Canada Slim and the Author’s Apartment 1: Learning

Landschlacht, Switzerland, Thursday 13 June 2019

In everyone’s life there are marker moments that separate who you were from who you are, as significant to the individual as BC and AD are to the Western calendar.

I have had my share of such moments in my own life.

Some are as obvious as scar tissue from accidents and operations.

Others are so subtle, so intimate, that they are as soft as a lover’s whisper in the night, and are no less important, nay, sometimes are far more important, than moments that clearly marked and marred you in the eyes of others.

Who we were, who we are and who we will become are often determined by what happens where we happen to be.

 

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Certainly there are those who argue that we make our own destiny, that we create our own karma, but it is usually those who have known little hardship who wax poetically upon how they would have acted differently had they been in situations alien to their experience and understanding.

Their songs of self-praise usually play to the tune of “had I been there I would have….“.

“If I had been living in Germany during the Second World War I would have sheltered Jews.”

“If my country suffered a famine I would not remain.”

“If I lived in North Korea I would rise in revolt against the Kim dynasty.”

 

Flag of North Korea

 

Truth be told, we may have the potential to freely make such brave decisions, but in the harsh chill of grim reality whether we would actually possess the needed courage and have the opportunity to successfully act is highly debatable.

If the consequence of helping others might lead to your death and the death of your loved ones, would you really risk everything to shelter those whom your government deems enemies of the state?

Would you be able to abandon your family to famine to save yourself?

Would you really defy your entire country’s military might to speak truth to power and say that what is being done in the name of nationalism is wrong for the nation?

 

Flag of the United States

 

It is easy to condemn the Germans of the National Socialist nightmare, the starving masses in Africa and India, the North Koreans under the Kims, and suggest that they were weak to allow themselves to be dominated by circumstances.

The self-righteous will argue with such platitudes like “Evil can only triumph when the good stay silent.“, but martyrdom’s recklessness is not easily embraced by everyone.

 

Flag of Germany

 

I was born in an age and have lived in places where I have never personally experienced the ravages of war firsthand.

I have known hunger and thirst but have never been hungry or thirsty to the brink of my own demise.

I have been fortunate to live in places where democracy, though imperfectly applied at times, dominated society rather than being sacrificed for security.

As a Canadian born in the 60s, who has never been in a military conflict, it is not easy for me to fully appreciate the difficulties of others that I myself have never experienced.

 

Vertical triband (red, white, red) with a red maple leaf in the centre

 

I count former refugees among my circle of friends, but I cannot claim to fully comprehend what they have endured or what they continue to quietly endure.

I have known those who chose not to be part of a military machine, despite the accusation of treason and disloyalty to their nation this suggests, because they chose not to act in the name of a nation that does not respect a person’s rights to choose not to kill their fellow human beings.

 

 

I love my homeland of Canada but I have never been called to defend her, have never had to choose between patriotism and humanity.

Canada’s leaders I have known may not have been great statesmen, but neither have they been as reprehensible as the leadership of other nations.

Can it be easy to be a true believer in Turkey under a tyrant like Erdogan?

 

Flag of Turkey

 

Can it be easy to be a patriotic American with an amateur like Trump?

Can it be easy to call yourself a native of a nation whose government does things that disgust the conscience and stain the soil?

 

 

I grew up in Québec as an Anglophone Canadian and fortunately I have never been forced to choose between the province and the nation.

 

Flag of Quebec

 

I now live in a nation that certainly isn’t a paradise for everyone within its boundaries, but its nationalism has not tested my resolve nor has it required the surrender of my conscience.

 

Flag of Switzerland

 

Oh, what a lucky man I have been!

Others have not been so fortunate.

 

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I have visited places that have reminded me of my good fortune because of their contrast to that good fortune.

I have seen the ruins of the Berlin Wall and the grim reality of Cyprus’s Green Wall.

 

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I have stood inside an underground tunnel between the two nations of South and North Korea, where two soldiers stand back-to-back 100 meters apart, and though they share the same language and the same culture, they are ordered to kill the other should the other speak.

 

Korea DMZ.svg

 

I have seen cemeteries of fallen soldiers and the ravaged ruins that wars past have left behind.

 

A page from a book. The first stanza of the poem is printed above an illustration of a white cross amidst a field of red poppies while two cannons fire in the background.

 

I have seen the settings of holocaust and have witnessed racism firsthand.

I have heard the condemnation of others for the crime of being different.

 

 

How dare they love who they choose!

How dare they believe differently than we!

How dare they look not as we do!

How dare they exist!

 

Some places are scar marks on the conscience, wounds on the world.

Some places whisper the intimate injury of injustice and barely breathe the breeze of silent bravery against insurmountable obstacles.

I have not lived in a nation torn against itself where bully bastards hide their cruelty behind an ideological -ism that is a thinly disguised mask for their sadism.

 

 

What follows is the tale of one man who did, a man who lived in Belgrade, Serbia’s eternal city, and gave the world an image of the place’s perpetuity, the mirage of immortality….

A man’s whose life has made me consider my own….

 

Above: Belgrade

 

Some folk tales have such universal appeal that we forget when and where we heard or read them, and they live on in our minds as memories of our personal experiences.

Such is, for example, the story of a young man who, wandering the Earth in pursuit of happiness, strayed onto a dangerous road, which led into an unknown direction.

To avoid losing his way, the young man marked the trees along the road with his hatchet, to help him find his way home.

That young man is the personification of general, eternal human destiny on one hand, there is a dangerous and uncertain road, and on the other, a great human need to not lose one’s way, to survive and to leave behind a legacy.

The signs we leave behind us might not avoid the fate of everything that is human: transience and oblivion.

Perhaps they will be passed by completely unnoticed?

Perhaps nobody will understand them?

And yet, they are necessary, just as it is natural and necessary for us humans to convey and reveal our thoughts to one another.

Even if those brief and unclear signs fail to spare us all wandering and temptation, they can alleviate them and, at least, be of help by convincing us that we are not alone in anything we experience, nor are we the first and only ones who have ever been in that position.

(Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside)

 

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Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, 5 April 2018

The weather was worsening but my spirits were high.

I was on a mini-vacation, a separate holiday without my spouse, in a nation completely alien to me.

My good friend Nesha had graciously offered me the use of his apartment while he was away on business in Tara National Park, and so I was at liberty to come and go as I pleased without any obligations to anyone else but myself.

 

Flag of Serbia

Above: Flag of Serbia

 

The day had started well.

I had visited Saint Sava Cathedral, the Nikola Tesla Museum and had serendipitiously stumbled upon a second-hand music store that sold Serbian music that my guidebooks had recommended I discover.

 

Front view of Church of Saint Sava

Above: Saint Sava Cathedral

 

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Above: Nikola Tesla Museum

 

(For details of these, please see Canada Slim and….

  • the Land of Long Life
  • the Holy Field of Sparrows
  • the Visionary
  • the Current War
  • the Man Who Invented the Future)

 

I was happy and so I would remain in the glorious week I spent in Belgrade and Nis.

I was learning so much!

(I still am.)

This journey I was making reminded me once again of just how ignorant I was (and am) of the world beyond my experience.

 

 

Before I began travelling the existence of life outside my senses remained naught more than rumours.

For example, I remember distinctly reading of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, but it was far removed from my life until I moved to Germany and later visited Berlin before I began to understand why this had been a significant event, a big deal.

 

 

I partially blame my ignorance on the circumstances of my life in Canada.

Canadian news dominates Canadian media, which isn’t surprising as we are more interested in that which is closest to our experience.

English-language literature remains more accessible in Anglophone parts of Canada than other languages and so that is mostly what we know.

Too few Canadians speak more than their native tongues of either English or French.

Only 10% of Canadians are truly bilingual and not necessarily in the other official Canadian language.

How sad it is that so many North Americans know so little of the outside world unless there is a military conflict or diplomatic gesture in which they are involved.

Send a Canadian soldier or the Canadian Prime Minister to Serbia then a few Canadians might make a curious effort to find Serbia on a world map.

 

A map of Canada showing its 13 provinces and territories

 

Part of the problem and the reason why world peace and true unity eludes humanity is nationalism.

Why care about those who are not us?

If “us” is defined and limited by our national boundaries then how can we include “them” in our vision of fellow human beings?

Only the truly exceptional of that which is foreign grabs our momentary attention.

How can we understand one another if that which has shaped us is unknown by others and that which has shaped them is alien to us?

 

Flag of the United Nations

 

Can a Serbian truly understand a Canadian without knowing of Terry Fox and Wayne Gretzky, Robert W. Service and Margaret Atwood, Just for Laughs and Stephan Leacock, the Stanley Cup and the CBC, Sergeant Renfrew and Constable Benton Fraser?

 

Statue of Fox running set on a plinth engraved with "Somewhere the hurting must stop..."

 

Can a Canadian truly understand a Serbian without knowing of Novak Djokovic and Nemanja Vidic, the Turija sausage fest and the Novi Sad Exit, the Drina Regatta and the Nisville Jazz Festival, Emir Kusturica and Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac and Ivo Andric?

 

Frontal view of a bespectacled man

Above: Ivo Andric (1892 – 1975)

 

Possibly not.

 

I often think that it would be a good idea for the young to not only read what is / was written in their own tongue but as well to read Nobel Prize winning books translated from other languages.

It might even be a step towards world unity.

In my school years I was exposed to the writing of Nobel Prize winners Kipling, O’Neill, Buck, Eliot, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Bellow.

I had to travel to discover other Nobel laureates like Pamuk, Jelinek, Saramango, Neruda, Sartre, Camus, Marquez, Solzhenitsyn, Gidé, Mann and Andric by accident.

How much we miss when we stick to only our own!

How can we possibly have world peace when we are so ignorant of the world’s music, art and literature?

 

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.

 

The street that runs beside Belgrade’s New Palace, now the seat of the President of Serbia, is named Andrićev venac (Andrić’s Crescent) in his honour.

It includes a life-sized statue of the writer.

 

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The flat in which Andrić spent his final years has been turned into a museum.

 

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Several of Serbia’s other major cities, such as Novi Sad and Kragujevac, have streets named after Andrić.

Streets in a number of cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, and Višegrad, also carry his name.

 

 

Andrić remains the only writer from the former Yugoslavia to have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Given his use of the Ekavian dialect, and the fact that most of his novels and short stories were written in Belgrade, his works have become associated almost exclusively with Serbian literature.

 

(I asked my good friend Nesha whether Serbians can communicate with Bosnians and Croatians in a similar language, whether there was a Slavic tongue that unites the three.

He responded that it is all one Serbo-Croatian language with a difference in dialects that changes from region to region and divided by three different accents: Ekavica, Jekavic and Ijekavica

Even though Slovenians and Macedonians speak a little differently, they all understand and speak a Serbian-type speech.)

 

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The Slavonic studies professor Bojan Aleksov characterizes Andrić as one of Serbian literature’s two central pillars, the other being Njegoš.

The plasticity of his narrative,” Moravcevich writes, “the depth of his psychological insight, and the universality of his symbolism remain unsurpassed in all of Serbian literature.

 

 

Though it has been said that the Serbian novel did not begin with Ivo Andric – (that honour lies with Borisav Stankovic (1867 – 1927) who explored the contradictions of man’s spiritual and sensory life in his 1910 work Bad Blood, the first Serbian novel to receive praise in its foreign translations) – it was Andric who took Serbian literature’s oral traditions and epic poetry and developed and perfected its narrative form.

 

Image result for Borislav Stankovic the tainted blood

 

To this day, Andric remains probably the most famous writer from former Yugoslavia.

And, sadly, I had never heard of him prior to this day.

A visit to the Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric (to give its official title) this day helped correct this imbalance….

 

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By a decision of the Belgrade City Assembly, the property of Ivo Andric was heritage-listed and entrusted to the Belgrade City Museum immediately following Andric’s death on 13 March 1975.

It was an act meant to express the city’s deep respect for Andric as a writer and as a person.

In accordance with the practice common all over the world, Belgrade wished to preserve the original appearance of the writer’s apartment, surrounded by the Belgrade Old and New Courts and Pionirski Park, in its picturesque environment, to honour its famous citizen.

The establishment of this Memorial Museum also throws light on a very remarkable period in history encompassing the two world wars, as well as the post-war years, on which Andric left a strong personal and creative impact.

The holdings of Ivo Andric’s legacy chiefly consist of items found and inventoried at his apartment after his death – the underlying idea being to reflect the spirit and atmosphere of privacy and nobility surrounding him.

Andric’s personal library contains 3,373 items, along with archival materials, manuscripts, works of fine and applied arts, diplomas and decorations, 1,070 personal belongings and 803 photographs.

The apartment covers an area of 144 square metres (somewhat larger than my own apartment) and is divided into three units:

  • the authentic interior, encompassing an entrance hall, a drawing room and Andric’s study
  • the exhibition rooms, created by the adaptation of two bedrooms
  • the curators’ and guides offices and the museum storerooms, occupying the former kitchen, the maid’s room, the bathroom and the lobby

It is both an unusual and a subtle combination of ambiguously private and unabasedly public, presenting an overview of Andric’s private life while depicting his vivid diplomatic, national, cultural and educational activities.

Ivo Andric was an unusual man who lived in unusual times, a life captured by a small apartment museum that like Andric himself is deceptively normal in appearance….

 

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The original appearance and the function of the entrance hall have been preserved to a great extent.

The showcase with publications and souvenirs of the Belgrade City Museum is the only sign indicating that a visitor, though in residential premises, is actually in a Museum.

Already at the entrance to the Museum, an open bookshelf populated with thick volumes of Serbo-Croatian and foreign language dictionaries and encyclopedias and literary works in French, German and English, symbolizes Andric’s communication with European and world literature, history and philosophy as well as his own creative endeavours.

This is where the story of the writer begins to unfold….

