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THE LETTER


The Letter

 

          Two days after John Norton’s father’s death, he received a call from the law firm of Benson, Langley, and Kessler.  The secretary advised him that Mr. Benson was the executor of his father’s will and asked if he would care to make an appointment.  John agreed to a meeting at 2:30 the following afternoon, which was a Friday. He would close his business early, to make the appointment.

          John had never met Mr. Benson, but he appeared to be pleasant, kind of distinguished looking old gentleman, dressed in a conservative, pin-striped suit with an impeccably matched tie.  After some small talk and condolences on the loss of his father, Benson asked for some proper identification, stating this was necessary, given the fact that he didn’t know him.  John produced a couple of pieces of identification, which satisfied Benson and the procedure of reading the will commenced.

          The will was dated 5 years earlier and in simple terms declared John, his only son and child, to be the sole heir to his father’s entire estate, with exception of a sum of ten thousand dollars, bequeathed to his housekeeper of 15 years and eight thousand dollars to the groundskeeper in gratitude for their dependable and diligent service.  There was also written recommendations for both of them.

          “Your father entrusted a special envelope into my care,” said Mr. Benson.  “It is addressed to you and sealed with wax seals and ribbons.  Please inspect them to ensure * they are unbroken.”

          He did and found the seals intact. They discussed the legal aspects of having his father’s money, and property deeds transferred to him and agreed to meet the following week again. Clutching the envelope and bidding farewell, he left the office and drove home.

          Pouring himself a stiff scotch, he sat down in an armchair and, with considerable trepidation, cut the seals and opened the envelope.  Inside he found what appeared to be a report, in a red cover with his name on the front and a letter addressed to him. He opened the letter and began reading:

Dear Son,

          When you are reading this letter, it means I’ve passed on to another dimension. I have always been proud of you, and it is with great pleasure that I leave you everything I own.  There are some aspects of my life. I have never told you about.  In reality, they amount to is a strange story, filled with both mystery and adventure, so much so that some years ago I decided to put it in writing.  By the time you have read it, you will know how I could have made a fortune.

          With all my love

          Your father

           John opened the folder and began reading the neatly typewritten account of those mysterious events in his father’s life he hadn’t told him about.

June 1991

          The events that changed my life forever began in 1986, the year after your mother passed away.  I had poured my heart and soul into the bookstore, attempting to bury my sorrow over the loss of Vera.  It is hard to lose one’s soul mate after so many years of marriage, but life must go on, and I tried to continue living as I had done before.

          As you know, I have always collected antique books and rare first editions, many of which you will find in my library. It’s a very valuable collection, and I discovered and bought quite a number of them at public estate auctions.  Few people bother bidding on what in most instances is ordinary books, but I often did, provided I could spot some interesting and promising titles.  The auctioneers in charge of estate sales habitually put books in boxes of various sizes, sometimes with other things included, and you would have to bid on the whole content of the box. I put many of the boxes in the basement, intending to scrutinize their contents further after I had removed the books that I was interested in.

          One Saturday during the summer of 86, I went to an estate auction over in Campbellsville; you know the town well enough, having been there sometimes. There wasn’t much that interested me, except for a box containing a few books and cheap knick-knacks. One of the books was about Spanish renaissance art, and it looked quite old.  When the box came up for bidding, some lady bid five dollars.  Rather than upping the bid by one dollar, I decided to offer ten, to cut her off.  The auctioneer’s hammer decided in my favor.  I paid the ten dollars, took the box, put it in the trunk of the car and went home.

          I quickly went through the box and discovered some inexpensive porcelain bird figurines, probably what the old lady had wanted plus some old magazines, pamphlets, and various booklets. There were five more books in addition to the book on Spanish Renaissance art.  None of them were of any interest, but the art book was a limited edition from 1953.  I began looking through the numerous pages of black and white illustrations of Spanish paintings and art from the15th and 16th centuries.  The book was in excellent condition and worth about two hundred dollars, I figured.  Not a bad profit for a short trip to an auction.

          I quickly flipped through the last pages, but suddenly near the end, I found an envelope.  Thinking it was probably someone who had used it for a bookmark; I put it on the table.

