Italy, Italian Switzerland, England

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Interior arcade, Torino

Some 12 hours after Election Day ended, I hopped in a taxi for the short ride to the Metro station.  After greeting the driver, I said with a smile, “We’re not going to talk about what happened last night!”  But he wanted to talk about it, so we did.  He was from Ethiopia, had been in the U.S. seven years, and voted for the first time the day before.  I congratulated him on citizenship and on voting.  We agreed that Mr. Trump would need to get along better with, well, with just about everyone.  When he handed me my suitcase and backpack, I shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and said again “I want you to know how welcome you are in this country.”  No doubt this would be the first of many conversations in the coming week, for I was headed to Europe, to teach in Switzerland and England.  Flew to JFK, and at 5:45 hopped on the Silver Bird for one of my ancestral homelands, Italy.  Landed at Malpensa Airport near Milan at before eight, zipped through formalities and got on the 8:35 bus to Torino, 85 miles southwest.  I was teaching the next day in Lugano, Switzerland, and wanted an interesting place to visit for a day.

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The Italian Alps at dawn

Much of northern Italy is flat, great farmland with fine soil, good rains, and sun.  The spring wheat had been harvested, stubble golden in the morning sun.  We crossed a tributary of the mighty River Po, and I spotted a grey heron and swan.  To the west, the Western range of the Alps came into view, gradually through the smog that frequently covers northern Italy.  We arrived right on time, and rolled my suitcase from the bus stop to the main train station, about a mile east.

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Musicians at the “play me” piano in the main train station (Porta Nuova); a fine welcome to Italy, a land of culture!

The basic urban landscape was as I remember it, five- and six-story apartment buildings on tree-lined streets, commercial buildings with arcades covering the sidewalks, and visible prosperity – not riches, but comfort.  I took an immediate liking to the place.   Here and there were elliptical markers telling the story of a building in three languages.  I dropped my suitcase at the station; the clerk was typical of the friendliness of Italy, and we had a nice short chat.  I zigged and zagged around the station in search of a public-transit day ticket, and finally found one at a newsstand.  Hopped on the #1 Metro line south to Lingotto and the enormous former Fiat plant, now converted to mixed use – retail, hotels, cinema, and a nice museum funded by the Agnelli family, Fiat’s historic owners.

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Skyscrapers poke out in several districts in Torino, but much of the cityscape looks like the foreground: solid four- and five-story buildings.  Below, splendid detail that speaks to the city’s long affluence.

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The historic (1923) Fiat factory in Lingotto

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In the Fiat parking lot: Jeeps are now part of the lineup!

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The spiral driveway to the rooftop test track

By sheer serendipity, across from the north end of the factory was the original Eataly, a fine-food market and eateries in the former Carpano vermouth factory (Antonio Carpano invented vermouth in Torino in 1786).  I always assumed that the Eataly Mario Batalli opened in New York in 2009 was the first, but no.  Wandered the halls, admiring the non-industrial food about which Italians have long cared, and now celebrate in the Slow Food movement.  At one, I hugged a long friend, Matteo Pericoli, who I first met in 2007, when I convinced American Airlines to hire him to produce a huge mural, “Skyline of the World,” above the check-in counters of AA’s new terminal at JFK.  Trained as an architect, Matteo does a bunch of things, and I’ve stayed connected for nearly a decade.  We had pizza and pasta at Eataly, then walked back across to the old Fiat plant to admire the interior spiral driveway that led to a test track on the roof.  All way cool.  Walking back to the Metro, past the historic Fiat head office, Matteo mentioned that when he telephoned to arrange to deliver a drawing that the company commissioned several years earlier, the person asked “What kind of car do you drive?” After some back and forth, the Fiat rep matter-of-factly said that only Fiat products were permitted on the property.

