Charlemagne’s Cathedral

I’ve previously mentioned how Aix la Chapelle, or Aachen, was the original capital of the holy Roman Empire founded by Charlemagne in 800. As befits an Emperor, the cathedral built for Charlemagne, completed around 805, is even today quite magnificent.

The interior is painted or marbled in magnificent fashion, which quite took my breath away on a recent visit. Of course, the original cathedrals were decorated both inside and outside. Here at least the interior decoration remains, giving a taste of just how impressive these buildings originally were. And just imagine the collective dedication and money that has gone into maintaining such an edifice over more than twelve centuries.

Here are just four photographs (as slideshow) to give a brief impression. You just have to go there for the experience.

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“Brexit is the will of the British people” is complete nonsense

Bruce Nixon’s post summarises succinctly why the ‘will of the people’ stuff is nonsense/propaganda.

Bruce Nixon

This mantra is clever propaganda but complete nonsense. We are duped.

Boris

Getty image.

It’s a lie that needs to be contradicted firmly in Parliament and the news media including television. The facts are that of those who voted, only slightly more than half voted for leave. 51.9% voted for Brexit and 48.1% voted for Remain. However only 37% of the 46 million registered electorate voted for Brexit. Almost 13 million people did not vote at all. The UK as a whole is deeply divided: Scotland, Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK being in favour of Remain. There is an age divide: the younger you are the more likely you are to want Remain; the older you are the more likely to want Leave. It is the young whose future is most at stake. Yet 16 to 17 year olds, large numbers of whom were in favour of Remain…

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Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle

This long (more than an inch) black beetle was all but invisible on the stony path I was walking on in Tatton Park. I had no great hopes for the photograph, but the image comes up reasonably well with a bit of brightening up.

devil's coachhorse

I think this is a Devil’s Coach Horse Beetle. Apparently, this is one of 46000 species of the rove beetle family, a fast and ferocious night time predator. And it has a nasty bite and can emit a foul smelling odour. I had sort of intuited that it was an unsavoury character!

The segmented abdomen allows it to curl the tail up, like a scorpion. Neither the Wildlife Trusts (above link) nor Wikipedia explains why – I’d guess it’s for balance.

Aix la Chapelle

To visit Europe is to travel through history, and in my case gradually build up a picture of Europe’s history that was neglected in my education. I first heard of Aix la Chapelle as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne, which reunited Western Europe, effectively recreating the original Roman Empire (European Union is not a modern idea!). Charlemagne was crowned Emperor there in the year 800.

Eventually I realised that the romantic-sounding Aix la Chapelle is actually known as the much more dour sounding Aachen in German. The roman languages are so much more poetic! Aachen is today in Germany, close to the Belgian border.

According to Wikipedia, Aach, means river or stream, corresponding to the Latin aqua and the French Aix. Remains show that Aachen was indeed a Roman ‘spa’ town. ‘La Chapelle’ of course refers to Charlemagne’s cathedral, one of Europe’s great and most historic buildings, originally completed around 805.

aachen cathedral
Chapelle of Aix/Aachen

I intend to say more about a recent visit to Aachen in a future post.

Featured image shows Aachen town hall and cathedral,
by Arne Hückelheim via Wikimedia Commons

MLK Jr. On Getting ‘Woke’ in 1965

I loved this post by Andrew Belonsky, reminding us just how significant were the words of Martin Luther King, with messages still very relevant today.

In Case You're Interested

On June 14, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr gave the commencement address at Oberlin College. It had been two years after his iconic 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington, and this oratory was meant to keep young Americans engaged and encouraged in a civil rights battle that was beginning to drag.

Entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” King’s speech lays out the three rules for winning the civil rights movement.  He says, in short, 1) the globalized world has become a neighborhood; we must make it a brotherhood; 2) we must eradicate racial discrimination, a note to which I added economic, gendered and sexual, all three of which I am sure King would support; and, 3), we must approach rivals with non-violence. Dr. King of course was far more elegant, eloquent and masterful, so, without further ado, a truncated text version of MLK Jr.’s…

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The Big Egos

What are we to make of the rise of elected leaders who appear to be unsuited to the task, being driven by personal ego aggrandisement and the desire for personal power and gain? They seem to be everywhere. They appear to be individuals without self-insight, with little psychological or spiritual development, hence no wisdom, but often with great cunning and charisma, the ability to appeal to large segments of the population.

Voting appears to become more like a popularity contest than one in which the electorate consider what would be best for their country. The popular media love to play this game, as divisive as possible, it makes for good copy.

Serious and complex issues get over-simplified and trivialised. Politicians align their speech with their party line, and people no longer believe or even hear what they say.

The real issues, like climate breakdown, like social care in the UK, are first denied and then deferred to a later date.

