Thursday, October 31, 2019

An Unlikely Story

   At first glance you'd think it's a scene of people walking to a picturesque little chapel.
        Picturesque and little yes, but with a big and old back story.
   It begins in 1943 when 200 Italians, members of the 5th Labor battalion were captured at Tobruk and Benghazi and sent to Camp 60, a world away in Lamb Holm in the Orkney Islands.
   The Italian POW's were assigned to build roads and causeways, known as Churchill Barriers. The structures were meant to block access through the Orkney Islands which housed the British Fleet, anchored at Scapa Flow. 
    The POW's balked at first until the camp commander Major TP Buckland and Padre Gioachino Giacobazzi put together a plan. The Padre, from the Order of Little Brothers, had been sent to the remote camp to minister to the POW's. 
     The men wanted a place to worship and so they were given two Nissen huts. Amongst the prisoners was an artist, Domenico Chiocchetti and the rest is an amazing history in the lovely Orkneys. 
  Using recycled corned beef tin cans and scrap wood they went to work. They used concrete to fashion the facade to hide the shape of the prefabricated metal huts they joined end to end. They covered the interior with plaster board. The altar and altar rail were made from left over concrete, used in building the barriers. 
        It looks real, but is paint and illusion.
    Chiocchetti directed the work and the painting, done in a style to make flat walls look like carved stone, brick, wood, stained glass or tile. The ornate metal frame is painted tin cans, cut and shaped by the POW's. The candle sticks were also made that way.
   Chiocchetti's mother had given him a picture to carry during the war. It was a photo of Barabino's "Madonna of the Olives." He used it as the model from which to create the altar painting. 

    The baptismal font is a car exhaust covered with concrete.
The surrounding walls, like the ceiling, is paint on plasterboard.
   Today the Italian Chapel is the only remaining building at Camp 60. Around the waters of the Orkney Islands one can spot a few rusted Churchill Barrier Block Ships that were purposely sunk to impede German Submarines. An irony in the peaceful waters and beauty of the Orkneys, they are now used for scuba diving. 

    The chapel is used for special services and draws about 100 thousand visitors a year.
    And there is a sidebar story. When the POW's were returned to Italy, Chiocchetti stayed to finish some detail work. Legend has it he fell for a local gal, but alas he had a wife at home in Italy. So with some flourish he assured the local woman though he needed to leave, he was leaving his heart at Camp 60. It is there in the recycled cement at the approach to the altar. 

     Chiocchetti returned in 1960 and 1964.  Many of the former prisoners returned in 1992. Chiocchetti died in 1999 but his daughter sang in a special commemorative mass in 2014 marking the 70th Anniversary of the Chapel.
     An artifact of a world war remains and is an unlikely testament to peace, love, cooperation and imagination.

    More from Scotland is ahead, and the itinerary is about to move us to the magic of Ireland. 

     See you down the trail.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


    The visit to Glasgow begins and ends at the Museum of Modern art. 
     The art prank on the statue to the Duke of Wellington is in keeping with the mood of Scotland's largest city.
    New and old reflect each other in Glasgow.

      The juxtaposition is an affect of the heavy bombing Glasgow suffered during WWII. The port and industry were targets of the German Nazis.
 Thomas Carlyle is fittingly recalled. He was a towering thinker, writer, mathematician, philosopher and Victorian era commentator. 
    Glasgow is long on contrast and irony.

  There is a rich architectural heritage. 

  Many in Glasgow speak with a dialect or accent that is unique among the Scots. One needs to listen carefully, and even then it can be a challenge, though a delight to hear. 

        It is a cultural and artistic center. It feels and looks larger than its population of some 600 thousand. 

   On the itinerary, the Kelvingrove, and then a place where you can not believe your eyes and onto the magnificent Irish Republic.

   See you down the travel. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

James Bond, Agatha Christie and The Highland Girl

     The Cullin Hills and Ben Nevis mountain, long valleys and rolling

  landscapes characterize the highlands as it falls toward Glencoe.

   Portions of the James Bond Skyfall were filmed here.

    Loch Leven borders much of the view as you transverse this splendid area of the highlands. 
   Just over the bridge in Broadfort stands what could be the setting for an Agatha Christie novel. The proud Ballaculish Hotel has offered hospitality since 1877, and that time is captured here.

   Imagine a scene on the squeaky stair case.

   The resplendent parlor evokes an earlier era. I found bound editions of Town and Country from 1911 on the grand piano. 

    Night descending on Loch Linhe enables one to imagine how guests might be ensnared in a Christie plot.

 The Ballaculish straddles an area between Loch Linhe and Loch Levan.
   The Glencoe area of the highlands is rich in lochs, including the special Lomond, the largest fresh water lake in the UK.
   3 miles long, 1-4 miles wide, with 52 miles of coastline. It reaches depths beyond 623 feet. 
  23 Islands stand in Loch Lomond.  It was a strong hold of the McFarland clan. 

   A great creative effort occurred here. William Wordsworth a poet and founder of the Romantic Age in English literature penned To A Highland Girl while staying at this hotel on Loch Lomond.
   The waterfall was memorialized in the 1807 poem.
"...this fall of water that doth make
a murmur near the silent lake;

    From the Highlands back to the Lowlands. Destination Glasgow.

    See you down the trail.