Thursday, August 31, 2017

Red Cross: Per Humanitatum

For the sake of humanity: this was motivation enough for Henry Dunant, a Swiss businessman, to initiate the International Red Cross, a humanitarian institution with a mandate to protect victims of armed conflicts, including wounded, prisoners, refugees and -- as in Texas right now -- those affected by natural disasters.

Until the Red Cross was established, no organized army nursing system existed for war casualties. Dunant envisioned the need for a safe and protected institution to accommodate and treat those who were wounded on the battlefield, so he traveled to Solferino, Italy to meet with Napoleon III where he witnessed the aftermath of war.

Shocked by the dearth of medical attendance and basic care of the Battle of Solferino, Italy -- where 40,000 soldiers of both sides of the conflict died or were wounded on the field -- he devoted himself to the treatment and care for the wounded and succeeded in organizing relief assistance.

On walking tours to old town and the United Nations complex, we learned much about Dunant and the International Red Cross.

In 1864, a summit of nations convened in Geneva to address a commitment to honor the fair treatment of wounded soldiers in armed conflict under the symbol of the Red Cross. On the tour to old town, our guide Michael pointed out that the flag of the Red Cross is the converse of the Swiss flag, a white cross on a red field.

Today, the Red Cross is the most widely recognized organization in the world and has won three Nobel Peace Prizes in 1917, 1944 and 1963. The international organization acknowledges both the cross and the crescent, representing Muslim nations, and includes 190 countries worldwide helping 160 million people annually.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Reformation Central

Because of its historical propensity toward neutrality, Geneva became a principal breeding ground for the Protestant Reformation, and Switzerland escaped much of the trauma caused by the religious Thirty Years War. Huldrych Zwingli began preaching the protestant word in Zurich and John Calvin practiced in Geneva.

While on a free walking tour of old town Geneva, a key stop was the Reformation Wall (above) depicting the leaders of the movement, including William Farel, John Calvin, Thodore Beza and John Knox, in statues and bas-reliefs. The motto of both the Reformation and Geneva is engraved on either side: “After darkness, light.”

The site, on the grounds of the University of Geneva, was built into the old city walls. Despite its solemn nature (full name: International Monument to the Reformation), local artists have created less serious images of the monument. That day, the city museum featured the "Yellow Submarine" version of the lads (below).

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Chamonix: Rhymes With Ski

The first tour we booked after arriving in Switzerland was a day trip into, uh -- France? Yes, indeed. It was off to Chamonix (pronounced Cha-mo-nee), site of the first Winter Olympics of 1924 and ski town extraordinaire located at the base of Mont Blanc, highest mountain in Europe and a mecca of mountaineering and other winter sports.

Chamonix features one the highest cable cars in the world, connecting the town to the summit of Aiguille du Midi north of the glaciers dominating Mont Blanc (above). The jagged needle of Aiguille du Midi provides one of the town’s most distinctive landmarks, with sweeping views of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps.

After riding the cable car to the top, we lunched at the Chambre Neuf, one of the many delightful restaurants in Chamonix, followed by a ride on a rack-and-pinion railway line to the Mer de Glace, France’s largest glacier. The glistening river of ice snakes its way through rock spires and turrets and is a popular attraction.

Chamonix has much in common with Aspen, Colorado; it’s a pricey wintertime playground that entices hard-core skiers to the slopes of numerous peaks in the area. In the summer, hang gliders flutter to earth from surrounding high points looming above the valley. Like Aspen, if you go, bring plenty of money. You’ll need it.