This is no way to run a human society, we need all the wisdom we can muster to address the drastic challenges facing our societies.

Within our human collective we know how to make wise individuals, we know how to make learning organisations, we have many exemplars of wise leaders. None of these involve big egos, but involve people engaged with personal insight, growth and transformation.

Perhaps these big egos are there to provide just the counter-example we need!

Pic by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48801991

 

 

 

 

Shooting Wildlife

We’re driving through the Limousin countryside on a Sunday morning. I become aware of strange goings-on.  A man is sat on a chair on his own on the edge of a field. A car is parked in a field entry. A man is striding along with a shotgun. Two men are in a raised wooden platform in the middle of a field. All men. All with guns.

Yes I’ve heard that shooting anything that moves is a French country pastime, this is the real thing.

Now, as far as I can see, there is no great preponderance of wildlife in this part of France. It’s much like the rest of Europe, over-cultivated and lacking in the huge biodiversity of some other parts of our planet. Even perceptibly over a lifetime, nature’s abundance has been reducing, notably with declining populations of insects and birds.

Yet still many thousands of country dwellers continue their ‘traditional’ pastime, once essential for feeding the family. Some of it is no doubt to keep down exploding populations of wild boar, due to lack of top predators. But I cannot see that this requires so many shooters, and suspect that they shoot anything that moves, rather than just what the authorities approve.

Other countries face similar problems from this apparent male bloodlust – migrating birds shot in Malta, hunting and nature conservation are almost synonymous in the US, imported birds systematically shot by ‘traditional’ grouse shooters in the UK, and on and on.

You could say it’s in our blood, the old hunter-gatherers – that is how we once survived. But now, it seems perverse to increase the stress on natural populations already struggling. There are surely now too many people on our planet for these old ways to be sustainable.

If only more people would abandon the gun for the camera. Similar skills can be deployed to ‘shoot’ the wildlife, while leaving natural populations relatively undisturbed.

Featured image of hunters by FOTO:FORTEPAN / Ebner, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51244418

Five or six spots?

This post shows the benefits of just leaving a bit of land fallow, to become a wildflower meadow. What a profusion of butterflies and moths take advantage, including this five spot burnet moth!

Eyes in the back of my Head

P1080129

I recently photographed this burnet moth in the Dordogne, at a place on a walk we enjoy in the hills near the river Vezere. We’ve dubbed this place Butterfly Corner. It’s where the path through the woods opens out and joins a road which leads down to the nearby village.

Why is it Butterfly Corner for us? It’s because the patch of land belonging to the house there has been allowed to go wild and be natural, and it attracts a large number of insects – we saw bees, a hornet, and plenty of butterflies. It’s no great hardship, after a walk uphill, to hang around for a while watching and photographing what we see there, busy in the wild flowers.

I was quite excited to see this burnet moth as I’ve not seen one in the UK for several years. I said, with the confidence of the incorrect…

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Seven Simple Actions for Birds

Most of you will be aware of much of the following from Cornell Lab of Ornithology: seven simple actions to help birds. But if you’re like me, you’ll realise that, although you are aware of them, you may not be doing enough. In the modern world, birds are absolutely dependent on the sum of the actions of all of us. With bird populations in decline, it’s vital that we each do all we can.

Here is a quick summary of the seven things – but do go read at the link above. Sorry it’s US-centric, but the principles apply everywhere.

1. Make windows safer – so many birds fly into them.

2. Keep cats indoors. They are frighteningly effective predators of small birds.

3. Reduce lawn, plant native species to provide food and habitat.

4. Avoid pesticides entirely. They kill natural things, all the way up the food chain.

5. Drink coffee that’s good for birds (shade grown).

6. Stop using throw-away plastics.

7. Watch birds and share what you see.

I’d add

8. feed local birds, and

9. provide nesting places and materials.

No doubt you can think of more… Go to it.

Featured image is from the Cornell article.

 

Ruddy Shelduck

No, I’m not swearing at the duck/goose known as the common shelduck. We saw this pair of a different variant, the ruddy shelduck, while in transit at a park in Chauvigny, near Poitiers.

ruddy shelduck 1ruddy shelduck 2

The pair kept well out of the way of the large number of more common birds on the lake, including mallards and coots.

Also known as the Brahminy Duck, these birds are common in Asia. This is not the case in France, and these are probably escapees.

 

 

The Shortest History of Germany

shortest history of germany.jpgI’ve been reading this little 227 page paperback by James Hawes. It does a great job of outlining the history of Germany for a popular audience. Having had a severely deficient education in the history department, I feel that this sort of knowledge should be the baseline of all Europeans, whether Brexited or not. This is after all the history of the centre of our continent.