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Matteo Pericoli

Hopped on the Metro back to the center, and began a walk.  Matteo grew up in Milano of parents from the Marches, a region on Italy’s Adriatic coast, and he said he never thought of Milan as home, but really liked Torino.  I knew it was long a center of manufacturing, not just Fiat but other companies, and Matteo provided good detail on a place that has been a center of Italian innovation for a long time, all the way back to kings and queens of Savoy (Savoia), who encouraged creativity.  Lots of stuff was invented there, and not just vermouth.  Not all the innovators endured.  Olivetti, for example, was a leader in office machines, but lost its way at the start of the digital revolution.  We talked about the city as we walked.  Matteo met a couple of people he knew along the way, which made me think the place was a small town, not a city of a million.  Had a fun chat with Pablo (not Paolo, he explained, long story), who grew up in Dallas of parents from Lucca, the same place from which my maternal grandparents emigrated.  “We’re cousins,” I said, and gave him a hug!  We stopped for a mid-afternoon espresso at a little place across from where they used to live, and I chatted with the young owner about the election.  Matteo lived in New York for many years, and was well versed in the results.

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A new best friend from the neighborhood coffee shop

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My Lucchese cousin Pablo

Matteo had a subscription for the local bikeshare service, and at 4:10 we grabbed one of the yellow bikes for me (he had his own), crossed the River Po, and rode two miles to his daughter Nadia’s school to say hello to her and spouse Holly, both of whom I met in 2007 in Jackson Heights, Queens.  Had a quick chat before Holly drove Nadia to ballet class, then got back on the bikes, riding upstream to the Parco Valentino, one of many large parks in the city.  Circled the recreated medieval village built for a World’s Fair in 1884, past one of the Savoy castles, and headed back into the center just as it was getting dark.

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The River Po downstream from central Torino

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Castello de Valentino

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Medieval village replica, Parco Valentino

Docked the yellow bike and ambled a few blocks to a comfy old coffee shop for a hot chocolate, another Turin invention, but far different from what Americans call the drink.  Dark, less sweet, chocolatey, and almost like thin pudding.  Yum!  Matteo and I parted with a long hug, and I walked back to the railway station.  A fine day.  Got the 7:10 Frecciarossa (red arrow) fast train to Milan, zipping east at 184 mph, then onto the train north to Lugano.  Arrived 9:40, walked down the hill to the hotel, called home, worked email, and collapsed.  Even by my standards it would have been hard to cram more into one day, especially the day of arrival in Europe.

Slept until 7:30, whew, big breakfast, worked a bit more, walked Lugano, a place now well familiar, stopping to say hello to a friend at the Università de Svizzera Italiana, the host institution.  Just after 11, I paused to remember and to give thanks for all who served their nations to preserve freedom.  I watched a couple of videos, and thought about the how recent U.S. policy differs from Switzerland, where military service remains compulsory, where every Swiss man has to serve, where defense has not been offloaded to the poor and working class.  I have long admired the Swiss approach.

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On the campus of the Universita de Svizzera Italiana

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At noon, I met my paesano Prof. Omar Merlo, frequently mentioned in these pages, for lunch at a Neapolitan restaurant, pasta in tomato sauce with tuna chunks, a nice slice of cake, and a cappuccino.  From 1:45 to 3:30, it was time to stand and deliver to his Masters of Marketing class, a small group.  After class, met his dad, a smiling 73-year-old; Omar translated a little of my story, starting with the happy fact that 25% of my DNA is Italian, and some about my maternal great-grandparents, who emigrated to Chicago in 1885.  We promised to get together for dinner on my next visit to Lugano.  Went back to the hotel, worked a bit, took a nap, and headed out to dinner.  In a city where an ordinary meal can cost the equivalent of $50, I stumbled onto the pleasant and simple dining room in the Hotel Pestalozzi (a nice aside: Pestalozzi was a Swiss education reformer, said to be responsible for the elimination of illiteracy in the 19th Century).  I was able to conduct the table transaction in Italian, which made me smile, and I enjoyed a nice bowl of vegetable soup, grilled salmon and vegetables, and a beer for under 25 bucks.  I love value!

