Buenos Aires and the South American Business Forum

The baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), Buenos Aires

The baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), Buenos Aires

On the way home from Indonesia, I was feeling about a quart low, and indeed I contracted shingles, sort of like chicken pox for older adults. Didn’t have anything to do with tropical pathogens, the doctor said stress often triggers the onset (well, yeah, like getting your phone stolen, leaving your passport at the hotel, etc.!). It’s uncomfortable, to me not debilitating, but persistent.

Persistence meant I still had some symptoms when I departed Tuesday, August 5 for Buenos Aires and my seventh appearance at the South American Business Forum. But the show must go on, especially at that student-run conference where I have become something of a senior leader and proud cheerleader. The journey south had a few complications that were not my doing. The Washington-New York flight was severely delayed, which would have meant missing my connection to B.A. I was rebooked on another flight that was also late. The original schedule gave me almost three hours at JFK. I arrived 9:40, waited five minutes for my gate-checked bag, and walked as fast as I could across American’s big Terminal 8. As I dashed, I heard them paging me to go to gate 8 “for immediate departure,” to which I responded “I’m coming, I’m coming” (I’ve never been paged as a tardy passenger). At the top of an escalator a man asked if I was Robert Britton, and escorted me to the gate. I was on the Silver Bird 10 minutes before departure time, and they closed the door right behind me. Whew, that was close.

Arrived into winter in the Southern Hemisphere, met one of the conference volunteers, Lucas Diaz, and my sidekick Rick Dow (see earlier posts, a longtime friend and marketing genius), who was making his second SABF appearance. Hopped in Lucas’ car and were soon yakking across a bunch of topics, not least what sounded like an awesome presentation Rick would give the next day. It was a pleasure to be in B.A., a place that has become familiar. Rick and I checked into the hotel, changed money, and headed to lunch at one of the city’s cool bares notables, the Bar Britanico in the San Telmo neighborhood just south of downtown. We spent a couple of hours yakking, ate a good meal, had a beer.

Rick Dow at the Bar Britanico

Rick Dow at the Bar Britanico

We then headed to a high-rise that has long been the site of the first day plenary, met some of the conference organizers, and tested Rick’s presentation. At six, we walked a few blocks south to the compact campus of ITBA, the Buenos Aires Institute of Technology, the SABF host institution, and plunged into the first forum event, a noisy and lively “tea party.” Organizers asked the roughly 100 participants (50 from Argentina, 25 from elsewhere in Latin America, and 25 from other places) to bring some nonperishable food from their homelands, so we were able to tuck into geitost (caramelized goat cheese from Norway), savory crackers from Paraguay, the sweet cookie from Argentina called an alfajon, and lots more. Taste was great, but better was the exuberance of the youngsters. We met Kulani and Mokgohloe, two women medical students from South Africa, Daniel from Venezuela, Ariadne from Ukraine, and many more.

SABF's kickoff tea party

SABF’s kickoff tea party

Next stop was dinner with long friends Martín Siniawski and his partner Valeria Luna, and Juan Trouilh and his girlfriend Barbara. The two guys were part of the SABF founding team, and we’ve become close through the years. Dinner was at Caseros, a delightful restaurant Juan’s cousin owns (unhappily, she wasn’t there). We shared wonderful appetizers, ceviche and grilled sweetbreads, then I tucked into a ribeye steak. I am not a big red-meat eater, but when I’m in Argentina I really appreciate the superior flavor and texture of grass-fed beef, so much better than the grain-pumped feedlot animals in my native land. Yum! The day ended just after 11, with me as cheerleader, addressing the SABF organizing team on the eve of the conference. I got ‘em fired up!

Next morning the conference began, a full day of plenary, six speakers, including Rick’s stupendous preso. Met lots more students, including Artem from Russia, Menzi from South Africa, Thijs from the Netherlands, and more. As good as the sessions were, the chatter during coffee breaks, lunch, and dinner may have been better. So many remarkable life stories, like from Aslan, born in Iran but now a proud Oklahoman. The day sped by, as did the next one, Friday. I moderated a student presentation in the morning, continued yakking. Rick and I left a bit early, grabbed a short nap, then returned to a group dinner.

SABF

Before dinner, we ambled across the street to an agreeable neighborhood restaurant, El Establo, for a beer. It’s got a great local feel. I thought I knew Rick pretty well, but he told me lots of new stories, of him living in Paris as a teenager, and more color on his first real job, selling pool chemicals in the Southeast. Just one colorful story: he loves music (his first job – not a real one, he says – was owning and running a live-music bar, Vegetable Buddies, in South Bend, Indiana), so often on his selling trips he’d check out various music venues in the Carolinas, Georgia, etc. That included breaking into a closed, old hotel in Macon, Georgia, to “commune” with the spirit of Little Richard, one of the black musicians who hugely influenced rock and roll; Rick knew that Little Richard had been a dishwasher in the hotel. I could listen to his stories for hours!

On Saturday morning,we started a bit later, so the Transport Geek hopped on the subway for a short ride; the now-privatized system is old and in need of investment (judging by the Japanese characters on windows, my train began life across the Pacific).  Stations have wonderful old art, mosaics, paintings, and tiles.

Subte

Tile art, Buenos Aires subway

Tile art, Buenos Aires subway

The city is filled with these contrasts of old and new -- it's one of the things that makes B.A. so cool

The city is filled with these contrasts of old and new — it’s one of the things that makes B.A. so cool

We did a cool group activity that morning, basically an hour of dance with a wonderful and inspiring moderator. My big job, for the third time, was to summarize and close the conference that afternoon, a task I have come to relish, for it gives me the opportunity for a full measure of inspiration. I also was able to meet and thank parents of six or seven organizers, which was lovely, and pose for countless pictures with the youngsters. It was sorta rock-star treatment, and I kept telling them that I was getting far more than I gave. Once again, a colossal conference. I am just so happy to be associated with the group. They are like family.

At 6:30 Rick and I met a former organizer, Josue, now a management consultant, for a beer and a good yak. He still wants to get into the airline business, and Rick (a former VP at Northwest Airlines) and I dispensed some advice. The airline theme continued at 8:15, when we met Christoff Poppe, the Argentine country manager for United Airlines. I met Christoff when he was a MBA student at Kellogg a few years back, and we reconnected earlier in the year. Three airline guys, two former and one current, made for a lively dinner at Al Carbon, a steak place around the corner from our hotel. We covered a lot of topics, including our industry, Argentine economics and politics, and lots more. Really fun. And another steak.

I was plumb wore out, but we promised students we’d show at the end-of-conference party, so at 11:30 Rick and I hopped in a cab and motored west to the Palermo neighborhood and the Liv night club. A night club! I don’t think I had been in such a place for at least 25 years. It was lively, the kids were having big fun, but it was way too noisy for this old guy. Still, we moved around, getting into digital snapshots, hugging and one-cheek-kissing almost everyone (Rick and I do like the Latin way). On the way out, I ran into another old SABF hand, Agustín DiLuciano, a telecoms engineer who told me he’s spending more and more time as an artist – a good thing, because he has huge talent.

A sample of Agustín's talent

A sample of Agustin’s talent; you can see more at http://www.facebook.com/dilucious

 

 

But we weren’t done. Nope. At 1:45, we left the club and headed to La Catedral, a tango club that Juan Trouilh told us about. It was exactly as he described: dumpy, funky, but totally local and totally memorable: I will long remember ordinary Porteños (as locals are known) moving around the dance floor, filled with energy, and a lot of passion. The tango is such a cool dance. We left just before three, and I felt pretty local. I’m an early-to-bed guy, and have been for decades, but lately I have discovered – perhaps better late than never – that if I stay up late from time to time I’m not gonna die! So 4.5 hours of sleep was better than zero. And, oh, did we have fun.