 

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Ivan Andrić was born in the village of Dolac, near Travnik, on 10 October 1892, while his mother, Katarina (née Pejić), was in the town visiting relatives.

 

Above: The house in which Andric was born, now a museum

 

(Travnik has a strong culture, mostly dating back to its time as the center of local government in the Ottoman Empire.

Travnik has a popular old town district however, which dates back to the period of Bosnian independence during the first half of the 15th century.

Numerous mosques and churches exist in the region, as do tombs of important historical figures and excellent examples of Ottoman architecture.

The city museum, built in 1950, is one of the more impressive cultural institutions in the region.

Travnik became famous by important persons who were born or lived in the city.

The most important of which are Ivo Andrić, Miroslav Ćiro Blažević (football coach of the Croatian national team, won third place 1998 in France), Josip Pejaković (actor), Seid Memić (pop singer) and Davor Džalto (artist and art historian, the youngest PhD in Germany and in the South-East European region).

 

Skyline of Travnik

Above: Images of Travnik

 

One of the main works of Ivo Andrić is the Bosnian Chronicle, depicting life in Travnik during the Napoleonic Wars and written during World War II.

In this work Travnik and its people – with their variety of ethnic and religious communities – are described with a mixture of affection and exasperation.

 

Ivo Andriac, Ivo Andric - Bosnian Chronicle

 

The Bosnian Tornjak, one of Bosnia’s two major dog breeds and national symbol, originated in the area, found around Mount Vlašić.)

 

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Andrić’s parents were both Catholic Croats.

He was his parents’ only child.

(I too was raised as an only child.)

 

His father, Antun, was a struggling silversmith who resorted to working as a school janitor in Sarajevo, where he lived with his wife and infant son.

(The Museum disagrees with Wikipedia, describing Antun as a court attendant.)

 

At the age of 32, Antun died of tuberculosis, like most of his siblings.

Andrić was only two years old at the time.

(My mother died, of cancer, when I was three.)

 

Widowed and penniless, Andrić’s mother took him to Višegrad and placed him in the care of her sister-in-law Ana and brother-in-law Ivan Matković, a police officer at the border military police station.

The couple were financially stable but childless, so they agreed to look after the infant and brought him up as their own in their house on the bank of the Drina River.

Meanwhile, Andrić’s mother returned to Sarajevo seeking employment.

Andrić was raised in a country that had changed little since the Ottoman period despite being mandated to Austria-Hungary at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.

Eastern and Western culture intermingled in Bosnia to a far greater extent than anywhere else in the Balkan peninsula.

Having lived there from an early age, Andrić came to cherish Višegrad, calling it “my real home“.

Though it was a small provincial town (or kasaba), Višegrad proved to be an enduring source of inspiration.

It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional town, the predominant groups being Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks).

 

Višegrad

Above: Images of Visegrad

 

(Like Andric, I was born elsewhere than the place I think of as home, though to Andric’s credit he lovingly wrote about his birthplace in The Travnik Chronicle.

I could imagine writing about St. Philippe, my childhood hometown, but I feel no intimate connection to St. Eustache, my birthplace, whatsoever, despite the latter having a larger claim to fame than the “blink-or-you’ll-miss-it” village of my youth.)

 

Above: St. Eustache City Hall

 

(My imagination plays with the notion of St. Philippe as “St. Jerusalem” and St. Eustache described during the Rebellion of 1837.)

 

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Above: The Battle of St. Eustache, 14 December 1837

 

From an early age, Andrić closely observed the customs of the local people.

These customs, and the particularities of life in eastern Bosnia, would later be detailed in his works.

Andrić made his first friends in Višegrad, playing with them along the Drina River and the town’s famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge.

 

Visegrad bridge by Klackalica.jpg

 

(The area was part of the medieval Serbian state of the Nemanjić dynasty.

It was part of the Grand Principality of Serbia under Stefan Nemanja (r. 1166–96).

In the Middle Ages, Dobrun was a place within the border area with Bosnia, on the road towards Višegrad.

After the death of Emperor Stefan Dušan (r. 1331–55), the region came under the rule of magnate Vojislav Vojinović, and then his nephew, župan (count) Nikola Altomanović.

The Dobrun Monastery was founded by župan Pribil and his family, some time before the 1370s.

 

Above: Dobrun Monastery

 

The area then came under the rule of the Kingdom of Bosnia, part of the estate of the Pavlović noble family.

The settlement of Višegrad is mentioned in 1407, but is starting to be more often mentioned after 1427.

In the period of 1433–37, a relatively short period, caravans crossed the settlement many times.

Many people from Višegrad worked for the Republic of Ragusa.

Srebrenica and Višegrad and its surroundings were again in Serbian hands in 1448 after Despot Đurađ Branković defeated Bosnian forces.

 

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Above: Durad Brankovic (1377 – 1456)

 

According to Turkish sources, in 1454, Višegrad was conquered by the Ottoman Empire led by Osman Pasha.

It remained under the Ottoman rule until the Berlin Congress (1878), when Austria-Hungary took control of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

 

The Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge was built by the Ottoman architect and engineer Mimar Sinan for Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha.

Construction of the bridge took place between 1571 and 1577.

It still stands, and it is now a tourist attraction, after being inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

 

UNESCO logo English.svg

 

The Bosnian Eastern Railway from Sarajevo to Uvac and Vardište was built through Višegrad during the Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Construction of the line started in 1903.

It was completed in 1906, using the 760 mm (2 ft 5 1516 in) track gauge.

With the cost of 75 million gold crowns, which approximately translates to 450 thousand gold crowns per kilometer, it was one of the most expensive railways in the world built by that time.

This part of the line was eventually extended to Belgrade in 1928.

Višegrad is today part of the narrow-gauge heritage railway Šargan Eight.

 

The area was a site of Partisan–German battles during World War II.

Višegrad is one of several towns along the River Drina in close proximity to the Serbian border.

The town was strategically important during the Bosnian War conflict.

A nearby hydroelectric dam provided electricity and also controlled the level of the River Drina, preventing flooding downstream areas.

The town is situated on the main road connecting Belgrade and Užice in Serbia with Goražde and Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a vital link for the Užice Corps of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) with the Uzamnica camp as well as other strategic locations implicated in the conflict.

 

 

On 6 April 1992, JNA artillery bombarded the town, in particular Bosniak-inhabited neighbourhoods and nearby villages.

Murat Šabanović and a group of Bosniak men took several local Serbs hostage and seized control of the hydroelectric dam, threatening to blow it up.

Water was released from the dam causing flooding to some houses and streets.

Eventually on 12 April, JNA commandos seized the dam.

 

Бањска стена - Тешке боје.jpg

 

The next day the JNA’s Užice Corps took control of Višegrad, positioning tanks and heavy artillery around the town.

The population that had fled the town during the crisis returned and the climate in the town remained relatively calm and stable during the later part of April and the first two weeks of May.

On 19 May 1992 the Užice Corps officially withdrew from the town and local Serb leaders established control over Višegrad and all municipal government offices.

 

Soon after, local Serbs, police and paramilitaries began one of the most notorious campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the conflict.

There was widespread looting and destruction of houses, and terrorizing of Bosniak civilians, with instances of rape, with a large number of Bosniaks killed in the town, with many bodies were dumped in the River Drina.

Men were detained at the barracks at Uzamnica, the Vilina Vlas Hotel and other sites in the area.

Vilina Vlas also served as a “brothel“, in which Bosniak women and girls (some not yet 14 years old), were brought to by police officers and paramilitary members (White Eagles and Arkan’s Tigers).

 

Visegradska banja vilina vlas by Klackalica.jpg

Above: Vilina Vlas Hotel today

 

Bosniaks detained at Uzamnica were subjected to inhumane conditions, including regular beatings, torture and strenuous forced labour.

Both of the town’s mosques were razed.

According to victims’ reports some 3,000 Bosniaks were murdered in Višegrad and its surroundings, including some 600 women and 119 children.

According to the Research and Documentation Center, at least 1,661 Bosniaks were killed/missing in Višegrad.

 

With the Dayton Agreement, which put an end to the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, the latter which Višegrad became part of.

 

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Above: Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Before the war, 63% of the town residents were Bosniak.

In 2009, only a handful of survivors had returned to what is now a predominantly Serb town.

On 5 August 2001, survivors of the massacre returned to Višegrad for the burial of 180 bodies exhumed from mass graves.

The exhumation lasted for two years and the bodies were found in 19 different mass graves.

The charges of mass rape were unapproved as the prosecutors failed to request them in time.

Cousins Milan Lukić and Sredoje Lukić were convicted on 20 July 2009, to life in prison and 30 years, respectively, for a 1992 killing spree of Muslims.

 

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Above: Milan Lukic

 

The Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge was popularized by Andric in his novel The Bridge on the Drina.

A tourist site called Andricgrad (Andric Town) dedicated to Andric, is located near the Bridge.

Construction of Andrićgrad, also known as Kamengrad (Каменград, “Stonetown“) started on 28 June 2011, and was officially opened on 28 June 2014, on Vidovdan.)

 

Above: Main Street, Andricgrad

 

Throughout his life Andric was tied to Visegrad by pleasant reminiscences and bright memories of childhood.

 

The Bridge on the Drina.jpg

Above: First edition of The Bridge on the Drina (Serbian)

 

At the age of ten, he received a three-year scholarship from a Croat cultural group called Napredak (Progress) to study in Sarajevo.

In the autumn of 1902, he was registered at the Great Sarajevo Gymnasium (Serbo-Croatian: Velika Sarajevska gimnazija), the oldest secondary school in Bosnia.

While in Sarajevo, Andrić lived with his mother, who worked in a rug factory as a weaver.

 

 

(Today Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a population of 275,524 in its administrative limits.

The Sarajevo metropolitan area,  is home to 555,210 inhabitants.

Nestled within the greater Sarajevo valley of Bosnia, it is surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River in the heart of the Balkans.

Sarajevo is the political, financial, social and cultural center of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a prominent center of culture in the Balkans, with its region-wide influence in entertainment, media, fashion, and the arts.

Due to its long and rich history of religious and cultural diversity, Sarajevo is sometimes called the “Jerusalem of Europeor “Jerusalem of the Balkans“.

It is one of only a few major European cities which have a mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church and synagogue in the same neighborhood.

A regional center in education, the city is home to the Balkans first institution of tertiary education in the form of an Islamic polytechnic called the Saraybosna Osmanlı Medrese, today part of the University of Sarajevo.

Although settlement in the area stretches back to prehistoric times, the modern city arose as an Ottoman stronghold in the 15th century.

Sarajevo has attracted international attention several times throughout its history.

In 1885, Sarajevo was the first city in Europe and the second city in the world to have a full-time electric tram network running through the city, following San Francisco….)

 

 

At the time, the city was overflowing with civil servants from all parts of Austria-Hungary, and thus many languages could be heard in its restaurants, cafés and on its streets.

Culturally, the city boasted a strong Germanic element, and the curriculum in educational institutions was designed to reflect this.

From a total of 83 teachers that worked at Andrić’s school over a twenty-year period, only three were natives of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The teaching program,” biographer Celia Hawkesworth notes, “was devoted to producing dedicated supporters of the Habsburg Monarchy.”

Andrić disapproved.

All that came at secondary school and university,” he wrote, “was rough, crude, automatic, without concern, faith, humanity, warmth or love.

 

Andrić experienced difficulty in his studies, finding mathematics particularly challenging, and had to repeat the sixth grade.

For a time, he lost his scholarship due to poor grades.

Hawkesworth attributes Andrić’s initial lack of academic success at least partly to his alienation from most of his teachers.

Nonetheless, he excelled in languages, particularly Latin, Greek and German.

Although he initially showed substantial interest in natural sciences, he later began focusing on literature, likely under the influence of his two Croat instructors, writer and politician Đuro Šurmin and poet Tugomir Alaupović.

Of all his teachers in Sarajevo, Andrić liked Alaupović best and the two became lifelong friends.

 

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Above: Tugomir Alaupovic (1870 – 1958)

 

Andrić felt he was destined to become a writer.

He began writing in secondary school, but received little encouragement from his mother.

He recalled that when he showed her one of his first works, she replied:

“Did you write this? What did you do that for?”

Andrić published his first poem “U sumrak” (At dusk)  in 1911 in a journal called Bosanska vila (Bosnian Fairy), which promoted Serbo-Croat unity.

At the time, he was still a secondary school student.

His poems, essays, reviews, and translations appeared in journals such as Vihor (Whirlwind), Savremenik (The Contemporary), Hrvatski pokret (The Croatian Movement), and Književne novine (Literary News).

One of Andrić’s favorite literary forms was lyrical reflective prose, and many of his essays and shorter pieces are prose poems.

The historian Wayne S. Vucinich describes Andrić’s poetry from this period as “subjective and mostly melancholic“.

Andrić’s translations of August Strindberg’s novel Black Flag, Walt Whitman, and a number of Slovene authors also appeared around this time.

 

August Strindberg

Above: Swedish writer August Strindberg (1849 – 1912)

 

In 1908, Austria-Hungary officially annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the chagrin of South Slav nationalists like Andrić.

In late 1911, Andrić was elected the first president of the Serbo-Croat Progressive Movement (Serbo-Croatian: Srpsko-Hrvatska Napredna Organizacija; SHNO), a Sarajevo-based secret society that promoted unity and friendship between Serb and Croat youth and opposed the Austro-Hungarian occupation.

Its members were vehemently criticized by both Serb and Croat nationalists, who dismissed them as “traitors to their nations“.

Unfazed, Andrić continued agitating against the Austro-Hungarians.

On 28 February 1912, he spoke before a crowd of 100 student protesters at Sarajevo’s railway station, urging them to continue their demonstrations.

The Austro-Hungarian police later began harassing and prosecuting SHNO members.

Ten were expelled from their schools or penalized in some other way, though Andrić himself escaped punishment.