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The view from my USI classroom

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Made in Switzerland: as I frequently note in this journal, it simply would not occur to the Swiss to buy manhole covers or hotel hair dryers from China. This is a compelling cultural value at which free-trade economists scoff, but which has built and today maintains much of their remarkable prosperity.

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Lugano just before sunrise

Up early Saturday morning, nice hotel breakfast, then walked up the hill to the train station and the 8:33 local to Milano.  Arrived 9:50, and soon after was giving my longtime friend Massimo Vesentini a big hug.  Massimo was American’s sales manager for northern Italy in the 1990s; I met him the day before the inaugural flight from Milan to Chicago in May 1991.  We hopped in wife Lucia’s fancy company car and started chattering like magpies.  After about 30 minutes of driving south, I asked “where are we going?”  The answer was the Oltrepó, the land beyond the Po (river), a hilly wine-producing district in the province of Pavia.  Massimo wanted to stock up for the winter for Lucia and him, and for his parents and in-laws in Pisa.  We stopped for a coffee, then headed to the first winery, a coop that Massimo explained sold decent but not fancy wine.  We tasted a bit, my favorite being Bonarda, a frizzante (slightly bubbly) and fruity red wine, and he bought three cases.  Next stop was La Fracce, a fancier winery six miles west.  We sampled a bit, bought two cases, and set off for lunch.

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At the coop winery: bring your own container, and red table wine is as low at $1.25 a liter!

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Signor Vesentini stocking up for the winter

Massimo know the district well.  His great-grandmother lived in a village ten miles away, across the Po, and he had spent a lot of time there as a kid.  So he knew that Signor Colombi had a nice restaurant in Montù Beccaria, and that was our next stop.  A huge lunch: antipasti of various smoked meats homemade by the owner, easily in his mid-80s; main course of linguine topped with truffles (pricey and, for my palate, overrated, but still a savory dish); a nice sort of pudding cake, and coffee.  After paying the bill, Mr. Colombi insisted we have a small tot of grappa.   Fortified, we set off for the last vineyard and bought two more cases.  We crossed the wide Po, made a U-turn, and parked close to the water, and walked to the bank.  It’s a big river.  We then headed back to Milano, Massimo pointing out his great-grandma’s old house in the village of Costa de Nobili.

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Antipasti at Colombi; Massimo was certain that Mr. C. was still curing these meats himself

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Vineyards near Montù Beccaria

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Downstream and upstream, River Po

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Harvest time in the Po Valley (Alps in the background)

Arrived back in his neighborhood just after five, and met my Airbnb hosts Sandra and Beppe, less than a block from Massimo.  Found my room upstairs at Via Plinio 43, and had an hour yak with them, two architecture students writing a joint master’s thesis that was due in 18 days.  I was honored they made time, given the deadline.  Beppe was Italian but grew up in Capetown.  Sandra was from Novi Sad in Serbia.  The recent elections of course came up, as did other topics.  I repaired to my room to work email, grabbed a short nap, and at eight met Massimo, Lucia, and their cute little dog Lupetta (rescued two years earlier from a dumpster, where some unspeakable human-turds dumped her and three siblings).

We walked to Piccola Ischia, a great pizza place.  Their daughter Martina joined us – I had not seen her since 2001, and she’s now a Ph.D. psychologist and very interesting young woman.  We had a great dinner.  Martina peeled off with friends, we walked back to the apartment that had been in the family since it was built in the early 1930s.  We had a final yak and shot of limoncello, said goodbye to Lucia, and walked downstairs to the garage to fetch Massimo’s bike for a ride the next morning.

Up just before first light, out the door, whee!  Rode across the city to Castello Szforzesco, around the perimeter of Sempione Park five times, then back by way of La Scala (opera house), the original Galleria, and the massive cathedral.  Met Massimo to return the bike, grabbed a cup of coffee at the little bakery across from their apartment, and walked back to the Airbnb.  Took a shower and, as she promised, Sandra was making Serbian pancakes, what we think of as crepes, in the kitchen.