Tango2

Up Sunday morning, packed my bag, and met Rick for breakfast at 9:30. We hopped in a taxi and headed to Recoleta, pausing to admire the baroque church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar (1732), then into the huge cemetery where Eva Peron and lots of others are buried. It’s a fascinating place, with elaborate burial vaults and structures, some in poor repair.

Altar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Altar, Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Recoleta Cemetery

Recoleta Cemetery

FatherFahy

Rev. Fahy’s grave, however, is in fine shape!

Man and friend, Recoleta park

Man and friend, Recoleta park

Flower power, Recoleta park

Flower power, Recoleta park

The latter are a sort of metaphor for the local economy, which has been on a down slope for more than seven decades. As I have written in these pages after previous visits, Argentina 110 years ago was as rich as the United States, but the decline began with the election of Juan Peron in the 1940s. His populist approach, with lots of state intervention (and ample corruption) has become entrenched, and has destabilized an economy with enormous resources and potential. The collectivist urge has actually engendered an absence of togetherness, and the evidence is plainly visible on the street (for example, in disrepair and dog turds on the sidewalk).

The fawning praise for Juan is everywhere

The fawning praise for Juan is everywhere

You must feel invincible if you brand a government ministry with an image of Eva Peron, the former first lady

You must feel invincible if you brand a government ministry with an image of Eva Peron, the former first lady

We walked the rows and rows of the cemetery, then headed into the nearby park, filled with what seemed like an oversupply of artists and craft vendors. Hopped in a cab for a (to us) late lunch with Martín and Vale, at a sensational local parrilla (barbecue), more steak, some spicy chorizo, and more. After the meal, we walked a few blocks to their high-rise apartment and rode up to the 31st floor for stunning views of the city. Had a coffee and a short yak in their apartment, then headed out for another amble around Palermo.

True amigos: Martín Siniawski and Valeria Luna

True amigos: Martín Siniawski and Valeria Luna

The view from Martin's and Vale's apartment

The view from Martín’s and Vale’s apartment

Rick shares my delight in spending time in ordinary landscapes, so the hour or more walking the streets of an interesting neighborhood was to both of us a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Some scenes from the neighborhood:

PaintedDetail

Modern apartments are replacing these two- and three-story traditional houses

Modern apartments are replacing these two- and three-story traditional houses

The replacement structure (to the above); note the stylish variant on burglar bars

The replacement structure (to the above); note the stylish variant on burglar bars

Bookstore window

Bookstore window

In a city filled with annoying spray-painted graffiti, we very much liked this transitory paper and foil version!

In a city filled with annoying spray-painted graffiti, we very much liked this transitory paper and foil version!

We hopped in a taxi back to the airport, I said goodbye to Rick, and hopped in a private car (I planned to take the bus, but the SABF, always hospitable, organized a nice ride). The driver spoke no English, so it was the perfect moment to thank Don Miguel, my first Spanish teacher, way back to 1960 (I actually murmured a “Gracias, Don Miguel” the night before in the steakhouse, where I ordered all courses in Spanish). The driver was my age, a friendly fellow, and we exchanged basics – my job, my family, his family. He explained that he was in his second marriage, and had children aged 6 to 40. It was a fun ride, a nice variant on Talking to Stangers. Flew to Dallas/Fort Worth, arriving early Monday morning. I was headed to family vacation in South Carolina, and had a seven-hour layover, so I took a welcome shower, worked a bit, and at 1:50 flew to Charleston.

A welcoming sight: the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 777, Buenos Aires

A welcoming sight: the cockpit of an American Airlines Boeing 777, Buenos Aires

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A Reflection on Flight, In the Wake of Tragedy

OneworldJet

All of us who work in the airline business have made it easy: the ability to traverse our nation, or perhaps the whole world, in just hours.  I did it just last week, flying nearly halfway around the world, to Indonesia.  Our mission is simple to understand: we work hard each day to bring the people of the world together, safely, reliably, and at a fair price.   Many of us who have worked in the business for our entire lives see it as a calling, something noble.  We are pilloried for a late flight, a cancellation, or a lost bag, but we shrug off the criticism, because we believe in what we do.

So when terrorists strike, as they did a few days ago, bringing down a magnificent flying machine cruising from Europe to Southeast Asia, it is deeply upsetting.  Perhaps we should pause and give thanks that this is the first such crime since September 11, 2001. But that gives us no comfort.  Instead, we find ourselves weeping at the photos and stories of the victims profiled in today’s New York Times. 

The grief must surely be enormous in The Netherlands, a nation I have long admired and frequently visited.  It’s a relatively small place, which means proportionally, the impact there was greater than in the U.S. on September 11 (it would be the equivalent of about 3,800 deaths in the U.S.).

This morning, I rode my bike to Washington National Airport, 16 miles.  I wanted to get close to our business, to remind myself of what we do.  I dismounted just north of the end of the runway and watched a few takeoffs and a landing.  Routine.  Seemingly easy, though to us quite complex.  We’ve gotten very good at it, but the tragedy in Ukraine reminds us that there are some in the world who would exploit this noble and capable business to advance their own twisted agenda, sacrificing innocents and trying to scare us.  But we will not be frightened, because to show fear is to give those thugs what they want.  And we will not do that.

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Jakarta, Indonesia, and a short stop in Hong Kong

Tropical flora, Jakarta

Tropical flora, Jakarta

 

The first journey wholly in the latter half of 2014 began on July 8, way before dawn, up to New York Kennedy and over the pole on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, more than 8,000 miles and 12 time zones. Happily, a longtime colleague at Cathay kindly got me upgraded to business class, which was sensational. The service was great, flight attendants among the best anywhere. My westbound transpacific approach is only to sleep a couple of hours, which meant I had time to watch five movies. We arrived HKG at 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon, but I still had more than 2,000 miles to my destination, Jakarta. Lucked out with another big seat on the next flight, and arrived in Indonesia’s capital at 8:00 pm.

 

How you get from New York to Hong Kong (courtesy of Great Circle Mapper)

How you get from New York to Hong Kong (courtesy of Great Circle Mapper)

It was their presidential election day, which offered both a good conversation starter when Talking to Strangers (not just that night, but for days after), and meant that there was little of the infamous traffic that chokes the huge metropolis. The taxi driver was the first exemplar of Indonesian friendliness; he spoke pretty good English, and we had a nice chat about his four children, his vote earlier in the day (I did not ask and he did not offer his choice), Ramadan fasting (he was hungry), and his 12-year stint behind the wheel. The two young front-desk clerks at the Holiday Inn Express downtown extended the welcome – on first impression, a very hospitable place – and I asked them to show me their inked little fingers, evidence that they too had voted. I snapped a picture, only later realizing that one held up one inked finger and the other proudly displayed two. In this case, the V-for-victory gesture meant she supported the reform candidate, Mr. Joko, who was thought to be the winner (in the world’s fourth-most-populous country, islands sprinkled across 3,000 miles of water, it would take until July 22 for the official results).

The next morning, The New York Times included this gem: “Katherina Setiadi, a 95-year-old who grew up under Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia, said she voted for Mr. Joko because she felt he was a good man. ‘There’s so much energy today compared to’ Mr. Suharto’s regime, said Ms. Setiadi, sitting in a wheelchair and accompanied by family members. ‘You just feel it – feel the democracy.’” It was a good time to be in country.

