Virtual Tour: Vintage Switzerland

I’ve been preparing my manuscripts for new releases through a new publisher, and making crafts for our church’s annual craft sale; in the latter process, I’ve discovered a wealth of images through Pinterest (nothing new to me in itself). How many of you used to collect stamps, or postcards, or specific objects? For me, the new method is Pinterest. You can find stamps on any topic, and rare ones; you can find coins, bank notes, and just about anything you used to collect physically, now available at a click with historic backgrounds and full details you could never have fit into an album.

But today, I’d like to focus on Vintage travel posters, specifically for Switzerland. So far, I have nearly 350 in my collection, and it’s likely a drop in the bucket of what was produced; every region advertised itself to attract tourists or travellers, and it’s fascinating to see what they highlighted, how they did so, what their perspective was, and how the people dressed (if they’re shown – in Switzerland, at least, a big focus is on the Alps). Did you know that the word “homesick” in English came from Switzerland? The Swiss merchants that travelled abroad in the 17th century took the word with them; when they spoke of “Heimweh”, however, they weren’t referring to people, or their home, or even their town, but of the mountains. They missed the Alps when they were away… and I can understand why. I think it must run in the veins of every Swiss-born person; when my husband and his mother speak of the mountains, it’s a foreign language to me (even though I’m fluent in Swiss German!).

We might tend to think of tourism as a modern thing; but Grand Tours began in the 17th Century, when wealthy young men, and sometimes women, would embark from the UK on a European tour. At the beginning, Switzerland was a sleepy backwater in some ways – there were few, if any, hotels – if a traveller arrived in a town seeking accommodation for themselves, their servants, postillions and horses, they were often invited to stay in the home of the local politician, who likely had the largest house… But the Swiss soon caught up with the trend, and tourism became a vital source of income, especially for small settlements in the mountainous regions.

The three images below are, from left to right, from 1897, 1865, and likely the early 19th century. The house shown in the Zinal ad is typical of Wallis (Valais in French): It is built on stilts with round, flat stones between the pillar and house base; we chatted with an elderly man when we were on holidays in the region and asked him about it; it is a way to keep rats and mice out of the houses. It also means that the back, and sometimes even the front, is only accessible by ladder.

The 1865 poster is about a tour organized by Thomas Cook, a well-known name in the British travel industry even today; Cook took his first tour group of around 485 people on an 11-mile train trip from Leicester station to Loughborough, in 1841. Soon, he began to expand his scope, and by the 1860s, that included Switzerland.

The Spiez poster below shows the castle and lake; The Zürich poster shows a view over Lake Zürich from atop the Uetliberg mountain, the summit of which is called Uto Kulm. To see a live-cam panorama from that vantage point, just click here. The Mürren poster is a view typical of every Alpine pasture, even today.

The next 3 images are firmly in the Alps: The glacier shown in the first image is the Aletsch Glacier, the largest in the Alps, covering around 80 square kilometres (31 m2), with a length of ~23 km (14 miles) with a maximum thickness of ~1 km of ice. As with most glaciers in the world, it is retreating. Gotthard (officially the Saint-Gotthard Massif) is an impressive region connecting north and south Switzerland between Uri and Ticino, German- and Italian-speaking cantons, respectively. It has long been a major axis of Europe, with a road across, a vehicle tunnel through (built 1980), a cargo and transport train tunnel (opened 1882), and now a passenger- and vehicle-transport train tunnel which opened in 2016 and is the world’s longest railway tunnel and the deepest traffic tunnel, as well as the first flat low-level tunnel through the Alps. The 3rd poster highlights the Lötschberg, a massif with a train transport tunnel linking the north and south of Switzerland through the Berne and Valais routes. We often take this route when going to Valais or Ticino on holidays; the train is an open, continuous carriage, meaning you drive on, sit in your car, and watch the tunnel fly past.

