The First Travel of 2016: Britain and Germany

Part of a page from an original Gutenberg Bible (1451-55), Gutenberg Museum, Mainz, Germany

Part of a page from an original Gutenberg Bible (1451-55), Gutenberg Museum, Mainz, Germany

 

Travel in the New Year began late, nearly the end of January. So I was pretty excited when I hopped on the short flight from Washington National up to JFK, and then onto the big Silver Bird across the ocean to London. Arrived Heathrow just after six on Sunday morning, headed to the American Airlines arrivals lounge and tucked into a smaller variant of what I call the English-heart-attack-breakfast. Hopped on the train into town and the Bakerloo Line west a few miles to Kensal Green and my billet, at the home of Caroline and Scott Sage. Regular readers may recall that I’ve known Scott since he was in daughter Robin’s kindergarten class in 1988. I had not stayed with them for almost two years and it was good to be back. I chatted with them briefly, played with their cute and lively 16-month-old Eva Rose, then walked through light mist to St. Martin’s Church for Sunday service.

Telephone time; at 16 months, she's mastered "Hello"

Telephone time; at 16 months, she’s mastered “Hello”

Reading time!

Reading time!

The Rev. Graham Noyce greeted me at the front door and introduced me to a parishioner. We chatted briefly, and I took a seat in a nearly empty sanctuary. Happily, by ten o’clock (when a youngster pulled on the ropes to ring the call to worship on the tower bells), the church was more than half full, a mixed congregation, reflecting a rapidly changing neighborhood: about a third of the worshipers were black people from the Caribbean or Africa, the remainder mainly young families. As in the rest of Europe, church attendance has waned in Britain, and it was nice to see young faithful. After a basic service (and some totally unfamiliar hymns), we remained for coffee, tea, and fellowship, and I met a number of people, including a fellow American, Lucy, who teaches at the Royal College of Art.

Altar, St. Martin's

Altar, St. Martin’s

The view from my pew

The view from my pew

St. Martin's Church, Kensal Rise, London

St. Martin’s Church, Kensal Rise, London

I headed home, then peeled back out (Scott and Caroline had friends over for brunch, and I didn’t want to be in the way), bound for Trafalgar Square and the National Portrait Gallery, a great museum that I had only visited once before, in 2009. All sorts of people, famous ones, are there. Kings, queens, princes, and princesses, of course, but also scientists, artists, inventors, musicians. Mr. Boots, founder of the drugstore chain, was there, as was Dr. Jenner, who discovered the cure for smallpox; James Watt, who invented the steam engine; Field Marshal Montgomery, hero of World War II; and many more. A wonderful window on the sweep of British life and achievement. I ambled across St. Martin’s Square for a tuna sandwich and mango smoothie, enjoying a late lunch while listening to a busker who had talent. The phrase “we are young,” memorable title of a short film I saw nearly 50 years ago, popped into my head, because at moments like that (and, gladly, they are frequent) I did feel young and quite alive.

Royals at the National Portrait Gallery: Queen Victoria and Princes Harry and William

Royals at the National Portrait Gallery: Queen Victoria and Princes Harry and William

Aviators: WWI fighter pilot Albert Ball (downed 43 enemy planes and a zeppelin); and Amy Johnson, who flew solo to Australia in 19 days, and who died in civilian service to the WWII effort, 1941.

Aviators: WWI fighter pilot Albert Ball (downed 43 enemy planes and a zeppelin); and Amy Johnson, who flew solo to Australia in 19 days, and who died in civilian service to the WWII effort, 1941.

Busker, St. Martin's Place

Busker, St. Martin’s Place

Refreshed, I ambled a mile across to Piccadilly Circus, thronged with tourists, hopped on the Tube, and went home. After a tonic, 45-minute nap, I had a long and nice chat with Caroline while she was feeding Eva, then preparing dinner. She’s got a very successful recruitment business, Kea, and we yakked about that and many other topics. Then we tucked into a superb Sunday dinner, chicken, roast vegetables, yum! Worked a bit of email, made it to 9:00, and said goodnight.

Eva eating dessert (yes, she also loved the green stuff in the foreground)

Eva eating dessert (yes, she also loved the green stuff in the foreground)

Monday morning, first day of February, time to stand and deliver. Put on coat and tie, hopped on the Tube, and headed to Imperial College London and the Imperial Business School. A few butterflies flitted in my stomach, for after six weeks away from the classroom I was feeling a little out of practice. At ten we were in the large auditorium of the Royal Geographical Society (nice for a geographer to hold forth there, but it was only because the large halls at Imperial were all booked). The insects inside me calmed and I delivered a two-hour talk to Master’s of Marketing students. Said goodbye to host Omar Merlo, walked down Kensington Road, jumped on a red bus and rode west to Notting Hill, a posh neighborhood.

English buildings often feature curious, sometimes whimsical design detail

English buildings often feature curious, sometimes whimsical design detail

At 1:00 I met Sir Geoffrey Own, a colleague for 15 years and my former host at the London School of Economics. He’s in his ninth decade and still rolling forward. We chatted about his forthcoming book on the UK biotechnology industry, some politics (I tried hard to skirt the U.S. follies), some life. And tucked into a nice lunch at Polpo (“octopus” in Italian; before ordering, I asked Geoffrey if he wanted to “share some octopus,” but he declined). Next stop, Euston railway station, then a fast train 50 miles northwest to Milton Keynes, then the C1 bus a few miles north to Cranfield University, site of specialized programs in aviation, ranging from aeronautical engineering to airline management.

The C1 zigzagged through an endless, monotonous suburb. Visual balm soon appeared: just as we entered rural England, the sun came out, and on the right side a verdant winter pasture filled with blackface (Suffolk is the breed) sheep, thick with fleece. A Norman church appeared, all part of the wonderful country landscape. Hopped off at the uni, met my new host Pere, a Catalan and fellow geographer, and delivered a talk from 6:00 to 7:30. Pere had arranged a “taxi” back to Milton Keynes station, actually a university car service, and I had a nice, chat-filled ride with driver Gary, friendly and talkative – not quite Talking to Strangers, but pretty close. He had traveled a lot in the U.S. – skied at Lake Tahoe three times – and really liked my homeland. Hopped on an earlier train, and was home by 9:30, in time for a short chat with Scott. It was a long day.

By Tuesday morning Eva had become comfy with me, which was good because I was the babysitter for about 40 minutes until their day nanny Carrie arrived. We had a lot of fun reading books, and rolling and chasing balls. But I was reminded that looking after toddlers is hard work (full disclosure: I did not change what smelled like a really big poop, leaving that to Carrie’s experienced hands). I grabbed my suitcase, said goodbye to Eva and Carrie, and walked around the corner to the #18 bus east into the center, a handy ride that eliminated the walk to the Tube station. Grabbed a bit more breakfast, a big tub of yogurt, then a large coffee.

In Scarlet & Violet, the florist near the Sages' house

In Scarlet & Violet, the florist near the Sages’ house

While waiting for the bus to Stansted Airport and my flight to Germany I watched the unhappy end to a fracas in front of a fancy townhouse on Dorset Square. A volatile young English fellow, Michael, got into some sort of skirmish with two prosperous newcomers from the Levant; it was unclear how it started, but after the kid called the two “immigrants,” they proceed to beat him up (though not badly). Then the police – at one time 10 officers were on the scene, causing a passerby to say “overpolicing” – arrested the young man. I overheard chunks of his account, and was not precisely sure justice was unfolding. By the end, Michael was pounding on the inside wall of the paddy wagon, and I was on the bus to the airport. Real life in the big city.

Moderne style apartment block, Gloucester Place, London

Moderne style apartment block, Gloucester Place, London

In my lectures, I often speak proudly about the democratization of air travel over the course of my career. At Stansted, you see it, and it looks great – hundreds of people who can now afford to fly, or fly more often. While waiting in the security line, I chatted with a young woman from Dublin, returning home to see her family, but only for a day. “God bless Ryanair,” I told her, and she agreed. And you see it onboard too: excited new passengers at both windows on my row filmed the takeoff with their smartphones. It all made me smile.

We landed at Baden-Baden, near Karlsruhe, at 4:20 (the Ryanair ticket, booked early, cost an astonishing sum, $17.50). It looked like a former Cold War air base, and reading Wikipedia later I confirmed my guess: the French built in in 1951-52, then handed it to the Canadians, the RCAF base operational until 1994. Hopped on a bus north to the train station at Rastatt (the bus rolled briefly down Torontostrasse, see above!). Early on, two nice vignettes of Green Germany: solar panels on every other south-facing house roof in the burg of Hügelsheim; and on the Rastatt train platform a man harvesting aluminum cans from the recycling bin (I handed him mine, for which he thanked me effusively. Got on a regional train to Karlsruhe, a French TGV to Stuttgart (zipping for 10 minutes at 150 mph), and another regional train south to Reutlingen.

Met my host Oliver Götz at the station, dropped stuff at the hotel, and headed out for some Swabian dinner. We had a nice yak and would have stayed longer, but I had some pressing business to conduct by phone and email, work-work and work related to the sale of our current house (more on that soon). Head hit pillow at 12:40, way, way late for this grandfather. The mattress in the (barely) three-star hotel was squeaky and too soft, but I was too tired to notice much.

Slept in! ‘Til 7:30! Tucked into breakfast, then walked 1.5 miles to the ESB Business School at Reutlingen University, my second visit there in five months. At ten I gave a recorded interview with two students and a PR manager for the school, met Oliver for lunch at one, and from three to five delivered a talk on airline sales strategy. During a break Kevin introduced himself and told me his dad was born in Minneapolis, and graduated from Southwest High School, not far from where I grew up. Small world, we agreed.

Dusk on the campus of Reutlingen University

Dusk on the campus of Reutlingen University

I took a bus back to the hotel, and worked a bit, until the hotel wi-fi went down (it was not a fancy place, which was fine, but wi-fi has become a bit like running water – ya gotta have it). Walked across town to a wonderful brewpub, Barfüsser, for some homemade beer and an enormous dinner of roast pork, a bread-dumpling nearly the size of a basketball, and German cole slaw. The wi-fi was still kaput (a great word, German, but much used in parts of the U.S, too). Clocked out early, but slept fitfully, because I was expecting some important emails, which appeared sporadically through the night.

Up early Thursday morning, out the door, and onto a train to Stuttgart. I had a rare 45 minutes before getting on the next train, so took a walk around the station, site of a massive redevelopment effort (a few of the big holes looked unchanged since I saw them 14 months earlier). Got on the 9:37 headed north. February 4 was the first day of Carnival, and true to form three revelers in costume sat opposite me and popped beers before we departed Stuttgart. At Heidelberg, a Minion, a Captain, and a Bedouin boarded coach 8 (the Minion sat across from me). I got off at Mainz, urging the revelers to party hard, put my suitcase and backpack in a locker, and began walking east in steady rain. By tradition, the season begins at 11:11 on Thursday morning, but clearly lots of people started at breakfast.

One of several big holes adjacent to Stuttgart's main station

One of several big holes adjacent to Stuttgart’s main station

Nicely-preserved older building, downtown Stuttgart

Nicely-preserved older building, downtown Stuttgart

Redevelopment adjacent to the Stuttgart railway station

Redevelopment adjacent to the Stuttgart railway station

 

Karneval reveler on the train

Karneval reveler on the train

Karneval celebrants, Mainz

Karneval celebrants, Mainz

First stop was the magnificent red-sandstone cathedral, the Dom, begun in 975. A block east was the reason for the stopover: the Gutenberg Museum, marking the achievements of Mainz’s most famous son, inventor of movable type. I arrived in time for a demonstration of a copy of his printing plate and press; the show was in German, but I got the picture, and ended with a three-color page from his first work, the Bible. Of the 180 original Gutenberg bibles printed 1452-55, 49 have survived.

The Romanesque Mainz Cathedral, more than 1000 years old

The Romanesque Mainz Cathedral, more than 1000 years old

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

The interpretive panels were mostly in German, and as an old museum hand (Science Museum of Minnesota, 1979-83) I thought they could have told the story better, but there were some cool lessons. One: he started with the Bible, but others who took up his invention quickly broadened the scope. Two: the spread of information on the printed page eroded the absolute authority of the Church – Luther had Epistles printed in Wittenberg a decade after his break with the Catholic Church. The museum also told the story, somewhat irregularly, of the evolution of publishing since 1452. A very cool place.

Recreation of one of Johannes' early presses

Recreation of one of Johannes’ early presses

A museum visitor pulls the lever that prints the page

A museum visitor pulls the lever that prints the page

Printing plate for a sample Bible page

Printing plate for a sample Bible page

The museum had a good collection of older presses and equipment, all before digital technology

The museum had a good collection of older presses and equipment, all before digital technology

1491 Treatise on the medicinal uses of stuff from animals

1491 Treatise on the medicinal uses of stuff from animals

Epistles published by Luther, 1530

Epistles published by Luther, 1530

Pickled herring, the Thursday lunch

Pickled herring, the Thursday lunch

Walked briskly back to the station in heavier rain, grabbed my bag and a lunch, and got on a train north on the west bank of the Rhine to Koblenz. I was facing backward and on the side away from the river, so was not at close as I’d like to one of my favorite European landscapes. I’ve often written in these pages about the steep slopes and storybook villages that line the river, and even on a bleak day the valley is lovely. Walked through a cold rain (which only slightly dampened the revelry) to the Hotel Trierer Hof, long a favorite (not least because of a 2009 snafu: hewing to the European tradition of leaving your big key and fob at the reception, I was locked out of my nearby small hotel when I returned from dinner, and the family-owned Trierer Hof took me in, and even gave me a special rate).