Andrić also joined the South Slav student movement known as Young Bosnia, becoming one of its most prominent members.

 

 

In 1912, Andrić registered at the University of Zagreb, having received a scholarship from an educational foundation in Sarajevo.

He enrolled in the department of mathematics and natural sciences because these were the only fields for which scholarships were offered, but was able to take some courses in Croatian literature.

 

University of Zagreb logo.svg

 

(Today Zagreb is the capital and the largest city of Croatia.

It is located in the northwest of the country, along the Sava River, at the southern slopes of Mount Medvednica.

 

 

The climate of Zagreb is classified as an oceanic climate, but with significant continental influences and very closely bordering on a humid Continental climate as well as a humid subtropical climate.

Zagreb has four separate seasons.

Summers are warm, at the end of May the temperatures start rising and it is often pleasant with occasional thunderstorms.

Heatwaves can occur but are short-lived.

Temperatures rise above 30 °C (86 °F) on an average 14.6 days each summer.

Rainfall is abundant in the summertime and it continues to be in autumn as well.

Zagreb is Europe’s 9th wettest capital, behind Luxembourg and ahead of Brussels, Belgium.

Autumn in its early stages is mild with an increase of rainy days and precipitation as well as a steady temperature fall towards its end.

Morning fog is common from mid-October to January with northern city districts at the foothills of the Medvednica mountain as well as those along the Sava river being more prone to all-day fog accumulation.

Winters are cold with a precipitation decrease pattern.

Even though there is no discernible dry season, February is the driest month with 39 mm of precipitation.

On average there are 29 days with snowfall with first snow falling in early November.

Springs are generally mild and pleasant with frequent weather changes and are windier than other seasons.

Sometimes cold spells can occur, mostly in its early stages.

The average daily mean temperature in the winter is around 1 °C (34 °F) (from December to February) and the average temperature in the summer is 22.0 °C (71.6 °F).

 

 

Zagreb is a city with a rich history dating from the Roman times to the present day.

The oldest settlement located in the vicinity of the city was the Roman Andautonia, in today’s Ščitarjevo.

The name “Zagreb” is recorded in 1134, in reference to the foundation of the settlement at Kaptol in 1094.

Zagreb became a free royal town in 1242.

In 1851 Zagreb had its first mayor, Janko Kamauf.

After the 1880 Zagreb earthquake, up to the 1914 outbreak of World War I, development flourished and the town received the characteristic layout which it has today.

 

 

Zagreb still occasionally experiences earthquakes, due to the proximity of Žumberak-Medvednica fault zone.

It’s classified as an area of high seismic activity.

The area around Medvednica was the epicentre of the 1880 Zagreb earthquake (magnitude 6.3), and the area is known for occasional landslide threatening houses in the area.

The proximity of strong seismic sources presents a real danger of strong earthquakes.

Croatian Chief of Office of Emergency Management Pavle Kalinić stated Zagreb experiences around 400 earthquakes a year, most of them being imperceptible.

However, in case of a strong earthquake, it’s expected that 3,000 people would die and up to 15,000 would be wounded.

 

Zagreb Cathedral interior 1880.jpg

Above: Damage done to Zagreb Cathedral, 9 November 1880

 

The first horse-drawn tram was used in 1891.

The construction of the railway lines enabled the old suburbs to merge gradually into Donji Grad, characterised by a regular block pattern that prevails in Central European cities.

This bustling core hosts many imposing buildings, monuments, and parks as well as a multitude of museums, theatres and cinemas.

An electric power plant was built in 1907.

 

Since 1 January 1877, the Grič cannon is fired daily from the Lotrščak Tower on Grič to mark midday.

 

 

The first half of the 20th century saw a considerable expansion of Zagreb.

Before World War I, the city expanded and neighbourhoods like Stara Peščenica in the east and Črnomerec in the west were created.

The transport connections, concentration of industry, scientific, and research institutions and industrial tradition underlie its leading economic position in Croatia.

Zagreb is the seat of the central government, administrative bodies, and almost all government ministries.

Almost all of the largest Croatian companies, media, and scientific institutions have their headquarters in the city.

Zagreb is the most important transport hub in Croatia where Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Southeast Europe meet, making the Zagreb area the centre of the road, rail and air networks of Croatia.

It is a city known for its diverse economy, high quality of living, museums, sporting and entertainment events.

Its main branches of economy are high-tech industries and the service sector.

 

 

Zagreb is an important tourist centre, not only in terms of passengers travelling from the rest of Europe to the Adriatic Sea, but also as a travel destination itself.

It attracts close to a million visitors annually, mainly from Austria, Germany and Italy, and in recent years many tourists from the Far East (South Korea, Japan, China and India).

It has become an important tourist destination, not only in Croatia, but considering the whole region of southeastern Europe.

There are many interesting sights and happenings for tourists to attend in Zagreb, for example, the two statues of Saint George, one at the Republic of Croatia Square, the other at Kamenita vrata, where the image of Virgin Mary is said to be only thing that hasn’t burned in the 17th-century fire.

Also, there is an art installation starting in Bogovićeva street, called Nine Views.

Most people don’t know what the statue “Prizemljeno Sunce” (The Grounded Sun) is for, and just scrawl graffiti or signatures on it, but it’s actually the Sun scaled down, with many planets situated all over Zagreb in scale with the Sun.

There are also many festivals and events throughout the year, making Zagreb a year-round tourist destination.

The historical part of the city to the north of Ban Jelačić Square is composed of the Gornji Grad and Kaptol, a medieval urban complex of churches, palaces, museums, galleries and government buildings that are popular with tourists on sightseeing tours.

The historic district can be reached on foot, starting from Jelačić Square, the centre of Zagreb, or by a funicular on nearby Tomićeva Street.

Each Saturday, (April – September), on St. Mark’s Square in the Upper town, tourists can meet members of the Order of The Silver Dragon (Red Srebrnog Zmaja), who reenact famous historical conflicts between Gradec and Kaptol.

It’s a great opportunity for all visitors to take photographs of authentic and fully functional historical replicas of medieval armour.

 

 

Numerous shops, boutiques, store houses and shopping centres offer a variety of quality clothing.

There are about fourteen big shopping centres in Zagreb.

Zagreb’s offerings include crystal, china and ceramics, wicker or straw baskets, and top-quality Croatian wines and gastronomic products.

Notable Zagreb souvenirs are the tie or cravat, an accessory named after Croats who wore characteristic scarves around their necks in the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century and the ball-point pen, a tool developed from the inventions by Slavoljub Eduard Penkala, an inventor and a citizen of Zagreb.

Many Zagreb restaurants offer various specialties of national and international cuisine.

Domestic products which deserve to be tasted include turkey, duck or goose with mlinci (a kind of pasta), štrukli (cottage cheese strudel), sir i vrhnje (cottage cheese with cream), kremšnite (custard slices in flaky pastry) and orehnjača (traditional walnut roll). )

 

 

Andrić was well received by South Slav nationalists in Zagreb and regularly participated in on-campus demonstrations.

This led to his being reprimanded by the university.

In 1913, after completing two semesters in Zagreb, Andrić transferred to the University of Vienna, where he resumed his studies.

 

Uni-Vienna-seal.png

 

(Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria.

Vienna is Austria’s principal city, with a population of about 1.9 million (2.6 million within the metropolitan area, nearly one third of the country’s population), and its cultural, economic and political centre.

It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants.

Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin.

Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC.

The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

These regions work together in a European Centrope border region.

Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants.

In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psychoanalyst – Sigmund Freud.

The city’s roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements that transformed into a Medieval and Baroque city, and then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It is well known for having played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century.

The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstraße lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.

Vienna is known for its high quality of life.

In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the city first (in a tie with Vancouver and San Francisco) for the world’s most liveable cities.

Between 2011 and 2015, Vienna was ranked second, behind Melbourne.

In 2018, it replaced Melbourne as the number one spot.

For ten consecutive years (2009–2019), the human-resource-consulting firm Mercer ranked Vienna first in its annual “Quality of Living” survey of hundreds of cities around the world.

Monocle’s 2015 “Quality of Life Survey” ranked Vienna second on a list of the top 25 cities in the world “to make a base within.”

The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013.

The city was ranked 1st globally for its culture of innovation in 2007 and 2008, and sixth globally (out of 256 cities) in the 2014 Innovation Cities Index, which analyzed 162 indicators in covering three areas: culture, infrastructure, and markets.

Vienna regularly hosts urban planning conferences and is often used as a case study by urban planners.

Between 2005 and 2010, Vienna was the world’s number-one destination for international congresses and conventions.

It attracts over 6.8 million tourists a year.)

 

From top, left to right: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna City Hall, St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna State Opera, and Austrian Parliament Building

Above: Images of Vienna (Wien)

 

While in Vienna, Andric joined South Slav students in promoting the cause of Yugoslav unity and worked closely with two Yugoslav student societies, the Serbian cultural society Zora (Dawn) and the Croatian student club Zvonimir, which shared his views on “integral Yugoslavism” (the eventual assimilation of all South Slav cultures into one).

Andric became acquainted with Soren Kierkegaard’s book Either / Or, which would have a lasting influence on him.

 

A head-and-shoulders portrait sketch of a young man in his twenties that emphasizes his face, full hair, open and forward-looking eyes and a hint of a smile. He wears a formal necktie and lapel.

Above: Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855)

 

Despite finding like-minded students in Vienna, the city’s climate took a toll on Andrić’s health.

He contracted tuberculosis and became seriously ill, then asked to leave Vienna on medical grounds and continue his studies elsewhere, though Hawkesworth believes he may actually have been taking part in a protest of South Slav students that were boycotting German-speaking universities and transferring to Slavic ones.

 

For a time, Andrić had considered transferring to a school in Russia but ultimately decided to complete his fourth semester at Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

 

POL Jagiellonian University logo.svg

Above: Logo of Jagiellonian University

 

(Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland.

Situated on the Vistula River, the city dates back to the 7th century.

Kraków was the official capital of Poland until 1596 and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, economic, cultural and artistic life.

Cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, its Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city.

It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading centre of Central Europe in 965.

With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic centre.

The city has a population of about 770,000, with approximately 8 million additional people living within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of its main square.

 

 

After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany at the start of World War II, the newly defined Distrikt Krakau (Kraków District) became the capital of Germany’s General Government.

The Jewish population of the city was forced into a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto, from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz never to return, and the Nazi concentration camps like Płaszów.

 

Krakow Ghetto Gate 73170.jpg

 

In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II—the first Slavic pope ever and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

 

John Paul II on 12 August 1993 in Denver, Colorado

Above: Pope John Paul II (1920 – 2005)

 

Also that year, UNESCO approved the first ever sites for its new World Heritage List, including the entire Old Town in inscribing Kraków’s Historic Centre.

Kraków is classified as a global city with the ranking of high sufficiency by GaWC.

Its extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture includes the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula, the St. Mary’s Basilica, Saints Peter and Paul Church and the largest medieval market square in Europe, the Rynek Główny.

Kraków is home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world and traditionally Poland’s most reputable institution of higher learning.

In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture.

In 2013 Kraków was officially approved as a UNESCO City of Literature.

The city hosted the World Youth Day in July 2016.)

 

 

Throughout his life Andric would feel that he owed much to the Polish excursion.

Andric met and mingled with painters Jovan Bijelic, Roman Petrovic and Peter Tijesic.

He transferred in early 1914 and continued to publish translations, poems and reviews.

Six poems written by Andric were included in the anthology Hrvatska Mlada Linka (Young Christian Lyricists).

In the words of literary critics:

As unhappy as any artist.  Ambitious.  Sensitive.  Briefly speaking, he has a future.

 

Flag of Poland

Above: Flag of Poland

 

(This perspective has always made me wonder….

Must a man suffer before he can call himself an artist?)

 

A portrait of Vincent van Gogh from the right; he is wearing a winter hat, his ear is bandaged and he has no beard.

 

Certainly, Andric lost his father and was separated from his mother in his childhood and the domination of his homeland by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire clearly bothered him, nonetheless Andric had had the distinct privilege of living and studying in four of the most beautiful and cultural cities that Eastern Europe offers.

Certainly, Andric would be plagued with ill health often during the course of his lifetime, but it would not be until the outbreak of war in 1914 that his, and Europe’s, suffering would truly begin….

(To be continued….)

Image result for ivo andric museum belgrade images

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Lonely Planet Eastern Europe / Belgrade City Museum, Memorial Museum of Ivo Andric Guide / Komshe Travel Guides, Serbia in Your Hands / Top Travel Guides, Belgrade / Bradt Guides, Serbia / Aleksandar Diklic, Belgrade: The Eternal City / Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina / Ivo Andric, Signs by the Roadside

Canada Slim and Our Lady of St. Petersburg

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 September 2017

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

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

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

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Above: The Starbucks logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seaward view at Annapolis Royal

Above: Seaward view from Annapolis Royal

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

Lyudmila is a very open and caring woman.

Image may contain: 1 person, closeup

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

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

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

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

I will miss her.

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

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

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

I have an odd hobby.

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

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

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.jpg

Landschlacht, 24 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piña Colada.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But enough about me and my self pity.

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

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

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

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

Flag of Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-71043-0003, Wladimir Iljitsch Lenin.jpg

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

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

Flag

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

St. Petersburg is a name suggesting great literature.

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

Portrait of Alexander Pushkin (Orest Kiprensky, 1827).PNG

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

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

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

NV Gogol.png

Above: Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)

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

Vasily Perov - Портрет Ф.М.Достоевского - Google Art Project.jpg

Above: Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

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

Osip Mandelstam Russian writer.jpg

Above: Russian Poet Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)

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

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

Daniil Kharms.jpg

Above: Russian writer Daniil Kharms (1905-1942)

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

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

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

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

Vladimir Nabokov 1973.jpg

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

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

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

Joseph Brodsky 1988.jpg

Above. Russian writer Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

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

Akhmatova in 1922 (Portrait by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin)

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

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

Above: Russian poet Alexander Blok (1880-1921)

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

GoldenEye - UK cinema poster.jpg

Above: Poster for 1995 film Golden Eye

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

Clearly St. Petersburg is quite inspirational.

