Canada Slim and the Man Who Invented the Future

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 21 January 2019

(Continued from Canada Slim and the Visionary & Canada Slim and the Current War)

Imagine a man a century ago, bold enough to design and actually build a huge tower with which to transmit the human voice, music, pictures, press news and even power, through the Earth to any distance whatever without wires!

He probably would have been hung or burnt at the stake.

(Hugo Gernsback, Preface to Nikola Tesla’s My Inventions: 5. The Magnifying Transmitter, Electrical Experimenter, June 1919)

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Such was the high regard that Gernsback, Tesla’s greatest admirer, had for the Serbian inventor.

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

Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943) was one of the greatest scientists and innovators during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century.

The Serbian genius went to America in 1884 and would be followed by his Luxemburger admirer Hugo Gernsback (1884 – 1967) twenty years later.

Gernsback portrait by Fabian, date unknown

 

Both men would come to America to bring realization to their visionary ideas.

 

Tesla is the creative genius behind many great inventions which are today utilized in radio, industrial and nuclear technology.

Gernsback’s contributions as a publisher were so significant that, along with the novelists H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, that he is sometimes called the Father of Science Fiction, and it is in his honour that the annual awards presented at the World Science Fiction Convention are named the Hugos.

 

For me there is an irony that Tesla was discovered by the world through Gernsback while I discovered Gernsback through the world of Tesla.

 

Belgrade, Serbia, 5 April 2018

A week’s vacation where boys will be boys in a part of the world far removed from our respective spouses found me visiting my Serbian friend Nesha in his home city of Belgrade.

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Sadly, Nesha had more obligations in Serbia than just playing host to this Canadian blogger so half my stay involved me on my own.

I had arrived the previous day, travelling with Nesha from his home in Herisau, Switzerland, to his childhood house in the Serbian capital.

After breakfast the following morning, the dateline above, I set out to explore the city.

Krunska Street runs parallel to the Bulevar (King Aleksander Boulevard, one of the longest streets in Belgrade) and, in contrast, is a relatively quiet street and makes for a very pleasant stroll.

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At Krunska 51, the Raska style villa of politician Dorde (George) Gencic, built in 1929, the Nikola Tesla Museum is engaged in educating and informing the public about the life and inventions of this Serbian scientist who died in Manhattan in 1943.

 

(Gernsback would die in the same city twenty-four years later.)

 

The Museum was founded when Sava Kosanovic, Tesla’s heir….

 

(Tesla never married.

He explained that his chastity was very helpful to his scientific abilities.

He once said in earlier years that he felt that he could never be worthy enough for a woman, considering women superior in every way.

His opinion started to sway in later years when he felt that women were trying to outdo men and make themselves more dominant.

 

(I know how he feels!)

 

This “new woman” was met with much indignation from Tesla, who felt that women were losing their feminity by trying to be in power.

In an interview with The Galveston Daily News on 10 August 1924, he stated:

In place of the soft voiced, gentle woman of my reverant worship, has come the woman who thinks that her chief success in life lies in making herself as much as possible like man – in dress, voice and actions, in sports and achievements of every kind.

The tendency of women to push aside man, supplanting the old spirit of cooperation with him in all the affairs of life, is very disappointing to me.”

 

(Clearly his confusion has carried on into the modern age where the ongoing internal struggle between a woman defining herself and letting herself be defined by others still remains.)

Although he told a reporter in later years that he sometimes felt that by not marrying, he had made too great a sacrifice to his work, Tesla chose to never pursue or engage in any known relationships, instead finding all the stimulation he needed in his work.)

 

(Unlike Tesla, Gernsback would marry three times.)

 

Kosanovic brought Tesla’s effects and legacy to Belgrade.

These mainly consist of sketches of his unrealized works, his scientific journal, personal notes and also an urn containing his ashes.

Also at the Museum are thematic rooms, categorized according to different periods of his life.

The most interesting area is certainly that containing models which explain the functioning principles behind his inventions.

Above: Tesla two-phase induction motor

 

Though quite small the Museum has several interesting items on display and an interactive exposition that will capture your attention.

It holds more than 160,000 original documents, over 2,000 books and journals, over 1,200 historical technical exhibits, over 1,500 photographs and photo plates of original, technical objects, instruments and apparatus, and over 1,000 plans and drawings.

Above: Nikola Tesla’s baptismal certificate (24 July 1856)

 

The Museum is also of interest to researchers since it keeps almost all belongings left by the eccentric scientist.

Due to the importance that Tesla’s writings still have for science, the archive of the Museum has been added to the UNESCO Memory of the World list.

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The Museum is divided into two parts.

The historical part is where one can see many of Tesla’s personal belongings, exhibits illustrating his life, awards and decorations bestowed.

The second presents the path of Tesla’s discoveries with models of his inventions in fields of electricity and engineering.

Guided tours in English and Serbian with fascinating demonstrations on how Tesla’s inventions work take place every hour on the hour.

 

Though Tesla never had great financial success, he nonetheless registered over 700 patents worldwide – examples of his best known discoveries being rotating magnetic fields, wireless communication (the foundation of remote control and radio) and rotary transformers.

During his life Tesla was recognized as a striking but sometimes eccentric genius.

Today he is praised for his great achievements:

In 1895 he designed the first hydroelectric power plant at the Niagara Falls.

Above: Schoellkopf Stations 3, 3B and 3C, Niagara Falls

 

His alternating current (AC) induction motor is considered one of the greatest discoveries of all time.

Tesla’s name has been honoured with the International Unit of Magnetic Flux Density, the Tesla (T).

 

Nevertheless I cannot help but wonder whether Tesla’s genius would be as well-known to the average man had it not been for Gernsback or whether he would have gone down in history as simply a clever eccentric without the additional fame Gernsback provided him.

And, to be fair, I wonder whether Gernsback would have found the inspiration for founding “scientifiction” had it not been for the scientific wonders that Tesla invented.

To bring these two men together I need to continue with Tesla’s story first.

 

From the 1890s through 1906, Tesla spent a great deal of time and fortune on a series of projects trying to develop the transmission of electrical power without wires.

It was an expansion of his idea of using coils to transmit power that he had been demonstrating in wireless lighting.

He saw this as not only a way to transmit large amounts of power around the world but also, as he had pointed out in his earlier lectures, a way to transmit worldwide communications.

 

At the time Tesla was formulating his ideas, there was no feasible way to wirelessly transmit communication signals over long distances, let alone large amounts of power.

 

By the mid 1890s, Tesla was working on the idea that he might be able to conduct electricity long distance through the Earth or the atmosphere, and began working on experiments to test this idea including setting up a large resonance transformer magnifying transmitter in his East Houston Street lab.

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Above: Tesla’s East Houston Street lab, New York City

 

Seeming to borrow from a common idea at the time that the Earth’s atmosphere was conductive, he proposed a system composed of balloons suspending, transmitting, and receiving, electrodes in the air above 30,000 feet (9,100 m) in altitude, where he thought the lower pressure would allow him to send high voltages (millions of volts) long distances.

To further study the conductive nature of low pressure air, Tesla set up an experimental station at high altitude in Colorado Springs during 1899.

The Experimental Station was located on empty land on the highest local point (Knob Hill) between the 1876 Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind and the Union Printers Home, where Tesla conducted the research described in the Colorado Springs Notes, 1899-1900.

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A few papers of the times listed Tesla’s lab as about 200 feet east of the Deaf and Blind School and 200 feet north of Pikes Peak Ave.

This put it on top of the hill at E. Kiowa St. and N. Foote Ave (facing west); as documented by Pikes Peak Library District.

There he could safely operate much larger coils than in the cramped confines of his New York lab, and an associate had made an arrangement for the El Paso Power Company to supply alternating current free of charge.

 

Tesla was focused in his research for the practical development of a system for wireless transmission of power and a utilization system.

Tesla said, in “On electricity“, Electrical Review (27 January 1897):

In fact, progress in this field has given me fresh hope that I shall see the fulfillment of one of my fondest dreams; namely, the transmission of power from station to station without the employment of any connecting wires.

 

Tesla went to Colorado Springs in mid-May 1899 with the intent to research:

  1. Transmitters of great power.
  2. Individualization and isolating the energy transmission means.
  3. Laws of propagation of currents through the earth and the atmosphere.

Tesla spent more than half his time researching transmitters.

Tesla spent less than a quarter of his time researching delicate receivers and about a tenth of his time measuring the capacity of the vertical antenna.

Also, Tesla spent a tenth of his time researching miscellaneous subjects.

J. R. Wait’s commented on Tesla activity:

“From an historical standpoint, it is significant that the genius Nikola Tesla envisaged a world wide communication system using a huge spark gap transmitter located in Colorado Springs in 1899.
A few years later he built a large facility in Long Island that he hoped would transmit signals to the Cornish coast of England.
In addition, he proposed to use a modified version of the system to distribute power to all points of the globe”.

 

To fund his experiments he convinced John Jacob Astor IV to invest $100,000 to become a majority share holder in the Nikola Tesla Company.

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Above: John Jacob Astor IV (1864 – 1912)(died on the Titanic)

Astor thought he was primarily investing in the new wireless lighting system.

Instead, Tesla used the money to fund his Colorado Springs experiments.

 

Upon his arrival, he told reporters that he planned to conduct wireless telegraphy experiments, transmitting signals from Pikes Peak to Paris.

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Above: Pike’s Peak, 12 miles / 19 km west of Colorado Springs

 

The lab possessed the largest Tesla coil ever built, 49.25 feet (15 m) in diameter, which was a preliminary version of the magnifying transmitter planned for installation in the Wardenclyffe Tower.

He produced artificial lightning, with discharges consisting of millions of volts and up to 135 feet (41 m) long.

Thunder from the released energy was heard 15 miles (24 km) away in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

People walking along the street observed sparks jumping between their feet and the ground.

Sparks sprang from water line taps when touched.

Light bulbs within 100 feet (30 m) of the lab glowed even when turned off.

Horses in a livery stable bolted from their stalls after receiving shocks through their metal shoes.

Butterflies were electrified, swirling in circles with blue halos of St. Elmo’s fire around their wings.

