Philadelphia, Very Briefly

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Independence Hall

On September 6, I hopped on the Metro to Union Station, headed north to Philadelphia for a brief consulting gig the next day.  While waiting to board the train, I spotted an ID tag on a fellow traveler’s piece of luggage, “Finnish Broadcasting Corporation.”  That was a perfect T-t-S invitation, so I said “Welcome” in Finnish (one of about five words in my Finn lexicon).  She looked surprised, and we launched into a 15 minute yak across a bunch of topics.  Paula was the U.S. correspondent for the YLE, as it is known over there, and she and her camera-woman were headed to New York to interview a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest.

Arrived in Philly about 4:30, hopped on a suburban train two stops into Center City (as downtown is known locally) and my hotel.  Grabbed a quick nap and at 6:30 set off to meet my clients for dinner on Market Street.  I hadn’t been in the center for years, and it was fun to walk past so much history in just a few blocks; pausing at a stoplight, for example, I looked at the old brick building to my right, and a plaque identified it as the house where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.  Cool!  Moved on, gazing affectionately at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and more.  We Americans are still working on creating, as it says in the preamble to our Constitution, “a more perfect union,” but I remain a patriot and an optimist, and I love walking in the footsteps of the people who started the whole experiment.

Had a fine dinner with my clients, a diverse lot.  Slept hard.  Up early, to the hotel gym, then the daylong engagement, then a train home to Washington, arriving just in time for Robin’s birthday dinner.  Some scenes:

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The firmer Lit Brothers Department Store, and the Rohm and Haas Building (1964-65), already on the National Register of Historic Places

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 I wanted to get a closer shot of the statue of Washington, but a rent-a-cop shooed me away.  I growled at him, then muttered for several blocks about U.S. paranoia.  How can we exude strength and confidence if we don’t allow citizenry to take a pic of our first President.  Just silly.

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Some nice friezes around town; at left, the old U.S. Courthouse, and at right a small part of “Spirit of Transportation,” in the 30th Street (railway) Station; though completed in 1895 (and moved to the current location in 1933), note the child holding the airship!

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City Hall.  For decades, no building in Center City could be taller than the hat atop William Penn’s statue!

 

 

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Back to Texas

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Metal critter at the Cook-off

 

Regular readers know what happens the first September (Labor Day) weekend: this was my 28th consecutive time to judge the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas (pop. 5,425).  Flew to Dallas/Fort Worth, landed at 11:15, hopped in a rental car, and made fast for a spicy Indian buffet lunch with long friends Nisha Pasha (originally from Chennai, India) and Ken Gilbert (Chicago).  We worked together for years at American Airlines, and it was great to catch up.  I would have liked to chat for another hour, but had to keep moving, so hugged them both, then pedal to the metal to Dallas Love Field to pick up son Jack, in his 11th year as a goat judge.  We’re talking experience!  We yammered the whole way south and west 200 miles, pausing, by tradition, at the Dairy Queen in Comanche, Texas.  We were at the motel by 5:45, washed out faces, chilled, watched some football, then headed to Mac’s BBQ for dinner.  Back home, lights out early.

Up at six, to the gym, then coffee, then over to Richards Park, site of the cooking and fun.  The cook-off organizers at the Brady Chamber of Commerce extended the event to two full days, and to be honest, Jack and I were skeptical, wondering if this might be our last year.  That doubt was erased in the first hour, breakfast and chatter with fellow judges, a great group of old friends and new ones, too.  Back slapping, good-natured ribbing, lots of laughs.  Just great to be back in Texas.

Being back in Texas meant being away from what sometimes seems to be an echo chamber of political thought around the nation’s capital.  As I and many others have written in the past few years, we all do ourselves a disservice if we only pal around with people who share our views.  Truth is, Linda and I wouldn’t have made many friends in the 25 years we lived in the Lone Star State if we didn’t learn to get along, and to genuinely like, people on the other side of the political spectrum (it was, of course, better if their views were informed with research or logic!).  So it was that I laughed heartily when I spotted this bumper sticker (yes, it was in uppercase): GUNS KILL PEOPLE LIKE SPOONS MAKE ROSIE O’DONNELL FAT.  Yes, of course, gun violence is serious, but sometimes you just need to lighten up, right?