Worked a bit, then took a much-needed nap. The Altes Brauhaus, established 1689, my chosen dinner destination, was in nightclub mode (dark except for ultraviolet and party lights), and was clearly not a place for a repast. Next try, Mein Koblenz, visited the year before, was closed for all of Karneval. The rain had stopped, making reconnaissance in the Altstadt, the old town, easier. I spotted the Hotel Kornpforte, looked in the window, and said “this is it,” simply because the diners’ average age was about mine. We’re too old for hard partying!

Night in the Koblenz Altstadt

Night in the Koblenz Altstadt

The dining room emptied, but a table of five older ladies, in their 70s and maybe 80s remained. I wondered: in 1945 were they hungry? Cold? I wanted to ask them, but of course I could not. Instead, I enjoyed a couple of beers and tucked into a salad, pair of sausages, and an enormous pile of fried potatoes.

Nicely-designed new shopping area, Koblenz

Nicely-designed new shopping area, Koblenz

Slept nine hours, tonic, suited up, and hopped on the #8 bus across the Rhine and downstream to Vallendar and my 11th visit to one of Europe’s best business schools, WHU / Otto Beisheim School of Management (Otto the benefactor founded a hugely successful retail chain, Metro). At 8:45 I met my host and long friend Jochen Menges for a coffee in the village, the walked up the hill to campus. I peeled off to do some work, then delivered two lectures to undergraduates. In between, I had a nice Italian lunch with Heidi Hoffmann, a WHU program head and another long friend. The restaurant owner, a native of Italy, visited briefly with us, and I spoke a few words of Italian and showed him the picture of my great-grandparents Enrico and Cesira.

The Altes Brauhaus, back to normal

The Altes Brauhaus, back to normal

At five Jochen dropped me at the hotel. Changed clothes, caught up on email and headed out for dinner. Happily, the Altes Brauhaus was back to gemütlich (cozy), and I took a stool by the window to watch the scene, and a schwarzer (black) beer. It was nice to be back, and I spent a happy couple of hours people-watching, and enjoying another filling German dinner. Was asleep by ten, up at six, onto a fast train to Frankfurt Airport, and home via Charlotte.

On the flight across the ocean, I watched the engrossing and sad film “Spotlight,” about the heroic and persistent Boston Globe journalists who uncovered the horrific story of the scores of Catholic priests who sexually abused more than 1,000 children, and of the church cover-up. The movie reminded me of the power of a free press, which took my mind back two days to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, for it was Johaness’ invention that made possible newspapers, and thus (as I wrote above) a means to challenge authority. And I thought of all the men and women who fought to preserve that right to challenge, and our other freedoms. We must never forget what they have given us.

German still life, Altes Brauhaus

German still life, Altes Brauhaus

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The Last 2015 Trip: Austin, Texas, for Christmas

Elisabeth, Ingrid, and Anna, all Swedish immigrants at the Julotta service, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Elisabeth, Ingrid, and Anna, all Swedish immigrants at the Julotta service, Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

On Wednesday the 23rd, Linda and I flew down to Austin, Texas, to spend Christmas with Jack. Robin flew down earlier that day (granddaughters Dylan and Carson were with their dad, alternating holidays). We arrived at dusk, and immediately made fast for Jacoby’s, the first Austin venture of the successful set of enterprises in Melvin, Texas (150 miles northwest), that we visit each year when judging barbequed goat in Brady. We had a fine meal, capped by a wonderful pear and ginger cobbler. Yum. Drove back to the house Jack is renting as he gets himself settled into a new town and new job.

The big sky of Texas, on approach to Austin

The big sky of Texas, on approach to Austin

Jacoby's Mercantile, an Austin restaurant and offshoot of one of our favorite small-town cafes, in Melvin, Texas

Jacoby’s Mercantile, offshoot of one of our favorite small-town cafes, in Melvin, Texas

Night view of the Texas Capitol

Night view of the Texas Capitol

Was up at dawn Christmas Eve and out on Jack’s bike, south toward the great University of Texas at Austin. I had not taught there for almost two years and it had been even longer since I had a good look around. The bike was perfect for campus sightseeing. It’s a wonderful place. The next day I spotted a great quote from a Harper’s article ca. 1905:

“ . . . the University of Texas has such a princely endowment in lands that it is quite possible that it may someday be the greatest seat of learning in the Western world. When Austin shall have changed place with Boston and have become the modern Athens, probably more correct ideas will prevail in both places and in all that section lying between. But that it a long way off.”

Main Building, University of Texas at Austin

Main Building, University of Texas at Austin

"The Seven Mustangs," a sculpture on the UT campus commissioned by a wealthy oilman

“The Seven Mustangs,” a 1937 sculpture on the UT campus commissioned by a wealthy oilman. Texas author J. Frank Dobie, who wrote about the storied horse, penned these words affixed to the plaque at the base: Like the longhorn, the mustang has been virtually bred out of existence. But mustang horses will always symbolize western frontiers, long trails of longhorn herds, seas of pristine grass, and men riding free in a free land.” The spirit of Texas, for sure!

The Littlefield House on the UT campus

The Littlefield House on the UT campus

Next I circled the magnificent red-granite state capitol (repeating the nice refrain “everything’s bigger in Texas”), then down the hill through downtown and across the Colorado River. The drought that had gripped much of the state for several years is mostly over, and it was nice to say the river full. Bought a cup of coffee and pedaled up South Congress, up the hill past funky little shops and restaurants – the street, like much of the rest of town, is booming.

Morning view of the capitol

Morning view of the capitol

Skyline

Skyline-2

Boomtown, Texas

Storefront signs on South Congress Avenue

Storefront signs on South Congress Avenue

At 8:15 I knocked on John Morton’s side door. Morty and I worked together at American back in the day, and it was great to see him. We talked a lot about his new gig, as speechwriter for UT Chancellor Admiral William McRaven, former Navy SEAL and way-cool guy. Briefly chatted with spouse Kate and daughter Grace, then rode back to Jack’s.

Showered and headed out for a caloric breakfast at The Omelletry, then for an exceedingly thorough and fascinating tour of town. As Jack sizes up the real-estate market, he’s become well familiar with a range of neighborhoods. The bewildering growth rate means, for example, that $800,000 remodels are across the street from houses favored by drug dealers. Doesn’t seem to matter. The bad news is it’s a tough market for a single guy in a helping profession, but he’ll figure it out. Lots of cool districts, and we especially enjoyed Mueller, the residential and commercial redevelopment of the former close-in city airport (AUS moved for a former air force base in 1999).

Robin, Jack, and Linda at breakfast

Robin, Jack, and Linda at breakfast

Egg "cloud" on the ceiling of The Omelettry

Egg “cloud” on the ceiling of The Omelettry

Wing-roofed HEB supermarket at Mueller, the redevelopment of the former municipal airport

Wing-roofed HEB supermarket at Mueller, the redevelopment of the former municipal airport

The former control tower at Austin Municipal Airport

The former control tower at Austin Municipal Airport

Austin-style Christmas tree!

Austin-style Christmas tree!

Went to the movies, then back to the house, then out to dinner. Lots of restaurants were closed for Christmas, and those open were packed, including P.F. Chang’s. We didn’t make the planned 7:00 Christmas Eve service at Gethsemane Lutheran Church, which turned out to be serendipitous, for the next morning Linda and I drove out to the 8:00 Julotta service that was mostly in Swedish. We don’t often think of Western European nations as having a diaspora, but they surely do; the Swedes have long clung to, and share, endearing parts of their homeland culture. Linda and I immediately felt welcome, both because we are Lutheran, and because the greeting was warm. The group was small, the service brief and informal.

The new (1963) Gethsemane Lutheran Church

The new (1963) Gethsemane Lutheran Church

My 20-year experience with worship in Sweden (most recently with the Paulsson family in Umeå in September) gave me a leg up on the hymns: the umlauts and consonant-combinations were familiar: “Stilla natt, heliga natt / Allt är frid, stjärnen blid . . .” A longtime church member, Ingrid, delivered the homily, a wonderful lesson tying Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to the current wave of refugees. When the service concluded, Pastor Karl Groenberg joined us; he was born in Minnesota, and grew up in Seattle (“these are our people,” I thought). He had been at Gethsemane for 45 years; it is the oldest Lutheran congregation in the city. We would have stayed longer, but we were headed to another movie at 10:15.

I zipped out for a quick bike ride, back to the UT campus, and we headed out to dinner. First stop were drinks in the bar of the historic Driskill Hotel (1886). Hadn’t been in that saloon for almost 25 years, and it was nice to be back. We left for dinner, but the place was packed, so we reversed course, grabbed another table in the Driskill bar, and had a light, leisurely repast – not your traditional Christmas dinner, but it worked.

I've long appreciated the architectural detail on older UT buildings; the tile work on the top wall depicts an oil derrick (oil and gas have long provided endowment funds at the university)

I’ve long appreciated the architectural detail on older UT buildings; the tile work on the top wall depicts an oil derrick (oil and gas have long provided endowment funds at the university)

 

On the wall of the Texas State Archive

On the wall of the Texas State Archive

Sculpture on the UT campus, made entirely of recycled aluminum boats and canoes

Sculpture on the UT campus, made entirely of recycled aluminum boats and canoes

The second Gethsemane Lutheran Church, now offices of the Texas Historical Commission

The second Gethsemane Lutheran Church, now offices of the Texas Historical Commission

 

Flew home Saturday, passing through Dallas before the terrible storms. And that was travel for the quarter and the year.

Stained-glass ceiling, lobby, Driskill Hotel (1886)

Stained-glass ceiling, lobby, Driskill Hotel (1886)

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Chihuahua, Mexico

The view from the front of my hotel

The view from the front of my hotel, Chihuahua

I would have liked to have been home more than three nights, but one more paying gig summoned, an opportunity to deliver talks at three conferences in Chihuahua, so I flew south and west on Tuesday the 19th. It was colder in Mexico than in Washington, but the welcome was – as it always is in that super-hospitable land – warm. Victor Molina and Andrés Alvarez, two young businessmen, met me outside customs in Chihuahua. It was my fourth visit to that booming city of a million, capital of the state of the same name. We motored to El Retablo, a great restaurant I had visited before, for a late dinner, then across town to an unfamiliar hotel, the Soberano. The place was in the throes of taking on the Sheraton nameplate, and there were some rough edges, but all I really need is a soft bed and hot water.

Victor met me at eight the next morning for breakfast, then off to his employer, Zodiac Aerospace, a French company and one of many in Chihuahua’s Aerospace Cluster. They have successfully leveraged low labor cost, good technical training, and proximity to the U.S. to build a big – and growing – complex of firms that supply commercial, private, and military aviation. After a nice chat with two local HR managers we started the tour.

First stop was the plant where Zodiac makes the airplane hardware you never want to use: evacuation systems, meaning escape slides and life rafts. The affable plant manager, Luis, gave us a thorough tour, with the ever-curious T-Geek asking lots of questions. High point was two test deployments (every piece made there gets tested and certified before being scrunched into remarkable small packages). A slide-raft for an Airbus A320 was inflated and launched in 3.2 seconds. Whoosh! Next stop was the Water and Waste plant, where they make onboard water tanks and toilets. They test the latter, too, but only for #1!

We then headed to a plant where they make a range of wire harnesses and the actuators for business-class seats. There we met Benoit, the only French guy in among 3,000 Mexican employees (earlier, the HR guys and I had a discussion of cultural issues in managing manufacturing workforces). My frequent thought that morning was how all that high-tech, safety-sensitive manufacturing contrasted with most Americans’ image of what gets made in Mexico: blue jeans and tequila? Especially impressive was a small design and engineering team – Zodiac had the good sense to recognize that Chihuahua, with no fewer than three technological universities, was not just a place to make stuff, but that talent did not just exist back in France.

We headed to a late lunch downtown at a favorite from Victor’s childhood, a comfy 1970s style restaurant, Degá (Victor reminisced about visits with his parents; “I always had the hotcakes”). We walked past some nice old buildings, including a century-old theater that I had admired on my first visit. Drove back to the industrial park for one more tour, EZ Air, a joint venture of Zodiac and the Brazilian planemaker Embraer that supplies the latter with everything in the airplane interior except for seats: sidewalls, floors, ceilings, overhead bins, galleys, and lavs. Way cool.

Chihuahua Cathedral

Chihuahua Cathedral

Teatro Colonial

Teatro Colonial

 

Aircraft lavatory at the EZ Air plant

Aircraft lavatory at the EZ Air plant

Your scribe with a sample of the EZ Air product!

Your scribe with a sample of the EZ Air product!

Walking from that last plant, the day’s recurrent thought surfaced again, a thought that for a couple of decades has informed my view on the Mexican people: they work hard, and every person on this continent, Donald Trump included, should acknowledge that reality. Whether in Mexico or as immigrants in the U.S., all they want to do is work. Shouldn’t we Americans celebrate that will?

We then zoomed a kilometer to my first speaking gig, a 2.5-hour talk on the airline business to 45 people from various firms in the Aerospace Cluster. Lots of good questions. I was tired, and not that hungry, but of course my hosts invited us to dinner, so we headed to Faena, a very lively place (Mexicans are world-class funmakers!). A bowl of vegetable soup and a beer hit the spot. The pillow was welcome.