The next 3 posters highlight something nearly ubiquitous in Switzerland: Lakes. They’re everywhere. We even share Lake Constance with Germany and Austria, and Lake Geneva with France. From border to border, we have over 100 main lakes and countless smaller ones (in an area what easily fits within the state of Maine, US, to give you a size comparison). The first poster is encouraging locals to explore, commemorating the 650th anniversary of the formation of the core of Switzerland. The second shows Lake Lugano from the perspective of Monte Bre, with the city of Lugano along the shore. It’s a perspective I know well, as the family had a holiday home on the flanks of Monte Bre until last year. San Salvatore is the mountain peak shown. The third poster is of the Vierwaldstättersee (“Lake of the four forested settlments”): This is the most complex lake in Switzerland, and not only for its names: In English it’s known as Lake Lucerne, although that is just one arm of the sprawl. Sections are Lake Lucerne, Lake Urner, Lake Kussnacht, Chrüztrichter and Lake Alpnacher. The many-armed lake is shared by the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden, Nidwalden (originally one canton known as Unterwalden) and Lucerne. Signs of settlements found by archaeologists go back to at least 3,000 BC. To see this lake through live-cams, just click here. The site is in German, but just click on the view you’d like to explore.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this virtual tour! And perhaps you’ll come to Switzerland one day to see it for yourself!

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History Undusted: Spiez Town, Church & Castle

Let’s take a virtual tour of a beautiful little castle on Lake Thun, here in Switzerland: Spiez Castle is a grand but pocket-sized edifice that sits on a spit of land jutting out into the lake, with the town of Spiez surrounding it. The area has several substantial bronze- and iron-age settlement sites, which shows that the area has been rich in natural resources and populated since time immemorial. The town and its church were first mentioned around AD 762, when Bishop Heddo of Strasbourg disposed of the church and tithes in his will. In AD 933, the King of Burgundy, Rudolph II, had Spiez castle built, and soon the Freiherr of Strättligen settled there. [Freiherr was a rank of nobility within Germanic-speaking areas that would have roughly translated to the English rank of baron.] Sections of the current shield walls and tower were built in the 12th century, and though the town was originally located within the castle walls, by the 13th century it had outgrown the walled enclosures. The small church, which is on the castle grounds, is one of the twelve Lake Thun churches mentioned in the Strättliger Chronicle [a Swiss dynastic and national history of the rulers of Bebenberg and Strättligen and their lands and churches – all within canton Bern, covering from AD 1100 through 1464].

The castle changed hands numerous times, whether through political manoeuvring or through dynastic extinction. Last week, my article touched on the French invasion of Switzerland; After that 1798 French invasion and the creation of the Helvetic Republic, the von Erlach family lost the rights to hold the lands as well as their jurisdiction over the village, but retained ownership of the castle until 1875. In the church is a panel in Latin about the titles of the baron von Erlach and of (who I assume was) his wife, Johanna Graffenried (from another noble family in Berne), with the family crest (see the images below).

This past summer, my husband and I toured the castle and the church; it was an awe-inspiring feeling to know that we were walking where people have walked for well over a thousand years; where nobility and peasants, servants and pilgrims have stood, walked, talked, lived and passed. Here are a few impressions of the castle, church and the views we enjoyed, and I hope you enjoy, too.

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History Undusted: The Age of Revolutions

This past summer, my husband and I rented a motorhome and travelled around Switzerland; we tend to prefer nature or museums to overly-touristy attractions. One of the places we visited was Spiez Castle. Before I tell you about that, however, a little historical backdrop is necessary, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Everyone’s heard of the French Revolution, which began in May 1789: It was a struggle to become free from the heavy yoke of an elitist monarchical regime, quasi out of the frying pan and into the fire of the Reign of Terror – during which many of the original rebels, in a twist of morbid irony, also had their heads removed by Monsieur Guillotine; it ended in November 1799 with the abolition of the Ancien Régime and the creation of constitutional monarchy (not far from where they started) and the French Consulate (which lasted nearly 5 years until the start of the Napoleonic Empire in May 1804).