 

Landschlacht, 25 September 2017

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

Bahnhof St. Gallen bei Nacht, Juli 2014 (2).JPG

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

On duty at the Bahnhof were Lyudmila and Sukako.

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

(Lyudmila flies to Canada on Thursday.)

Air Canada Logo.svg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Hermitage Museum, formerly the Winter Palace

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Above: The Mariinskiy Theatre

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

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

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

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Above: Winter on Nevskiy Prospekt

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Above: Kazan Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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Above: The Church of Our Saviour on Spilled Ground

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

Above: The Russian Museum in the former Mikhailovsky Palace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But St. Petersburg is more than these events…

It has seen its share of powerful political figures….

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

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

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

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Above: Russian Tsar Nicholas II (1868 – 1918)

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

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Above: Gregori Rasputin (1869 – 1918)

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

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Above: Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin (1814 – 1876)

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

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

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Above: Bolshevik politician Sergey Kirov (1886 – 1934)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Above: Flag of Switzerland

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

I still have hope.

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

How to Train a Dragon: Canadians in China

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 23 March 2017

The further away a country is, the harder it is to know and understand that country.

China is such a country.

Flag of the People's Republic of China

So it is with caution that I express my opinion of the events that have so far transpired with China and its relations with the rest of the world.

Until this year I have had little exposure to Chinese people.

The only Chinese people I had known were second generation Chinese Canadians, more Canadian in character than Chinese as they have spent the entirety of their lives in Canada.

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I am not certain whether they have ever visited their parents’ homeland or even if they have wished to do so.

I have nothing against the three Chinese Canadians I have known, though whether they feel the same towards me remains debateable.

I know that Dicky and I have become more closer since our high school days and that he seems happy back in his hometown of Lachute and working for Air Canada at the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Airport in Montréal.

I am fairly certain that Walter from my college days became the international lawyer he wanted to be, though whether he returned to Québec City I do not know.

Things had ended badly between us and the only excuse I have in my pitiful defence is that we had known one another at a most difficult and painful time of my life.

Nonetheless I wish him much happiness and success but I don’t anticipate a happy reunion betweeen us anytime soon.

I am not at all sure where Jack, whom I knew from my travelling days, is or what he is doing these days.

I remember his face and stature as if he had been seen only mere moments before, but whether he found whatever he was searching for in his travels I know not.

Here in Switzerland I teach a young lady from Beijing twice a week and I occasionally meet another Chinese woman who works for a company I teach at once every two weeks.

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These two ladies have awakened within me a curiosity to know more about their homeland, but I remain uncertain about how I feel about visiting China one day.

As tourism goes, of course, there is much that attracts me about China…

I would love to walk the Great Wall, visit Beijing’s ancient Forbidden City and Summer Palace, parade amongst the army of terracotta warriors, explore the lush rainforest of Xishuangbanna, take in the sights and scents of Guangzhou’s evening spice markets, listen to the talented Chinese National Orchestra in live performance, watch a Zhang Yimou film without English subtitles, eat duck in Beijing followed by chá at a teahouse where my appearance might increase the level of gossip and intrigue within, hug a panda (if such a thing is even possible), dodge yet another of the endless array of construction sites, sigh as yet another Chinese student tries to practice his English upon me, gaze nervously at Tiananmen Square fearful that my rebellious thoughts betray me, wonder at a country which doesn’t only include an endless sea of Han Chinese but as well 55 other officially recognised ethnic groups…so much to see and experience one hardly knows where to begin.

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The Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿) at the centre of the Forbidden City

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Above: (from top to bottom) The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Terracotta Army, the tropical rain forest of Xishuangbanna, the skyline of Guangzhou, the logo of the Chinese National Traditional Orchestra, poster of Zhang Yimou’s 1991 film Raise the Red Lantern, Peking duck, the Yu Yuan Garden Teahouse of Shanghai, a giant panda bear in Hong Kong Zoo, Tiananmen Square

(I am curious about the rumor that generations of Chinese are still convinced that Western music is the Carpenters, Richard Clayderman, Kenny G and Lionel Richie and what the concert goers to Wham!’s Freedom Tour actually felt and understood.)

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Above: (from top to bottom) US musicians Karen and Richard Carpenter at the White House in 1971, French pianist Richard Clayderman (née Philip Pagès), US saxophonist Kenny G. (née Kenny Gorelick), US musician Lionel Richie and British pop duo Wham!

The little I know of China has been limited to newspapers and magazines and the occasionally travel account from writers like Paul Theroux (Riding the Iron Rooster: By Train through China) or books telling folks how to do business in China, and though this exposure has been interesting I am uncertain, despite the advent of the Internet, how accurate are these impressions.

And though I am aware that it is unfair to confuse the Chinese people with the Chinese government, much as it would be to label all Americans in the mold of Donald Trump, I must confess the politics of China does bother me, especially in regards to Taiwan and Tibet.

Why can`t the Chinese government let Taiwan go?

A red flag, with a small blue rectangle in the top left hand corner on which sits a white sun composed of a circle surrounded by 12 rays.

Above: Flag of Taiwan

Why must the Chinese continue to occupy Tibet?

Above: Flag of Tibet

I have met a handful of Tibetan people here in Switzerland and have read numerous accounts of the oppression that Tibet endures and the never-ending exile of their Dalai Lama and I find it difficult to reconcile my desire to see China with my sadness about the acts that are done in China’s name.

I also admit to feeling remorse about the correctness of the accusation that is often levelled at the West…

We simply don`t care about what happens outside of the West until it affects us.

Shortly before I began teaching Chinese students in St. Gallen and Herisau, I read of one Canadian couple’s experience in China and it is their tale I now wish to tell…

Vancouver, Canada, 28 June 2014

Su Bin, aka Stephen Su or Stephen Subin, the owner and manager of Beijing Lode Technology Company Ltd, an aviation technology company -based in China with offices in Vancouver, Kansas City, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xi’an, Shenyang and Changchun – a cable harness equipment company that served the aviation and space market and represented and distributed related aerospace products for a number of companies – is arrested today.

Su Bin a.k.a Stephen Su a.k.a. Stephen Subin

Su Bin, a Chinese businessman and permanent resident of Canada allegedly hacked into the computer systems of US companies with large defence contracts, including Boeing, to steal data on military projects including some of its fighter jets.

On 27 June, the Los Angeles branch of the FBI filed a complaint outlining the alleged participation of Su Bin in a conspiracy to unlawfully access computers in the United States.

The complaint provides an in depth look at an EaaS (espionage as a service) operation.

Su’s alleged role was to help his partners identify valuable military aviation technology to steal.

His company’s logo is almost laughably ironic: We will track the world’s aviation advanced technology.”

Lode Tech is also a representative and distributor of related aerospace products for a number of companies, including DIT-MCO of Kansas City which proudly announces that its equipment “was used on the early Hawk Missile, the first Transcontinental Atlas missile, Polaris missiles for the Navy, Titan missiles for the Air Force and the Patriot Missile used so successfully in the Desert Storm War, as well as almost all the aircraft used by the Air Force, Army and the Navy.”

DIT-MCO International

Prosecutors allege that Su Bin worked with two unnamed Chinese hackers to get the data between 2009 and 2013 and that he attempted to sell some of the information to state-owned Chinese companies.

This case underscore the importance for companies in high value technologies to:

a) Conduct in depth due diligence investigations on all of their vendors.

b) Restrict network access by implementing least privilege rules.

The three hackers targeted fighter jets, such as the F-22 from Lockheed Martin and the F-35 as well as Boeing’s C-17 military cargo aircraft program.

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As well, they stole 20 gigabytes of date from a US military contractor via the company’s FTP server, acquired a list of contractors and suppliers and had access to a Russian-India joint missile development program (Brahmos Aerospace?) by controlling the company’s website and “awaiting the opportunity to conduct internal penetration”.

Su Bin’s arrest marks the first time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has issued an arrest warrant for a foreigner charged with an act of cyber-espionage via a network attack that had until now been attributed to states.

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While this is the first criminal complaint that describes “hackers for hire” or espionage-as-a-service, this type of criminal activity is neither new nor exclusive to China.

Hackers for hire operate in the following manner:

Their target selection is determined by the science and technology priorities of their potential customers.

The hackers establish “technology bases” and hop servers outside of their native nation and “machine rooms” with legal status in cities back home.

They focus on those contractors which are among the top 50 arms companies.

Cyber security companies who research cyber threats should study this criminal complaint closely.

Intelligence companies worldwide need to find ways to differentiate the activities of a nation-state with those of a for-profit hacker group, criminal organization or other alternative entities engaging in acts of cyber espionage.

US Department of Justice spokesman Marc Raimondi said that the conspirators are alleged to have accessed the computer networks of US defence contractors without authorization and stolen data related to military aircraft and weapons systems.

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“We remain deeply concerned about cyber-enabled theft of sensitive information and we have repeatedly made it clear that the United States will continue using all the tools our government possesses to strengthen cyber security and confront cybercrime.”

Boeing said in a statement that the company cooperated with investigators and will continue to do so to hold accountable “individuals who perpetrate economic espionage or trade secret theft against US companies.”

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“We appreciate that the government brought its concerns about a potential compromise of our protected computer systems to our attention.”

None of the claims have been proven in court.

The New York Times reported that Chinese hackers broke into the computer networks of the Office of Personnel Management earlier in March with the intention of accessing the files of thousands of federal employees who had applied for top secret security clearances.

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The hackers gained access to some of the agency`s databases before the threat was detected and blocked.

The Chinese community in Canada is one of the largest overseas Chinese communities, the 2nd largest overseas Chinese community in North America after the United States and the 7th largest worldwide.

Canadians of Chinese descent make up about 4% of the Canadian population, or 1.3 million people.

The Chinese Canadian community is the largest ethnic group of Asian Canadians – 40% of the Asian Canadian population.

Chinese have been a part of the Canadian mosaic as early as 1788.

The highest concentration of Chinese Canadians is in Vancouver, where 1 in 5 residents is Chinese, prompting other Canadians to nickname Vancouver “Hongcouver”.

Clockwise from top: Downtown Vancouver as seen from the southern shore of False Creek, The University of British Columbia, Lions Gate Bridge, a view from the Granville Street Bridge, Burrard Bridge, The Millennium Gate (Chinatown), and totem poles in Stanley Park

According to the Canadian Ethnic Diversity Survey of 2002, 76% of Chinese Canadians said they had a strong sense of belonging to Canada, yet maintaining a strong sense of belonging to their ethnic culture.

Chinese Canadians are active in Canadian society.

Many of them vote in federal and provincial elections and participate in gatherings such as sports teams or community organizations.

Sadly 1 in 3 Chinese Canadians reported that they had experienced discrimination, prejudice or unfair treatment based on their ethnicity, race, religion, language or accent.

Dandong, China, 4 August 2014

An obscure port tucked away in the corner of southeastern Liaoning Province at the confluence of the Yalu River and the Yellow Sea, Dandong‘s interest to travellers lies in the city’s proximity to North Korea and its convenience as a departure point for the Changbai Shan Nature Reserve eight hours distant by bus.

View of Dandong's skyline on the Yalu River

The North Korean city of Sinuiju (Chinese: Xinyizhou) lies on the other side of the Yalu River, so the Chinese come to Dandong (“red east”) just to see the border of their country.

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Above: Flag of North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

A strong Korean influence can be felt in Dandong, from shops to restaurants.

Yalujiang Park is an appealing riverfront park that is a favourite with tourists posing for the standard “I visited the Sino-Korean border.” shot.

After the start of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894, this region was occupied by Japan who built an iron bridge leading to North Korea.

From November 1950 to February 1951, this bridge along with a younger Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge was “accidentally” bombed by the United States during the Korean War.

(Americans also “accidentally” bombed the airstrip at Dandong.)

Even though the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge was rebuilt, the remains of the Japanese-built iron bridge remain and now serve as a war monument.

The Koreans dismantled the Japanese bridge as far as the mid-river boundary line, leaving only a row of support columns.

On the Chinese side, tourists can wander along the remains of the original Broken Bridge, from dawn to dusk, and see shrapnel pockmarks along the bridge until it ends mid-river.

The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge runs parallel to the remains of the Japanese bridge.

The Korean War, from the Chinese and North Korean perspectives, is recorded in the city’s huge macabre Museum to Commemorate Aiding Korea Against US Aggression in a compound northwest of the city, close to the 53-metre high square column Resist America, Aid Korea Memorial.

This gleaming museum, built in 1993, has nine exhibition halls on the Korean War, full of maps, plans, dioramas, machine guns, hand grenades, gory photographs, “Defeat Wolf-hearted America” spelled out on marble, a trench simulation, an impressive revolving panorama showing Korean and Chinese soldiers hammering American aggressors, North Korean folk art including dolls and children’s shoes and statues of valiant Chinese and Korean soldiers.

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Everything is labelled in Chinese and Korean, with the exception of the Chinese propaganda leaflets dropped behind enemy lines in which worried American wives wonder what their husbands are fighting for, and the United Nations official declaration of war – the only written record in the entire museum that mentions the small trifling detail that it was the North Koreans who kicked off the War by invading the South.

A couple of MiGs and Red Army tanks sit in a compound to the side of the Museum.

At the entrance to the compound, next to Chinese President Jiang Ze Min’s large plaque of calligraphy swearing eternal Sino-North Korean friendship, ice-cold Coca-Colas are for sale.

Behind the Museum, a gleaming structure marks a graveyard containing the remains of more than 10,000 Chinese soldiers.