Thursday was a “day off,” no speaking but still jam-packed. Javier Ortega, father of the young guy who organized the talks (also named Javier), picked me up at eight and we headed to Barriga, an agreeable restaurant, for a nice breakfast – good food and fine conversation. I took an immediate liking to Javier, who like me had a mixed career of teaching and professional work, mainly in manufacturing. We then headed to the plant he manages, Pregis (pronounced PRAY-jees), a U.S. maker of varied packaging materials. In this case it was a variety of polyethylene foam. As I wrote when chronicling the visit two weeks earlier to the mothballed German steel mill, I love industrial process, so another plant tour, in this case much simpler manufacturing compared to the high-tech aviation stuff, was also really interesting.

Inside the Pregis plant

Inside the Pregis plant

Polyethylene still life: cooling plastic near the extruding machine

Polyethylene still life: cooling plastic near the extruding machine

Javier was justly proud of the facility. It was his baby – he convinced the U.S. executives that the plant would make sense. The process was not labor-intensive, but parts of it required diligence – heat, pressure, flammable gases. Not many consumers think about how things get made, but I always do, and appreciate those who toil to make them.

I had a small brain freeze mid-morning. I had forgotten to copy my schedule from my laptop to my iPhone. Next stop was at the Chihuahua campus of Tec de Monterrey, the university. I remembered I was to see Angel, but Angel who? Javier called his son Javier, and I had a first and last name: Angel Olguin. Javier, el padre, dropped me at the main entrance, gave me a hug, and drove off. I got into the main building, remembered the International Office from a visit two years earlier, found it, and told the nice youngsters inside that I was a little lost!

Soon I was found, across the street at PIT2, one of the school’s two buildings housing business incubators, and meeting young Sr. Olguin, his wife Cristina, and colleague Raimundo (“but call me Ray”). A pleasant, smiling woman named Sol gave us a tour of both buildings. Many people were already away for Christmas break, but we met a few innovators and learned about their ideas. Perhaps the high point was to meet Alana, a young woman from Toronto, because she represented a nice reversal, a flow of ideas southward to support – and she reminded me of the transformative power of the jet plane, a theme I had spoken of many times in 2015.

PIT2 building with an historic structure in front

PIT2 building with an historic structure in front

Alana from Ryerson University, Toronto

Alana from Ryerson University, Toronto

We headed to lunch, back to Faena (dinner venue the night before, but the food was great and I was happy to be there). A young entrepreneur, César Santacruz, joined us, and we had a nice chat and a fine taco lunch. He drove me back to the hotel, and I enjoyed the first nap in days. I worked the rest of the afternoon.

With the salsa at top, you can fly witout an airplane, volar sin avión. Made with habanero peppers, it was way, way hot!

With the salsa at top, you can fly witout an airplane, volar sin avión. Made with habanero peppers, it was way, way hot!

 

The view from my hotel room

The view from my hotel room

I was on my own that evening, and the plan was to revisit a wonderful historic bar, La Antigua Paz, a place that hosted the likes of Pancho Villa. The wonderful escorting of the previous two days caused some substantial inertia (yikes, I was on my own?), so I had to hurtle myself downstairs to the front desk, where they called a taxi. The driver didn’t know the joint, so I had to show him on my iPhone map. Happily, rush hour traffic was light. As soon as I walked in, I knew I was in the right place; not just because a bottle of beer was the equivalent of $1.30, but the vibe was perfect, a mix of energy and tranquility. People yakking at the end of the day, a mix of ages. And a battle of the bands: two Norteña groups belting out traditional tunes on accordion, bass fiddle, and guitar – and strong voices. On the wall in front of me were many photos of General Villa and fellow fighters. On the wall behind me, opposite Villa, were Laurel and Hardy, and above them a rack of deer antlers and a sign that read in Spanish, “Are these yours? Reclaim them.” It was like Mulligan’s in Dublin.

From an old photo at La Antigua Paz

From an old photo at La Antigua Paz

Twenty minutes in, Edgar Franco, a local pianist originally from Durango, sat down at the bar and we began chatting. He offered a CD of Christmas music and discs with other themes. I politely declined, but later bought the holiday music, and as I bring this journal up to date I am listening to his music, and smiling. The battle of the bands got more complicated when Edgar sat down at the piano. He played with passion, but the two groups seemed to crowd him out, but not before laying down a nice arrangement of the Beatles “Let It Be.” A few minutes later, Rod from Calgary, Phoenix, and Mazatlán (four months per year in each), and his Mexican friend Kiko sidled up to the stool Edgar abandoned. I had another beer and another plate of tacos. The next day was going to be busy, so I asked one of the barmen to call a taxi. After some minutes he shrugged and said, “No hay” – there are none. Kiko overheard, grabbed my arm, and he said he’d find one on the street. Ten minutes later, I was rolling back to the hotel with a driver and his wife, Margarita, the former intent on learning as much English as he could in 20 minutes. It was a lot of fun.

Edgar Franco at the piano

Edgar Franco at the piano

Friday the 18th was my last full, full day for the year, and it was busy. First stop, the Autonomous University of Chihuahua business school for a breakfast speech. Then back to the hotel and from 11 to 5:30 I delivered a seminar on leadership for about 40 members of IMEF, the Mexican Institute of Finance Executives. A good group, but a bit quieter than a similar audience in Torreón in the spring. My voice was giving out after weeks of speaking, but we got it done, and the group was happy. Said my goodbyes, hugs. Javier the younger had arrived earlier in the day, so we headed out for an early, quick dinner. I was asleep by nine.

Up before five Saturday morning, out to the airport, up to DFW, and home. It was good to be there.

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Advent in Europe: England, Germany, Ireland

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Less than two weeks later, the day after my 64th birthday, Linda drove me to the Metro and I departed for National Airport, JFK, and London Heathrow, landing just before dawn on the First Sunday in Advent. Worked a bit in the arrivals lounge, then hopped on the Piccadilly Line for central London. By long tradition, I cued my playlist of 14 Beatles’ faves, including “When I’m 64,” a fitting tune downloaded two days earlier.

A glimpse of St. Paul's Cathedral from the north

A glimpse of St. Paul’s Cathedral from the north

For the third consecutive year, I headed to the sung Eucharist service for the First Sunday of Advent at St. Paul’s Cathedral. When I came out of the Tube station a few hundred yards north of Wren’s spectacular church the bells were pealing full tilt, what I have long described as “the sound of Europe.” I paused to snap a picture and record the bells, then headed in for worship at 11:30. Bag inspection was now the norm, and in my case it was backpack and suitcase. I chatted briefly with one of the virgers (ushers), who had friends in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, not far from our house. The welcome there is genuine.

I took my place directly beneath the enormous dome. Soon the celebrants and choir processed in, and we the space swelled with “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel.” The sermon was plain, asking us to embrace “divine discontent and active hope” – to not be satisfied with what is wrong on earth, and to work to change it for the better. The cathedral website said service was 60 minutes, so I booked a train to Cambridge at 12:57; the service leaflet said 75, so I had to grab my bag and sneak out immediately after communion, back onto the Central Line to Liverpool Street, and onto a slow local (but cheap!). A mile south of Cambridge I spotted Elena The’s superb silver sculpture of the DNA double helix, discovered here. I was back, for the 21st time, to teach at that storied university.

Hopped on the bus into the center, and walked a few blocks to my lodging at Sidney Sussex College. The porter gave me the keys to guest room C03, by now my accustomed digs, a big comfortable suite. Worked a bit, grabbed a light lunch from the Sainsbury’s supermarket across the street, got cash and a toothbrush (my traveler had somehow fallen from my toilet kit), and grabbed a quick nap.

Sidney Sussex College

Sidney Sussex College

Again for the third year in a row, just before six I headed into the college chapel for Advent choral service. I had the good fortune to be seated next to a young woman with a stellar voice (which likely balanced out my noise), and we again began with “Veni Emmanuel.” Rejoice, rejoice. The choir, directed by now-friend David Skinner, was superb, celestial. After the service, by tradition we headed to the Old Library for sherry. I chatted with Victoria, wife of the college master, and we then processed to High Table. It was a small group. I sat next to my host, David, and across from my chapel seatmate, who turned out to be Dr. Ceri Owen, a fellow in music at Sidney. We three chatted happily through dinner, mostly about music stuff. David grew up in Fresno, California, and gave us a summary about how he got from the Central Valley to one of the most revered universities in the world. A nice story.

Monday was mostly a day off. After breakfast in the college dining hall, I walked to the train station, and got on the 11:04 train back to London Liverpool Street. I cued Neil Young on my iPhone. Back 45 years ago, he was one of my friend Mark Miller’s favorites, and my task that morning was to write a eulogy for Mark, who died three days earlier. I got the shocking news the night of my birthday, made worse by the reality that I could almost certainly not attend his memorial service. But I could write words of praise, to be read by our mutual and stalwart friend, Chris Mac Phail. After Neil, I listened to another of Mark’s faves, Buffalo Springfield. By the time we were on the outskirts of London, I had the outlines of parting words. And tears in my eyes, the mourn for a fine and funny person gone way too soon. Rest in peace, Mark.

Bermondsey Street, with the new "Shard" highrise in the background

Bermondsey Street, with the new “Shard” high-rise in the background

At Holly and Lil: Sue with friends

At Holly and Lil: Sue with friends

I got the Tube south to London Bridge and had a late lunch with a couple of new friends in the publishing business. We were in The Garrison on Bermondsey Street, a place I had visited before, next door to Holly and Lil, custom makers of dog collars and other accessories (I bought Henry and Mackenzie sparkly Christmas bandannas).

Hopped back on the Tube west to the fancy Belgravia neighborhood not far from Victoria Station, worked my email at a Pret a Manger, then ambled a few blocks east to the Duke of Wellington tavern. A longtime American Airlines pal, Don Langford, appeared at 6:30, we had a quick beer, and walked less than a block to his new rental house. Don left American with 25 years under his belt at the time of the merger, and expected to fully retire. But the airline business is a pernicious addiction, and another former AAer, Craig Kreeger, now leads Virgin Atlantic Airways, and hired Don as CEO.

Ollie

Ollie

Don’s wife Sooz and their swell Welsh corgi Ollie greeted us, and we sat down in the kitchen for a good yak, followed by a wonderful dinner of lasagna and salad. If a) I weren’t so tired, and b) I was staying in London, not Cambridge, I would have stayed and yakked, but I said goodbye about 9:15, walked to Victoria, caught the Tube north, and the fast train up to Cambridge, arriving well past bedtime. Regular readers know I almost never take taxis, but I needed to rest my feet, so hopped a cab back to college and a somewhat fitful sleep.

The new roof at King's Cross Station

The new roof at King’s Cross Station

After breakfast Tuesday I ambled across town to Judge Business School, worked the morning, and at 1:00 met host Andreas Richter for lunch next door at Brown’s. From two to four I delivered a talk on airline HR management to a very bright group of third-year engineering students – one of those rare times I’m not actually teaching in business school. I met a few members of the class before we started, asking “what flavor of engineering are you” and what an ideal job would be. One guy told me his dream was to work for the European Space Agency, ESA. “You want to be a rocket scientist?” I asked. Yes, he replied, absolutely. After the talk, a couple of students walked back to college with me, pelting questions, which is always fun. Did a bit of work, caught a too-short nap, and at six met another Judge colleague Paul Tracey, for a pint at The Pickerel, one of Cambridge’s oldest pubs. We had a quick yak, and planned to have dinner, but I had to get back to my room for a quick call, so peeled off.

Judge Business School, in the former Addenbrooke's Hospital

Judge Business School, in the former Addenbrooke’s Hospital

After the call and a bit more work, I walked to The Eagle, one of my fave pubs, a place favored by the likes of Newton, Watson, and Crick. Had a nice plate of cod and plenty of needed vegetables. Back to college and into the first deep sleep since leaving home. Tonic!

A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin, and perhaps Pooh, foyer, The Eagle

A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin, and perhaps Pooh, foyer, The Eagle

A traditional photo opp: the window at the Cambridge University Press bookshop

A traditional photo opp: the window at the Cambridge University Press bookshop; they do a nice job fashioning the printed page into art, in this case with scissors.

The previous two breakfasts were a bit lonely, but Wednesday morning Alison joined the head table. She is a moral philosopher at St. John’s College, Oxford, and was a seriously interesting person. In my early visits to the college head table, I always felt a little “less than” when I met someone like that, but soon learned that I could hold my own, ask good questions, and engage. We had a fine discussion centered around her research on the difference between knowing and understanding, using recent U.S. military interventions as a case. Fascinating stuff. Oh, yeah, we also covered some mundane matters, like her leaving her six-month-old for the first time. On the way out of the dining hall I stopped to say hello and thank you to Stephen Mather, the head chef at college. We had a nice, brief yak. Always important to thank the people who feed you – and feed you well!

The last oranges, garden, Sidney Sussex College

The last oranges, garden, Sidney Sussex College

 

Sidney Street

Sidney Street

Walked again to the train station, and before getting on the 10:30 train to Stansted Airport, I noticed some nice new promo ads for the city:

Dear World,
Arrivals:
Newton, Babbage
Coleridge

Departures:
Gravity, Computing
Lyrical Ballads

Yours,
Cambridge

Flew Ryanair to Dortmund, back in my favorite Germany. We arrived early, enabling a nice walk a mile or so to Holzwickede station and a train ride into town. The Transport Geek had figured out that a little walking on both ends would get me to my hotel faster and cheaper than the airport bus to the main station and a U-Bahn ride. I got off the S-Bahn at the station adjacent to the yellow-and-black stadium of Borussia Dortmund, a major force in the German football Bundesliga (top league) and a major source of civic pride. Walked another mile to the Arcadia Grand Hotel, a quite fancy place. Checked in, worked a bit, grabbed a quick nap.

