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10 EUROPEAN CITIES IN 10 DAYS – Part 48

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CONFESSIONS OF A GLOBAL GYPSY

By Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil

President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada

Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum – chandij@sympatico.ca

The Travel Bug

ILO headquarters in Geneva was much larger than what we expected. Around mid-February, 1982, our group of ILO Fellows were taken to Switzerland. Our coach travelled about four hours from Turin to Geneva. After sightseeing and lunch by the Lake Geneva, we proceeded for our training at the ILO headquarters. As Fellows of ILO we were well treated by the ILO staff who did our orientation. Over the next few days, we attended classes learning Modules of Employable Skills (MES). Our learning elements focused primarily on vocational training programs.

After our one-week study program at ILO headquarters, we travelled to ten different European cities over the next ten days. These included Geneva, Bern, Basel, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, Turin, Lyon, Paris, Rouen, Amiens and Calais. The words my father jokingly said before my third overseas trip came true. Now I was certainly bitten by the travel bug.

Exploring Switzerland

Geneva is an extremely beautiful water front city. I was most impressed by the cleanliness of the city and air in spite of being the second most populous city in Switzerland. Geneva is a global city, a financial centre and a worldwide centre for diplomacy. This was due to the presence of numerous international organizations, including the headquarters of many agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. Our Swiss guide took great pride in announcing that Geneva was the city that hosts the highest number of international organizations in the world.

Bern, as the capital city of the federal city of Switzerland, appeared to be small. The city is beautifully surrounded by a tributary of the High Rhine, the longest river that both rises and ends entirely within Switzerland. I thought that the historical section of the city, which traced its origins back to the 12th century, with well-preserved medieval architecture, was more beautiful and interesting. During a walk on the Kramgasse (Grocers Alley) we reached the 800-year-old Zytglogge Clock tower, which is one of Bern’s most recognisable symbols and the oldest monument of the city.

Switzerland’s political structure is fairly unique in the world. In total, there are 26 cantons (states of the Swiss Confederation), all of which manage their own education, healthcare, law enforcement, taxes, as well as social welfare. The average population of a Swiss canton in 1982 was only around 240,000. The primary language in 19 cantons is German, six cantons are French and one canton is Italian.

Basel is a city on the Rhine River in north-west Switzerland, close to the country’s borders with France and Germany. Its medieval, old town centres were quaint. Among other attractions, Basel is famous for its many museums, including the Kunstmuseum, the largest museum of art in Switzerland. It is also one of the largest cultural centres in relation to its size and population in Europe. We stopped at the University of Basel, founded in 1460 and Switzerland’s oldest university. We ended our day in Basel by walking across the famous Middle Bridge. One of my batch mates from Ceylon Hotel School, Anton and his Swiss wife, Claudia who lived in Basel, met us on the bridge for a brief meeting and to give us some Swiss souvenirs.

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc was our next stop where we had lunch and a tour ending our trip to Switzerland. This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. This ski resort area is near the junction of France, Switzerland and Italy. Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco (White Mountain), is the highest summit in the Alps nearly 16,000 feet above sea level. It’s renowned for its skiing. Year-round, cable cars take visitors up to several nearby peaks with panoramic views.

My first trip to Switzerland created a fascination about this land-locked small country. Its mountains, lakes, natural beauty, neutrality, banks, watches, hospitality service standards, cheeses and chocolates all enhanced my interest of Switzerland. My introduction to this country in 1982 was very useful when I returned to work briefly in Switzerland as a recruiter of international students for Hotel Consult Institut Hôtelier César Ritz in Brig, a few years later. That connection led me to do two, short contracts in early 1990s, as a Visiting Professor of Hospitality Management at IMI International Management Institute in Weggis.

Exploring France

After our memorable visit to Switzerland, we returned to Turin for a few days. We enjoyed a large farewell party there before each ILO Fellow proceeded to another country to continue their learning, individually. England and Scotland were my next stops to practice or enhance what I learnt at the Turin Centre and ILO headquarters. Although the organization funding my three-month fellowship in Europe – United Nations, kindly offered me free air tickets to travel from Turin to London, I preferred to travel mainly by coach, train and ferry. This way, my wife and I were able to get a much better sense of a few cities in between Turin and London. As I had a few free days before my individual program commenced, I decided to spend a few days of leisure in France with my wife. We travelled to five French cities.