But what many people might not know is that the French Revolution was internationally both influenced and influential. Modern “small world” effects are not modern at all; even in ancient times, people had international news: Travelling merchants and traders, messengers, signal towers (such as those the Romans used along the British frontiers), and even smoke signals, all conveyed news. When the French Revolution began, there was already a growing political dissent spreading throughout Western Europe; the English “coffeehouse culture” enabled men to gather in small groups and discuss business and politics; this concept travelled to America, and the discontent culminated in the American Revolution, starting in April of 1775. The French people watched and learned. The British government naturally became wary – they were losing the American colonies to the Revolutionary War, which they finally lost in September 1783. The Americans were supported during that time by France and Spain (the two main long-term enemies of Britain), so the British were hemmed in by threats to their own social order from both the east and the west, and they had well-founded fears of the discontent sparking revolt in the dry tinder of their own oppressed ranks.

And now we come to Switzerland: To understand the Swiss backstory in a nutshell, which does no justice to a history that began in the Palaeolithic Age or further back, let me sum it up: The Old Swiss Confederacy was an alliance between independent small states, starting on 1 August 1291 with the “Rütlischwur”(an oath of allegiance between the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden), which date is considered by the Swiss to be the birth of the nation (though history is more complicated). As the French Revolution was beginning to wind down, Napoleon Bonaparte, then a French general, pressed the French Directory (the then-current French governing committee) to invade Switzerland. The atmosphere within the Old Swiss Confederacy was tense, fearing that the French Revolution would spill over with or without direct French military involvement. At the invitation of a French-speaking faction in Vaud (then part of Canton Berne), 12,000 French troops invaded through Vaud on 28 January 1798, and for the next four months, battles were waged between the French and the Swiss “Loyal Legions”. It ended in May with the swift collapse of the Swiss Old Confederacy.  

The Battle of Neuenegg, 1798 – Graphics Collection, Central Library, Zürich

However, the French Directory needed a solid neighbour, a buffer zone along their eastern borders, not a loosely associated collection of small states; they tried to steer toward a re-establishment of national unity with a Paris-drawn constitution, but on April 1798, Swiss cantonal leaders proclaimed the Helvetic Republic, with new legal structures that abolished feudal rights within individual cantons in favour of a national unity. A few battles later, and coalition armies waging war in and around Switzerland against France, eventually left Switzerland as a sovereign, neutral nation; it has remained so ever since, despite two world wars.

An etymological side note on the Latin name of the Swiss Confederation (Switzerland), Confoederatio Helvetica: Helvetia is the female personification of Switzerland, found on nearly every coin, much like Lady Liberty of America. The name derives from Helvetii, a Celtic tribe that inhabited the Swiss Plateau since before the Roman Era. The earliest reference of the name is dated to ca. 300 BC, written in Etruscan on a vessel from Mantua (located in Lombardy, Italy). By the time the Romans arrived, they were well-established tribes governed by noblemen; the Roman historians tended to refer to anyone not Roman as “barbarian”, which tends to skew modern understanding of the peoples they conquered; it was perhaps their way of justifying invasions against peaceful, intact civilisations. Naming no names, but R—– is repeating that same shameful tactic today; there’s nothing new under the sun.

It’s easy to overlook the complexities of historical events or view them from only one nation’s side; after all, as Mark Twain once wrote, “The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” History’s angle is in the hands of those who wrote it – if they were Roman, everyone else was barbarian; if they were English, the Scottish / Irish / Indians were backwaters in need of a guiding stick, and so on.

So, now that you know a bit more about the history in and around Switzerland, I’ll highlight Spiez Castle next!

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Finally Back!

Hi everyone! As I mentioned in my last blog in June, I thought I’d solved the problem of accessing my blog; but after that, I was blocked out until 10 minutes ago! Finally, I got the help needed; until now, every time I’ve logged in and started to do anything, it would log me out again. I figured it was a clash between WordPress and some other app or program, but I couldn’t figure out the connections. Now it’s sorted, and I’ll know what to look for in the future if it happens again.