At 6:30, Professor Hartmut Holzmüller, host for my first visit to the Technical University of Dortmund, pulled up. We hit it off instantly, largely I think because of his familiarity with and fondness for the U.S. We headed to the Christmas Market downtown, had a glass of glühwein, the hot spiced wine favored in December. Walked the market, then the downtown, quickly getting into the detail I find fascinating: Hartmut explained that the city has long been a stronghold of the social democratic party, the SPD, historically because of the huge working class that worked the mines and steel mills that long fueled German prosperity. After World War II bombing, the SPD leaders, on the left side of a left party, chose not to rebuild the historical buildings (“too bourgeois”), so the center is rather charmless.

That said, we found a gemütlich (cozy) restaurant, rustic in a new structure, and I tucked into my first plate of grünkohl. Kale is a craze in the U.S., but here it’s almost always cooked, and served with sausage. Yum. We covered a lot of topics, two of which reinforce Hartmut’s links to the U.S. One, he’s active in a Lion’s Club, and they would be working three days hence in the Christmas market, selling glühwein, a major source of funds for the club. Two, his youngest daughter is now an exchange in suburban Dallas, not far from a bunch of friends. Back to the hotel, and to sleep.

Up early the next morning, down to the hotel gym for some biking, then breakfast, and on foot with suitcase, three miles west to the university. It was a sunny day, and warm. Met the marketing department, worked a bit, and headed to lunch with Hartmut and a postdoctoral helper. After lunch we hopped in Hartmut’s car for a quick zip around a new and hugely successful technology park adjacent to the school – another of the “honeypot” clusters that, although now common near universities, are not always a winner. But this place now had 12,000 workers, 80 percent with university degrees, and Dortmund was well into a transition from industrial to post-industrial.

Kleingärten, Dortmund. Allotment gardens (as the British call them) are common in and on the edge of German cities; some four million Germans use these gardens, which typically have a small cabin, some quite elaborate

Kleingärten, Dortmund. Allotment gardens (as the British call them) are common in and on the edge of German cities; some four million Germans use these gardens, which typically have a small cabin, some quite elaborate

From 2:15 to 3:45 I lectured to a large class, almost all from Dortmund or elsewhere in the multicity Ruhr area, the Ruhrgebiet. Then it got a bit crazy. Andreas had his mom’s tricked-out Audi A7, but all that German performance couldn’t get us through three traffic bottlenecks and to the main train station, the Hauptbahnhof. I made my train with six minutes to spare: I needed to be on the 4:27 to Hannover, because I was due in Kassel, an hour south of Hannover, at 8:00. Unhappily, the connecting train south was 20 minutes late, but thanks to my Kassel host and dear friend Patrick Rath, who picked me up at the station, stopped briefly at my Airbnb digs, and zoomed to the university, we started the talk at 8:10. Hooray!

After the talk, a group of students and I walked to Lohmann, the old pub we visited a year earlier. I had a light dinner and a beer, hopped on a tram, and headed “home” to Weyrauchstrasse 5, head hitting pillow at 12:30, way late. I had hoped to get up early Friday morning to visit briefly with my Airbnb host Renate, a really nice woman, but I didn’t make that. Was out the door about nine, walking in cold rain to the tram, then the station for coffee and a yummy raisin sweet roll. Patrick Rath arrived at 10:30, and we hopped on the fast train to Frankfurt, bound again for the Siegfried Vögeler Institute in Königstein, an affluent small town northwest of the big city. My gig was that night, my now-annual after-dinner talk to students in a contract EMBA program for Deutsche Post DHL, the privatized German postal service and logistics provider. Like the year before, we sat in the dining car for a late breakfast and conversation, but unlike 2014 the train was late, so we missed the suburban train connection. I was starting to lose faith in the Deutsche Bahn. We finally got to Königstein about two; happily, Patrick called ahead and Heiko the chef has set aside two plates of lunch for us, an outstanding tafelspitz, tender boiled beef and vegetables. Yum!

My Airbnb 'hood, Weyrauchstrasse, Kassel

My Airbnb ‘hood, Weyrauchstrasse, Kassel

Worked a bit, met some faculty, took a nap, and at seven met the eight EMBA students, a nice group. We tucked into Heiko’s outstanding Christmas duck with dumplings, red cabbage, and roast chestnuts. So good. I spoke for about 45 minutes, answered some questions, and excused myself. Back in my room, I thought my late friend Mark. His memorial service was to begin in an hour in Minneapolis, and I wanted to be there. Lots of the funny things he said through the years bounced around in my brain that week, and one well fit European travel. A couple of decades ago, Mark took his family to Europe, to tour and to visit his sister Judy, who was living in Geneva. At land borders, the words for the customs service appear in at least German and French, and the joke of their trip was “Who is this guy Douane Zoll?” Rest in peace, Mark

After my dinner speech; host Patrick Rath is at left

After my dinner speech; host Patrick Rath is at left

Siegfried Vögeler Institute

Siegfried Vögeler Institute

Was up at a reasonable hour Saturday morning, Patrick and I on foot to the Königstein station, back into Frankfurt, where he peeled off and I hopped on the fast ICE to Berlin. In no time I was hugging my friend Michael Beckmann at the Hauptbahnhof. For the seventh consecutive year, I was in Germany’s capital for some fun with his family. Michael works for Bombadier, the plane and train maker. He works on the latter, we are both Transport Geeks, and thus the first order of business was a short ride on the new yellow trams Bombardier builds for Berlin, then a ride on the S-Bahn (suburban train) back to Brandenburg Gate.

Roof, Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof

Roof, Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof

The plan was to meet another T-Geek, Tobias Hundhausen, a classmate of Michael’s, but Tobias’ flight from Düsseldorf was late and Air Berlin lost his suitcase, so we two had a coffee at the old-school Café Einstein on Unter den Linden, the storied street that runs east from the gate. Days are short in Europe in December, so it was dark when we left the café. Brandenburg Gate was splendidly lit, lovely. We stopped for 30 minutes in a storefront memorial/museum for Willy Brandt, the fourth chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany (1966-72 check). Brandt had an interesting varied life, and the exhibits told the story well. He did much to defuse Cold War tension, and the exhibits reminded me of a thought that recurred since arriving in Germany three days earlier: Western Europe suffered through two world wars, then got no break, heading immediately into the Cold War. On a wall in the memorial was a memorable Brandt quote: “My real success was in having contributed to the fact that in the world in which we live the name of our country and the concept of peace can again be mentioned in the same breath.”

At the Brandt memorial: his ID card for the Nüremburg trials

At the Brandt memorial: his ID card for the Nüremburg trials

Atonement: Brandt at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, December 1970

Atonement: Brandt at the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial, December 1970

That idea of peace starkly contrasted with the scene in front of the French Embassy just west, fence and gates festooned with hundreds of bouquets in memory of those massacred three weeks earlier. Moving west, we passed the German Parliament, the Bundestag, and I was immediately struck by the lack of police and security apparatus, so different from our capitol. Why doesn’t Washington get #notafraid?

Bouquets outside the French Embassy

Bouquets outside the French Embassy

We drove north to the Beckmann house in the pleasant suburb of Glienecke, and there were hugs and kisses for wife Susan, and for son Niklas, six, and Annika, almost four. “Onkel Rob, Onkel Rob” they cried. It was a nice moment. We practiced a bit of English (both kids have a private teacher who gives weekly lessons), singing “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes.” By tradition, we headed to dinner at Zur Krummen Linde (“the crooked linden tree”), an agreeable restaurant in business since 1731. Unlike previous years when the kids were smaller and less patient, we stayed two hours, tucking into huge plates. The kids colored happily, ate well. Annika told her mom that she needed to go kacka, and Susan reminded her that the polite toilet words were kleine geschäft und grosse geschäft – little business and big business!

Niklas and Annika cleaning shoes the night before St. Nicholas would put candy and treats in them!

Niklas and Annika cleaning shoes the night before St. Nicholas would put candy and treats in them!

 

The view from the Beckmann's kitchen window

The view from the Beckmann’s kitchen window

. . . And their street, pleasant and quiet

. . . And their street, pleasant and quiet

Nine hours of sleep felt really good, followed by a traditional long Advent Sunday breakfast, cheeses and meats, homemade jams, coffee, and great conversation. Before noon, we saddled up and headed out – by tradition, there’s always an outing, usually with a transport element, but this time we drove south to the city of Brandenburg, not to be confused with the state of the same name that surrounds Berlin. Brandenburg city was in the former East Germany and we were headed to the town’s Industriemuseum, which here was a century-old steel mill. We headed first for the introductory interpretive area, and learned in video and printed word about the company, which had several owners during its 80-year run – for roughly its last half it was a state company of the GDR. We were almost the only visitors, and the husband and wife who staffed it both worked in the mill for the last decades of operation. They were attached to it!

The Beckmanns at the Steel Mill

The Beckmanns at the steel mill

Then we donned hard hats and walked through the mill. It was almost spooky, because it all looked the same as it did the day it closed in 1993 – like the workers punched out and never returned. Unlike a similar place in the scared-of-lawsuits U.S., you could pretty much walk anywhere you liked. Of course, like most museums and historic centers, it was stage-managed, but gently. Thanks to a 1966 visit with pal Chris Mac Phail to the Youngstown Sheet and Tube mill near Gary, Indiana, I was conversant with the steelmaking process, so I readily understood all the big chunks of the mill. The mill ran a scrap process, so instead of charging the furnace with iron, coke, and limestone, they recycled steel, melting it, creating 300 different types. It was truly a remarkable place, all the more so because of my long interest in industrial process – how stuff gets made.

Views of steelmaking

Views of steelmaking

The mill newspaper published 12 hours before the Berlin Wall came down

The mill newspaper (“Red Steel”), published 12 hours before the Berlin Wall came down

Millworkers of yore; the plant even had a rock band (note name was in English!)

Millworkers of yore; the plant even had a rock band (note name was in English!)

We drove into town, and in the urban landscape were abundant and obvious clues to substantial Federal investment, likely responsive to the mill closing (since reunification, the Federal Republic has spent more than one trillion dollars in an effort to bring the former East Germany toward parity with the success of the West). We parked the car and headed to Christmas market, for a glühwein, grünkohl, and a new treat, langos, a sort of Hungarian pizza. High point was watching the delight on Niklas’ and Annika’s faces as they sat in little trucks and cars on a kiddie ride. I remarked to Susan that it brought a fond memory of Sunday trips to Queen Anne Kiddieland in the 1950s. We made it home fast, tucked into a light dinner, and clocked out.

Town Hall, Rathaus, Brandenburg an der Havel

Town Hall, Rathaus, Brandenburg an der Havel (begun 1450)

St. Peter and Paul Church, Brandenburg, begun 1165

St. Peter and Paul Church, Brandenburg, begun 1165

Splendid 19th Century commercial building, Brandenburg

Splendid 19th Century commercial building, Brandenburg

St. Nicholas, on his feast day, Brandenburg Christmas Market

St. Nicholas, on his feast day, Brandenburg Christmas Market

After hugs and auf wiedersehen, early Monday Michael dropped me at the S-Bahn stop in Frohnau, near their house, and I rode into Berlin. Dropped my suitcase at the Hauptbahnhof and headed east to Prenzlauer Berg, an interesting Bohemian neighborhood that well reflects how the former mayor described much of the city: “poor but sexy.” Bought a coffee and sweet roll, and sat on a bench, watching the mid-morning scene on a busy street. While eating, another of Mark Miller’s lines came into sharp focus, again perfectly fitting: when he was learning German in high school, one of the first phrases to memorize was one he often subsequently repeated, more or less as nonsense to fill a void. “Kommt doch alles zu dem grüne eule,” he would chirp, “Everyone come to the Green Owl,” which presumably was a café. He was still very much with me.

When I was nearly finished, a stressed-looking young man approached me, speaking in German. We quickly switched to English, to fix his problem: he needed to quickly get to some sort of exam at Fröbelstrasse 17. I told him we’d find it, whipped out my iPhone, got the map, searched, stood up, and pointed: it’s that yellow building across the street! A nice T-t-S moment. Always good to be of service.

Finding a stranger's way

Finding a stranger’s way

I hopped a yellow tram down to Alexanderstrasse, one of the former East Berlin’s main avenues, then to Alexanderplatz. The observant visitor sees lots of ironic scenes with the new next to the old former East, and I smiled broadly when I spotted a Starbucks immediately below one of the GDR’s crowning achievements, the Fernsehturm, completed 1969, one of those icons that the fink dictator Walter Ulbricht wanted to use to show people that state socialism really worked. I wandered over to St. Nikolai Church, oldest in Berlin (13th Century), past excavation for a new subway line, and north. I paused at Rosenstrasse, where my eye caught a set of poster panels attached to light poles. This had been one of the centers of the Jewish community, and among the detail I found the 27 February 1943 deportation orders for Rosenstrasse 158: Natalie Schmul, born 1894; Ernst Löwenstein, born 1880; and Hilde Aronson, born 1899. Their cries still echo.

