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Author Archives: Pankaj Adhikari

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Saving Penalty Kick: Should a Striker Get a Second Chance?

Watching England captain Harry Kane scoring on the penalty rebound against Denmark at Wembley stadium, I thought it’s a great injustice to a gallant goalkeeping, especially when the penalty decision was hugely controversial and contentious!

Can the rule be tweaked now? Scoring a goal in the second attempt shouldn’t be allowed.

English midfielder Raheem Sterling dashed through Denmark’s defense in extra time of the Euro 2020 semi-final and went down in the box after what appeared to be minimal contact.

Well, I understand, it’s been a rule for ages that the game is on and the striker is allowed to take a second shot even if the first penalty attempt is saved.

However, it was really heart-wrenching to see that even though Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel made a stunning and spectacular save, the English captain scored on the rebound sending the English team to the final with a 2-1 win.

I believe time has come to change the rule.

Think of the goalkeeper! Think of his tremendous mental pressure in the high-voltage game. . Shouldn’t we acknowledge the goalie’s grit, skill, speed and dexterity? It was truly heart-breaking. Danish goalkeeper Schmeichel’s stupendous show went simply unrecognized on that day. The braveheart under the bar must also get his fair share of spotlight.

Poor guy! It wasn’t fair.   

I think football mandarins may give it a thought and change the rule: Striker won’t be given a second chance once the first penalty attempt is saved.


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Masks not a ‘muzzled misery’, they saved lives in the 1918 flu pandemic  

Social distancing and wearing masks isn’t a new idea in the battle against the pandemic. They saved thousands of lives during the 1918 flu pandemic which lasted from February 2018 to April 2020. The efforts implemented then to stem the flu’s spread in cities across America — and the outcomes — may offer lessons for battling today’s crisis.

In the 1918 flu pandemic, also known as Spanish flu, an estimated 500 million or about one-third of the world’s population perished.

Masks became the facial frontlines in the battle against the virus. But as they have now, the masks also stoked political division. Then, as now, public health experts urged the wearing of masks to help slow the spread of disease. And then, as now, some people resisted.

Although there’s no universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, the first infections were identified in March the same year, at an Army base in Kansas, where 100 soldiers were infected.

The number of flu cases grew five-fold within a week, and the disease soon took hold of the entire country, prompting some cities to impose quarantines and mask orders to contain it.

By the fall of 1918, seven cities — San Francisco, Seattle, Oakland, Sacramento, Denver, Indianapolis and Pasadena, California — had put in effect mandatory face mask laws, said Dr Howard Markel,  a historian of epidemics and the author of Quarantne.

Organized resistance to mask wearing was not common, Dr Markel said, but it was present. “There were flare-ups, there were scuffles and there were occasional groups, like the Anti-Mask League,” he said, “but that is the exception rather than the rule.”

People who resisted complained about appearance, comfort and freedom, even after the flu wiped out an estimated 195,000 Americans in October alone.

Alma Whitaker, writing in The Los Angeles Times on October 22, 1918, reviewed masks’ impact on society and celebrity, saying famous people shunned them because it was “so horrid” to go unrecognized.

However, those violated the rules were fined $5 to $10, or 10 days’ imprisonment. On November 9, 1,000 people were arrested, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. City prisons swelled to standing room only; police shifts and court sessions were added to help manage. Jail terms of 8 hours to 10 days were given out. Those who could not pay $5 were jailed.

Cartoon: Suparno Chaudhuri

On October 28, a blacksmith named James Wisser stood on Powell and Market streets in front of a drugstore, urging a crowd to dispose of their masks, which he described as “bunk.”

A health inspector, Henry D. Miller, led him to the drugstore to buy a mask.

At the door, Mr Wisser struck Mr Miller with a sack of silver dollars and knocked him to the ground, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. While being “pummeled,” Mr Miller, 62, fired four times with a revolver. Passers-by “scurried for cover,” The Associated Press said.

Mr Wisser was injured, as were two bystanders. He was charged with disturbing the peace, resisting an officer and assault. The inspector was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

The LA Times carried a story, ‘To Mask or Not to Mask’, when city officials met in November to decide whether to require residents to wear “germ scarers” or “flu-scarers.”