Evidence of the election was everywhere: at left, a billboard for the projected loser, and a shoeshine bench promoting the likely winner

Evidence of the election was everywhere: at left, a billboard for the projected loser, and a shoeshine bench promoting the likely winner

My time-zone approach worked perfectly: I was asleep by 9:30 and did not wake until 5:30. Headed to the gym for 10 miles on a bike, then down to breakfast: fried rice with dried fish, chicken soto (soup), and a bowl of muesli for East-West balance. Back in my room, I discovered an oops: two days earlier, I packed my bag in some haste, and forgot the pair of dress shoes for my client meetings. Failure recovery was relatively fast: thanks to the Internet, I located a Rockport (my favorite brand, totally comfy for all the walking I do when on the road) store in a shopping mall a few kilometers away, which would give the Transport Geek a first opportunity to use the city’s varied public transport. I walked a few hundred meters to the Sudirman commuter-train station and bought a chipcard ticket.

The view looking north from my hotel room

The view looking north from my hotel room

Putting my wallet away, I heard a voice, in great English, “excuse me, sir, but what is AirLearn?” Fahd had spotted the laminated business card on my backpack, and this launched a nice T-t-S (by the way, an essay on the joy of T-t-S was just published, in the July issue of American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines, here). I described my little firm and my airline background, and he said he had lived in the U.S. for 12 years, learned to fly, loved aviation, but didn’t think he could find a pilot job. We chatted a bit more, and I peeled off, down the stairs to the train platform and a short ride to the Tebet station. From there, it was a mile walk along Jalan Kh. Abdullah Syafe’i, through the ordinary landscapes that I always find interesting: past little shops, a couple of banks, and a lot of small garages for repairing some autos, but mostly the thousands of motorcycles that are solid – and noisy – evidence of the nation’s rapidly-rising living standards. I also passed a number of small restaurants, and if they were open the workers looked glum, for Ramadan is bad for daytime business.

An ordinary neighborhood

An ordinary neighborhood

 

Car repair guys, proud of their work

Car repair guys, proud of their work

The Kota Kasablanka mall, frigid air, gleaming floors, global brands, was further proof of growing affluence, though the place was pretty empty. I found the Rockport store, and a pair of dress loafers that fit my bunioned paws. I asked the friendly young clerk to show me his proof-I-voted inked finger, and he held up two fingers for my iPhone camera. Nice!

The flashy mall

The flashy mall

Retraced my steps back to the station. On the return train, a middle-aged man spotted me looking at the route map and asked if I needed help. Another nice T-t-S with a fellow who lived in Sydney, Australia, for 15 years. He, too, had voted the day before. So nice to meet people who do not take democracy for granted. I changed clothes, slipped on my new shoes, and set off on Transjakarta, a set of bus lines that operate on (more or less) dedicated lanes, bypassing some but not all traffic jams. Hopped off and walked several blocks, then realized I would be late for my client meeting if I kept on foot, so I hailed an ojek, unlicensed motorcycle “taxis.” My first ride was a good introduction: fast but slightly scary, especially when the driver slipped between lanes of stopped cars, with a few inches of clearance on each side.

I entered the posh Bodobudur Hotel, met my client Betti, and had a good chat about the one-day seminar that she had organized for two days hence. She was impressed by my public-transport experiences in just 16 hours; yes, she recognized the word “geek,” and I then told her I was in fact a Transport Geek. She laughed. I headed back to the busway and a 30-cent ride back to the hotel. Grabbed a short siesta.

Rush hour traffic; note the motorbikes squeezing through at right

Rush hour traffic; note the motorbikes squeezing through at right

At about 5:30, I headed back to Sudirman station. Rush hour, jammed platforms, packed trains. I fell into the pushed wave of commuters flowing onto a train. This was the definition of crowded, tighter than I had ever experienced – even in Tokyo, in India. When I got off one stop east in Manggarai, I still had my wallet, in my buttoned back pocket, but someone managed to steal my iPhone in a front pocket. Well, shit. I thought perhaps I left it in the hotel room, but when I returned it was not there. Nope. Well, shit, but there was nothing to do but go to the Apple website, report it stolen (the “Find my iPhone” app only works if the phone is on), then suspend AT&T service.

No reason to mope, it was a replaceable thing, and the reality is that there have only been two thefts in more than 40 years of international travel – some travelers’ checks in Munich in 1973 (replaced on the spot), and a big ripoff, March 2006, my briefcase (laptop, camera, car keys) on a Dutch train. That’s a pretty good run.

I headed downstairs, jumped on an ojek and headed to dinner. Even with the street address and district name the driver did not know where he was going (the iPhone and GPS map would have helped). A two-mile ride took 40 minutes, circling, stopping to ask ten other drivers and strangers on the street (but unlike U.S. men he did stop to ask, and frequently). In the end, I spotted the street sign for Jalan Teuku Cik Di Tiro 4 and ten seconds later the restaurant, Lara Djonggrang. He looked unhappy when I gave him the agreed fare; I was not interested in paying for a sightseeing ride, though the district we traversed and traversed again, Menteng, was pleasant, full of large old houses and embassies.

Lara Djonggrang was, from the first moment, outstanding. A warm greeting from the staff, my name and “welcome” painted in white on a broad green leaf at my table, smiles all around. The menu was like a book, and it took awhile to get through it. I was not in a hurry, so I chose course by course. Appetizer was otak-otak, marinated ground fish in an egg batter; then a squid satay from Sulawesi; main course was a Balinese dish, nasi kajongan wayan, steamed rice with six small dishes of slow-cooked duck, grilled vegetables, seafood salad, grilled coconut, and more; and dessert was pisang ramee, a banana and raisin crepe, with coconut and palm sugar syrup. When you’re eating alone you normally are in and out, but I stayed two hours, not just enjoying the food but admiring the museum-like décor – painting, sculpture, folk art. I wished I had my iPhone to snap pictures; it was a nice reminder always to store images in your brain, too. Lara Djonggrang was a sensational experience. Hopped back on an ojek and zoomed home. In the elevator I had a nice, albeit brief, conversation with a couple of Indonesians in their 30s; can’t recall how the topic of the elections came up, but they quickly made it clear they were elated with the result, and the language they used “zeitgeist,” for instance, suggested they were academics. Wished that T-t-S could have continued!

Slept well again, up before dawn, down to the gym, then out the door for a day of touring. The major hassle of the iPhone ripoff was not having a city map with GPS “where you are” dot, so I had to revert to the old paper map, and the free version was not very good – too many ads and not enough street detail, but I jotted down my destinations on small piece of paper (for the ojek drivers), and set off, first on a Transjakarta bus north to the main railway station, Kota, then onto the first motorbike to Petak Sembilan, a street market. I love Third World markets, and this one was a gem, vendors hawking live cobras, turtles, and chickens, skinned frogs, flowers, fruits and vegetables. A little further on, the Jin de Yuan Buddhist temple – the area seemed mainly Chinese, who form a minority community in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries – plus old-school rickshaws, ladies gossiping in the shade, the works.