Alexanderstrasse, looking much like it did when it was a showplace for East German modernity

Alexanderstrasse, looking much like it did when it was a showplace for East German modernity

The former East Berlin TV tower and spire of St. Marienkirche

The former East Berlin TV tower and spire of St. Marienkirche

St. Nikolai, oldest church in Berlin

St. Nikolai, oldest church in Berlin

Street scene adjacent to St. Nikolai

Street scene adjacent to St. Nikolai

Classic East German modern architecture

Classic East German modern architecture

What would Walter Ulbricht, the former East German boss, think of a skateboard shop?

What would Walter Ulbricht, the former East German boss, think of a skateboard shop?

 

Depotation record, Rosenstrasse 158

Depotation record, Rosenstrasse 158

Yet more construction in Berlin

Yet more construction in Berlin

Sign marking the Federal offices of the center for documentation of the Stasi, the former East German secret police

Sign marking the Federal offices of the center for documentation of the Stasi, the former East German secret police; modern Germany is good at remembering.

I zipped back to the Hauptbahnhof, fetched my suitcase and backpack from a locker, and jumped on the ICE fast train west. Enjoyed my third meal in the Deutsche Bahn dining car (an experience that always harkens fond childhood memories – meals on trains enroute to grandparents in Chicago). Changed trains at Hamm and at 3:30 met my Airbnb host at the station in Münster – it was my 15th visit to the big university there, and my third time to stay with Svenja Visser. She kindly rode her bike from work to give me the key. Hopped the bus to her nice flat, worked a bit, and took a quick nap.

The power plant at the main Volkwagen factory, Wolfsburg

The power plant at the main Volkwagen factory, Wolfsburg

Views of my Airbnb house, outside and in

Views of my Airbnb house, outside and in

I walked across town. At the back end of the Dom, the cathedral, I heard faint sounds of what seemed like choir practice. Stepped around to the front and in. Not choir practice, but evening mass, the faithful singing Communion prayers. A nice sound. At six, I ambled into Töddenhoek, a traditional restaurant I had seen on previous visit but never visited. Doctoral students Julian, Sina, and Nora met me for dinner, and we then walked south to my traditional Kaminegespräch, literally “chimney talk,” with 15 undergrads and masters students. I was honored that my Münster host, Manfred Krafft, attended, and touched when Nora told me during question time that she had carried my “Ten Pieces of Advice for Graduating Students” in her notebook for two years. She asked me “How do you get all that stuff done?” Manfred drove me back to my Airbnb home, and I was soon under a cozy flannel-covered eiderdown. Ahhhhh. It was clear that Airbnb income was helping Svenja buy new stuff for the flat, and the cozy bedding was just one example. Nice!

Was up before first light Tuesday, worked a bit, then walked across town to the Marketing Institute, stopping at a Stadtbäckerei (City Bakery) for a pastry and coffee. Michael, a new employee, fixed me up with an office on the top floor. Worked the morning. As is the custom, Manfred a handful of doctoral students, and I walked a few blocks to the university Mensa, the student cafeteria that has been a favored place since the first visits to Europe in the early 1970s. I had a yummy whole trout, boiled potatoes, and salad, yum. German efficiency reigned: once lunch was consumed, we headed back to work. I left the institute at three, by tradition heading to Mackenbrock, a toy and gift store, to buy two tiny guardian angel Christmas ornaments, schutzengelen, handmade in Erzgebirge, a region in the former GDR well known for Christmas handcrafts.

The historic main building of the university

The historic main building of the university

Town Hall, Rathaus, Münster

Town Hall, Rathaus, Münster

Back home, I grabbed a short nap, yakked briefly with Svenja’s roommate, suited up, and headed back to the university, following the small Aa River, which runs through the center of Münster (the name always makes me smile, AA, like American Airlines). From 6:00 to 7:30 I delivered the last lecture of the year to a big direct-marketing class. I was on, and as always the applause at the end made me feel like a rock star. By the numbers, 2015 saw me in 28 schools, more than 2,200 students, 133 hours in the classroom. I was done for the year, and there’s always a bit of letdown, but it was temporary. I headed to the gasthaus at the Pinkus Müller brewery, where the vibe is always friendly. And the sound track was splendid: old-time Rock and Roll, Hip-hop, R&B, Glenn Miller. After a couple of beers at the bar, I sat at table and ordered auf Deutsch, which always makes me happy. I tipped my imaginary cap to Herr Bjorby, the Norwegian who taught me 10 weeks of German in 1973.

The Pinkus Müller Brewery

The Pinkus Müller Brewery

I was up early Wednesday morning, out the door, onto the bus to the train station, grabbed a pastry and a large cup of coffee and climbed onto an Austrian Railways (ÖBB) train bound for Innsbruck. That sounded good, but I was only headed 45 miles south to Duisberg, then a short ride to Düsseldorf Airport. Checked in, flew to London, landing a bit early, and onto the Heathrow Express into town. Two Tube rides got me to West Hampstead, a big lunch at a Vietnamese place, then around the corner to a quick seminar at Ink, a travel publishing company.

Spotted in the British Airways inflight magazine: a historic BOAC Christmas card, which nicely captures the airplane's role at holiday-time

Spotted in the British Airways inflight magazine: a historic BOAC Christmas card, which nicely captures the airplane’s role at holiday-time

After the talk, I worked in an Ink conference room for two hours, catching up, then back to Paddington Station. It was time for a pint, and I found a glass of London Pride in the back of the station. I had an assignment due the next day, so I tippled and scribbled, undistracted by the ebb and flow of commuters and holiday-party celebrants. Bought a couple of sandwiches and another beer and hopped on the Great Western Railway to Worcester. Arrived about 10:45 and in no time was hugging my longtime (almost 35 years) English pal John Crabtree. Regular readers know I trek out from London to see John and his family every year or two. Head hit pillow. Zzzzzzzzzz.

Up the next morning and down to the kitchen to hug his kids James, nearly 17, Robbie, 15, and Jessica, 10, as well as their mum Diana. They are like family. Ate breakfast, and yakked with the kids and Diana until she assumed the role of school bus driver, motoring the kids into Kings, in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral. I stayed behind, opened my laptop, and set to work. Squiggly, their new kitten, jumped up on the table to help.

Jessica Crabtree warming herself on the kitchen range

Jessica Crabtree warming herself on the kitchen range

About 11, Diana and I hopped in the car and drove a few miles to the next village, Broughton Hackett, to the little post office in a small grocery. Those places are dying all across Britain, so it was grand to be inside – bustling that day with folk mailing holiday parcels and cards. We then headed a block north to The Oak, a refined pub, for lunch with ten women from Diana’s Pilates class (which also was in the village). I was there as the token male (at class earlier, one of the ladies asked Diana, “is he fit?”), and had a grand time meeting and yakking with gals my age or older (Diana was by far the youngest).

In the queue at the post office, Broughton Hackett

In the queue at the post office, Broughton Hackett

After a nap and a run into Worcester on the “school bus,” John, Diana, and I headed into Birmingham, 40 miles north, in John’s speedy BMW. We were bound for a Birmingham Royal Ballet performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Hippodrome, the city’s performing arts center. John is Chairman of the Hippodrome, and he told me it was the busiest theater in the nation, with more than 600,000 patrons last year. His service to the theatre is just one of many civic and volunteer commitments he keeps. He is a tireless contributor to the betterment of the city and the West Midlands region.

We got into town quickly, and had time to see some redevelopment in the core, including, at last, the re-do of the New Street railway station, which now is an impressive mash-up of a shopping mall and a transport hub. Very well done, with a soaring ceiling reminiscent of Eero Saarinen’s TWA terminal at New York JFK. We walked back to the Hippodrome and invited guests shortly arrived, an impressive group of local movers and shakers: the newly elected head of the city council, a prominent architect, head of a law firm, general manager of the new John Lewis department store, and the new CEO of the Hippodrome. Players, and genuinely nice people, too. The ballet was superb, Tchaikovsky’s music familiar.

Birmingham New Street station

Birmingham New Street station

Was up early Friday, back to the kitchen, and out the door on Diana’s school bus. After dropping the kids, she dropped me at the station and I hopped on the train into Birmingham, then out to the airport. Flew to Dublin; as on previous UK visits, I was determined not to pay the huge departure tax, and returning via Ireland afforded an opportunity to again see my chum Maurice. When we were downing pints in July, I proposed a December swim in the Irish Sea. Mr. Coleman swims year ‘round, and he liked the idea. He picked me up at the airport, dropped my stuff at an Airbnb not far from the runway, and we headed to Forty Foot, the swimming venue about 10 minutes from his house in Sandycove, a pleasant suburb not far from the old port of Dun Laoghaire. Stripped down to nylon shorts, and in I dove. Mind you, I didn’t swim to Liverpool, but paddled a bit in the 43° F water, then hopped out. Check, and done. Earned some stripes there!

Detail, cast-iron waiting room, Worcester Shrub Hill station

Detail, cast-iron waiting room, Worcester Shrub Hill station

Scenes from the swim!

Scenes from the swim!

Next stop was the James Joyce Museum in an early-19th Century military tower a block from the Forty Foot. Had a quick look at Jimmy’s spartan digs, admired the view from the parapet, and headed to Maurice’s local, The Fitzgerald. Had a pint, dropped the car, and hopped on the Dart train for central Dublin and – where else – Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street. As I’ve written before, it is one of the best drinking places on the globe, totally Irish, meaning people are gabbing nonstop, smiling, laughing, and having fun. The place was packed, but we wedged in. Next stop was an adequate restaurant in Temple Bar, the biggest entertainment district, where, naturally, we fell into conversation with the two women at the next table. Ireland is like that. Maurice suggested another pint, but I was plumb wore out, so I hopped on the #16 bus out to Santry.

The River Liffey

The River Liffey

Irish still life, Mulligan's

Irish still life, Mulligan’s

My Airbnb hosts Conor and Elizabeth returned shortly after me, and we had a nice gab. Conor was an actor and part-time therapist; Elizabeth was a fashion designer for the mass-market retailer Primark. Really lovely young Irish folk. Slept hard.

Up early again, out the door in pelting rain, three blocks to the bus stop. Marie arrived shortly after me, an older woman who seemed a bit down on her luck. She had no umbrella, and told me her hands were so cold. “Here, take my gloves,” I said, adding that I would be home later that day and a new pair were waiting for me. She was grateful. Hopped on American Airlines to Philadelphia, then the short flight back to D.C., and had MacKenzie and Henry on leash by 6:30. A fine trip across the sea.

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Rome, Italy, enroute to class in Lugano, Switzerland

Italy, new and old, in the Piazza di Spagna, Rome

Italy, new and old, in the Piazza di Spagna, Rome

On November 10, I left home in the rain for a quick zip to Europe. I thought the trip was off to a bad start when I sat down on a wet bench at the McLean Metro station, 10 minutes after leaving home. That was just the beginning. As one of my grad-school advisers Professor Borchert used to say, one thing leads to another:

The short flight to Philadelphia was delayed five hours, two by a late-arriving airplane and three because of Philly weather and airport closure. I could have biked there faster. So I missed my connecting flight to Rome. During the second wait in D.C., they had to remove the luggage of people who did not want to wait to get to PHL. So the red tag that identifies bags you leave on the ramp before boarding and retrieve on arrival came off, which meant the bag had to be delivered to the bag claim, which was two blocks away in the next terminal. It was now 8:20 and my best alternative, a nonstop to London, departed at 9:20. It took 30 minutes for the bag to arrive (but at least it did). So I had to walk briskly, in the rain, across from Terminal E to Terminal A, a long way, with a couple of zigzags. The faster TSA screening (Precheck) was of course closed, so that took awhile. The plane was at the end of the long Terminal A concourse. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was seat 1A, the last chair in Business Class. I let out a small whoop and strolled on board.

During the long wait back home, I scoped out the options to get to Rome, best one being standby on a 2:25 BA flight. Happily, airline employees can fix up e-tickets on line, so got that done. Arrived Heathrow before nine, went to the posh American Airlines arrivals lounge, took a shower, worked my email, ate a leisurely breakfast, and at 11 AM paused, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, for two minutes of silence commemorating Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day. I was pleased that the staff made an announcement in the lounge, asking everyone “to join the nation” and observe the silence. To my delight they did, including the Americans. (November 11 remains a much more important day in Great Britain than in the U.S.).

Later in the day, to further my remembrance, I watched a great Canadian commemorative video, “A Pittance of Time,” and a re-read a chapter of Life After Life, Kate Atkinson’s mostly grim but excellent account of an English family from 1914 to 1945; the portion I read centered on a night of bombing during the London Blitz.

I then headed over to Terminal 5 to check in for the flight to Rome. From the big, west-facing windows, I could practically see Runnymede, a mere five miles away, the place where 800 years ago this past June, the Magna Carta was signed. I have got to make a little detour on some future trip (there’s actually a bus every hour right from T5). Had a couple of great Talking to Strangers encounters, a short one with a young English mom heading with her cute and outgoing toddler, (she came right up to me) to see a friend in Houston. I dispensed some Texas travel advice (“Yes, do make a side trip to Austin”) and wished her a pleasant trip.

I snagged one of the last seats, 17E, to Rome, and 30 minutes after takeoff Mark in 17F began a long conversation that started with car talk (he offered me a car magazine) and his favored vehicle, a camper van that he uses every weekend with his kids, 11 and 8. We then talked about career change, and it came to pass that his wife, with whom he spent half of his 40 years, died five months earlier. Then we talked about life changes, about children, and about dogs. The family had acquired a pug and a border collie, both puppies, to help the kids with their loss. “They help,” said Mark, and I agreed that dogs excel at giving comfort.

