Argentina and Chile, Like Every August

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Valparaíso, Chile, one of the world’s most colorful cities

After teaching the annual crisis-management course at Georgetown in late July, on August 1 I hopped on a flight to Dallas/Fort Worth, then on to Buenos Aires for my 11th appearance at the South American Business Forum, a student conference organized by students at ITBA, Argentina’s best technological university.  I’ve been with SABF almost from the start, and I’m invested in its success.  Landed in winter, sunny skies and just above freezing.  Tomás, a SABF organizer from the late aughts, volunteered to pick us up at the airport: Adriano, a native of Bolivia who grew up and now studies in Germany; a speaker from Peking University and her aged mother; and your scribe.  It was good to catch up with Tomás, who after a few years with the airline LATAM in Chile had started a business supplying ingredients to the growing numbers of craft breweries in Argentina.  My kind of guy!

The 2018 SABF organizers felt compelled to change things, so instead of the simple hotel we had used for years (and where we had become friends with Sergio at the front desk), we were at another place, and from the start the vibe at the Viasui was bad.  While waiting for my room, met up with long friend and other stalwart SABF supporter, Rick Dow.  Headed out for lunch, then a short nap.  At five, we ambled across downtown to the old SABF campus for a “tea” with the participants.  They were really fired up, and we had the first of many great conversations – with Chris from Canada, Marcella from Brazil, Lucas from Argentina, and many more.   Rick and I headed to dinner with former conference organizers, and ended the evening, late, with our traditional cheerleading to the 19 organizers of the 2018 event.

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SABF stalwart Rick Dow practicing the tango

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Specialized retailing: tango shoes for women and men

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Chris from Toronto (left), proudly showing his Iron Ring, worn by many Canadian engineering graduates (full story here); at right, SABF participant watching one of American Airlines’ post-9/11 commercials as a primer on crisis management

A short night.  And the food poisoning that had caused gut problems (no clinical detail needed) earlier in the week recurred, but the show must go on, so suited up and headed out.  In the past, the day 1 plenary session was a short walk a few blocks to the auditorium of an insurance company, but this time we hopped on buses and lurched through early rush-hour traffic a few miles southwest to an auditorium in Buenos Aires’ stunning new city hall, designed by Norman Foster.  Candidly, the first day plenary talks were hugely disappointing, save for a wonderful presentation by Jen, head of a foundation that enables people to make prosthetic hands using 3D printers, and Felix, an expert on risk assessment at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Human Development.  But the conversations during breaks and lunch were great.  Rick and I met a wonderful Argentine businessperson, Jaime Feeney, whose conference-organizer niece invited him to help with mentoring sessions; Jaime, whose Boston banker-grandfather took a job in Argentina in the 1930s, had, like Rick and me, done a lot of interesting jobs in his life, and he had the Irish gift of gab, sure – as well as a twinkle in his eye.  At the end of a long day, we rode buses back to the hotel, then on to a simple Italian restaurant for dinner and more chats with students.

Saturday morning Rick and I made our own way to the second venue, a newer ITBA “campus” not far from city hall, stopping for breakfast at a pleasant old-school café behind Teatro Colon, the main performing-arts hall.  High point that day was a workshop from a Finnish schoolteacher, who explained the keys to Finland’s world-leading educational system.  She was fun and impressive.  Every year, I am responsible for closing comments, so spent most of Saturday afternoon with my laptop.  From 4:50 until 6:00, Rick and I (and lots of others, including Jaime) did mentoring sessions with five or six students, always good to connect in a small group.  Kids are eager to learn about career and life, and that may have been the most useful part of the conference.

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Our Saturday breakfast venue: old school to the max

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Buenos Aires is full of wonderful old buildings with rich detail (left and below); at right, the new city hall

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Sara, the Finnish teacher

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Saturday lunch, from a food truck parked at ITBA

Back on the bus to the hotel, changed clothes, and Rick and I headed out for a long and fine steak dinner, bottle of Malbec, and lots of conversation.  The portions were huge, and although Argentines don’t request boxes for leftovers, Rick and I did, because we knew that one of the many hungry people that are sadly common on city streets would appreciate the food.  It took awhile, but we spotted our target, a young mother with two little girls.  Then she disappeared from view, so I gave the bag to a young man, who spotted the mom and kids and selflessly passed it to them.

Just heartbreaking, though not as sad as the homeless woman we saw earlier in the evening, who was yelling at and pulling the hair of her daughter; Buenos Aires is a place where social dysfunction is right in front of you.

Sunday morning, on buses back out to the new ITBA campus.  I spent time polishing my speech, then lunch, then we ambled a few blocks back to city hall for the last presentations, a panel discussion from SABF alumni, and another disappointing speech by a so-called expert.  Then it was my turn to stand and deliver, and it went well.  Hugs and last words (including a delightful short chat with Jaime’s sister Alicia), then out the door.  For some odd reason, there was no SABF bus back to the hotel, so Rick and I walked across Parque Patricios to a busy street and a taxi.  The park was jumping on a sunny Sunday afternoon; kids dribbling soccer balls with their dads and uncles, lots of people walking dogs, picnickers, and in the northeast corner people dancing the Zamba, a traditional South American dance with indigenous roots in Peru and Bolivia, with a live band.  It was a wonderful scene.

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Back at the hotel, I changed clothes, zipped out to buy three jars of dulce de leche, the carmelized-milk “jam” that is a total fave, and my customary souvenir from Argentina.  At 7:45, United Airlines’ country directyor and long friend Christoff Poppe and his UAL colleague Ary picked up Rick and me, and we rode to the Gran Parilla del Plata, a great traditional restaurant in the historic San Telmo district (we ate there in 2016, and it was great).  A superb meal, and even better conversation.

Up early Monday morning, out the door, onto the Subte (subway) and bus to the airport.  Rather than flying home, as in 2016 I headed across the Andes to Santiago for a quick talk at Universidad Católica.  I was flying standby on LATAM, but managed to snag one of the last chairs, giving me the opportunity to do my “standby dance,” fist pumps, and lots of woo-hoos (needless to say, people were staring).  Arrived in Chile just past noon, then to a “maybe-the-USA-is-not-so-smart” moment: at the airport foreign exchange desk (I normally don’t use them because they’re ripoffs in the U.S. and most of Europe, but these were fair rates), the agent rejected one of my $5 bills because it was torn.  Chile, like many countries, now uses polymer banknotes, which don’t tear and are nearly impossible to forge.  Sigh.

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Hopped on the bus to the Pajaritos station of the fabulous Santiago Metro (clean, punctual, and frequent trains), then east to Santa Lucia station, not far from downtown.  My Airbnb was 100 feet from the station, and friendly host Katherine allowed early check-in, which enabled a tonic, two-hour nap.  Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

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Public art in one of the world’s loveliest subway stations, La Moneda; on both platforms are 15-20 oil paintings depicting the diversity of Chile’s landscapes

Up about five, worked a bit, and at seven hopped back on the Metro, out into the fancy suburbs.  It looked so prosperous, and so different from Buenos Aires.  At 7:45 met a longtime Argentina friend Josué, for dinner and a good catch up.  Lots of changes in his young life in the past year: earned a Harvard MBA (with top marks), became a father, and relocated back to South America, rejoining Boston Consulting Group.  We had pizza and salad, lots of laughs, and good conversation.  Back to the Metro, home, and a long sleep.

Tuesday was the first day in a week that was not busy-busy.  Made a cup of instant coffee in the apartment, headed down from the 22nd floor for yogurt and pastry, back home for breakfast, admiring the great view.  Only drawback, and small at that, was no wi-fi in the apartment, but good signal in a common room on the second floor, so headed down there to do some work and bring this journal up to date.

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The same view from my Airbnb, 20 minutes apart; heavy overnight rains washed the skies

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At noon I met Josué again, and needed him: for the first time in nearly 50 years of overseas travel, I needed to see a doctor.  Eight days earlier, two days before I left on the trip, I got flu-like symptoms that I later self-diagnosed (correctly, we believe) as food poisoning from raw oysters I ate in the U.S. before flying south.  I was sort-of okay when I left, and not taking the trip was not a possibility (I’m a “the show must go on” teacher).  I felt okay except for intestinal cramps and, well, you know what else.  But it wasn’t going away, and I needed meds.  So Monday night I booked an appointment with a doctor at Clinica Alemana, a huge private institution.

Chile has a free health service for everyone, but people who can afford them use private services.  The clinic was a marvel of efficiency.  After registration and $93 for the visit, Dr. Claudio Feres ushered us into his office.  We got the problem laid out briskly (he winced when Josué translated “raw oysters”), he examined me, and was reasonably sure that I had an intestinal infection.  He wanted to do lab work, but I was leaving the next day, so he prescribed antibiotics and anti-poop meds, and off I went.  The guy was about my age, and exuded professionalism.  We filled the Rx, my pal peeled off, and I headed back to the apartment.  Wandered over to the original campus of my host school, Universidad Católica, had a sandwich in the sunny courtyard, and home for a nap.

