Jeff Danziger’s award-winning drawings, syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, are published by more than 600 newspapers and websites. He has been a cartoonist for the Rutland Herald, the New York Daily News and the Christian Science Monitor; his work has appeared in newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to Le Monde and Izvestia. He has published ten books of cartoons and a novel about the Vietnam War. He served in Vietnam as a linguist and intelligence officer, earning a Bronze Star and the Air Medal. Born in New York City, he now lives in Manhattan and Vermont. A video of the artist at work can be viewed here.
By Christy DeSmith, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)(TNS)
My mother-in-law, Anna, reads avidly — in a handful of languages. Born in World War II-era Budapest, she was a bookish girl who grew up devouring Hungarian and Russian literature. After a stop in Holland, she moved to Lucerne, Switzerland, an idyllic Alpine city set on a crystalline lake, and turned to novels in German and Italian, two of the country’s four official languages. Later, she added English to her repertoire.
Anna’s spoken English bears traces of her favorite British and American writers: Jane Austen, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. For her, my husband, Mischa, and I were never engaged; we were “betrothed.” My daughter’s stroller was a “pram.” And she’s always asking me to “fetch” her things from the grocery store.
Mischa and I now visit Switzerland every summer.
While we’re there, Anna likes loading me up with literary references to her adopted homeland. She jabbed me in the ribs during an early visit — this was probably 2009 — gasping with laughter while pointing me toward W. Somerset Maugham’s mocking description of Lucerne.
“It was true that the lake was absurd, the water was too blue, the mountains too snowy, and its beauty, hitting you in the face, exasperated rather than thrilled. … Lucerne reminded him of wax flowers under glass cases,” the British author wrote of Lucerne in a short story called The Traitor.
I loved this passage immediately. It perfectly captured my early impressions of Switzerland, a gorgeous but oppressively perfect and overachieving kind of place.
A few years ago Anna handed me a copy of Mark Twain’s 1880 book A Tramp Abroad after dinner. “To hear an American read Mark Tvvvvain!” she purred, with her palm pressed to chest. She demanded a live reading. I searched Anna’s face for a hint of irony, something I often detect in her expressions. I found none. She reclined in her chair and awaited the performance.
I stammered through The Awful German Language, possibly the book’s most famous chapter (it was the only one I knew). Then Anna directed me to a handful of essays Twain wrote after spending some time near Lucerne. In The Jodel and Its Native Wilds, Twain recounts ascending nearby Mount Rigi with his agent in 1878.
Anna likes this essay, in part, because of her affections for Mount Rigi–she can admire its grass-covered slopes from the comforts of her garden or living room. (All the other mountains in her view are baldfaced and jagged.)
I started reading aloud: Rigi is “an imposing Alpine mass, six thousand feet high, which stands by itself, and commands a mighty prospect of blue lakes, green valleys and snowy mountains–a compact and magnificent picture three hundred miles in circumference.”
I felt my face redden. I’m not fond of public speaking, but more than that, the florid prose embarrassed my Midwestern sensibilities.
“For some days we were content to enjoy looking at the blue Lake Lucerne and all the piled-up masses of snow-mountains that border it all around …” –Mark Twain
This wasn’t what I expected from Twain–he seemed intoxicated by Switzerland. Thankfully, the essay takes an irreverent turn, poking fun at Rigi’s yodeling shepherd boys, its alphorn players and Twain himself. After all, it took him three days to reach the summit–most hikers can master gentle Rigi in less than a day.
An hour later, I was lounging about Anna’s living room, dousing my phobias with white wine while gazing out the window at the soft contours of Rigi’s kulm (or peak). Anna re-emerged with yet another literary reference to central Switzerland: a clip from the Neue Luzerner Zeitung newspaper about the new Mark Twain hiking trail, which traces the writer’s route to the top of her favorite mountain.
At Anna’s insistence, we were hiking the 6.5-mile Mark Twain trail just two days later.
I quickly learned that Rigi is steep compared with, say, the famous Barr Trail on Colorado’s 14,000-foot Pikes Peak, which I had hiked in the late ’90s. The first two hours on Twain’s trail were punishing: an uphill climb via rutted paths and an improvised, earthen staircase. Anna, age 70-plus, fared much better than I did, though I am younger by four decades. So she scavenged in the bushes for a sturdy branch I could use as my alpenstock.
Hiking is an especially beloved pastime in Switzerland, a nation veined with wanderwegen or footpaths that wind through the surreal landscapes. No matter where you travel in Switzerland, you’re sure to find a pleasant wanderweg marked every few meters by triangular yellow signs–they’re affixed to tree trunks, signposts, even privately owned barns.
After we had followed the yellow signs for two hours, the Mark Twain trail eased into switchbacks. We spent a comfortable hour or so marching a path framed by beech and spruce trees, encountering the occasional sign inscribed with one of Twain’s gushing endorsements: “And of course the colors in the water change and blend and dissolve, producing marvel after marvel, miracle after miracle.” I rolled my eyes. But as we walked, my eyes kept wandering to the blueness of Lake Lucerne and all the toylike steamboats sputtering below.