          The next day, while having my morning caffeine fix, I picked up the letter.  It was addressed to Mr. George Silliman, 47 Bartley Dr., Cornville, Ontario.  I didn’t know the person, but Cornville is only about 50 km away.  The return address was someone named Frank Burley, 12 Sudden Lane, Barker Town, Ontario which I was slightly familiar with.  It was quite a bit larger than Cornville and only about 20 km from there. I took the letter out, and read it:

 Dear George,                                                                                  September 11, 1982

            I know you must wonder why I’m writing to you, rather than just dropping in for a visit, but I have some things to tell you that that is best done in writing. 

             We have been friends a whole lifetime, ever since we were schoolboys and it’s been a friendship like no other I have ever had with anyone else.  We have shared much, but it is coming to an end soon.  My doctor sent me to a colon cancer specialist a couple of weeks ago, and last week, he gave me the sad news that I had only a few months left to live.  It was quite a shock for me at first, but heck George, you and I have had beautiful, happy lives and we both know that the time to depart will come eventually for both of us. I hope we will be seeing each other a few times before I go.

             What I want to tell you about is rather a bit of a mystery, so let me get on with it.

             In 1929, an Italian family settled here in Barker Town.  They were political refugees from Mussolini’s dictatorship, but apparently wealthy, for they bought a costly house in town. At that time, there were three generations of the family living in the house.  As you know, my wife’s mother was Italian, and she grew up with a lot of Italians coming and going through her childhood home, so it wasn’t long before she became acquainted with this newly arrived family, whose last name was Moretti. Both the grandparents died before the end of the Second World War.  Their son, Enrico Moretti and his wife Contessa became quite good friends of ours, and we frequently had dinner together.  They had a son, Leopoldo, who was born in Italy before they came to this country.

             Enrico and his wife were both killed in a tragic car accident in 1958.  Leopoldo, their son, was 39 years old by then and not married. I suspected he was homosexual, but we continued to be friends with him.  In 1968, he had full-blown aids and passed away within a year, but before that, he told me an unusual story about a valuable thing he had inherited from his father, who had said it had been in the family for many generations.

             He told me that since he had no heirs, and he had promised never to let the item (he didn’t say what it was) pass out of the family, he was left with no other alternative than to take it with him to his grave. His casket, he said, was specially constructed and the item would be inserted in a hollowed-out area of the plank in the lid so that even in his afterlife, he could keep an eye on it.  I thought it was a bit creepy, but reckoned everybody has some weirdness or quirks in their lives. 

             When he died, Mary and I went to his funeral, and including us, there were only a handful of his friends that attended. His coffin was placed in the family mausoleum, and it was kind of sad to think that with Leopoldo gone, the family had died out completely. At least you and I both have grandchildren and thus some continuity beyond our graves. His house, by the way, was willed to the Catholic Church here and they have made a retirement home for people who can`t look after themselves in it.

             Well, George, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think about what Leopoldo had told me until after I received the news about my impending doom.  It gnawed at me, and I thought perhaps I should pass the story on to someone, and since you are my best friend, I chose to tell it to you. I was never brave enough to go and find out just what it was that Leopold took with him in his grave, but it struck me that he perhaps told me what he intended to do, so that I, as his close friend, could go and recover whatever it is. He may have tried to tell me it was a gift from him to me, but I can`t be sure.

 9            At any rate, George, I will never find out, but perhaps you may be interested in pursuing this.  I`m quite sure Leopold never told anyone else but me about it, but now you also know, and I think it perhaps best that no-one else finds out.  If you don`t want to investigate this, maybe you should destroy this letter and leave the mystery a secret for posterity    Well, I guess that`s all for now.  I hope to see you a few times again before I die.

Best regards from your old friend

Frank 

           It was an exciting mystery the letter revealed, and while I wasn`t about to just run over and open Leonardo`s casket, I kept thinking about digging a bit deeper into the story, and I began by searching for the two families, Silliman and Burley.