Detail, government building from the late (Dutch) colonial era

Detail, government building from the late (Dutch) colonial era

Modern and not, in the main railway station

Modern and not, in the main railway station

Scenes from the market street

Scenes from the market street

 

Just a small sample of the array of produce for sale: frogs and chiles

Just a small sample of the array of produce for sale: frogs and chiles

The chicken seller, unloading his wares

The chicken seller, unloading his wares

 

Roofline, Buddhist temple

Roofline, Buddhist temple

Next stop was Sunda Kelapa, the old harbor. This was for sure not the container port, but a narrow channel lined with old freighters with hulls of massive wooden beams and a house-like superstructure in the rear. They ran the range from less rickety to more rickety, but I am not an expert in marine science! An old man beckoned, pointing to his narrow green boat in the murky water below. “Ride?” he asked. Why not, I reckoned. We bargained to the equivalent of $4.32, and set off. The motor putt-putted us into the channel, and about a half-mile to open water, where we turned around. I don’t think his vessel had an Indonesian Coast Guard certificate, nor even a lifebuoy, but people who have lived in an archipelago for centuries know their way around the water. The boats were transport for basic goods: guys were loading bags of cement, carboys of chemicals, stacks of air conditioners. When not working, crewmembers waved, hung their wash on drying lines, showered on deck behind a little privacy gate. It was fascinating.

The traditional two-masted schooner called a Pinisi

The traditional two-masted schooner called a Pinisi

 

The view from the harbor

The view from the harbor

The boatman

The boatman

Back on land, it was a little hard to find an ojek at the port gate. Bicycle “taxi” guys beckoned, and even though I was only traveling a mile or so they looked pretty slow. Soon a fellow with a brightly-painted machine showed up, and I hopped on. A few blocks from my destination, Kota railway station, I spotted some interesting buildings from the Dutch Colonial era. When we arrived, the driver, the most honest one to date (in terms of fare), posed for a photo, and I threaded my way across busy streets, back toward the stuff that caught my eye. I was getting good at crossing jammed thoroughfares; the skill required the same nerve as riding an ojek, plus both eye contact with oncoming drivers and slower moves than I normally make!

Jakarta's most honest ojek driver

Jakarta’s most honest ojek driver

The Dutch governor's building

The Dutch governor’s building

Museum Wayang

Museum Wayang

According to the map, I was at Taman Fatahillah, a historic square and center of the original Dutch Colonial administration. I walked into the Museum Wayang, described in guidebooks as having a solid collection of traditional Indonesian puppets. Here was one of the finest T-t-S experiences in a long time. It was pure serendip that the ticket seller, Daniel Roy, also happened to be from a family of puppeteers – both makers and performers – who date to the 10th Century! As I was putting away my wallet and folding the bulky map, he asked where I was from. “Ah, Washington,” he replied, “we were there on a 38-day tour of the U.S. some years ago.” Daniel spent the next hour showing me around the museum, describing characters of the stories. Here was the Indonesian equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, there Gacot Kaca, the “Superman of Indonesia,” and Bima, the dragon-snake man. The total character set totaled nearly 6,000!

Indonesia's Superman

Indonesia’s Superman

Detail from a shadow puppet depicting the circle of life

Detail from a shadow puppet depicting the circle of life

Daniel explained how the puppets were made, the larger ones with highly durable wood that will last more than 300 years without repainting; shadow puppets made with buffalo skin, also durable for hundreds of years, intricate patterns cut from the hide, a single mistake ruining the work. He also told about some of the performances, like one that could last up to 10 hours, with as many as 250 different puppets – and a minimum of 120, all presented by just a few people, who could not pause for a bathroom or water break. Whoa! In addition to the U.S. tour, Daniel had visited Paris to accept a UNESCO award, and took a marathon 5.5-month trip across Africa, using puppets to dramatize the need for smaller families. The building was originally a Dutch Reformed Church, and had gone through several incarnations. After we finished the museum tour, we walked a block to his workshop, and he explained that he teaches puppet-making four times a week. I bought a couple of small shadow puppets – how could I not? It was a remarkable experience.

Daniel and one of his creations

Daniel and one of his creations

Dutch headstone inside the museum

Dutch headstone inside the museum

To prevent damage to the puppets, I returned to the hotel, and the three-mile ride south took an hour. Traffic had ground to a halt because of a huge demonstration near the national monument, a couple of thousand people protesting Israeli military action in the Gaza. Palestinian flags, chants, something being burned (likely an effigy of Binyamin Netanyahu). The delay made me cranky, but was a reminder that our (read: Bush, Obama and other U.S. leaders) unwillingness to broker a durable peace and a viable nation-state in Palestine reverberates around the world, and especially in the huge swath of earth that is Muslim.

Street protest

Street protest beside a huge fountain

Plaza Indonesia, a flashy mall; needless to say, I did not shop there!

Plaza Indonesia, a flashy mall; needless to say, I did not shop there!

I finally arrived, washed my face, dropped the goods, and headed out for a late lunch, then a small shopping trip – I told Robin I would buy Dylan and Carson a couple of batik headscarves, so I rode escalators through Sarinah, a department store, and was able to find them without much trouble. Check and done. It was hot, and I contemplated a siesta, but the “must tour” urge prevailed, and I hopped an ojek toward what the Lonely Planet guide website described as a nice collection of buildings from the colonial era. Indeed they were, but they were behind fences with sentries at checkpoints, so that mission failed. I ambled back toward the Transjakarta line. The protest had moved, but was still disrupting traffic.

At six I walked just a few blocks to Seribu Rasa, another highly-regarded Indonesian restaurant, but, drat, I did not make a reservation and they were full. In retrospect, I should have persisted, or asked to sit at the bar, but I left, and more or less wandered for 30 minutes, up a busy street looking for something, anything, local. I was hot and cranky and hungry and thirsty, and I’m not proud to report that I ate a McDonald’s chicken sandwich with cheese, fries, and a Coke, and a Mango frappe for dessert. Well, it was cheap and filling. I was worn out, and needed to be on form the next day, so was asleep way early.   Cities in the developing world wear you out!

Saturday dawned, finally time to stand and deliver. Put on my suit, ate a good breakfast, and rode a taxi – not an ojek – back to the Borobudur. Met Betti and a number of her colleagues, as well as my co-presenter, Professor Paul Dempsey (my McGill law school host, who invited me onto the project). The day went quickly, and well. When we finished at 5:30, the group invited Paul and me to join them for Iftar, the big meal to break the daytime fast.   Was back at the hotel a bit after seven. I considered going out for some Saturday night fun, but was plumb wore out.

Up Sunday morning at 5:30, quick breakfast and out the door. Jakarta Sunday morning was traffic-free, and even with pelting rain was at the airport in about a half-hour. Checked in, lucked out with another upgrade to Cathay Pacific business class, and hopped on a 777 back to Hong Kong. The purser, Lucy Kessler, recognized me from the southbound flight three days earlier. We got to know each other quite well on the flight, chatting off and on for an hour, maybe more. A couple of small-world stories: first, her husband grew up in Richardson, Texas (our hometown for 20 years); and second, she knew my Cathay Pacific colleague Charlie. She showed me a bunch of pictures on her phone: her favorite Jakarta restaurant (she was from there), her daughter Samantha, and eye-popping decorated cakes that she made. She had serious talent as a baker, and was a sensational purser to boot. I spent a bit of time in the galley, a part of the plane I remember fondly from my inflight days, and got to know some of the rest of the crew. It was a really nice ride.