We landed Rome at 6:00 PM (not 9:10 AM as planned), and the race was on – although I was headed to teach two days’ hence in Lugano, Switzerland (just north of Milan), the whole focus of the Rome visit – the finish line – was dinner with my long friends Massimo and Roberto, who started with American Airlines in Italy about the same time I did. I hopped on the Leonardo Express train nonstop to downtown. On arrival in Stazione Termini it was pedal to the metal: got Euros, bought a bus ticket, zipped out the door and onto the #38 bus. I told my Airbnb host David that I would arrive at via Calabria 20 by 7:30. My watch said 7:28 as I greeted him at the front door. Happily, Massimo had booked a hotel a block away, and soon he, another airline guy, Maurizio (they worked at Austrian Airlines in the mid-1980s), and I were strolling to Piazza Barberini, the meeting point for Roberto. Hugs all around, and we walked on a couple of blocks to Gioia Mia Pisciapiano, a lively, classic Roman trattoria (the name would delight kids and old men, roughly “the joy of a good pee”).

An inside sign for the Gioia Mia Pisciapiano; note happy angel at right!

An inside sign for the Gioia Mia Pisciapiano; note happy angel at right!

In no time we were chirping like magpies, smiling, telling airline war stories, Rome stories, exchanging notes on dogs and kids, and, I think celebrating what were good lives and careers. After a nice starter of mushrooms, cabbage, and rustic bread, we tucked into fettucine made with guanciale, cured hog cheek. The friendly young waiter scolded Roberto for leaving a little tidbit of guanciale, which he quickly scooped up. That led, somehow to a long discussion of wives, all in Italian. The waiter was complaining and lauding his Colombian spouse. Though I didn’t track the banter, I enjoyed seeing them all smile and laugh, and I celebrated a place where waiters are not subservient, but are peers – they are, after all, part of a team that is bringing dinner and fun. “Only in Roma,” said Roberto.

Roberto Antonucci, Maurizio DiPosta , and your scribe

Roberto Antonucci, Maurizio DiPosta, and your scribe

Dinner lasted a proper interval, 2.5 hours. Afterward, Roberto asked about a little stroll. Why not? We headed a few blocks, walked around a corner and right in front of us was a scene that literally took my breath away. Stunning, the famous Trevi fountain, recently restored with funds from Fendi. We lingered 15 minutes, said goodbye to Roberto, and walked back home. Hugged Maurizio and Massimo, back to the Airbnb and into deep, welcome sleep.

Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

After 3.5 hours the previous night, a long sleep might have made more sense, but I was up at dawn, to cram the previous day’s missed exploring into a few hours – my train north departed at 11:20. So I zipped west through pleasant neighborhoods, bought a roll and some yogurt from a little shop, and ate at the top of the Spanish Steps. Fortified, I descended to the Piazza di Spagna, filled with all the high-end Italian shops. A sign caught my eye: under Article 14, it is illegal to shout, squall, or sing (emmetere grida, schiamazzi, e canti) on the Spanish Steps. So there! I had just enough time to hop on the Metro west to the Vatican. Would Francesco see me briefly? Probably not, but I greatly enjoyed a stroll past souvenir shops brimming with Catholic tchotchkes, a parade of cardinals in the curved colonnade in front of the basilica, and the grand building itself. The light was incomparable that morning, and it was a superb scene. Hopped the Metro back, picked up my stuff, said goodbye to David, and hopped back on the bus for the short ride to the stazione.

My attempt to capture a 1950s, Fellini-like photo of the view from my Airbnb front door; once again, I felt like a local

My attempt to capture a 1950s, Fellini-like photo of the view from my Airbnb front door; once again, I felt like a local.

 

Moorish-style office down the street from my Airbnb, via Calabria

Moorish-style office down the street from my Airbnb, via Calabria

Window shopping; as you know, Italian leather goods are the best

Window shopping; as you know, Italian leather goods are the best

Window shopping: Versace, Piazza di Spagna

Window shopping: Versace, Piazza di Spagna

From the top of the Spanish Steps; St. Peter's is in the distance

From the top of the Spanish Steps; St. Peter’s is in the distance

St. Peter's

St. Peter’s

Missing thus far that morning was coffee, so I paused for a couple of jolts of Americano served by a friendly barista right by the train platform. Ah, stimulation, for a bounce in step across to platform 9 and the Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) express north. Breakfast was light, so a leisurely lunch in the dining car was in order, glass of red wine. The train is fast, 150 mph or more, and in no time Brunneleschi’s spectacular Duomo, his masterpiece in Florence, rolled into view. This was a good day, and the graceful lines of the soaring dome were captivating. A blessed day.

No one makes coffee better than the Italians. No one.

No one makes coffee better than the Italians. No one.

This photo nicely captures the essence of the Frecciarosso, speeding north at 180 mph

This photo nicely captures the essence of the Frecciarossa, speeding north at 180 mph

When we emerged from a long tunnel north of Bologna, I was again struck by a simple reality: the Italians, with all their reported statal dysfunction, can build a high-speed rail network, but Americans cannot? Per che, as they say in these parts? We rolled into Stazione Centrale in Milan exactly on time. I walked across the terminal and onto the train an hour north to Lugano. Soon after settling in, a woman about my age asked me a question in English, launching a nice T-t-S. Nicoleta was from Sicily, but had lived in Rome most of her life. Originally an economist, she had worked a variety of jobs, and was especially proud of her current volunteer service with a Catholic association that helps the handicapped. She helps them visit the Vatican, and on pilgrimages to Lourdes, France. And of course we spoke about Pope Francis; she had actually met him. When I got off at Lugano I shook her hand and asked her to tell Francesco that Rob loved him.

Nicoleta searching her iPhone for the picture of Pope Francis and her; she found it, and it made me smile.

Nicoleta searching her iPhone for the picture of Pope Francis and her; she found it, and it made me smile.

Walked down the hill to a new hotel, the City, checked in, and grabbed a much-needed nap. Worked a bit, and at 7:30 my pal Omar Merlo (frequently mentioned in these pages) picked me up for dinner at Gallo D’Oro (“Golden Rooster”), a spectacular restaurant we had not visited for five years. Despite the interval, Matteo the proprietor remembered me, more so when I showed him the golden rooster tiebar he gave me on our first visit in 2008. In a few minutes, Omar’s brother-in-law Sandro arrived, who I had not seen since our last Gallo visit in 2010. He’s a banker, and a lot of fun. Laughed hard, and ate well. High point was gelati, mixed flavors, best of which was Williams pear, a famous type in Switzerland. Superb!

Despite many previous trips to Ticino in late autumn, I had never noticed orange trees without leaves; a curious sight.

Despite many previous trips to Ticino in late autumn, I had never noticed orange trees without leaves; a curious sight.

Up Friday morning, breakfast, and over to the school (USI, Universitá della Svizzera italiana), to the student cafeteria, the mensa, to crank out some consulting work. A nice T-t-S lunch with three IT Ph.D.s, from Germany, Ukraine, and the Czech Republic, then into Omar’s Master’s in Marketing class for a 2.5 hour presentation. A small group, but engaged. Afterward, we ambled across the street and had a beer outdoors, joined by two of Omar’s London friends, in town by coincidence. Jaka was a Slovenian guy, very interesting and varied background, now owning D-Labs, a firm that helps start-up companies start up. Dale was an American lawyer with the same firm, former Mormon, former pro basketball player in the Swiss minor league – wish we had more time to yak with those guys, but they peeled off, and I walked back to the hotel. Lunch was big and the pub offered free pizza, so I opted for a sandwich from a grocery store. Was asleep by 9:30.

The view from "my office" at USI, in the school's mensa; the words at the top of the yellow house read "Verbum laudatur factum sequitur," roughly “Deeds should follow words.” A decent working definition of integrity.

The view from “my office” at USI, in the school’s mensa

 

Closer view of the yellow house; the words read "Verbum laudatur factum sequitur," roughly “Deeds should follow words.” A decent working definition of integrity.

Closer view of the yellow house; the words read “Verbum laudatur factum sequitur,” roughly “Deeds should follow words.” A decent working definition of integrity.

As I have written in these pages, failure is about recovery, and I had to do some Saturday morning. Distracted the night before, I set my iPhone alarm incorrectly and overslept. Missed the 6:35 shuttle bus to Milan Malpensa Airport. Next one was at 7:00. It was 6:41 when I woke, and I only missed it by two minutes. So I hopped on the 7:45, into the airport at 8:55, and into my second race in three days. This time the finish line was gate B51 and the 10:00 Silver Bird to New York. Sure I made it, with 28 minutes to spare! Woo hoo! Woo hoo! Arrived JFK at 1:15, worked a bit, then hopped on a (this time smooth) connection home to D.C.

 

The Italian Alps northwest of Milan

The Italian Alps northwest of Milan

 

The French Alps

The French Alps

 

The North Fork of Long Island; from here, it's hard to believe that 7.5 million people live on the island!

The North Fork of Long Island; from here, it’s hard to believe that 7.5 million people live on the island!

 

There was one more piece of global experience that day. I walked in our front door at 6:10, immediately scooped up Dylan and Carson, and headed to their Kent Gardens Elementary School for International Night. The place was packed, and full of happy kids and grownups, many in national costumes – Korean, Iranian, Chinese, Mexican, Turkish, French. There was food to sample in the cafeteria (the Korean moms happily spooned the last of the kimchi onto my plate!), and student and adult performances in the gym. It was a happy antidote to the news of the horrific attacks in Paris. I’m sure the ISIS assholes would not have joined the fun. E pluribus unum.  And #notafraid.

Carson (at right) and Dylan (in gray) coloring at the Iranian table

Carson (at right) and Dylan (in gray) coloring at the Iranian table

KentG-Intl-2

Korean children singing folk songs

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Chicago Twice More, Boston, and Montreal

A beacon in the Chicago Loop and a fave of three generations of my family

A beacon in the Chicago Loop and a fave of three generations of my family

Really-early-morning starts would be required in the coming weeks, so it was good to get into the routine: on Tuesday the 13th I was up at 5:00, down to DCA, back to O’Hare, and onto the #250 bus to Evanston and Northwestern. Met longtime Kellogg School host Anne Coughlan at 10:30, yakked for a bit, ate lunch, and walked to the Allen Center, Kellogg’s exec ed facility, right on Lake Michigan. It’s an impressive building more so because it’s filled with an astonishing collection of Inuit art donated by former dean Donald Jacobs. At 12:45, I began videorecording some segments for a newfangled business-school case study. For decades, these have been 5 to 20 printed pages, but Kellogg and a number of other schools are experimenting with multimedia cases. Anne, longtime pal Gary Doernhoefer, and I were collaborating on a case about technological changes and airline ticket distribution. The recording went well, and quickly, and Anne and I called it a wrap by 3:30.

Purple is one of Northwestern's colors

Purple is one of Northwestern’s colors

The soon-to-be new home of the Kellogg School of Management

The soon-to-be new home of the Kellogg School of Management

Part of Dean Jacobs' collection of Inuit art

Part of Dean Jacobs’ collection of Inuit art

We headed to her home a few miles north in Wilmette, where husband Chuck and dog Sally were waiting to greet us. I yakked with Chuck and watched Sally, a cocker spaniel-bichon frisé mix, perform a few tricks (learning, in the process, that the French bred bichon frisés as circus dogs, which helped explain Sally’s ability to walk on two hind legs!). But the high point of the house stop was a thorough tour of Anne’s second-floor greenhouse, a bewildering collection of bromeliads and succulents. She started raising all manner of them some years back, and her cultivating skill matches her marketing prowess. Wow! She insisted on packaging up a spoon jade plant (nicknamed “Shrek ears” for obvious reasons), later sending a meticulous set of instructions that caused some stress – I was now responsible for the welfare of this green living thing.

Sally the Dog

Sally the Dog

A trio of plants from Anne's greenhouse

A trio of plants from Anne’s greenhouse

Anne, with Green Thumb

Anne, with Green Thumb

At six we motored to dinner, detouring north on Wilmette’s Michigan Avenue, a seriously affluent few blocks along that great lake. I was excited about the restaurant, Convito, an Italian café that had been on my list for almost 20 years. Its founder, Nancy Brussat Barocci, was a member of American Airlines’ Chefs Conclave when I led the airline’s catering team, and I met her a few times back then. She was a lovely person with an ego much smaller than several of the more famous members (like Wolfgang Puck). Unfortunately, Nancy was not there, but we enjoyed a splendid meal: a starter of wild boar ragu on creamy polenta, and my second entrée of Lake Superior Whitefish in a week. Yum! We had a great yak – Anne is a terrific conversationalist – and a lot of fun.

Was up again about five, and back on the #250 bus to O’Hare, six days after the last westbound ride: the same driver, and, a few rows back, the same large lady passenger with an African accent, Cubs jacket, and miniature baseball bat (and, like a week earlier, happy about her team’s win the night before). These moments are what make riding public transit special. Sure, the $1.75 fare is great, but far better is the opportunity to commingle with people from a broader swath of humanity. And broader means, as it did the day before, people with troubled lives, the mentally ill, and the marginalized. We are all on the larger bus of society, and it’s easy to ignore them, unless they’re sitting next to you.