While experimenting, Tesla inadvertently faulted a power station generator, causing a power outage.

In August 1917, Tesla explained what had happened in The Electrical Experimenter:

As an example of what has been done with several hundred kilowatts of high frequency energy liberated, it was found that the dynamos in a power house 6 miles (10 km) away were repeatedly burned out, due to the powerful high frequency currents set up in them, and which caused heavy sparks to jump through the windings and destroy the insulation!

 

There he conducted experiments with a large coil operating in the megavolts range, producing artificial lightning (and thunder) consisting of millions of volts and up to 135 feet (41 m) long discharges and, at one point, inadvertently burned out the generator in El Paso, causing a power outage.

The observations he made of the electronic noise of lightning strikes, led him to (incorrectly) conclude that he could use the entire globe of the Earth to conduct electrical energy.

 

During his time at his laboratory, Tesla observed unusual signals from his receiver which he speculated to be communications from another planet.

He mentioned them in a letter to a reporter in December 1899 and to the Red Cross Society in December 1900.

Reporters treated it as a sensational story and jumped to the conclusion Tesla was hearing signals from Mars.

Mars appears as a red-orange globe with darker blotches and white icecaps visible on both of its poles.

Above: Mars

 

He expanded on the signals he heard in a 9 February 1901 Collier’s Weekly article “Talking With Planets” where he said it had not been immediately apparent to him that he was hearing “intelligently controlled signals” and that the signals could come from Mars, Venus, or other planets.

 

It has been hypothesized that he may have intercepted Guglielmo Marconi’s European experiments in July 1899—Marconi may have transmitted the letter S (dot/dot/dot) in a naval demonstration, the same three impulses that Tesla hinted at hearing in Colorado—or signals from another experimenter in wireless transmission.

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Above: Guglielmo Marconi (1874 – 1937)

 

Tesla had an agreement with the editor of The Century Magazine to produce an article on his findings.

The magazine sent a photographer to Colorado to photograph the work being done there.

The article, titled “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy“, appeared in the June 1900 edition of the magazine.

He explained the superiority of the wireless system he envisioned but the article was more of a lengthy philosophical treatise than an understandable scientific description of his work, illustrated with what were to become iconic images of Tesla and his Colorado Springs experiments.

 

Tesla made the rounds in New York trying to find investors for what he thought would be a viable system of wireless transmission, wining and dining them at the Waldorf-Astoria’s Palm Garden (the hotel where he was living at the time), The Players Club and Delmonico’s.

 

On 7 January 1900 Tesla made his final entry in his journal while in Colorado Springs.

In 1900 Tesla was granted patents for a “system of transmitting electrical energy” and “an electrical transmitter.”

 

When Guglielmo Marconi made his famous first-ever transatlantic radio transmission in 1901, Tesla quipped that it was done with 17 Tesla patents, though there is little to support this claim.

Above: Marconi watching his associates raising the kite used to lift the antenna, St. John’s, Newfoundland, 12 December 1901

 

In 1904, Tesla was sued for unpaid debts in Colorado Springs.

His lab was torn down and its contents were sold two years later at auction at the court house to satisfy his debts.

 

In March 1901, Tesla obtained $150,000 ($4,517,400 in today’s dollars) from J. Pierpont Morgan in return for a 51% share of any generated wireless patents and began planning the Wardenclyffe Tower facility to be built in Shoreham, New York, 100 miles (161 km) east of the city on the North Shore of Long Island.

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Tesla’s design for Wardenclyffe grew out of his experiments beginning in the early 1890s.

 

His primary goal in these experiments was to develop a new wireless power transmission system.

 

He discarded the idea of using the newly discovered Hertzian (radio) waves, detected in 1888 by German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz since Tesla doubted they existed and basic physics told him, and most other scientists from that period, that they would only travel in straight lines the way visible light did, meaning they would travel straight out into space becoming “hopelessly lost“.

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

Above: Heinrich Hertz (1857 – 1894)

 

In laboratory work and later large scale experiments at Colorado Springs in 1899, Tesla developed his own ideas on how a worldwide wireless system would work.

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He theorized from these experiments that if he injected electric current into the Earth at just the right frequency he could harness what he believed was the planet’s own electrical charge and cause it to resonate at a frequency that would be amplified in “standing waves” that could be tapped anywhere on the planet to run devices or, through modulation, carry a signal.

His system was based more on 19th century ideas of electrical conduction and telegraphy instead of the newer theories of air-borne electromagnetic waves, with an electrical charge being conducted through the ground and being returned through the air.

 

Tesla’s design used a concept of a charged conductive upper layer in the atmosphere, a theory dating back to an 1872 idea for a proposed wireless power system by Mahlon Loomis.

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Above: Mahlon Loomis (1826 – 1886)

 

Tesla not only believed that he could use this layer as his return path in his electrical conduction system, but that the power flowing through it would make it glow, providing night time lighting for cities and shipping lanes.

 

In a February 1901 Collier’s Weekly article titled “Talking With Planets” Tesla described his “system of energy transmission and of telegraphy without the use of wires” as “using the Earth itself as the medium for conducting the currents, thus dispensing with wires and all other artificial conductors … a machine which, to explain its operation in plain language, resembled a pump in its action, drawing electricity from the Earth and driving it back into the same at an enormous rate, thus creating ripples or disturbances which, spreading through the Earth as through a wire, could be detected at great distances by carefully attuned receiving circuits.

In this manner I was able to transmit to a distance, not only feeble effects for the purposes of signaling, but considerable amounts of energy, and later discoveries I made convinced me that I shall ultimately succeed in conveying power without wires, for industrial purposes, with high economy, and to any distance, however great.

 

Although Tesla demonstrated wireless power transmission at Colorado Springs, lighting electric lights mounted outside the building where he had his large experimental coil, he did not scientifically test his theories.

He believed he had achieved Earth resonance which, according to his theory, would work at any distance.

Tesla began working on his wireless station immediately.

 

As soon as the contract was signed with Morgan in March 1901 he placed an order for generators and transformers with the Westinghouse Electric Company.

Westinghouse Design Mark

 

Tesla’s plans changed radically after he read a June 1901 Electrical Review article by Marconi entitled SYNTONIC WIRELESS TELEGRAPH.

At this point Marconi was transmitting radio signals beyond the range most physicists thought possible (over the horizon) and the description of the Italian inventor’s use of a “Tesla coil” “connected to the Earth” led Tesla to believe Marconi was copying his earth resonance system to do it.

Tesla, believing a small pilot system capable of sending Morse code yacht race results to Morgan in Europe would not be able to capture the attention of potential investors, decided to scale up his designs with a much more powerful transmitter, incorporating his ideas of advanced telephone and Image transmission as well as his ideas of wireless power delivery.

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Above: J.P. Morgan (1837 – 1913)

 

In July 1901 Tesla informed Morgan of his planned changes to the project and the need for much more money to build it.

He explained the more grandiose plan as a way to leap ahead of competitors and secure much larger profits on the investment.

With Tesla basically proposing a breach of contract, Morgan refused to lend additional funds and demanded an account of money already spent.

Tesla would claim a few years later that funds were also running short because of Morgan’s role in triggering the stock market panic of 1901, making everything Tesla had to buy much more expensive.

Despite Morgan stating no additional funds would be supplied, Tesla continued on with the project.

 

He explored the idea of building several small towers or a tower 300 feet and even 600 feet tall in order to transmit the type of low-frequency long waves that Tesla thought were needed to resonate the Earth.

 

His friend, architect Stanford White, who was working on designing structures for the project, calculated that a 600-foot tower would cost $450,000 and the idea had to be scrapped.

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Above: Stanford White (1853 – 1906)

 

By July 1901, Tesla had expanded his plans to build a more powerful transmitter to leap ahead of Marconi’s radio based system, which Tesla thought was a copy of his own system.

He approached Morgan to ask for more money to build the larger system but Morgan refused to supply any further funds.

A month after Marconi’s success, Tesla tried to get Morgan to back an even larger plan to transmit messages and power by controlling “vibrations throughout the globe“.

Over the next five years, Tesla wrote more than 50 letters to Morgan, pleading for and demanding additional funding to complete the construction of Wardenclyffe.

 

Tesla continued the project for another nine months into 1902.

The tower was erected to its full 187 feet (57 m).

In June 1902, Tesla moved his lab operations from Houston Street to Wardenclyffe.

 

In 1906 the financial problems and other events may have led to a nervous breakdown on Tesla’s part.

 

The mentally unstable multimillionaire Harry Kendall Thaw shot and killed the prominent architect and New York socialite Stanford White in front of hundreds of witnesses at the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden on the evening of 25 June 1906, leading to what the press would call the “Trial of the Century“.

During the trial, Nesbit testified that five years earlier, when she was a stage performer at the age of 15 or 16, she had attracted the attention of White, who first gained her and her mother’s trust, then sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious, and then had a subsequent romantic and sexual relationship with her that continued for some period of time

Above: Evelyn Nesbit (1884 – 1967)

 

In October, long time investor William Rankine died of a heart attack.

 

Things were so bad by the fall of that year George Scherff, Tesla’s chief manager who had been supervising Wardenclyffe, had to leave to find other employment.

The people living around Wardenclyffe noticed the Tesla plant seemed to have been abandoned without notice.

 

In 1904 Tesla took out a mortgage on the Wardenclyffe property with George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, to cover Tesla’s living expenses at the hotel.

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Above: George Boldt (1851 – 1916)

 

In 1908 Tesla procured a second mortgage from Boldt to further cover expenses.

The facility was partially abandoned around 1911, and the tower structure deteriorated.

Between 1912 and 1915, Tesla’s finances unraveled, and when the funders wanted to know how they were going to recapture their investments, Tesla was unable to give satisfactory answers.

 

The 1 March 1916 edition of the publication Export American Industries ran a story titled “Tesla’s Million Dollar Folly” describing the abandoned Wardenclyffe site:

There everything seemed left as for a day — chairs, desks, and papers in businesslike array.

The great wheels seemed only awaiting Monday life.