The promenade along the Yalu River is packed with games, parks, modern restaurants offering freshwater fish or Korean barbeque and the Hong Kong Coffee House with strong Korean coffee and the latest North Korean news on TV.

One of Dandong’s top-rated destinations on TripAdvisor is Peter`s Coffee House, owned by Julia and Kevin Garratt of Vancouver and named after one of their sons.

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Peter’s Coffee House is a hub for expats, local Chinese curious about the outside world, state security agents suspicious of the staff and customers, and the occasional North American diplomat.

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“Down by the riverfront Peter`s Coffee House, at 103 Binjiang Zhong Lu, open from 0800 to 2200, Monday to Saturday, noon to 2200 on Sunday, is a friendly café run by a longterm Canadian expat family.

In addition to its excellent coffee, Peter`s serves milkshakes and sodas, authentic Western baked goods, a fine all-day breakfast, burgers and sandwiches.

This is also the place to go for local information and restaurant recommendations.” (http://www.peterscoffeehouse.com)

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Canadian Christian aid workers Julia and Kevin Garratt lived in China on and off for 30 years, raised their four children there and moved their family from Vancouver to Dandong in 2007.

Kevin Garratt and his wife Julia pose for a portrait in the backyard of a home they're staying at after returning to Canada. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Julia taught international trade and management at a local university while Kevin ran the café, organizing weekly “English Corner” language exchanges.

In their spare time, the Garratts volunteered around Dandong, often taking Chinese orphans ice skating.

The Garratts wanted to address the suffering of those living across the border by providing aid to orphanages and a school for the disabled in North Korea.

The Garratts considered China their home, as do the 300,000 Canadians living in China.

(Most Canadians live in Hong Kong, Beijing or Shanghai, so it can be imagined that the gritty border town of Dandong might have regarded the Garratts as highly unusual but generally not unwelcome.

For two Canadians remain etched in Chinese consciousness: Dr. Henry Norman Bethune and Dashan.

Norman Bethune (1890 – 1939) was a Canadian physician, medical innovator and noted anti-fascist.

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Above: Dr. Norman Bethune (1890 – 1930)

He first came to international prominence for his service as a frontline surgeon supporting the democratically-elected Republican government and their Loyalist troops during the Spanish Civil War, but it was his service with the Communist Eighth Route Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War that would earn him enduring acclaim.

Dr. Bethune effectively brought modern medicine to rural China and often treated sick villagers as much as wounded soldiers.

His selfless commitment made a profound impression on the Chinese people, especially the Communist Party of China’s leader, Chairman Mao Zedong.

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Above: Chairman Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976)

The Chairman wrote a famous eulogy to Bethune, which was memorized by generations of Chinese people:

“Comrade Bethune’s spirit, his utter devotion to others without any thought of self, was shown in his great sense of responsibility in his work and his great warmheartedness towards all comrades and the people.

Every Communist must learn from him.

We must all learn the spirit of absolute selflessness from him.

With this spirit everyone can be very useful to the people.

A man’s ability may be great or small, but if he has this spirit, he is already noble-minded and pure, a man of moral integrity and above vulgar interests, a man who is of value to the people.”

Bethune is one of the few Westerners to whom China has dedicated statues, of which many have been erected in his honour throughout the country.

There are hospitals across China named after him and the Norman Bethune Medal is the highest medical honour in China.

Dashan is the Chinese stage name of Canadian Mark Henry Rowswell (born, nine days after yours truly, on 23 May 1965 in Ottawa) who works as a freelance performer in China.

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Relatively unknown in the West, Dashan is the most famous Western personality in China’s media industry, where he occupies a unique position as a foreign national who has become a bona fide domestic celebrity.

Dashan is best known for his mastery of Mandarin Chinese and is considered a true cultural ambassador through his work as a TV host and stand-up comedian done in Chinese.)

This evening the Garratts were invited to a restuarant dinner by Chinese acquaintances who told them they wanted advice about how their daughter could apply to the University of Toronto.

But the dinner was a trap.

When the restaurant elevator doors opened onto a crowd of people, many holding video cameras, Julia and Kevin thought they had stumbled into a wedding party.

But this was no celebration.

In a flash, the Garratts were snatched by men and shoved into separate cars.

They did not know they were in the hands of China’s feared Ministry of State Security.

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Above: Logo of the Chinese Ministry of State Security

They would not see each other for more than two years.

The men drove Julia, 55, to an office building and demanded that she sign a document stating that she agreed to be investigated.

“Investigated for what?”, Julia asked.

It was only after a translator said the words “suspect” and “spy” that Julia understood.

“I seriously thought they would realise that they had made a mistake, they would say sorry and we would go home.”

In another room, Kevin Garratt, 56, was hearing the same chilling accusations.

Scared and bewildered, the Garratts signed.

Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, 12 December 2016

Why were the Garratts taken?

The Garratts suspect they were unwitting pawns in a gambit by the Chinese government to prevent Canada from extraditing Su Bin to the United States.

Those supporting the Garratts say that the couple were simply chess pieces in a larger geopolitical skirmish.

“The Chinese made it clear that the Garratt case was designed to pressure Canada to block Su Bin’s extradition to the US.”, said James Zimmerman, an American lawyer in Beijing hired by the family to lobby Canadian and Chinese government officials for their release.

In an emailed statement about the Garratts’ detention, Global Affairs Canada, the department that handles Canada’s diplomatic relations, declined to comment on the question of an exchange, but said: “Senior government officials were raising the case at every opportunity.”

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The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa denied that the Garratts’ detention was linked to Mr. Su.

“We don’t think it is related to any other cases.”, an Embassy spokesman said in an email.

The Garratts’ account provides a rare glimpse into the workings of China`s opaque state security system.

Their interrogations also reveal clues about the vast reach of China’s global espionage network and the lengths to which the Chinese government will go to protect it.

During the couple’s months-long detention, they said they were frequently threatened with execution or told that they would be sent to a North Korean gulag.

The Garratts’ experience highlights the risks nations face in engaging with China.

According to the Garratts’ account, after signing the investigation document Kevin was driven to the couple’s apartment, where agents ransacked their possessions, grilled him about the contents of their kitchen cabinets and then carted off schoolbooks and computers in the family’s suitcases.

After a heated exchange, the men allowed Kevin to take a pair of Bibles back to the detention centre.

Julia was already at the compund, an extralegal detention centre on the outskirts of the city, confined to a separate isolation cell that had a couch, a bed and a small window covered in opaque plastic.

During the next six months, neither one knew where the other was.

But neither was ever alone.

Rotating pairs of guards sat on the couch in each of these cells, staring intently at them and writing down their every move.

Harsh lights remained on 24 hours a day.

To stay sane, Julia prayed, read books provided by the Canadian Consulate and each day drew a cryptic picture of something she was grateful for in the back of her Bible, afraid anything written would be confiscated.

They each faced daily six-hour interrogations by a team of three men.

Armed with years of emails, Skype messages and surveillance records, the interrogators accused the Garratts of “hosting” foreign diplomats at their coffee shop, taking orders from Canada’s intelligence agency (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service – CSIS) and stealing state secrets.

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The agents showed them photos of United States and Canadian diplomats who had visited their coffee shop.

The interrogators claimed Kevin’s photos of street scenes in Dandong and views of North Korea across the Yalu River were espionage, even though tourists on riverboats took the same photos every day.

Security officers used a variety of coercion tactics.

In one exchange, the interrogators described a 2009 meeting in Vancouver between the couple and a CSIS agent who had wanted to ensure their volunteer work in North Korea was not violating United Nations sanctions.

When Julia asked how the interrogators had known about the meeting, one of them said:

“We have people in the US, Canada, everywhere.”

Canadian officials declined to discuss the Garratts’ treatment, but the couple’s accounts squares with those of many people who have been in Chinese detention.

In February 2015, Julia was released on bail and returned to their apartment.

Meanwhile, Kevin was charged with espionage and transferred to a prison medical ward.

During the 19 months he spent there, a rumour circulated among the guards that he would be released as part of a prisoner exchange.

But in February 2016, Mr. Su waived his challenge to extradition and cut a deal with the United States.

Once that happened…

“Beijing was stuck with a weak case of espionage against the Garratts and little bargaining leverage to get much of anything out of Ottawa.”, said Mr. Zimmerman, the American lawyer.

At the end of August 2016, just days before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Hangzhou, China, for the 11th meeting of the Group of Twenty (G20) – an international forum for governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies, with the aim of studying, reviewing and promoting high-level discussion of policy issues pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability – Julia was allowed to leave China.

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Above: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The G20 Hangzhou summit was held on 4-5 September 2016.

Two weeks later, Kevin was taken to court, where a judge read out an eight-page guilty verdict in Chinese.

The next morning, he was put on a plane bound for Tokyo, but only after agreeing to pay more than $14,000 in fines and signing a document promising not to speak with the news media about his detention.

Much of that money had been dedicated to a North Korean orphanage.

Julia and Kevin were finally reunited in Canada in September.

Though the Garratts are now back in Canada, they say they do not feel entirely safe, describing a series of unnerving incidents suggesting that the Chinese government may be trying to keep tabs on them and their relatives.

In recent months, relatives have encountered strange interference on their phones, computers have gone haywire and strange cars parked outside their homes drive away when someone approaches.

“Even now we live under a cloud.”, Kevin Garratt said.

Most of all, the Garratts feel grief at losing the lives they built over 30 years.

“That’s the sadness that overwhelms us.

We were just trying to help people in need.

That’s all we did.”, Kevin Garratt said.

So how should businesses and governments deal with China, a country that is both a strategic partner as well as a potential adversary?

A country that is surpassing the United States as the world’s largest economy?

Flag of the United States

A country whose investment in its military continues to rapidly increase, to perhaps achieve military equality with the US in 15 to 20 years?

A one-party socialist regime with a poor human rights record?

I personally teach for three companies in Switzerland which do business in China.

China is Switzerland’s top trading partner in Asia.

There are approximately 300 Swiss firms with more than 700 branches operating in China with a total employment of over 55,000 people.

China is the second largest foreign creditor of the United States, yet US President Donald Trump continues to make comments that strain Sino-American relations and have some Americans anticipating potential trade or military conflict between China and the United States in the near future.

Donald Trump official portrait.jpg

China is currently Canada’s second largest trading partner.

Trying to understand China feels as difficult as trying to train a dragon, but I believe if we can learn from those who have spent time there and those who have studied Chinese history and culture we might be able to find a solution that enables nations and individuals to have an economic partnership with the Chinese, while encouraging them to develop their country for all its people within their sphere of influence, improve their human rights record, govern well for the good of everyone and build a world that is safer and more secure.

If our leaders could admit that even the most capable must sometimes ask for help and that dragons need be handled carefully, then progress rather than destruction could be their legacy.

(To be continued…)

Sources: Wikipedia / Lonely Planet China / Rough Guide China / Jeffrey Carr,”Su Bin, Lode-Tech and Privatizing Cyber Espionage in the PRC”, Digital Dao (electronic blog), 14 July 2014 / CBC News, “Su Bin, Chinese man accused by FBI of hacking, in custody in BC”, 12 July 2014 / Dan Levin, “China freed Canadians, but ‘even now we live under a cloud'”, New York Times, 3 January 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fashionable dead

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 3 January 2017

The scene outside my window seems worlds apart and away for the world I am about to describe…for the streets here in this wee Swiss hamlet by the Lake of Constance are covered in snow both magical and mysterious.

Image may contain: outdoor and nature

You could spend days explaining to me the science behind snowfall and yet the boy inside the man will always find snow to be a marvel of nature unworthy of description but deserving of awe and praise.

Yesterday, St. Berchtold´s Day in Switzerland, a day celebrated since the 14th century, mostly in Protestant regions where Epiphany had been abolished and replaced by a second day off after New Year´s Day.

Some say that the holiday is named after Blessed Berchtold of Engelberg Abbey.

Others claim that the holiday celebrates a hunting trip in 1191 by Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen who decided to name his new city after the first animal he killed on that trip, a bear, this giving us Bern.

Wappen von Bern

Different folks believe that the name is associated with the verb “berchten”, which means “to walk around, asking for food”.

The name may also relate to Perchta, the female guardian of animals and leader of the Wild Hunt, featuring visits from humans transformed into animals.

Or the name could come from the German berhttac, the High German translation of the Greek epiphanias.

Who knows?

Who cares?

In some German-speaking cantons, families celebrate the holiday with meals at pubs or offered by traditional socieities.

In Hallwil, Canton Aargau, residents hold a mask parade with folks dressed up as symbols of fertility, age, ugliness, wisdom, vice, etc.

The Bärzeli occurs on this day when 15 Bärzeli (specifically costumed figures) march though the Hallwil village streets granting luck to all they meet.

In French-speaking Canton Vaud, children celebrate Berchtold´s Day with neighbourhood parties involving folk dancing and singing.

Nuts are involved.

Nuts are both eaten in a nut feast and used for games.

So considering snow-covered streets and animal figures marching through Swiss streets granting good fortune and then finding parallels to events in Turkey is a bit of comparative shock, but this morning I learned the name of the sole Canadian victim of New Year´s Eve in the attack on an Istanbul nightclub.

Istanbul has long be known as a city where East meets West, and its cosmopolitan makeup is reflected in the nationalities of revellers killed in Sunday’s attack:

The dead included a Russian, a Belgian, three Lebanese and seven Saudis, as well as eleven Turkish nationals, among others.

At least 25 of people killed in the attack were foreign nationals.

Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Israel, India, Canada, a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen and a Franco-Tunisian woman were among those killed at the nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus waterway.

Flowers have been laid in front of the Reina night on January 1, 2017 in Istanbul, after a gunman killed at least 39 people, including many foreigners, in a rampage at an upmarket nightclub in Istanbul where revellers were celebrating the New Year.

A Toronto-area mother of two has been identified as one of the 39 people killed in the early morning terrorist attack in Istanbul on New Year’s Day.