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At the old UC campus (above), and the new business school (below)

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There are few better windows on foreign places than the supermarket

Worked a bit, and at five walked a couple of blocks to the UC business school, meeting my long host Andrés Ibañez.  From six to seven delivered a lecture to MBA students, then peeled off, onto a packed rish-hour Metro train, then a taxi to the apartment of other long friends, Felipe and Constanza Recart.  I had not seen them for six years, and it was great to catch up with them and their two kids, Simon (almost seven) and Laura (four).  Cota was expecting a third child in January.  She prepared a delicious dinner of Chilean salmon, risotto, and salad, and we had a great chat.  Hugged goodbyes, walked a block to the bus, then the Metro, and home.

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Simon and Felipe Recart (scroll through the blog archives to August 2012 for an older pic of these two)

Wednesday was a real “day off,” and I had a good plan: day trip by bus to the historic (founded 1541) port city of Valparaíso, 60 miles west, then back to the airport for the flight north ( had been there a couple of times, most recently in 2011).  Hopped the Metro back to Pajaritos on the western edge of the city, bought a $8 round-trip from my favorite long-distance bus line, Turbus (had fun with the ticket lady, practicing my Spanish and she her few words of English; “come back anytime,” she said proudly), and hopped on the 9:20 trip.  Rolled up and down ridges, across the Casablanca Valley in a Mediterranean landscape that looked a lot like California.  Along the way, roadside shrines that marked traffic deaths varied from tiny to elaborate, often decorated with little cars (and in one case a rusty toy bus, yikes).

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In the downtown market

Dropped down to the Pacific Ocean, left my suitcase at the station, and set off on foot to the Metro, west to the port, then up Artilleria, one of the funiculars that climb the many hills of the city (several were closed for renovation).  The Transport Geek was in heaven, riding the rickety (but totally safe) cars.  Walked down that hill, then on to the Cordillera funicular.  On my way to the next ride, El Peral, I heard shouts and saw TV cameras in front of a courthouse, so I headed over: the people appeared to have won a victory against the national Ministry of Education over the rights of hearing-impaired kids to receive instruction.  Hooray!

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Rode up El Peral to admire the wildly Art Nouveau Palacio Baburizza (1916), built by a businessman but now a museum, then tucked into an excellent fish lunch on the terrace of Resturante El Peral.  Wandered the city a bit more, then hopped on the last T-Geek ride of the day, a trolleybus from the 1950s.  Back to the bus station, back to Santiago, and onto the Silver Bird north to Texas, and northeast to Washington.

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Palacio Baburizza, above and below

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The very best of American Airlines: Santiago airport agent Sr. Vergara reassuring a nervous passenger (she hadn’t flown for 30 years, and he calmed her down)

 

 

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Oregon and a Farewell | Then Back to Montana Roots

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The bank of the Applegate River, way better than a funeral home: site of the memorial service for my brother James Staunton Britton (1947-2018)

On the Fourth of July, I skipped the parade and hopped on a nonstop flight to Phoenix, then on to Medford, in southern Oregon, to deliver the eulogy at my brother Jim’s memorial service on Friday, July 6.  If you read this blog regularly, you know that our dear Jim died in February, unexpectedly, at age 70.  Landed in Medford at 4:15, hugged Jim’s widow Pam, hopped in her car, and headed west to their wonderful house in the hills above the historic town of Jacksonville.  Had a beer on the patio, and the first of many yaks with Pam, then headed inside for shrimp tacos and refried beans.

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The Arizona landscape from above, and as interpreted by student Sandy S. at the Mohave Middle School in Scottsdale

After kitchen cleanup, at 7:15 Pacific time (past bedtime back home) I said goodnight to Pam and put on my pajamas.  In the guest room were some mementos of Jim, which prompted the first tears of the visit: his tiny cowboy boots (must have been from about the time I was born); a favorite 1930s era necktie, “Bird Brilliance,” he got in the 1960s and wore at his wedding; a wonderful hand-tooled Western wallet from Montana (familiar, and I think a project from his junior-high leather class, 1959-60); and an oil painting our mother created in the 1940s, when she studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  My mind flooded with memories, the first of many torrents over the next days.

Was up well before sunrise the next morning, cup of coffee, and out the door, over the Cascades to help Pam tidy up the building lot they bought in 2014 at the Running Y Ranch, a golf resort on Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon’s largest.  At the time, they thought they might move there, then Jim got sick and plans went on hold.  The lot is now for sale.  My job was to run the mower over the weeds and grasses on the half-acre lot.  Hard work, especially with gimpy knees, but we were done in an hour.  Zipped west, and was home before noon.

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The house Jim built in 1997, and a yard resident; below, scenes from the drive to Klamath

 

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No time to rest, hopped back in the car, alone, and drove south 15 miles to the pleasant college-and-culture town of Ashland, to spend the afternoon and early evening with Ed and Erin Finklea.  Ed was a college chum from the U of M; we met while organizing Earth Day on campus in 1972; Erin is his second wife, who I had not met before – indeed, I last saw Ed in Portland, Oregon, in 1989.  We kept in touch a little through nearly three decades, so there was a lot of catching up to do, on their splendid deck.  Ed moved west to go to law school in Portland, and like a lot of folks never headed east again.   We yakked for a couple of hours about families, careers, and the Pacific Northwest.  Ed’s an energy lawyer, and has a grip on the economic pulse and cultural ethos of the region, a place where, as he said, every fish has three lawyers.  He also had some regional humor, including a joke about Sunflower, son of hippie parents, whose grades, especially in math, improved dramatically after they enrolled him in a Catholic school (email me and I’ll send the joke and another one that cannot even be summarized for a general audience!).

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On the campus of Southern Oregon University

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One of three main stages of the OSF

Toward the end of the afternoon, Ed, Erin, and I headed into town for a tour, first to Erin’s alma mater, Southern Oregon University, a small (5,000 students) public college, then into downtown Ashland, site of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Established by a visionary professor in 1935, with the first stage built by Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, the festival season today offers 700-800 performances from February to October, attracting 400,000 people, and providing a huge anchor for the local economy.  The power of cultural tourism!

After a good walk around the OSF campus, we had a drink in a main street bar, then headed home for a huge and delicious dinner: grilled salmon, halibut and scallops; orzo and watermelon salad; stuffed zucchini; and a colossal tres leches cake for dessert.  It was great fun to get to know Erin, a wonderful and solid person who managed to transcend a very troubled childhood.  She was a perfect exemplar of grit.  Drove back to Pam’s in the last light.

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The Rogue Valley and town of Ashland

Was up way early Friday morning, and Pam delivered news that Interstate 5 was closed south of Ashland because of a wildfire, eliminating our route to the intended site of Jim’s memorial service, atop Mt. Ashland.  So we hopped in the car to scout out Plan B, and by 7:45 had found a perfect site on the banks of the Applegate River, along Palmer Creek Road, a narrow lane that was a favorite bike route.  The sounds of rushing water and breeze in the fir trees was a plus.  We cleared the litter around the site, and drove back to Jacksonville for a major breakfast at a place Jim and Pam frequently visited.

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Jacksonville City Hall

Back home, I sorted through two boxes of stuff, keeping a few items, notably a green ceramic “sculpture” Jim created in junior high art class (had to email TSA to make sure it would get through security!), and more.  Tucked a small part of Jim’s ashes in my backpack, for a little further scattering the next month in northern Minnesota.  Spent an hour going through a memory book Pam produced.  At the end, I started to cry, and cry hard.  Pottered around the house for an hour, worked my email, then drove the last of Jim’s tools into Medford to donate to Habitat for Humanity.  His materials live on (months earlier, we found a home for two of his seriously excellent road bikes; the local bike-racing club will lend them to aspiring young riders who could not otherwise afford a great ride).

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I kept the green head, left Jim’s high-school graduation tassel with Pam, and recycled the prayer book (a curious keep, given that my brother was agnostic!)

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Scenes from the backyard (three days after snapping these, Amazon delivered a brand-new Italian flag for the former bike shop!); below, the curious sideways-growing laurel trees

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At 1:30, one of Jim’s gym buddies, Wendy, arrived (she also grew up in suburban Minneapolis).   We hopped in Pam’s car and drove to the memorial site, Jim’s ashes in a canister firmly between my feet.  Soon 11 of us, friends from work and play, were gathered on the riverbank, and I began my remembrance:

Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us today as we remember a life well lived.

Our dear Jim was born in Chicago and grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  As noted in his published obituary, he was reborn when he moved to the West, to Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1971, and he loved every part of this vast region.  Jim was born yet again when he met and married Pam in 1989, and the arc of his life soared upward.  I would not be honest nor complete if I did not tell you that before Pam he had more than his share of struggles, all the way back to childhood and adolescence, travails that marked his life and indeed may have shortened it.  But the combination of a loving spouse and the wonderful and diverse landscapes of this part of our nation truly propelled his life in better directions.

A few weeks ago, I read an opinion piece in the newspaper that helped me frame these words.  The writer observed, wisely, that people “are always way more complicated than we think,” that “most actual human beings are filled with ambivalences,” and that “our culture does a pretty good job of ignoring the uniqueness and depth of each person.”  Those ideas certainly fit our Jim.  We’d be here hours if we really wanted to understand and appreciate all that he was.  We might miss the beer in Jacksonville!  So let me focus on just three of the many things we all loved about our dear Giacomo. (Giacomo: some of you may not know that after the first of several memorable trips to Italy, where his 25% Italian DNA shone brightly, he took on that nickname).  Alora, as the Italians say, so, let me talk a little about three things that defined Jim: strength, engagement, and curiosity.