“After that, we found a jodeler every ten minutes; we gave the first one eight cents, the second one six cents, the third one four, the fourth one a penny, contributed nothing to Nos. 5, 6 and 7, and during the remainder of the day hired the rest of the jodelers, at a franc apiece, not to jodel anymore.”–Mark Twain
As a tourist destination, Mount Rigi saw its heyday around the time of Twain’s visit. Today Rigi retains the flavors of the Belle Epoque, thanks to a strict prohibition on car traffic. As we hiked the mountain, 136 years in Twain’s wake, we passed a string of dairy farms without driveways or even pickup trucks. I marveled at all the gravity-defying milk cows, how they grazed atop cliffs and along steeply pitched meadows. Alas, no yodelers were seen or heard, though we encountered a different agricultural relic: hand-painted advertisements for local alpine cheeses.
At 3,700 feet, right around 11 a.m., we came across Felsentor, a spiritual retreat center where habit-clad nuns maneuver wheelbarrows around massive rock formations and flower gardens. Founded in 1999, the center didn’t exist in Twain’s day–he only mentions a distinct rock formation in the area dubbed Felsentor. Felsentor is now home to a guesthouse, a meditation hall and an outdoor restaurant especially for hikers.
We each ordered a salad and a kaffeecreme before seating ourselves on a patio appointed with modest wrought-iron furniture. I untied my boots, wiggled my toes in the fresh air and kicked back to enjoy an immodest panorama of the Swiss Alps. In this perfect moment, I felt my cynicism recede. I grasped what Twain meant when he wrote that Rigi’s views “were as enticing as glimpses of dreamland.”
“I suppose we must have stopped oftener to stretch out on the grass in the shade and take a bit of a smoke than this boy was used to, for presently he asked if it had been our idea to hire him by the job, or by the year? He said he wasn’t in such a very particular hurry, but he wanted to get to the top while he was young.”–Mark Twain
The trees eventually thinned out, revealing the hazy blue skies of a typical summer day in central Switzerland. We wound our way through mossy scenes before arriving, finally, to a resort settlement called Rigi Kaltbad, located at 4,700 feet. Twain spent his second night there. Anna, Mischa and I stopped there for our second lunch around 2 p.m.
The first thing you notice when you reach Rigi Kaltbad is the architecture: lots of traditional Swiss chalets rising in gradient from the slopes. But Rigi Kaltbad is in the midst of transition. In 2014 the brand-new Mineralbad & Spa Rigi-Kaltbad opened in a glistening modern edifice — complete with cantilevered swimming pools hanging off the mountainside.
The spa wasn’t complete when we visited, yet we were able to linger on its ultramodern veranda and sigh over the framed-up views of the Alps.
Rigi Kaltbad proved a fine place to ogle feats of Swiss design. Twain stood there and gaped at Europe’s first mountain cog rail, completed on Mount Rigi in 1871. “It was planted straight up the mountain with the slant of a ladder that leans against a house,” he wrote.
Now I was eyeing the construction site for some luxury condos, perched on a precipitous plot beside the ladderlike railway.
We encountered few hikers before reaching Rigi Kaltbad. Now they were everywhere. Visitors like traveling to Rigi Kaltbad via railway or cable car before walking 2.5 miles to the summit. After Rigi Kaltbad, there were no more Twain-themed signs to distract us from thirsty mouths or burning thighs. There was only a thick spread of Swiss, German and British tourists trying to coax small children up the steep path.
We started hiking in silence, like marathoners conserving energy for the final sprint. Anna occasionally stopped to enjoy the edelweiss and other wildflowers. I paused to wonder about the high-altitude birds or to coo over path-blocking mountain goats.
We reached Rigi-Kulm a mere eight hours after we started, outpacing Twain by two full days. We mustered just enough energy to snap the obligatory top-of-the-world photos for social media. Mischa pointed east to the high mountains of Graubunden, where residents still speak Romansch (another of Switzerland’s official languages). Then the three of us eased our way to the Rigi-Kulm train station, just as Twain had, and waited for that magical cog rail to lower us home.
“Well,” said Anna, breaking our exhausted daze. “We are surely faster than Mark Twain.”
Photo: Hiking in Lucerne, Switzerland via Flickr
By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. — One wonders what Mark Twain himself would make of the news: The Gold Rush-era newspaper for which he once penned stories and witticisms on frontier life as a fledgling journalist is once again in print after a decadeslong hiatus.
Following numerous attempts at solvency, the Territorial Enterprise, once the region’s premier recorder of gossip, scandal, satire, and irreverent tall tales — before Nevada was even a state — is back, this time as a traditional glossy monthly magazine and online edition, territorialenterprise.com.
Would Twain use Twitter to bemoan the deplorable state of the press, as he once did by pen? “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.”
Or gnash his teeth at media leadership? “I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do the right thing and be good so that God will not make me one.”
Even the Enterprise‘s new editor, Elizabeth Thompson, guesses that Samuel Clemens would have a field day.