          Since I figured George Silliman might still be alive, I drove to Cornville first, and after some searching, I found the address and I parked the car.     Some kids were playing on the front lawn, but soon as I approached the fenced-in front yard, a woman came out the front door and asked if she could help me. I asked if the Silliman family lived there.  She shook her head and said that Mrs. Silliman died some years ago and her husband, George, passed away six weeks ago.  I asked if she was related to the Silliman family, to which she replied no, but they have a son, who lives out west somewhere.

          I didn’t want to seem too inquisitive, so I ended the conversation by asking where they were buried. She told me, and I thanked her, saying that I used to know George a long time ago and would like to put some flowers on his grave.

          At the United Church cemetery, it didn’t take me long to find the grave site where both George and his wife were interred. I noted the date on George’s headstone.  He had died on May third, this year. I put the flowers I had bought at a local flower shop on their grave and left for home.

          Having concluded the Silliman connection to the letter, it was time to go to go to Barker Town and see if I could find Frank Burley and  I drove there the following Sunday.  The town has a population of over 130,000, so I bought a city map to find my way around. Sudden Lane was a quiet side street, lined with mature trees, shading well-manicured lawns in front of classy homes, suggesting this was one of the better neighborhoods in town.  Number 12, Franks Burley’s house, was a large, Victorian style, two-story home, kept in immaculate shape, suggesting he was well off.

          I walked up to the door and rang the bell.  Inside the house, I could hear the sound of a resonant gong and shortly a middle-aged man opened the door. I introduced myself with a fictitious name and said I was an old friend of Frank Burley and this was the address I had for him. He then told me Dr. Burley’s wife was dead and he was in a care home with advanced Alzheimer, and then saying that his name was Charles Lane and he had bought the house a little over a year ago.”  I apologized for disturbing him, thanked him for the information and left.

          So, Frank Burley was a doctor.  That explained the large, posh house he had owned. With his wife dead and him having advanced Alzheimer decease, I needn’t worry about anyone knowing about the letter, unless Frank had told someone about it.  It also explained how the book with the letter ended up on an auction.  It had apparently been a part of his estate and no doubt, there may have been many other things at the auction that had belonged to him, but I would never know.

          I decided to do some background checking on the old Doctor later on, but before I went home again; I went to two cemeteries, trying to locate the mausoleum of the Moretti family.  I found it in a Catholic cemetery, on the outskirts of town and it was quite large and ornate.  Some people walked about in the graveyard, so I just casually walked past the mausoleum, noting it had a large brass padlock on the door.  There was a small graveled area in front of it; quite weedy, suggesting that no-one was caring for the site. I made up my mind to come back some weekday night and scrutinize the cemetery closely, to make sure I wouldn’t run into something unexpected.

          For a week or so, I thought about the whole, crazy idea of breaking into a mausoleum and stealing that something, whatever it was, from a coffin.  It just simply went against my better judgment, and for a while, I honestly thought I would just forget about it, but curiosity is an intense sensation, and eventually, it got the better of me.  One night, I drove over to the cemetery, parking my car in an inconspicuous place away from it.  I walked around the spooky place for about an hour, but no-one showed up. Then I went over to the Moretti mausoleum and checked the padlock, noting the make and size. It had to be cut with a bolt cutter and, when the deed was done, replaced it with one that looked the same, although, I didn`t think anyone would notice since the Moretti`s didn`t have any living relatives.

          The following week, on a Thursday night, I decided to carry out this ‘grave-robbing’ adventure.  I had purchased a padlock that looked more or less like the one on the door of the mausoleum and gathered some tools I figured I might need, but no more than I could carry concealed under my coat.  If I run into anyone on the cemetery, it would be a bit hard to explain what I was doing there, carrying a toolbox in my hands. I arrived in town just after eleven at night, this time parking my car in a different place.

9          There wasn’t a soul around, and I proceeded directly to the cemetery where I began by walking around the area, to make sure no-one was there.  I don’t mind telling you I was nervous and jumpy like all hell and by the time I reached the mausoleum, I was about ready to take off and go home again.  I mustered up enough courage and got the bolt cutter under my belt, where I had hung it.  The weight of it was dragging my pants down.  Once again, I surveyed the area, to make sure I was alone and then carefully and as quiet as possible, I cut the shank on the padlock. It was harder than I thought it would be and made more noise than I had figured.  God almighty, I was jumpy and scared out of my mind.