Thing 1: strength.  Strength on his bike.  Jim was for many years a competitive cyclist.  He was fast.  He also did a bunch of long-distance rides across the West, pounding out 150 miles a day, or more.  Strength in the workplace, through a long career as a builder of beautiful things from wood.  In his carpentry, and in so many other parts of his life, strength also meant that “close enough” was never part of his vocabulary.  It had to be just right.  Jim did not cut corners.  Strength to turn his life around in the early 1980s, away from darkness and conflict, and on an upward trajectory.  And strength in these last few years, when his illness, never properly diagnosed, tried hard to pull him down.

Thing 2: engagement.  Jim was engaged.  I don’t mean as precursor to marriage, but engagement with almost everyone he met.  As his little brother, I benefited from that engagement early, for he nearly always included me in the stuff he did with friends.  He almost never said “Go away, you’re too little.”  He even invited me to some pretty wild parties when he was in college.  Engagement means being quietly influential, and sometimes noisily so.   We know and love that he was a man of strong opinions.  Truth is, he came from a family of strong opinions, the Italian-German side of the family.  We have a sort of righteousness gene, woven into our DNA, and manifest in a sense of justice, fairness, and decency.  He could be cranky, but he was usually right about things that matter to us as Americans.  Engagement also meant long and loyal friendships that changed the lives of those fortunate to call Jim a friend.  Last summer, on our road trip that Jim described as “epic,” we met his decades-long pal Boone Lennon for breakfast in Bozeman, Montana.  After Jim died, Boone wrote, “Linda and I met Jim as a young bike racer and grew to enjoy and appreciate his company and building expertise so much so that he became the backbone of our move to Montana.”  Finally, engagement meant understanding and exercising the responsibilities we take on as citizens.  Jim always voted, and before casting his ballot, took plenty of time to learn about the candidates’ views.

Thing 3: curiosity.  Jim was curious, and that was manifest in so many, and such varied, ways.  His superb and uncompromising carpentry skills were entirely self-taught.  He taught himself lots of other stuff.  Take car repair.  I vividly recall several successive summer evenings in the mid-1970s when, home from Idaho, he replaced the entire transmission in his 1964 Volvo.  Not in a shop, in our parents’ driveway.  I remember asking him, as I held some bracket or tool, how he knew how to do all that stuff under the hood.  “Well,” he replied, “I know how to read.”  Reading is such a fine proxy for curiosity, and some of my happiest moments over the last ten years were our always-too-seldom conversations about good books we had read.  Western writers like Ivan Doig, Timothy Egan, and many others.  And I gotta lift up the last book we both read, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan.

Jim’s was a life well lived.  Shorter than any of us wanted, but at a moment like this I am reminded of a wonderful summation from the prominent psychologist and economist Amos Tversky, who died at age 59.  Just before death, he said, “Life is a book.  The fact that it was a short book doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book.  It was a very good book.”

We know that Jim’s book was also very good.  We miss him, but we remember all his good.

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I practiced the text twice that morning, and delivered it with only one small quiver.  But when it was done, I wept.  Several of Jim’s friends then offered remembrances: Perry spoke of political discussions, noting Jim’s views but also his willingness to respect other positions, as long as they were reasoned; Charles, nicknamed Carlo, spoke about Jim learning Italian and jumping into the language with more enthusiasm than aptitude when they cycled in Italy; Wendy talked about Jim’s winemaking; others spoke about Jim’s broad skills.  Then we cast his ashes to the wind, to the water, and back to the earth.  I looked heavenward, and we departed.

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Wendy baked Jim’s favorite molasses cookies

Drove back to Jacksonville and the Brewhaus Schoolhaus, a German restaurant that Pam, Jim, and I visited when I arrived for our epic 2017 road trip.  All but two of the friends from the memorial service joined us for beer and an early dinner.  I filled in some of the detail of Jim’s life for a couple of them, and they in turn offered some shading – Carlo told me that last summer Jim somehow rallied in anticipation of our boys’ trip. It was a nice time.  Pam and I drove home, we yakked for an hour, and I was asleep by 8:30, anticipating the alarm.

It went off at 4:20.  Hopped in the shower, dressed, and Pam drove me to Medford airport.  Flew to Seattle and spent a pleasant three hours in the Alaska Airlines Lounge – coffee, breakfast, and England vs. Sweden in a World Cup quarterfinal.  Flew on to Bozeman, Montana, one of our destinations on the road trip the year before – there were a couple of things we did not see, and I wanted to tie the loose ends.  When we drove to Bozeman in 2017, elapsed time was 30 hours; flying was just 6, including the 3 hours in SEA.  And the scenery along the way was as outstanding as from ground level: the land turned from brown and gold in southern Oregon to green and blue at Puget Sound, then back to brown and gold in eastern Washington, then green again in Idaho and Montana.

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Bozeman airport was hopping – summer vacations not only for Americans, but lots of the world arrived to see nearby Yellowstone National Park, the Tetons, and the northern Rocky Mountains.  Picked up a Hyundai and zipped east on Interstate 90 to Cousin Betty’s house on the edge of town.  We had a good yak over a salad lunch, and I repaired to the guest room for a tonic nap.

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You really know you’re in the West when your bedroom has a photo like this: Betty’s dad Uncle Harold with two bears he shot, circa 1932.

Betty’s husband Dwain, who has had some health issues of late, was doing what he loves most, riding an ATV (“Four wheeler”) in the Beartooth Mountains near Cooke City, 135 miles southeast.  We watched the TV news, ate a light dinner, and at seven I peeled off for town.

I headed back to the Bozeman Brewing Company, a microbrewery Jim and I visited in 2017.  John the manager was on duty, as he was 12 months earlier, and it was good to reconnect.  I explained that in the interim Jim had died, and that it was nice to be back, with Jim there in spirit.  Had a marvelous couple of T-t-S: with Luke on the stool next to me, and Eric, a bartender-trainee.  His parents owned restaurants in Billings, Montana, 140 miles east, and two years ago bought a bar in Edgar, Montana, population 60, that makes way more money than you can imagine!  In addition to his new part-time gig at “the other BBC,” he was about to start a job at Lockhorn Hard Cider, a local producer and restaurant.  Luke was born in Kalispell, in the far northwest of the state, grew up in Colorado, landed a job with the National Park Service, and has done a bunch of other interesting things, including five years on a potato farm nearby.  His best phrase, complimentary, was “Nice work”!   It was a fun two hours.  Back at Betty’s, soulful blasts from a freight-train horn and truck traffic were clear signs to this Transport Geek that I was adjacent to a major transport corridor: Interstate 90 interwoven with one of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe main lines west (the Northern Pacific Railway was completed from Chicago to Seattle in 1883, the first northern line to the western sea).   And directly above, the flight path for Runway 12/30 at BZN.  Mobility in bunches.

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My glass at left, and one for Jim

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Eric, Luke, and John

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There’s a reason Montana is called Big Sky Country

Up early Sunday, long chat and a nice walk with Betty (now 75, youngest child of Uncle Harold), then zipped off for breakfast with Jim’s long Montana friend Boone Lennon.  We tucked into eggs in the same restaurant where the three of us met a year earlier.  I brought Boone up to speed with Jim’s final months, he reminisced a bit about the man he called “Jim-Bob,” to prevent confusion with the other Jim who together built his big house outside of town.  Peeled off and spent a pleasant hour walking Main Street, Bozeman, a wonderful townscape from the last decades of the 19th Century and first three of the 20th.  Several whole blocks of Main were on the National Register of Historic Places, and helpful plaques interpreted history and structures.  My favorite excerpt describing the 1906-08 plan to pave the main drag: “Dust did not agree with tourism.”  Indeed.

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Above, the old Bozeman Hotel; below, detail from the Hotel Baxter, opened 1929, and other Main Street scenes

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Back at Betty’s, her nephew David Weiser had arrived from St. Paul (Betty’s older sister, my Cousin Sylvia, was often at our house growing up in Minneapolis, but I’ve only seen her once in the last five decades).  We all had a good chat.

After an afternoon nap, we hopped in my car and met Cousin Cheryl; she’s actually my first cousin once removed, the granddaughter of my Aunt Constance (b. 1904).  I had never met her before, and it was wonderful to connect with more kin. (I hoped to meet her sister Gayle, who lives 100 miles east, but she’s been quite ill.)  We visited the graves of Aunt Constance and Uncle Harry (McPherson), and of great uncle T.A. Gunby and wife Lillian, in the city cemetery.  Being with kinfolk sometimes gets intense, so I was glad to hop in the car and drive east 25 miles to Livingston, Montana, an old Northern Pacific railroad town.  Parked, ambled around the old NP depot, splendid and huge, then headed to the Livingston Bar, made famous in Jimmy Buffet’s “Livingston Saturday Night.”  Sat at the bar and had a nice chat with bartender Kate, starting with my favorite opener (used with Ed Finklea three days earlier): “I hope you understand how lucky you are to live in this special place.”  “Oh, I do, totally,” she replied.  “I’m from here, and didn’t get it when I was younger, but I’ve moved around and I do now.”