Alaa Al-Muhandis, a resident of Milton, Ontario, in the Greater Toronto Area, was killed in the attack, which was executed by a lone gunman in a luxurious Istanbul nightclub a little more than an hour after revellers celebrated the start of 2017.

Ms. Al-Muhandis operated an events-planning business, specializing in weddings.

Her Facebook page also identified her as an employee of her husband’s Milton car dealership, a business – Looloo Auto Sales – that was named after her.

“We used to call her Looloo,” said Ghada Saad, a friend who also works as an events planner.

Ms. Al-Muhandis, a Canadian of Iraqi heritage, leaves two children, one youngster around two years old, as well as a six-year-old, friends said in interviews.

One friend said that Ms. Al-Muhandis’s children were not with her in Istanbul and were staying with a relative.

A spokesman for Global Affairs Canada confirmed on Monday evening that Ms. Al-Muhandis was the Canadian citizen who was killed in the nightclub attack.

A relative told a Globe and Mail reporter that the family was in mourning.

According to her public Facebook posts, Ms. Al-Muhandis had last shared a posting from her events-arrangements business in April, then posted “Bye bye Canada” on 23 June as she prepared to fly from Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport to Amman, Jordan.

Flag of Canada

Two months later, on 22 August, she indicated she was flying back to Montreal, but she subsequently posted twice in November from the Iraqi city of Erbil, according to those entries that were geotagged on Facebook.

In early December, Ms. Al-Muhandis posted a prayer on Facebook in Arabic asking God to help her overcome despair.

Ms. Al-Muhandis launched her event business a few years ago as a “new start” to her professional life, said Ms. Saad, her friend from the events industry.

“She was a fashionable woman, full of life. … Every time you see her it was a new style,” Ms. Saad said.

One friend of Ms. Al-Muhandis, who asked not to be named, said that it was common for Iraqis to travel to Turkey as a way to leave behind the violence and conflict that has ravaged the region.

Istanbul was seen as an escape, he said.

“You never know what cities you’re going to get killed in now,” the friend said.

The Reina nightclub was a symbol of a cosmopolitan Istanbul…a dazzling nightclub where people from around the world could party together, free from the mayhem and violence gripping the nation.

It was there, at the Reina nightclub on the Bosporos – a hot spot for soap opera stars and professional athletes, Turks and well-heeled tourists – that those hoping to move past a particularly troubled year…died together.

Canada´s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, issued the following statement on the terrorist attack that took place at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey:

“It is with deep sadness that I learned of the deadly terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul that killed and injured innocent people celebrating the New Year and claimed the life of a Canadian citizen.

“On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of all of the victims of this horrible act, and we hope and pray that those injured have a rapid and complete recovery.

“We mourn with the people of Turkey today and with all countries who lost citizens in this vicious attack.

Flag of Turkey

“We also grieve the senseless loss of a Canadian citizen and remain steadfast in our determination to work‎ with allies and partners to fight terrorism and hold perpetrators to account.”

Nuts are involved.

Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday for a New Year’s Day mass shooting in a packed Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, an attack carried out by a lone gunman who remains at large.

AQMI Flag asymmetric.svg

It described the Reina nightclub, where many foreigners as well as Turks were killed, as a gathering point for Christians celebrating their “apostate holiday”.

The attack, it said, was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.

The attack had been carried out “in continuation of the blessed operations that the Islamic State is conducting against Turkey, the protector of the cross”.

“The apostate Turkish government should know that the blood of Muslims shed with airplanes and artillery fire will, with God’s permission, ignite a fire in their own land,” the Islamic State declaration said.

At a news conference in Ankara, Turkish government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus made no reference to the claim, but said it was clear Turkey’s military operations in Syria had annoyed terrorist groups and those behind them.

“This attack is a message to Turkey against its decisive operations across the border,” Kurtulmus said, adding that the offensive in Syria would continue until all threats to Turkey were removed.

The authorities are close to fully identifying the gunman, Kurtulmus said, after gathering fingerprints and information on his basic appearance, and had detained eight other people.

NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched the incursion into neighboring Syria in August to drive the radical Sunni militants, as well as Kurdish militia fighters, away from its borders.

The jihadist group has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months,  but, other than assassinations, this is the first time it has directly claimed any of them.

It made the statement on one of its Telegram channels, a method used after attacks elsewhere.

All of those killed died from gunshot wounds, some of them shot at a very close distance or even point-blank range, according to a forensics report quoted by Milliyet newspaper.

The attack at Reina, popular with Turkish celebrities and wealthy visitors, shook Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings, some blamed on Islamic State, others claimed by Kurdish militants.

Around 600 people were thought to be inside when the gunman shot dead a policeman and civilian at the door, forcing his way in then opening fire with an automatic assault rifle.

Some at the exclusive club jumped into the Bosphorus after the attacker opened fire at random just over an hour into the new year.

Witnesses described how he shot the wounded as they lay on the ground.

The attacker was believed to have taken a taxi from the southern Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul and, because of the busy traffic, got out and walked the last four minutes to the entrance of the nightclub, newspaper Haberturk said.

He pulled his Kalashnikov rifle from a suitcase at the side of the road, opened fire on those at the door, then threw two hand grenades after entering, Haberturk said, without citing its sources.

It said six empty magazines were found at the scene and that he was estimated to have fired at least 180 bullets.

Security services had been on alert across Europe for New Year celebrations following an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people.

Terroranschlag-Berlin-Breitscheidplatz-2016 (2) (31731061626) (square crop).jpg

Only days ago, an online message from a pro-ISIS group called for attacks by “lone wolves” on “celebrations, gatherings and clubs”.

In a statement hours after the shooting, President Tayyip Erdogan said such attacks aimed to create chaos and destabilize the country.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan June 2015.jpg

“They are working to destroy our country´s morale and create chaos by deliberately targeting civilians with these heinous attacks.

We will retain our coolheadedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will neve give ground to such dirty games.”

Four months into its operation in Syria, the Turkish army and the rebels it backs are besieging the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab.

Erdogan has said he wants them to continue to Raqqa, the jihadists’ Syrian stronghold.

Turkey has also been cracking down on Islamic State networks at home.

In counter-terrorism operations between 26 December – 2 January, Turkish police detained 147 people over links to the group and formally arrested 25 of them, the interior ministry said.

The New Year’s Day attack came five months after a failed military coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, many of them in Istanbul, as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a bid to seize power.

Above: US General Joseph Dunford examines ruins of Turkey´s Parliament on 1 August 2016.

More than 100,000 people, including soldiers and police officers, have been sacked or suspended in a subsequent crackdown ordered by Erdogan, raising concern both about civic rights and the effectiveness of Turkey’s security apparatus.

The government says the purges will make the military, police and other institutions more disciplined and effective.

In my second journey to Turkey, on the Turkish Airways flight from Antalya to Istanbul, I was surprised and shocked to find amongst the travel literature the airline offered a full-colour Turkish Airways souvenir album of the events of 15 – 16 July (15 – 16 Temmuz) and the coup d´état attempt.

The photos are powerful, the coup is shown almost minute by minute in glorious splendor, the reader is captivated by photos of civilians seizing a tank, anti-coup demonstrations filled with Turkish flags, bombed buildings and bullet-ridden vehicles, President Erdogan on TV advocating calm, blockades of bridges and arrested militia, shots of protestors worldwide supporting the Turkish government (including demonstrations in Geneva, Toronto and Zürich among others), the descriptions exclusively in Turkish.

Did the airlines assume only Turkish people would fly between Turkish cities?

The attempted coup, the subsequent mass arrests of 40,000 people, (including 10,000 soldiers and 2,745 judges) (15,000 teachers suspended and 21,000 teachers´ licenses revoked), ongoing attacks on Turkey by ISIS and Kurdish nationalists, do leave me wondering…

This Turkey, a country tearing itself apart amid terrorist attacks and political instability…

A nation engulfed by the dark and destabilising forces gripping the Middle East, where everything seems to converge: terrorism, the migrant crisis, the rise of authoritarianism…

If I were Turkish, how would I be feeling about my country now?

Would I still feel it was a place to comfortably call home?

Would it still feel like my country?

“I don´t know what to say.

I don´t want to say anything political, but this can´t be accepted as the new norm.

Terrorism is everywhere now and the government has no control.

Something needs to be done.

There is no life left in Istanbul.”(Zeynep Ozman, brother to one of the injured in the nightclub attack)

 Above: The Bosporos Strait

Sources: The Globe and Mail / The International New York Times / Wikipedia

Take me back to Constantinople

Romanshorn, Switzerland, 2 January 2017

Hafeneinfahrt Romanshorn 2.JPG

Slow start to the day and to the week finds us, the wife and I, having a late breakfast, then walking along the shores of the Lake of Constance.

Here at least it has been a green Christmas season.

In fact, yesterday´s Sonntag Zeitung remarks that Switzerland had never seen a December with so little snow as 2016, one of the ten hottest winters in the past 150 years.

I immerse myself in Café Panem´s newspapers – Sonntags Zeitung and Ostschweiz am Sonntag – as Ute, my wife, drinks tea and reads some light-hearted literature.

A few items grab my attention…

Swiss fashion photographer Hans Feurer, age 77, informs the world that it has been a long time since he has slept with supermodels!

Hans Feurer.JPG

The chimney sweepers of Canton Thurgau are about to be “liberalised”, leaving the reader wonder whether this liberalisation is a bad or a good thing.

Profiles are done on revolutionary Swiss journalist Hans Konrad Sonderegger and Swiss athlete Ferdy Kubler, praising their past glories and accomplishments.

Ferdi Kübler 1954.jpg

Psychologist Sigmar Willi of the Fachhochschule (university of applied studies) St. Gallen informs the world that happiness is learned and that even lottery winners are happy for only an average of two years.

Google, Facebook and Twitter are called “Orwellian child´s play”, while cross-border shopping Swiss – “the dream of Singen, the nightmare of Konstanz” – are accused of “cannibalism in shopper´s paradise” depriving Switzerland of 12 million Swiss francs leaving the economy annually.

Coat of arms of Switzerland

Canada retains its dominance in the annual ice hockey Spengler Cup championships in Davos and my home and native land is named the #1 travel destination for 2017 due to its 150th anniversary celebrations.

2012 Spengler Cup logo.jpg

Pretty cool, eh?

Women´s rights remain a strong topic of debate in the newspapers´ articles as Jacqueline Sauvage and Nora Illi are mentioned.

(Jacqueline Sauvage killed her abusive husband who had beaten and raped her consistently over their 50-year relationship.

Jacqueline Sauvage

She was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014, but was pardoned of her crime by the French President in January 2016.

Jacqueline is a 68 year old French national.)

(Nora Illi, a Swiss woman who converted to Islam when she was 18, appeared last year on a German talk show on ARD station dressed in a niqab, generating much controversy both in Germany and in Switzerland.)

Nora Illi: Von der gelernten Polygrafin aus Uster ZH kennt die Öffentlichkeit nur die ungeschminkten Augen – und ihren Ganzkörperschleier: Nora Illi (30) konvertierte mit 18 Jahren zum Islam. Heute ist Illi die wohl umstrittenste Muslimin der Schweiz. Die Frauenbeauftragte des Islamischen Zentralrats der Schweiz ist verheiratet und hat vier Kinder.

But what caught my attention was an article about how more and more Turks no longer feel that Turkey is their home since Erdogan has been in power.

Flag of Turkey

(This has coincided with reading on Facebook how many Canadians don´t “feel Canadian” as the 150th anniversary of Confederation approaches.)

Flag of Canada

(Of course, the native Original Peoples of Canada have legitimate complaints as to how their land was stolen from them by marauding Europeans…)

Which has led me to think about…

What does one´s country actually mean and when does one consider a country no longer their own?

I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting Turkey on two separate occasions, back in 2004 and last year.

The first trip was a Thomas Cook type venture with my wife, vacationing along the Turquoise Coast in Pamukkale, Antalya, Kemer, Alanya, Side and Myra.

Clockwise from top left: 1. Düden Waterfalls, 2. Yivliminare Mosque, 3. Konyaaltı, 4. Hıdırlık Tower, 5. Hadrian's Gate and 6. Falez Park at night.

A view of the beach and marina of Kemer

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Myra theatre.jpg

The second trip, on my own, had me visit Istanbul, Antalya (for my friends´ wedding) and Egirdir.

See caption

Lake Egirdir.jpg

Questions that seemed to dominate in 2004 are now front and centre in 2017…

Where does Turkey fit into the world?

What sort of a country should Turkey be?

What role should Islam play in Turkish life?

"Allah" in Arabic calligraphy

What sort of future does Turkey have?

Before 2004 I thought little about Turkey.

In my role as an English teacher I occasionally had Turkish students but somehow I thought of the Turkish people, not as founders of a great modern nation, but as kebab dealers and taxi drivers and carpet sellers in German cities where I resided.

Though Canada does have its own Turkish ex-patriate communities I somehow failed to see them during my days back home.

Turkey was a faraway place, which seemed to me then to be named for a bird eaten at Christmas!

I was more prone to having mental images of “take me back to Constantinople” and St. Paul wandering around the Ephesians, then knowing even the basics of who Kemal Atatürk was or that the Turkish capital is Ankara.

The Four Lads 1969.JPG

Above: Canadian singing group The Four Lads, famous for their hit single “Take Me Back to Constantinople”

Above: Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II “the Conqueror” enters Constantinople, 29 May 1453

One must never forget Turkey´s location – where West meets East, Europe meets Asia – the lynchpin of the world, its crossroads, its crucible.

Location of Turkey

So its vulnerability is its strength and vice versa.

Turkey is Europe – over 5 million ethnic Turks live in Europe and Turkey craves membership in the European Union…

Circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background

Yet Europe sees Turkey as Asian.