          Opening the door made even more noise.  The hinges were rusty and squeaked, so I proceeded slowly, opening the door just enough to get inside and then pulled it to again.  With shaking hands, I turned my flashlight on and looked around.  There were two caskets positioned along each of the two side walls and one at the end wall.  I had no idea which coffin contained the remains of Leonardo but went to the one at the end wall, figuring that this most logically must be his.  I needn’t have worried, for there was a metal plaque on the casket with Leonardo’s name, date, and place of birth and his death date.  I wrote it on my hand, not having a notebook with me.

          The casket was made of oak and looked almost new.  I tried to lift the lid, but it was fastened with nails or screws or something.   I bent down and looked under the lid and saw it was secured with screws through a molding along the top of the casket, into the bottom of the cover.  There were two screws, which I removed. Wearing gloves made it difficult, but eventually, I got them out and put them in my pocket, thinking there would be no need to screw them back in again. Leonardo wouldn’t mind.

          Now came the moment I feared the most. I slowly swung the lid open and pointed my flashlight into to the casket. The image of Leonardo was horrid. A surge of Adrenalin went through my veins sending my heart racing. Leonardo’s face looked straight at me, with empty, hollow eye sockets, his skull partly covered with moldy patches of skin, the jaw bone barred and his bony, skinless hands crossed on his chest. His funeral clothes were partially decomposed, and the sight of him horrified me.

          There was a plank screwed onto the inside of the lid.  On it, there was a brass plaque with the name “Leonardo Moretti” engraved on it and his date and place of birth.  I unscrewed the plank, and behind it, within a hollowed out space, there was a thin book or something like it, wrapped in several layers of plastic.  I removed it, screwed the plank back into the lid again, closed it and hurriedly went outside, where I closed the door and put on the padlock I had bought. I looked around to make sure I had not left any evidence of my breaking into the mausoleum, and then returned to my car with the package.  I was shaking like a leaf and just couldn’t get out of town fast enough.   I drove without exceeding the speed limit, fearing the police might stop me.

          The first thing I did when I got home was downing a stiff scotch to calm my jittery nerves.  I was still shaking when I began opening the package. It was wrapped in three layers of plastic which protected a thin volume of something, with a cover of stained leather. Very gingerly, I opened it, and on the first page, I saw some sketches of human anatomy, the same on the second and third, with handwritten notes in different positions on the pages.  I thought it was Italian, but couldn’t be sure at first. Slowly I checked other pages and came across drawings of structural parts of buildings, then some more human anatomy drawings.  Then it struck me.  My God, this was one of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks. If it’s genuine, it’s worth millions of dollars.  Now I began to understand why Frank had told George about Leonardo possibly intending to leave it to him as a gift. I had to wonder if Leonardo was named after the famous 13th-century artist, because of his family’s ownership of the da Vinci sketchbook and while thinking about that, I remembered the note I had made on my hand; the birthplace of Leonardo Moretti, and wrote it down in my address book.

          Too excited to sleep that night, I began speculating just what on earth I was going to do with this unexpected acquisition.  My first thought was safekeeping it somewhere, and a large bank safe deposit box seemed the ideal solution.  It was just too valuable to keep in the house and how was I going to explain how I came to be the owner of this treasure if I wanted to sell it?  How could I get its authenticity verified, without raising questions?

          The next day, I set about to photograph all the pages of the sketchbook and have large prints made of them.

A week passed by during which I rented a safe deposit box in my bank and tried to find out as much as I could about Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbooks.  I had read a bit about them and seen pictures of some of his sketches, but had no in-depth knowledge. The local library didn’t provide much information, other than da Vinci frequently wrote in mirror style, which explained why I couldn’t read the writing on the sketches.

          It became apparent that I needed information not available in this country. Italy was indubitably the place to go, and I needed to find out how to approach the search.