Dramatic demographic shifts in the past century have made containing a pandemic increasingly hard. The rise of globalization, urbanization, and larger, more densely populated cities can facilitate a virus’ spread across a continent in a few hours—while the tools available to respond have remained nearly the same. Now as then, public health interventions are the first line of defense against an epidemic in the absence of a vaccine. These measures include closing schools, shops, and restaurants; placing restrictions on transportation; mandating social distancing, and banning public gatherings.

Of course, getting citizens to comply with such orders is another story: In 1918, a San Francisco health officer gunned down three people when one refused to wear a mandatory face mask. In Arizona, police handed out $10 fines for those caught without the protective gear. But eventually, the most drastic and sweeping measures paid off.

Nina Strochlic and Riley D. Champine, in the story ‘How some cities flattened the curve during the 1918 flu epidemic’, wrote in National Geographic:

In 2007, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed health data from the U.S. census that experienced the 1918 pandemic, and charted the death rates of 43 U.S. cities. That same year, two studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sought to understand how responses influenced the disease’s spread in different cities. By comparing fatality rates, timing, and public health interventions, they found death rates were around 50 per cent lower in cities that implemented preventative measures early on, versus those that did so late or not at all. The most effective efforts had simultaneously closed schools, churches, and theaters, and banned public gatherings. This would allow time for vaccine development (though a flu vaccine was not used until the 1940s) and lessened the strain on health care systems.

In 1918, the studies found, the key to flattening the curve was social distancing. And that’s likely to be true a century later, in the current battle against coronavirus. “[T]here is an invaluable treasure trove of useful historical data that has only just begun to be used to inform our actions,” Columbia University epidemiologist Stephen S. Morse wrote in an analysis of the data. “The lessons of 1918, if well heeded, might help us to avoid repeating the same history today.”

President Donald Trump’s refusal to set an example by wearing a face covering, despite growing evidence that it may be one of the most effective ways to slow America’s increasingly disastrous coronavirus pandemic, has been a fatuous political statement.

By going barefaced when everyone around him masked up, the President created a false impression that the worst was behind the Americans, that normality was about to come roaring back.

Let’s take lessons from the 1918 flu pandemic and mask up and abide by the social-distancing guidelines to send the coronavirus into retreat.

 


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Corona: A time to revisit Camus

As the coronavirus pandemic paralyses the world and continues its ravages, I’m reminded of the great French novelist, Albert Camus. In La Peste, (The Plague) Camus ends the novel (1947) by saying: “The plague never dies or disappears for good; it lies dormant for years and years in furniture, and linen-chests; it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and perhaps the day would come again when, for the bane and enlightening of men, it will rouse up its rats again and send them to die in a happy city.”

When the scourge of the plague ends and Dr. Bernard Rieux, the narrator of the novel, listens to the jubilation of the townsfolk, he knows such joy is always imperiled. “…this chronicle could not be a story of definitive victory. It could only be the record of what had to be done and what, no doubt, would have to be done again in the never-ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts,” he says.

Camus believed that the actual historical incidents we call plagues “are merely concentrations of a universal precondition, dramatic instances of a perpetual rule: that all human beings are vulnerable to being randomly exterminated at any time, by a virus, an accident or the actions of our fellow man”.

This is what Camus meant when he talked about the “absurdity” of life.

To write his novel, Camus went through the history of plagues: the Black Death that killed an estimated 50 million people in Europe in the 14th century, the Italian plague of 1630 that killed 280,000 across Milan, Lombardy and Veneto, the great plague of London of 1665 as well as plagues that ravaged cities on China’s eastern coast during the 18th and 19th centuries.

He also read Daniel Defoe’s ‘A Journal of the Plague Year’ (1722) and Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni’s ‘The Betrothed’ (1827).

Today, while the governments all over the world are battling against the pandemic, and we all are hoping to defeat this invisible enemy, Camus’s novel reminds us: “There’s no heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. This may seem ridiculous, but the only means of fighting a plague is — common decency.” And by decency, he means “doing one’s job”.

Camus wrote: “We all inside us have plague because no one in the world, no one, is immune …and if there is one thing one can always yearn for, it is human love.”

Will the Trump government take a lesson from Camus? Will it stop the blame game and behave with ‘decency’ and realize the need to love ‘fellow damned humans’ to protect the planet.

The coronavirus doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor, white or black, famous or infamous, royal or commoner. It has leveled off discrimination and treated everyone as equals in a world of brutal inequality and inhuman disparity. It has exposed the fragility and vulnerability of human beings, the futility of our aspirations, insufferable conceit and the inevitability of suffering.

With the body counts in the US crossing 85,000, the virus has exposed how the richest country of the world collapsed within weeks after the outbreak exploded. The US must now realize, however wealthy they are, they are powerless and vulnerable to this pandemic like any other country in the world.

Unfortunately, the US President isn’t willing to accept the fact that the pandemic can render our lives instantaneously meaningless.

Bill Gates in a recent interview has said it’s not the time for finger-pointing as that won’t help and will only prolong the crisis. Time has come to close ranks and work together for global solidarity to combat the contagion.

The revolutionary musician, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, said: “We can only move forward and save this fragile planet that we call home if we co-operate with one another, rather than fight one another.”

Eminent Jewish historian Yuval Noah Harari says: “We must hope that the current epidemic will help humankind realise the acute danger posed by global disunity. Humanity needs to make a choice. Will we travel down the route of disunity, or will we adopt the path of global solidarity?”

The ongoing calamity must open our eyes to how much life has changed in a blink of an eye and how challenging, both intellectually and emotionally, it will be for us to go forward.  We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We’re entering a new world, a new era.

Nobel laureate Turkish author Orhan Pamuk (who’s been writing a new novel called ‘Nights of Plague’) says: “Much of the literature of plague and contagious diseases presents the carelessness, incompetence and selfishness of those in power as the sole instigator of the fury of the masses. But the best writers, such as Defoe and Camus, allowed their readers a glimpse at something other than politics lying beneath the wave of popular fury, something intrinsic to the human condition….

“For a better world to emerge after this pandemic, we must embrace and nourish the feelings of humility and solidarity engendered by the current moment.”


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Corona, Cartoons & Sketches of Suparno

Remember R.K. Laxman’s “You Said It”, the timeless cartoon strip published in Times of India that delighted millions of readers every morning?

Amid this corona catastrophe, when we’re missing Laxman and his immortal creations, faraway across the Atlantic in Maryland, US, Suparno Chaudhuri, an Indian digital marketing strategist, has taken up the cudgels against the powers-that-be through his incisive and insightful cartoons.

Laxman through his razor-sharp, and often virulent satirical cartoons, had exposed unbridled greed, rampant corruption and hypocrisy of Indian politicians. His portrayal of common man’s woes, their wretched conditions and helplessness and, above all, the precariousness of human life touched one and all.

Chaudhuri is now engaged in drawing cartoons touching on how our life is impacted in this extraordinary time. His cartoons range from homeless people to President Trump and sometimes, to pure, unalloyed fun. “While the pandemic has exposed the fragility and vulnerability of humans, I took to cartooning to reveal different sections of our society and ridicule Trump’s off-the-rails briefing and his ham-handed approach to battle the contagion. Sometimes they’ve global appeal, some are very American,” Chaudhuri said on telephone from his house in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Six feet distance during pandemic - Suparno's cartoon

Chaudhuri recalls Laxman saying: “The role of a cartoonist is not unlike that of the court jester of yore. His business in a democracy is to exercise his right to criticize, ridicule, find fault with and demolish the establishment and political leaders, through cartoons and caricatures.”

“I used to draw cartoons and sketches while I was a student of Presidency College in Kolkata. I was fascinated by the cartoons of Laxman, Kutty, Abu Abraham, Sudhir Dar, Chandi and O.M. Vijayan. I remember Laxman’s frazzled character, known as the Common Man (Times of India), Kutty’s wit and satire (Ananda Bazar Patrika), Abu’s analytical and hilarious (Indian Express) and Vijayan’s cerebral and sublime (The Statesman) cartoons,” he recalled. He follows American political cartoonists meticulously and is a big fan of New Yorker genre of cartoons.

“I must of course mention K. Shankar Pillai, fondly known as Shankar, the father of political cartooning in India who taught a nation to laugh at itself,” Chaudhuri said.

Shankar lampooned Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, mercilessly in some of his cartoons and yet there was a mutual admiration between them. Nehru even famously remarked “Don’t spare me Shankar”, he said.

Talking about Shankar’s brilliant caricatures, Chaudhuri remembers what Nehru said of him: “Shankar has that rare gift, rarer in Indian than elsewhere, without the least bit of malice or ill-will, he points out, with an artist’s skill, the weaknesses and foibles of those who display themselves on the public stage. It is good to have the veil of our conceit torn occasionally.”

Chaudhuri came to Kolkata for a short visit when the coronavirus was wreaking havoc in Wuhan which began in December last year. He went back to the US in mid-March while the Trump government was still downplaying the oncoming disaster. “The US government could hardly foresee the devastating impact of the virus on the country,” he said.

“New York, the city that never sleeps, is now almost a death valley; it’s shocking to see so many people perishing there every day,” Chaudhuri said.

“I thought I’d make some drawings of the US President to evoke laughter and point out his preposterous, utterly absurd advice and flawed strategy to combat the contagion,” he said. “At the same time, many ideas cross my mind for simple, pure fun. I’d be happy if my readers get a sense of positive perspective from my cartoons during these dark and depressing days.”

 

Suparno Chaudhuri

E-mail: suparno2k@yahoo.com

 


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Combating Covid: Tale of a silent warrior in India

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While the media across the world are covering stories of ‘celebrity’ donations amid the Covid pandemic, there are fewer stories about the real heroes who’re battling on the ground and fighting silently behind-the-scenes, away from media glare without bothering about publicity and media blitz.

Tucked away in the remote villages of central India, a septuagenarian doctor (who’s been battling to run a school for poverty-ridden tribal girls since 1992 against insurmountable odds) is now fighting another battle: providing food and essentials to the poor Baiga tribal community.

Pondki, a village, 498km from Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh (central India)

The battleground is Pondki, 498km from Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh, India and leading the battle from the front is Dr Prabir Sarkar.

“I understand desperate times call for desperate measures. And social distancing is the only way to stem the spread of this deadly virus. But, for the Baiga tribal community, hunger is the everyday ‘virus’ they confront even in ordinary times,” the 71-year-old bachelor, who’s reluctant to hog the media spotlight, said.

On March 24 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown at 8pm, Dr Sarkar knew the challenges ahead — from reaching out to the Baigas living in inaccessible terrain to abysmal health care facilities.

Villagers wait their turn to get rice and vegetables

“In normal circumstances, I face huge funds crunch and literally beg for funds to run my charitable school,” he said. “Without funds how would I save these poor tribal people in this challenging and difficult times? I know how tough it’d be to raise funds now,” he added.

Vikas Chandel, a student from Indira Gandhi National Tribal University, Amarkantak, and some locals pitched in and extended support to Dr Sarkar and joined the battle. “It’s a monumental task, especially transporting groceries and food to the needy as the poor people live in the remote forests in the hills and the road condition is appalling,” Chandel said.

Dr Sarkar and his brigade have been providing food every day to 24 villages — Gadhi Dadar, Pyari, Katurdona, Garjanbija, Harrapani, Hirnachhapar, Sanchara, Bijaura, Dumartola, Bendi Baigantola, Bhatibara, Maikal Pahar, Dadra Silwari, Khale Bhavar, Jaitahri, Shitalpani, Belapani, Pakripani, Navatola, Jaleswartola, Farrisemar, Miriya, Sarhakona and Umargohan — in Anuppur district.

Volunteers arrange vegetables before distribution as villagers wait maintaining ‘social distancing’

“I’m grateful to my volunteers – Hari Shankar Kumar, Dipendra Tyagi, Makhan Singh, Yedukondalu and Naseer. All my efforts would have been futile without their untiring and selfless service. They never grumble; they never whine. They’ve been slogging braving the heat and dust to transport the essential items to the poor,” he said.

“I’m coordinating with the district administration,” he said. Chandra Mohan Thakur, the district collector, has provided 25 quintals of rice and Rs 1000-1300 per family for 10 days. “I don’t know what will happen after that,” he said.

The central government is focusing only on cities and suburban areas; it hardly cares for the devastating impact the pandemic virus will have on these tribals, he said.

With funds running out fast, a worried Dr Sarkar has sought help from public. Even though the response has been lukewarm, he’s not unnerved; his commitment is unwavering. “We’ll continue our battle despite knowing more difficult and challenging days lie ahead,” he added, his invincible spirit and unflinching zeal unmistakable.

Volunteers deliver food packets at door step

“In a corporate-driven globalized world, where money is the motive and fraud is the means and only business and profiteering matter, the ‘virus’ has shown how fragile and vulnerable we humans are,” he said. “In a world of brutal inequality and unbridled greed, the coronavirus is a great equalizer.”

As the sun slowly disappears on the horizon and darkness descends over the hills, Dr Sarkar sits down and urges his men to prepare for tomorrow’s battle. He knows the battle is far from over; he knows he has “promises to keep and miles to go before he sleeps”.

Villagers wait under the blazing sun to receive food and essential items

A face of hunger and deprivation

Dr Prabir Sarkar (in the middle) with his army

Your empathy for these poor folks and even a small contribution can make Dr Sarkar’s Mission Possible.

Donations from India

Beneficiary’s name: Sri Ramakrishna Vivekananda Sevashram

Account number: 11512670177
Bank: State Bank of India, Amarkantak
IFSC Code: SBIN0004674

Donations from abroad

Beneficiary’s name: Sri Ramakrishna Vivekananda Sevashram

Foreign Currency Account Number – 32695670646
Bank – State Bank of India, Amarkantak
IFSC Code – SBIN0004674

Please make donation in INR (Indian rupees)

Dr Sarkar’s organization is eligible to receive foreign funds under government of India Foreign Currency Regulation (FCR) Act

  1. Donations are exempt under section 80G of the Income Tax Act, 1961.
  2. The organization is registered under section 12A of the Income Tax Act, 1961.

 

 


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Backpackers’ Guru of Interlaken

My Swiss sojourn would have been far from complete had I not met Erich Balmer, the backpackers’ guru of Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland.

At 75, Erich exudes extraordinary energy and vitality. Every single movement speaks of his abiding zest for life and boundless enthusiasm. His ever smiling face and endearing mien was amazing.

(from left) Erich with daughters Carmen and Fabienne: awesome threesome

Balmer’s Herberge: backpackers’ paradise

“Hey, you’re a smart guy,” he bellowed as I was taking a stroll around Balmer’s Herberge in the wee hours of the morning. The March-end morning sun was caressing Interlaken with snow-clad Alps creating a surreal spectacle. “I saw you ambling toward the village so early in the morning…Few guys venture out so early in the morning. That’s great. I like it,” he told me.

I was taken aback. I wasn’t aware then that this man owns the property. His body language showed we can be friends forever. As we interacted, I realized how passionate Erich is about environment and how profound his vision is about life. “Keep smiling because your smile can make life more beautiful,” he said. “If you see somebody without a smile, give them one of yours,” he said.

“Look at the tap,” he said pointing at the flowing water coming from the tap in his hostel premises. “We drink this spring water all the year round,” Erich said as the rays of the sun on the Alpine peaks created a spectacular sight.

When I pointed out to him that I had an incredible trip to Jungfraujoch (‘Top of Europe’) the day before, he asked whether I had been to Schilthorn.

Schilthorn is a summit in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland. It overlooks the valley of Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland and is the highest mountain in the range lying north of the Sefinenfurgge Pass.

“You must visit Schilthorn before you leave Interlaken. The summit is famous for watching the sunset over the Alpine peaks. ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, the famous James Bond movie, was shot there,” he said.

Spring water from the tap in the guesthouse premises

Bliss of solitude

Erich brought his car and drove us (my wife and son were there) for about 40 minutes to the base of the summit. It was an unforgettable car ride through the stunning mountain landscape as he was recounting his love for nature, adventure and how he nourished his baby, Balmar’s Herberge, which was elected from 8000 as one of the “Top 10 hostels for fun” in Europe.