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Northern Pacific Railway depot, Livingston, including ornamental treatment of the railway’s longtime yin-yang logo

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At the Katabatic

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Brass lion’s head rail, Livingston Bar, and a grain elevator that is a distinctive feature of the West

I moved on to the Katabatic microbrewery, right across the street from the railway depot.  The storefront had garage-like doors, opened on a pleasant evening, and the bass thrum of freight locomotives idling on the nearby tracks provided counterpoint to the rock and roll.  The place was full of youngsters, young families with well-behaved kids, and several dogs.  At my dinner venue, the Neptune, I had a truly remarkable T-t-S with Tom Robertson and Ellen Girard.  After making friends with Bailey, Tom’s cattle dog (who coincidentally came from a cattle ranch not far from where Uncle Harold ranched), I asked if he was from “here.”  More or less, he replied, elaborating that he came west to work in Yellowstone National Park some decades ago.  “My cousin Jim Fredian worked in the park in the 1980s,” I said.  And it came to pass that Tom had worked for Jim.  Another total small-world moment.  And a good fish dinner.  Driving home on I-90, I passed a train with mixed freight, including two 737 fuselages traveling from Wichita to Boeing in Seattle.  Drove ahead, exited the freeway, and took some photos.  What a fine evening!

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Bailey, a true Montanan

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But Monday was the best.  Cheryl arrived at Betty’s about nine to look through some old photos, and we then hopped into my rental car and drove up to Maudlow, where the Brittons lived from about 1918 to 1922 (when my dad was four to eight).  It was a scenic drive north, close to the western slopes of the Bridger Mountains, past small properties and some large ranches.  Taking pictures of some falling-down buildings, Cheryl and Betty flagged down Wayne Morgan for a chat and guidance on the best roads north to Maudlow.  Montana neighborliness.

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The landscape changed quite a bit, from irrigated plains to rolling hills, to forested slopes before we dropped down a hill into Maudlow.  We were finally there!  Jim and I tried to visit a year earlier, but got lost driving from the east, so when we parked I looked up and said, “Jim, we made it.”  First stop was the old school.  I climbed through a window into the classroom, strewn with old textbooks, then the kitchen.  To the east were swings, slides, and basketball backboards, all weathered.  We motored down the hill and found the house where Aunt Constance and Uncle Harry lived before moving to Butte.  Harry was with the Milwaukee Road, the last railroad to build west, and he was the station agent.  Naturally, I found a way in, gathering some papers from the mid-1970s, just before the line was abandoned.  I later did some research, and learned that this part of the Milwaukee main line was electrified in 1914-16, 438 miles – it seems remarkable that electric locomotives, not steam, chugged through town when my dad was a kid.  Final building to spot was the old hotel, where my grandmother worked as a cook after my ne’er-do-well grandfather abandoned his wife and four kids.  When we drove closer to the tracks and Sixteen Mile Creek, we spotted the writing on the north wall of the school: “1909 | School District 21 | Maudlow.  So this was the school where my dad began his studies; in a very real sense, some of my own education started in that white clapboard building.  Whew, whew, whew.  That was pretty overwhelming.

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Maudlow School; below, former pupils (I need to study the pic at left more closely, but my dad is second from left in the photo at right)

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Above, Sixteen Mile Creek; below, the Milwaukee Road agent’s house and the former Maudlow Hotel

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We drove across the bridge over the creek, east a bit, then turned around and began to head back.  Paused in a shady and grassy spot for a picnic lunch.  Drove home a quicker way on a better road.

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Back at Betty’s, I opened a book I purloined from the school, copyright 1900, wondered if any of the Britton kids ever looked at it, and was reminded of Faulkner’s great quotation, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  It was just a way-cool excursion.

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Cheryl headed home, I took a nap, and at three hopped back in the car and drove 10 miles east to the Montana Grizzly Encounter, a bear rescue and education sanctuary, to admire these huge animals.  Two were in the enclosure, and were surprisingly active given the heat.  It was wonderful to see these beasts, and behind a fence – my last encounter, in 1988, had no fence; Cousin Jim and I startled a sow and cubs while jogging back to the car after a hike in the Tetons, rather too close a call.

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Then it was time for a beer, so I stopped at the 406 microbrewery in Bozeman, then on to the liveliest of the five craft beermakers in the area, the MAP Brewery north of town.  The place was hopping.  Had a nice chat with Patrick, the owner, and recounted our visit to Maudlow.  When I described the school there, he told me that his three kids attend the one-room Springhill School, 12 miles north.  Sixteen pupils, two teachers.  Turns out the state of Montana, with only a million people, has one-third of the one-room schools in the U.S. (population 325 million) – more than any other state.  Surveying the lively scene as I finished my beer, I thought “I don’t want to go home.”

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But I did, the next morning, via Dallas/Fort Worth.  It was a wonderful trip: a fine sendoff for Jim, and a great few days in the state accurately described as “The Last Best Place.”  My roots are in Montana, and I’ll be back.

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Two postscripts: four days after returning, I hung the oil painting our mother created almost eighty years ago, in our bedroom; and sister-in-law Pam sent a photo of the new Tricolore for Giacomo’s bike shop, which lives on:

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England, By Way of Minnesota

U20Roof trusses and decorative ironwork, London Paddington Station, designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel

On June 20, I flew back to Minnesota, for a mini-reunion of the Edina High School Class of 1969.  One of the class stalwarts, Todd, has organized these sessions for 15 or 20 years.  I was actually headed to London the next day, but simply could not miss a second reunion in a month, so I took a circuitous “back road.”  First stop was lunch with my nephew Evan, who I had not seen in two years.  We had a good catch-up, especially about his new career plan, to be an author.  His goal was 5 books before age 30, and he’s already cranked out two, including Ubered, about his experiences as an Uber driver.  At two, he dropped me at my Airbnb digs on Minnetonka Blvd. in St. Louis Park, a suburb adjacent to Edina.  Had a brief but great chat with my host Ben, a middle-school math teacher and serious marathon runner.  Super nice fellow.  Repaired to my bedroom in the basement and worked for an hour.

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Airbnb host Ben’s medals from a series of marathons in Duluth, Minnesota, and his modest house on Minnetonka Blvd.

At 3:30 I walked a mile to the reunion venue, McCoy’s, and in no time was chattering away with classmates.  I was the seventh to arrive, and I recalled five of six names.  Only Steve Hopkins, now a Montanan, eluded me.  Not bad recall.  About 20 of a class of 806 showed up, a dedicated and good-humored group.  We lamented the recent loss of classmates and teachers.  John arrived, toting a portable oxygen generator, upfront about his terminal lung disease.  Well, shit.  Got caught up with a bunch of fellows – six of them were heading up to northern Minnesota to fish from a big houseboat.  Yakked with Peggy, Nancy, Nancy, and Barb, the only women to attend.  And we laughed a lot.  A lot.  As I summarized after attending the previous one in 2016, it was the most fun you could have in three hours, among wonderful, decent people.  Minnesotans.  And we all agreed that our short-term goal was to stay vertical until the big 50th reunion next summer.

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Pal-since-1963 Tim McGlynn and I peeled off at seven, grabbed a pizza and a great (if depressing) yak about current events and more uplifting chatter about our families, including his new granddaughter Georgia.  Mac dropped me back at the Airbnb and I promptly clocked out. ZZZZZzzzzzz.

Awoke at my customary time, 6:00 Eastern, 5 in Minnesota.  Awake.  “Must rise, must tour,” as we used to tell our kids when traveling the world, so I zipped into downtown on the #17 bus (senior fare $1), and had a great walk down the Nicollet Mall (a pedestrian way, not shopping center), past Orchestra Hall, the former Dayton’s department store, the Federal Reserve Bank, and more.  Stopped at a Caribou Coffee for a jolt and an apple fritter, ambled south to the new domed football stadium, hopped on the Blue Line train to the airport, and flew to New York La Guardia.  On the flight were 30 members of the “Honors Choirs of Southeastern Minnesota,” bound for Montreal.  They were excited (and some looked a little scared); for me it was a wonderful reminder of the goodness that airlines provide.

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Scenes from my amble in downtown Minneapolis, above at left, Minnesota sculptor Paul Granlund’s “The Birth of Freedom”; below, the 1929 Foshay Tower, once the city’s tallest, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the graceful former Northwestern National Life Building, designed by Minoru Yamasaki and opened in 1965

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Landed at one, hopped on the bus to Jackson Heights, Queens, the E Subway into Manhattan, then the #6 train north to 86th and Lexington.  I’ve often described New York as a mix of the best and the worst, and the sidewalks on 86th were purely the latter.  Leaky garbage bags, litter, half-full takeout food containers. Ewwww.  Then I entered the best: Ronald Lauder’s Neue Gallerie on Fifth Avenue, a showcase of German and Austrian art from the first three decades of the 20th Century.  I was there to see Gustav Klimt’s “Woman in Gold,” formally Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I, the colossal 1907 painting that the Nazis seized, the postwar Austrians retained (and hung in the famous Belvedere Palace museum), and Adele’s nice, Mrs. Maria Altman, fought to reclaim.  And she won, as those of you who have seen the wonderful dramatic film that told the story.  After watching the movie (and I’ve now seen it several times), I vowed to see the work in person.