Since my last blog, life has hit a bump or two in the fast lane: We caught Covid a second time just before our summer holidays. Since that time, I’ve had frequent Covid migraines, which are a different monster than the usual species of migraines in that there’s nothing you can do about them – no medicine works. They start at the base of the skull and shoot into existence in a flash sometimes, and then they hang on for up to 24 hours. Not conducive to focus or creative writing, so I’ve used what time I can in my craft room to get things done toward a Christmas market at which I sell things every year.

At the same time we had Covid, we had a very sick senior cat that ended up needing surgery to remove a few impacted teeth; antibiotics and pain medicines both ended just in time to hand over cat-sitting without the extra complications before we headed out for much-needed holidays. She’s now doing better, though her diet is mostly soft food – which seems to suit her just fine.

Summer holidays this year were spent in our own back garden, so to speak, here in Switzerland. We rented a small motor home and spent most of our time in the French-speaking area for a week. After that, we’d planned to take day-trips out from home; we managed to get in one or two until my right knee decided to blow out; that took a few weeks to heal, so I was basically house-bound, but we’ve got a nice, large flat to be stuck in, if need be.

July and August flew by in a blur, and September is following suit. I’m hoping to get my next novel out before Christmas, but with the delays of migraines and life catching up to us after summer holidays, it’s been a challenge to block out the world and focus on graphics and all the technical bits and bobs that go along with launching a book.

Now that I can access my blog again, I’ll take you on a few virtual tours around Switzerland next!

I hope this finds all of you well!

Spiez Castle: View from an arrow slit in the tower

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History Undusted: William Caxton (the father of English as we know it today)

I’ve been trying to blog the last few weeks, but to do so, it helps to be logged in to WordPress – and it kept logging me out every time I switched to my site. I finally found the solution this morning, so here I am!

One thing I’ve been ruminating about is the etymology of everyday words; words come from somewhere, and I’ve always wondered what word(s) were used before a word came along. There are famous examples of invented words that never stuck, such as Lewis Carol’s “Jabberwocky“, but what I’m referring to are common words. What did they use before the word “egg” came along? The word itself comes from Old Norse, eggys, eggja, or egge, but before the common spelling was decided on, every English dialect in Britain had at least a couple different spellings of the word!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) is sometimes credited with having created upwards of 1,700 words, but many of those were likely already in circulation – he simply wrote them down in his plays. Some words accredited to him are: dishearten; dislocate; auspicious; obscene; monumental; majestic; accommodation; amazement; dwindle; exposure; bloody; countless; courtship; impartial; gnarled; gloomy; generous; reliance; pious; inauspicious; bump; frugal; submerge; critic; lapse; laughable; lonely, suspicious, and many, many more.

But long before William Shakespeare drew breath, there was another William that influenced English in profound ways, and yet his name is little known today: William Caxton. Born around 1420, he was a merchant, printer and the first English retailer of books; he introduced the printing press to England, set up in Westminster, 1476. Though he published many books, the first book he is known to have published is The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340s – 1400); that work alone is credited with influencing both the English language and literature, as it shows a clear correspondence between the rhythm of written English poetry and the cadence of spoken English. Chaucer is also known for having looted the French language, bringing into English such words as governance, paramour, difficult, dishonest, edifice, and ignorant, to name a few. Chaucer was aware of the wide variety of English dialects, which we would never recognize as English today, and he was anxious about the confusion of languages in Britain and that his work would be able to be comprehended in the future. In his poem, Troilus and Criseyde, he bids it a poignant but troubled farewell: “Go, litel bok . . . And for ther is so gret diversite In Englissh and in writyng of oure tonge, So prey I God that non miswryte the [thee]. . . . That thow be understonde, God I biseche!”

However, because William Caxton chose to publish Chaucer’s work, we still have it to this day. Caxton was also the first to translate Aesop’s Fables into English (1484). Although he was not a great translator and sometimes simply used the French word “Englishified”, his translations were popular; because of that, he inadvertently helped promote Chancery* English as the standard English dialect throughout England. (*Chancery refers to the dialect used by the officials of Henry V’s government). Thanks to men like William Caxton and those who followed, refining and shaping the language we know today, we are able to enjoy a standard English spelling and grammar structure that is understood around the world; there are still regional and national dialect differences, but we can be understood wherever in the world English is used.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, one book I can highly recommend is Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English (The Biography of a Language); it’s available in physical form, e-book, and audiobook.

