I spent New Year’s weekend with dear friends in Ottawa. For the first time ever, I left my vacation rental, the upper floor of my house, in the hands of complete strangers.
What could go wrong? (She asked with trepidation.)
In fact, some things did go wrong but not nearly as wrong as they could have. There was no significant damage, a few small items went missing, and the cleaning of the unit wasn’t up to a “rentable” standard. Renters are asked to return the unit to the state in which they found it. A few rules were broken (i.e. no fireworks) and they left behind a HUGE amount of garbage. At least most of it was in bags.
After a few emails back and forth, I settled on returning only half their deposit money and using the balance to hire my local and reliable cleaners to put the place to rights. This is, in fact, the purpose of the deposit system.
Here are some takeaways I’ve arrived at from this episode.
a) Emotional response: I just couldn’t confront the relatively minor mess inside, and the bigger mess on the deck. I felt affronted that people wouldn’t read the departure checklist and take an hour to do some simple things like strip the beds and run the vacuum around. I managed to get the deck in shape myself, after animals had investigated the three bags of food garbage left out there. But without help, I simply wouldn’t have gotten to the inside clean-up. It wasn’t a time thing or an “I’m too good to clean” thing. I was offended.
Some of my renters, the ones who are crossing over into friend turf now, asked me over beverages at the firepit last summer if I felt “invaded” by people in my space. I really don’t. It actually pleases me to hear laughter and conversation upstairs, and to see people at the waterfront enjoying themselves. The vast majority of people have been pleasant, respectful and really great to have around. The rental unit itself no longer feels like “my space”.
But, clearly, I feel like I’ve been kicked when I inspect afterwards and find myself underwhelmed with the care taken of the space after I’ve carefully prepared it for the comfort and ease of the guests.
b) It wouldn’t have mattered if I was home. The only thing I might have been able to catch if I were home would have been the fireworks going off. Unless I’m specifically asked, I don’t inspect the place with the renters standing there. On one or two occasions, some groups have asked me to complete the inspection so they could be assured that they would be getting their deposit back. Fair enough. But if I’d been home, I don’t think the outcome of this rental episode would have been materially different.
c) Don’t go there. My reliable cleaners, bless them, are good people who have not much experience beyond the local area. They asked me after cleaning if the renters had been “foreign”. Not thinking, I said yes, and named the country of origin of this rental group. This caused one of the cleaners to launch into a monologue about people from elsewhere.
The speed with which this exchange went from friendly chat to political diatribe was mind-boggling and I stupidly didn’t see it coming. At least I was quick enough to nip the monologue in the bud to point out that the origin of the rental group was not the problem. Maturity, adherence to rules, possibly lack of on-site supervision (they could get away with it), and just plain ol’ “did your mother let you leave your room like that?” … and don’t tell me that there are not home-grown Canadian travellers who have trashed hotel rooms, pensions, and bed/breakfast rooms. Bollocks.
This is the stuff we’ve got to nip in the bud – the finger-pointing and blaming anything we don’t like about a person’s behaviour on that person’s “otherness”. This always defies logic. Hearing it and confronting it is more important now than ever before. Please, if you are reading this, join me in not letting this stuff fester in our conversations because this is how such monochromatic beliefs are formed and reinforced.
Don’t let them get away with it.
Yesterday, Christmas Eve, would have been my Mom’s 93rd birthday. As with most Christmas Eves, I spent it with her in mind. I have created a new tradition in which I float a candle down the river on a paper boat on Christmas Eve, in her honour. However, this year, there is 18 inches of thick wet slippery snow on the docks, plus a few layers of ice, and I suspect that Mom would understand me not wanting to join her in the Great Beyond just yet. So I skipped that part.
Instead, I baked. Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, date squares and orange coconut chews. I love it when my kitchen smells like my Mom’s kitchen.
One of the bits of math I do from time to time is to consider my current age (53) against what my Mom would have been doing at the same age. When my Mom was 53, I was 13. Yikes. I can’t imagine having a 13 year old, two adult sons, and a full household to run. I don’t know how she did it. My life is pretty sloth-like compared to hers.
I miss her every day. Her funny wisdom, practicality, and child-like wonder at all the new things the world was churning out. The endless cribbage games and cups of tea and coffee. I hope she has found some decent euchre players in heaven.
Usually, when moving to a new place, there is the excitement of setting up one’s living space as suits. Unpacking, finding new homes for treasured things. The wonderful feeling of getting settled.
That didn’t happen in the move up here, October 2011. The whole thing was rushed, complex, fraught with last minute disasters. The first morning, I recall, was really sweet as we had friends helping and I made a huge breakfast and, for a little while, I managed to get my hands on that feeling of adventure and fun, setting up a new home with my partner and kids.
I never really nested, though. That settledness didn’t ever happen properly. Things were never in their right places. Everything felt off, like a chair you really want to sink into, that looks so comfortable, but it just won’t let you.
Rooms kept getting re-arranged. Boxes became like furniture – still packed – and just sitting there.
Much of the last year then, the fun of it, has been the nesting. Every week, sometimes every day, sees some new minor improvement that advances the settling cog one or two notches further. Today I had a couple of nice local teens, looking for Christmas money, help me for a couple of hours. As a result, just today, I have a linen cupboard placed where I can use it, my spice rack (lo these five years not installed after I paid a mint to have it custom made for my condo) finally installed where it belongs, and a basement that looks … amazing!
I’m busy creating a workshop in the garage so I can really get going on the nesting. So many fun projects on my list. To reclaim the garage, I’ve had a structure built to house firewood and, when fully finished, to be a tool shed. This will keep firewood and large implements out of the garage so I can start to settle there, too.
I have other things I probably should be doing. But the force to reclaim this space is strong in this one, so to speak. I feel like I can’t start my “next big thing” until I’m done this series of smaller things.
Cue, huge intake of breath … and … WHOOSH!
That was me, blowing the dust off this blog. It has been a while.
Confession: I love winter.
Supermoon over Coby
I love the crispness of the air, the freshness that new snow lends every vista. I love having a vista, of sorts.
I love the challenge: staying warm, balancing system heat with wood heat, the work of shovelling, snow-blowing, stacking, sweeping. God help me, I even like winter driving. That is to say, I’m not put off by it. Bring it on. A “supermoon” hung over the east sky a few nights ago, as I was piecing my way through a few squalls to get home. Like a huge bauble, dangling just above the horizon. Gorgeous.
I love the coziness of a fire when the temperature is plunging outside, the sound of a hockey game on the tv as I go about other tasks. The happy riot at the birdfeeders when I’ve just re-filled them.
The eagerness on Big Dee’s face when he can see me going through the steps of getting ready to go outside: boots, scarf, coat, hat, go back inside for something (my phone), come back to the door, go back inside again for something else (treats), open the door, close it again, grab my mitts, open the door, close it again, go back inside for something (coffee) … eventually, we get outside. He has learned patience.
Up here, the silence is extraordinary. I’m not really one to judge, given that my world seems to get more silent, or muffled, every day. Maybe silence isn’t really the word – stillness.
This is my second winter up here on my own, and it certainly came on quickly. I thought I would have a bit longer to wrap up my outdoor projects … but, no … the shed isn’t finished and the raised beds still stand. Oi.
The plan, for those who are still following along, was not for me to be here on my own. Yet, here I am. It has, in fact, worked out. I want to say something about the journey up here as part of a couple in 2011, the rapid deterioration, the frantic yet dismal attempts at repair, the denouement late summer of 2015. But … what to say? It did NOT work out. Anger, hurt, blaming – all the old standards. I did not blow the dust off the blog to re-visit the minutia of the hash we both made of it.
The fact of my life at the moment is that each season up here is a gift. I wouldn’t have moved up here, independently. It doesn’t make a ton of logistical or financial sense. I had to be given the context to step back into a non-urban life. The fact that the context evaporated pretty quickly left me with a choice: stay by the river or return to the city. Every cell of my being said, unhesitatingly, “stay”. So I am grateful for the context, if you will, dragging me up the road and depositing me by the river.
The first four seasons on my own were, quite possibly, the happiest I’ve been for so many years. The absence of tension was palpable. I’d come home from the city and just stand on the landing between the kitchen and the living room, looking out over the deck, and marvel at the opportunity I have to re-invent myself. Re-plant, perhaps. A transplant, happy to find herself in a place that restores and nourishes.
My Facebook newsfeed is rife with posted articles on the recent escalation of conflict in Israel. There is a lot of commentary and passionate debate.
I am so NOT an expert on the issue or the history, although I consider myself somewhat well-read. In a nutshell, the British (self-appointed rulers of the Galaxy and my ancestry of origin on my father’s side) thought it was a good idea to grant the land of Palestine to a highly oppressed, ostracized group (Jews) without sufficient provision for, or acknowledgement or, or discussion with, the then occupants of that land (Palestinians). If someone tried this on my street, there would be hell to pay.
(Oh, wait … the British did try this here … and First Nations peoples are still reeling from our thoughtless and arrogant mismanagement …)
Here are three of the most thought-provoking, and heart-wrenching, articles I’ve read so far:
Israelis and Palestinians have been attacking and killing each other, literally, for as long as I can remember, and I realize now, for at least 40 years before my memories started to form. I was an avid news watcher when growing up and I distinctly recall having some child-like narcissistic fantasy about being the mediator between Golda Meir and Yassar Arafat and being able to make them see that they didn’t need to kill each other’s children anymore. Everyone could be friends … all you need is love … or something similar. After all, how can some parts of the world be so consistently peaceful and other parts be so consistently violent? We should just share some of our Canadian peacenik-ness with the Middle East and all would be well. Cue patchouli incense.
Fast forward 40+ years and, although I have long ditched the fantasy of being the wise and all-knowing mediator, the map, the patterns, the headlines … the basic gist of what is transpiring looks about the same now as it did then. I understand the complexities and chasms more, now, but the overarching specter of two ancient peoples bashing the hell out of each other looks startlingly similar to what it did on my parents’ fuzzy tv when the news came on.
The Middle East is very hot. There isn’t really enough drinkable water to go around. And many peoples hold that one piece of land is, sacredly and historically, “theirs”.
Until this last item is settled in some way that all parties can live with, literally, I doubt the map, patterns, or headlines will change significantly in the next 40 years. There is no peace-nik sensibility strong enough to blur the scars, the hurt and the tragedy of that which continues to unfold.
For what small good it does, if you believe in such things as chaos theory, I’m going to light some incense tonight. In memory of all who have died, and in faint, fragrant hope that some solution is imminent.
The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial site is set up to educate with as much clarity and sensitivity as possible while also memorializing the tragic brutality that this ground witnessed. There are multiple sculptures, plaques, monuments, etc. that commemorate the victims and the crimes perpetrated. Newer buildings are on site as memorials, sponsored by multiple faiths that had clergy/leaders/members in the camp, including obviously a Jewish representation but also Catholic, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox. One of the buildings is currently in use as a nunnery.
There is no minimizing, dodging or obfuscating the role of this camp, the first concentration camp, in setting the tone for other camps. Everything that was done elsewhere started here. Given all the things I saw as testament to the crimes and death that occurred … what is really a struggle for me is understanding how vast the network of camps and sub-camps was. We were shown a map of the territories held by Germany at the peak of the war and the map was filled with literally hundreds of locations where versions of this place, in smaller and larger scales, were located. We have heard only of a handful of the usual names – Auschwitz-Birchenau, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau. But there were literally hundreds of camps and sub-camps. I was aghast at the breadth and scope of barbarism undertaken across such a wide geographic area.
Grave to mark ashes of thousands of unknowns (Jewish Memorial)
During my visit, it was (mostly) quiet. People were respectful and clearly there to learn, to try to comprehend, to absorb. Entrance to the site is free. I’d estimate there were a few thousand people there while I was there, so it is well used. There are lots of trees around the exterior of the camp proper, and thus lots of birds singing. That seemed out of place, as if the birds should know better. It poured rain, on and off, and that seemed entirely in keeping with the mood. Our tour group had 15 high school kids from Indiana and it was interesting to watch them go from being “too cool for this” and sort of detached to being really quite sober. I overheard discussion of the use of this memorial site for school groups and it appears that schools from all over Europe and North America make stops here. That feels like a good thing, but it does make it a bit of a challenge for maintaining the appropriate decorum when pre-teens and teens are responding to what they see with humour or (feigned) apathy. I think Dachau has an impact on everyone who visits and I think it is important for as many young people from as many different backgrounds as possible to see it – and I also think that kids don’t always know what to do with their emotional responses “in the moment”.
The Original Pink Triangle
It felt oddly synchronous to be looking at the actual original pink triangle symbol, as deployed to identify a homosexual “enemy of the state”, the day after World Pride had wrapped up in my home city of Toronto. There is no more clear reason to justify the existence of an event like “World Pride” than standing in an original building at Dachau and looking an original wall chart of symbols used to identify people, one of which was a pink triangle. Interestingly, there is a committee of survivors that has a crucial role in determining the types of memorials that will be allowed. A memorial focusing on homosexuals is absent because, in the hierarchy / social structure of the camp at the time, homosexuals were at the bottom of the barrel along with known criminals and other “asocials”. The committee of survivors isn’t comfortable acknowledging the targeting of homosexuals by approving a memorial for this group. When I spoke to our guide about this privately, he suggested that people were waiting for the committee of survivors (which is quite small now) to hand over their legacy to perhaps a more current committee with a more current perspective. I would have liked to have seen something there as an acknowledgement that gay people were one of the many groups identified as “enemies of the state” – and I also think this can wait until the time is right. Homosexuals are identified within the part of the exhibit that describes all the targeted groups, and our situation is given as much detail and focus as most of the other groups.
I took only a handful of pictures. It didn’t seem … seemly.
Dachau is just outside of Munich and the typical journey one takes to get there is from the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) in Munich. It is a short 10-15 minute ride. German citizens in Munich are extremely sensitive about people coming to visit to learn more about Nazis and about concentration camps. I knew about specific laws around giving an Nazi salute (even in jest, this will get you arrested) and I didn’t realize Mein Kampf was still a banned book. It was odd to be taking a tour with a group to specific sites relevant to WWII and to be scrutinized by the locals. They will listen and try to be sure the guide isn’t Munich-bashing or sensationalizing. Locals are also concerned with Neo-Nazis using specific sites as touchstones for their own purposes. As much as they don’t want their quite beautiful city associated with the rise of the Nazi party, as it happens, this is now a key part of the city’s past. Never mind that the PLO leveraged this association with the murders during the Olympics in 72, which adds another horrific piece to the global perception of Munich. I don’t want to suggest that Munich has had a bad rap – it is what it is – but it is a pleasant place, rich in layers of history beyond the 20th Century, walkable, reasonably friendly – I quite enjoyed it.
There are lots of very subtle, slightly subversive, commemorative elements in Munich. Many bullet holes and other types of damage have
been left, on purpose, unrepaired, in the architecture, like reminders. Scars. You have to look for these, but they are there. A more deliberate, striking example is a metallic (gold? bronze?) shimmering trail down the cobblestones in an alleyway known as Dodger’s Alley. In the 30’s/40’s, citizens of Munich who walked by a specific Nazi plaque on the corner of one of the main squares had to give a Nazi salute or be arrested for not doing so. There were lots of people who didn’t want to give a Nazi salute. So, to avoid walking by that plaque, many would take a detour down Dodger’s Alley. Nazi authorities caught on to this and started policing the use of the alley, interrogating people found in the alley as to their purpose for being there. If no satisfactory purpose was offered, a person would be thrown immediately into Dachau. Just for taking a detour to avoid giving a salute. Even these people were “enemies of the state”. As to the metallic trail, there is no plaque or explanation. You need to just know, or be told, why it is there and what it signifies. Apparently, there are lots of these sorts of things all over the city, commemorations of resistance. I didn’t have time to go find more, unfortunately.
Four Heros You Need to Know About
I will close by noting this plaque. It is almost hidden behind a door that leads from the gas chamber into the crematorium. (Please don’t imagine that I typed that sentence with any degree of casualness.) There is a railing in place, making it harder to get a straight on, close photo. Since it is hard to read, I’ll type out what it says here. They gave their lives – the least I can do is try to get this right.
Here in Dachau on the 12th of September 1944
four young Woman Officers of the British Forces attached to Special Operations Executive
were brutally murdered and their bodies cremated. They died as gallantly as they had
served the Resistance in France during the common struggle for freedom from tyranny.
Mrs. YOLANDE E M BEEKMAN (née Unternahrer)
Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Auxiliary Air Force seconded to Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)
Miss MADELEINE DAMERMENT
Légion d’Honneur Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)
Miss NOORUNISA INAYAT KHAN
George Cross Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
Mentioned in Despatches Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Auxiliary Air Force seconded to Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)
Mrs ELIANE S PLEWMAN (née Browne-Bartoli)
Croix de Guerre avec Étoile de Vermeil
Women’s Transport Service (F.A.N.Y.)
“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall be no torment touch them”
Bravery, compassion and a complete and utter focus on their missions, to the exclusion of all else, including their own lives. This was a surprise find towards the end of my visit to Dachau – but it shouldn’t have been. I feel like I should know these names and that I should know more about these stories. Their world, a world in which their skills and dedication were needed at extreme cost, is not that far removed from our current time of social media, popular culture, ridiculous fads and trivial pursuits.
Do not forget.
If you are a history nerd/buff and are visiting Munich, you must look up Taff Simon/Dark History Tours. I know of no other tour guide who carries centuries worth of props, artifacts, costumes and even a sword around with him to augment his story-telling. (What a work out that must be!)
I had some plans change at the last minute and found Taff by googling something like “what to do in Munich”. We had an email exchange and he wound up adding me to the end of his long day of group tours for a quick walk around downtown in the early evening. This was above and beyond, in my opinion, and I learned more in that short few hours than ever expected to. I peppered him with questions on such a wide range of historical eras – from ancient tribes in the area to WWII – and he fielded them all. Taff is a trained and experienced archaeologist and historian with a clear passion for all things historical.
They don’t make them like this anymore.
We stopped for a beer – everyone drinks beer in Munich – in the oldest pub in the city. These bricks were hand formed over 600 years ago – some of the finger impressions in the bricks are still visible.
I learned more new facts about the rise of National Socialism in Munich, including the early location of the Gestapo headquarters and the dining hall where Kristallnacht was likely planned and set in motion by all the leading Nazi figures of the time. Other tours take some of the standard approaches, and these are key too – the Beer Hall Putsch, the locations of early Nazi rallies, the struggle of today’s citizens of Munich to acknowledge their city’s dark role in the establishment of the roots of Nazism. Taff adds extra detail to flesh out these elements and make them come alive.
In one of the courtyards towards the end of our tour, he demonstrated what a medieval man of status would look like, pulling out costume items and accessories, all the while discussing the whys and wherefores of each item. The courtyard we were in has historical significance through many periods of time, including being used as a marketplace where men in his style of dress would have been present. It was engaging, fascinating and fun.
Taff is obviously a walking 3D History Channel and it is worth a detour to Munich, if you hadn’t planned to be there, just to hang out with him. If you are planning some time in Munich, you must look up Taff Simon and Dark History Tours. You will not regret it.
Ad for Campbell’s Frozen Oyster Stew, circa 1961
My Mom used to buy Campbell’s Frozen Oyster Stew for us to share at lunch. She didn’t do this often but it was a huge treat when she did. This buttery, creamy, slurpy soup with those funny rubbery fishy bits … I loved it.
This is really an odd sort of choice for my land-locked, Southern Ontario farming Mom. I wonder how she got “hooked” on this soup? Why not, if it is going to be a fishy stew, the more popular and known clam chowder?
Anyway – I quickly learned to love it too, at a relatively young age. And I do crave it from time to time. It hasn’t been available for years, unfortunately, and I wouldn’t know the first thing about trying to make it from scratch. The only oysters I know of are expensive appetizers in upscale restaurants in Toronto. I suppose there are tinned oysters but I can’t imagine putting them in a soup.
I woke up with this soup on my mind and, alas, had none available. I did have granola, Greek yogurt and a fresh peach so I made do with that.
Granola, yogurt, peach and coffee. An oyster stew substitute?
The hair on the back of my neck stood up on the bus ride up Kehlstein to Eagle’s Nest. There were perhaps three reasons for this.
1. The views … who needs to rent a helicopter to line up aerial shots?!? A lazy cinematographer would only have to take this journey to get a clear sense of what is possible. I am convinced that the lake in the distance, Lake Konigsee, is the one seen in the opening shots of the Sound of Music when the helicopter comes over the crest of a mountain and looks down on a lake with a boat motoring along, wake lazily spreading out behind. Look in the Ducky shot, off in the distance.
Steady … steady …
2. The place … Hitler’s supposed summer retreat. This would creep any thinking person out.
3. The ride … which compares with almost anything Canada’s Wonderland has to offer. Hairpin turns, lightning speeds, narrow tiny one lane road with no means of accident avoidance, narrow tunnels taken at speed.
To get here, one takes a tour bus from downtown Salzburg to an unnamed spot which I later learn is / was called Berchtesgaden/OberSalzburg. It is actually in Germany, just over the border. More on this later. From this big parking lot/tour bus depot/ticket office/souvenir shop, one boards a specially designed bus, one of six, with upgraded engines and brakes. This is what gets you to Hitler’s parking lot, from which spot one takes the original elevator (not a Schindler, I asked) directly up into the Eagle’s Nest building.
Photo of interior of original elevator, in reflection, showing manufacturer Carl Flohr.
We are told on the journey up, by the tour guide, that Hitler hardly ever came to Eagle’s Nest because, ironically, he was afraid of heights. Chickenshit. An Internet factoid, of dubious credibility, suggests that he only visited the place 14 times. Construction was completed in 1938. There are, therefore, seven summers possible that he could have visited, so twice per summer. There is some raw footage on Youtube of Eagle’s Nest in use which I watched after. This is what makes my hair stand on end, still. The footage shows the exact place, practically unchanged, that I just visited. The filmmaker made a vista shot, circa 1939, exactly the same as one I took earlier in the day. It looks, for all the world, like B-roll from the opening credits of the Sound of Music that might have wound up on the cutting room floor.
I typed my initial thoughts on this entry into my iPhone while at the top of Kehlstein. I like that autocorrect consistently likes to change Hitler to either “girl” or “butler”.
One of my burning questions had to do with who was profiting from this rather popular tourist activity. It turns out that profits from the gift shop, restaurant and bus tours to Eagle’s Nest go to support local schools and charities. No single individual profits from this activity and no single organization is touted. I’m not sure the restaurant even has a name. There is no branding of any kind. The restaurant is marked “Restaurant” and the gift shop is called “Shop”.
I had steadied myself for the creepiness of visiting the heart of nationalism, or of anti-internationalism, if you will. Having Ducky along as a photo buddy helped take some of the creep out. Still, riding in Hilter’s elevator and standing by his fireplace is chilling. Which brings me to Berchtesgaden/OberSalzberg. It wasn’t until I was reading the materials on the bus on the way back that I realized that the actual summer compound where much time was spent by Hitler, Goring and others was OberSalzburg. The architect confiscated land from local farmers, without compensation, and built a real summer retreat here – right where the buses now jockey for position to transfer tourists from the weak-ass tour buses to the souped up tour buses. The guide didn’t tell us this. On the land was a village of summer homes for Nazi officials, useful facilities, and gathering places. Below ground, there is a complex series of bunkers, facilities and shelters. Allied bombers did some damage to the above ground complex in 1945 as the “American Zone” expanded. The locals blew up all the remaining buildings in 1952 and wrote a local bylaw restricting anyone from owning land or building residential buildings on the site, in perpetuity. With one exception – a small hotel/restaurant was returned to the family from which it was taken by the Nazis when they built the site. It still operates as a hotel/restaurant and is the only remaining entrance to the network of tunnels below surface. We may have driven by it and I wish I’d known to look for it.
Update: So, my Eagle’s Nest visit was yesterday and I had been using my GPS to note the relative location of the “Sound of Music” hill that I had a half-baked plan to visit. “The hill” is hidden behind some farmers’ houses in the middle of almost nowhere on the border of Austria and Germany, on the German side. As we went to/from the Eagle’s Nest, my GPS suggested it was very close, just over one of the mountain peaks perhaps. Turns out it is even closer. 12 km. The Sound of Music “hill” is closer to Hitler’s summer retreat than it is to Nonnberg Abbey, which is 20 km away.
Of the three purposes of my visit to Austria (Sound of Music / WWII / Mozart), it is Mozart that has gotten short shrift, I’m afraid. I’m headed to Vienna so I expect I’ll rectify that.
The Salzburg Museum has an entire floor dedicated to the times leading to WWI, the war itself from Austria’s point of view, and the aftermath in Austria. Without knowing a bit about WWI, WWII is completely lacking in context. It isn’t until you get to that last bit about what happened to Austria, Germany and other European economies and societies after WWI that the context for the rise of the far right/Nazi movement becomes clear. The war devastated this central part of Europe. People were starving, dying and completely demoralized. They had no particular reason to hope given that the particular depression they were experiencing was underpinned by a new type of class system. Let me frame that differently – people who worked hard, who existed in a working class space and never expected to struggle beyond the normal challenges of life, who never had ancestors struggle without resources to be self-reliant – these are the people who were in trouble. Consider that generations prior to the industrial revolution trained men (specifically) in skills and trades passed down and valued over centuries. With the industrial revolution, people started to rely on a system not of their own choosing or making rather than relying on themselves. The system failed. In that kind of environment, any voice that comes along to blame someone else (Jews, perhaps?) for your troubles will eventually get air time.
Currently, we do see the rise of the far-right in Europe, and lots of blame-naming (foreigners, perhaps?) and a drive by some countries to isolate from the EU. It seems a relatively small movement, perhaps. Remember that Hitler was laughed off the stage the first few times he tried to get some public traction for his ideas. He had only a handful of followers, at first. But the public context for his views shifted, moreso than his views did. The times changed. The people changed. Economies all over Europe collapsed.
Now? Speaking from a North American perspective, ordinary working people have trouble finding meaningful work, the kind that both satisfies their souls and keeps them in a positive cash flow and a decent standard of living. Low-paying, low-skill jobs keep even experienced workers at entry level work, often at more than one job. Personal and public debt is rising. This makes people scared and vulnerable. Education is becoming positioned for the elite – intellectualism and scientific pursuits are seen, by some in the far-right, as oh so much nonsensical waste of time. A lack of access to education within a general population makes simple political messages have wider appeal.
We, globally, need to tread carefully at this particular juncture in time. Thanks to the recent study tour I had the crazy wonderful opportunity to be on recently, I’m understanding more the true purpose of the European Union, as complex, unwieldy and expensive as it is. The core purpose is the avoidance of war through dialogue and highly structured, regulated interdependence. The rest – economic leverage to participate in a global market, free movement of goods/services, a mobile labour force – is fine print. A key success factor, pardon the MBA-speak, is maintaining an internationalistic, rather than a nationalistic, perspective. We need to listen carefully and select out voices that seek to elevate, or isolate, one group or culture of people to the exclusion of all others. We may start hearing more such voices … and we need to remember where such sentiments can lead.