But the magic word has not been spoken, and the spell still rests on the great plant.

 

Investors on Wall Street were putting their money into Marconi’s system, and some in the press began turning against Tesla’s project, claiming it was a hoax.

The project came to a halt in 1905.

 

Tesla mortgaged the Wardenclyffe property to cover his debts at the Waldorf-Astoria, which eventually mounted to $20,000 ($500,300 in today’s dollars).

He lost the property in foreclosure in 1915 and by mid-1917 the facility’s main building was breached and vandalized.

In 1917 the Tower was demolished by the new owner to make the land a more viable real estate asset.

Meanwhile….

Gernsback was an entrepreneur in the electronics industry, importing radio parts from Europe to the United States and helping to popularize amateur “wireless“.

In April 1908, he founded Modern Electrics, the world’s first magazine about both electronics and radio (“wireless“).

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While the cover of the magazine itself states it was a catalog, most historians note that it contained articles, features and plotlines, qualifying it as a magazine.

Under its auspices, in January 1909, Gernsback founded the Wireless Association of America, which had 10,000 members within a year.

In 1912, Gernsback said that he estimated 400,000 people in the US were involved in amateur radio.

In 1913, he founded a similiar magazine, The Electrical Experimenter, which became Science and Invention in 1920.

It was in these magazines he began including scientific fiction stories alongside science journalism – including his own novel Ralph 124c 41+ which he ran for 12 months in Modern Electrics.

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By playing a key role in the wireless industry, Gernsback secured a position and a significant influence on the adoption of new legal regulations.

At the same time, aware of the low level of education of radio amateurs, he founded several magazines covering radio and later also television.

It is widely believed that the term television appeared for the first time in the December 1909 issue of his Modern Electrics, in the article “Television and the Telephot“.

Gernsback began publishing articles with a futuristic view of scientific and technological developments very early.

When finishing the preparation of an issue of his magazine Modern Electrics in 1911, Gernsback discovered that some free space remained on one of the pages.

Since he was already used to writing his predictions for the future of radio and other technologies, which were well received by the readers, he decided to go one step further.

He wrote a short adventure story, focusing on the application of technology in the year 2660.

It was a spur of the moment thing that he wrote late at night in his office and the text was long enough to fit into the available space into the magazine.

The readers wanted to learn what happened next.

And so the next installment came about – 12 of them in total until the story was completed.

Encouraged by its popularity, Gernsback continued to publish this specific type of texts, which he called scientifiction, later to be known as science fiction.

As the publisher of successful magazines, Gernsback managed to draw the attention of leading scientists, including Tesla, Marconi, Fessenden, Edison and many others….

Above: Hugo Gernsback demonstrating his television goggles in 1963 for Life magazine

 

After Wardenclyffe closed, Tesla continued to write to Morgan.

After “the great man” died, Tesla wrote to Morgan’s son Jack, trying to get further funding for the project.

 

In 1906, Tesla opened offices at 165 Broadway in Manhattan, trying to raise further funds by developing and marketing his patents.

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Above: City Investing Building, 165 Broadway, Manhattan

 

On his 50th birthday, in 1906, Tesla demonstrated a 200 horsepower (150 kilowatts) 16,000 rpm bladeless turbine.

 

During 1910–1911 at the Waterside Power Station in New York, several of his bladeless turbine engines were tested at 100–5,000 hp.

Tesla worked with several companies including the period 1919–1922 working in Milwaukee for Allis-Chalmers.

Allis-Chalmers logo.svg

He spent most of his time trying to perfect the Tesla turbine with Hans Dahlstrand, the head engineer at the company, but engineering difficulties meant it was never made into a practical device.

Tesla did license the idea to a precision instrument company and it found use in the form of luxury car speedometers and other instruments.

Tesla went on to have offices at the Metropolitan Life Tower from 1910 to 1914, rented for a few months at the Woolworth Building, moving out because he could not afford the rent, and then to office space at 8 West 40th Street from 1915 to 1925.

After moving to 8 West 40th Street, he was effectively bankrupt.

Tesla working in his office at 8 West 40th Street, New York City

Above: Tesla working in his office, 8 W. 40th Street, New York City

Most of his patents had run out and he was having trouble with the new inventions he was trying to develop.

 

By 1915, Tesla’s accumulated debt at the Waldorf-Astoria was around $20 thousand ($495 thousand in 2018 dollars).

When Tesla was unable to make any further payments on the mortgages, Boldt foreclosed on the Wardenclyffe property.

Boldt failed to find any use for the property and finally decided to demolish the tower for scrap.

On 4 July 1917 the Smiley Steel Company of New York began demolition of the tower by dynamiting it.

The tower was knocked on a tilt by the initial explosion but it took till September to totally demolish it.

The scrap value realized was $1,750.

 

Since this was during World War I a rumor spread, picked up by newspapers and other publications, that the tower was demolished on orders of the United States government with claims German spies were using it as a radio transmitter or observation post, or that it was being used as a landmark for German submarines.

Tesla was not pleased with what he saw as attacks on his patriotism via the rumors about Wardenclyffe, but since the original mortgages with Boldt as well as the foreclosure had been kept off the public record in order to hide his financial difficulties, Tesla was not able to reveal the real reason for the demolition.

George Boldt decided to make the property available for sale.

 

When World War I broke out, the British cut the transatlantic telegraph cable linking the US to Germany in order to control the flow of information between the two countries.

They also tried to shut off German wireless communication to and from the US by having the US Marconi Company sue the German radio company Telefunken for patent infringement.

Telefunken brought in the physicists Jonathan Zenneck and Karl Ferdinand Braun for their defense and hired Tesla as a witness for two years for $1,000 a month.

The case stalled and then went moot when the US entered the war against Germany in 1917.

In 1915, Tesla attempted to sue the Marconi Company for infringement of his wireless tuning patents.

Marconi’s initial radio patent had been awarded in the US in 1897, but his 1900 patent submission covering improvements to radio transmission had been rejected several times, before it was finally approved in 1904, on the grounds that it infringed on other existing patents including two 1897 Tesla wireless power tuning patents.

Tesla’s 1915 case went nowhere, but in a related case, where the Marconi Company tried to sue the US government over WWI patent infringements, a Supreme Court of the United States 1943 decision restored the prior patents of Oliver Lodge, John Stone and Tesla.

The court declared that their decision had no bearing on Marconi’s claim as the first to achieve radio transmission, just that since Marconi’s claim to certain patented improvements were questionable, the company could not claim infringement on those same patents.

 

On 6 November 1915, a Reuters news agency report from London had the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

However, on 15 November, a Reuters story from Stockholm stated the prize that year was being awarded to Sir William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg “for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays.”

There were unsubstantiated rumors at the time that either Tesla or Edison had refused the prize.

The Nobel Foundation said:

Any rumor that a person has not been given a Nobel Prize because he has made known his intention to refuse the reward is ridiculous“.

A recipient could decline a Nobel Prize only after he is announced a winner.

There have been subsequent claims by Tesla biographers that Edison and Tesla were the original recipients and that neither was given the award because of their animosity toward each other, that each sought to minimize the other’s achievements and right to win the Award, that both refused ever to accept the award if the other received it first, that both rejected any possibility of sharing it, and even that a wealthy Edison refused it to keep Tesla from getting the $20,000 prize money.

In the years after these rumors, neither Tesla nor Edison won the prize (although Edison did receive one of 38 possible bids in 1915 and Tesla did receive one of 38 possible bids in 1937).

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

 

On 20 April 1922, Tesla lost an appeal of judgment on Boldt’s foreclosure of Wardenclyffe.

This effectively locked Tesla out of any future development of the facility.

 

Tesla attempted to market several devices based on the production of ozone.

These included his 1900 Tesla Ozone Company selling an 1896 patented device based on his Tesla coil, used to bubble ozone through different types of oils to make a therapeutic gel.

He also tried to develop a variation of this a few years later as a room sanitizer for hospitals.

 

Tesla theorized that the application of electricity to the brain enhanced intelligence.

In 1912, he crafted “a plan to make dull students bright by saturating them unconsciously with electricity,” wiring the walls of a schoolroom and, “saturating the schoolroom with infinitesimal electric waves vibrating at high frequency.

The whole room will thus, Mr. Tesla claims, be converted into a health-giving and stimulating electromagnetic field or ‘bath.'”

The plan was, at least provisionally, approved by then superintendent of New York City schools, William H. Maxwell.

 

Before World War I, Tesla sought overseas investors.

After the war started, Tesla lost the funding he was receiving from his patents in European countries.

 

In the August 1917 edition of the magazine Electrical Experimenter, Tesla postulated that electricity could be used to locate submarines via using the reflection of an “electric ray” of “tremendous frequency,” with the signal being viewed on a fluorescent screen (a system that has been noted to have a superficial resemblance to modern radar).

Tesla was incorrect in his assumption that high frequency radio waves would penetrate water.

 

Émile Girardeau, who helped develop France’s first radar system in the 1930s, noted in 1953 that Tesla’s general speculation that a very strong high-frequency signal would be needed was correct.

Girardeau said:

Tesla was prophesying or dreaming, since he had at his disposal no means of carrying them out, but one must add that if he was dreaming, at least he was dreaming correctly.

Emile Girardeau

Above: Émile Girardeau (1882 – 1970)

 

In 1928, Tesla received U.S. Patent 1,655,114, for a biplane capable of taking off vertically (VTOL aircraft) and then of being “gradually tilted through manipulation of the elevator devices” in flight until it was flying like a conventional plane.

Tesla thought the plane would sell for less than $1,000, although the aircraft has been described as impractical.

Sea Harrier

Above: VTOL (vertical take-off/landing) Harrier

 

This would be his last patent and at this time Tesla closed his last office at 350 Madison Avenue, which he had moved into two years earlier.

Image result for nikola tesla 350 madison avenue nyc images

Above: Borden Building, 350 Madison Avenue, New York City

 

Since 1900, Tesla had been living at the Waldorf Astoria in New York running up a large bill.

Above: Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

 

In 1922, he moved to St. Regis Hotel and would follow a pattern from then on of moving to a new hotel every few years leaving behind unpaid bills.

