the courage, professionalism and distinction shown by soldiers in all military services in all nations, but of course this Museum focuses on the men (and women?) of the Household Cavalry.

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Above: Logo of the Household Cavalry Regiment

With the stables immediately adjacent, it´s a sweet-smelling place(!) and you can see these beasts of burden in their stalls through a glass screen.

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The horses are big: a minimum height of 5 feet, 4 inches / 1.65 metres high at the shoulder.

Bought as four or five year olds, most of them are black.

Only the trumpeters ride white steeds.

From arrival to taking part in ceremonial occasions, the training of a horse takes six months.

The horses are exercised each morning, compete in annual competitions and are given holidays (“sent out to grass”) twice a year.

Horses generally retire at around 18, though some serve into their 20s.

As fascinating as the history of the Cavalry is and as much as a spectacle of colour and pagentry that the Changing the Guard ceremony is, I could not stop thinking about the endless amount of money and effort that goes into maintaining the mounted tradition: 280 horses, an army of riding instructors, farriers (horseshoe blacksmiths), vets, saddlers, tailors, musicians (kettle drummers and trumpeters) and cavalry men.

I thought of the many countless hours of preparation that are needed for a Parade: the polishing of breastplates, helmets and swords; the scrubbing and whitening of buckskins, gauntlets, belts and slings; the cleaning and polishing of jackboots; the grooming of the horses; the polishing of saddles; then inspection of the troop with obsessive-compulsive attention to detail adhering to the highest possible standards of perfection.

The combined weight of the horse´s equipment and the mounted rider´s gear is 62 lbs / 28 kg, an unforgiving and punishing practice for both man and beast.

It makes me question the sanity of a man who chooses to join the Household Cavalry.

How cruel it is to have the sentry boxmen remain motionless and emotionless for an hour at a time!

Where is the logic, the sanity, the humanity in this activity?

All in the name of honour and tradition or simply base entertainment for tourists?

It makes me question the assumption of privilege and pomp of individuals whose only claim to honour and respect was the accident of being born into the right family.

How deserving is a person of a palace or crown, of the sacrifice of young persons´ lives and vitality to ensure that the royal is treated better than a commoner?

Are the lives of the common people improved by the gleam of metal spokes on royal carriages, the sheen of horse flesh, the precision of military movement and spectacle?

As much of a show that the mounted ceremonies offer the throngs of tourists, is it worth all the work and expense that these ceremonies cost?

I do understand and sympathise with the need for military forces.

I do understand the need to protect both heads of government and heads of state.

But I must admit I remain dissatisfied at the alarming discrepancy the royal lifestyle has when compared to the average commoner.

I can appreciate that royals are trained to serve, but excess displays of wealth and privilege make it seem that the world exists to serve them instead.

I can accept that there will always be people better than me, but by the same token there are some things I am better at than others.

I can learn from others and others can learn from me.

I can appreciate that the recognition of quality and talent should exist, but I rally against the idea that these fortunate few are thus somehow superior to everyone else, that we are somehow less worthy of our existence than they are of theirs.

As a Canadian I can appreciate when talented Canadians are recognised for their contributions to society, but singers, for example, insult their public admirers when they have ostentatious homes and weddings or act as if the laws and mores of society somehow do not apply to them, as in the case of Celine Dion or Justin Bieber.

I respect Her Majesty Elizabeth II and her wisdom in her role as the world´s longest serving monarch, but the price tag is too damn high.

I felt nothing but sadness for the sacrifice of the Household Cavalry – a sacrifice unceasing since 1660 and one ongoing unceasingly.

The horses are beautiful, the soldiers proud, the gestures meaningless.

I guess tourists shouldn´t think too much.

A flag featuring both cross and saltire in red, white and blue

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to London / Nicholas Best, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / http://www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk