Posted by: Bob Fisher | December 9, 2015

Lee County Living: Genuine Florida

If I had my druthers, I would not be sitting here at my computer — glancing every now and then at the gusts of snow swirling past my thermopane windows, and the naked maple trees struggling with the churlish winds … and feeling confined.

I would instead, be on my way to my home airport (YYZ) and from thence to the Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) — “Gateway (sigh…) to Ft. Myers and Florida’s Gulf Coast.”

Why do I hear Peggy Lee’s sultry voice singing “Summertime, when the living is easy…”?

But I guess there’s no point moaning and groaning. I will however allow myself to slip into something comfortable and indulge myself in some winsome and warm memories.

“How wonderful are islands! Islands in space, like this one I have come to, ringed about with miles of water…. The past and future are cut off; only the present remains. Existence in the present gives island living an extreme vividness and purity… I believe we are all islands — in a common sea.” — From Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

“The glad indomitable sea”

As Floridians and seasoned Snowbirds know well, Florida is a state full of surprises, and unexpected experiences. It is far more than the one-dimensional image we often tuck away on our mental hard drives.

And, as I discovered, Lee County on Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast is a cornucopia of life experiences. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh reflects in her book — inspired by the seashells she collected on the beaches of Sanibel and Captiva Islands — this area is very much alive, on many levels and in many ways. The beaches of course are stupendous, but there is much more to experience as you move and think laterally in Lee County.

I have always found shell collecting a curious human behaviour; why would you spend long days walking the same or similar beach in search of more of the same? However, my visit to the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island (an architectural gem) was all I needed to understand how shells have played a key role in ecology, medicine, literature, religion, art, architecture, and as a source of food. It also dawned on me why this kind of Zen-like activity is as much ritual as it is time well spent — returning to the sea. And I suppose we can pardon ourselves for taking much for granted when engaged in quiet blissful activity; it goes with the territory.

In Lee County, the shell collector’s distinctive body language is referred to either as “the Sanibel Stoop” or the Captiva Crouch.” My favourite shell, by the way, is the graceful Lightning whelk (Busycon sinistrum).

And I soon discovered that exploring Lee County was not unlike shell-collecting; it was resolving the disconnect (however temporary) that can often be a by-product of cold urban lives. So when you begin to feel an oncoming cold — or a winter of your discontent — you might want to check out Lee County.

Alive and well in Lee County

Nature and the natural environment are pretty much what Lee County is all about. The living is indeed easy but it is also bountiful. For example, there are over 300 species of birds that visit or live along the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. Just to give you a starter’s birding list, you will see great egrets, majestic wood storks, delicate white ibis, the flamboyant roseate spoonbill, herons of all kinds, red-shouldered hawks, bald eagles, anhingas, owls, wrens, warblers, and my favourite the ubiquitous osprey whose elegance in flight is unparalleled.

What is particularly notable about Lee County is that many original habitats of protected wildlife and nature areas have been left intact. “Lush” is an understatement for this environment where you will see and learn to appreciate plants such as palmettos, the mighty mangroves, royal palms, mango trees, orchids growing wild, the aromatic and lofty cypress trees, and the largest Banyan tree in the continental U.S.

The region is one diverse, unique but fragile ecosystem. The shallow waters comprise an extensive estuary (where freshwater and saltwater meet) that is in itself a natural aquatic preserve of unique flora and fauna. And when you allow yourself to penetrate this natural world, physically and conceptually, you will quickly begin to appreciate the esthetics of the ecosystem.

As you walk along a meandering boardwalk through a dense Mangrove swamp, all your senses will seem to coalesce, and there will be little separation between you and the life forms that surround you. And if you have a knowledgeable guide, you will learn the importance of the Mangrove. These majestic trees thrive in a saltwater environment because they have the ability to take in freshwater from saltwater and secrete the excess salt through their leaves. With their far-reaching root systems they also form nurseries for many species of fish, crustaceans, and shellfish. And like the wise homo sapiens of Lee County, they are instrumental in contributing to the health of the overall coastal zone.

Just take a quick side trip to the Lee County Parks and Recreation (Natural Resources) website, and you’ll start to get an idea of what I am talking about.

You back? Good. Now let me give you a couple of vicarious travel experiences in Lee County to whet your soft adventurer/ecotourist appetite.

The Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is an amazing wildlife preserve as well as being a role model for the preservation of the indigenous species of Florida. Named after Jay Norwood Darling, the well-known political cartoonist and — unbeknownst to many — an early environmentalist when the environmental movement as we know it today was only wishful thinking.

Ding Darling covers one third of Sanibel Island where real ecotourism is taken very seriously. As a major part of this barrier island, the refuge has a total area of 6354 acres and several habitat types including he estuarine mentioned above. It protects several threatened and endangered species (eastern indigo snake, American alligator, American crocodile, Atlantic loggerhead turtles, west Indian manatees, among others), and is known for its 238 species of birds, 51 species of reptiles, and 32 species of mammals.

It is also a refuge for human visitors who come from areas where “they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.”

To visit Ding Darling click here.

Babcock Wilderness Adventures

Although a tour through this 90,000-acre ranch in a swamp buggy may initially appear a bit “structured,” it actually is sensible and a good way to see some indigenous species (especially alligators) in their natural environment. The sighting of two alligators in full mating mode — the female being pursued up onto a grassy bank — is not your average tourist experience. And the ranch is a perfect location for a visit to a serene Mangrove swamp.

To visit Babcock Wilderness Adventures, click here.

Food for thought in Lee County

When I visit a new destination, I often head to the public library to a get a sense of what is really going on in town. As I’ve always said, “When in doubt, ask a librarian.” The library on Sanibel Island did not disappoint. Here is a state-of-the-art public facility with an architecture that emphasizes the milieu in which it is located. I recommend a visit. Note the shell motif throughout. Note also the extensive collection of local history.

If, when you travel, you like to get a more integrated perspective on a destination by exploring the history of the place, Lee County is the trip for you. Layers of history (literally and figuratively) are inherent in Lee County — and often a very hands-on experience.

To visit the Sanibel Public Library, click here.

The Calusa Indians — “People of the Estuary”

Like many meaningful travel destinations in the United States, Lee County presents certain intellectual challenges by creating an awareness of the precariousness of human existence.

The Calusa Indians once inhabited this area, Sanibel in particular, and had a complex society that lived very successfully on the natural resources here. At the height of their society they controlled most of south Florida and numbered as many as 50,000. Led by their great Chief Carlos they were the first Native American tribe (in 1513) that the Spanish encountered. Today they are all gone. As has been the case elsewhere in the world, the Calusa are now extinct as a result of war, disease, and the downside of colonization of the Americas. The last members of this group disappeared in the 1700s. Today, however, they are a significant presence in Lee County from an historical and archeological point of view.

Click here to read more about the Calusa.

The Edison and Ford Winter Estates

Obviously there is something about this area of Florida that has always appealed to people of vision: writers, artists, environmentalists, and even industrialists.

I wonder how Thomas Edison and Henry Ford living side by side in Fort Myers affected property values? Edison was the first to arrive, in 1885, and then Ford — along with many other luminaries — came to stay. And then he too bought a winter residence. Both homes (14 lush and verdant acres) are listed on the National Register of Historic Homes and designated a Florida Heritage Landmark.

And that Banyan tree I mentioned? Well it was given to Edison by Harvey Firestone in 1925. Today there is a slightly spooky statue of Edison in the midst of its errant roots and branches. This and much more can be seen when you do a combined visit of the two homes and their superb gardens. In addition to light bulbs and other world-turning inventions, Edison was an autodidact botanist. Evidence of this can still be seen in the extensive tropical and subtropical gardens surrounding the homes. And thanks to Edison, Fort Myers is also known as the City of Palms; he imported and planted the hundreds of Royal Palms that line McGregor Boulevard. A visionary leaves his mark in many ways. (You can quote me.)

Want to have a really fancy wedding in a prime location? Want to cruise the Caloosahatchee River (named after the Calusa of course) in a replica of Edison’s Electric Launch Reliance? How about a botanical tour of 500 unique plants; or a tour of Edison’s working laboratory just as he left it? (For a man who invented light bulbs and held 1097 patents, the lab is very dark and gloomy. Perhaps I’m being picky.) And what about a box lunch from the Banyan Café?

“We don’t know one millionth of one per cent about anything.” — Thomas Edison

To visit the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, click here.

Really getting out and about in Lee County

The wind in your hair, the sun on your upturned face, the salt air, the gathering of dolphins dancing and cavorting in your wake; you have to do an island cruise when you come to Lee County. And so we did, from Captiva to Cabbage Key and back, followed by a stroll through funky and friendly Andy Rosse Lane (where hippy dippy has not gone totally out of style). Casual, cool, and arts-oriented; the latter is a variation on a theme — meet the locals, have lunch of dinner, and just enjoy the good times.

Cabbage Key Inn

Built (literally) on Calusa history, the Cabbage Key Inn is the kind of unique destination within a destination that you find throughout the county. The inn is built on top of one of the shell mounds left behind by the Calusa. The view from the top across Pine Island Sound is magnificent.

The inn was also the home of Mary Roberts Rinehart, one of America’s most distinctive and prolific writers, and from whose work the truism “The butler did it” is derived, in a somewhat convoluted way. The island, like so many of the small communities you encounter throughout Lee County, is unequivocal in its idiosyncrasy. The autographed one dollar bills you see fastened to the ceilings and walls (all $30,000) are real, and one of them is mine. You don’t get more genuine then Cabbage Island.

To visit Cabbage Key Inn, click here.

Sanibel by bicycle

On Sanibel no building is taller than the tallest palm tree. There are no traffic lights. There are no jet skis and no parasailing. There are no concessions. There are no billboards. There is no hype. You may not swim with the bottle-nose dolphins, nor the manatees. There are no fast food restaurants. And — are you ready for this — there is no McDonald’s. The residents voted against it.

There is however abundant wildlife, 12 miles of unobstructed beach, and the best (and flattest) bicycle paths for those who just want to go with the flow.

To find out more about bicycling on Sanibel, click here.

Delicious Lee County

You want yummy? Sophisticated, historic, and gourmet? Garish, funky,and playful? Unpretentious and honest? An ambiance that evokes the kind of sensual tropical evening that you run away from winter for?

You want it? You got it — in Lee County. Here’s a sample.

Thistle Lodge (Casa Ybel Resort)

The Veranda

Keylime Bistro

Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille

The Bubble Room

Amy’s Over Easy Café

The Jacaranda

Literary Lee County

Randy Wayne White is the author of the famous mystery novels of which the protagonist is a certain Doc Ford. Ford is a common sense kind of guy who doesn’t go looking for trouble, but it often finds him. Of course in the end he manages to sort things out — as best he can.

Like his principal character, White has the same kind of semi tough-talking style that makes for a good story, especially in his novel Sanibel Flats, which one reviewer described this way: “He describes southwestern Florida so well it’s easy to smell the salt tang in the air and feel the cool gulf breeze.”

When he writes — whether it be novels or editorials — White doesn’t mess around. He tells it like it is.

“Occasionally I meet someone, man or woman, who just seem to be straight-shooters and who have a reasonable outlook in terms of the environment and other issues. When that happens, particularly in close [political] races, then I’m happy to get involved. But I’m uncomfortable with anyone — even as small a celebrity as I — who comes out and makes political statements. I don’t know anymore about politics than the next guy. I think it’s important to be involved. I’ve traveled enough around the world to know that our Republic is hugely valuable. Whatever issues, whatever side you’re on, it’s very important to be involved.”

To spend some time with Doc … I mean Randy Wayne White … click here.

The quiet purposefulness of Lee County

“Nature does nothing in vain.” — Aristotle

In Lee County you can always have a good time, but you do not need to live (however temporary) an aimless existence. Every shell you admire will not be a random act; it is not in the nature of the place to encourage such a frivolous mindset.

For more information:

Visit the Lee County website.

Also recommended are:

The VisitFlorida website

and its

“Downtowns & Small Towns” webpage.

A Footnote:

This news comes from Lee Rose, Communications Manager of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

For the second year, Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s 2005 Readers’ Choice Awards have acknowledged Sanibel and Captiva islands as among the “destinations approaching perfection.” They earned spots on the Top-10 North America Islands list: Sanibel Island ranked fourth, while Captiva Island came in at No. 6, both higher standings than in last year’s survey.

Also, one of the newest airport terminals in the U.S., Southwest Florida International Airport, makes it a breeze for you to get to Lee County.

The $438-million building project includes a new 798,000-square-foot terminal, taxiway and related roadways. For Canadian Snowbirds, non-stop service from Toronto is available from Air Canada and WestJet, while Air Canada provides non-stop service from Montreal.

For further details, see

Posted by: Bob Fisher | September 4, 2014

Alpujarra Pura: Hill Towns of Andalusia


For many visitors to Andalusia, the high point both aesthetically and emotionally is Granada’s Alhambra, the exquisite palace of the Moorish caliphs.

Surrounded by the splendour of this architectural masterpiece, the visitor is quickly captivated by its transcendent beauty, a monument to eight centuries of one of the greatest civilizations Europe has ever known. The Alhambra’s brilliance is not so much dazzling as hypnotic; the acute awareness you acquire here of an essential part of Spanish culture can have a stunning effect on the mind and the heart.

To process the sensory effect, the thoughts, and the feelings, you are well-advised to find a quiet spot in which to reflect and remember. However, as can happen in the wake of intense aesthetic experiences, withdrawal symptoms may ensue if you “come down” too quickly. It is best to allow yourself some additional time and space, some further elevation.

In the white-peaked Sierra Nevada mountains about an hour south-east of Granada, there is a journey of ease that takes the traveller through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Spain, and also through the last stronghold of the Moorish kings on the Iberian peninsula.

Here in the Alpujarra, the traditional route at the time of al-Andalus (from Granada to Almería on the Mediterranean coast) still meanders through valleys, gullies, narrow mountain passes, and deep ravines. Along the way are magnificent views of the great south-facing and sun-drenched slopes of the Sierra, of secluded pueblos blancos (white towns) embedded in the mountain sides, and of rugged terrain that for centuries has been skillfully and carefully irrigated and cultivated.

Often called Alpujarras in the plural because it has distinct regions and is nestled among three separate mountain ranges, this is a land of Alps (high places) overseen by Ujar, the goddess of clear light. And this ancient and sublime route is nourished by pure air, light, and water.

The Alpujarra is a naturalist’s dreamscape, a unique ecological system — the nature park of the Sierra Nevada has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO — and a primary resource for amateur historians, ethnologists, and anyone who enjoys the rarefied experience that such prodigious environments permit. It is a region of primary resources: forest, flora, and fauna, constantly nurtured from above by the melting snow.

Here amid Spain’s highest mountain ranges, you will find fertile valleys replete with groves of almonds, olives, oranges, and lemons; as well as the largest number of unique botanical species in Europe. Sheltered from the north wind by the high peaks — the most elevated being the Mulhácen at 3481 metres — the Alpujarra today is a sequestered but easily accessible region in which species as diverse as mountain goats, wild boar, eagles, and goshawks live. Here you will also find traces of the Moorish heritage and an infrastructure that to this day honours the contributions of the Islamic culture that graced the south of Spain while the rest of Europe was still in the Dark Ages.

As early as the 11th century, however, the Castilian monarchs, began a campaign to expel the Muslims from the Iberian peninsula and in 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella eventually conquered the strategic and sumptuous city of Granada. The city’s Moors were forced to convert to Christianity; those who refused escaped into the hills of the Alpujarra. Of mixed Berber and Arab descent, the Moors of Spain had once inhabited north-west Africa before conquering the Iberian peninsula in the eight century. They were a people used to harsh climates and adept at maximizing the resources of their environs.

When the royal decree of Ferdinand and Isabelle eventually expelled all those of Arab descent from the Kingdom of Granada, they were replaced in the Alpujarra by Christians who inherited not only the land but an ancestral wisdom that still makes this area an unsullied refuge from urban realities.

Today, the fifty-odd white villages that are found throughout the Alpujarra retain the traditional Berber architecture of white, box-like houses arranged ingeniously on top of each other in cohesive communities that know the importance of the creative use of space. Equally important, is their ancestral use of water.

The Moors, like the Romans before them, built an elaborate canalization system through which the villages and the high terraced pasture and farming lands continue to be irrigated. The Alpujarra is an immense natural waterworks and filtration system. Moisture-laden clouds from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean are interrupted by the Sierra Nevada which in turn creates snow in the winter and slowly releases it in the summer. Over the centuries the people of the Alpujarra have captured and directed this water to their own purposes and to the benefit of the land. Standing almost anywhere in one of the white villages, you quickly become aware of a system of fountains, pools, communal wash houses, and irrigation devices of all kinds that allow water to flow in and around each village. As you explore one of these villages on foot, pausing to admire the colourful flowers that adorn the houses, a well-fed house cat, or another magnificent panoramic view, you may hear in the stillness of the pure mountain air the splashing of water.

To visit an Alpujarran village is to experience a timeless, tranquil lifestyle; the stresses and strains of clamorous human habitation seem far away.

In Bubión, the door of the inn where we stop for lunch gives onto the main street which undulates gracefully downhill. On the other side of the bar is a small, unpretentious patio that looks over the stepped roofs of the village and onto a deep, wide ravine that by my calculations is at least five kilometres across.

It is late October — the shoulder seasons of spring or fall are an ideal time to visit the Alpujarra — and the sun as usual is brilliant. The air in contrast is cool; a soft, whispering breeze tempers the sun’s rays. The sky is a shimmering blue, contrasting and complimenting the deep greens of the valley and the pure white of the village which rambles below, around, and above us.

The view is extraordinary and seems limitless. Like the birds soaring and swooping on the thermals from the valley, our eyes slowly take in the scene. Behind us the tree-clad Sierra rises steeply. Below and to the left the valley descends to the Guadalfeo river, one of the principal agents that through erosion has fashioned this stupendous terrain over the ages.

To our right, the valley widens and rises. Somewhat above us is the sister village of Capileira. Distance, space, and time to linger give us a full perspective. Like the other pueblos blancos of the region, Capileira resembles a neatly arranged set of geometric cubes carefully inter-linked on the hillside; forming a gracefully terraced and self-contained community. And crowning the vista at the top of the valley with breath-taking visual coherence is the snowy Mulhácen peak.

This is one of those magnificent scenes that gives a different dimension to time and space. These mountains, the highest in Spain, look south to Africa and the Atlas mountains only 200 kilometres away as the eagle flies.

This is also a part of Spain whose heritage underscores proximity to the southern shores of the Mediterranean. And for centuries, Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived here in al-Andalus in close proximity and in harmony.

Strolling through the intricate and intimate streets and passageways of Bubión, we discover a typical Alpujarran village, a village of tinaos (porticos) and terraos (roof terraces). These communities have a unity of design that is aesthetically pleasing and at the same time practical given the height and lateral restrictions of the terrain. The dwellings, shops, and other buildings are inter-connected by porticos that are supported by the walls of adjoining habitations so that access is possible to upper or lower “neighbourhoods.”

The flat terraced roofs provide additional outdoor living spaces and it is they principally that give the towns their graded profile. Constructed of wood, the roof-terraces are traditionally covered with slate and are especially noteworthy for their round slate chimneys and the inventive coverings that deflect the winds sweeping down the valleys.

The walls of the town’s structures are covered in launa, a paste of magnesium clay that exposure to the sun makes waterproof. As is the case in Mediterranean design elsewhere, the whiteness reflects the intense rays of the sun. And given the many vertical and horizontal surfaces of the village, it is also the backdrop for a constant play of light and shadow, especially beautiful when the red setting sun causes the village to glow.

The Alpujarra villages are also a treasure house of unique gastronomic delights, folklore, crafts, music and dance, and distinctive wines. Especially noteworthy are the exuberant handwoven Alpujarra rugs created and sold by local craftspeople, and which they display effectively against the white walls. Walking through the streets during siesta time, we catch glimpses of quiet, private lives through geranium-trimmed windows and on laundry-strewn balconies, and somewhere within we hear the plaintive and enchanting notes of a guitar.

The Alpujarra is also known for festivals that have significant ethnological and historical meaning. Somewhat discordant with the peaceful mood of the region is the re-enactment in various villages of Moros y Cristianos, street theatre dramatizing the territorial struggles between Moors and Christians that ended with the expulsion of the Muslims in 1492.

Curiously, we had come across the same ritual being played out on Christmas Day in a hill village in Guatemala a number of years ago.

Although an incongruous note in the peacefulness of the Alpujarra, this custom is a reminder that this is a land that was prized by many for a long period of time.

Today, the Alpujarra is a model of the integration of nature and human habitation, and if the lessons of history — both modern and ancient — are learned well, it will remain a geographical and cultural oasis.


The official Web site for Andalusia contains a page devoted to the Alpujarra and a wealth of other information on the general site. It can be accessed at

Our recent Andalusian “circle tour” began and ended in Seville. Iberia, the national airline of Spain, in conjunction with its North American partner American Airlines, has direct flights to Seville or Granada from its hubs in Chicago or New York through Madrid or Barcelona.

Posted by: Bob Fisher | August 11, 2014

An Unknown Soldier

1917 Paul Evan Gillespie, 34rd Division, Canadian Armed Forces

Paul Evan Gillespie

I would recognize his face if he came up to me in the street. I know his full name and the precise dates of his birth and death. I have seen a photograph of the rather ordinary wooden cross bearing the essential information — including the undistinguished block letters “RIP” — that marks the spot in France where his body lies.

But to me Paul Evan Gillespie, the son of a certain “Aunt Maggie” and my grandmother’s cousin, is still in many respects an unknown soldier. And with the relentless passage of time and the death of living memory it seems to me that he, like all soldiers killed in the Great War — or any war — may remain forever unknown soldiers.

When the much-used shoe box of odds and ends of family photographs sent by a cousin arrived finally — having been misdirected by Canada Post — it contained a jumble of what initially seemed to be the residue of the lives of three generations of people directly or indirectly related to me. My penchant for putting things in order was the only real motive for attempting to make some kind of visual and archival sense of them. Sifting through the bits and pieces of unremarkable lives lived, I re-arranged in protective plastic images of my father, his siblings, my grandparents and great grandparents, and their sundry friends.

The third photograph definitely takes me by surprise because it is the grave of Private P.E. Gillespie. His name is very prominent, juxtaposed with the blunt inscription “KILLED IN ACTION.” As if directing someone to the grave, the sentence fragments on the back of the photograph indicate “Position of Grave Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery Arras Nearest Railway Station Arras.”

A wooden cross

I look at the photo again. It is an image of a simple, almost banal, wooden cross with four connecting supports each bearing official information; the kind of marker that could be put up quickly and often. The lettering is a rather old-fashioned typeface, obviously hand-painted, and done by someone who has had considerable practice. The spacing is accurate and even; a few minor stylistic flourishes attempt to embellish this common wooden cross. Thrust into rough dirt with clods of earth and spindly pieces of grass around it, the grave marker has been photographed by someone who knew consciously or subconsciously how to suggest perspective because behind it, rows of similar but not identical common crosses march silently off into the mists. There are no flowers, no carefully tended lawns. This place of the dead is one of utility and some haste; the war still has two months in which to run its course. There will be others to bury, other crosses to erect — not as many as in previous years, however, because attrition has slowed down the killing. Paul Evan Gillespie is one of the “next to last,” among those who perhaps were the unluckiest. He was nineteen years old.

The National Archives

The reading room of the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa is well-lit, appropriately library-quiet with long wide tables on which a few other silent individuals have spread various documents, letters, and maps. I have sent a fax a month ago requesting access to Box 3541-69, which must be cleared through the Canadian Government’s Freedom of Access and Information Act.

I wait patiently while the archivist locates my request, which had gone astray because my registration number had been pre-assigned and differed from that on my day pass. Paul’s regimental number 329064 in the database also differs by one numeral from that on the cross in the photo. But fortunately it is only a minor discrepancy — that one digit might have led to the proverbial ships passing in the dead of night.

Some time passes during which my thoughts wander to more immediate plans during my visit to Ottawa. And then I am slightly startled when a librarian approaches me from behind and hands me a modern, pristine, brown cardboard box. The label identifies it as an “Interim Container”; it has also been archived with the help of a barcode.


I put the box on the table in front of me and look at it almost nonchalantly. And then with the simplest of gestures on my part I open the box that contains the only other records of Paul Evan Gillespie that I have found. Inside there is a potpourri of common-looking official documents and annotated index cards — almost haphazard but innocuous — like old school records, all giving off that musty smell of old paper.

I learn that Paul Evan Gillespie was born on January 9, 1899 and “died of his wounds” at Arras on September 7, 1918. Strangely, one of the documents in the box notes that this expression “is cancelled & the following substituted: Killed in Action.” An “authorized” letter was sent to his “widowed” mother Mrs. Margaret Gillespie on September 20, 1918. Another document indicates that a telegram was sent on the day he died. Perhaps the letter gave some kind of explanation of the events of that day, the final events in Paul’s life; the kind of “fleshing out” of the event that a terse official telegram simply could not communicate.

Paul enlisted in the “Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force” on February 16, 1917 in Guelph, Ontario. His Attestation Paper affirms that he solemnly declared that he was “willing to fulfil engagements by me now made, and I hereby engage and agree to serve … and to be attached to any arm of the service therein, for the term of one year, or during the war now existing between Great Britain and Germany should the war last longer than one year…”

He also swore allegiance to “His Majesty King George the Fifth” and on the form a magistrate appended his signature attesting to the fact that the “recruit” understood each question that was read to him. On a separate official form, the medical examiner — following the printed instructions “*Insert here ‘fit’ or ‘unfit.’” — certified Paul as “fit” and noted that he had “transverse scars 3″ long middle of anterior aspect right thigh. Large mole 1″ to right of middle line Lumbar spines.” Paul’s hearing and vision were “normal.” On the “Casualty Form – Active Service” it indicates that Paul was posted to the ninth regiment of the Canadian Army Medical (Ambulance) Corps, even though he listed himself as a “banker.” Under “Theatre of War,” is entered in careful script “France.” A rubber stamp on the document declaring “Embarked Halifax 12-4-17, Disembarked Liverpool 29-4-17” confirms he had gone to war. An official record of his movements informs me that he was later “Taken On Strength … as water detail” in Étaples, France.

Another standard form tells me a little bit more about him. Paul had a fair complexion with brown eyes and auburn hair and was a Presbyterian. He was 5 feet 8¾ inches in height, weighed 137 pounds and had a “minimum chest measurement” of 32 inches although his “maximum chest expansion” was 35 inches. His “apparent age” was “18 years 2 months”when he left Canada and he had no “congenital peculiarities or previous diseases.” In several other documents he is again declared “fit.” Handwritten comments on an index card state that he was “not elig. for 1914-15 Star” but that a P.& S. and a C. OF S. were forwarded to his mother as was $570 in back pay, although further payments to Aunt Maggie were “suspended” because Paul was not the “sole support” of his mother. This final payment, following the instructions in Paul’s Form of Will he signed on April 12, 1917 was sent c/o the bank of Commerce in Iroquois, Ontario. “Aunt Maggie” I discover later was my grandmother’s aunt. Paul and I might qualify as what in my family has been referred to as “shirt-tail cousins.”

The Unknown Soldier

A few hours later — a brilliant October day, the fall colours still very much in evidence — I am standing before the recently inaugurated Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base of The National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada’s national capital. It seems to me that from an aesthetic, conceptual, and historical point of view the Memorial is now finished. The three levels complete the thematic “flow” from the lofty symbols of honour, glory, and victory over death at the top, to the mid-level sculpture of soldiers in battle struggling to make some headway, and finally to the ground level where the exquisite and poignant granite sarcophagus containing the physical remains of a soldier of The Great War simply but emphatically confirms the hard truth. Here lies a real soldier, a true — although unknown — Canadian soldier who has finally been brought home.

Paul Evan Gillespie is not the soldier in this tomb but despite the few additional traces I have discovered of his existence and of our very tenuous connection, in many ways he could be because, for all intents and purposes, he is still unknown to me. I do not know how he lived his 19 years, what he liked or disliked, whether he was happy or sad, or if in his short adolescence he had achieved a strong sense of himself. I can speculate about him and imagine his hopes and certainly his fears. I realize that if he had lived and even managed to reach a very old age, he would today be over 100, but such a speculation seems quite futile. The full life he might have had, his full potential is what is eternally unknown because Paul was and forever will be only 19. The realization depresses me.


Having done all that it seems there is to do, I return to my hotel feeling what I can only describe as vacant. Fortunately, that evening I have arranged to have dinner with Matthew, a former student of mine now enrolled at the University of Ottawa. A bright, compassionate, and very sensitive young man, Matthew is also 19 and already has demonstrated — through his desire for truth and self-determination — the covenant of youth that we attribute to each new generation.

I show him the photographs and photocopies of the archival material and we talk about Paul Evan Gillespie, as if he were somewhere about. Matthew understands intuitively what I have sensed in this brief excursion and is able to reflect and augment my thoughts and feelings. Having recently begun the next big passage in his own life, Matthew understands the enormous transition that was forced upon Paul Evan Gillespie — and the consequence. Talking this through with Matthew, the sense of disembodiment, disconnectedness, and dispersal that my “encounter” with Paul Evan Gillespie elicited begins to abate. As has been the case so often with so many of my former students whom I have come to know well, Matthew’s fresh presence of mind and youthful perspective create a generational connection, an understanding that underscores why I have attempted to realize this belated bond with Paul. The regeneration induced by honest and timely communication with young people replenishes my need for a belief in innocence, hope, and humanity.

Life is full of ironies; dramatic, prophetic, and otherwise. Little did I know that before re-discovering Paul, in all likelihood I had walked past his grave in the Canadian cemetery in France when my wife and I were travelling there and following the First World War route from Vimy to the Somme.


Paul, if we have forgotten you, I regret deeply that senseless neglect. If we were not able to control events so that you became your full self and lived a complete existence, I am deeply sorry. I mourn your loss which ultimately of course is our own. I can only hope that you will now be a little less unknown and that those who lived and died as you did will not have done so for nothing.

Visiting the Front

Many travelers re-trace the history and events of both world wars by re-visiting the actual places that have become engraved in our collective memories.

(a) If you are planning such a trip, the website is a very useful and comprehensive first guide:

(b) A number of companies such as Somme Battlefield Tours Ltd offer organized tours of the battle fields and memorials of the First World War. Specialized battlefied tours are a niche market in themselves. Bartletts Battlefield Journeys Ltd. is one example.

(c) For more information on Canada’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier click on the preceding link.

(d) The last Canadian soldier of the First World War

(e) See also Rain in Hiroshima.

Paul Evan Gillespie before he left for the First World War; he was only in Europe for three weeks before he was killed.

The following has been contributed by Bruce Leeming, a direct descendant of Paul.

“On the night of September 7, 1918, Paul Evan Gillespie left the Hôpital St. Jean to go to the YMCA to buy a coffee. His unit, the 9th Field Ambulance, had recently moved there from not too far away in order to take over other duties.

The Hôpital St Jean was built in the 12th century and in WW1 was taking in wounded from the front lines just a few miles away. By early September 1918, they were being swamped with men suffering terrible afflictions from gas attacks.

Today the Hôpital St. Jean is gone, torn down after the war.

What is left is only the statue and maybe some trees you see in this 1909 photo.This statue would have faced Paul Gillespie as he left that night in September. The statue is that of the Abbot Halluin who served the area with distinction, and lived here between 1820-1895.

To find the YMCA Paul Evan Gillespie had to walk through the Grande Place, which was not too far away. His overall distance would have been under two kilometres. The photo below is of the Grande Place February 1919.

Paul was walking through this town square when a German long range shell came in. It killed several people and wounded others. Paul was one of the people killed (or perhaps just wounded); but there is no doubt that he died of his wounds late that night. His family was told he was killed by a single bullet. His mother died believing this was what had happened. Many families were told the same thing, in hopes that they would believe that their loved ones suffered as little as possible.

Paul is buried In Arras at Faubourg D’ Amiens Cemetery. A cemetery which also has 35,000 names of men lost in the battles around Arras; and who have no known grave.There are many Canadian Field Artillery in this cemetery too.”

Jim Wilkinson and his son Paul at Paul’s grave. Paul Harold Wilkinson is named after his two great uncles, both of whom were lost in WW1.

Victory at Vimy

The War to End All Wars

In 2008, the world remembered the 90th anniversary of “the war to end all wars.”

Today, a great deal of the travel market, in one way or another, emphasizes historical travel — especially travel related to war.

At first, this may seem strange or incongruous, but only if “travel” means a vacation or some other form of escapism.

Battlefield tours are not new; travellers have been revisiting famous battle sites and other remnants of war for a long time. In many cases, former “war zones” have become major “tourist” destinations; this of course includes the famous sites of both world wars as well. Even tours by former Vietnam veterans to that country have become a way in which these men and women (and others) gain some kind of perspective, perhaps even some kind of reconciliation with the past.

John Babcock was the last surviving veteran of the First World War; he died at the age of 109. Many families around the world, like Babcock’s have connections to many wars, especially through a member of the family, either living or dead. Much oral history has been preserved about the realities and first-hand experiences of war, but eventually those prime sources of historical recall are silenced.

As Holocaust memorials and museums teach us, the very worst of history must be preserved and not forgotten.

Posted by: Bob Fisher | July 1, 2014

Among the Whales in Québec Maritime

A tacit agreement

Floating in sea kayaks on the choppy surface of the mighty St. Lawrence River, we sense the whales before we actually see them. It is as if these great marine mammals — wary and reticent in their resource-rich domain — have reluctantly agreed to share their world with us.

To encounter a whale close up in this magnificent yet daunting marine environment is to glimpse the profundity of all of nature, and to appreciate once again the regenerative powers of the oceans which cover the majority of the Blue Planet. It is, for the most part, a silent and serene experience.

However, the privilege of being among the whales of Québec Maritime is not a commercial “Marineworld” experience; it is instead an endless moment of truth, and a time and place for becoming once again sensitized to the prodigious life forces on the planet.

This is also — dare I say it? — a spiritual moment.

Above all it is a time for patience, vigilance, and hope.

The peaceful pleasures of Québec Maritime

This sensory-rich region of Québec is a poetic destination, replete with meaning and meaningfulness — a land and waterscape that embodies metaphor, allegory, rhythm, cadence, living symbols, and feeling.

As Wordworth said,

“The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:  Little we see in Nature that is ours;  We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

For this and other reasons, travellers are more and more in search of reconnecting; and of resolving the metaphysical “disconnect” that life since the Industrial Revolution has engendered. Increasingly nature travel, green tourism, ecotourism, soft adventure (however you wish to express it) has become a priority for travellers.

And in Québec Maritime, you can reintegrate, sit back, and watch the whales go by.

The “water road” to the interior of a continent

Born in a distant time, enduring, and abundant, the St. Lawrence was known by the First Nations people as Magtogoek; and the spirit of the mighty river still continues to nourish and replenish the life of an entire continent.

This part of the lower reaches of the river is also a land of magnificent and ancient boreal forests; and the amaranthine granite is that of the Canadian Shield, ancient mountains that also have stood the test of time — and the relentless elements. Here you will find a natural world that is still pristine and accessible, both physically and conceptually.

This is a travel destination where geological time and human time are blended.

In the fullness of time

Whether you are on the water, or driving, hiking, or simply pausing to reflect along the shores of the St. Lawrence in the Québec Maritime region, your vision will be constantly drawn to the river, to the ebb and the flow of the prodigious tides,  to its bountiful environment, to a sense of timelessness.

And every now and then, a dorsal fin or a fluke will interrupt your reverie and you will remember the often uncertain benevolence of the natural world.

And the whales will come: 12 species of cetaceans among which the Great Blue (the largest mammal on the planet), the Fin Whale, the Beluga, the Minke, the Humpback, the Northern Right, the Long-Finned Pilot, the Atlantic Killer Whale,  the Sperm Whale — all accompanied by a multitude of other species such as the Northern Bottlenose Dolphin, the Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin, the White-Beaked Dolpin, Harp Seals, Harbour Porpoises, and many species of birds (the Peregrine Falcon … the migrating Snow Goose) and other animals that also hear the call of the mighty St. Lawrence.

The estuary

Where the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay rivers meet, the world’s largest estuary is also to be found;over 230,000 square kilometres and a flow of more than 35,000 cubic kilometres of water. As you pass this critical juncture on your way downstream, the river bottom suddenly plunges over an underwater cliff that was carved out eons ago by glaciation which relentlessly also ate away the continental shelf to form the Laurentian Channel.

And these great geological forces combined with the powerful currents of the Saguenay, the St. Lawrence itself, and the Arctic currents that enter the Gulf of St. Lawrence, have created one of the most fertile and dynamic marine environments on the planet.

The constant recirculation of water from top to bottom in this deep underwater canyon, the astounding tides, and the constant mixing of fresh and salt water, have created a marine environment in which multitude of plant forms thrive in great abundance — the ideal feeding ground for the marine mammals that come here every summer.

The estuary is a key biological engine of this great river. It is also the embodiment of life itself.

Imagining La Nouvelle France

Great rivers also nourish human habitats. And the St. Lawrence has been a two-way water road to North American history since the arrival of the First Nations people who came across the frozen Bering Strait and migrated throughout a new world that was propitious, daunting, but also abundant in its resources.

And that is also why the Europeans followed the water road to the interior of the continent and beyond.

Sitting at a campsite looking out toward the distant south shore of the St. Lawrence, and slowly scanning the surface of the water for the next sighting, I imagine what those First Nations people must have thought and felt when they saw sailing ships proceeding inexorably upriver.

For these indigenous people who were quite accustomed to seeing the other visitors to the estuary of the St. Lawrence, I would like to believe that they greeted the new arrivals with the same generosity of spirit with which Magtogoek greeted them.

Images and imagery of Québec Maritime

In many ways, the diversity of natural and cultural resources of this part of Canada and Québec, represent a world apart.

To see this slideshow, click here.

The whales of Québec Maritime

For wildlife photographers, it is always about capturing le bon moment, that moment that defines and celebrates the essence of the animal. This is no easy task. It requires skill, a keen eye, and above all patience.

To see this slideshow, click here.

A podcast with Patrice Corbeil, Director of GREMM (Groupe de recherches et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins)

Québec Maritime resources and other adventures

(a)  The official website of Québec Maritime

(b) The Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park

(c) SEPAQ (The National Parks of Québec)

(d) The above website will also take you to The Parc national du Saguenay.

(e) Marine Environment Discovery Centre (Parks Canada)

(f) Cap-de-Bon-Désir Interpretation and Observation Centre (Parks Canada)

(g) Croisières AML (whale watching in Zodiac boats)

(h)  (sea kayaking, camping, restaurant, bakery, outdoor educational courses, corporate adventure/getaway programs)

(i)  Hôtel Le Manoir, Baie-Comeau

(j) Hôtel Tadoussac, Tadoussac

(l) To see a map of the region, click here and zoom in or out.

“Seeing Whales”

by Michael Dickman

You can go blind, waiting

Unbelievable quiet

except for their


Moving the sea around

Unbelievable quiet inside you, as they change

the face of water

The only other time I felt this still was watching Leif shoot up when we were twelve

Sunlight all over his face


the surface of something

I couldn’t see

You can wait your

whole life

Other stories from The Philosophical Traveller about the mighty St. Lawrence

The St. Lawrence: A River Through Time

Grosse Île: The Human Drama of 19th-Century Canadian Immigration

Posted by: Bob Fisher | June 20, 2014

Karlovy Vary: Through A Lens Obliquely

“Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, Stains the white radiance of eternity.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

Experiencing the spa town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic is like looking through a prism.

This elegant and historic town — sheltered and serene among the low forested mountains of the western part of the nation — has substance as well as a transparent quality.

Perhaps it’s the pure air, or the water, or the comforting sense of being out of time, but in this ethereal town perception is quietly enhanced and diffused.

An imperial town

Like fine glass, this town came to prominence — fragile yet constant in its beauty — through the fusion of historical events and geographical circumstance.

Situated in the western part of the Czech Republic, Karlovy Vary is named after the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV who founded the town in 1370. As legend would have it, he personally discovered the mineral springs in this famous spa town while deer hunting in the region. (Throughout history, the town has also been known as Karlsbad or Carlsbad.)

In addition to being the Holy Roman emperor, Charles was also the German king and the king of Bohemia which is the region of the Czech Republic in which Karlovy Vary is located. Educated at the French court, he became Emperor thanks, in part, to the intercession of Pope Clement VI. (Charles had promised the latter major concessions; however, he would eventually gain the upper hand.)

This was a period of great political instability throughout Europe which was made even more critical by the scourge of The Black Death, the bubonic plague that decimated the population. The pandemic not only killed off about a third of the people but as historians and political observers now realize, it almost destroyed the social fabric and political-social institutions that made European society function. A strong leader was badly needed, and that turned out to be Charles who on Easter Sunday in 1355 was crowned Emperor in Rome; not by the Pope himself, who was living in Avignon, but by the papal legate.

Charles’s connection with Karlovy Vary is befitting as well as symbolic because his rule put an end to the years of conflict between popes and emperors that had continually threatened the well-being of Europe. Charles brought a cure to the problematic politics of the age, in particular by ending papal interference in the Holy Roman Empire — a victory of state over church and a healing of a different kind.

Charles subsequently expanded his territories and eventually assured, by bribing the electors, that the German crown would go to his son Wenceslaus. From his imperial capital of Prague, he directed the affairs of state in such a way that Bohemia flourished economically, culturally, and politically. In fact, Charles succeeded in assuring that Bohemia would gain internal autonomy, a rare power for any region in Europe at the time. He also granted special privileges to Karlovy Vary which for him represented an island of tranquillity in imperial storms.

The Spa town of Karlovy Vary also became a refuge from the rigours of the affairs of state for many crowned heads and other nobility during the 18th and 19th centuries. Foremost among these was the future English King Edward VII who visited the region on numerous occasions. And Karlovy Vary also hosted such eminent personages as Peter the Great, Mozart, Beethoven, and Goethe. In the 20th century “American cinematic royalty” such as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks could be found in Karlovy Vary escaping the pressures of another kind of public duty.

However, given its strategic location in the heart of Europe, Karlovy Vary would experience suffering of its own. By 1911, over 70,000 visitors were making the pilgrimage to Karlovy Vary; and then came the “war to end all wars.” Even Karlovy Vary could not heal the catastrophic wounds that the First World War visited upon Europe. The town’s “tourism” industry collapsed as did that of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in which the town was then a part. At the end of that enormous war of attrition, the Treaty of Saint Germain created a new nation called Czechoslovakia much to the dismay of the German-speaking majority of Karlovy Vary. Protests and more violence followed; during a demonstration on March 4, 1919, six demonstrators were killed by Czech troops.

But despite the world’s greatest hopes and best intentions, the Great War was not the last. Another was to come. In 1938, Hitler’s troops occupied what was known as the Sudetenland (in the centre of which was Karlovy Vary) and the Second World War was underway.

And as the misfortunes of historical circumstances would have it, at the end of that war Karlovy Vary and Czechoslovakia fell under the heavy controlling hand of the Soviet empire. It would take another 44 years and a “Velvet Revolution” for that particular burden to be lifted.

However, despite the suffering and discord, peace and prosperity would return to Karlovy Vary especially when the Soviet empire collapsed like a house of cards; and Czechs and Slovaks would shook hands and go their separate ways. But during the turbulent times the peaceable and rehabilitative natural thermal waters of Karlovy Vary had continued to flow.

Today for the many visitors who once again take advantage of the hot mineral waters of Karlovy Vary and its soothing cultural amenities, the restoration of a vital state of being continues.

The House of Moser

The year was 1967, and Canada’s centennial celebrations were underway at Expo ’67 in Montréal. The world had come to “Man and His World.” One of the most popular national pavilions at this World’s Fair was that of Czechoslovakia which had spent $10 million dollars in constructing what most of agreed was the most beautiful of them all. And inside the exhibits were astounding, including the famous wood sculpture nativity scene from Trebechovice. But it was the dazzling display of Bohemian crystal that everyone was talking about. For us in North American, this was a first real look at this wonderful Czech art form even though we were generally aware that Czechoslovakia (as it was at the time) was well-known for its glass works and its glass artists.

For decades under the Communist régime, Czechoslovakia had been off limits to the West but (although we did not know it at the time) the glass artists of this nation had been resisting the socialist realism art that the régime had been imposing elsewhere throughout the country. In fact, the glass artists were continuing to create very avant-garde works that showed considerable artistic courage, abstract expressionism — and, of course, vision. They had embraced glass as a fine art. Czech glass work ironically was a major export that resulted in a strong Czech national identity. One especially beautiful glass sculpture displayed in the Czech pavilion was “The Glass Forest.” Although Czech glass and Czech artistic brilliance was there in Montréal for the world to see, it would not be until the Velvet Revolution in 1989 before these same artists appeared again to the same extent on the world stage. It was a magical moment in time.

And another magical moment in time was our visit to the Moser company in Karlovy Vary 17 years after the Velvet Revolution.

Spa culture, history, and the Spa Triangle

In North America, the spa “phenomenon” is a relatively recent travel experience; and yet it is now one of the fastest growing in the travel and tourism industry. Although the spa experience is becoming more mainstream, on this continent it has usually been seen as a “luxury” travel experience that emphasized beauty treatments and general pampering. This is not the concept of the European spa which was to a great extent the practice of alternative and holistic health treatments. The spa experience also is not new to Europe.

It was Greek poet Homer who was one of the first to write about the Classical Age of the spa when Greeks were enjoying extravagant and extensive thermae. The Romans of course had various types of baths often used by battle-weary soldiers to recuperate; but soon became popular with the general public. One can also see similarities and parallels to the famous European spas — of which Karlovy Vary was perhaps the most important — in the onsen and ryokens of Japan where bathing in hot mineral springs was considered a health practice. And of course the Turkish hamman has many of the same principles of health and healing.

In “The New World,” there have been similar sites such as New York state’s Saratoga Springs to which spa clients such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Edgar Allan Poe retreated. And in Canada Banff Springs in the glorious Rockies has been a mineral springs refuge for a long time.

However, the Golden Age of spas in Europe was the 18th and 19th centuries. Despite political events that interrupted attendance at spas, it has always been very much part of the culture. And now spa-going in the Czech Republic is becoming even more popular as this nation evolves into the new centre of Europe. This is especially evident in what is know as The Spa Triangle which includes Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázne (Marienbad), and Františkovy Lázne (Franzensbad).

Traditionally, spas have always been located in regions of impressive natural beauty where good clean air and a terrain that encourages physical exercise are part of the health experience. It doesn’t require much analysis to recognize the health benefits of getting away from urban stress to an environment in which excess is simply not part of the local culture, and where rest, relaxation, exercise, and sensible nutrition are all part of the “spa package.” As a hub and point of departure for visiting the spa towns of the Czech Republic’s Spa Triangle, Karlovy Vary is well-situated. And if you are not necessarily looking for a spa treatment, you will find a lot to see and do in the area. The spa town architecture in itself is worth the visit.

As central Europe (some would emphasize eastern Europe) emerges from the post-Communist era, the overall geographical and economic focus is shifting as well. I discovered this when I met a very interesting Englishman in the spa town of Mariánské Lázne. You can listen to what he had to tell me by clicking on the audio icon below.

Beguiling Becherovka

Is it a apéritif, a digestif, a tonic, a cognac-like liqueur, liquid herbs, a “Czech Bitter,” or something else?

Well, above all it is the national drink of the Czech Republic and I have a bottle chilling in my refrigerator right now.

I find it very interesting that in the promotional material for this very popular drink, the company refers to Becherovkanerovka as she.

“She is typical and unmistakable … she is bright and sweet leaving a hint of bitterness on the tongue … she has experienced a lot … she has encountered many things and many a man have encountered her… the mystery of her birth was witnessed by only two men … her past is rich, her presence colourful, her future promising.”

Becherovka is the invention of two men, one of whom was a pharmacist. It was invented as a health drink concocted of a very secret recipe of herbs and spices (even to this day). The company that makes it even suggests that Becherovka “possesses a drop of immortality.” This is strong stuff — the legend, praise, the romance. It is also one of the most entertaining promotional campaigns for a product that I have ever seen, using all the elements of a good narrative including drama, intrigue, mystery, and colourful characters.

It is, like all travel experiences, an acquired taste. And when you visit Karlovy Vary, do not miss the Jan Becher Museum and taste some. Try it; you may like it. You may even bring it home with you as I did. And you may try some of the innovative cocktails you can make with Becherovka, like the Fresh Smashin’ or the Red Moon. Or you may prefer to just drink it neat — for health purposes of course. Or you may, like me, enjoy Becherovka as an alternative G&T. But don’t forget to serve it very cold so that this amber liquid flows in a languid manner. And don’t forget to add a slice of lime. Bartender, make mine a B&T.

It’s a warm sunny day and lunch draws nigh. I think I shall make myself a Becherovka B&T and from afar offer a toast to Karlovy Vary.

Here’s to you Karlovy Vary!

Recommended websites

Karlovy Vary

The Spa Triangle

Czech Tourism

Association of the Spa Places of the Czech Republic

The Moser Factory and Museum in Karlovy Vary

A virtual visit to Karlovy Vary

The slideshow

To view a slide show of Karlovy Vary, click here.

Another slideshow

The prism of Karlovy Vary, click here.

The artistry of Karlovy Vari

To watch a brief video of the Moser glass artists at work, click here click here.

Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 2, 2014

Ryker Lomas: A Globetrotting Travel Photojournalist

headphonesymbol50Chatting with Ryker Lomas

Sailing up The Nile: the quintessential non-stop photo op

The last time I saw Ryker, we were on a boat heading up the Nile into eternal Egypt’s “New Kingdom.”

If you enjoy looking at incomparable landscapes, or watching timeless Egypt — and one of the oldest civilizations in the world — slowly flow by; or stopping every now and then to explore some of the greatest sites on the planet, a cruise up the Nile is a “must do” and once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And if you happen to be travelling with a photojournalist who has an equally incomparable eye for all that the art of photography encompasses, then consider yourself lucky. I certainly did.

Although Ryker is the kind of guy who willingly shares his photographic tips and skills with you, all you really need to do is watch him work; as I did. I wonder if he knew.

To see an skilled photographer like Ryker “at work” is a travel experience in itself. And I must admit that, if I was looking for “the next great shot,” all I really had to do was keep my eye on Ryker.

The art of photojournalism

With all the “new” technologies, we are all fortunate to be able to try our hand at this art. However I must admit, from my own experience, that having all the latest digital paraphenalia will certainly give you the ways and means to get some great pictures; but creating art through photographic images is quite another thing.

The photojournalist is in the business of collecting, editing, and preserving images that are not only “suspended in time” but also images that tell a story in all its dimensions. Remember the old adage “a picture says a thousand words”? The photo arts, especially in the almost infinite world of travel, can communicate and evoke thoughts, feelings, concepts, and sensations on so many levels. This is an art form (and a business) that deals in imagery as well as images. It is an art form that operates in both the conscious and subconscious mind.

As you will see and hear in my discussion with Ryker, great photographs have a number of principal ingredients, amongst which are the following:

(a) Timeliness and timelessness

It is through a clear understanding of context that such images convey universal meaning; the essence of any art. And that context is also a glimpse of a moment in time that is enduring.

(b) Objectivity and neutrality

Photography becomes art when it transcends socially constructed or contrived perceptions. The art of the photojournalist involves depicting a deeper reality in terms of content, but also in terms of “tone” and all the “hues and shades” of heightened awareness that his or her perceptiveness provides. Although it may seem incongruous, the photographer is both engaged inside the subject matter, as well as on the outside looking in. Having said that, it is also important to remember that we all bring our own experience to a subject and therefore interpret the subject for our viewers based on our own a priori experiences, our own sensibilities, as well as the universal dictates of art.

(c) Narrative

Human beings have always been storytellers, in many media. It is through their images (whether they are communicated in a visual medium or through the mind’s eye, as literature does) that the viewer/reader is able to relate to or identify with the inherent culture of the story.

(d) Spontaneity

When a photo is especially engaging, the viewer is has a sense of truly “being there” when the photographer captured the moment. Such skill on the part of the photographer requires the ability to make decisions instantly or perhaps intuitively.

(e) Conceptualization

A great photo has a special kind of symmetry and balance; not only in its composition but in its conceptual “depth of field”; to borrow a term from the photo arts. Great photographs, like great poetry, novels, music, or dance have in them a multidimensional quality that reveals larger human truths. The great Pyramids of Giza are as much a testament to the pharaohs’ vision of immortality as they are a reminder of the transient nature of human existence. The Pyramid is there; but Cheops is long gone.

Sic transit gloria mundi….

“In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv.” — Henri Cartier Bresson


Ryker is a contributor to and member of Loco Photo, Western News Service, TravelJourno, FIJET and Touristica.

He can be reached by email at:

Posted by: Bob Fisher | April 19, 2014

Wanderlust: A Social History of Travel


headphonesymbol50… Chatting with Laura Byrne Paquet PART ONE

Laura Byrne Paquet PART TWO

The nature of social history

As Laura aptly demonstrates in her book, we are all in one way or another social historians when we travel — unless we are travelling in a bubble. And whether we do it consciously or not, travel makes us behave like social scientists; observing and interpreting, thus gaining a broader frame of reference on human society. Depending on our personal travel styles, when we travel we interact to greater or lesser degree with the “destination” and its history, physical environment, social norms, customs, traditions, linguistic realities, arts, media, and a multitude of behaviourisms. We are surrounded by images, imagery, and cultural signals of all kinds that subtly or overtly alter our perceptions.

Social history has been described as “history from below” and “grassroots history” and there are professional organizations such as The Social History Society in the UK which devote a lot of time and study to understanding all the themes and variations of social history.

But whether you are a professional social historian or just a travel aficionado, you will enjoy this book; it will entertain and inform you. For example, you will learn how and why the travel and tourism industry (often called the largest industry on the planet) evolved as it did. You will get a greater understanding of such issues as developing social trends, economic history, political history, even military history.

You will also gain a greater awareness of the hospitality industry, the pilgrimage phenomenon, the Grand Tour, trade routes, the effect of the Industrial Revolution on travel, and the eventual democratization of the travel industry. Along the way Laura tells us lots of intriguing stories and recounts anecdotes that also explain our species’ tendency to wanderlust.

Above all, you will learn how travel has benefited human society and played a vital economic role in it.

Other resources

Her personal website

Posted by: Bob Fisher | April 8, 2014

Rain in Hiroshima

When I arrive early in the morning at the Peace Park in Hiroshima, there are few visitors. A fine drizzle drifts like a veil over the city, and a feeling of absence hangs over the park. Blurring the scene, the moisture-laden morning air also mutes the sounds of the city. Although I have been awaiting this moment with some concern for several days, I feel strangely detached and separate. Crossing the street, however, I begin to feel propelled by a subtle pressure.

Under a large spreading tree of indeterminate species, a small group of green-uniformed city workers are methodically sweeping the night’s minor debris into compact containers. Refocusing my sight lines, I look past these silent workers and see the skeleton of a medium-sized domed building. Known simply as the A-Bomb Dome, this charred and denuded structure — now a world heritage site — was once the city’s Industrial Promotion Hall, a three-storeyed brick structure. Today it is perhaps the simplest and most evocative monument to a moment in time that changed the course of human history and our awareness of our species’ potential to destroy and obliterate.

At 8:15 in the morning on August 6, 1945 the first atomic bomb ever used against humans — military and civilian alike — unleashed its force several hundred metres from this spot. The entire city, with the exception of this solitary structure, was levelled. The fission of uranium and plutonium generated an explosive power unlike anything experienced in wartime before. Three metres long and weighing almost 3629 kilograms, “Little Boy” was the equivalent of 13,610 tonnes of high-performance explosive. The initial shock wave of the blast provided 50 per cent of its deadly force. Detonated approximately 580 metres above the city, it crushed nearly all buildings within two kilometres of the hypocentre and generated a diabolical wind that — when it reached the surrounding mountains — was reflected, turning its fury on the city a second time. Flames whipped up by the wind rushed through the city. Later, a black rain would fall on those running about searching for an escape route from the destruction. The intense heat rays that seared Hiroshima made up another 35 per cent of the explosion; the temperature at the centre exceeded a million degrees Celsius. In addition an initial release of lethal radiation made up five per cent of the event while residual radiation of 10 per cent would cause widespread cancers, deformities, and death for years to come. On that day 78,150 people died in Hiroshima. By the following December 140 000 people were dead as a direct result of the bomb. The cumulative deaths accounted for by the bomb is estimated to be 200,000. For all intents and purposes, in a few seconds Hiroshima ceased to exist. And the nuclear age had begun.

The Dome is perhaps the essence of incongruity in this extensive, formal park that today embodies a terrible beauty and haunting images. Crossing the river on the Aioibashi bridge, I turn to look at it one more time. Despite its gutting by the blast there is a solidity to it that suggests endurance and, at the same time, an ephemeral quality. With modern Hiroshima rising behind it and the calm Motoyasugawa river flowing by, the Dome appears timeless. This will be the first time I will experience a sense of timelessness and of being out of time as I walk through the park.

I pause on the bridge to get my bearings before proceeding. From my guidebook I am surprised and disconcerted to learn that the bridge on which I am standing once had a distinctive T-shape, a perfect target for a bomber. And the original bridge was indeed what the pilots of the U.S. plane carrying the A-Bomb used to direct their payload. When the bomb exploded, the bridge, built in 1932, was subjected to a blast pressure of over six tonnes per square metre. It thrashed about like a leaf in a violent wind and its slab floor rose and fell violently. But it did not collapse and lasted for another 35 years when it was replaced by a new one.

From this bridge one enters the northern tip of the Peace Park, a triangular piece of land created by the junction of two rivers leading to the port of Hiroshima. Although the park has been meticulously planned and arranged and one can proceed through it in a systematic fashion, I find myself walking aimlessly, unable to decide which monument, which site, which viewpoint should take precedence. Later I will realize that this is the principal challenge in visiting Hiroshima; the event that occurred here makes a rational, cognitive appraisal almost impossible, even pointless. Although the historical facts are carefully documented throughout the park, it is feeling that is evoked primarily. And it occurs to me that this is why historical sites, such as holocaust museums or battlefields, must convey extremes of human emotion.

I pass the Peace Clock Tower, an oddly-shaped structure. At 8:15 every morning — at the “mortal moment” — it chimes “its prayer for perpetual peace,” a ritual that appeals daily to the people of the world to grant its wish. Nearby is an enormous bronze bell. This Bell of Peace also is an instrument for sounding a wish that “all nuclear arms and wars be gone.” Like so many before me, I am invited to “step forward and toll this bell for peace.” Somewhat hesitant, I mount the steps. With both hands I pull the log-like clapper back and release it. Its considerable weight propels it against the solid bell from which a low-pitched resonance emerges in waves that continue for almost a minute. The sound seems to come from all around me. I feel as if I am at the centre of all sound. The waves are almost tactile; I feel them spreading outward like ripples on a still pond into which a heavy stone has been dropped. At the base of the bell is a small water garden in which float lily pads with pink blossoms. The drizzle has turned to rain and the blossoms seem to extend their petals to catch the droplets.

As I approach the Children’s Peace Monument, I see the first group of the morning. An elementary school class has gathered in front of the memorial to Sasaki Sadako-san. Their brightly-coloured umbrellas, white shoes and socks, and navy-blue uniforms are visual relief in the increasing grayness of the day. Their teacher is telling them once again a story that millions of children in Japan and around the world know. Sadako-san was only two years old when she was exposed to radiation from the bomb. By age 12, she had developed acute leukemia. Following the Japanese custom of folding paper cranes — senbazuru, symbols of good fortune and longevity — Sadako-san persisted daily in folding cranes, hoping to reach 1000 when a person’s dream is believed to come true. But she died after nine months of struggle. Her friends, however, established the Hiroshima Children’s Association For Peace which has raised funds world-wide and made the paper crane a symbol of the anti-nuclear campaign. Paper cranes in the thousands are sent to Hiroshima every year, especially on May 5th, Children’s Day. Standing quietly on the glistening paving stones before the monument, these children embody the wish fulfilment of a young victim of the bomb.

At the centre of the park, the Cenotaph for the Atomic Bomb Victims is a visual and symbolic focal point. The memorial, designed by architect Kenzo Tange, is built in the style of the A-frame thatch-roofed Japanese house that protected Japan’s earliest inhabitants from the elements. In the stone coffin beneath are books in which are inscribed the names of all those who perished as a result of the bomb. They are now sheltered from the rain in perpetuity. Looking through the arch-like cenotaph, I see the Flame of Peace that burns above a reflecting pond. The flame will be extinguished only when all atomic weapons are banished from the planet. The view is also like looking back in time. In the distance, perfectly aligned with the Cenotaph, is the Dome. As I contemplate this poetic alignment, a young man approaches the coffin, bows, claps his hands twice in Shinto fashion to summon the spirits, and then bows again. I turn and make my way to the last — and in many ways the most disturbing — stop on my visit to the park.

The Peace Memorial Building is a modern, two-storeyed concrete building with solid, clean lines. Sturdy columns raise it above ground level. Its north side is made of glass and looks out over the park, giving the visitor a slightly elevated and wider perspective of the memorials. It is a simple, elegant structure that is somewhat at odds with its contents. Inside the museum, I feel a stillness that is unlike the respectful silence usually encountered in other such archival storehouses The exhibits, the artifacts, the scale models, the film clips, the scientific information, and the historical timelines do indeed explain what occurred in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, but it is the remnants of individual human lives that are entombed in glass cases, embodying the dreadful truth.

It is difficult to say which tangible detail is the most compelling: actual paper cranes folded by Sadako-san; Shin-ichi’s tricycle that was buried together with him and his friend Kimiko in the family garden after the explosion and only rediscovered 40 years later when the families moved them to a more formal grave; a simple, slightly battered watch stopped forever at 8:15; stone steps on which someone had been sitting less than a kilometre from the centre of the explosion and on which his or her shadow can still be seen because the intense heat changed the surface of the stones around them while the body absorbed the heat; a female student’s torn and burned summer school uniform.

I proceed from exhibit to exhibit. I don’t think about what I see; I experience it on some level that I still don’t quite understand. Around me elementary students on a school field trip move quickly among the exhibits, staring, whispering. The exhibits engage them. Looking through one glass case in which some artifact is preserved — perhaps it was the charred lunch box — I see the small round face of one of the students watching me.

As I exit the main exhibition hall, the floor-to-ceiling windows are on my left. On my right is a display of artwork by survivors of the bomb. Each of these simple drawings and watercolours tells the same story in muted tones of horror. I am drawn to one in particular. It is a drawing in which naked bodies have fallen in grotesque attitudes of death. In the background the orange-red conflagration continues. In confusion, blackened figures rush about in panic. Half-hidden in the flames is the Dome. In the lower right-hand corner one naked figure attempts to rise. On the left a standing figure attempts to cover his nakedness.

I turn and look out the window. It is raining heavily now; the water is streaming down the windows. A group of school children is approaching the museum. Looking down from above, I cannot see their faces; they are sheltered by their bright yellow or blue umbrellas, and are proceeding in an orderly fashion. Despite the overcast sky, their bodies cast shadows on the rain-soaked pavement.

Posted by: Bob Fisher | March 21, 2014

The Hands of Juan Quezada

An encounter with Mexico’s living national treasure

In many ways, the road to Mata Ortiz is a metaphoric journey to a place in which are inherent artistic integrity and the kind of altruism that is essential to integrated communities.

For the outsider, this tiny, dusty pueblo in the northwestern corner of Mexico’s largest state seems the least likely place to encounter a world-class artist. Appearances are deceiving however because it is the area’s isolation and desert environs that in fact led to the renaissance of a distinct centuries-old art form.

About 300 kilometres south of El Paso, Texas, the village lies close by the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range and under the tutelage of El Indio, a craggy peak that resembles a Mexican “Indian” lying on his back gazing at the intense blue of the desert sky. In profile, his sharp facial features are those of the indigenous people of Mexico.

As we discover later, they are also those of Juan Quezada himself.

As we bump along the secondary road from Nuevo Casas Grandes — and at times through dried-up river beds and over simple bridges that are just a suggestion of human intervention in the terrain — we enter a simple and relatively unadorned environment.

The expansive Chihuahuan desert surrounding us has the deceptively vacant appearance that travellers from more verdant environments have difficulty processing visually and aesthetically.

Slowly, however, we begin to appreciate the unique luminosity of the primary desert colours and its vast spatial proportions and perspectives.

Like all such milieus, the Chihuahuan desert conceals its treasures from the casual onlooker.

One of these treasures is the ruins of Paquimé, the imposing pre-Columbian trading centre that flourished in the fourteenth century between A.D. 1060 and 1340. Its mercantile empire extended throughout an area of over 130,000 square kilometres and linked the indigenous peoples of this pre-hispanic world from the Pacific Ocean to what today is the American southwest.

Although, like so many of its kind, this civilization disappeared leaving only traces of its preeminence, it does represent today a trading network that prospered despite the lack of the kinds of infrastructure available to us today. But its ancient trade patterns, community-based networking, and exponential “marketing” were reinvented by Juan Quezada — almost by chance.

Three decades ago, 12-year-old Juan Quezada left school in order to help sustain his family. He worked in the fields and also gathered firewood, a task that led him haphazardly across the countryside. From time to time he would come across ceramic shards, tiny remnants of the ancient civilization from which he and his community were direct descendants.

An intuitive and sensitive child, Juan understood the value of the pieces of the past that he found, and also had a precocious aesthetic appreciation for them. A solitary and reserved child, Juan kept his treasures and studied them closely, fascinated by the traces of intricate geometric designs and nature motifs. He also had a holistic vision of the ancient objects as they were in their entirety; of the whole entity of which the shards were small but significant pieces.

In each fragment he found and prized, he saw the art and the artist, and identified with both. And so, as if impelled by predestination, he began to gather various types of clay and other materials from his immediate environment — a desert landscape that had not changed over the centuries — in order to replicate the artistic process of a civilization long gone. He was in fact, transcending time.

When we arrive at Juan Quezada’s unpretentious home in this very secluded region, he is surrounded by family, friends, other artists, dogs, chickens, villagers — and the landscape that mirrors his art.

Through our interpreter-driver Martín, Juan greets us in a quiet, respectful manner. His gentle welcome suggests that we are as much of interest to him as he certainly is to us. In appearance he is not — initially — an imposing man, although the more we are in his presence, the more we begin to see the rugged, sculpted beauty of his features and calm dignity in his bearing.

Juan does not scrutinize us but neither does he look past us. His eyes suggest that he sees far more than we may be aware of. It is as if we are the object of his attention while at the same time part of a larger context that he understands in a particular way.

He invites us to look around the small gallery in a room to one side of the house. In it are some of his own work as well as that of some of the other 400 artists in Mata Ortiz who are unique in their own right but also part of an artistic community that was created by a curious and visionary 12-year-old boy. After Juan taught himself to create the intricately painted clay containers in the style of the ancient people of Paquimé, he then taught the skills to his two brothers and three sisters.

His siblings formed the core group of what today is a prodigious school of artists working in the Quezada style. And then through another fortuitous set of circumstances, he was “discovered” by the American anthropologist and archeologist Spencer MacCallum.

For seven years, MacCallum studied and documented the revival of the pottery of Mata Ortiz and eventually was instrumental in Juan Quezada and Mata Ortiz becoming international phenomena.

And Juan’s youngest sister Lydia is credited with some of the most original and innovative work of the black-on-black style of pots so typical of Mata Ortiz. Her polychrome patterns with their continuous line designs requiring intense concentration, also are a manifest expression of the Mata Ortiz school. In the hour and half during which we stand and chat with Juan in his courtyard-cum-outdoor studio, we learn how the young man with vision and an intuitive understanding of his cultural heritage, used earth, fire, and water and the fundamentals at hand to create an art form of his own.

From the moment he begins to tell his story — as if recounting a simple sequence of events that are only marginally related to his status as a world-class ceramist — it is clear that the man, his art and his Mexican heritage are one. His self-effacing manner and simple lifestyle are a perfect blend with the desert and mountains of Chihuahua — but deceptively so. The layers of meaning in his work and his earth-based life experience communicate an integration of the self with nature and the formulation of a world view that eclipses the limitations of time, distance, and culture.

Concluding his story, Juan begins to make a pot. He is surrounded by the essential ingredients of his art. There are red, grey, orange and the treasured pure-white clays of his desert home as well as the various minerals from which he learned as a boy to create pigments for painting his pots: iron oxides for the reds, manganese for the blacks, mica, and turquoise-coloured rocks from which he creates various shades of green and blue.

He takes a small quantity of clay, places it on an old wooden table on which he works, creates a tortilla-like base in a bowl-shaped mould, and begins the pinching process. His fingers work the clay with a tenderness and delicacy that mirror his relationship to his work. Slowly he smooths the clay outward and pinches it gently up the sides of the mould. Placing ropes of clay along the edge of this base, he blends the two quantities of clay into a single entity. It is perhaps at this moment that we become aware of the transformation that is occurring. As he continues working the silt-like clay, the deft and rhythmic movement of his fingers give a thin, uniform thickness to the emerging pot. His hands caress the clay as if inviting it to materialize on its own. It is a privileged experience to be this close to an act of creation by such an artist.

We spend time examining the materials lying about in the courtyard and learning about the primitive firing and painting methods used in creating the Mata Ortiz style.

And another special moment occurs when Juan’s grandson-in-law emerges from the house carrying before him a recently finished pot. He presents it to us like an offering; it is a tribute to Juan and to the silent ancestors whose souls are essential elements in the elegant pot.

On a personal level, fame and fortune seem immaterial to this internationally renowned Mexican artist. When we meet Juan Quezada in his home village of Mata Ortiz in the northern state of Chihuahua, we too become aware of how his artistry — imbued with historical awareness and poetry — transcends such fleeting concerns. Juan Quezada is indeed the embodiment of the unique and distinct Mata Ortiz school of pottery, a cooperative initiative that is certainly a role model for grassroots entrepreneurship.

But it is his personification of the potter as a communicator of universal cultural values that resonates with us.

While the others are studying the various materials lying about the courtyard I ask Juan if I may photograph his hands. He does not hesitate. He holds them palms down over the large rock on which he has spread the minerals. I reach forward and touch his hands, turning the right one palm up. Briefly I feel the softness of the skin and am aware of the warmth emanating from his hands. Photographing them seems the natural thing to do.

For more information on Juan Quezada and Mata Ortiz, for more images of their work, and for the history of this part of Chihuahua, the following websites are recommended:

Fine Mexican Ceramics Art Gallery

Ceramics of Mexico

For information on this region of Mexico, visit Tourism Mexico’s website and follow the links to Chihuahua.

See also from Frontline:

Posted by: Bob Fisher | February 9, 2014

John Harlin’s Eiger Obsession

To listen to this podcast with John Harlin, click on the play button below .

Travel and mountain climbing as a personal quest

The mountain is the magnificent but notorious Eiger in the Swiss Alps. The book is The Eiger Obsession by John Harlin III.

And John’s journey — in many ways the climb of his life — was an expedition that became for him a transformational experience. It was also a search for his father who was killed in a tragic accident on The Eiger when John was only nine years old.

I was very fortunate to meet with John Harlin III and to have the opportunity to engage with him in a dialogue that was — for both of us I believe — a poignant experience. John granted me the privilege of accompanying him in thoughts, feelings, and words as he retraced once again his steps on that mountain — in search of his father.

As we discussed in the interview, there were three principal characters in this drama: John, his Dad, and the Mountain. John’s book is very much about the relationships between those three characters, and about his personal quest on “Dad’s mountain,” following “Dad’s route.”

I have often been strangely attracted to the world of mountain climbing, have never really understood that world, and have had no interest in being part of it. However, the fascination with the men and women who participate in this human activity persists and mystifies me. But after reading The Eiger Obsession, seeing the IMAX film The Alps, and chatting with John, I must admit that I now have a deeper awareness of this world and a greater appreciation for the philosophical and spiritual aspects of mountain-climbing. Travel is all about broader vistas, new perspectives, and insight — and to that extent mountain climbing may well be the ultimate form of travel.

The Imax Film

The film is called, quite simply, The Alps; and it is probably the most appropriate title you could give to a film project such as this. The Swiss Alps are of course legendary and monumental. There is also a magnificence and brilliant simplicity inherent in them that any visitor who has been fortunate enough to engage with them knows well.


(a) The Eiger Obsession (John’s book)

(b) Straight Up: The Life and Death of John Harlin (a biography of his father)

(c) The Alps (the recent MacGillivray Freeman IMAX film in which John Harlin III is featured; and of course Switzerland itself and the grandeur of the vertical landscape of the Alps)

(d) For more photographs by John and his father, visit .

(e) For information on travel to Switzerland, visit

(f) You may also wish to visit The American Alpine Club, of which John is a member.

(g) To find where the IMAX film The Alps is or will be showing, click here.

(h) For more information on John’s recent activities, see “Border Stories”:

“In June 2010, American author and adventurer John Harlin set out on a three-month journey to follow the entire Swiss border under his own power, a 2,000km odyssey with more than 170,000m of climbing…. [However] barely a week in, he broke both of his feet in a mountaineering accident. The bones now healed, Harlin is resuming his adventures in two installments. First, in Rivers and Ridges, he will paddle the Rhine, walk around Schaffhausen, and hike and bike the crest of the Jura before the snow sets in. In early summer 2011, Harlin will return to the Alps, this time traveling clockwise from eastern Switzerland to end near the site of his accident, the Mont Dolent, where the borders of Italy, France and Switzerland all come together.”

(i) And in a subsequent “Border Stories,” John comments: “You might think that after 54 years of navigating life in and out of the mountains, I’d have a pretty good idea of what I’m getting myself into. But mountains, like life, often throw up surprises.”

Photographs courtesy of John Harlin III.

Further reading

The Third Man Factor: The Secret to Survival in Extreme Environments

Into Thin Air

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