St.RegisNYC.jpg

Above: St. Regis New York

 

Tesla would walk to the park every day to feed the pigeons.

He took to feeding them at the window of his hotel room and bringing the injured ones in to nurse back to health.

He said that he had been visited by a specific injured white pigeon daily.

Tesla spent over $2,000, including building a device that comfortably supported her so her bones could heal, to fix her broken wing and leg.

Tesla stated:

I have been feeding pigeons, thousands of them for years.

But there was one, a beautiful bird, pure white with light grey tips on its wings.

That one was different.

It was a female.

I had only to wish and call her and she would come flying to me.

I loved that pigeon as a man loves a woman, and she loved me.

As long as I had her, there was a purpose to my life.

 

 

Tesla’s unpaid bills, and complaints about the mess from his pigeon-feeding, forced him to leave the St. Regis in 1923, the Hotel Pennsylvania in 1930 and the Hotel Governor Clinton in 1934.

At one point, he also took rooms at the Hotel Marguery.

 

In 1934, Tesla moved to the Hotel New Yorker and Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company began paying him $125 per month as well as paying his rent, expenses the company would pay for the rest of Tesla’s life.

NewYorker Hotel.JPG

Accounts of how this came about vary.

Several sources say Westinghouse was worried (or warned) about potential bad publicity surrounding the impoverished conditions under which their former star inventor was living.

The payment has been described as being couched as a “consulting fee” to get around Tesla’s aversion to accept charity, or according to one biographer as a type of unspecified settlement.

 

Tesla worked every day from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. or later, with dinner from exactly 8:10 p.m., at Delmonico’s restaurant and later the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Tesla would telephone his dinner order to the headwaiter, who also could be the only one to serve him.

The meal was required to be ready at eight o’clock …

He dined alone, except on the rare occasions when he would give a dinner to a group to meet his social obligations.

Tesla would then resume his work, often until 3:00 a.m.

 

For exercise, Tesla walked between 8 and 10 miles (13 and 16 km) per day.

He curled his toes one hundred times for each foot every night, saying that it stimulated his brain cells.

Tesla became a vegetarian in his later years, living on only milk, bread, honey and vegetable juices.

 

Tesla read many works, memorizing complete books and supposedly possessed a photographic memory.

He was a polyglot, speaking eight languages: Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.

 

Tesla claimed never to sleep more than two hours per night.

However, he did admit to “dozing” from time to time “to recharge his batteries.”

On one occasion at his laboratory, Tesla worked for a period of 84 hours without rest.

Kenneth Swezey, a journalist whom Tesla had befriended, confirmed that Tesla rarely slept.

Swezey recalled one morning when Tesla called him at 3 a.m.:

I was sleeping in my room like one dead …

Suddenly, the telephone ring awakened me …

Tesla spoke animatedly, with pauses, as he worked out a problem, comparing one theory to another, commenting.

And when he felt he had arrived at the solution, he suddenly closed the telephone.”

 

Tesla was asocial and prone to seclude himself with his work.

However, when he did engage in a social life, many people spoke very positively and admiringly of Tesla.

Writer Robert Underwood Johnson described him as attaining a “distinguished sweetness, sincerity, modesty, refinement, generosity, and force.”

Above: Robert Underwood Johnson (1853 – 1937)

 

His secretary, Dorothy Skerrit, wrote:

His genial smile and nobility of bearing always denoted the gentlemanly characteristics that were so ingrained in his soul.”

 

Tesla’s friend, writer Julian Hawthorne, commented:

Seldom did one meet a scientist or engineer who was also a poet, a philosopher, an appreciator of fine music, a linguist, and a connoisseur of food and drink.”

Julian Hawthorne

Above: Julian Hawthorne (1846 – 1934)

 

Tesla was a good friend of Francis Marion Crawford, Robert Underwood Johnson, Stanford White, Fritz Lowenstein, George Scherff and Kenneth Swezey.

 

In middle age, Tesla became a close friend of Mark Twain.

They spent a lot of time together in his lab and elsewhere.

Twain notably described Tesla’s induction motor invention as “the most valuable patent since the telephone.”

Portrait by Mathew Brady, February 1871

Above: Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain)(1835 – 1910)

 

At a party thrown by actress Sarah Bernhardt in 1896, Tesla met Indian Hindu monk Vivekananda and the two talked about how the inventors ideas on energy seemed to match up with Vedantic cosmology.

Black and white image of an Indian man, facing left with his arms folded and wearing a turban

Above: Narendranath Datta (aka Swami Vivekananda)(1863 – 1902)

 

In the late 1920s, Tesla befriended George Sylvester Viereck, a poet, writer, mystic, and later, unfortunately, a Nazi propagandist.

Tesla occasionally attended dinner parties held by Viereck and his wife.

Portrait of Viereck, by Underwood & Underwood, 1922

Above: George Viereck (1884 – 1962)

 

Tesla could be harsh at times and openly expressed disgust for overweight people, such as when he fired a secretary because of her weight.

He was quick to criticize clothing.

On several occasions, Tesla directed a subordinate to go home and change her dress.

 

When Thomas Edison (b. 1847) died, in 1931, Tesla contributed the only negative opinion to The New York Times, buried in an extensive coverage of Edison’s life:

Thomas Edison2.jpg

He had no hobby, cared for no sort of amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene …

His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90% of the labor.

But he had a veritable contempt for book learning and mathematical knowledge, trusting himself entirely to his inventor’s instinct and practical American sense.

 

Tesla was 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) tall and weighed 142 pounds (64 kg), with almost no weight variance from 1888 to about 1926.

His appearance was described by newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane as “almost the tallest, almost the thinnest and certainly the most serious man who goes to Delmonico’s regularly“.

He was an elegant, stylish figure in New York City, meticulous in his grooming, clothing, and regimented in his daily activities, an appearance he maintained as to further his business relationships.

He was also described as having light eyes, “very big hands“, and “remarkably big” thumbs.

head-and-shoulder shot of slender man with dark hair and moustache, dark suit and white-collar shirt

Hugo Gernsback was literally spellbound with Tesla and believed that the ideas of the great inventor were the salvation for all of mankind.

This is how Gernsback describes Tesla in the February 1919 issue of Electrical Experimenter:

The door opens and out steps a tall figure – over six feet high – gaunt but erect.

It approaches slowly, stately.

You become conscious at once that you are face to face with a personality of a high order.

Nikola Tesla advances and shakes your hand with a powerful grip, surprising for a man over 60.

A winning smile from piercing light blue-gray eyes, set in extraordinarily deep sockets, fascinates you and makes you feel at once at home.

 

You are guided into an office immaculate in its orderliness.

Not a speck of dust is to be seen.

No papers litter the desk.

Everything just so.

It reflects the man himself, immaculate in attire, orderly and precise in his every movement.

Dressed in a dark frock coat, he is entirely devoid of all jewelry.

No ring, stickpin or even watch-chain can be seen.

 

Tesla speaks – a very high almost falsetto voice.

He speaks quickly and very convincingly.

It is the man’s voice chiefly which fascinates you.

As he speaks you find it difficult to take your eyes off his own.

Only when he speaks to others do you have a chance to study his head, predominant of which is a very high forehead with a bulge between his eyes – the neverfailing sign of an exceptional intelligence.

Then the long, well-shaped nose, proclaiming the scientist….

 

His only vice is his generosity.

The man who, by the ignorant onlooker has often been called an idle dreamer, has made over a million dollars out of his inventions – and spent them as quickly on new ones.

But Tesla is an idealist of the highest order and to such men money itself means but little.

My Inventions - The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla.jpg

I wonder if Tesla felt the same towards Gernsback….

 

Gernsback was noted for sharp (and sometimes shady) business practices,and for paying his writers extremely low fees or not paying them at all.

H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith referred to him as “Hugo the Rat“.

As Barry Malzberg has said:

Gernsback’s venality and corruption, his sleaziness and his utter disregard for the financial rights of authors, have been well documented and discussed in critical and fan literature

That the founder of genre science fiction who gave his name to the field’s most prestigious award and who was the Guest of Honor at the 1952 Worldcon was pretty much a crook (and a contemptuous crook who stiffed his writers but paid himself $100K a year as President of Gernsback Publications) has been clearly established.

 

Nonetheless, Gernsback earned Tesla’s sympathy and Gernsback became an important publisher of Tesla’s articles in his many publications.

In the August 1917 Electrical Experimenter, under the title “Tesla’s Views on Electricity and the War“, Tesla made the first technical description of radar.

The author of the article (H. Winfield Secor, the magazine’s Associate Editor) explained to his readers that “Dr. Tesla had invented, among other things, an electric ray to destroy or detect submarines under water at a considerable distance.

Mr. Tesla very courteously granted the writer an interview and some of his ideas on electricity’s possible role in helping to end the Great War.”

Later that year, in addition to Tesla’s autobiographical serial My Inventions, the Electrical Experimenter also published a number of other Tesla-authorized articles with considerable regularity:

  • The Effect of Statics on Wireless Transmission
  • Famous Scientific Illusions
  • Tesla’s Egg of Columbus (or how Tesla performed the feat of Columbus without cracking the Egg)
  • The Moon’s Rotation
  • The True Wireless
  • Tesla’s Bulbs
  • Electrical Oscillators
  • Can Radio Ignite Balloons?(or the Opinions of Nikola Tesla and Other Radio Experts)

 

Tesla and Gernsback started correspondence with one another from the end of 1918 and throughout 1919.

Tesla could not fit himself into the strict deadlines presented to him by the rules of periodical press and wrote to Gernsback at the end of July 1919:

I think it well on this occasion to notify your readers, as a precaution, that I am not one of those who display the sign ‘Do it now.’ on their desks and office doors.

My motto is: ‘Do not do it now.  Think it over.‘ ”

 

Over the next several years, only a few letters were exchanged between Tesla and Gernsback, in which the famous publisher tried whatever he could to appease his most prominent writer and resume their cooperation, but as a reply received very cold letters, demonstrating Tesla’s injured pride and his objections to the egoism of the publisher.

In one of the last letters, Tesla wrote:

I appreciate your unusual intelligence and enterprise but the trouble with you seems to be that you are thinking only of H. Gernsback first of all, once more and then again.”

 

Tesla wrote a number of books and articles for magazines and journals.

Among his books are My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla, The Fantastic Inventions of Nikola Tesla and The Tesla Papers.

Many of Tesla’s writings are freely available online, including the article “The Problem of Increasing Human Energy,” published in The Century Magazine in 1900 and the article “Experiments With Alternate Currents Of High Potential And High Frequency” published in his book Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla.

 

In 1931, Kenneth Swezey, a young writer who had been associated with Tesla for some time, organized a celebration for the inventor’s 75th birthday.

Tesla received congratulatory letters from more than 70 pioneers in science and engineering, including Albert Einstein, and he was also featured on the cover of Time magazine.

The cover caption “All the world’s his power house” noted his contribution to electrical power generation.

The party went so well that Tesla made it an annual event, an occasion where he would put out a large spread of food and drink (featuring dishes of his own creation) and invite the press to see his inventions and hear stories about past exploits, views on current events, or sometimes odd or baffling claims.

 

(“Tesla is very fussy and particular about his food:
He eats very little, but what he does eat must be of the very best.
And he knows, for outside of being a great Inventor in science he is an accomplished cook who has invented all sorts of savory dishes.
Hugo Gernsback, Electrical Experimenter, February 1919)

At the 1932 occasion, Tesla claimed he had invented a motor that would run on cosmic rays.

 

In 1933, at age 77, Tesla told reporters that, after thirty-five years of work, he was on the verge of producing proof of a new form of energy.

He claimed it was a theory of energy that was “violently opposed” to Einsteinian physics and could be tapped with an apparatus that would be cheap to run and last 500 years.

He also told reporters he was working on a way to transmit individualized private radio wavelengths, working on breakthroughs in metallurgy, and developing a way to photograph the retina to record thought.

At the 1934 party, Tesla told reporters he had designed a superweapon he claimed would end all war.

He would call it “teleforce“, but was usually referred to as his death ray.

Tesla described it as a defensive weapon that would be put up along the border of a country to be used against attacking ground-based infantry or aircraft.

Tesla never revealed detailed plans of how the weapon worked during his lifetime, but in 1984, they surfaced at the Nikola Tesla Museum archive in Belgrade.

The treatise, The New Art of Projecting Concentrated Non-dispersive Energy through the Natural Media, described an open-ended vacuum tube with a gas jet seal that allows particles to exit, a method of charging slugs of tungsten or mercury to millions of volts, and directing them in streams (through electrostatic repulsion).

Tesla tried to interest the US War Department, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia in the device.

 

In 1935, at his 79th birthday party, Tesla covered many topics.

He claimed to have discovered the cosmic ray in 1896 and invented a way to produce direct current by induction, and made many claims about his mechanical oscillator.

Describing the device (which he expected would earn him $100 million within two years) he told reporters that a version of his oscillator had caused an earthquake in his 46 East Houston Street lab and neighboring streets in downtown New York City in 1898.

He went on to tell reporters his oscillator could destroy the Empire State Building with 5 lbs of air pressure.

Empire State Building (aerial view).jpg

 

He also explained a new technique he developed using his oscillators he called “Telegeodynamics“, using it to transmit vibrations into the ground that he claimed would work over any distance to be used for communication or locating underground mineral deposits.

 

At his 1937 celebration in the Grand Ballroom of Hotel New Yorker, Tesla received the “Order of the White Lion” from the Czechoslovakia ambassador and a medal from the Yugoslavian ambassador.

On questions concerning the death ray, Tesla stated:

But it is not an experiment …

I have built, demonstrated and used it.

Only a little time will pass before I can give it to the world.

 

In the fall of 1937, after midnight one night, Tesla left the Hotel New Yorker to make his regular commute to the cathedral and the library to feed the pigeons.

While crossing a street a couple of blocks from the hotel, Tesla was unable to dodge a moving taxicab and was thrown to the ground.

His back was severely wrenched and three of his ribs were broken in the accident.

The full extent of his injuries were never known.

Tesla refused to consult a doctor, an almost lifelong custom, and never fully recovered.

 

On 7 January 1943, at the age of 86, Tesla died alone in Room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel.

Nikola Tesla’s Room 3327 at The New Yorker Hotel - September 2014

Above: Room 3327, New Yorker Hotel, Present day

 

His body was later found by maid Alice Monaghan after she had entered Tesla’s room, ignoring the “do not disturb” sign that Tesla had placed on his door two days earlier.

Assistant medical examiner H.W. Wembley examined the body and ruled that the cause of death had been coronary thrombosis.

 

Two days later the Federal Bureau of Investigation ordered the Alien Property Custodian to seize Tesla’s belongings.

Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.svg

John G. Trump, a professor at MIT and a well-known electrical engineer serving as a technical aide to the National Defense Research Committee, was called in to analyze the Tesla items, which were being held in custody.

JohnGTrumpRetired.png

Above: John G. Trump (1907 – 1985)(Donald’s paternal uncle)

After a three-day investigation, Trump’s report concluded that there was nothing which would constitute a hazard in unfriendly hands, stating:

Tesla’s thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power, but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.

In a box purported to contain a part of Tesla’s “death ray“, Trump found a 45-year-old multidecade resistance box.

 

At the request of Gernsback, on 9 January 1943, two days after Tesla’s death, a death mask of the inventor was made by F. Moynihan.

 

On 10 January 1943, New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia (1882 – 1947) read a eulogy written by Slovene-American author Louis Adamic live over the WNYC radio while violin pieces “Ave Maria” and “Tamo daleko” were played in the background.

Fiorello LaGuardia.jpg

 

On 12 January, two thousand people attended a state funeral for Tesla at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

After the funeral, Tesla’s body was taken to the Ferncliff Cemetery in Ardsley, New York, where it was later cremated.

 

The following day, a second service was conducted by prominent priests in the Trinity Chapel (today’s Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava) in New York City.

Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava.jpg

Above: Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava, New York City

 

On the occasion of 100 years since Tesla’s birth, on 25 June 1956, the aforementioned death mask was placed on the business premises of Gernsback Publications in New York.

On a marble pedestal, in relief, were presented the symbols of Tesla’s greatest discoveries and ideas – the first induction motor, Tesla’s transformer, and the famous Wardenclyffe Tower at Long Island intended for the “World System” project….

Image result for nikola tesla death mask images

An astonishly accurate prediction of the electronic and wireless world we live in today.

The symbol of Tesla’s great and unfulfilled dream.

 

In Hugo Gernback’s honour, the Hugo Awards or “Hugos” are the annual achievement awards presented at the World Science Fiction Convention, selected in a process that ends with vote by current Convention members.

Hugo Award Logo.png

They originated and acquired the “Hugo” nickname during the 1950s and were formally defined as a convention responsibility under the name “Science Fiction Achievement Awards” early in the 1960s.

The nickname soon became almost universal and its use legally protected; “Hugo Award(s)” replaced the longer name in all official uses after the 1991 cycle.

In 1960 Gernsback received a special Hugo Award as “The Father of Magazine Science Fiction“.

Hugo Gernsback died at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City on 19 August 1967.

In late 2002 Gernsback Publications went out of business.

 

 

Tesla’s legacy has endured in books, films, radio, TV, music, live theater, comics and video games.

In Jim Jarmusek’s film Coffee and Cigarettes, Jack shows Meg his Tesla coil!

Coffee and Cigarettes movie.jpg

Tesla features prominently in the movies The Prestige (David Bowie as Tesla) and The Current War, as well as in Family Guy‘s Season 9, Episode 15.

Image result for david bowie as tesla images

Above: David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, The Prestige

 

Tesla appears in Ron Horsley’s and Ralph Vaughan’s re-imaginings of the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

 

In The Big Bang Theory, Tesla is referred to as “a poor man’s Sheldon Cooper“.

The Big Bang Theory (Official Title Card).png

 

In 2011, Sesame Street introduced the world to grumpy Professor “Nikola Messla“.

Image result for nikola messla

 

The impact of the technologies invented or envisioned by Tesla is a recurring theme in several types of science fiction.

 

In science and engineering Tesla has given his name to the Tesla coil and the singing Tesla coil, Tesla’s Egg of Columbus, the Tesla Experimental Station, Tesla’s oscillator, the Tesla Principle, the Tesla Tower, the Tesla turbine, the Tesla unit and the Tesla valve.

Tesla is a 26-km wide crater on the far side of the Moon as well as a minor planet (2244 Tesla).

There is both the Nikola Tesla Award and the Nikola Tesla Satellite Award.

Tesla was an electrotechnical conglomerate in the former Czechoslovakia.

Tesla is an American electric car manufacturer, the Croatian affliliate of the Swedish telecommunications equipment manufacturer Ericsson, a bank in Zagreb and two companies in the Serbian cities of Novi Sad and Plandiste.

His birthday (10 July) is celebrated every year in Croatia, in Vojvodina and in Niagara Falls.

Every year the annual Nikola Tesla Electric Vehicle Rally is held in Croatia.

In music, there is Tesla (US), Tesla Boy (Russia) and Tesla Coils (Australia) – all the names of band groups, while “Tesla Girls” is a song by the British pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) released in 1984.

Tesla Girls.jpg

The groups They Might Be Giants released “Tesla“, The Handsome FamilyTesla’s Hotel Room” and the Polish band Silver Rocket‘s last album was named “Tesla“.

There is a Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, Washington.

Tesla is both an Airport and a Museum in Belgrade.

TPP Nikola Tesla is the largest power plant in Serbia.

And 128 streets in Croatia have been named after Nikola Tesla, making him the 8th most common street name in the country.

 

It took me a few hours, despite the Museum’s small size, for my eyes to absorb all that was revealed about Tesla here.

It has taken me months for my mind to absorb all that I have learned since my visit.

 

But of all of this I find myself drawn not to his inventions but to his character.

 

I walked away from the Museum that day, sat on a bench and watched a pigeon approach.

I thought of Tesla.

The pigeon and I looked at each other.

No words were needed.

Pigeon on high tension cable.png

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Nikola Tesla, My Inventions / Vladimir Dulovic, Serbia In Your Hands / Marija Stosic, Belgrade

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Canada Slim and the Land of Confusion

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 12 April 2018

Of the problems that plague me, one of the biggest is persistence:

The ability to keep on keeping on.

I have to constantly remind and encourage myself that “a professional writer is simply an amateur who didn´t quit”. (Richard Bachman)

With my two blogs – this one and Building Everest – I have to remind myself that I cannot get people interested in what I have to say if I myself am uninterested in what I am saying.

Mount-Everest.jpg

In Building Everest I force myself each day to examine that day and ask myself what was interesting and unique about that day.

With this blog, which has (mostly) evolved into a travel blog in the two years since I´ve started it, I ask myself what was interesting about the places I visited and then I search for the words that will (hopefully) make you interested in (one day) visiting those places I´ve described.

As an English teacher I constantly remind my students that in all communication we must keep in mind one question: WIIFM.

What´s in it for me (the reader or recipient of this communication)?

 

Some places seem to sell themselves.

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

How many millions of words have been devoted to places like Paris or Venice?

A collage of Venice: at the top left is the Piazza San Marco, followed by a view of the city, then the Grand Canal, and (smaller) the interior of La Fenice and, finally, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

And rightly so.

Others, especially the less known or least promoted places, need more time and imagination not only to convince you of their merits, gentle reader, but as well to convince me that writing about them is worthy of my time and effort.

 

Both blogs are practice, a honing process, the necessary training ground for developing the skills to becoming a paid published writer.

 

But what´s in it for you, gentle reader?

Two things (I hope).

 

First, I want you to see that you and I are similar in our shared humanity and desire to understand.

In a travel article, one does not burden the reader with prologues such as this one, but immediately hooks the reader into involving him/herself in the middle of the promoted place.

I include these Landschlacht prologues to show the process by which I write this blog and thus hopefully encourage you to share your world and experiences, for I don´t wish to write alone but rather as a voice in a united chorus.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Second, I want you to see what I see.

I not only want you to travel with me on my travels and share my experiences but I want to encourage you to travel and share your experiences and realize that travelling is not only a search to make the exotic seem familiar but as well it is the realization that the everyday familarity that surrounds us where we are is to someone else exotic.

 

I want to take you now, gentle reader, on a journey both in space and time.

Twilight Zone - The Movie (1983) theatrical poster.jpg

I want you to come with me to a place that has drawn others to it for centuries, a place not so famous in international circles but beloved at least by her countrymen.

And as we travel I want to introduce you to a travel companion on this particular journey, a man confused about who he was and what he wanted – a man much like myself (and perhaps like you yourself) – who possessed a bravery – as uncharacteristic today as it was in his day – to openly express his feelings in a manner so candid that it still continues to shock the reader centuries later.

I want you to imagine him not as buried bones and forgotten words inside dusty tomes but as a living, breathing man walking beside us.

For his thoughts and feelings of yesterday are thoughts and feelings still thought and felt today.

Though time and progress have changed the place he once knew, there is much that remains that he could still relate to.

And much about the place and the man I hope that you can relate to.

Come with us now to Sirmione….

Sirmione old town entrance.jpg

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lago di Garda is the largest, cleanest, least scenic, most overdeveloped and most popular of the Italian lakes.

Lying between the Alps and the Po Valley, this 370 square kilometre pool of murky water is firmly on many tour operator schedules.

Garda enjoys mild winters and breezy summers.

The northern sover wind blows down the Lago from midnight through morning.

The southern ova wind breezes up the Lago in the afternoon and evening.

This temperate climate is, these Riviera Bresciana resorts are, invaded by large mobs of package holiday clients and locust-like throngs of Austrians, Germans, Italians and Swiss.

To the north, the Lago is hemmed in by mountain crags and resembles a fjord.

On the most sheltered stretch of the Lago´s western shore lush groves of olives, vines and citrus trees grow, resulting in olive oil, citrus syrups and Bardolino, Soave and Valpolicella wines.

As the Lago broadens towards the south, it takes on the appearance of an inland sea backed by a gentle plain.

The restless winds here have created one of Europe´s best windsurfing sites around Torbole and Malcesine on the eastern shore.

Within easy striking distance of the Milano-Venezia autostrada as well as rail and bus Connections from the main Lombardy towns, the southern shore of Lago di Gardo is particularly well-touristed.

Desenzano del Garda, the Lago´s largest town, is a major rail junction where buses connect with trains and several ferries ply their trade up to the northwest tip of the Lago and the town of Riva del Garda stopping off at other resorts on the way.

Desenzano doesn´t detain the visitor for long, though the lakefront is lined with bars and restaurants, though the castle has spectacular views and the Roman villa  preserves some fine mosaics, the busy road running alongside and the constant traffic on the Lago is an everlasting siren call to leave that few can resist.

So, why linger?

Instead….

 

“Row us out from Desenzano, to your Sirmione, row!

So they rowed and there we landed – O pretty Sirmio!

There to me through all the groves of olive in the summer glow,

There beneath the Roman ruin where the purple flowers grow,

Came that “hail and farewell” of the Poet´s hopeless woe,

Tenderest of Roman poets nineteen hundred years ago,

“Brother, hail and farewell” – as we wandered to and fro

Gazing at the Lydian laughter of the Garda lake below

Sweet Catullus´s all-but-island, olive silvery Sirmio!”

(Alfred Tennyson)

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Above: Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809 – 1892)

 

The Roman poet Catullus (87 – 54 BC) celebrated Sirmione, this narrow peninsula jutting out from the southern shore of Lago di Garda, as “the jewel of all islands”, thus his name is constantly invoked in connection with the place.

Above: Bust of Catullus, Piazza Carducci, Sirmione

Starting from the 1st century BC, Sirmione became a favourite resort for rich families coming from Verona, then the main Roman city in northeastern Italy.

Catullus praised the beauties of Sirmione and spoke of a villa he had in the area.

Sirmione remains a popular spot in a beautiful setting suffocated by luxury hotels, souvenir stands and tourists.

Go beyond the town battlements, away from the Rocca Scaliagara, that fairytale turreted fortress.

Escape, flee the throngs.

Walk out beyond the town to the peninsula´s triangular hilly head and lie in the shade of cypress and olive groves.

Linger not long, but pass San Pietro, for church frescoes won´t free you from the folks that follow you in search of food, alcohol, cool water and warm rocks.

Boldly march, tracing the path that runs along the edges of the Peninsula.

Ignore the warning signs of slippery rocks and tumbling landslides and continue up to the gate leading to the Grotte di Catullo, where the locals brag was Catullus´ villa.

It wasn´t.

What this was, what this is,  is the semblance of a Roman spa, white ruins where Romans came to take the waters from the hot sulphur spring that lies 300 metres under the Lago.

The scattered ruins, ageless and beautiful, bake quietly in the sun amongst ancient olive trees.

Fragments of frescoes and superb views of the Lago await the valiant wanderer.

We know from historical records that Catullus did retire to Sirmione, coming all the way from the Black Sea by boat, hauling it overland (!) when necessary so he could sail upon Lago Garda.

But what of the man Catullus and why do the folks of Sirmione insist he not be forgotten, even if his actual villa´s location remains uncertain?

For he was one of the Roman Republic´s greatest poets rivalling his contemporaries Lucretius and Cicero in the creation of a golden age of Latin literature.

 

62 BC, Rome

Quintus Valerius Catullus (22) had come to Rome from Verona, where his father was of sufficient financial and social standing to be frequent host to Julius Caesar himself.

Quintus himself owned villas near Tibur and on Lake Garda and had an elegant house in Roma.

Catullus speaks of these properties as choked with mortgages and repeatedly pleads his poverty, but the picture preserved of him by posterity through his poetry is that of a polished man of the world who did not bother to earn a living but enjoyed himself as a bon vivant among the wild set of the capital.

Despite his father´s friendship with Caesar, or because of this, Catullus – a familiar amongst Rome´s keenest wits and cleverest orators and politicians – opposed Caesar with every epigram at his disposal, unaware that his literary revolt reflected the revolutionary times in which he lived.

Catullus had tired of the old forms of Latin literature.

He wanted to sing the sentiments of his youth in new and imaginative ways.

Catullus was resentful of old morals perpetually preached by exhausted elders.

He announced the sanctity of instinct, the innocence of desire and the grandeur of dissipation.

He found life, love and literature revolved around every woman, married or not, who inspired him with comfortably casual love.

Catullus cultivated his friendship with the liveliest woman in his privileged circle, Clodia, whom he named Lesbia in memory of the Greek poetess Sappho of Lesbos whose works he translated, imitated and loved.

Above: Catullus at Lesbia´s, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Quintus was fascinated by Clodia the moment she “set her shining foot on the well-worn threshold”.

She was his “lustrous goddess of the delicate step”.

Her walk, like her voice, was sufficient seduction for any man.

Clodia accepted Quintus graciously as one of her admirers and the enraptured poet, unable to match otherwise the gifts of his rivals, laid at her feet the most beautiful lyrics ever produced in Latin.

A lover´s frenzy raged within him….

“Sparrow, delight of my beloved.

Who plays with you and holds you to her breast?

Who offers her forefinger to your seeking

And tempts your sharp bite?

I know not what dear jest it pleases my shining one

To make of my desire!”

Quintus was consumed with happiness, paid attendance upon her daily, read his poems to her, forgot everything but his infatuation….

History does not record how long this ecstasy lasted, but she who had betrayed her husband for Quintus found it a relief to betray him for another.

Quintus madly envisioned her “embracing at once 300 adulterers.”

In the very heat of his love he came to hate her and rejected her protestations of fidelity:

“A woman´s words to hungry lover said

Should be upon the flowing winds inscribed,

Upon swift streams engraved.”

When sharp doubt became dull certainty his passion turned to bitterness and coarse revenge.

He accused her of yielding to tavern habitués, denounced her new lovers with obscene abandon and meditated suicide, poetically.

But Quintus was capable of more nobler feelings.