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The Vesentinis’ apartment building

She offered me a coffee and we started just a wonderful conversation, across so many topics.  Two stand out.  She told me that as a teenager she was the #2 ranked junior tennis player in Serbia, had already landed a company sponsorship, headed for greatness, then seriously injured her knee, ending her playing career.  We agreed that many injured athletes lose themselves.  “I didn’t want to become a social case at 25,” she said, “so I went back to school.”

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Aleksandra (Sandra), the best Airbnb host to date!

And Sandra talked about what it means to be a Serbian in the world, in the wake of the troubles between that state and neighbors following the breakup of Yugoslavia 25 years ago.  I told her I could relate: when I traveled at her age, young Americans carried the stigma of the Vietnam war, assassinations, and more, and I often bore the brunt of things I did not like and did not make.  We agreed that being open and broad-minded was the best way.  I could have chatted for hours, but Sandra needed to get back to thesis-writing (Beppe stayed up until four and was still sound asleep), and I needed to get to Bergamo Airport for my flight to London Stansted and the annual teaching gig at Cambridge, so I hugged her, grabbed my stuff, and departed.  I have stayed in more than 20 Airbnbs since the first visit more than 4½ years earlier, and have never had a better experience.

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Winged horses above the railway station entrance

I walked a mile to Stazione Centrale, and hopped on the bus to Bergamo, Milan’s hub for low-cost carriers (I was flying Ryanair).  Went through security, found a quiet place to sit (it’s a remarkably comfortable and well-designed terminal), and brought this journal up to date, aided by an instrumental version of Puccini’s “O mio Babbino caro,” one of Italy’s greatest tunes, and some short works by Vivaldi.  Flew to London Stansted, hopped on the train for the short ride to Cambridge, and was in “my” guest room at Sidney Sussex College in time to shave, put on a tie, and head to Evensong in the chapel.  As always, the choir, led my long friend David Skinner, was celestial, followed by a fine homily from a young guest preacher, Rev. Bob Evans of Peterhouse College.

By long tradition, after service we repaired to the Old Library for a quick drink, your scribe yakking with Emily, a second-year choir member, mathematics major, sunny personality.   Then it was time to process to high table in the dining hall.  There were only six of us, with Professor Christopher Page presiding.  I’ve known Chris for some years, a good fellow, an expert in medieval music and literature.  Brett Gray, new Sidney chaplain and fellow Yank, Bob Evans, his French wife, David Skinner, and I had a fine meal and a good yak, with rather a lot of discussion of the U.S. election, but also forays into the hygiene of the Vikings, raisin production, Calvinism (one-third of the table were ordained Anglican priests!), and sundry other topics.  After dinner we headed to the paneled Knox Shaw Room to roam across more topics: the end of liberal democracy, college finances, and competitive rowing.  Every time I’ve joined these august groups I’ve worried a bit about my ability to hold my own, and every time I say goodnight I conclude that indeed I can.  Before retiring for the night, I again signed my name in the red guest book in the suite, and noted that since July there were visitors from Greece, Australia, Argentina, Spain, France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Myanmar, Germany, Wales, and of course England.  What a place!

Was up and out the door at eight for a big English breakfast in the dining hall.  Was ready to leave when an Israeli biochemist, Dr. Tony Futerman, and his wife and son joined the table.  We had a nice chat.  He was an expert in Gaucher’s disease, an inherited malady in Ashkenazi Jews.  He and his wife had just become grandparents.  And his son, who just graduated from high school, was to begin his compulsory military service (2.8 years) in a week’s time, working in combat intelligence.  Always interesting people in the Sidney dining hall.

I ambled across town, pausing for daily prayers in St. Botolph’s, a small 13th Century parish church, then into Judge Business School to work.  I got a lot done, and by mid-afternoon it was time to clock out.  Walked across the River Cam and into Sidgwick Site, a newer part of the campus, then back to college for a nap.  Crossed the river again, had a pint at The Pickerel and a spicy dinner at a small Indian restaurant.  Done for the day.