           The plaque on Leonardo’s casket indicated he was born in Fiumicino, a town just west of Rome, nestled on the shores of the Tyrrhenian Sea.  It seemed highly desirable to go and snoop around there and perhaps discover something about the Moretti family’s history in Italy. I called my travel agent and booked a trip to Rome, departing in 4 days.  The bookstore was not a problem; my able assistant of 11 years could easily handle it alone. What he didn’t know about selling books wasn’t worth knowing.

          The trip to Rome was uneventful. The agent had booked me in Hotel Bettoja Atlántico, which proved to be a beautiful old pearl; lovely rooms and great food. I had brought the photos of the sketchbook pages along with the idea of trying to find out if it was authentic but had no idea of just how to do that, without raising suspicion.

          The national central library in Rome was my first stop.  Quite a few books were dealing with Leonardo da Vinci’s art, but I checked mainly those dealing with his sketchbooks. I compared the photographic illustrations of sketchbook pages in the library books against the photos I had taken of those that I “acquired” under circumstances that still didn’t sit right with me.  None matched them. Thus I began to suspect it was either an unknown sketchbook, retained in a private collection away from public scrutiny or a forgery.  There was nothing more I could do in Rome. I headed for Fiumicino, to see what, if anything, if I could find out about the Moretti family.

After I had checked into my hotel and enjoyed a lovely supper, I went to the lobby and asked for a local telephone book.  I sat down in one of the comfortable lobby chairs and began perusing the telephone book and quickly found the name “Moretti.” There were 11 entries in all, which suggested that Leopoldo and his parents/grandparents must have had several relatives in Fiumicino. Then it struck me that it would be unwise to contact any one of them, for how would I explain that I knew the Moretti’s in Barkertown. I suddenly realized that my impulse to come to this town was a mistake. I had wasted my time, all but for finding out that members of the Moretti family were living there.

The next day, I took an early flight to Rome and booked a room in the Hotel Bettoja Atlántico, the one I stayed in when I first arrived in Rome. I decided my trip was not going to be completely wasted, so I stayed in Rome for three days.  On the last day, I visited some antique book stores to see I I could find something of interest to sell in my book store at home. One or two caught my attention, both of them dealing with Roman antiquities.  I bought one, published in 1900 at a reasonable price.

On the flight home to Canada, I pondered on what to do with the Da Vinci sketchbook, and then it struck me.  Why not just say that my father had bought a box full of books at an auction in Barker Town, and after removing the book he was interested in, had put it in the basement, where it joined several others. He had not recognized the Da Vincy sketchbook as something of value and left it in the box. I had decided to go through all the boxes to see if there was anything worth keeping before I discarded them, and that’s when I found the sketchbook.

The more I thought about this, the more liked the idea.

It was great to be home and get the feel of the bookstore again.  I kept thinking about how to reveal the fact that I had this sketchbook that “might be” a Da Vincy.  I decided to send some of the photocopied pages I had made to a reputable expert in Da Vincy’s artworks and found one in New York City.  I mailed the photocopies to him, without explaining how I got them.

Ten days later, I received a phone call, asking if I was John Norton and the person who had sent the photocopies, to which I replied in the affirmative. He inquired if he could examine the original and I arranged to meet him in New York City in three days. His name is George Lucas, and he gave me his address in Manhattan.

The meeting with George in his plush Manhattan office went well.  He asked me how I had acquired the sketchbook, but like I said to him, I need to have it authenticated before I can reveal how I got.

He asked if I could leave it with him for a couple of days, as he needed to do some tests on it.  I agreed to this, provided he would give me a receipt, signed in the presence of a lawyer. After this was done, I returned to Ontario.

Two days later, early in the morning, I received a phone call from George in Manhattan.  His voice sounded excited, and he said he had excellent news for me.  The sketchbook was by Da Vincy and very valuable.  He offered me two million dollars for it, which just about floored me. I hesitated for a while, then politely declined.  I figured it may be worth more than that and I told him I would pick it up tomorrow.