He addressed to his friend Manlius a touching wedding song, envying him the wholesome companionship of marriage, the security and stability of a home and the happy tribulations of parentage.

Quintus travelled to Bithyia (Black Sea coastal Turkey) to find the grave of a brother.

Over it he performed reverently the ancestral burial rites and soon afterward he composed tender lines….

“Dear brother, through many states and seas

Have I come to this sorrowful sacrifice,

Bringing you the last gift for the dead.

Accept these offerings wet with fraternal tears,

And forever, brother, hail and farewell.”

His time in Turkey changed and softened Catullus.

The skeptic who had written of death as “the sleep of an eternal night” was moved by the old religions and ceremonies of the East.

In a small yacht bought at Amastria (Amasra), Quintus sailed through the Black Sea, the Aegean and the Adriatic, up the Po Valley to Lago Garda and his villa at Sirmio (Sirmione).

“Oh, what happier way is there to escape the cares of the world than to return to our own homes and altars and rest on our own beloved bed?”

 

Men begin by seeking happiness and are content at last with peace.

 

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

Our bed and breakfast accommodation, adequate though not overly attractive – (much as women describe me these days!) – lay three kilometres from the centre of Sirmione.

As the B & B was destined to be beyond bus line access and my wife determined to save costs by our not employing taxis our three-day/two-night sojourn in Sirmione meant one hour´s walk between the B & B and the city centre.

We who had been driving everywhere that past week found ourselves wearily trudging back and forth alongside busy boulevards lined much like North American City access ways with anonymous forgettable shopping malls and restaurants forever ignored by the Michelin Guide.

Concrete under our feet, the lakeshore invisible and unattainable, carbon monoxide replacing sea breeze and breath.

Still we made the best of the Sirmione experience that we could.

We ate expansively, drank copiously, swam gloriously in the Lago and in the pools of the Terme di Sirmione spa and bathed ourselves in the warm Italian sun on unforgiving rocks.

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We walked about Roman ruins searching for an ever-elusive emotional link with the ancient past.

 

One should not go to Sirmione in search of happiness but one can find contentment here.

Other English speakers did.

 

The Greek American soprano Maria Callas (1923 – 1977) had, like Catullus centuries before, a villa here.

Above: Maria Callas

The English writer Naomi “Micky” Jacob (1884 – 1964) moved to Sirmione because the weather was kinder to her tuberculosis-stricken lungs.

She was well-known in the town and her home was known as Casa Micky.

Micky wrote more than 40 novels and nearly a dozen autobiographies.

Her novels, best described as romantic fiction, tackled the problems of prejudice against Jews, domestic violence and the political consequences of pogroms in the 19th century.

Although not well-known nowadays, in her day Micky was a well-loved and much respected figure.

She, like Catullus´ poetic inspiration Sapphos, had intimate relationships with other women that were an open secret but never publicly disclosed during her lifetime.

She never gave up her home in Sirmione and died there in 1964.

 

Charles Schulz, the American creator of the famous Peanuts cartoons, on his way to Venice with his family lingered in Sirmione for a week in the 1950s.

He left against his heart describing Sirmione as “extraordinary”.

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Above: Charles Schulz (1922 – 2000)

 

The Pace (pah-chay) Hotel in Sirmione occupies a building with a particularly significant history – the union of an old hotel (Hotel Eden) and the Santa Coruna religious institute for children with heart problems or for persons suffering from nervous complaints.

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At a time when medicine wasn´t particularly evolved, the Lago di Garda was believed to infuse tranquillity and aid convalescence and healing.

Of the many visitors the Pace has hosted, including the aforementioned Charles Schulz, Catullus probably would have most connected with the American poet Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972).

photograph of Ezra H. Pound

Above: Ezra Pound

Like Pound, Catullus loved and hated in equal measures of extreme intensity, was capable of generous feeling, was unpleasantly self-centred, deliberately obscene and merciless to his enemies.

Both men danced poetically between love and lust, kisses and kaka, a mix of primitive coarseness with civilized refinement.

Their lines are salted with dirt to give literature taste.

Time magazine in 1933 described Pound as “a cat that walks by himself, tenaciously unhousebroken and very unsafe for children”.

 

During the winter of 1913 Ezra Pound was in Sussex (England) with William Butler Yeats, acting as the elder poet´s secretary.

Above: William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939)

Temporarily free of the rush of London, each was assessing the other´s work and laying out new directions.

When Pound had almost completed an anthology of new poets, he asked Yeats if there was anyone he had forgotten to include.

Yeats recalled a young Irish writer named James Joyce who had written some polished lyric poems.

Portrait of James Joyce

Above: James Joyce (1882 – 1941)

One of them had stuck in Yeats´ mind.

Joyce was living in Trieste.

Why not write to him?

Pound wrote Joyce at once.

He explained his literary connections and offered help in getting Joyce published.

A few days later Yeats found Joyce´s “I Hear an Army Charging upon the Land” and Pound wrote again to ask Joyce if he could use the poem in his anthology.

Joyce, who had been on the Continent for nearly ten years, cut off from his nation and his language and so far all but unpublished, was surprised and encouraged.

He gave Pound permission to use the poem and a few days later sent a typescript of his book of short stories Dubliners and a chapter of a new novel called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, along with news that he would soon have a play ready.

A prolonged correspondence began, which grew into a long-standing friendship.

Because of World War I, the two innovators of modern fiction and poetry would not meet until June 1920, when Pound persuaded Joyce to come to Sirmione.

If seen through Pound´s eyes, one wonders if the men were satisfied with the results of their meeting….

 

2 June 1920, Sirmione

“In vainest of exasperation

Mr. P passed his vacation.

The cause of his visit

To the Eyetaliann cities

Was blocked, by a wreck, at the station.”

 

“A bard once in landlocked Sirmione

Lived in peace, eating locusts and honey

Till a son of a bitch

Left him dry on the beach

Without clothes, boots, time, quiet or money.”

 

Sirmione, Lago di Garda, Italy, 4 August 2017

I think much about Pound and Catullus during our long walks to and fro between B & B and town.

I think about how both men resolved in their lifetimes to know more about poetry than any man living.

I think about how both men were really at heart very boyish fellows and incurable provincials, both driven by a thirst for romance and colour, who stumbled magnificently in their individual follies at great cost to themselves.

 

I think about how Clodia, Catullus´ lover, epitomizes today´s modern woman in her determination to lead her own life as she chose, free to love and be loved by whomsoever she desired, a woman who lived and loved with irresistable grace and whose greatest sin was not adultery or lechery as it was her underestimation of the effects that lovers wronged could enact upon her.

 

A woman´s body and soul are hers to decide how they are to be shared.

It is the dimmest of hopes that a mere man is worthy of being her sole obsession throughout her lifetime.

 

I think of how the love of a woman (19) caused Ezra Pound (58) to walk from Verona to the town of Gais, Switzerland, a distance of over 450 miles.

He was so dirty and tired when he arrived that his girlfriend Mary almost failed to recognize him.

The lengths that love drives a man….

 

I think of the lengths my own personal Lesbia has driven me over the past two decades, including the three-kilometre concrete trudge twice a day.

Perhaps marriage is a lot like Sirmione.

One might not always be made happy here, but one is usually contented.

Sources: Wikipedia / Will Durant, Caesar and Christ / Reay Tannahill, Sex in History / The Pace Hotel, Sirmione / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy

 

 

 

 

Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

“This could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. 

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

(The Beautiful South, “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)”, Blue is the Colour)

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There are a couple of songs that I enjoy listening to from this group:

“Don´t Marry Her” – purely for its shock value.

“Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” – for the feelings its lyrics inevitably generate within me.

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Above: Rotterdam

My wife recently bought me a new computer whose kinks and quirks I have yet to comprehend and overcome.

But these First World problems could have happened to anyone anywhere in the First World.

The sadness and annoyance at yet another piece of technology in my possession suddenly becoming obsolete, the frustration of having to master yet another new machine, I believe, are common emotions of someone of my generation trying to cope with the tools of a more modern time that make us sometimes feel obsolete as well.

During a break between completed errands in town and waiting for a train to take me to my only teaching job (at present) I spontaneously decided to visit the public library across the square from the Bahnhof (Train Station) St. Gallen.

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

To the library´s credit they do possess more English language books than I do in my own personal library (though my wife doesn´t believe this to be true).

Spontaneously I grab the works of three authors whose writing I have hesitated to read for various irrational reasons: Jonathan Ames (because he has struck me as being elitist), Maya Angelou (too urban with themes common to the USA but almost unrecognizable to white Canadians) and Margaret Atwood (out of pure and simple jealousy for her success rather than any logical premise at all).

I need to grow beyond myself and try to read authors for the value and power of their words rather than reject them without reading their works because of stupid preconceptions.

I begin with Ames´  Wake Up, Sir! for the simplest reason of all: his name takes precedence alphabetically.

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My attempts to dispel my prejudices about Ames do not begin well….

In Chapter One, the damned hero of the book has a valet!

But I must admit that the opening situation of the book is one with which I can relate to….

Alan Blair, the protagonist of the novel, is awoken by his valet and informed that – Horror of Horrors! – his uncle is already up and about.

“It was only under these alarming circumstances that Jeeves would interrupt my eight hours of needed unconsciousness.

He knew that the happiness of my morning was dependent on having as little contact with said uncle as possible.”

I love my wife, but, like Blair´s uncle, she does not see how important solitude is to producing literature (or in my case, semblances of literature).

Like Uncle Irwin, my wife (being the well-organized German woman she is) has schedules that she adheres to, with a discipline well-trained soldiers would appreciate.

So, when she alters her schedule, I find myself suddenly in a funk and am uncertain as to how to recapture my muse with the alarming alteration of her presence demanding attention to herself rather than any attempts of creation I might be fostering.

Art is more akin to spontaneous ejaculations of expression and emotion, but even I realize that some amount of order and self-control are required to produce something worthy to be published.

Much like Uncle Irwin, my wife views sitting down and producing words on a computer (dead laptop or recently acquired mystery machine notwithstanding) akin to a kind of laziness.