William Caxton

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Humanity Highlight: Redeeming Toxic Land with Lavender

I came across this story today, and wanted to share it: In the US, coal mining used to be big business; but with the move away from fossil fuels toward solar and other less destructive sources, companies have been in decline; before the mid-1970s, mining companies could just abandon the scarred land, but laws were passed that would require the companies to revitalise the wasteland; but if a company simply went bankrupt, the land sat barren, polluting the surrounding environment for decades, as rocks and minerals that had been buried forever were exposed to air and water, releasing their substances into groundwater and the air. Millions of acres of scarred land are the result.

Now, Appalachian Botanical Company in West Virginia has begun reclaiming the land in a beautiful way: Hiring ex-miners who’ve lost their jobs or other people who need a second chance just like the land, such as ex-drug addicts, they are now working in fields of flowers. Lavender is a hardy plant in the mint family that likes to grow in poor soil; it’s a perfect match for the rocky wastelands around coal mines. Every part of the plant is used: The flowers and upper stems are distilled down to make lavender essential oils that are then also used to make various creams and lotions, honey, salts, and hand sanitisers; when it’s done, they transform the biomass into compost to revitalise the land. The lower leaves are first removed, dipped in rooting powder, and planted to make the next harvest.

It’s an amazingly holistic approach to the problems: Creating jobs in the regions that have been hard-hit by economic downturns; revitalising the land through restoration – lavender will help prepare the land for other less hardy species to take root; and on a larger scale, it provides an example of what could be done with scarred land. To watch the Business Insider video, just click here. To check out the ABCo website and their products, click on the image below. Enjoy, and if you’d like to support what they’re doing, check out the pages on their websites, too.

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Humanity Highlight: Fighting Deforestation with Coconuts

I love coming across stories about individuals making a difference in the world; it shows that one person can really make a difference – not just the rich and famous, but the unknown and unsung heroes that have a vision, and do what they can with what they have until they have more to see their vision unfold.

Alhaji Siraj Bah is such a person: a young Sierra Leonean, he lost his adoptive family to a mudslide when he was 17. The mudslides are an increasing problem, as 70% of the Sierra Leonean forests have been chopped down for firewood; most families use small wood-burning cookers. But something else that everyone does is eat coconuts. Every day, tons of coconut husks are emptied in the street markets, and the sellers then have to pay to remove their biowaste. Alhaji worked on and found a solution to both problems: Turning the biowaste into biofuel briquettes – coconut coal which gives off less smoke and burns four times more efficiently than wood-based products. This idea is not original – there are many similar products on the market; but what I like about his story is that he refused to give up, looking for a solution to local problems, providing jobs, a free removal service, and offering a locally-grown waste-turned-fuel.

To see an interesting video from Business Insider on his story, just click here.

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Wordless: Followers

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May 4, 2022 · 2:58 PM

History Undusted: Rabbit Holes & Licorice Candy

This week, I did a major shopping at a couple Asian food stores; I stocked up on the ingredients I know, and some I didn’t; I like to get things I’ve never heard of, and do a bit of research on how to use it in cooking; things I picked up in that category are Iranian Kashk, which is a tangy fermented, yoghurt used as a condiment; canned palm hearts, which make a nice topping on desserts; and fermented black beans, which can be used in a variety of Asian dishes, including in a black bean sauce. I also bought several fresh vegetables and herbs to dehydrate and turn into a greens powder for adding flavours to dishes (I have a more usual greens powder with standard greens, like cauliflower leaves, spinach, etc. that I use daily).

One of the herbs I used was acacia leaf: When I opened the package, a pungent, sulphur-like smell hit me, and I wasn’t sure I’d use it. But when I began de-leafing it (much like you would thyme, though carefully as it’s got some vicious thorns!), it began to smell like mint! As I added lemongrass, Thai water spinach and other herbs, you can imagine the cacophony of fragrances in my kitchen – which filled the house as they dehydrated.

So what does this have to do with licorice? Well, one of the fresh herbs I also processed was Thai basil; I’d never used it before, and when I opened the packaging, a wave of anise- or licorice aroma hit me. And as usual, that set my mind off, thinking about the history of licorice!

Licorice is a flowering plant native to parts of Asia and Europe; its scientific name, Glycyrrhiza, comes from Greek and means “sweet root” (the linguistic roots are related to words like glycerine and rhizome); it is the ingredient that gives the signature flavour to black licorice, though today anise oil is often used as a substitute because the Glycyrrhiza can have toxic effects if ingested too much.

In looking into the history of this flavour, I came across a fascinating documentary: Ostensibly, it covers the history of the Switzer Licorice candy company. But in truth, it’s a fascinating historical insight into the history of Irish immigration, social unrest, the Irish famine, Irish revolution and exile, union labour foundations, World War 1 through the eyes of a family, the economic upheavals of war, rations and the company’s creative solutions, the history of sugar, post-war recovery, the Great Depression, the American Dream, candy-making, the rise of a family from Kerry Patch (the Irish ghetto of St. Louis, Missouri) to the suburbs, the history and development of St. Louis, and the demise of a family company resurrected by later generations. All in a 55-minute video!

 To watch this fascinating slice of history, click here. To check out the company’s website, click here.

I hope you enjoy this short history, and while you’re at it, enjoy a piece of licorice!

Image Credit: Switzer website (see link above)

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Cutting Room Floor

I’ve been squirrelled away, editing. Editing. Editing. Once in a while, I come up for air or a tea. Then back to it. Then take a walk. Cook dinner. Back to it.

Everyone has their own writing techniques, and over the course of my career, I’ve tried most of them: I’ve outlined a plot and characters to a T; I’ve written out scene cards on post-its and rearranged them until I had the story down. But my tried-and-true method is to open a Word document and make use of their post-it function (that’s what I call their review/comment function), then type out 10 scenes that cover the arc of the story. After that, I toss my characters into the room (parameters of the scene) and let ’em loose. That comment function is worth its weight in gold, as I can slice out something and pop it in a comment off to the side, move it, scrap it, or take out the core and put it somewhere else. I can put reminders to check continuity in there, along with plot development thoughts, what-ifs, alternatives, etc. and try them out whenever it’s time, then delete them and move on. I tried the popular Scrivener program once, and it ate a manuscript for lunch (fortunately, I’d saved a Word version!)! Besides, I’m more organized than that program will ever be!

In my current manuscript, which is science fiction, I tossed the characters on an alien planet (a character in its own right) and let them figure it out. As they talk and move through the scenes and through time, they ripen and develop into full characters with a deeper story as a result. But that can also result in a chunky manuscript, that then needs to go through the toning process – cutting away the excess fat of characters, scenes, and dialogues and making them lean… in the film industry, it’s called the “cutting room floor” process. And that’s the current stage I’m in. When I started out, I had no idea how I’d reach my goal: My starting point, which was the completed manuscript in December last year, was a whopping 148K! My end goal, with a marketable science-fiction range of 100-115K, was over a few hills. But every journey begins and ends with small steps. I started going through my usual edit/proofing list, and I’m now in sight of the goal, just under 117K, and I’m not done yet. The trick is taking off my writer’s cap and putting on my editor’s hat; that means letting go of favourite scenes, plot points, and even characters when necessary. If it doesn’t serve the main- and sub-plots and character development, then out it goes. My husband, who was once a black belt in Lean Six Sigma, has called it my “lean sigma process”.

Sometimes I feel like this squirrel… and that’s where that comment function comes in handy again!

So… I’m off to make myself lunch, then dive back into the editing. I’ll reach my goal, with a comfortable margin, within the next week!

If you’re a writer, what is your approach? Copious amounts of pre-notes and hundreds of questions to develop characters and plot in your mind, or winging it? Please spill the beans in the comments below!

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