For the first 20 years or so, we only judged goat.  In about 2010 the chamber added a “mystery meat” competition, and 2018 saw those two, plus (on Saturday) beans, chicken, ribs, and margaritas (we skipped those); Sunday was hot sauce, Bloody Marys (I helped), then MM and, finally, goat.  Whew!  A lot of sampling.  Saturday sped past.  We peeled out at about four, back to the room, Tex-Mex dinner, and early to bed.

Sunday: rinse, repeat.  Back to the park and back to work.  Jack peeled off to help his pals Stewart and Riley judge best cooking rigs, I tasted a few Bloodies, and we headed toward this year’s mystery, bacon, and at 3:00 the goat.  In 2016, I was promoted to senior judge, so we sampled nine Super Bowl entrants (open only to previous first-place finishers) and 18 finalists.  Some nice goat.  I ate all but one sample.   As a senior judge, I felt quite a bit of responsibility, so I pitched in to keep the tables tidy and, at one point, recovered to Super Bowl entries that someone mistakenly tossed in the trash.  Whew, close: good thing I am an inveterate dumpster diver!

We opted not to stay for the awards, back in the car, back to Dallas with the required stop at the DQ in Comanche.  Jack and I agreed that we needed to head back in future years, for the wonderful sense of belonging, the warm welcome, and the fine time with good ole-boys (and, increasingly, gals).  Belonging is so important.  Here are some scenes from the event:

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Longtime Cook-off organizers Terry Keltz and Kim King

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Left, Jack and fellow young judges Stewart Storms and Mark Marshall; right, three of the women judges — the judging ranks have become way more diverse in recent years

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Stalwart judge Eddie Sandoval and local businessman and rancher Jason Jacoby

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Two generations of judges; at left, Paul and Lanham McCallum of Grapevine, Texas

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The team judging the best cooking rigs

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From day 1 sampling: chicken and pork ribs

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From day 2, hot sauce and Bloody Marys

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Senior judges hard at work

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A cupla good ole’ Texans from the Waco Boys Cooking Team, in their signature orange colors

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Cook-off still life

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The right-rear tire had a slow leak, and the warning light caused a bit of stress, but we were in the Big D by 8:10.  Dropped Jack at a friend’s house, and motored north to our old (1988-2007) neighborhood in Richardson, Texas, and the home of long friends Jane and Brad Greer.  Brad’s sister Vicki was there, and we had a good catch-up.

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A common Texas sight: wind turbines, which now generate more than 22,500 megawatts — the equivalent of about 40 nuclear power plants

As I did when I stayed with the Greers in September 2016, I was up before light and out on Brad’s bike for 19 miles around the old ‘hood and beyond to a good chunk of our former hometown.  It all looked good.  Got back, showered, ate a swell cooked breakfast (thanks, Jane!), picked up Jack (he was flying home from DFW Airport, not Love), and flew back to Washington.

 

 

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Another sign of a changing Texas: lawn sign for the Democratic candidate in our old neighborhood, once almost 100% red!

 

 

 

 

 

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To Minnesota, then Up North

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On the North Shore of Lake Superior, near Grand Portage, Minnesota

Four nights at home was pretty nice (the dogs especially liked it).  On Wednesday, August 22, I flew home to Minnesota.  It was, once again, State Fair time, and your scribe has not missed the fair since the mid-1980s – more than three decades.  Landed at noon, picked up a swell little Toyota rental car, and headed to the nearby Fort Snelling National Cemetery and my dad’s grave.  Thanks given then, and every single day.

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Along the way to Minnesota: dunes on the northeast shore of Lake Michigan, and some of the last farmland in rapidly suburbanizing Washington County, east of St. Paul

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Next stop was lunch with the Honorable Michael J. Davis, Senior Judge of the U.S. District Court, and a friend for 45 years (back then, Linda was an intern in the poverty-defense law firm where Mike worked after graduating from law school).  It had been too long, three years, and we got caught up on family, jobs, health, and a little dab of the current and grim national situation.  But only a little, and in the parking lot as we departed.  I used the men’s room in the restaurant to change into shorts and a T-shirt, then walked 100 feet to a station of Nice Ride, the local bikeshare system.  Earlier in the day I bought a $6 day pass online, and off I went, west to bike paths on Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun (renamed Bde Maka Ska, because Calhoun was an icky fellow), and Lake Harriet, then east along Minnehaha Creek – all familiar from more than 50 years of riding through Minneapolis’ splendid parkland.  It was a gorgeous summer day, not too hot, nice breeze, and I covered 23 miles.