As his car drove past the Alpine forests, we saw a herd of mountain goats. “Hey, look! Here are our guests from India,” he shouted at the mountain goats as they scampered away and disappeared into the forests.

We relished his hearty humor!

Camen hang gliding: captain courageous

He was about to buy tickets for three of us for the cable car ride to Schilthorn.  “We’ve a trip already scheduled for the day. Our train to Bern will leave at 11am,” I told Erich.

His magnanimity and warmth of feeling touched me.

Erich’s father Adolf was a down-to-earth Bernese Oberlander and an excellent cook. His mother Frida, who had Italian parents, grew up in the Sarganserland.

Balmer’s Pension has been operating since 1907. It is currently in the third generation of the Balmer’s family. Frida and Adolf Balmer originally started the operation as a “Touristenheim” (tourist house). The name Balmer’s Herberge is being used since 1945. The couple used to accommodate British school groups in the 50s.

Erich, who belongs to the second generation, came back from working in the US and Canada and transformed the “Touristenheim” into a private hostel in the 70’s. Initially, the guesthouse had 50 beds, but quickly the number rose to 350. “My wife Katharina and I managed the property for over 40 years, helping Interlaken grow into a global tourist destination,” Erich, who was the youngest of three brothers, said.

Since his boyhood, he had a penchant for doing business. On Hoheweg, he used to sell self-picked flowers. He always wanted to do something on his own.

Erich traveled to Manchester to learn English language when he was just past his teens. A year later, he traveled to the US with the Queen Elizabeth II. However, his family came to know about this only when he was back in the UK.

Road to a Swiss hamlet

His passion for travel and adventure made him go around the world to promote Swiss tourism. “I had been to Mumbai University and delivered talks on tourism,” Erich said recalling his good times in India.
“I was fascinated by India, its multiculturalism, its very many languages and different religions and above all its mysticism,” he said.

In 1993, Balmer’s ‘Tent village’ got the thumbs-up from the authorities. In 1998, ‘Tent village’ was expanded with more tents. “And in springtime 2010, everything was modernized,” he said.

In 1999, an underground bar in the style of a subway station was built. It is a great meeting place for all backpackers who’d descend on Interlaken to savor the ultimate experience of Swiss Alps.

Erich’s vision has a significant impact not only on his hostel, but also on the entire Bernese Oberland, the most beautiful region of the world. He has shown how the outdoor adventure possibilities can be developed in the region.

Erich seems inexhaustible when it comes to ideas on how to create added value for his young guests. Besides, the hand-operated ‘Handy-Boats”, for the physically challenged, Erich invested in other rideable two-wheeled vehicles.

Erich’s pioneering zeal to promote Bernese Oberland across the world was amply demonstrated when during the Geneva summit (1985) between US President Ronald Reagan and Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he invited 50 young Russians and Americans to Interlaken.

To everybody he likes, Erich hands a lucky one-Swiss-cent coin. Former US President Bill Clinton and soccer emperor Franz Beckenbauer also belong to this illustrious club.

He was given a folded US flag for his abundant merits in the US youth tourism.

Erich always remains true to his motto: organize, invest, delegate, motivate, and collect. His success proves him right. Switzerland’s oldest backpacker registers 45000 overnight stays per yer.

Erich knows perfectly well how to motivate his staff. His employees admire his infinite energy and unflinching zeal. He always leads them from the front.

Carmen, Fabienne’s daughter Elin and Erich

The septuagenarian, however, wants to hang up his boots. “It’s been a long journey. I’d like to hand over my property to my daughters. I’ll sign necessary legal papers soon,” Erich said.

His two daughters – Carmen and Fabienne- have been at the hostel’s helms, much to their dad’s delight, for quite some time now. Continuing the heritage isn’t an easy task. “Guys, is it gonna be alright?” Erich sometime asks his daughters. He, however, lets them run the hostel their way and works from behind. He’s confident his daughters will find their way, as he found it about 50 years ago.

What’ll Erich do now?

“I’ll travel to Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, in May with my friends from Globetrotters group,” he said.

Eyes are windows to the soul, they say. I looked at Erich’s eyes and could easily gauge his infinite wanderlust and undying zeal for adventure.