On Monday, October 19, I flew north to Boston, landing at five. Onto the T, Boston’s public transit, repeating the experience described above, shoulder to shoulder from all kinds of people. Changed trains downtown and zipped out to Cambridge to meet my SmartKargo colleagues. After a quick catch-up, Milind the CEO drove Jay and me to an Airbnb a few blocks north of the office. We dropped our stuff and headed a couple of blocks to a Thai place for a spicy meal. Back at the Airbnb, which was a large one-bedroom apartment on the first floor of an old house, we met Robert, our host. He had texted me earlier to apologize that he couldn’t greet us on arrival, because his 12-year-old daughter needed a ride to hockey practice. Well, to this former player that struck a couple of chords: a great father, a daughter learning to compete and work as a team. So I was not surprised that Robert turned out to be a swell guy. We chatted about 20 minutes about hockey, his Airbnb business, the neighborhood (he had lived on Thorndike Street all his life), and more. I promised Robert we would stay with him again, adding that I hoped to catch one of his girl’s hockey games. Encounters like that are another reason why Airbnb is so awesome.

With the rest of humanity, waiting for the T, Boston

With the rest of humanity, waiting for the T, Boston

Was up early the next morning to have breakfast with Bart Littlefield, one of my first friends in the airline business. We joined Republic Airlines at about the same time in 1984, but had only seen each other a few times, and briefly, since I joined American and moved to Texas in 1987. It was great to catch up, but we didn’t have enough time, so we vowed to continue the chat next time I was in Cambridge. The rest of the day was pretty intense, in a system demo with a potential customer (actually the consulting firm they hired to help them choose).

Redevelopment in Cambridge

Redevelopment in Cambridge

Two days after that, on Friday the 23rd, was back on the 7:50 AM rocket to O’Hare – my third visit to Chicago in three weeks – but instead of the #250 bus to Evanston I jumped on the Blue Line train into the Loop, bound for my 11th talk to the University of Illinois EMBA (weekend) program that evening. Checked in early, rode the fitness bike 18 miles, and headed to lunch. The original plan was to meet a longtime friend, now at United, at the venerable Berghoff, a German restaurant on Adams Street since 1898. It was a place my grandparents and parents frequented decades earlier, and that I’ve been visiting for 40 years. My pal bailed out a day before, but I kept to plan, and tucked into a nice midday meal.

Inside The Berghoff, essentially unchanged for perhaps a century

Inside The Berghoff, essentially unchanged for perhaps a century

Grabbed a quick nap, worked a bit, and at four went out for a stroll, east to State Street, then north. The former Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. department store, designed by Louis Sullivan, was now a Target store, whew. Further on, more familiar and familial connections: the Marshall Field department store (now Macy’s) triggered memories of my maternal grandmother taking brother Jim and me to the toy department (almost 57 years on, I can still recall our last visit there with great clarity). Then a block north, I passed the former School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where my mother studied. Chicago feels like another home. Walked west on the south bank of the Chicago River, back to the hotel, then west to the Illini Center, the Loop home of the U of I business school. Ate dinner before my talk, and from 6:30 to 8 delivered a performance. Walked back to the hotel with host Steve Michael, a swell guy.

The former Carson's department store is now a massive Target

The former Carson’s department store is now a massive Target

Louis Sullivan's ornate ironwork on the Carson's facade

Louis Sullivan’s ornate ironwork on the Carson’s facade

The Reliance Building (left), the first skyscraper in the world to have plate glass comprise the majority of the facade -- and trend that would follow for decades!

The Reliance Building (left), the first skyscraper in the world to have plate glass comprise the majority of the facade — and trend that would follow for decades!

Didn't get the story on the orange fountain in Daley Plaza, but it attracted a lot of attention

Didn’t get the story on the orange fountain in Daley Plaza, but it attracted a lot of attention

Was up at 5:45 Saturday morning, onto the fitness bike, a couple of free cappuccinos in the hotel “living room,” then out the door, west to the suburban train station. The free U of I pizza dinner the night before was good, but a bit small; I was way hungry, so I tucked into an enormous breakfast at a place called Yolk, then hopped on the 8:30 Metra suburban train for Arlington Heights and a visit with Cousin Jim and his family. I was pleasantly surprised with the ride: the cars were older but spotlessly clean, and the roadbed was smooth. The inner-Chicago landscape is always fascinating: first scene were blocks and blocks of brand-new, low-rise apartments on former industrial land; second scene were three churches within three blocks, proof of the city’s former (and in some ways enduring) Catholic bearing; third scene was a fleeting view of the back of my grandparents’ big apartment on Logan Blvd. I loved that place, and the people who lived there.

Hopped off at 9:16 and into Cousin Jim’s car, home to drop my stuff, then out to a high school cross country meet – their oldest child, Jack, now a sophomore, was on the team, and though he was not running because of illness we were there to cheer on his teammates. It poured rain for 20 minutes and even with umbrellas and raincoats we got wet. Watched the girls, then the boys. A nice bonus was a chat with Cousin Lisa and her husband Jack, whose daughter was coaching one of the girls’ teams. It seemed like a small town.

At the cross-country meet

At the cross-country meet

Next stop was to pick up their other two kids, Charlie, 9th grade, and Katie, 8th, both soccer players spending the morning refereeing youth games. All three children are lithe and athletic, swift of foot, an enduring trait on my mother’s side. We picked them up, raced home, and Jim and Katie peeled off for Katie’s 2 PM soccer game 42 miles southwest. Jim and wife Michaela’s weekends, and a lot of weekday afternoons, are given over to kids’ sport.

Katie Fredian refereeing kids' soccer

Katie Fredian refereeing kids’ soccer

Michaela and I yakked in their kitchen for an hour, and at two I jumped on her blue Trek bike and rode two miles south to reconnect with Tom Aichele, who has led American Airlines’ Chicago sales team for almost two decades. It had been some years, and it was great to catch up with him and his wife Pat, and to meet two of their three children, as well as Rugby, their wheaten terrier. We sat on their patio and yakked for 90 minutes. I said goodbye and hopped back on the bike, riding for an hour through pleasant neighborhoods in Arlington and adjacent Mount Prospect, to bring the day’s mileage to 25.

Tom Aichele, longtime friend and good guy

Tom Aichele, longtime friend and good guy

Rugby, the Aichele's swell wheaten terrier

Rugby, the Aichele’s swell wheaten terrier

After a tonic nap at Cousin Jim’s, we three plus Cousin Bob (2nd oldest of my Uncle Bapper’s six kids) motored over to dinner at the Davis Street Fishmarket in Evanston – third time there in October. Raw oysters were $1 apiece, so we slurped two dozen, plus pints of a great IPA called Wobbly, my third dinner of Lake Superior Whitefish in three weeks (threes and threes), and part of a huge key lime pie for dessert. Plus absolutely great banter: all four of us share political views, so we ranted a bit, but also laughed a lot – Cousin Bob is a seriously funny guy in a dry sort of way. A really pleasant evening.

Up at five, into a taxi at 5:20. At the wheel was a young immigrant from Turkmenistan (I think the first Turkmen I ever met). We had a good chat. Wikipedia wrote: “Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries,” and the driver’s face reflected that, a fusion of East and West. E pluribus unum. Grabbed breakfast at the Admirals Club, hopped on the 6:55 nonstop to Montreal and my 16th visit to McGill University. Was in Canada by 10.

Regular readers know my deep regard for our northern neighbor, and it was great to be back, first because it had been a year since last in Quebec, but mostly because Canada just elected a new Liberal (Party) government. Almost 50 years earlier, as a teenager who had visited Canada once, I was captivated by the energy, intellect, and young thinking of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. A week before, Canadians elected his son, Justin, to be Prime Minister.

I hopped on the wi-fi equipped 747 express bus into the city. Not far from the airport, I noticed a campaign poster for Anju Dhillon, who was the Liberal candidate for the district around the airport. I wondered if she won, Googled her name, and, yes, she did. So I sent her an email that ended, “I have been traveling across Canada for almost 50 years, and I know your country well enough to say this: as of last Monday, Canada is young again. Congratulations on your victory, and best wishes in Ottawa.”  I didn’t really expect a reply, but a few weeks later she answered my email.  She rocks!

The campaign poster that caught my eye!

The campaign poster that caught my eye!

 

Pleasant residential street, Westmount, Montreal

Pleasant residential street, Westmount, Montreal

Checked into the hotel, in this case a huge apartment on the top floor of a McGill University residence hall. Changed into jeans and headed out the door for some rides on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare system. It was a nice ride, west on a dedicated bike lane on Blvd. de Maisonneuve, out of downtown and into Westmount, an affluent, largely Anglophone neighborhood. Circled back, then headed down toward the St. Lawrence River, where I picked up a great bikeway east to Old Montreal. Headed up the hill, back to the hotel, and a needed nap.

The former Port Commissioner’s Building, now a private club, Old Montreal

 

An old tug at the Lachine Canal, and new housing on former industrial land

An old tug at the Lachine Canal, and new housing on former industrial land

At 3:45, another reconnection, going way back. I met Kenny Saxe on a chairlift on Ajax Mountain, Aspen, Colorado, in December 1969. I saw him a few times in the 1970s, and we mostly were out of touch after Linda and I stayed in his big apartment on Mount Stephen Avenue in Westmount in September 1980. Kenny and his wife Barbara now live in Vermont, and I wrote him a few months earlier to see if they might drive north to visit his mom, 93. We met at Schwartz’s, a deli in the core of Montreal’s historic Jewish community, a joint famous for its smoked meat sandwiches. I had never met Barbara, his wife of 29 years, and we had a great, but way too short, catch-up. He’s the same fine man I remember from the ski lift. We promised not to let another 3.5 decades pass. I showed them how Bixi worked, we snapped some pictures, hugged, and parted. I hopped on a bike, back to the hotel. Worked a bit, then grabbed another Bixi at dusk, riding east to the Latin Quarter and a pint at two brewpubs. The smoked meat sandwich was still rumbling a bit, so it was time to move down the food chain, so I headed to Kantapia, a little, family-owned Korean place two doors from my digs. Tucked into some udon noodles with tofu, vegetables, and kimchee. Yum!

Barbara and Kenneth Saxe

Barbara and Kenneth Saxe

Schwartz's Deli; under Quebec law, all business signs must be in French

Schwartz’s Deli; under Quebec law, all business signs must be in French

Sunday lunch

Sunday lunch

Impressive, commissioned graffiti off Blvd. St.-Laurent

Impressive, commissioned graffiti off Blvd. St.-Laurent

The kitchen of Kantapia Korean restaurant

The kitchen of Kantapia Korean restaurant

Dinner at Kantapia

Dinner at Kantapia

Was up early Monday morning to do some consulting work, suited up, and headed to breakfast at Tim Horton’s, my fave place to see ordinary Canadians, all of whom (as I never tire of writing when north of the border) have health insurance. Walked across the McGill campus to the law school and the Institute of Air and Space Law. Maria D’Amico, secretary and friend, greeted me, and we chatted about the recent election and other happy topics. From 10 to 1, I delivered my talk on airline alliances to 14 masters’ of law students: from Canada (5), Singapore (2), India (2), Italy, France, Indonesia, Colombia, and Taiwan. The professor was away, and he warned me that the group was quiet, but I got a number of them to engage.

McGill University

McGill University

Waning autumn

Waning autumn

Grabbed a quick salad lunch, walked back to the hotel, changed clothes, and grabbed another Bixi bike. It was a sunny day, fairly warm, windy, and I was bound for a place where we spent a lot of time on the first visit to Montreal in 1967: the islands in the St. Lawrence just downstream from downtown that were the site of expo67, a world’s fair. It was a bit of a chore to get there, via the massive Jacques Cartier bridge, which rose about 150 above the water. Almost a half-century on, only two buildings remain from the exposition: the former U.S. pavilion, a spherical geodesic dome designed by futurist Buckminster Fuller, and the former French pavilion, now a casino. The rest of Ile St-Helene and Ile Notre Dame are mostly wooded parkland, pleasant, with great views of the skyline. Dropped the bike at the park’s Metro station and glided back downtown.

Trail, Ile Ste.-Helene

Trail, Ile Ste.-Helene

The former U.S. pavilion at expo 67

The former U.S. pavilion at expo 67

Quick nap, suit back on, south on Rue Sherbrooke to Desautels, the McGill business school and a preso to the undergraduate marketing society. Some bright youngsters, listening attentively and asking great questions about what American Airlines did with its brand after the September 11 attacks. Back to the hotel, back into jeans, and onto the Bixi a mile to the Latin Quarter and a craft-beer bar called Saint Houblon (houblon is French for hops). Most of these places (and I’ve been to seven or eight in Montreal) have simple bar food, but Saint Houblon had that plus some nice-looking real dinners. I tucked into two glasses of IPA from nearby brewers and a splendid dinner of sweetbreads and risotto. Yum again.

Free pizza dinner always draws a crowd; undergrad marketing club meeting, McGill

Free pizza dinner always draws a crowd; undergrad marketing club meeting, McGill

Barman, Saint-Houblon

Barman, Saint-Houblon

Slept in until 7:15, whew, decadent, up and out the door. Another oatmeal breakfast at Tim Horton’s, then a brief meeting with Brant, a nice fellow who manages volunteers at the B-school. Worked the rest of the morning, and at 11:40 met my longtime McGill host Mary Dellar, and a young prof and former entrepreneur Bob Mackalski for a fun lunch. Those two are lively! The banter was nonstop.

Last stop was a lecture to Mary’s services marketing class, then goodbyes. Walked a few blocks east to a bookstore, bought three kids’ books in French for Dylan and Carson (who are learning the language at an early age), hopped on the 747 bus to the airport, and flew to Philadelphia, then home to Washington.