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On the Minnehaha Creek bike path, and the venerable #1300 streetcar, restored and still rolling after more than a century

Was back at the restaurant at about 4:45, headed into the bar for an iced tea and Wi-Fi connection to do some work, then motored a couple of miles east to the Black Forest Inn, a German fave since 1971, and dinner with Jinny Jensen, recent widow of my 12th grade English teacher, and my pals Bob and Paula Woehrle.  We had a good yak about recent travels, books, and more, then headed to the Woehrles for a good sleep in their guest room.

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After the ride: Minnesota wheat beer from Schell’s

Bob and I were up the next morning before six, and out the door to opening day at the fair.  Arriving that early, we parked on the street close to the fairgrounds, and headed into the action.  It was a cool morning, tonic, and I was pumped.  First stop was the animal barns – more precisely sheep, rabbits, and poultry.  We walked back across the fairgrounds and lined up for breakfast at the “dining hall” of the Salem Lutheran Church.  It was a long queue.  Pals Rick Dow and Steve Schlachter texted that they would be late because of traffic and bus woes.  Rick found us as we were finishing breakfast, and we then walked into the traditional first stop, the juried art show.  This year’s show was substantially better than previous years, and we really enjoyed it.  Steve and his longtime pal Skip found us just as we were entering stop two, the Creative Activities show, a showcase of all sorts of domestic talents, from needlepoint to woodworking to baking and canning.  Hewing to the proven formula, stop three was the Horticulture building for a look at crop art (only in Minnesota), award-winning vegetables, flowers, Christmas trees, and lots more – plus the increasingly large set-up of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Association.  It was 10:30, but time for a cold one, or more accurately samples of four cold ones.

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At left, a man committed to his flock

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Works from the juried art show

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Left, Tim Walz, candidate for governor; at right, a weaver demonstrating both her skills and some true wisdom (atttributed to Albert Einstein)

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In the Creative Activities exhibits

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You can win a ribbon for all sorts of stuff!

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“Crop art” is a distinctly Minnesota genre; lots of entries depicted contemporary events and themes

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Next time you sit down to a meal, think of these hardworking farmers

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Marching animals (equine and human) are a big part of the fair

Bob and Rick peeled off, and Steve, Skip, and I headed to the animal barns, back to the poultry, sheep, and rabbits, plus the much larger displays of 4-H cattle and hogs.  And goats.  Always good, at least once a year, to think about from where our food comes, and who works hard to produce it.  As I have written many times, domestic animals are truly a wonderful gift.  We three sat for a half hour to relax and yak a bit more, then I walked briskly back to the car and pointed it north toward Duluth, at the far west end of the enormous Lake Superior.

I wisely paused at Hinckley for mid-afternoon refreshment at Tobie’s, a place I’ve known for almost 60 years.   Sitting down at the counter, my friendly greeting to Teri the waitress seemed to confuse her.  “I like to be civil,” I explained.  “Bless your heart,” she said, “I could use a little civility today,” then itemized three or four unpleasant encounters she had with rude tourists.  When I left, she patted my arm and said “thank you for making my day.”

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One of Tobie’s celebrated caramel rolls. Yum!

I drove on, cresting the hill above Duluth for the first views of the magnificent Lake Superior.  That sight always makes me smile, and feel truly Minnesotan.  Headed through town to the far east end, the Lester Park neighborhood, and an Airbnb hosted by Julie, a young athletic trainer at the College of St. Scholastica, a small liberal arts college.  Washed my face, worked a bit, and at 6:45 drove a few miles west to Tavern on the Hill and a splendid catch-up dinner with Bob Ryan.  Bob and my Cousin Jim were roommates at the University of Notre Dame, and I’ve known him for more than 25 years – back in the late 1990s, Linda and I bought a vacation rental property, a splendid log house right on Superior, from Bob’s resort development company.  Bob is a quality person, a true citizen, and we talked a lot about his community service, among other topics.