I arrived in New York in the early afternoon, and after paying George his fee for the authentication documents of the sketchbook, I signed a receipt for it, thanked him for his efforts and returned home to Ontario. Before I left, he told me that there was no record of the sketchbook having been owned by someone or stolen, so it must have come from an estate or owner(s) who have held it for many generations and kept knowledge of its existence private. The same happens to valuable paintings and other artworks that have vanished for a couple of hundred years or more, and then suddenly shows up. I didn’t comment on that.

I had to figure out how to sell the sketchbook, without anyone knowing who I was, for I still had an uneasy feeling about the 11 Moretti entries I had seen in the phone book in Fiumicino.  I know that Sotheby Auctioneers will keep both seller and buyer names confidential, so maybe that’s the way to go.

I put the sketchbook back in the safety deposit box in the bank and then settled down for a few days to compose my thoughts and calm my anxiety.

Six days later, I placed a phone call to Sotheby in New York and asked to speak to someone in the antique arts department. A man, introducing himself as Frederick Barnes asked if he could help me.  I quickly explained that I had a Da Vincy sketchbook, the authenticity of which has been confirmed by George Lucas of Manhattan, who I was sure he was familiar with.  He concurred but said he would have to examine the sketchbook before he agreed to put it on auction for me. I informed him that anonymity was of paramount importance to me, but he would be free to check anything he wanted respecting the authenticity of the sketchbook and anything else he deemed necessary.

We agreed to meet in New York City in four days.

Once again, my anxiety increased and I had trouble sleeping. I just wanted to get this whole affair over with. I had not even anticipated the possible windfall I would get from auctioning the sketchbook.  What on Gods earth would I do with a few million dollars which it appears I would get.

The meeting with Frederick Barnes at Sotheby’s in New York City went without any problems.  He took delivery of the sketchbook and examined it briefly, appearing quite impressed by what he saw. I gave him a copy of the certificate of authenticity from George Lucas, and he gave me a receipt for both. He indicated that the Sotheby’s auctioneer fee was ten percent, which I agreed to. In writing.  After some discussions as to how the auction would proceed if he accepted the item, we bid a cordial farewell, and I headed back to Ontario again.  He said he would call me as soon as he had a decision.

It was ten days before Frederick Barnes called me; the longest ten days in my life. Most nights I had lain awake pondering on a possible new future and where to go if I left my hometown. Frederick said that they had accepted the item for auction and one would take place in New York in two weeks.  I asked him what he estimated the sketchbook would sell for and I was utterly floored when he said not less than ten million dollars.

To remain as anonymous as possible, I wanted to bank the money outside Canada. I began looking around, and the Cayman Islands seemed a logical choice, but it had too many requirements for documents and personal Id’s.  A Swiss bank account would be easier to open, and I chose that.  There was lots of help on the internet as to how to do it. I made a reservation to Geneva two days ahead, to give me time to get funding from my own bank to open the account with.

I asked for a certified bank draft from my bank for $30,000.00, which took the balance on my account down a few notches, but considering what I potentially had coming, it was a mere bagatelle.

The trip to Geneva was smooth and opening an account went equally well.  My passport served as documentation for my identity, and I received the details of my account, and it’s balance after I deposited the $30,000.00. I left for home the next day and settled down to wait for the auction in New York.

Nine days later, Fredrick Barnes called me from New York,  The sketchbook had been sold to an anonymous buyer for 16 million dollars.  He asked if I wanted to come to New York to settle the account, but I declined, asking him instead to deposit the net amount to my new Swiss bank account.

I was astounded, to say the least, and I seriously had to plan my future, adjusted to my new wealth.

My first action was to transfer 150,000,00 dollars to my bank account here from my Swiss account and then to buy a large motor-home. I arranged to have my assistant live rent free in my house and to run the business, taking fifty percent of the profits for his efforts and crediting the rest to my local bank account. I loaded the motor-home with the most precious belongings I had in the house and then informed my assistant that I would be leaving on an extended journey to places as of yet unknown to me.  He did not understand why I wanted to leave, but I said that I wanted a new life in my senior years.  I think he understood.

Two days later, I bid farewell to my assistant and left the town that I had lived in all my life. I felt excited and invigorated by the prospects of being able to go wherever I wanted.