Interlaken Ost

Scintillating Swiss Alps

Picture perfect

Incredible Interlaken


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My encounter with Vinci’s vineyard

As I stepped out of Hostel Meininger Lambrate Milano to savor the sublime experience of Leonardo’s vineyard, my schoolteacher’s history class on Leonardo da Vinci crossed my mind. I remembered the photograph of the Renaissance masterpiece, ‘The Last Supper’, which Leonardo had painted in 1496 on the north wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie basilica in Milan.

Milano Centrale, the largest train station in Europe by volume

Milan, the fashion capital of Europe, in motion

In about 15 minutes, the subway train chugged into Cadorna Metro station. I got off the train and took the stairs up and started walking toward my destination.

The magical Milan unveiled its stunning Renaissance architecture and incredible engineering marvels. Tourists in March-end weren’t many except some ‘affluent’ Chinese who were following a middle-aged lady holding a flag in her hand in the front: a common sight I had seen during my trip to European cities.

After visiting the stunning Santa Maria delle Grazie basilica, I crossed the road and walked into Leonardo vineyard’s cafe before having the feel of Vinci’s vineyard. I ordered pizza. Never did I have such an out-of-the-world stuff in my life.

Following the initiative of a family trust and wine geneticists, Leonardo’s vineyard (Duke of Milan gifted him) was restored. The estate passed through various hands, until in the 1920s its owners asked Leonardo expert Luca Beltrami to do some research on its history. Beltrami located the vineyard from Renaissance documents, and took photographs of vines still growing up in ancient wooden pergolas that were most probably made to Leonardo’s design.

Excavating organic matter at the site of the former vineyard, the team was able to determine the exact varietal of grape that Leonardo grew, as well as his vineyard’s original layout. Once it was decided to reestablish the vineyard, University of Milan staff had given the new grapevines a head-start by growing and grafting them in a greenhouse. They then introduced the vines into the soil of the historic plot of land in early 2015.

A peek into history: Ludovico Maria Sforza, who was nominated governor of the dutchy of Milan on 3 November, 1480, gifted Leonardo his vineyard measuring 60 x175m (located at today’s 65 Corso Magenta), just across the road where Santa Maria delle Grazie basilica is located. While painting ‘The Last Supper’, (1494-1498) Leonardo used to go to the vineyard and relax with a glass of wine.

During Ludovico’s tenure which ended in 1500, Milan witnessed amazing architectural marvels, some of which still stand more than five centuries on.

Leonardo, who hailed from a family of winemakers, hoped owning a plot of land would allow him to claim Milanese citizenship. Leonardo was deeply attached to his vineyard. In his will he left it to two of his servants.

The estate’s present-day owners replanted it as it had been in Leonardo’s time, after DNA testing on the roots of the original vines showed them to be malvasia di candia aromatica, a white grape popular in Renaissance Lombardy.

Now the vines keep flourishing in the garden of Casa Degli Atellani and the house and grounds are open to accompanied tours. Those visiting on Saturday afternoons can enjoy a typical Milanese aperitivo of wines.

In the early 1400s, Milan was still a Middle Age city focused on war and conquering Florence. However, the Sforza family took over and brought peace to the region. With peace came new ideas and art of the Renaissance. Milan was famous for its metalwork which included suits of armor.

The Casa degli Atellani is a historic Renaissance residence. Together with ‘The Last Supper’ and Santa Maria delle Grazie, the current Casa degli Atellani, while having undergone modifications over the centuries, remains the only existing trace of the district as imagined by Ludovico. It is the last building on what is now Corso Magenta which maintains part of the appearance it had during the Renaissance.

A guided tour leads visitors to the discovery of the treasures of the house and its enchanting garden where the  Renaissance genius used to unwind him while working on his masterpiece.

As I was leaving the garden, I traveled back to the glorious days of the Renaissance architecture, the architects’ innovative prowess and the great artists whose infinite wisdom and super skill shaped the European culture. And on the eve of Leonardo’s 500th anniversary of his death, 2019 is a perfect time to retrace the artist’s footsteps in the northern city.

Outside Milano Centrale station

Duomo de Milano


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