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Three Cities in the Midwest

From the great public university of "America's Dairyland": campus-made cheese for sale in the Babcock Hall Dairy Store

From the great public university of “America’s Dairyland”: campus-made cheese for sale in the Babcock Hall Dairy Store

On Saturday morning October 3, Linda and I flew to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Main purpose was to visit Linda’s 93-year-old mother. It had been too long. She doesn’t hear well, and drifts out a bit, but when you look her in the eye and engage her mind, she is with you. Bless her heart, she has outlived all her friends. And, in retrospect, she had a hard life. She deserved more happiness. We were glad we spent the afternoon with her.

Minnesota, the land of lakes, here the suburbs of St. Paul on approach to the airport

Minnesota, the land of lakes; here the suburbs of St. Paul on approach to the airport

We hugged her, Linda’s siblings Gordy and Karen, and departed at 5:40, north to Northeast Minneapolis, a former ethnic (largely Eastern European) neighborhood that is a hot place to live and a hotter place for artists, who have colonized several former industrial buildings. After a bit of zigging around railroad tracks (including the former main lines of the great transcontinental lines the Northern Pacific and Great Northern, important arteries to this Transport Geek), we found the former Northrup King building, once the center of a big ag company that supplied farmers with hearty, cold-resistant hybrid seeds. It’s now home to art studios and galleries, and at 6:15 in room 183 I met Susan McLean Keeney, who painted the gorgeous oil of the Mississippi River downriver that I bought at the Minnesota State Fair five weeks earlier. It was a delight to chat with her, and see her other work. She recently retired after 34 years as an art teacher in a Minneapolis suburb. (In another small-world occurrence, her husband Phil and I worked together at Republic Airlines, 1984-86.) We then motored south, through downtown Minneapolis at dusk, and out to friends-for-four decades Mike Davis and Sara Wahl.

Susan McLean Keeney with the superb oil painting we bought at the State Fair in August

Susan McLean Keeney with the superb oil painting we bought at the State Fair in August

Part of dinner, Parella

Part of dinner, Parella

It was so great to see them again, and to catch up. Mike recently retired after 21 years as a Federal judge, and Minnesota’s first African-American U.S. jurist. We talked law, politics, food, travel. He is a wise person, as we would like judges to be, free to make important decisions about our nation (for example, he has been very active in recent years in the matter of radicalized Somali youth joining terrorist organizations like Al Shabab and now ISIL). We walked a few blocks to Parella, a new Italian restaurant, and enjoyed a fine meal and more great conversation. Walked back to their house, hugged them both, and headed to our hotel by the airport.

On the ceiling, Calhoun Square shopping center

On the ceiling, Calhoun Square shopping center

I was up early, downstairs to the gym. After cranking out 18 miles on the bike, I stepped outside, looked across the highway, and smiled: a few hundred yards north of me was where my airline career began, in the former general offices of Republic Airlines (the building now belongs to Delta). The adjacent hangars immediately conjured a vivid image: on a freezing cold Friday night in December 1985, work colleague Lennie Anderson and I stood in almost the exact same spot and watched Republic’s first Boeing 757 taxi around the corner and into the hangar. It was the first “big plane” in the Republic fleet, and for a company that was almost kaput two years earlier it was an exciting moment.

A familiar place from the past: the former Republic Airlines hangar

A familiar place from the past: the former Republic Airlines hangar

Linda and I ate breakfast and had an hour to drive back to our old neighborhood in St. Paul, past 1032 Goodrich Avenue, our first house, a modest bungalow where we lived from 1979 until moving to Dallas in 1987). The old ‘hood looked great. The sugar maples planted in the late 1970s to replace the stately older trees that died of Dutch Elm disease had grown well, and the streets were again shady. It still felt like home, as much of Minnesota does.

We flew to Chicago, and parted. I headed 109 miles northwest to Madison, Wisconsin, one of my favorite cities in the world. O’Hare was jammed, it took a long time to take off, and I missed the hourly Madison city bus into town. Well, okay, a taxi (regular readers know that I am not a taxi person!), but when I walked outside there were no cabs and six people waiting. I missed lunch, so the sensible thing to do was wait for the next bus, in 50 minutes, in the airport bar – eat a late lunch, grab a beer, and watch the Green Bay Packers – the team for the whole state – battle the San Francisco 49ers. The guy on the next barstool sported a Packers green fleece jacket, and Jessica the bartender had green and gold Packers ribbons in her hair, and a Packers lanyard to hold her airport ID. Partisans, for sure! That bit of entertainment and $2 bus fare was cheaper than a cab, and way, way more fun.

Madison and the isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona

Madison and the isthmus between lakes Mendota and Monona

Hopped off at University Avenue and Orchard at 5:30, and walked a block south to my new digs, the hotel at Union South, the new offshoot of the venerable Wisconsin (student) Union. Checked in, ironed my suit, headed downstairs for a beer, and brought this journal up to date. Just as when I arrived in Tübingen 10 days earlier, it was immediately evident that I was in a college town: students bicycling past, wearing Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirts and carrying backpacks; lots of long hair; and on the Union South activity board was notice that the “Introduction to Pole Dancing” began the same time as my arrival. Pole dancing, good to learn!

My late lunch suggested a light dinner, and I ambled a few blocks south to Jordan’s Big 10 Pub, literally in the shadow of Camp Randall, the UW football stadium. The place was empty. Had a beer, a salad, and a bowl of chicken chili, walked back, and clocked out.

Up at six Monday morning, to the hotel gym for 16 miles on the bike, suited up, and at eight met my UW marketing host Jan Heide, one of my fave guys. It was my ninth consecutive visit, and it was good to be back. We had a nice breakfast and got caught up on family, then walked a few blocks to the business school. Delivered two back-to-back lectures on airline loyalty programs, answered some questions, and ambled back to the hotel. Changed clothes, grabbed a Subway tuna sandwich, then walked west to Camp Randall. It was indeed a former U.S. Army camp dating to the Civil War, and I passed under a stone arch that included plaques listing and commemorating the 90,000 Wisconsinites who fought to preserve the Union. God bless them.

The gate to Camp Randall; although it's best known as the name of the UW football stadium, it actually was a military camp dating to the Civil War.

The gate to Camp Randall; although it’s best known as the name of the UW football stadium, it actually was a military camp dating to the Civil War.

Hopped on the #2 bus westbound, and by 2:55 I was in the apartment of Professor John Fraser Hart and his wife Meredith, in a splendid senior complex called Oakwood Village. Fraser, now 91, was one of my Ph.D. advisers, but his influence on my life was far more lasting and profound: he taught me how to be a better writer, in a seminar called Geographical Writing that I took in the fall of 1976. His lessons have served me so well, all through my working life, and continue to bear fruit in my consulting work, much of which requires clear writing.

The terrace, Union South

The terrace, Union South

I had lunch with Fraser in winter 2011, but had not seen Meredith, now 92, in about 35 years. It was a delight to spend 90 minutes with them. Fraser retired in May after almost 50 years of teaching at the University of Minnesota, they spent the summer at their cottage in Door County, Wisconsin (on the Green Bay), and had only been in the apartment two days – I was their first visitor! Their daughter Anne lives five minutes away, and she helped get them out of their family home in suburban Minneapolis and into the new place. They were the third nonagenarians I met in two days, and the contrast with Linda’s mom, bless her heart, could not have been greater. They were fully engaged in a lively conversation about our families, moving, Wisconsin politics, and more. I had long forgotten that Meredith was from Milwaukee, where her dad was a longtime, prominent journalist. It was a lovely visit, and I vowed to return in subsequent years.

I hopped back on the bus into town, changed clothes, and bought a one-day pass for B Cycle, Madison’s bikeshare network. Rode a mile along Lake Mendota to the original Wisconsin Memorial Union, and strode into the Rathskeller for a pre-dinner beer. Gotta keep to tradition, and it was fun to be back in that place, not least for the oldies music that was blaring including the Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn,” a mere half-century old! Hopped back on a red shared bike and rode up the hill to Capitol Square, in the shadow of Wisconsin’s splendid capitol building. At 6:30 I met Jan and his wife Maria for a caloric and fun dinner at a posh steakhouse called, fittingly, Rare (I had halibut!).

German-style frescoes in the Stiftskeller at the Wisconsin Memorial Union

German-style frescoes in the Stiftskeller at the Wisconsin Memorial Union

Ornate sink (okay, it was in the men's room!). Rare Steakhouse; the fixture was emblematic of a place that was over the top.

Ornate sink (okay, it was in the men’s room!), Rare Steakhouse; the fixture was emblematic of a place that was over the top.

Wisconsin State Capitol, one of the nation's most ornate state houses

Wisconsin State Capitol, one of the nation’s most ornate state houses

Was up early Tuesday morning, cranked out some consulting work, and at 9:00 met the chairperson of the UW Geography Department, Lisa Naughton, a delightful and interesting person. It was my first meeting with a geographer for years, and I was there to volunteer to speak. She reckoned that a panel on applied geography would be good, and I signed up for October 2016. She was really interesting, an ecologist with research interests in biodiversity and indigenous communities in Uganda, Ecuador, and Peru. And the department “lives” in Science Hall, one of the oldest (1885) and funkiest buildings on campus – really more a museum than a university structure. Headed back to the hotel, changed clothes, and got back on the bike, riding 18 miles before joining Jan for traditional Tuesday lunch at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, a wonderful burger joint. We had a good yak and I peeled off, grabbing my first afternoon nap in days (it was tonic!), then a bit of work, then back out on the bike. Like lots of other bikeshare systems, rides less than 30 minutes are free, so you’re always cycling through half-hour rides. The weather cleared, and it was a delightful autumn day, first hints of fall color, lots of wildflowers along the bike paths that crisscross the city.

Science Hall

Science Hall

School spirit on wheels

School spirit on wheels

At 3:30 I slapped my forehead and remembered that I had one more traditional stop, the Babcock Hall Dairy Store. In the flagship university of America’s Dairyland ya gotta get a milky treat, and I got an old-school chocolate malt, made the traditional way (ice cream from the university’s herd, chocolate syrup, malted milk powder). I hopped back on the bike, malt in one hand, handlebars in the other – it was a Wisconsin version of drinking and driving!

At 4:30 I met my last Sconnie (Wisconsin) friend, Dan Smith, for a beer and dinner. I’ve known Dan for seven years, back to when I tracked him down after reading an article he wrote for the UW alumni magazine about his retirement as a dairy farmer. He’s a way-cool guy, a true Wisconsite, and we had a great yak across a bunch of topics. Unhappily, his wife Cheryl couldn’t join us, because after a day of substitute teaching she was back in their rural home (in a lovely gentle valley west of Madison) looking after their new dog Jax. They picked him up, a rescue dog (Lab and Border Collie mix), two days earlier. It was an understandable absence.

My only regret that day is that I did not find time to ride to the Capitol and ask Gov. Walker’s office why he was intent on dismantling one of America’s premier public research universities. Maybe it fits, since he was a college dropout, and has no appreciation for the power of knowledge. His simplistic approach makes my head hurt.

Was up early Wednesday, into the gym for some aerobic work, then out the door to the airport, of course on the city bus. As we pulled into the North Transfer Point, a mile or so from the airport, I spotted a bike leaning on a lamppost festooned with plastic flowers. It looked like a memorial. Curious, and with time before my next bus, I walked a few hundred yards to see that it honored Tyler Francis Knipfer, a cyclist who was hit by a car in 2012, and died exactly three years earlier, October 7, 2012, at age 21. As a cyclist, it brought tears to my eyes. Back on the bus, I Googled his name, and here I smiled, for he lives on: “Upon his passing, Tyler was a organ and tissue donor and was able to help five other individuals in the community.” I also observed, having been on a number of buses in three days, that in Madison about half the riders yelled “thank you” to the drivers when disembarking. I mused about that nice bit of civility, also noted in these pages a few years ago in Manchester, England.

RIP, Tyler

RIP, Tyler

Flew to Chicago, 22 minutes in the sky. At 10:40, Larry Frederick, my first cousin once removed (b. 1937), and his wife Judy picked me up at O’Hare. It had been two years, and it was grand to see them again. They were just back from 10 days in Ireland, including pints of Guinness with my pal Maurice Coleman, and had a wonderful trip. We stopped at their house in suburban Glenview for an hour or so, then headed to Paizano’s, for a superb pizza lunch. Of course I’m biased, given that my parents were both natives and I feel like I’m partly from there, but Chicago pizza bakers are the best this side of Italy. Lorenzo and Judy insisted on driving me to the hotel in Evanston (I was there for an evening lecture at Northwestern University), and we detoured past the Evanston home where they lived for 25 years. Nice memories, for sure. Italian men kiss each other, so we did too, and hugged them both. Ciao.

Larry and one of his recent oil paintings

Larry and one of his recent oil paintings; he’s been an artist, for work and for pleasure, all his life.

Worked a bit, then ambled across town to the Kellogg School of Management and a lecture to MBA students on crisis management and American Airlines after 9/11. Check and done, school #22 for the year, back to the hotel then down the street to Prairie Moon, a bar and restaurant that several recommended. The Chicago Cubs were playing a single wild card game that night, and were ahead 4-0, so the place was hopping, and raucous. Enjoyed a plate of broiled whitefish, mashed potatoes, and broccoli, plus a pint of Belt & Suspenders IPA from the nearby Buckle Down Brewery. One last thing to report on a full day: on the way back to the hotel, I spotted a plump skunk skittering down Orrington Street, pausing to forage beneath the tables of sidewalk restaurants. I gave him wide berth!

Up at 5:20 the next morning, the #250 bus across Dempster Street to O’Hare, and home by noon.

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