I passed through Barker Town on my way and stopped for a cup of coffee. I picked up yesterdays newspaper (Barker Town Daily News), and on page three, I found an article that stunned me.  The paper reported that a catacomb on the Catholic cemetery had been broken into and the five caskets inside it had been opened as if someone was looking for something that may have been put into one or several of them. It was not possible to determine if anything had been stolen since there were no records of anything being present in any of the caskets.  The catacomb belonged to the Moretti family, all of whom were dead, and no-one had been designated to care for the upkeep of it. No suspects had been apprehended, and the whole case is just a mystery.

I was completely non-plussed by the article and could only think that the Moretti’s in Italy had found out about the Da Vincy sketchbook auction, but that would be pure speculation, and at any rate, there was no way they could figure I was involved.  I was safe to drive into the sunset of my life.

 

 

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This work by K. Larsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

 

 

 

  

 

 

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The Year That Went.

We are nearly at the end of a year and it is time to take a look at what took place during the last 12 month. The first thing, of course, is to review last new year’s resolutions and many of them are now relegated to the “chimera”, category, since they kind of fell by the wayside as the month went by. The proverbial excuse is “try again next year”, but then, perhaps not. To fail twice is to fail miserably.

Around the world many things happened, too many to mention here, but a few may warrant a line or two.

In The United States, President Obama remains very popular. 63% liked him last time they took a poll, which, of course, is frustrating to the republicans, even though they gained a majority in the house. Unemployment runs at near 10 percent, which probably won’t change in the foreseeable future, since so many companies now have their products manufactured under contract in China, rather than on the home turf. The US treasury has borrowed so much money on the international market that not even the grandchildren of the present generations will be able to pay it off,–so goes the complaint among many Americans and who knows, perhaps they are correct. Climate change may finally become a subject of interest amongst ordinary citizens, following a host of weather calamities during the year, the last of which was the big snow event along the eastern seaboard, which caused chaos and 4000 flight cancellations.

Then we can go south of the border to Mexico. Welcome to the land of tourist resorts, drug lords, mass murder and ingrained poverty. Perhaps someone will suggest to the grand chiefs that if they set the minimum wage to $5.00/hour or more, the poverty stricken would not need to head for Yankee-land to survive and Mexico would be able to create a consumer oriented economy.

We can head further south, all the way to Venezuela, where the magnanimous president Hugo Chavez has invented a new form of democracy. It is called “Dictatorial democracy” in which he claims that all Venezuelans’ will get lots and lots of democracy, as long as he is allowed to dictate what form it takes and who is in charge of it. Granting him the right to rule by decree set a precedent not seen since Hitler was in power in Germany and we all know what happened then. One must wonder if indeed Chavez’s ego is not founded in some form of extreme narcissism, but then who knows. My guess is that in the long run, “Cubanismo” won’t work in Venezuela. It didn’t in Cuba, so why turn the clock back Senor Chavez?

Before I leave the North and South American continents, it may be worth checking in on Canada, the land of snow, stable banks, US dependent economics, hockey and a minority government. Someday, the hope is that the honourable leader of the opposition would gain enough courage to declare a non-confidence vote against the government so that new elections could be held, but alas, he fears that the liberals would lose once again. Why is it that so many people would like to see both the Conservative Prime Minister and the Liberal opposition leader quietly disappear from site? Perhaps they would like to have someone worthwhile to vote for. Well, whatever the political situation, Canada is the greatest country in the world to live in.

On to Europe and Ireland, the green isle, where the shamrock grows and the little people played havoc with the economy. The luck of the Irish ran out and now they must go and search for another pot of gold at the end of a new rainbow. Even the water supply got contaminated and bottled water became scarcer than hens’ teeth. They need all the luck they can get and we must all hope they find it. Why not create a European lottery, where the profits goes to Ireland–nahhhh- it wouldn’t be fair, would it?

To jolly old England. Word has it that they got their economic knickers in a twist and the old empire is of no help to them anymore. Most of the English still say: “Long live the Queen” and as much as that’s fair, the fact is that she already has. Many are wondering if The Prince of Wales, with his 140 servants will be the next person to rule the roost in Buckingham Palace, or will England choose to become a republic instead. Perhaps the Queen’s grandson and his fiancé,-with no servants-, may be given a crack at it. Whatever will be, will be and nothing that the humble people in the former colonies can say or do will make the slightest bit of difference. A lot of people who read this would probably like to “send me to Coventry”.