Slept hard that night, through thunderstorms, and woke Friday morning to pelting rain.  The day held a clear mission: before my brother Jim’s memorial service seven weeks earlier, I asked Pam if she would set aside some of Jim’s ashes for me to take back to the North Shore of Lake Superior, to the special landscapes we first saw in 1957 and enjoyed almost every year for a decade.  She agreed, and had part of Jim neatly packaged in two Ziploc bags, which went into my backpack.  As in Oregon, I wanted to deliver him to the wind, the water, and the earth, and thought hard about the three best places.  I had a plan.   Jim went to the winds at the scenic overlook off Highway 61 at Good Harbor Bay, five miles west of Grand Marais.  We stopped there on our first trip up the North Shore in August 1957, and I remember the scene like it was yesterday.  As I did on the 50th anniversary of the stop in 2007, I cued a wonderful, soulful tune, mandolinist Peter Ostroushko’s “Heart of the Heartland.”  I spoke a few words of prayer, and scattered him into rainy skies.

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Good Harbor Bay

Drove into Grand Marais, to the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op for a picnic breakfast, which I gobbled quickly on the front steps of the store.  It was time for stop two, sending Jim to the waters.  Back in the day, the family vacationed at Greenwood Lake Lodge, a simple resort on that large lake, up the Gunflint Trail, a paved county road.  I drove up the highway, and turned east onto a Forest Service road; it was way better than the rutted track that once connected the highway to the resort (the one that tore the transmission of our 1959 Mercury!), and in no time I was on a small bay at the south end of the lake, not far from the portage we used to Sunfish Lake (more a pond) that was our go-to place for walleye fishing.  It was still raining steadily.  I walked out on a small dock and said another goodbye and prayer as Jim entered the cold water.

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Greenwood Lake

Drove back to Grand Marais for stop three, the pebbled beach on the east end of town.  On Sundays, the day after we arrived at the resort, the family would drive into town to mass at St. John’s Catholic Church (it’s still there), then down the hill for a big breakfast at the East Bay Hotel (also still there, though modernized).  After gobbling our pancakes, Jim and I would head down to the beach to look for agates and skip stones into the big lake.  At the south end of the beach, I returned Jim to the earth.  My three-part memorial was done.  Amen.  And tears.

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East Bay Beach

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Jim’s return to the earth (left), and good things from it — flowers outside the café

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Grand Marais harbor from the Angry Trout

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Though it no longer stands tall  on the roof, I remember this sign from the 1950s

My picnic breakfast was a bit thin, so I headed to a fave place, the Angry Trout Café, for a fresh whitefish sandwich (assuredly fresh, because fisherman Harley Tofte’s boat and dock are right next door!).  Back in the car, north and east on Highway 61 to the Grand Portage National Monument, almost at the Canadian border.  “Grand Portage” was the 8.5 mile trail from the Pigeon River to Lake Superior that had been walked for centuries, a detour around a series of waterfalls.

In the mid- to late-18th Century, England’s North West Company set up a trading post there: Indians and French trappers would bring pelts, mostly beaver, from as far as Alberta and Saskatchewan to Grand Portage, where they were sold and loaded onto lake canoes (see photos for more detail).  At the new and well-done Heritage Center, I watched an excellent 20-minute movie that told the story, then walked a few hundred yards to a recreated trading depot, with interpreters dressed in period costume explaining tipi and canoe building, fur trading, and the annual cycle at the outpost.  It was fascinating, very well done, a credit to the National Park Service (currently undergoing a budget slash from the Trump Administration) and cooperation from the Grand Portage Ojibwe people, who own the land.

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Birch bark, essential material for the Ojibwe, for housing and transport (below), and more

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The exhibits also told the story of how the furs were used in England — Brennan the furrier made things from ermine (left), and others made artists’ brushes from badger

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But it was the beaver, or rather his or her pelt, that was the major driver of the North West fur trade

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A lake canoe, and Lake Superior visible through the gate; these vessels were 36 feet long, 4 feet wide, and could carry up to 4 tons of cargo; the journey to or from Montreal took 6 to 8 weeks.

Drove a few miles north and joined the line to enter Canada, then continued north to Thunder Bay, an industrial and port city: they make things (forest products, railcars, other stuff) and move things (railways into the port carry grain and other exports from Western Canada for shipment through the Great Lakes and on to oceans).  Thunder Bay was formerly the twin cities of Fort William and Port Arthur, and the urban form reflects that history.  Found the Airbnb on McGregor, a comfortable and eclectic older home in a prosperous neighborhood of the former Fort William.  My host, Anne-Marie, was out of town, too bad, because in correspondence she seemed like a way-interesting person.  Had a short chat with Brandon from Calgary, another Airbnb guest.  Washed my face and headed out, north a few miles to the Dawson Trail Craft Brewery, one of two micros in town.