With some of the cabin crew on CX718 to Hong Kong.  Purser Lucy Kessler is in the center

With some of the cabin crew on CX718 to Hong Kong. Purser Lucy Kessler is in the center

Lucy subsequently emailed a picture of one of her wonderful decorated cakes, this one for her daughter's 8th birthday

Lucy subsequently emailed a picture of one of her wonderful decorated cakes, this one for her daughter’s 8th birthday

Arrived Hong Kong at 2:45, and instead of flying on, I hopped on the super-speedy Airport Express train, then a free shuttle to my hotel (breaking up the journey, even a little, made sense). Checked in, washed my face, and zipped back out. First activity, a ride on the slow but funky double-decker tram west to Kennedy Town. The top deck of the tram is a great vantage point for street life and the changing urban landscape, especially the gradual replacement of 1950s and ‘60s high-rises with slick new ones. You pass fancy shops with global brands and 50 feet later a traditional store, like one selling only nuts, or herbal medicines. Bought a can of Coke at Kennedy Town and hopped back on the tram, taking photos in the splendid late-afternoon light.

Older housing, Kennedy Town

Older housing, Kennedy Town

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Traditional retailing, Des Voeux Rd.

Traditional retailing, Des Voeux Rd.

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Back in the district called Central a protest was in progress, streets blocked for a sit-down of hundreds of immigrant temporary workers, all women, unhappy about changes to local labor laws, insurance cost, and other woes. It was impossible to conceive of such an event across the border, or in other parts of Asia that rely on cheap female labor to cook, clean, and look after children. And it was a reminder that Hong Kong’s democratic traditions – under some threat from Beijing – are not to be taken for granted. I happened upon the protest by accident, because my destination were the two bronze lions, named Stitt and Stephen, that stand guard at the entry to the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, HSBC. Petting the big cats, and snapping a photo, is also part of my H.K. formula.

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Street protest, Central district

Street protest, Central district

 

The HSBC cats had become part of the protest!

The HSBC cats had become part of the protest!

Global retailing, IFC Mall

Global retailing, IFC Mall

At 5:30 I met a new guy, Adam Cowburn, with the aviation consultancy SH&E/ICF. We were introduced by email last year and indeed worked a bit on a couple of proposals (that were not successful). The original plan was dinner with him and his wife, but a last-minute meeting diverted him to Kuala Lumpur, so we settled on tea in the flashy IFC Mall just above the Airport Express train station, so he could zip out. We had a good, quick yak, he peeled off, and I headed down to the water and onto the famous old Star Ferry for the short ride across the bay to Kowloon.

The Kowloon skyline

The Kowloon skyline

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The Star Ferry departing Kowloon

The Star Ferry departing Kowloon

I had been moving quickly, and it was time to relax, so I walked two blocks east to the venerable and posh Peninsula Hotel. I hadn’t been there since my last visit a decade earlier. I literally chilled, because the A/C in the lobby bar was working well. Enjoyed a Guinness Stout and some free nuts and chips (included in the $12 beer), jotted a few journal notes that I otherwise would have tapped on my iPhone. Nicely relaxing. As someone – okay, perhaps an old fuddy-duddy – who believes in at least modest rules of attire, I cheered on the lobby maitre d’, who dispatched a couple of young European men in shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops. Nice that the Peninsula upholds the old standards. I could not hear what the slob was saying when he left, but he looked very unhappy.

Lobby of the Peninsula Hotel

Lobby of the Peninsula Hotel

Next stop, according to formula, was a couple of blocks north on Nathan Road, the Chungking Mansions (built 1961), a seedy high-rise warren of cheap rooms, eateries, money exchanges. The building façade was less crumbly than I recall, but the ground floor was much as I remember, a United Nations-like mix of working people – Arabs, Africans, Chinese, a few Western tourists slumming it. I bought a beer from a young black man with dreadlocks and a shirt that said “Bob Marley.” Sat down in his tiny back room, next to two Arab guys drinking fruit juice spiked with a small bottle of rum and a large smiling fellow from Benin, whom I engaged briefly about the World Cup. It was a nice yin-yang experience. As I was enjoying my $1.10 San Miguel (way cheaper than the Peninsula!) I recalled passages from one of Jo Nesbø’s novels; his protagonist, Norwegian detective-cop Harry Hole, had spent time on the upper floors, and quite possibly had drunk a beer in my chair.

Hopped the train, not the boat, back across the water (er, under it), and walked a block to Yung Kee, the traditional Cantonese restaurant where Adam, his wife, and I were to dine. It was getting a little late, so I opted for a lighter meal. First course was fried tofu with bean sprouts (the poached pig’s aorta caught my eye, but), and a main of fried noodles with shredded pork. The Chinese families nearby were all enjoying themselves hugely. Walked two blocks to the hotel, and clocked out. I contemplated setting the alarm for 3 AM, start time for the World Cup final, but Zzzzzzzs had priority.

Got up Monday morning, checked the score (Germany 1, Argentina 0), ate breakfast, and left for the airport with my passport still in the room safe. Yet another snafu this trip – when it rains, it pours! No excuse for dumbness, but ever since the iPhone departed, I had been extra-vigilant. Brenda, the kindly helper at Cathay Pacific’s ticket desk, got me on the standby list for Chicago flight, and I returned to the city and the hotel to fetch my document. Aieeeeeeeee!

Not only did I clear the standby list, but I once again got upgraded to business class, four for four. God bless Cathay Pacific.   By rights, the passport mistake should have put me in the penalty box, between two tubby people in economy class, smoking section (well, okay, they don’t allow smoking, but you get the idea!). Had a great ride to O’Hare, landing at 2:00 (crossing the dateline, it was still Monday), and arrived Washington at 7. It was great to be home.  A few snafus along the way, mostly my fault, but a wonderful journey.

 

Homeward: coastal mountains on the British Columbia-Yukon Territory border

Homeward: coastal mountains on the British Columbia-Yukon Territory border

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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England and Germany, and the Last Teaching of the Spring Term

 

The Five Rise Locks, Shipley, West Yorkshire, a feat of 18th Century engineering, and a lot of hard labor

The Five Rise Locks, Shipley, West Yorkshire, a feat of 18th Century engineering, and a lot of hard labor

I was home a little more than 24 hours, then headed out again, Saturday the 28th, west to Chicago, then turning east to Manchester, England, and my last teaching trip of the spring semester. The day was the centenary of the start of World War I, and on the first leg I read several good articles in The New York Times that looked back a century. There was analysis of events, of impact on today, of what it all meant. But to this warrior’s son, it comes down to the people asked to fight. The following says it all:

The headstones [of a small American military cemetery adjacent to a huge British one] tell the stories of first- and second-generation Americans, their names redolent of the Europe their parents left to make a better life, who returned here to die. Like Giuseppe Spano, a private from Pennsylvania, and Angelo Mazzarella, a private from West Virginia, and Emil P. Wiser, a private from Montana, and Ole Olson, a private from Wisconsin, and John Dziurzynski, a private first class from Ohio.

At 34,000 feet, I thought of a great-uncle I never met, Uncle Maurice, who was killed in France just a month before the war ended in November 1918.  Then I prayed for peace.

I had a bit of time at O’Hare to bring this journal up to date, work some emails, and watch a little of the Colombia-Uruguay World Cup match. At 5:45, I climbed aboard the Silver Bird to Manchester. Watched a movie, slept four hours, woke up pumped for touring. Chatted with an old lady across the aisle, who lived in a village in the Yorkshire Dales. She and her son were amazed I was headed to Bradford as a tourist. And indeed that was my destination that Sunday morning, a once-booming textile town now working to redefine itself. Twenty minutes after landing, a short conversation in the lift (elevator) with two locals, who subsequently asked “why are you here?” “Too much time spent in London and the Southeast,” I replied, and they nodded. Indeed, as someone from the Midwest, in many ways the U.S. equivalent of the North, I really like the idea of getting away from the alleged center.