“I don’t think he could resist with some witticism about the many attempts to resurrect the paper over the years,” she said. “He’d have something to say. He’d get a kick out of it.”
With a daily circulation of 15,000 at its peak in the 1860s, the Enterprise was Nevada’s first newspaper and the largest west of the Mississippi, as it chronicled the frenzy and financial fallout of the Comstock Lode of silver ore discovered on the eastern slope of Mount Davidson.
After the mining boom died, the paper continued to tell the story of a rough town where unwashed men settled scores with six-shooters. The original Enterprise ceased publication in 1893, along with an economy of words in its epitaph: “For sufficient reasons we stop.”
Since then, the paper has been revived numerous times, mostly notably by railroad historian Lucius Beebe, who sold it in 1961. Behind the present incarnation is Scott Faughn, also publisher of the Missouri Times, which focuses on politics and policy.
In its heyday, the Enterprise not only covered the news, it made news.
As editors recently wrote, “Reporters William ‘Dan De Quille’ Wright, James ‘Lying James’ Townsend, and Samuel ‘Mark Twain’ Clemens perfected the art of the Western tall tale with articles that became legendary for their wit.”
Thompson said the paper aims to carry on that legacy.
The maiden edition, published in March, includes, along with sundry news and an interview with Gov. Brian Sandoval, a modern reprise of the so-called “sagebrush humor” Twain helped make famous before he became America’s favorite man of letters.
The piece is a tall tale of the Comstock Mine and references famed mining engineer Philipp Deidesheimer. It begins:
“I have returned from an expedition into the most hidden and harrowing nooks and crannies of Mount Davidson with sore feet, bruised knees, ragged clothes, and a tale about our storied past that will surely rattle Mr. Deidesheimer’s old timbers — and yours, if you have them — to their very foundations.”
Legend has it that Twain’s first-ever piece for the newspaper began: “A thunderstorm made Beranger a poet, a mother’s kiss made Benjamin West a painter and a salary of $15 a week makes us a journalist.”
Clemens had traveled west from Missouri with his brother, Orion Clemens, who became secretary of the Nevada Territory before the area achieved statehood in 1864. Historians say Clemens first used the pen name “Mark Twain” while at the Enterprise.
In three years, he went on to write stories about territory politicians, shoot-’em-ups, and the stock market — some of which were reprinted in his 1872 book “Roughing It.”
A story on the Pony Express included this description: “No matter whether it was winter or summer, raining, snowing, hailing, or sleeting, or whether his ‘beat’ was a level straight road or a crazy trail over mountain crags and precipices, or whether it led through peaceful regions or regions that swarmed with hostile Indians, he must be always ready to leap into the saddle and be off like the wind!”
Of an Enterprise business reporter who filed a report drunk, he wrote:
“Owing to the fact that our stock reporter attended a wedding last evening, our report of transactions in that branch of robbery and speculation is not quite as complete and satisfactory as usual this morning. About 11 o’clock last night the aforesaid remarker pulled himself up stairs by the banisters, and stumbling over the stove, deposited the following notes on our table, with the remark, ‘S(hic)am, just ‘laberate this, w(hic)ill, yer?’ We said we would, but we couldn’t. If any of our readers think they can, we shall be pleased to see the translation.”
When Twain fabricated a murder, competitors responded with outrage. “The man who could pen such a story, with all its horrors depicted in such infernal detail, and which to our knowledge sent a pang of terror to the hearts of many persons, as a joke, in fun, can have but a very indefinite idea of the elements of a joke,” wrote the Virginia Evening Bulletin, a competitor.
The Enterprise printed a retraction: “I take it all back. Mark Twain.”
In Virginia City, reaction to the rebirth of the Enterprise has been positive.
“I’m excited about it; it tickles me,” said Sandi Sweetwater, who manages a gift shop and offers impromptu tours of the newspaper’s original offices a floor below.
She pointed to Twain’s original desk, an in-office toilet, a spittoon — even an original bottle of Perry Davis’ Pain Killer, from which Twain supposedly took occasional nips.
Across the street at the Mark Twain Saloon, owner John Schafer said that even the pen name Mark Twain might have Nevada roots. While historians believe the name comes from Clemens’ Mississippi riverboat days — a river man’s phrase for water two fathoms deep — the bar owner says there’s another theory.
“There’s talk Clemens got the name Mark Twain in Virginia City saloons,” he said. “The phrase comes from ordering two drinks at once and asking that they be served on credit.”
Thompson has high hopes for the paper, which began with a 2,500 circulation. She has spent recent months researching Twain and the period and is ready to try and match, if not precisely the wit, then at least the spirit.
“I think he’d be pleased at our effort to rejuvenate this paper yet again,” she said. “We hope he’s smiling upon this venture from either above or below.”
(c)2015 Los Angeles Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
Photo: The Territorial Enterprise newspaper, that published Mark Twain as a young journalist in the 1860’s, is being published again after a 30-year absence. A colorful statue looks out over desk at the newspaper’s museum in downtown Virginia City, Nev., where Twain once labored. (John Glionna/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
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