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You know you’re going to have a great Airbnb experience when the front door welcomes you!

With nearly a half-century of experience with drinking places, I can quickly size up the vibe, often right at the front door, and Dawson was immediately welcoming.  A small (maybe 15 feet by 30 feet) taproom was in front of the brewery.  People were smiling, laughing, enjoying the end of the week.  I sidled up to the bar and got a glass, then starting chatting with a fellow American.  Then I yakked with Wes and Murray, locals with lots of good stories about the outdoors (Wes told me he was going fishing the following Sunday morning: 3 hours each way to a river brimming with walleyes – he once caught (and released) 140 fish in 5 hours).   Murray was from Saskatchewan, and we talked a bit about Prairie agriculture.  The 2018 harvest was coming in, and it was big (not as large as in 2015, which they told me took two years to clear).

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At Dawson Trail; right, Murray and Wes

Then I yakked with Kari, who worked at the brewery but was not on duty.  I told her about my mission that day, returning brother Jim north, and she started to cry.  “Not tears of sadness,” she said.  Also yakked with the Anderson brothers.  Kari offered the other American and me a Thunder Bay pastry specialty, the Persian, a hole-less doughnut topped with a lot of pink icing.  It went well with our ale!  It was a great couple of hours.

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A Persian and a beer

Anne-Marie had recommended a simple restaurant on the Fort William First Nation, an Indian reservation south of the city.  Motored down to the Rez, but the place was closed “due to labor shortage,” so I headed to other Indian food, the Monsoon Indian Restaurant not far from the Airbnb.  Tucked into a huge and very spicy meal.  On the way out I had a nice T-t-S with the co-owner.  They came from the Punjab in 2007, originally to near Toronto, then moved to Thunder Bay in 2011.  “Did they tell you about winter?” I asked.  She laughed and said, “Yes, but we quickly got used to it!”  You have to admire the adaptability of immigrants.

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Was up at 6:30 Saturday morning, out the door before daylight, for a look around Thunder Bay.  East to the port area of Fort William, then north to downtown Port Arthur, where the lakefront (south of its docks) had been substantially redeveloped with condos, a new hotel, marina, and parkland.  It looked really good.  Took a short walk and had a nice T-t-S with Margot, who answered a few questions about the place.  She was a local, and told me a lot of interesting things.

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St. Mary’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church

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By the port; Canadian grain feeds a lot of people worldwide

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The 1905 Canadian Pacific depot, Port Arthur, and the former logo of the Canadian National, on a restored caboose nearby

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Thunder Bay factories: Resolute Forest Products (lumber, wood pellets, building materials) and Bombardier Transportation (passenger railcars and trams)

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Breakfast time!  My Toyota rests beneath.

Back in the car, west to my fave Canadian breakfast venue, Tim Horton’s.  While waiting for my oatmeal and muffin, had another T-t-S with a teenager wearing a Westfort (short for West Fort William) Hockey hoodie:

Me (pointing at the team logo): Are you guys good?
Him: Nope.
Me: Okay, but are you having fun on the ice?
Him: Yup.
Me: Attaboy.  That’s really all that matters.

Five minutes into breakfast, another T-t-S with a guy about my age, who appeared to be part Ojibwe:

Him: Can’t get today’s paper out of the machine by the door; it’s stuck.
Me: Well, it’s probably the same old news.
Him: Yeah, but I always like to look at the obituaries to make sure my name isn’t there.
Me: I hear you.  Being vertical is better than horizontal.
Him: For sure.

Back in the car, south on the highway, and across the border into the United States (where the officer asked rather a lot of questions, way different than entering at an airport).  Parked at the Visitor Center of the Grand Portage State Park, separate from the national monument (which is several miles south and west), and walked a half-mile up the Pigeon River to the High Falls, a drop of about 130 feet and the reason for the grand portage: you just wouldn’t want to be in a canoe at that point in the river, just upstream from Lake Superior!

