Lenin, to leaven his exile in Zurich,
would sometimes weekend in Luzern and,
after kalberwurst with onions and gravy
at the Wilden-Mann on Bahnhofstrasse,
would always visit the Panorama
in the Löwenplatz – or so it is said.
Panoramas were popular before
the illusion of photography,
still or moving, became reality.
They were cycloramas painted in oil,
typically fifteen metres high, one hundred
metres in circumference – often
with a three dimensional aspect:
in this case, for example, an empty
railway wagon – Huit chevaux, Quarantes hommes.
General Bourbaki’s beaten L’Armée de L’Est
in Bismarck’s Franco-Prussian War
sought asylum with the nascent Red Cross
of the now united cantons. In deep snow
eighty seven thousand men, twelve thousand
horses crossed the border that January.
An escapee from a school trip to the town
in the year of Hungary and Suez,
I wandered in by chance. The custodian
that day knew no English. My schoolboy French
struggled with his German-accent. But
I still remember the images
of the aftermath of some great battle
my history lessons had not mentioned.
Imagine if Lenin had learned from this –
the stumbling soldiers; the dead horses; the piles
of discarded, expensive rifles;
the woman with her basket waiting to help
whoever it might be lying in the cold.
He certainly learned from the railways.
Disguised as a worker, he returned
to Russia via the Finland Station.
But maybe he also learned from William Tell –
marksman and anti-imperialist –
or, rather, the apple.
Note: The piece was first published as LENIN AND THE BOURBAKI PANORAMA on the site in July 2016.