Lyon stands on the site of the ancient Roman city called Lugdunum, founded in 43 BC, which was the capital of Gaul (encompassing many large areas of Europe). We visited three main attractions in Lyon. The Museum of Archaeology displaying Gallo-Roman-era objects was very interesting. During the Renaissance, Lyon had been a major economic hub. The impressive cultural heritage of Lyon is evidenced in Musée des Beaux-Arts, widely considered the next best fine arts museum in France after the Louvre in Paris. We then walked around Quartier Saint-Jean and Quartier Saint-Georges (Old Town) and had a typical Lyonnaise meal.

Paris was our most anticipated city. When we arrived in France on our way to Italy, our visits were limited to the airports in Paris and Lyon. Therefore, travelling between these two major French cities by train was a new experience for us. In most of the cities we visited, we first did a three-hour city tour to get an orientation of the city. Then we visited three key attractions and enjoyed a typical local meal or two. In Paris, passing through Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe were memorable.

As a child, listening to my father’s stories and the memories of his frequent official visits to UNESCO head office in Paris, motivated me to follow his favourite route. We went up the Eiffel Tower and then visited Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Six years after my first visit to Paris, I returned to Paris in 1988 to be trained as an international hotelier at the prestigious management training institute (located in Paris and Tour) of the upscale Le Meridien Hotel company which was owned by Air France. During that visit, I also spent a short management observer period at their 1,000-room hotel in the heart of Paris, Le Méridien Montparnasse.

Louvre Museum experience for the first time was like a visiting a separate, great city. It was like taking a walk through the history of art. It is widely accepted as the world’s greatest art museum in comparison to other great contenders to that title from New York, London, St. Petersburg and Madrid, which I visited in years to follow. From the time it was open to the public in the year 1793, the Louvre Museum had expanded its collection and number of visitors almost every decade.

In 1982, the Louvre Museum had over 32,000 works of art and attracted over six million visitors a year (increased to over 10 million in the year 2018). We simply could not do any justice to this museum in one day. I noted that if someone wanted to see everything in one visit and spent half a minute on each, it would take more than 11 days! As an artist, the biggest highlight for me was that the Louvre had six of the 24 known free-standing works of art done by Leonardo da Vinci, including the most famous painting, Mona Lisa.

During this trip, we were fortunate to get the opportunity to visit four out of the five most visited tourist attractions in the world – the Colosseum in Rome, Vatican Museums in Vatican City, Louvre in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris (we had to wait for another 11 years to visit the fifth – the Statue of Liberty in New York). We felt ready to explore a few smaller cities of France and experience day to day French life style.

Rouen was our next stop. It is a small port city on the river Seine, with a population of just over 100,000. The reason for our stop here was to visit one of my uncles, Tilak Gunasekara and his French family. Although he was a cousin of my mother, Tilak was my age and in childhood, we grew up as friends and school mates. Tilak was always an adventurer and wanted to travel the world as a sailor which he did from his late teens. A few years earlier when his ship arrived in France, while touring in Rouen he met a teenage French girl. It was love at first sight and he never left Rouen. In 1982, Tilak was working in Rouen as an underwater welder.

Tilak came to the Rouen railway station to pick us up. He was accompanied by his young French wife and infant son. While driving us through the city, they showed us impressive Gothic churches, medieval half-timbered houses and a skyline dominated by the spires of Rouen Cathédrale Notre-Dame. I understood the reasons for the great impressionist Claude Monet to have chosen Rouen for a series of over 30 paintings. We stayed with Tilak and family for two nights.

Amiens is another historic city Tilak took us to briefly on our way to Calais. It was slightly bigger than Rouen. A central landmark of the city is Amiens Cathedral, the largest gothic cathedral in France. Famous author Jules Verne’s house and local food markets were popular tourist attractions. We had a memorable lunch in a small café in the city centre. In France, most restaurants and cafés in any city, town or village were blessed with unique characteristics and great food.

Calais, which was our port to catch a ferry to England, had a very small population of around 60,000. Calais overlooks the Strait of Dover, the narrowest point in the English Channel, which is only 21 miles wide, and is the closest French town to England. The White Cliffs of Dover can easily be seen on a clear day from Calais. Due to its position, Calais, since the Middle Ages, has been a major port and a very important centre for transport and trade with England.

The importance of Calais was much greater in the pre-channel tunnel era. We drove past the old part of the town, Calais proper (known as Calais-Nord), which was situated on an artificial island surrounded by canals and harbours. Aside from being a key transport hub, Calais was also a notable fishing port and a central fish market. After goodbyes, we boarded a small ferry for our 90-minute trip to the Port of Dover in England for the next leg of our European adventure.



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Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing

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By Usvatte-aratchi

We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.

The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.

As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?

Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.

If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.

When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.

The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.

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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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