Hopped on the 8:44 train into central Manchester, then onto one east to Leeds, and a third short ride to Bradford. The train cut through tunnels in the hills called the Pennines, a pleasant ride. Was in my (free) room at the Holiday Inn Express by 10:45, shower, and out the door before noon. Ambled around the city center, past a splendid town hall, and over to the Wool Exchange, where traders bought and sold fleece for decades; it’s now a Waterstone’s bookshop and café. You could tell from the downtown landscape and some people you saw on the street that Bradford was a bit hollowed out. As they did in the U.S., the textile jobs went offshore starting in the 1970s.

Splendid Gothic Revival architecture: Bradford Town Hall and the Wool Exchange

Splendid Gothic Revival architecture: Bradford Town Hall and the Wool Exchange

 

Ceiling, Wool Exchange

Ceiling, Wool Exchange

 

Starting over: building a shopping mall to replace older retail in the center

Starting over: building a shopping mall to replace older retail in the center

I climbed on a bus north to Shipley, then a short train ride up the Aire Valley to Crossflats. Walked a half-mile north to the top of the Five Rise Locks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. In researching what to see a few weeks earlier, I totally stumbled upon the locks, a feat of late-18th Century engineering, dropping 59 feet in 302 feet. Because traversing them is a bit tricky, the Canal and River Trust, the charity that now manages Britain’s inland waterways, employs full-time lock keepers. I asked one of them about how many boats use the Five Rise in a typical day. “About 10,” he replied, “and there’s one just up the top now.” That was the info I needed, and in three minutes was introducing myself to the captain, David Croston, and asking if I might ride down. Without hesitation he welcomed me on board, then introduced me to his partner Claire and her dog Sam. We bonded quickly, chatting about lives and jobs. He was an expert in livestock production, chiefly sheep, and had a long career in the private and public sector; like me, he chose early retirement, though later than your scribe.

Lock-Diptych

The descent, with the help of able lock keepers

The descent, with the help of able lock keepers

Claire and David

Claire and David

Sam having a rest in the lush canalside grass

Sam having a rest in the lush canalside grass

Earlier boatmen on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Earlier boatmen on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

 

He and Claire, who have lived in the same Northamptonshire village for years, each lost their spouses, and were happy to be together.   Between exchanges with both, I became friends with Sam, a 14-year-old Springer spaniel. We descended the five quickly – professional handlers help a lot – then three more linked locks that were also staffed. Below those, we were on our own, and my modest experience and strong back helped a lot (the latter was pretty sore the next day!). Three hours after boarding, we moored in Saltaire, a mid-19th Century “new town” built by Sir Titus Salt, a textile magnate and reformer. Said goodbye to David, Claire, and Sam and hopped off. I hadn’t eaten since the flight (glad I had the omelette), so I grabbed a Yorkshire pasty (a pastry filled with ground meat and vegetables, solid basic fare for the equivalent of $1.80) and a soda. Fortified, I set off for an amble around the village. First stop was a lovely Reformed Church that Salt built, modeled on a church he admired on his honeymoon in Italy.

Saltaire Reformed Church

Saltaire Reformed Church

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Saltaire was interesting. Sir Titus was determined to improve the lot of the working class by building housing, schools, a church, essentially a whole village adjacent to his canalside woolen mill. Cynics can decry paternal capitalism, but I’m sure that 150 years ago quality of life for the working man was far better in Saltaire than nearly anyplace else. The village is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Salt's Mill

Salt’s Mill

Bradford native and well-known contemporary artist David Hockney has a large gallery in Salt's Mill; here's his colorful take on the place.

Bradford native and well-known contemporary artist David Hockney has a large gallery in Salt’s Mill; here’s his colorful take on the place.

Workingmen's housing

Workingmen’s housing

School

School

Detail, Victoria Hall

Detail, Victoria Hall

Got the bus back to Bradford, and to The Sparrow, an agreeable small pub with a bewildering array of beer. Relaxed for 90 minutes with some nice ales, walked back to the hotel, washed my face, and set out for dinner. I had read about Karachi, a no-frills canteen that opened in the 1960s to cater to Pakistanis who had come to work in the textile mills (the city still has a huge Asian population). Perhaps it was my white face, but the staff was possibly the most sullen service workers I’ve encountered in a long time. Ate a small plate of chicken vindaloo (just okay) and three chapatis, paid the bill, and departed. A bad vibe, for sure. I was still hungry, so walked a couple of blocks to another Indian-Pakistani place I found online, the Kashmir. Staff was marginally, only barely, nicer there, but the food was better: a spicy vegetable stew, some pappadams, and I was full. Walked back to the hotel, and barely had enough energy to brush my teeth.

Signs of the city's huge Asian population are everywhere, including shop windows

Signs of the city’s huge Asian population are everywhere, including shop windows

Mosque

Mosque near the center of Bradford

 

Street sculpture, Bradford

Street sculpture, Bradford

Slept hard, up at 5:30, breakfast, and on the 6:55 train to London. Arrived at 10:10, hopped on the London Overground train out to Kensal Green, then a few blocks on foot to Scott and Caroline Sage’s house, my new digs in London (I am so fortunate to have friends there). They had just returned from the U.S. Had a quick yak and headed back into town, reconnecting at lunch with a former UK-based American Airlines colleague, Iain Burns. It had been nearly 20 years, and we had fun recalling all that had happened in two decades. A lot. Iain subsequently worked for BA and Etihad Airways, and is now with a large P.R. firm. A good meal, too.

I had a few hours before meeting the next friends, so hopped the Tube one stop to The British Library; it had been more than three years since the last visit. They’ve got free wi-fi, so I did a bit of work, then took a good look at a temporary exhibit, “Enduring War: Grief, Grit, and Humor,” one of many planned activities to mark the centenary of World War I. Lots of interesting stuff from the library collection; one touching example: a last letter written home before a soldier was killed in action in the Somme – he was quite certain he would die the next day, and wanted to send a goodbye. And, indeed, he was killed. In an adjacent gallery (and I was amazed I had never seen it) were a large set of photosensitive documents entitled “Treasures from the British Library.” Whew, what a set; just in music alone, they exhibited Paul McCartney’s penciled lyrics to “Yesterday”; the score of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance.” The stuff was mainly, but not exclusively, British, for example, pages from several of Da Vinci’s notebooks. Way cool.

World War I poster, British Library

World War I poster, British Library

At five, I walked a couple of blocks to St. Pancras Station and met my pals Martin and Tara Cunnison (you may remember we worked together at a start-up company several years earlier). We hopped in a cab – something I never do in London, because of traffic – and motored south and west to Frith Street in Soho and Barrafina, an outstanding tapas bar. At 5:30, the place was already packed, but Martin said it would be worth the 45-minute wait, and it was. Absolutely outstanding small plates, varied and flavorful. We sat on stools at a counter and tucked into fried squid, tomato salad, and lots more. Best of show was a piquant morcilla, like blood sausage only better. And along the way we had a great conversation. Was totally fun. Said goodbye, hopped the Tube back to Kensal Green and was asleep by 9:45.