Turkey is an Islamic country yet remains stubbornly secular…a complicated situation, for though Turkey would like to be known as a bridge between faiths, a post 9/11 world forces Turkey to realise that this secularism exposes it to dangers from perils like ISIS.

Turks take pride in their democratic freedom of religion and conscience but wonder if the integrity of their values and traditions is not being undermined by this liberty of thought.

Though the Turkish Constitution guarantees this freedom, it also recognises that faith is one of the bonds of citizenship, so religious and ethical instruction remains mandatory in primary and secondary schools.

Osama bin Laden, in one of his infamous post 9/11 video appearances, exclaimed that he was out to avenge “eight decades of pain, humiliation and shame”.

Osama bin Laden portrait.jpg

Turks knew he was talking about them, for it was the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 and the decision of Atatürk to remove religious law from state bureaucracy and replace this with a Swiss-inspired civil code which abolished the Caliphate – the leader of the world Islamic community and the role enjoyed by the Ottoman sultan – for believers like Bin Laden that had led to the demoralisation and corruption of Islam and its followers.

Above: Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid II, the last Caliph of Islam

So let´s look at the fellow that caused the Caliphate to collapse…

Portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881 – 1938) are everywhere in Turkey: in schools, public offices, private businesses and many many homes.

Ataturk mirror.png

Atatürk is George Washington, Winston Churchill and FDR…soldier, statesman, a Great Man, in the eyes of many Turks.

At the end of the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire was being carved by the Allies and Istanbul occupied, Atatürk led a movement of national resistance and reclaimed much of what is today´s modern republic.

Atatürk then gave the new state a determinedly modern look.

The capital was moved from Istanbul to Ankara, the fez was forbidden, women were encouraged to enter more fully into public life with the veil becoming less common, the calendar was altered wherein Saturday and Sunday became the weekend and the Latin alphabet replaced Arabic script.

Though Atatürk was chosen as president by the National Assembly, he held the post dictatorially until his death in 1938, purging his enemies and brutally supressing rebellions.

Atatürk, for all his many faults, gave Turkey its pride and established it as a nation.

The Turks are proud of their country and what they have accomplished, but…

Even today one senses the country in a state of permanent revolution…

To be continued…

Hagia Sophia Mars 2013.jpg

Sources: Sonntags Zeitung, 1 January 2017 / Ostschweiz am Sonntag, 1 January 2017 / Lonely Planet Turkey / Andrew Finkel, Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know / Wikipedia

Canada Slim and Last Year´s Man

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 19 December 2016

Now, Belgians love a good celebration, but a big night in the Belgian boozers often leads to mornings of regret and grim reflection.

Being the chaste daughter of an English curate, nights in a bar were probably not part of Charlotte Bronte´s story, but her unrequited love for a married professor must have lead her to mornings of remorse and silent rage against the fates denying her heart´s desire.

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It has been suggested by many a Bronte biographer that during Charlotte´s second sojourn in Brussels that she was unhappy and homesick, but was she also lonely?

Chances are…probably yes.

For who had she to chum around with?

Her sister Emily, who had been with her in Brussels for the first nine months of 1842, had remained at Haworth.

Although we can be fairly certain that Charlotte maintained a regular amount of correspondence with Haworth and English friends, her biographers suggest that she had no peers to confide in, she had no great affection for the girls under her charge at the Héger boarding school, nor did she venture out into Bruxellois society, Charlotte being blessed with neither great beauty nor great wealth.

In 1843 Brussels, Charlotte would probably known of, but never have spoken to, the élite of the Belgian capital.

Leopold I (1790 – 1865), the first King of the Belgians, had been on the throne since 1831, though Belgian independence went unrecognised until 1839.

Leopold I of Belgium (2).jpg

Joachim Lelewel (1786 – 1861), Polish historian, biographer, polyglot and politician, was living in exile in Brussels (1833 – 1861) during the year Charlotte was teaching again in the Héger boarding school, but he earned a scanty livelihood by his writings.

Joachim Lelewel.JPG

There is no record showing that Charlotte and Joachim ever met.

And when not silently pining for Professor Héger or teaching young ladies English, Charlotte would have been distracted by problems back home in Haworth.

Charlotte´s father Patrick Bronte had lost his sight (restored in 1846), while her brother Branwell had fallen into a rapid decline of drama, drunkenness and opiate delirium.

Patrickbronte.jpg

One hundred and fifty three years later…

Of course many historic events had happened between Charlotte´s time in Brussels (January 1843 – January 1844) and my own time there (5 – 12 November 1996).

Many people had lived and died, come and gone in Brussels:

The aforementioned Leopold I and Joachim Lelewel were long dead, as were the entire Bronte family and the operators of the Héger boarding school.

Brussels has seen the likes of:

  • French politician/philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 – 1865), the world´s first self-declared anarchist, in exile here (1858 – 1862).
  • Dutch writer Eduard Douwes Dekker (aka Multatuli – Latin: I have suffered much.) completed his masterpiece Max Havelaar here in 1859.
  • French writer Victor Hugo (1802 – 1885) completed Les Miserables here in 1851.
  • French poets Paul Verlaine (1844 – 1896) and Arthur Rimbaud (1854 – 1891)
  • French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917)
  • French poets Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) and Louis Blanc (1811 – 1882)
  • French General Georges Boulanger (1837 – 1891) and Argentinian General / 1st Peruvian President José de San Martin (1824 – 1830)
  • French writer Alexandre Dumas Sr. (1802 -1870)
  • German philosophers Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895) wrote The Communist Manifesto here.
  • Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890)
  • George Washington (1871 – 1946), the inventor and first commercial producer of instant coffee, grew up in Brussels.
  • Nobel Prize winners Jules Bordet (1870 – 1961)(Medicine, 1919), Ilye Prigogine (1917 – 2003)(Chemistry, 1977), Francois Englert (Physics, 2013) and Henri La Fontaine (1854 – 1943)(Peace, 1913)
  • Painters Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525 – 1569) and René Magritte (1898 – 1967)
  • Desiderius Erasmus (1466 – 1536)
  • Graphic designer M.C. Escher (1898 – 1972)
  • Architects Victor Horta (1861 – 1947) and Jan van Ruysbroeck (aka Jan van der Berghe) would transform the Brussels urban landscape.
  • Novelist Emma Orczy (1865 – 1947) grew up here.
  • Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha (1908 – 1985) worked as a secretary at the Albanian consulate (1934 – 1936).
  • Rockers Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen), Plastic Bertrand, Brain Molko (Placebo) and Vini Reilly (The Duratti Column / Morrissey)
  • Régine Zylberberg, pioneer of the modern nightclub
  • Writer Hendrik Conscience (1812 – 1883)
  • Mathematician Jacques Tits (born 1930)
  • Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 1564), author of the first complete textbook on human anatomy, On the Workings of the Human Body
  • Actors Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (born 1960)(“the muscles from Brussels”)
  • Chansonnier Jacques Brel (1933 – 1978)
  • Just to name a few…these would “pitch their tents” within Brussels.

1993 was a dramatic year in respect to the Belgian monarchy:

The 5th King of the Belgians, Baudouin, died on 31 July.

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Within hours the Royal Palace gates and enclosure were covered with flowers that people brought spontaneously.

Baudouin had become King of the Belgians when his father Leopold III, surrounded by controversy, abdicated the throne in favour of his son.

Leopold III van België (1934).jpg

(Leopold III was unpopular because he married an English-born Belgian commoner after Baudoin´s mother had been killed in a car crash, and because he had surrendered Belgium to the Nazis when they invaded in 1940.

Many Belgians questioned Leopold´s loyalties and though he was exonerated of treason after WW2 it was felt by many that he no longer deserved the throne.)

The King and Queen had no children.

During Baudouin´s reign the Belgian Congo became independent.

At the last ceremonial inspection of the Force Publique, the royal sabre of the King was stolen during the parade.

The famous picture travelled the world newspapers.

The next day the King attended the official reception.

His speech received a blistering public response from the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

Anefo 910-9740 De Congolese2.jpg

This duality of humiliation of the King became the symbol of the independence of the Congo.

In 1990 Baudouin refused to sign into law a bill permitting abortion.

Due to his religious convictions…

(As well, all of the Queen´s five pregnancies had ended in premature miscarriages.)

…Baudouin asked the Belgian government to declare him temporarily unable to reign so that he could avoid signing the measure.

The Belgian government compiled with his request, because, according to the provisions of the Belgian constitution, in the event that the King is temporarily unable to reign, the government fulfills the role of the Head of State.

All members of the government signed the bill on 4 April 1990.

The next day the government declared that Badouin was capable of reigning again.

His successor Albert II assumed the throne on 9 August and would abdicate the throne in favour of his son Philippe in 2013.

Albert II of Belgium.jpg

Brussels, Belgium, 7 November 1996

“Zoé”, a former girlfriend (of the year previous) with whom I “pitched my tent” during my Brussels stay, had been one of the 500,000 people who came to pay their respects and to view Baudouin´s body lying in state at the Royal Palace, waiting in line for hours in sweltering heat to see their King one last time.

Bruxels April 2012-4.jpg

When I visited Brussels in November 1996, Belgium still felt like a country still in deep mourning.

The souvenir shops were still selling postcards of Baudoin as well as postcards of Albert II.

(Ironically I would see another spontaneous bringing of flowers in memorium when the death of Diana, Princess of Wales was announced while I was back in Brussels the following year.)

Zoé, like Charlotte Bronte, also lacked spectacular wealth and beauty.

So they also shared a loneliness they were both desperate to alleviate.

Your humble blogger too lacked great wealth or looks…

(That hasn´t changed!)

…but I had been accustomed to a life of solitude since I had begun travelling five years previously (hitching around North America, walking in Canada), so as much as I too had my moments of isolated loneliness this isolation no longer frightened me.

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Zoé was terrified of isolation.

Escaping from Zoé´s side was more difficult than accomplishing any one of the Twelve Labours of Heracles!

Zoé had to have noise always about her and listened to the radio or watched TV constantly.

At the time of her life I visited her, Zoé was very découragé with everything: her apartment, her job prospects, her family…

During our year apart I had changed.

I was no longer the last year´s man she had known.

Thursday 7 November was a dark and dismal rainy day in Brussels so we spent most of the day in her apartment.

The apartment, belonging to her father, was by no means a cure for the blues…

It was dirty, dingy, infested by slugs(!), peeling paint, clutter and unidentifiable powerfully unpleasant odours.

Zoé would have liked to live elsewhere but without employment she was dependent upon her father´s assistance.

I did not wish to add to her financial burdens once my savings ran out and finding employment as a teacher didn´t pan out.

I met her father that day and was shocked to see the contrast between them.

“Francois”, 65, was tall (by Belgian standards), stylish, debonair, cultured, and, though I never discovered what his source of income was, able to maintain two mistresses.

Zoé´s mother was never a topic of discussion.

I felt I was in a world alien to my experience.

What kind of morality or conscience guided Francois?

What kind of woman was attracted to someone like Francois?

Had he no compassion for these women, or was that limited to the chase rather than the capture?

Were these women as desperate and hungry for affection as Zoé was?

Could Francois´ womanizing have something to do with the woman Zoé was?

I was no psychologist nor an expert in women.

Zoé had heard of open invitations to become spectators for RTL TVI Station 15´s talk show “Balle Centrale”(?) that evening.

(Perhaps today´s “De quoi je me mêle”?)

The station originated in Luxembourg but is now based in Belgium.

Zoé drove us through the driving rain to the studios to watch journalists, sports figures, singers, actresses and comedians strut their stuff.

My rusty French and the programme´s Belgian accent and vocabulary left me feeling somewhat diminished, while a comedian enraged me with his comments that there was no difference between Canada and the US!!

Zoé had already introduced me to Belgian comedy:

I particularly enjoyed Les Snuls (1989 -1983).

Their humour was mostly inspired by self-mockery and nonsense, much like the British comedy troupe Monty Python or Canada´s Royal Canadian Air Farce, and hijacking national symbols of Belgium (moules-frites, Manneken Pis, Tintin, beer, chocolate, sprouts…).

This quintet of comedy amused me, but also made me consider the similarities between Canada and Belgium.

In the 15 August 1912 Revue de Belgique, Walloon socialist politician Jules Destrée wrote his famous and notorious “Letter to the King on the separation of Wallonia and Flanders”:

“In Belgium there are Walloons and Flemings.  There are no Belgians.”

There remain moments where I have wondered:

In Canada there are Anglophones and Francophones, English Canada and Québec.

Are there Canadians?

Flag of Canada

Perhaps had I not grown up Anglo in Québec I might be like 90% of Canadians who are strictly unilingual.

Flag of Quebec

Above: Flag of Québec

Perhaps I might feel either Anglo or Franco.

In the merging of two into one, can the separate identity of both be maintained?

Should it be?

And then I thought of my time with Zoé since we had been reunited.

So desperate to get me into her world and hold me within…

I had not come to Europe to lose my identity, but rather to discover it by comparison.

In thinking of my identity, both personal and national, I thought much on the music of Montréal Anglo Leonard Cohen.

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Above: Leonard Cohen, 1988

As Zoé slumbered beside me, sleep denied its comfort and I listened to the whispering rain fall outside the window.

And in the jukebox of my mind, from his lonely wooden Tower of Song, Leonard quietly and mournfully reminded me that…

“The rain falls down on the works of last year´s man…”

Above: The flag of Belgium

 

Oil and Blood in the Heartland 2: Home and Native Land

Brantford, Ontario, Canada, Summer 1992

I embarrassed myself.

West of Hamilton and surrounded for the most part by farmland, Brantford is known for several things:

Official logo of Brantford

It lays claim to the invention of the telephone, the birthplace of “The Great One” hockey player Wayne Gretzky, entertainer Phil Hartman, Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris, and a Mohawk village.