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From the air: automotive test track near Detroit, along Lake Erie’s north shore, and forested valleys in central Pennsylvania; below, a nice view of downtown Brooklyn

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And there she was, splendid, along with several other Klimt portraits and two landscapes.  It was a moving sight – Adele’s journey from Vienna to Fifth Avenue is one of my favorite stories of persistence and will.   An interpretive panel next to the work explained that Byzantine mosaics Klimt saw at a church in Ravenna, Italy, inspired the variegated golden texture of the background.

Gazing at the work for some time, an elementary reality presented itself: unlike musical compositions, books, or movies, which are created (and enjoyed) sequentially, the visual artist must conceive of the whole work all at once.  Whew!  The upper floor of the gallery was closed for a new installation, so I finished early.  Sat on a park bench on the edge of Central Park, then walked a mile or so south, then east to the subway and out to Kennedy Airport.

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Flew to London, landing Friday morning at six.  Hopped into Paddington Station, grabbed a quick supermarket breakfast and a coffee, changed some dollars into pounds, and onto the Great Western Railway west to Worcester and what has now become a roughly annual visit to John and Diana Crabtree and family.  Diana and son Robbie (now 18) were waiting on the platform.  We zipped home, changed clothes, and headed to Sports Day at the Kings School in Worcester, where Jessica (almost 13) studies.  As a nearly-teen, she was deeply embarrassed when we cheered for her in the long jump and 100 meter dash, but it was good fun on a perfect late-spring afternoon.  The Brits were complaining about the heat, but for me it was comfy.  John was home when we arrived, and we had a great catch-up yak outside, followed by pizza and World Cup action on the TV.  Was asleep well before it got dark, but before dozing off I did a little calculation: since leaving home Wednesday morning, I had traversed about 5500 miles, an average of 100 mph for every one of the 55 hours.  Mobility is such a blessing.

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Jessica at Sports Day, and deep embarrassment (below)

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Worcester Cathedral

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Members of the Crabtree tribe: Jamie, 19, and Jessica’s pet hedgehog

Slept 10 hours, tonic.  Out the door and onto a bike, south five miles through villages I met the year before.  Paused at St. Michael’s in tiny Churchill, from the 14th Century.  Back home I ate a bowl of granola, made coffee (the Crabtrees are stalwart tea drinkers).  At 11, John and I rode with Diana to a point on the River Severn about three miles north of Worcester and we ambled into town along one of the wonderful public footpaths that crisscross Britain – in the country, for centuries, people have enjoyed the legal right of foot travel across property both private and public.  We had a great yak, which we continued over a pint (well, two) outdoors by the river, just upstream from the cathedral.   Diana picked us up, we headed home, had lunch, a nap, and a nice swim in their pool.  At six we walked to the village pub, Chequers, which now offers rather posh food.  James, 19, who just completed his first year at Aston University, joined us.  It was a lively meal.  Back home, we watched the last 30 minutes of Germany vs. Sweden, then “Darkest Hour,” a movie I’ve seen three times and would watch again.

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St. Michael’s Parish, Churchill, Worcestershire (14th C.); interior scenes below

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An old house in Crowle gets a new roof; thatchers still practice their craft

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Scenes from our walk along the Severn: barley and wildflowers; below, the river at Worcester

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John Crabtree, pal since 1981

Sunday morning, out for a shorter bike ride at seven.  Halfway into the ride, I encountered a bleating blackface sheep, covered in brambles, on the road.  He or she followed me as I biked along, and the animal was clearly in some distress.  A mile later I came upon a woman walking her dog, but neither she nor John knew how to report lost livestock.  I felt badly.  Back home, ate breakfast, then Diana, John, and I headed out the door at 9:30 to meet my other Worcestershire friends, Andrew and Janet Manning Cox (Andrew and John were for years fellow partners in a large English law firm; I first met John in 1981 when we were teaching at the University of New England in Australia).  We parked and went for a long walk in the Malvern Hills, all the way to the top, Beacon, elevation 1,394 feet.  The Manning Cox’s dogs Humphrey, Bobbin, and Rufus came along (and Bobbin disappeared briefly after encountering a small flock of sheep grazing at the top).  My knees did surprisingly well on the long descent.  Some scenes along the way:

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The lovely foxgloves cover the Malvern Hills

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Pausing for water along the way: Humphrey drinking from a nifty fold-out water bowl, and Andrew pausing at one of the springs for which Malvern is noted

At 12:45, we repaired to the Nag’s Head for beer and a huge Sunday lunch.  Verity Manning Cox, 18, just finishing secondary school, and her beau Dan joined us.  Another lively repast, punctuated with World Cup updates: England scoring and scoring again vs. Panama.  Andrew had invited me to an evening concert at Verity’s school, Malvern College, so I hugged the Crabtrees and headed a few miles west to Winthill, a wonderful country house.  Took a nap, had another swim, and at seven we enjoyed an hour of musical performance at college.  Verity flawlessly played a solo on tenor saxophone, “Oblivion,” a soulful tango work by the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.  There were seven other student solos, all backed by a professional orchestra.  It was a wonderful event.  Headed back for a late, light supper, outdoors on the third day of sunshine – as I brushed my teeth before bed, I noticed that I had gotten quite a tan in England!

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Worcestershire best mates Andrew and John

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Malvern College, and star saxophonist Verity Manning Cox

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Malvern Hills at dusk

Up early Monday morning, end of leisure, start of the work week.  Suit and tie, bowl of cereal, into Andrew’s car to the train at Malvern.  He rode 10 minutes to Worcester, said, goodbye, and I continued on to London.  As I have written before, it’s so wonderful to be invited into the homes and family lives of friends overseas, and the weekend was very special.

Arrived just before 10, and hopped on the Tube to South Kensington and bound for an afternoon lecture at Imperial Business School.  Enroute was my first good Talking-to-Strangers of the trip, with a primary school teacher who was shepherding her class to the Tower of London, and a few snippets with pupils (always good to show them photos of Dylan and Carson on my iPhone).  She was super-friendly and smiling, asking about my work, home, family.  A nice interaction.  Londoners were complaining about the heat, but it’s all relative.  Ambled to Imperial and found a quiet study carrel just outside the Thermofluids Laboratory (curious, I Googled: they are “Focusing on Combustion, Heat and Mass Transfer and Fluid Flow.”)

 

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Imperial College totems: Queen’s Tower, opened 1887 to mark Victoria’s golden jubilee, and a statue of the monarch, in the lobby of the business school on Exhibition Road

At one I met long host Omar Merlo – this was already my third visit to Imperial in 2018 – and we zipped across to a big lunch in the student cafeteria (all those meatballs!), then into a lecture to a dozen MBA students, a small but engaged group.  Back onto the Tube, east to the Strand, and an atmospheric pub, The Old Bank of England (yep, it used to be in that building).  Met my pal Tim Letheren, who was in a guest lecture I gave at Cambridge years ago.  We’ve stayed connected, and we enjoyed a two-hour yak across a range of topics.  Hopped back on the Tube, and out to Kensal Green.  I often stay with friends Scott and Caroline Sage in that neighborhood, but they were out of town, so I booked an Airbnb nearby.  Reza welcomed me at seven.  We had a good introductory yak about our backgrounds.  His father was English, his mother Guyanese of Indian ancestry; he studied civil engineering but went into accountancy, and now does placement in the field.  I changed clothes, washed my face, and walked north on Chamberlayne Road to an Indian restaurant and a huge plate of food, with, of course, a side of chopped green chilies.  Ambled back to the Airbnb and clocked out.

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Ceiling, Old Bank of England pub

Up early Tuesday, out the door and into some serious rush-hour commuter congestion on the trains into the city.  Spent the day working in TechHub, a co-working space where a young friend of mine works at a startup.  I was the oldest guy in the building by a factor of 2.5x.  At five I ambled a block south to The Globe pub and met another young friend, Alberto Pose, an Argentine I first met at the South American Business Forum in Buenos Aires a decade ago (like Tim the day before and Abheer that morning, he wore shorts to work to cope with the heat). I hadn’t seen him for years, and it was great to catch up.  He’s working for Amazon in London.  His pal Rodrigo, also from Argentina, joined us for a yak and a couple of beers.  They departed promptly at 6:25 to watch Argentina vs. Nigeria in the World Cup (happily, their team won, narrowly escaping elimination). I hopped the Tube and bus “home,” washed my face, and walked less than a block to The Parlour, a wonderful gastropub I had visited several times with friend Scott Sage.  Tucked into a cold summer meal, pea salad followed by poached salmon.  Seriously good.

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From my perch in TechHub; the low hum of brainpower was evident

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In the dog-friendly TechHub: golden retriever Sailor, a dachshund, and samoyed in the offices of Waggel, seller of pet insurance online

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With young amigo Alberto at The Globe

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With a heat wave, most of the pub’s patrons were outdoors

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Pea salad, The Parlour, Kensal Green

Up early again Wednesday morning, Tube to the posh Belgravia neighborhood.  Met long airline friend Don Langford for breakfast and a good catch-up, plotting a possible visit to his cabin in the Stockholm Archipelago in September.