Slept hard again (no time zone woes), up and out the door with Scott. Set myself up with free wi-fi at and coffee in central London and worked the morning. I then headed to Imperial College London, my lecture venue. Almost every year when I visit they have an exhibition set up in the large business-school reception area highlighting student work in science, engineering, medicine, or entrepreneurship. That day there were student projects in “innovation design engineering,” like Anna Wojdecka’s Lumo, an innovation to enable blind people to read shapes, graphs, diagrams, and colors directly from books, and to draw in color, all as a means to encourage more blind people to enter design, engineering, and other professions where visual ability is required. Way cool. Imperial is a brain-power place.

The Lumo display and the larger scene at Imperial; the hum of brainpower was evident!

The Lumo display and the larger scene at Imperial; the hum of brainpower was evident!

At one, I met my familiar (three schools in six weeks) host Omar Merlo, had a quick lunch, and presented an advertising talk to out 30 MBA students – a highly varied group. We had two hours, which is a great luxury, and enables lots of interaction. They clapped loudly, I bowed, hugged Omar, and thus ended the spring semester, a bit into summer. The end of term always feels a bit empty, and it did that first day of July. I needed a grounding experience, so I hopped the Tube one station west to Earl’s Court and one of my favorite London pubs, The Blackbird. A glass of London Pride ale was perfect.

The Blackbird, out and in

The Blackbird, out and in

Back at the Sages’ house I changed clothes, chilled a bit, and at seven ambled north to Chamberlayne Road and a pub of the same name, met Scott (Caroline was busy) and tucked into a chicken pie, mashed potatoes, and greens – English comfort food – and a couple of pints. Scott is a hugely interesting young man, and we had a great yak about business. Walked home, helped assemble a new living-room table, and clocked out.

It was a short night, up at 4:30 and out the door, Tube to Paddington Station, Heathrow Express to the airport, and a short flight to Düsseldorf. I had flown there many times, but had never been there, always hopping on the train north to Münster or somewhere else. A day visit to the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most-populous state, was in order, and a good way to (as I did a month earlier) not pay the confiscatory UK air departure tax, which as noted was more than $250 for flights to the U.S. We landed in bright sunshine and cool temps, a perfect day for touring. Bought a day ticket on the VRR, the public transit authority that operates an almost-bewilderingly huge network (so vast it’s hard to figure out what “day ticket” to buy from the platform ticket machines!), and zipped into town.

As I am doing more and more, I booked a room through Airbnb. Katrin, my host, was busy at work – she had just become a physician – so she left the key at a little shop owned by Poles about 50 feet from her apartment building on Merowingstrasse. The friendly Polish owner handed me the yellow envelope, and he smiled broadly when I thanked him in his language. A simple dziękuję can go a long way. Walked back to #45, in the door, up two flights to a sunny and spotlessly clean apartment. Unpacked a bit, had a quick cup of coffee and out the door to explore Düsseldorf.

The Düssel River, really a creek, from which the town gets its name; it flowed just north of my “house”

My neighborhood, Bilk, was funky, with lots of cool murals; note the Euro coin as the sun!

My neighborhood, Bilk, was funky, with lots of cool murals; note the Euro coin as the sun!

"My" house, Merowingstrasse 45

“My” house, Merowingstrasse 45

Redevelopment in Bilk

Redevelopment in Bilk

First stop, the Landtag, or state parliament. I had hoped to be able to get a tour (even in German) and see the legislative chambers, but I needed a reservation. Before leaving, I paused in front of the building and thought about how well Germany as a nation and its individual states have built rule of law since the painful reset button was pressed in May 1945.  The Landtag was close to the river, and the city has nicely redeveloped the former harbor (river shipping is still important, but they’ve moved the facility away from the center), with lots of cool buildings along the water, many of which have corners and “bows” suggesting a ship.

The State Parliament (Landtag) of North Rhine-Westphalia

The State Parliament (Landtag) of North Rhine-Westphalia

 

Ship-shaped building

Ship-shaped building

The Zollhof, three adjacent buildings by Frank Gehry in the redeveloped river harbor

The Zollhof, three adjacent buildings by Frank Gehry in the redeveloped river harbor

Redevelopment in the former river port

Redevelopment in the former river port

Whimsical architectural detail, or new meaning to the phrase "they're climbing the walls"!

Whimsical architectural detail, or new meaning to the phrase “they’re climbing the walls”!

I hopped on a tram back to the main railway station, the hauptbahnhof, had a fish sandwich and a drink, and jumped on the U-Bahn east a short way to the new campus of WHU, a business school I’ve visited many times since 2000, but always at the original campus further south on the Rhine. Said hello to a few people and continued on to Oberkassel, a very pleasant and prosperous neighborhood across the Rhine from downtown. A friend had sent me an article from The New York Times that suggested an amble down three streets with lovely art nouveau houses, and I did that, marveling at their graceful lines and wonderful details. Then back to the house for a quick late-afternoon nap, because I was plumb wore out.

Lovely Art Nouveau homes in Oberkassel

Lovely Art Nouveau homes in Oberkassel

Architectural detail, Oberkassel

Architectural detail, Oberkassel

Rested, I zipped out about 5:30 for dinner in the old town, the Altstadt. On the way, I stopped to buy a couple of tubes of Voltaren, wonderful analgesic gel that helps my arthritic knees. Almost nothing is cheaper in Germany, but this was, and a lot, so I bought two tubes. The kindly clerk put them in a cotton bag that was the German flag. I thanked her for the souvenir, and wished Germany well in the World Cup quarterfinals. As in 2006, when the nation hosted the event, there were lots of German flags flying on cars, draped from apartment windows, even worn as capes. National pride is not the same as nationalism, something almost all Germans want to avoid. As you know, I believe pride in place is important, and the flags made me smile.

Splendid promenade along the Rhine near the Altstadt

Splendid promenade along the Rhine near the Altstadt

I had done some research on dinner venues, and ate at the zum Schiffchen, in business since 1628. The place was empty, which was not a good sign. Dinner was just alright. I walked around the corner and found the place where I should have eaten, Uerige, a town brewery and restaurant. That really doesn’t capture the place: it was an entire beer street, with people of all ages and classes sitting on benches, a huge restaurant, music, noise, commotion, life. I took a seat on a terrace bench a bit above the street to give more perspective. Soon a couple of young Germans sat down across from me. I didn’t speak with them initially, but at some point there was an opening for Talking to Strangers, and we carried on for about 45 minutes. They were medical publishers from Heidelberg, in town for a conference. We covered a bit of ancestry (his grandparents were war refugees from Hungary and Romania, German speakers who were no longer welcome in those countries, so were resettled in Germany). We agreed that we didn’t want to go back there again. When I told them that I had traveled in Germany for 42 years and had much respect and admiration for their country he was surprised.

The evening scene at the Uerige Brewery

The evening scene at the Uerige Brewery

I said goodbye, and as I walked through the throng, a scene of prosperity and contentment, you could not convince me that social democracy is not the best way to organize an advanced nation. Or in my favored shorthand, these folks had no trouble keeping the lights on!