For surely there are better things I could be doing with my time, such as household duties (husbands are, after all, unpaid valets), finding more employment as a teacher or requesting more hours at my “temporary” job as a barista.

She feels, and rightly so, that the inequality of our incomes puts an unjust burden upon her, but, in my defence, I argue that her education should leave her with a larger income than me and that money, as pleasant as it can be, is not the only criteria when it comes to devoting 80% of our lives to a job.

When work presents itself I do not shirk my responsibilities, but by the same token I do not want my life to be nothing more than living to pay bills.

I have more leisure time than she does as a doctor, but I would be lying if I said that I am not glad that I do.

I like having mornings to myself when I can write, or evenings when she has gone to bed exhausted and I am writing my electronic journal.

I like working weekends when the Café closes earlier than weekdays, leaving me free during the week – when I am not teaching – to go hiking or travelling while average people are chained to their workplaces.

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It is a fine thing to go hiking on a Sunday, but nature is truly a wonderland on a Wednesday when most everyone is working leaving the wilderness to myself alone.

That having been said, my ability to travel would not be possible (at least in the same manner I have grown accustomed to since we got married) were it not for her superior income.

And, understandably, she wants to have leisure time to travel as well, though her desire for solitude is rarer for her than mine is.

So, except for conferences, when she travels I usually accompany her.

And, it must be said, as too swift as our travelling together can be, travelling alone can, on occasion, make a place feel like Rotterdam or anywhere.

I can appreciate a sunset alone, but sharing that same sunset does lend the dying day a certain poignancy that solitude does not.

There is an Island that we both visited this past summer that listening to “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” always brings to mind, for had I not been with her not only might I not have seen the Island, I might not have appreciated it without her by my side.

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

Traffic-free Monte Isola, Italy´s largest lake island, at over 3 km long and 600 metres / 1,969 feet high, at the south of the Lago d´Iseo, is defined by Italian legislation as an “area of particular importance from the natural and environmental point of view”.

Monte Isola (vom Westufer des Iseosees)

Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

Accessible by hourly ferries from the lakeside ports of Iseo and Sulzano, Monte Isola is a magnet for daytrippers in summers and at weekends, so the Island then is unlikely to provide much solitude.

Still, mid-season or out of season, the Island is well worth a visit, to walk or cycle around the edge of the Island and for great views of the lake.

The population of the Island (1,800 inhabitants) is spread over 11 villages and hamlets.

There are several churches built between the 15th and the 17th centuries with frescoes, statues and altars in vernacular art.

With a total area of 12.8 square kilometres / 4.9 square miles, Monte Isola ranks as the largest lake island not only in Italy, but also in Central and South Europe.

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

(The world´s largest lake island is Canadian: Manitoulin Island.)

The Island is served and reached by two main ports: Carzano to the north and Peschera Maraglio to the south.

There are indications of a Roman settlement, but the Island is first mentioned in a written document in 905 when it was listed among the properties of the monastery of San Salvatore in Brescia.

The family Oldofredi, rulers of Iseo, built two strongholds on the Island in the 11th to the 19th centuries.

One of these, on the lower promontory of the Island, covered by olive tree and wine cultivation, is the Rocca Oldofredi-Martinego, built in the 14th century as a strategic and defense point and then turned into a residence by the Martinegos during the Italian Renaissance.

Members of the powerful Visconti family came to the Island to hunt in 1400.

In 1497 Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, gave the islanders some fishing rights and reduced their taxes.

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

In the same year, Caterina Cornaro, Queen and last monarch of Cyprus, resided a while on the Island.

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

During the 19th century the main industry on the Island was the construction of boats and the manufacturing of fishing nets.

In 2016, Monte Isola was the site of the Floating Piers by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Above: The Floating Piers

In Peschiera Maraglio is the single-nave Church of San Michele Arcangelo.

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Consecrated in 1648, this baroque church is notable for the many frescoes on the walls and ceiling and for its wooden carvings.

Climb the mountain from the small village of Cure in the middle of the Island.

The peak offers the most panoramic site of the Lago and from here it is possible to admire all the villages of both lakeshores, the natural reserve of Torbiere del Sebino and a large part of the mainland.

At the top, amongst walnut woods and ancient dolomite rocks stands the Shrine of the Madonna della Ceriola.

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This 13th century church was the first parish church on the Island and the Madonna, the protectress not only of the inhabitants of Monte Isola but the entirety of Lago Iseo, is represented by a 12th century seated wooded sculpture carved from the trunk of a turkey oak.

Wander the Island and feel soothed by the barely tamed bushy copse woods containing oak, bay, hornbeam, ash and fruit chestnut trees.

Brown kites fly above, while wild ducks and great crested grebes swim below.

Agriculture, once an island mainstay, is nowadays practised more as a hobby, yet, nonetheless, it is the maintenance of this ancient art that still plays a crucial role in the preservation of the landscape heritage, preventing the Island being overdeveloped as a Tourist resort similar to other major northern Italian lakes such as Garda and Como.

The 1,800 inhabitants of this lake oasis move about by motorcycle or mini-buses which connect all hamlets and the two main ports.

All connections to and from the mainland run between Peschiera Maraglio and mainland Sulzano (the route we took) or between Carzano and mainland Sale Marasino.

This ferry service, operated by Navigazione Lago d´Iseo, runs every 15 to 20 minutes from 0500 to midnight and every 40 minutes between midnight and 5 a.m.

On Monte Isola cars are banned and the only cars allowed are the ones used for community services (ambulance, doctor, police, priest and taxi).

Motorcycles are for the exclusive use of permanent Monte Isola residents.

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

It takes about an hour to circumnavigate the Island by bike.

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

And the paths leading from the Lago to the top of the Island and to the Shrine.

This is an extremely interesting site, both from a natural and an artistic point of view.

The island´s littlest church contains contemplative quiet beauty and is both the oldest and the highest point on Monte Isola.

The rest of the Island itself is worth a look and a linger.

Artistic churches surrounded by tiny squares and large pale stone houses, sunny arcades, companionable courtyards, lovely landscapes, a rough and simple people  –  some still using ancient wooden farm tools – set in a solid and certain architecture and proud heritage.

Siviano, the most populated hamlet, is the central core of the community.

Above: Siviano

Here, here, is the town hall, the Kindergarten, the Primary School and the Secondary School, the post office, the bank, the two supermarkets.

Peschiera Maraglio, the main harbour of Monte Isola, has a tourist office, another bank, a chemist´s, another Kindergarten, many restaurants, hotels and shops.

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

Carzano was also a fishermen´s village, also all about the fish and fish preservation.

Here, every five years, the fishing folk decorate all the streets of the village with handmade paper flowers to celebrate the religious feast of the Holy Cross, drawing more than 10,000 visitors to watch the spectacle.

Here on Monte Isola it is possible to sleep in small silent hotels and to savour the endless ways to eat a fish.

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

The lake sardines are salted, dried and bottled in oil….

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

The wife and I strolled from Peschiera´s docks, occasionally popping into shops and then settled ourselves down by the shore to watch children splash joyfully in the water.

Ute swam for hours while I read some forgettable tome important only at that and for that moment.

Day Five of our vacation and this day we had driven (or to be precise she drove us) from Bregamo to Sulzano, via Crespi d´Adda and Clusone.

We parked the car near the ferry port in Sulzano and waited for the boat to arrive.

A man in an ambulance gurney is taken off the boat, an ambulance waiting to take him to an emergency room in some nearby town with a hospital.

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

Neither our Italian nor our courage was up to the task of enquiring as to the patient´s identity or circumstances.

On the Island while my wife waded amongst the crowd of mer-children the chilly recollection of the gurney man remained with me but not in a sad or morbid way.

I love my wife, but I won´t deny that my brain wanders off and wonders what it would be like to go somewhere, anywhere, and retreat to an “isolated” spot and devote myself solely to my writing.

(Of course, this is with the assumption that I have the financial means to do this, which, sadly, I do not.)

I fantasize about finding some remote village like Ezra Pound´s Rapallo, or some tranquil wilderness vista like Henry David Thoreau´s Walden Pond, or some artistic alcove like Ernest Hemingway´s in Paris, and devote myself purely to doing nothing but creation.

In my mind´s eye I see myself typing some novel or a magazine article in the early hours before dawn, strolling through the just-waking village to watch the sunrise and smell the baker´s first bread and rolls being prepared for sale, more writing in my small den until lunchtime, lounging in some intimate café soaking the afternoon sun into my bones like some self-indulgent cat, strolling to the harbour to see what cast of characters the lake has spawned this day, more writing just before sunset, down to the beach to watch the sun dissolve into dream tides of amnesiac waters, then walk with purpose and anticipation to my favourite restaurant and slowly sip glass after glass of some local wine until fatigue quietly whispers to me to return back to my bed.

I am not quite certain exactly where my writer´s retreat would be or whether it even could be.

My mind has had this writer´s retreat in Paris, in Ticino and Graubünden, in Lisbon, in Istanbul, and now on Monte Isola.

It wouldn´t have to be in Monte Isola or Istanbul, Lisbon or Paris, or in some remote hamlet in southern Switzerland or northern Italy.

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

I think about the story of Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510), the last Queen of Cyprus (1474 – 1510), how she came to be a temporary resident here on Monte Isola after her husband died and Venice claimed control over Cyprus.

What must it have been like to be an exiled and deposed queen and living in isolation in an old fortress on an Island which has always been barely recognized by anyone?

Did she see her future as nothing more than a destiny of disillusioned despair and diminishment?

Does one need to be defeated, disillusioned and diminished before escaping to a retreat?

(Similar to Colin Firth´s character Jamie, in the film Love…Actually, retreating to a French cottage after he discovers his girlfriend having an affair with his brother.)

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I hope not.

Though my time on Monte Isola was short, decidedly too short –  time (and my wife) waits for no one and we had booked accommodation down the road some distance in Sirmione by Lago di Garda – I am still left with the desire to return some day to Monte Isola.

As good a place as anywhere.

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Jonathan Ames, Wake Up, Sir! / The Rough Guide to Italy / http://www.comune.monteisola.it