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Lawren Harris (1885 – 1970)

Phil Hartman (1948 – 1998), performing as Bill Clinton on Saturday Night Live

During my walking days exploring Canada I dutifully tried to visit as many cultural attractions as I could.

Alexander Graham Bell conceived the first telephone here on 26 July 1874.

Alexander Graham Bell.jpg

Alexander Graham Bell (1847 – 1922)

His first North American home, the Bell Homestead National Historic Site, has been painstakingly restored to its original condition.

A majestic, broad monument with figures mounted on pedestals to its left and right sides. Along the main portion of the monument are five figures mounted on a broad casting, including a man reclining, plus four floating female figures representing Inspiration, Knowledge, Joy, and Sorrow.

The Brantford Sports Hall of Recognition inside the Gretzy Centre has memorablia from dozens of local track, football, lacrosse and wrestling stars, but the main attraction is, of course, the permanent display for Wayne Gretzy.

It was here in this quiet town that Gretzy honed his game on the backyard hockey rink at his childhood home before shattering the NHL record books and blitzing his way to four Stanley Cups.

A small pair of ice skates, meant for a small child. The boot is leather and is missing its laces, while the blade is deteriorating and showing significant wear due to age.

Wayne Gretzy´s first pair of ice skates, age 3

But in 1992 these attractions did not draw my attention.

Southwest of town, the Six Nations territory has been a First Nations centre for centuries.

Captain Joseph Thayendanegea Brant led the Six Nations people (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Tuscarora) here from New York State in 1784 and established a village that has long served the district´s First Nations tribes.

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Joseph Brant (Thayendanega)(1743-1807)

I visited the sites that celebrate their legacy:

Her Majesty´s Chapel of the Mohawks, three km from the centre of town, is the oldest Protestant Church in Ontario (1785) and the world´s only Royal Indian Chapel and the site of Captain Brant´s tomb.

Mohawk Chapel, Brantford, Ontario.jpg

The Woodland Cultural Centre serves as an indigenous performance space, an art gallery and a cultural museum, with exhibits following a timeline from prehistoric times through to contemporary native art.

The Chiefswood National Historic Site, across the street from the visitor centre, was the home of Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson, whose best-selling Flint and Feather poetry is truly a moving blend of European and aborginal cultures.

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Pauline Johnson (1861 – 1913)

The Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and the aborginal community of Ohsweken offers a glimpse of native life past and present and their Confederacy Band Council House remains a unifying cultural and political association which has helped settle disputes between bands and proudly represents and preserves First Nations heritage.

And it was here that I embarrassed myself.

I had arrived at a delicate time in aborginal – white relations in Canada.

The Oka Crisis of 1990 was still a sour memory and the seeds for the Grand River Land Dispute (2006) had just been planted.

The Oka Crisis was the first well-publicised violent conflict between First Nations and the Canadian government in modern times.

The Crisis developed from a local dispute between the town of Oka and the Mohawk community of Kanesatake, both just outside the metropolis of Montréal.

The town of Oka was developing plans to expand a golf course and residential development onto land that had been traditionally used by the Mohawk, including pineland and a burial ground marked by standing tombstones of their ancestors.

The town of Oka and its Mayor Jean Ouellete did not consult the Mohawk on the plans and no environmental or historic preservation review was taken.

Opponents of the plans found the Mayor´s office unwilling to discuss them.

So the Mohawks erected a barricade blocking access to the area.

Ouellete demanded compliance with the court order, but the protesters refused.

Ouellete asked the Sureté du Québec (SQ), Québec´s provincial police force, to intervene.

The SQ responded to the barricade by deploying tear gas and flash bang grenades.

Gunfire between both sides began.

After a 15-minute gun battle, SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay was killed and the police retreated.

The Mohawks seized six vehicles – four police cars and two front end loaders – and barricaded the main highway.

Natives from across Canada and the United States joined in and all roads that passed through Mohawk territory were blocked, including the Mercier Bridge, a major access point between the island of Montréal and the heavily populated South Shore of the St. Lawrence River.

Frustration over traffic congestion and the blocked roads led to residents of Chateauguay to burn an effigy of a Mohawk warrior while chanting “sauvages“.

The SQ having lost control of the situation were replaced by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) who proved equally ineffective and finally the Canadian military got involved.

The Oka Crisis lasted 78 days and the golf course was cancelled, but the issue of indigenous rights was far from resolved.

In 1992 Henco Industries purchased 40 hectares of land, the Douglas Creek Estates, from the Canadian government, which the Six Nations had never agreed to sell to Canada.

The Mohawks, after trying legal action to no avail, finally took action in 2006 in a manner similar to the Oka Crisis.

The Grand River land dispute at Caledonia, near Brantford, was held from 2006 to 2014.

Grand River land dispute, Potluck for Peace, 15 October 2006

I was asked by the Museum to write my opinion regarding aborginal rights, in the hopes I could understand their plight.

I responded to this request by writing that I was not responsible for what injustices my forefathers had done.

I committed the same error that many others have:

I treated the First Nations as if it were they and not us that had taken over the land.

It has taken decades of travel and experience to appreciate how much of a racist bigoted idiot I was to write those words and I wish that I could go back in time and give my younger self a swift kick in the ass for my ignorance and stupidity.

We, the white man, have not only over generations robbed our indigenous people of the most basic rights of physical survival and integrity, but as well have tried to destroy the preservation of their lands, languages, religions, heritage that are part of their existence as a people.

And we violate them by creating laws that ensure our rights over theirs.

And this cultural desecration has been going on for centuries against original peoples, whether it is Australian aborgines, New Zealand Maori, Canadian First Nations, American natives, Japanese Ainu…

The list is long…

Indigenous peoples and their interests are represented in the United Nations primarily through the mechanism of the Working Group in Indigenous Populations (UN-WGIP).

In April 2000 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution to establish the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UN-PFII) as an advisory body to the Economic and Social Council with a mandate to review indigenous issues.

In September 2007, after a process of preparation, discussions and negotiations stretching back to 1982, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The non-binding Declaration outlines the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to identity, culture, language, employment, health, education and other nations.

Of the 192 member countries of the United Nations, 11 nations abstained, 34 did not vote, the remaining 143 nations voted for the Declaration.

Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North/South Dakota, USA, 2016

Standing Rock is a Hunkpapa Lakota and Yanktonai Dakota native reservation straddling the North and South Dakotas boundary.

The 6th largest reservation in the United States, Standing Rock has a land area of 9,251 sq. km / 3, 571 sq. miles with a population of 8,500.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is part of the Great Sioux Nation.

In 1868 the lands of the Great Sioux Nation were reduced in the Fort Laramie Treaty to the east side of the Missouri River and the state line of South Dakota in the west.

The Black Hills were considered by the Sioux to be sacred land and were located in the centre of territory awarded to the tribe.

In direct violation of the Treaty, General George Custer and his 7th Cavalry entered the Black Hills and discovered gold, starting a gold rush.

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Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer (1839  -1876)

The United States government wanted to buy or rent the Black Hills from the Lakota people, but the Great Sioux Nation, led by their spiritual leader Sitting Bull, refused to sell or rent their lands.

Thus began the Great Sioux War / Black Hills War (1876 – 1877) between the Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne versus the government of the United States.

Among the many battles and skirmishes of the War was the Battle of the Little Bighorn / Custer´s Last Stand / Battle of the Greasy Grass (25-26 June 1876) near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana, an overwhelming victory for the natives.

But that Battle notwithstanding, the United States with its superior resources was soon able to force the natives to surrender by attacking and destroying their encampments and property

The Agreement of 1877 officially annexed Sioux land and permanently established native reservations.

The US government took the Black Hills from the Sioux Nation.

In 1890, the US government broke a Lakota treaty by adjusting the Great Sioux Reservation into smaller parcels of land to permit white homesteaders to take some of land for agricultural / settlement purposes.

On the reduced reservations, the government allocated family units on 320-acre plots for individual households.

Although the Lakota were traditionally a nomadic people living in tipis and hunting buffalo and riding horses, they were now expected to farm and raise livestock.

With the goal of assimilation, the Lakota were forced to send their children to boarding schools, where they were taught English and Christianity and white cultural practices and the exclusion of traditional culture and language.

By the end of the 1890 growing season, a time of intense heat and little rainfall, it was clear that the assigned land would not produce substantial agriculture yields, and with the bison virtually eradicated, the Lakota were on the edge of extinction.

The Lakota turned to their heritage and their spiritual beliefs and took solace in their Ghost Dance rituals.

These rituals frightened the supervising agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Indian Affairs agent James McLaughlin asked for more troops, claiming that their spiritual leader Sitting Bull was the real leader of the movement.

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Sitting Bull (1831 – 1890)

Former Agent Valentine McGillycuddy saw nothing extraordinary in the dances and ridiculed the panic that seemed to overcome the Agency:

“The coming of the troops has frightened the Indians.

If the Seventh Day Adventists prepare the Ascension robes for the Second Coming of the Saviour, the US Army is not put in motion to prevent them.

Why should not the Indians have the same privilege?

If the troops remain, trouble is sure to come.”

Nonetheless, thousands of additional US Army troops were deployed to the reservation.

On 15 December 1890, Sitting Bull was arrested for failing to stop his people from practicing the Ghost Dance.

During the incident, one of Sitting Bull´s men, Catch the Bear, fired at US Army Lieutenant Bullhead, striking his right side.

Bullhead instantly wheeled and shot Sitting Bull, hitting him in the left side.

Both men subsequently died.

The Hunkpapa fled to the south, joined the Big Foot band in Cherry Creek, South Dakota, then travelled to the Pine Ridge Reservation to meet with Chief Red Cloud.

The US 7th Cavalry caught them at a place called Wounded Knee on 29 December 1890, killing 300 people, including women and children.

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Burial of the dead after the Wounded Knee Massacre, 1890

Fast forward to the 1960s.

The US Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation built five large dams on the Missouri River, implementing the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, forcing the natives to relocate from flooded areas.

Over 200,000 acres on the Standing Rock Reservation and the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota were flooded just by the Oahe Dam alone.

Poverty remains a problem for the displaced population who still seek compensation for the loss of their towns submerged under Lake Oahe and the loss of their traditional ways of life.

Now we come to this year.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,134-mile/1,825 km long underground oil pipeline project, which begins in the Bakken oilfields in NW North Dakota and will travel SE through South Dakota and Iowa and end at the oil tank farm near Pakota, Illinois.

Dakota Access Pipeline route (Standing Rock Indian Reservation is shown in orange)[1][2]

Standing Rock Reservation (in orange) and the Pipeline´s projected route

Routing the Pipeline across the Missouri River near Bismarck was rejected because of the route´s proximity to Bismarck municipal water sources, residential areas, road, wetland and waterway crossings.

The alternative selected by the US Corps of Engineers crosses underneath the Missouri River half a mile from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

On 1 April 2016, elder member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe LaDonna Bravebull Allard and her grandchildren established the Sacred Stone Camp to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which directly threatens the only water supply for the Standing Rock Reservation.

Sacred Stone is on her private land and is a centre for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Protests at the Pipeline site in North Dakota began and drew indigenous tribes from throughout North America, as well as many supporters, creating the largest gathering of native tribes in the past 100 years of US history.

“Of the 380 archeological sites that face desecration along the entire pipeline route, from North Dakota to Illinois, 26 of these are right here….

It is a historic trading ground, a place held sacred not only by the Sioux Nations, but also the Arikara, the Mandan and the Northern Cheyenne. 

The US government is wiping out our most important cultural and spiritual areas, and as it erases our footprint from the world, it erases us as a people. 

These sites must be protected or our world will end. 

It is that simple

Our young people have a right to know who they are. 

They have a right to language, to culture, to tradition. 

The way they learn these things is through connection to our lands and our history. 

If we allow an oil company to dig through and destroy our histories, our ancestors, our hearts and souls as a people, is that not genocide?”

By late September over 300 federally recognised native tribes and an estimated 4,000 pipeline resistance supporters resided at Sacred Stone, with several thousand more on weekends.

Peaceful protests at the pipeline site have continued and have drawn indigenous people from all over North America as well as other supporters.

North Dakota pipeline protest

On 3 September 2016, the South Dakota Access Pipeline brought in a private security firm.

The company used bulldozers containing native graves and burial artifacts.

When unarmed protestors moved near the bulldozers, the guards used pepper spray and guard dogs to protect the site they were told to guard.

Nine days later, a Colonial Pipeline leak spilled over 350,000 gallons of gasoline in Alabama, further fuelling the criticism of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Since my last blog post, (I have been busy.), on the night of 21 November, in -5 degrees Celcius weather, law enforcement officers deployed tear gas and water hoses against hundreds of activists protesting against the Pipeline.

Standing Rock protests

Protestors were also hit with mace, pepper spray, rubber bullets and percussion grenades.

167 people were injured, 7 taken to hospital.

More than 400 activists have been arrested since the protests began.

The unarmed anti-pipeline activists call themselves “water protectors” and they stand unarmed against a highly-militarised police force defending a company that still lacks official permission to drill under the Missouri River.

And chances are strong that the water protectors will lose.

Americans won´t give up their dependance on fossil fuel, regardless of the technology and the capacity to do so that exists.

Flagge der Vereinigten Staaten

The US government has historically dishonoured itself by repeated violation of treaties signed with the native tribes and as oil company lobbies pay Congressmen more money than destitute native peoples can, the Pipeline will become yet another betrayal in a long list of betrayals.

Profit remains paramount over people.

And when pipelines break as they inevitably do and clean water becomes scarcer then gold then maybe America will realise the true folly of ignoring the message of Standing Rock.

When America, and the rest of the world, begins to realise that human rights and conservation are intertwined then there is the beginning of hope for the future.

All that there is now is the destruction of the past and the despoilation of the present and the prospect of a depressing future.

Fill ‘er up?

Sources: Wikipedia / The Guardian

The second encampment