Take some of the key points:

  • The Roman Empire  in its greater form was established by Julius Caesar. In 58BC he gave name to the peoples beyond the River Rhine that he could not easily conquer: the Germanii. He even used them as bodyguards.
  • Around 16AD Germanicus eventually claimed the territory between Rhine and Elbe for the Empire. This was not particularly secured and eventually a defensible ‘wall’ was built roughly along and to the west of the Rhine (The Limes).
  • When the Empire began to fall apart there was eventual ‘renewal’ by Constantine 306-337, changing the focus of the Empire to the east at Constantinople. But the Empire gradually fell apart with successive waves of invasion from the east – goths, franks, huns, vandals and so on.
  • After the fall of the Roman Empire the franks attempted renewal resulting in Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire around 800, extended beyond the Elbe to the Oder by Otto in 948, but this extension to the east was fragile and the place was run by independent lords who became known as known as Junkers. The HRA lasted for many hundreds of years of manoeuvering between Kings, Emperors and Popes.
  • The peak was around 1229 when Frederick II briefly liberated Jerusalem without a fight. The teutonic knights that had helped pilgrimage to the holy land were given the new task of subduing an area in what is now Poland/Russia – Prussia.
  • In 1356 the Kings freed themselves from the Pope and established control on future Emperors.
  • The Reformation was begun by Luther on the Elbe and took root to the east, the west remaining Catholic. Conflict began. There was a temporary truce in Charles V’s Peace of Augsburg (1555), but eventually 30 years of war (1618-48) that destroyed much of Germany, but the Prussian/Junker state survived and prospered through great power machinations.
  • Following the French Revolution of 1789, Napoleon effectively re-established the Holy Roman Empire – his hero was Charlemagne. He established the Confederation of the Rhine that got the west Germans organised again.
  • After the first defeat of Napoleon, Prussia was ‘given’ some of these west German states, instigated by Britain – to provide a counterweight to a possible French resurgence.
  • This was eventually crystallized by Bismarck into the dominance of an aggressive Prussian Germany. In 1870 Napoleon III fell into a trap set by Bismarck, and France was overrun in the subsequent war. A new German Empire was declared, and France lost territories. By 1887 the seeds were set for the coming 1914 world war, as France/Russia faced off against Germany/Austria.
  • Following the end of WW1 the liberal Weimar Republic desperately tried to re-establish a functioning country despite the over-burdensome terms of Versailles. They were undone by the 1929 Crash, with resulting reduction in American support and rising unemployment. The Nazi party gradually arose from the East, where their main support lay, and eventually got into power due to misjudgements that they could be ‘controlled’. They could not, and WW2 came to complete the battle against Prussian dominance.
  • The new West Germany was basically the old confederation, once a core part of the Roman Empire. The new East Germany was basically the residual Junker/Prussian state, Prussia itself having been obliterated.
  • Following the collapse of the USSR in 1989, Chancellor Helmut Kohl engineered the recombination of the two Germanys, which has proved a major drain on the West German economy ever since. One has to wonder, was this wise? Polls show the East to be poorer, older and more right wing…

For me, this is a stunningly informative and thought-provoking book, putting in context much of European history and throwing light on modern events. (Apologies for my own oversimplification and misinterpretations.) Essential information really for understanding our world.

And of course, it is completely different from the Neil MacGregor’s Germany, reviewed a few years ago.

Ever Flowing

I contemplate the huge flowing mass of water before me, opposite the ‘German Corner’ in Koblenz where rivers Rhine and Moselle join together, overlooked by the massive monument to Kaiser Wilhelm, first German emperor 1871-88. Here is inexorable power and movement before me, a part of the cyclic flow of the earth’s water system. Today, tomorrow, it is always there, pretty much as in Wilhelm’s day, yet always different.

As it happens, I have been reading The Shortest History of Germany, by James Hawes and A Short History of Europe by Simon Jenkins. I am struck by how the major figures in these histories have their brief flowering influence, usually driven by an overwhelming ego, often associated with some abstract concept, and without concern for the consequences on their own and other peoples: Julius Caesar, Constantine, Charlemagne, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Bismarck, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and on and on…

Recent events suggest that this flow goes on, to new dimensions, with environmental breakdowns and resulting attempted migration of populations, and the rise of populists – more blooming egos with their destructive consequences. Yet ever new challenges require ever better solutions, not the gross over-simplifications of those who appeal to what is lowest in us. They will be seen in time for what they are.

The flow of history, and the zeitgeist, inevitably moves ever on, just as those great rivers – the same as before, yet ever different.

Maybe we should not fear too much. The flow that matters is here, now. Our fears are that the future may not be the same as the peace and plenty of our recent past (in the West). Our present is the opportunity for our own best action, guided by conscience, not by selfish ego or abstractions.