Slept long and hard, out the door and out to the airport for a very pleasant breakfast with Tobias Hundhausen, a young friend I met more than a decade ago at the WHU business school. It had been too many years, and it was great to catch up. He’s a seriously bright guy who gets it, and is already a senior officer at Air Berlin Technik, the maintenance arm of Germany’s second-largest airline. We got caught up, but we ran out of time. He headed to a meeting and I climbed on the Silver Bird to Chicago, then a bit of trouble: the connecting flight home to Washington at 1:25 canceled (after we taxied to the runway), because of bad weather in back East.  They rebooked me the next morning, ugh.  Other flights canceled, others went out full, but I snagged one of the last chairs on a flight that arrived DCA well after midnight.  I was glad when my head hit the pillow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Onto the Convention Speaking Circuit

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Fancy lockset on the floor of the Door and Hardware Institute trade show, Dallas, Texas

On the last Wednesday of the quarter, I flew to DFW, landing in pelting rain much welcomed by Texans (the reservoir that was our water supply for 25 years is only 50% full). I was bound for a nice paying gig, delivering a four short breakout sessions the following day at the convention of the Door and Hardware Institute. They found me through a speakers’ bureau that I joined a couple of years ago, but never did get any work. To save the good people at DHI a few bucks, I hopped in a shared-ride van, and to my delight the only other passenger was also headed to the convention; Bill provided a lot of introduction to who would be there, the challenges of the “openings industry,” and more. As in other sectors, lots of consolidation underway, but still a fairly traditional distribution method, with small rep firms.

We hopped out at the Hilton Anatole, a few miles northwest of downtown Dallas. I smiled as I walked in, because the hotel was where Linda and I stayed one night in May 1987, when we flew down to see if Dallas was a place where we’d want to live. The kind DHI folks upgraded me to a posh and way-big junior suite. Nice! Not so nice was the proposed $16 to use the gym; as you fellow travelers know, there’s a remarkable disconnect in lodging: the mid-market places like Holiday Inn and Hilton Garden Inn give you gyms, wi-fi, and such for free, but the fancy places charge for it. So I headed back to the suite and took a nap.

At 6:30 my friend Randy Essell rolled up in his enormous black SUV, and we motored a mile or so east to Herrera’s a great Tex-Mex place. I hadn’t been there in four or five years, and we drove right past. But it wasn’t this navigator’s incompetence, the café moved across Maple Avenue, a temporary move until a new and bigger place opens later in the summer. Randy and I tucked into some really fine salsa, huge plates, a cold Tecate, and a lot of good chatter. Always good to connect with another airline veteran.

Next morning it was time to stand and deliver, and I think my first foray into this kind of work went well. I had done a bit more homework to prepare for short sessions on transition to retirement and succession planning. It was fun (I’m waiting for the formal reviews from DHI, but they seemed pleased). After the talks I roamed the trade-show floor, admiring digital locks, security systems, and all manner of doors. For the curious, trade shows are way interesting.

DHI-1

At three I said goodbye and walked outside for a taxi to DFW. There was a line of buses, and a fellow yelled “which airline?” I replied “American,” and he directed me to the first bus. Nice little bit of hitchhiking. The coaches were chartered by Allergan, a name I vaguely recognized as pharma. Indeed, I learned later, they’re the makers of BOTOX, so I didn’t feel too badly about copping a free ride. I kept my eyes closed the whole ride in case someone tried to bust me. Hell, all they needed to do was look at my wrinkly face, but I hopped off at DFW $35 richer! Flew home, landing late, a long day. Let’s hope there are more opps like DHI. They paid well, it was not hard, I added value, and it was really fun.

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New York on the Last Day of Spring

DumboStreet2

Street scene, Dumbo, Brooklyn

 

On Friday, June 19 I zipped up to New York for the day to see some friends. Flew into LaGuardia on a perfectly clear day, with superb views of Staten Island, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Hopped the new Q70 express bus to Jackson Heights, then the E train into the city, to Penn Station.

On approach to LaGuardia Airport

On approach to LaGuardia Airport

On approach to LGA, we flew over the site of the 1964 New York World's Fair, with the Unisphere, a huge stainless-steel globe centerpiece

Just before landing, we flew over the site of the 1964 New York World’s Fair, with the Unisphere, a huge stainless-steel globe centerpiece

First stop was lunch with some airline friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, around the corner from Madison Square Garden. Dropped into a Starbucks for some work, then downtown for a quick look-see at redevelopment of the World Trade Center site. Since the September 11 attacks, I’ve only been there twice, once the following summer (2002), when it was basically a fenced-in big hole in the ground, still radiating a lot of emotion, and again in winter 2010, when construction was just underway. On the last day of spring 2014, a lot was completed – the 104-story Freedom Tower looked ready for occupancy, the new 9/11 memorial and museum was open (though I didn’t have time for a visit), and they were making progress on the way-over-budget transit hub designed by Santiago Calatrava (in the wake of an increasing number of reports of budget overruns, inattention to detail, and other woes, I am having serious reservations about his stardom).

From Eric Fischl's 2003 "Garden of Circus Delights," a series of glass mosaics in the Penn Station subway concourse

From Eric Fischl’s 2003 “Garden of Circus Delights,” a series of glass mosaics in the Penn Station subway concourse

 

My Starbucks "office," W. 35th Street

My Starbucks “office,” W. 35th Street

Redevelopment at the World Trade Center

Redevelopment at the World Trade Center

Then headed to the best stop of the day, under the East River to the neighborhood called Dumbo, short for “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass.”  I walked down Jay Street to the river, past lots of hip youngsters. The view west to lower Manhattan was way cool. Every minute or so, trains would roar above, crossing the bridge. Redevelopment of a park was underway. Further north, the John Street Pasture, a field of red clover that, according to the sign, “is a temporary living earthwork that celebrates green space, agriculture, and the transitional nature of urban land.” Except for a lot of bees eagerly working the clover blossoms, it was empty. I could imagine a goats or sheep happily grazing the lush acreage. In the next block I came across a curious workshop, no front wall, just open air. As I was trying to figure out the place, Colin Touhey returned and explained that his company, Pvilion, designs, makes and installs flexible fabric solar structures. They use thin film solar cells laminated into fabrics and plastics, anything flexible. Whew. I could hear the low hum of brain power all along the street. I shook Colin’s hand, thanked him for taking time, and moved on.

Street scene, Dumbo; a pier of Roebling's Brooklyn Bridge is in the background

Street scene, Dumbo; a pier of Roebling’s Brooklyn Bridge is in the background

Lower Manhattan from Dumbo

Lower Manhattan from Dumbo

 

John Street Pasture and the Manhattan Bridge

John Street Pasture and the Manhattan Bridge

Red clover in the pasture

Red clover in the pasture

Pvilion workshop, John Street

Pvilion workshop, John Street

At the foot of Jay Street, I met Emily Sheppard, youngest child of my friend Jack Sheppard, who I met at Wharton in 1983 and who died a decade later, way too soon, at age 49. Though I see Jack’s wife Martha every few years – including just a month earlier, here in Washington – I had not seen Emily since she was a teenager, more than 20 years ago. She’s a partner in the Brooklyn Roasting Company, a specialty coffee company, with a good wholesale business and two very funky cafes. We had a look at their roasting operation, café, offices, enjoyed a sensational decaf Ethiopian cappuccino, and got a little caught up with two decades of an interesting young life. I was glad to reconnect.

Brooklyn Roasting Company, Jay Street

Brooklyn Roasting Company, Jay Street

 

Global beans awaiting the roast

Global beans awaiting the roast

Emily and your scribe

Hopped back on the subway, F train through Manhattan to Jackson Heights, the fast bus to LGA, and US Airways home to D.C. A fine day off.

Manhattan2

Manhattan, on departure

 

 

 

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New Page: 50 Years on Skinny Tires

If I were a more proficient blogger, or perhaps younger, I’d know how to put a small spotlight on an essay I just posted, accessible from the blog’s home page.  June 2014 marks 50 years riding road bikes, and because bicycling has been a big part of my life, I wanted to mark the milestone.  Hope you enjoy it.

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