Spain, Portugal and Italy are still under the radar and until such time they also will need a few hundred billion dollars to bail out their economies, we wish them “Un Prospero Aňo Nuevo” and, in the case of Italy, perhaps Berlusconi should cut down a bit on his teenage chick adorations.

And now for a quick trip to the Middle East and Israel, whose voracious appetite for land that does not belong to it is only outdone by their hatred for anything Palestinian and total disregard for human rights. Those who live by the sword–well, you know what I mean. Don’t ask me if I wish them good luck. I would have to give an honest answer.

If a Canadian wants’ to go to UAE, a long-term visa will now cost $1000.00. With 25,000 Canadian residents in that country, it should give them an extra 25 million dollar income, enough to support a sheik or two for a month or so. All this for refusing additional landing rights for Emirate Airways in Canada. Go figure.

Iraq. Was the cost of the war to the US taxpayer worth it? Thousands were killed because of a US president’s decision to “Rid the country of weapons of mass destruction” which they didn’t have in the first place. Where is the morality in all this?

Iran. Be careful, the Israeli bogyman may want to harm you.

A trip to Zimbabwe will find the country ruled with an iron fist by none other than good old Mugabe ,-you know, the chap that has ruled there since forever. Some people just don’t want to retire and in Africa, the rule is that “The Lion gets it all”, which Mugabe certainly adheres to. Well, mortality comes to everyone and at age 83, his number is near the top of the list.

As for Afghanistan and the never-ending war. All the soldiers and civilians that have been killed there during the last God knows how many years. One MUST ask if this relentless slaughter can be attributed a meaning of some sort. Russia couldn’t win a war there, so why does the US (and NATO) think they can? Why does the US support a corrupt government there? Is it the huge quantity of natural resources present there? or just simply fear that the country could seriously harm the good US of A. Perhaps the military economics that Eisenhower warned about after the Second World War is still at work. Once Pandora’s box is opened, it is no easy task to close it again and a lot of people have to forfeit their lives for something that should never have taken place. This may perhaps be the right point at which to say: “Yankee go home”.

And then on to China, for the world’s greedy corporations are watching this nation with envious eyes, trying to get a piece of the economic cake. How wonderfully well equipped they all are with blinkers that conveniently hide the human rights violations, so they don’t have to complain about them- not that anyone in China’s authoritarian government would listen to them. It is one thing for China to try and improve the lives of 400 million people who live below the poverty line, so they don’t rebel against the government, but the manner in which they achieve it does not consider basic human rights. Climate change will be the most likely cause for interruption in China’s rapidly advancing economy. When you have 1.25 billion mouths’ to feed, drastic changes to the climate can cause mass disruption in the economy and food production patterns. When a country arrests and jails those who object to the manner in which its government runs the country and the lack of freedom of conscience, they do so out of fear, not out of intellectual reasoning. For China, it is not a question of if, but rather of when the bubble will burst.

As for Russia, Since Putin don’t like competition, neither inside, nor outside the government and since he calls the shots, regardless of who is in charge, the best choice is to leave him to his own devices, bearing in mind that politicians come and go. Russia won’t go away, if he does.

There is India to say something about,-the largest democracy in the world and one of the oldest civilizations. It has problems similar to China, with respect to poverty and a less than admirable relationship with Pakistan. Both having nuclear weapons is an ever present danger to peace or perhaps a deterrent, given that an attack   by either nation with nuclear weapons is certain to mean annihilation of millions of people. Should India pursue an economic model similar to that of China? I think not, for only in an authoritarian state can such a model be forced through. India is a democratic country and must find its own model in this increasingly complex global economy and with stable governments and free elections, it will do just that.

There are many countries I have not spoken of, but I have touched those I feel have made some headlines during 2010. It is my sincere hope that 2011 will bring better conditions for mankind throughout the world.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL.

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