After Don peeled off, I fell into one of the best T-t-S in a long time with Hani, a merchant banker with a small firm.  It began with a brief exchange after I provided (hopefully accurate) directions to two Dutch tourists, then accelerated.  Went even quicker after I handed him my Georgetown business card with the address “Rafik Hariri Building”; he said “you’re in the building named for one of my countrymen.”  Mr. Hariri was prime minister of Lebanon, a true leader and unifier, tragically assassinated in 2005.  We carried on for 20 minutes or so.  A seriously enthusiastic guy, smiling, bright.  It was his 40th birthday.  A wonderful exchange.

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Posh cake shop, Belgravia

Walked back to Sloane Square, onto the Tube to Heathrow, and flew to JFK.  Rather than wait four hours for the connecting flight home, I hopped on public transit, two trains and a bus to LaGuardia.  At the Jamaica train and subway station, I jumped in and helped arriving visitors find their way to the right train.   As I hopped on the E train, I smiled as I saw a young black man helping a Pakistani family get their luggage on board.

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E Pluribus Unum.

Just missed the 7:00 PM flight home, so hopped on 8:00 PM flight to DCA.  Was home by 10:30, MacKenzie on a leash.  That was the last travel of the quarter.

 

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A little reminder that I still travel in much the same way that I did in my 20s: al fresco breakfast, London

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To the Capital of the Commonwealth

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The Capitol of the Commonwealth of Virginia, designed by Thomas Jefferson

On Saturday, June 16, Linda, Robin, and I headed south to Richmond to attend the annual “Blue Commonwealth Gala” of the Democratic Party of Virginia.  It had been 46 years since I attended any sort of political-party function.  I almost always vote Democratic, but I could hardly be counted as a party “true believer.”  That said, Linda and Robin had fun at the event the previous year, so I joined in.  We hoped to be there (it’s only 110 miles) in time for a tour of the capitol building, but jam-ups on Interstate 95 slowed us.  We dropped Robin at the hotel and motored a few blocks east to the magnificent neo-Classical structure Thomas Jefferson designed in the mid-1790s, when he was Minister to France.  The last tour had already departed, and Linda wanted to sit in the shade, so I did a quick self-guided walk through the building, which had been carefully and lovingly renovated 2004-07.  It was magnificent.  I am slowly becoming a Virginian.  Here are some scenes:

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Picked up Linda and we drove west two miles to Monument Street, a pleasant avenue of stately old homes and lots of the Confederate monuments that have caused so much controversy.  Back to the hotel, washed my face, put on suit and tie, and walked several blocks east and south to Main Street Station, the renovated railway station built in 1901 by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and the Seaboard Air Line Railroad; admired some wonderful old buildings along the way (the ladies drove).

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Old City Hall, and fine old architectural detail (below)

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The Blue Gala was in the historic trainshed, a perfect venue for a gathering of almost 1400 fellow Virginians.  A year earlier, Robin and Linda enthused about friendly people, and in no time I had met several, including Tom, a former law partner of our junior U.S. senator, Tim Kaine, and Levar Stoney, mayor of Richmond.  We found our table and sat down to meet our tablemates, yakking briefly before the program, which was a seemingly endless series of speeches.  The mood was upbeat, because the party is ascendant, and for good reason – inclusion, sensible gun laws, respect for rule of law, and health care for all.  Indeed, many times that evening we stood to cheer for a recent law that provided single-payer health insurance (Medicaid) for 400,000 needy Virginians. Hooray!

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Main Street Station

The last speaker was New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.  Although the Brittons agreed that he needed some lessons in speech structure and cadence, his words were welcome.  He cited the post-World War II Marshall Plan as an example of our better selves; lamented “moral vandalism” and “sedentary agitation”; and invoked a wonderful phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “the inescapable network of mutuality.”  That’s pretty much one of my touchstones, manifest more simply in the phrase “we’re all in this together,” and more grandly in the name of our new home: the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I like that appellation.

Up early Sunday morning, to the hotel gym, pounded out some miles, showered, and headed west on Broad Street for a caloric Fathers’ Day breakfast at City Diner, then home fast, north on I-95 (thanks, Robin, for speedy and safe driving, itself a fine Fathers’ Day gift!).

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Fram! To Linda’s 45th College Reunion

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Holland Hall, St. Olaf College; virtually every building on campus is built of limestone; it’s a solid place

On June 1, Linda and I drove to National Airport and flew home to Minnesota (it will always be home), bound for her 45th class reunion at St. Olaf College in Northfield, 40 miles south of the airport.  Picked up a rental car and made fast for where it all began, literally: on a warm Wednesday night in May 1973, I met my beloved in Marguerite’s, a bar in Dundas, just south of Northfield.  Lunch at Marguerite’s, now the L&M Bar, thus made a lot of sense.  Tucked into burgers and fries, and I had a couple of cold Summit ales.  Memory Lane, for sure!

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Your scribe and Linda where it began, 1973

We drove a few miles north to what is one of the loveliest small campuses in the world.  I remember I was transfixed that evening 4.5 decades ago, and was once again.  We registered in the student union, called Buntrock Commons, and immediately met a couple of Linda’s classmates, hugs all around, the first of many.  Drove a couple of blocks to our dorm accommodations in Kittelsby Hall, named for an early professor, one of the many Norwegian immigrants that built the college, then and low affiliated with the Lutheran Church (our church).   The room was simple (more on that later) and not air-conditioned.  Dropped our stuff and ambled around the leafy campus, then back for a short nap.

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At 4:45, we attended a “class” on the chemistry of olive oil, offered by an enthusiastic prof.  We learned a lot, sampled a bunch, had a great time.  At six, it was time for the first Class of 1973 function, drinks and light dinner, held in the undercroft (fancy word for basement) of the main campus church, Boe Memorial Chapel.  And instantly we were surrounded with long friends; I knew tons of Linda’s classmates both from previous reunions and from my high school – and in the case of Lyn Bearinger, from Mrs. Mansfield’s first-grade class at Wooddale School in 1957.  These were quality people, abundantly decent, well-informed, and with the humane values that develop in a place like St. Olaf.  After the meal, Brenda the host asked people to stand and briefly describe their passions, which included a self-described math and physics nerd, now studying English and history and “rounding out my education”; breasts and travel (a woman oncologist); chronic diseases; quilts; motorcycle touring; nursing (the school had a highly-respected program; running a free medical clinic in nearby Red Wing; teaching English to immigrants; and, not least, “all the wonderful people I met at St. Olaf.”  It was a lovely evening.

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Friday night in the chapel undercroft

Up early the next morning, down the hall for a shower, and off to a big breakfast and a long yak with classmates (and Linda’s roommates in 1973) Janet Lund and Karen Pedersen.  Then we joined the sidelines of a lively bridge game, yakking with Judith Beck, known as JB, her new husband Doug, and old pals Jane Alrick and Sue Perkins, plus Karen and Janet.  Then to lunch and more chatter, then from 2 to 3:30 a series of talks from classmates.  The best of those was “Lessons from the Iditarod.” One of Linda’s classmates, Cindy Gallea, has competed 10 times in that 975-mile sled dog race from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nome.  She is one of the toughest, most adaptable people I’ve ever met.  Her best time was 11 days, including a mandatory 24-hour rest for her 16 dogs.  She waxed eloquent about the dog named Hammer, and about the diligence of the rest of the team: “they just know what to do.” It was a reminder of one of my strong beliefs: domestic animals are one of the firmest pieces of evidence for the existence of God.

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Bridge was and remains a big pastime for Linda’s classmates

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Jane Alrick Swenson and Linda; it’s a long story, but if it weren’t for Jane there’d be no Linda!

Walking back to the term, I said once again, “You were so fortunate to have studied here.”  We took a little nap.  Linda wanted to chill a bit more, so at five I walked back to Buntrock Commons grabbed a beer, and sat in a good vantage for people-watching.  Enjoyed a nice T-t-S with Carol Anderson, Class of 1958; if you do the math, she’s about 81, and I complimented her on the longevity of Scandinavian folk!  At six, the Class of 1973 gathered in the Trollhaugen Room for a formal dinner.  More great yaks, including good ones with Lyn Bearinger and her husband Michael Resnick.

Linda complained a bit about the spartan dorm room, but I liked it’s untouched-since-1965 aspect, because 1) it was spotlessly clean; 2) it’s good to live more plainly from time to time; and 3) most important, it clearly reflects the school’s spending priorities: sure, they could get into the contemporary college “arms race” for poshest dormitories, but every dollar spent on that is a dollar foregone to tuition support for deserving students, quality faculty, up-to-date classrooms and labs, and other things that truly matter.  St. Olaf College has its priorities firmly in order.

Slept hard Saturday night.  It was cloudy and very cool Sunday morning.  We packed up, drove to Buntrock, and rejoined classmates for breakfast and more chatter.  I could talk with those folks for hours, because we conversed about things that truly matter.  Then we said goodbye, hugged a lot of people, and drove north.  Linda dropped me at the airport (she was headed to Denver on business), and I flew home.  Already hoping we’re alive for the 50th class reunion in 2023.

By the way, “Fram” is the first word of the St. Olaf motto; in New Norwegian “Fram! Fram! Kristmenn, Krossmenn,” is adapted from the Old Norse battle cry of King Olaf.  It simply means “Forward!”