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The High Falls of the Pigeon River, the reason for the Grand Portage

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The persistence of nature: a fir tree sprouts in rock on the river bank

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One of many Ojibwe decorative works in the state park visitor center

The lake views were much better than the day before, some truly dramatic vistas.  Arrived back in Grand Marais about ten, bought a sandwich and banana for a drivetime lunch, and wandered around.  The parking lot of the coop was full of artists and craftspeople selling their wares (and some junk made in China), and the lineup of smaller chainsaw sculptures caught my eye, a bear in particular.  After texting the photo to Linda and calling, we agreed that Mr. Bear would look great on our front porch.  Done!  Ambled over to the town’s craft brewery, Voyageur, for the 11:00 tour hosted by Casey from Virginia.  She knew a ton, and it was easily the most thorough brewery tour I’ve ever done, and I’ve been touring them for almost 50 years.  (Two tidbits: their water comes from the municipal supply, which comes right out of the big lake, no chlorination or other treatment, just pure water; and they have begun to buy hops from a new farmer in Hovland, 17 miles northeast.)  There were samples along the way, some really fine brews.

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Scenes from a thorough brewery tour

When I got to town an hour earlier, I called my long friend Tim McGlynn, who I knew might also in town, ready to head by seaplane to Isle Royale, a national park in Lake Superior, with two other long buddies.  The call rolled to voicemail, so I figured they had already departed.  But he called me back five minutes later and said he was in a chartered fishing boat two miles offshore.  I suggested lunch, and John Massopust, Tom Terry (who by another coincidence I saw at the State Fair art show two days earlier), and Tim joined me on the deck of the Voyageur for an hour of laughs and reminiscence.  It was travel serendipity on steroids!  Whew!

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Friends since 1963: Tim McGlynn, John Massopust, and Tom Terry

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Hopped in the car at two, pedal to the metal, and was back at the Woehrles by 6:10.  We had a couple more beers, and a delicious dinner of pork chops and vegetables.  So yummy, home cooking.  Was asleep just after nine.

Bob gets up early (way before six), and we headed out on bikes (I borrowed Paula’s) for a swell 14-mile ride, mostly on the bike paths that have spread all across the Twin Cities.   Great ride, yakking along the way.  Back home for a bowl of raisin bran and coffee, showered, hugs, out the door.  I had several hours, so I motored into downtown St. Paul for a look around (it had been a couple of years), and the center looked really good.  Lively, even on a Sunday morning, lots of people heading toward a Farmers’ Market in Lowertown.  Meandered back to the neighborhood where we lived from 1978 to 1987, past the bungalow that was our first house, and to a nearby coffee shop on Grand Avenue (sadly, my favorite bakery across the street, Wuollet’s, is closed Sundays).  Back to the airport, drop the car, Mr. Bear past the TSA screeners, and onto American Eagle nonstop back to Washington.  A splendid visit back to my roots.

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Mr. Bear, riding south from the North Shore

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The Annual Relaxing Vacation

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Dawn, Kiawah Island, South Carolina; much of the place is wetland, among the most biodiverse landscapes on earth

Was home from Argentina only two nights, and on Saturday, August 11, the Brittons – kids and granddaughters – flew to Charleston, South Carolina, for the now traditional week on Kiawah Island.  One of Robin’s friends since grade school, Courtney, came along, too.  We rented the same house as 2017, which was splendid in many ways, not least a swimming pool.  The routine for six days was identical.  I rose early, pedaled 20 miles or so across the verdant island, then breakfast, reading, trip to the bigger pool or the beach, lunch, nap, more relaxing, dinner, long sleeps.  Vegetable-like, but even for an active fellow like me it was fun.  We did manage to drive into Charleston Thursday afternoon for an amble on King Street, then dinner on Queen Street.  We dropped Robin, Jack, Dylan, and Carson at Charleston airport early Saturday morning, drove across the big Ravenel Bridge into Mount Pleasant, then back across for brunch at Hominy Grill, a Lowcountry fave (sadly, no longer open for dinner, as we discovered two days earlier), and another hour of motoring around Charleston.  It’s one of America’s oldest and most interesting cities, thanks to nearly a century of civic commitment to historic preservation.

Some scenes from the island, family fun, and Charleston:

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19th Century “bird’s eye” view of The Battery, Charleston, and the modern view — two of the homes at left are still visible at right

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Although not much of a shopper, this silver sardine dish in Charleston’s oldest antique store was mighty tempting!

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Brunch at Hominy Grill: their slogan is “Grits are good for you,” so I enjoyed a bowl, along with the week’s third dish of collard greens.  Oooooeeeeee!

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At Charleston airport, there’s a memorial to the 2015 terrorist attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church, and before I flying home I paused there for daily prayers and contemplation.  The memorial has photos of the victims, stained glass, and paintings to honor and remember; this one was especially beautiful:

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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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