The college excels in all of the arts, not least the visual, and here are but a few examples of student and professional art that is everywhere on campus:

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Chicago in the Present and Williamsburg in the Past

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The Capitol, Williamsburg, Virginia

I got to sleep in my own bed two nights, which was swell but short.  On Monday, May 21, I flew to Chicago.  The Airbus dodged thunderstorms but we were able to land and not divert, as the captain cautioned, to Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Zipped through pelting rain onto the suburban bus toward my destination, Evanston and Northwestern University.  The original, blue-sky plan was to meet Cousin Jim in the city for lunch, but we opted for the Sugar Bowl in downtown Des Plaines, a pleasant suburb a few miles north of O’Hare.  We got well caught up and tucked into a nice lunch, then I hopped back on the #250 bus and a quick nap at the Hilton Orrington, a nice old hotel in downtown Evanston.

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On the Northwestern University campus

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Kellogg’s new building, the Global Hub

At 4:30 my long friend Gary Doernhoefer and I met Anne Coughlan, another long pal and marketing professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.  The school had just moved into a huge and posh building close to the lake (as a senior faculty member, Anne got a water view).  Got caught up, ate and early dinner, and from 6:30 to 8:00 helped Anne’s channels course with a case that the three of us co-wrote.  Gary and I ambled back to the hotel, then out for a couple of beers and a good yak.

As happens every time I’m in the Central time zone, I woke up an hour before I intended, and was on an exercise bike in the gym at 5:15.  I had arranged breakfast back at the Sugar Bowl with a former American Airlines colleague at 9:00, so I had a lot of time.  The Transport Geek jumped on the CTA Purple Line elevated train (the “El”), riding almost to downtown, then back north and on the #250 bus to Des Plaines.  My pal Tom got the date wrong – he texted me from Hawai’i saying he thought it was Tuesday a week hence.  Tucked into a big breakfast, back onto the bus to O’Hare and flew home.

For three nights, better than two.  On Friday the 25th, Linda, granddaughter Dylan, and I hopped in the Ford and motored 150 miles south to Colonial Williamsburg.  It had been a decade since I was last there, so I was as excited as a 10-year-old.  Dylan is studying Virginia history in fourth grade, and asked for the trip instead of stuff.  We parked the car, and ambled into the 18th Century.  The place, which is run by a foundation established with support from oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is so well done: living history, great explanations, remarkable in all ways.  We ate lunch on Duke of Gloucester Street, and walked the afternoon.  Headed back to the hotel, got our room, changed into swimsuits, and walked a block to the pool.

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Living history, literally: Fiddler, Chowning’s Tavern, and the Marquis de Lafayette

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We spent most of Saturday in the past.  First stop was the museum, with a vast collection (we barely scratched the surface) of furniture, musical instruments, and folk art.  Then we headed to the capitol, site of the first elected assembly in North America, the House of Burgesses, for a dramatic summary of Virginia’s role in declaring independence from Britain – lots of audience participation and fun.  We appreciated that the scripts had been updated to point out, for example, that in order to vote you needed to be a white, property-owning Protestant, and the no-denial discussion of whether slaves were part of the “all men are created equal” business.  After lunch, we saw some more demonstrations (kids’ games, shingle-making).

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Meeting room in the Capitol

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In the museum: an early American piano, and portrait of Virginia patriot Patrick Henry; below, folk art of varied forms and vintages (the plane was from 1994!); at bottom, a superb map from the mid-18th Century

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Last stop was the Peyton Randolph House, where a young African-American woman discussed the wealthy family and the lives of the 27 slaves who lived in and around the house.  Her no-denial explanation was welcome indeed.  We headed back to the hotel, me for a swim, Linda and Dylan to chill in the room, then to a nice dinner nearby.  Drove home Sunday morning.  A great visit, but you really need more time there to see all the cool stuff – the museum, for example, could hold my attention for a full day, and I didn’t get to see some trade demonstrations, like blacksmithing.

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In the dining room of the Peyton Randolph House

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Dylan and Linda in the museum’s hands-on section on toy-making, using buttons and wood bobbins

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Germany, Switzerland, Germany

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Lübeck, Germany, a remarkable city

On Saturday, May 12, I headed into town for a quick meeting with an Argentine former student, then across to National Airport.  The Metro was not in its finest form that morning, and departure was, shall we say, stressed.  But I made the flight with 10 minutes to spare, south to Charlotte then across the Atlantic for my third trip to Germany in 2018.  Landed in Frankfurt at 6:55, waited a couple of hours, and hopped on the fast ICE train north, 180 mph.  I was bound for Dortmund and my second visit to the Technical University there.  The train stopped for 40 minutes north of Cologne; my Deutsche Bahn app showed the reason as “persons on the tracks,” which sounded bad.

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Heaven (top) and hell: the view before landing, and a 1945 archival photo of the Rhine at Cologne, where my train to Dortmund crossed.

Arrived Dortmund at 12:30, walked only a block to the hotel, checked in, changed clothes, grabbed a sandwich and potato salad from a quick-stop in the station, and headed back to my room.  Rain was forecast, and it looked imminent, but I had just enough time to hop on a bikeshare two-wheeler for a quick zip around Dortmund’s compact center.  Bombs flattened it in March 1945, just two months before Nazi surrender, and leftist postwar city leaders opted not to rebuild the old structures (“too bourgeois,” according to a local) and the result is charmless and utilitarian.  Here and there are some splendid old buildings, welcome sights indeed.  As I returned the bike, the skies opened, and I made fast for the Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Steinwache.  Built as a municipal jail during the Weimar Republic, it became a center for Nazi torture from 1933 onward.  In the early 1990s, Dortmund’s municipal archives office recreated cells and posted interpretive signs through five floors of the building.  The signs were auf Deutsch but they provided a printed guide in English.

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Downtown Dortmund: mostly new and charmless, but some older buildings were either not bombed or rebuilt

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The former Dortmunder Union brewery, now a city-run cultural center

It was chilling.  And it was a reminder that unlike Americans, Germans are not in denial about sordid aspects of their past.  Indeed, when leaving, I had a brief T-t-S with a young man about 20; after establishing that he spoke English, I complimented Germany’s willingness to confront the Nazi era.  “We don’t do that in the United States,” I said, “for example with slavery or the genocide of American Indians.  You should feel proud of your country’s honesty.”  He nodded, but seemed a bit taken aback by the vigor of my argument!

Grabbed a quick nap, and at 5:00 met Thorsten Autmaring, a Ph.D. student at TU Dortmund, and Sorush Sepehr, doing postdoctoral work after earning a doctorate at the University of Newcastle in Australia, a partner institution.  Thorsten was from nearby, but Sorush was Iranian.  We had an interesting discussion over beer and German food at Zum Alten Market, yakking about their research, careers, travel, the merits of various places.

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Main corridor and recreated cell inside the prison and torture center

Was asleep before 9:30, a hard doze to 5:30.  Up and out the door for another bikeshare spin, brief, four miles.  My host, Hartmut Holzmüller, picked me up after breakfast, and we drove to the TU Dortmund campus, a few miles west of the city.  Worked the rest of the morning.  From 12:15 to 1:45 delivered a talk on airline revenue management.  Grabbed a quick lunch with Oliver, a student office staffer, then worked a bit more.  At 6:30 I presented a leadership talk to ten Dortmund businesspeople, members of an association linked to TU’s business school.  The core of the German economy is the Mittelstand, small- to medium-sized businesses, often family owned, and most of the audience came from this sector – B2B enterprises that made stuff, and exported nearly all of it.  After the talk, over beer and sandwiches, had a good chat with a couple of people from ICA, that make self-service ticket machines for transit systems and railways, and Karl from Dolezych, makers of lifting equipment, slings, and ropes.  An interesting window on the German economy.

Was up before six Tuesday morning, blue sky and sun, out for a quick six miles on a shared bike, big breakfast, and onto the 9:25 train north and east, through Münster, Bremen, and Hamburg, to Lübeck, once upon a time an important center in northern Germany.  It was the capital of the Hanseatic League, a trade and defense confederation of about 40 core members, and many more associates (all the way west to London).  Early on, these places understood that trade created prosperity – think of a 13th and 14th Century version of the EU, without the massive bureaucracy.  Other members were nearby Hamburg and Rostock, Germany; Stockholm; Gdansk, Poland; Tallinn, Estonia; and others.  The whole broad partnership began to wither in the mid-1400s, and declined quickly after the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48).

The ride north on a sunny spring morning was pleasant.  Along the tracks I saw fawns scampering in woods; cows grazing in lush early-season pastures; wheat and barley coming along well; solar panels on south-facing roofs of barns, sheds, houses; wind turbines (these latter two a reminder that Germany is meeting its goals in converting to renewable energy); canals still very much in commercial use; a weathervane capped with a copper sailing ship as we rolled into Bremen.  And lots more.

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More bikes than people in the first car of the train north

At 1:15, I stuffed my suitcase and backpack in a locker at the train station and headed into town for a good look.  The place was immediately captivating, and a visitor could see why it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  First stop was the tower of the Petrikirche, St. Peter’s (Lutheran).  I love views from church spires, and this one was superb.  Even better, an elevator up and down.  Visitors got great perspective on the compact Altstadt.  The sanctuary was stark.

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The Holstentor (gate), symbol of the city

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Brick gabled row houses from the ground and above (and at right the Holstentor again)

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My guess is the developers of the silver-roofed shopping mall at left faced a battle when they proposed the structure, right on the main square

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Interior, St. Peter’s

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Marienkirche, St. Mary’s, one of northern Europe’s finest Gothic brick churches, built 1260-1350

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Next stop was the Willy Brandt Haus, an interpretive center honoring the life and contributions of the former mayor of Berlin (1957-66), German foreign minister (1966-69), and federal chancellor (prime minister), 1969-74.  I told the two woman at the entrance that Herr Brandt was to me “a Cold War hero,” for his efforts to reduce tensions between East and West.  “That’s a good phrase,” one said, “I like it a lot.”  More broadly, Brandt helped rehabilitate the German reputation; he said, “My true success was to have contributed the idea that in the world in which we live, the name of our land, Germany, and the idea of peace can once again be spoken in one breath.”  That is the Germany I have known and respected since my first visit in 1972.

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A colorful and evocative interpretation of Willy Brandt

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Your correspondent with the devil

After a good look (a foundation bearing his name operates a similar center on Unter den Linden, the famous street that was once in East Berlin, east of Brandenburg Gate), I headed out, pausing for a nice T-t-S with a mother and adult daughter who were just outside the door with a very cute Shetland sheepdog (Sheltie).  I walked through neighborhoods in the old city, north to a museum devoted to the Hanseatic League, but it was getting close to closing time and my senses were close to worn out – so I walked back toward the railway station.  At 4:45 I sat down at a sidewalk café along the River Trave for a cold beer and a relaxing sit.

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I had forgotten about the Stolpersteine (“stumbling stones”), until I literally stumbled on the one at left, commemorating Lübecker Marianne Häusler, murdered at Theresienstadt, 1942; a few hours later, the Horwitz siblings from Lüneburg — two survived.  Never forget.

I took an earlier train from Lübeck to Lüneburg, where I would catch a connecting train.  The ride was pleasant, through a landscape reminiscent of central Minnesota: woods, lakes, small towns.  We crossed the wide Elbe River, and arrived Lüneburg at 7:30.  I had done a bit of research, and made fast for Neptun, a fish restaurant a few blocks from the station in the middle of town.  It had clouded over, but was warm, so I sat outside, admiring some 15th Century brick houses while tucking into dinner.  Lüneburg was another Hanseatic city, though inland from the Baltic.  Salt was a major export and the city held a monopoly on salt production in northern Germany, a position that propelled them into the League (salt was essential for preserving the abundant stocks of fish in the Baltic).  When the Baltic herring (coincidentally my dinner choice) fishery collapsed in 1560, the town declined.  I read about the city in Wikipedia while eating, and learned two other tidbits: J.S. Bach went to the equivalent of high school here, 1700-03; and a precursor to the postwar Nuremberg trials were held in town just after Nazi surrender, when the Allies convicted 45 SS troops for atrocities at Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz.

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Scenes from early evening in Lünenburg, above and below; at bottom, herring dinner!

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Walked back to the station, called home, then at 9:50 I hopped on the Austrian Railways (ÖBB) “Nightjet” overnight train south to Zürich.  From there, I was headed east and north to St. Gallen and my 18th visit to the B-school there.  For the price of a Swiss hotel room, I got a single cabin, the train ride, and a nice breakfast.  The ÖBB have invested heavily in an extensive overnight-train network, which cannot – to this Transport Geek at least – be profitable.  The sleeping-car porter welcomed me, showed me how all the stuff in the “room” worked, and departed.  I was totally worn out, so changed into my pajamas and clocked out, sleeping hard.  Woke up after six, and it was clear that the train was about an hour late, meaning I’d miss my connecting train, and I had a discount ticket for that specific departure.  Took a pleasant shower in the washroom at the end of the sleeping car, changed, ate breakfast.  At Zürich I caught a train 30 minutes after my ticketed service.  I was expecting a fight with the SBB (Swiss Railways) conductor, but after calmly explaining the situation she said “no problem.”  Nice!

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My sleeping car, inside and out

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A rainy morning on the edge of the Black Forest, north of Basel

Arrived St. Gallen, hopped on the #5 bus up the hill to my first stay in the Executive Education Center (I always stay down in the town).  Checked in, got a beautiful contemporary room in the “AlumniHaus,” dropped my stuff, and hopped back on the bus, down the hill for lunch with a MBA student, Thomas Paul, who I met last time I was in St. Gallen, in September 2017.  Super-capable young guy, looking for a job in aerospace.  We had a great lunch at a new organic-vegetarian place, and a wonderful yak across a lot of topics: Swiss industrial competitiveness, local wages, U.S. immigration laws (bad for him), emerging technologies, robotics.  It was the kind of chat that made me wish I were his age, to see all the changes that would unfold in four or five decades.  Back in my room, I worked a bit, took a quick nap, rode 17 miles on a fitness bike, showered.

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Tibits Restaurant, in a Jugendstil building that formerly were offices of a regional Swiss railway; below, downtown St. Gallen, with lots of trolley-bus wires overhead

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At 6:30, I met a group of about 30 students doing a certificate course in marketing management, an interesting group, mostly Swiss.  Delivered a talk on airline advertising and branding, answered some questions (they were clearly worn out from a long day), and tucked into some hors d’oeuvres and beer while yakking with a friendly fellow from Bern, a senior at the cantonal bank – most Swiss cantons (counties) have a local bank totally or partially owned by the cantonal government.

I was worn out, and instead of heading to dinner down the hill, I returned to my room, worked a bit more, and clocked out.

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The AlumniHaus at the University of St. Gallen (my digs), and a nearby very-Swiss house

Up early, a little work, and at seven tucked into a big breakfast and plenty of coffee.  My seatmate was Andre from Munich, who worked in commercial real estate.  He had lived in Dallas 1999-2001, so we yakked a bit about Texas, about Bavaria, the future of bricks and mortar retailing, and more.  Headed back down the hill to the railway station, and onto local trains to Bussnang, where I met Niko, a sales and marketing planner for Stadler, manufacturers of a wide range of rail rolling stock, from streetcars to high-speed intercity trains.  The Transport Geek was close to heaven: trains and industrial process (my longtime fellow T-Geek Michael Beckmann kindly arranged the visit).  Niko gave me a thorough slideshow-overview of the company, then we had a great tour of the plant, where workers in teams assembled the cars.  Stadler has grown into a leader in the sector in spite of the high costs of doing business in Switzerland (average monthly wages for workers was around $5000).  A great window on Swiss manufacturing prowess.

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Stadler prohibited photography inside the factory; these extruded aluminum pieces outside were the best I could do!

We said goodbye at noon, I hopped on two trains for Zürich Airport, tucked into a big fish lunch (I think I was still in deficit from no dinner the night before), and flew to Düsseldorf, a quick 276 miles.  Landed at 4:40, jumped on the S-Bahn into the city, then the U-Bahn to my hotel (another superb location, directly above the subway station).  I needed a workout, so hopped on the gym fitness bike for 40 minutes.  That was tonic!  Showered, read a bit, then ambled a block south to Uerige am Markt, a smaller version of one of Düsseldorf’s many producers of Altbier, the amber ale for which the town is famous.  Tucked into a bigger-than-huge plate of roast pork and potatoes, and three (250 ml. / 8.5 ounce) glasses of Altbier.  I was just on the edge of feeling stuffed, but it did propel me into a coma-like sleep.

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On approach to Düsseldorf; North Rhine-Westphalia is Germany’s most populous state, and dense, but still green

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Altbier, with at left the waiter’s tab-keeping pencil marks and at right some added protein!

Up at 5:30, back to the gym, then breakfast.  I wasn’t teaching until 1:30, so I did a second day of “T-Geeking,” on the train 20 miles east to Wuppertal and onto the city’s famous old Schwebebahn, a monorail that opened in 1901.  I rode the whole length, south to north, 19 stops on “hanging rails” directly above the Wupper River.  It’s a scenic ride, especially in spring.  Hopped back on the train, suited up, and walked to the Düsseldorf campus of WHU, the private German business school I’ve visited for almost 20 years (in February I was on the other campus, south on the Rhine near Koblenz).  Had a quick catch-up lunch with host Jochen Menges, and from 1:30 to 3:00 delivered my leadership talk to MBA students.

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New rolling stock on the Schwebebahn

Said goodbye, back to the hotel, changed back into jeans, and set off for the Altstadt for some beer and food.  Wandered from brewery to brewery, four in total, standing or sitting outside on a clear spring evening. At all of them, when servers pass a newcomer, they don’t ask “what would you like to drink?”, but assume you’re there for the beer, and set down a full glass.  The people-watching at the second and biggest, Uerige, was superb; I had a spot on a bench a few steps above street level, so had a broad panorama of tipplers and passers-bye.  At one point a wet black Lab ambled past, fresh from a swim in the Rhine two blocks west.  Nice!

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At the last, Schumacher, tucked into sausage-and-potatoes dinner, hopped the U-Bahn back to the hotel, and was asleep by nine.  Up at 5:10 Saturday morning, short walk to the train station, onto the fast ICE to Frankfurt Airport, and flew to Philadelphia, landing early afternoon.  Connected down to DCA, and was home just after 6:00, dogs out for a good walk.

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Airport art from Haitian-born Philadelphia artist Claes Gabriel; as I have noted before, the Philly airport has a superb commitment to showcasing local visual artists.

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