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12th Century Round Church in moonlight

Had another fine conversation at breakfast Tuesday morning, with Nicholas Smith, a professional singer and teacher, and mountaineer.  He remembered me from a previous visit, me not so much. We mostly yakked about his singing and climbing – a lot of experience in both, including ascent of lots of the tallest peaks in the Alps.  He teaches voice at Sidney Sussex.

Walked across town to the school, worked the morning.  At 11, on the way back from the washroom, I spotted a slide on the screen in one of the big lecture halls, which led to an “ambush-introduction” to a prof who teaches organizational behavior classes, a guy I’ve wanted to meet for awhile, and the subsequent discussion might lead to another invitation to my favorite teaching venue.

At 12:45 I met my host, Andreas Richter, for lunch, then walked across the street to present my fifth or sixth talk to his “HR for Engineers” class in Cambridge’s revered Department of Engineering, a place humming with brainpower.  We walked back over to the business school, parted, and at 4:15 I met another colleague, Paul Tracey, for a brief yak.

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Given his ingrate behavior of late, the markdowns on this book at the Cambridge University Press shop seemed appropriate . . .

My Cambridge visits always include a stop in the venerable pub The Eagle, so before heading to the railway station I detoured for a glass of IPA.  Then through light rain a mile or so to the train, stopping to pick up a sandwich and salad for lunch on board.  As I have done many times, rather than flying from London and paying the confiscatory ($240) departure tax, I opted to fly west from Amsterdam (where the tax to leave is $26), so headed across Suffolk to the port of Harwich for the Stena Line ferry to Hoek van Holland near Rotterdam.

At Cambridge station, I re-downloaded to my iPhone one of my favorite novels, La’s Orchestra Saves the World, by the prolific Alexander McCall Smith.  Set in Suffolk mostly during World War II, it tells the story of a young widow, La, who forms a village orchestra to build morale.  But it is so much more, and I re-read most of it on the train ride and on the flight home the next day.  Smith is a gifted observer of the human condition, and parts of the book brought tears to my eyes.

At Harwich I boarded the Stena Britannica, a nearly new ferry almost as fancy as a cruise ship.  I last rode her almost two years earlier.  Splurged on an outside cabin with a large porthole.  There was free wi-fi in public areas, so worked my email to zero, walked out on the sundeck in lashing rain, and went to bed.  The ride was smooth, almost motionless.

Up Wednesday morning the 16th, big breakfast, then off the ship into more rain, and onto the efficient Dutch railways east to Schiedam, then north to Schiphol Airport.  My ex-KLM friend Jan Meurer was waiting for me at the meeting point (the clever Dutch designed a huge red-and-white checkered cube as a visible and easy-to-remember rendezvous point).  We had a cup of coffee and a good chat.  He peeled off at 11, I checked in for the flight to Philadelphia, and zipped back to the U.S.

But there was one more stop, so I waved as we flew over Washington, enroute to Charlotte for a lunchtime speech the next day.  Landed early, and for the second time in a week told the immigrant taxi driver, a Pakistani, that he was welcome in our country.  Early in the ride, he said, “We are hard workers, sir.  We only want the chance to work.”

Checked into a hotel on the south end of downtown.  I needed a ride on a fitness bike in the gym, but forgot shorts, so rolled up pajama bottoms to my thighs and pedaled 16 miles.  Lights out at nine, up before six, down to breakfast, then out the door to pick up a bike from Charlotte’s bikeshare system.  Found one at a station opposite the jail, paid $8 on my debit card, and in no time was coasting south on 4th Street.  By pure chance, travel serendipity, I spotted the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, and coasted south.  Most bikeshares are set up for short rides, 30 minutes max, so earlier I set the handy iPhone app, called Spotcycle, to Charlotte, to get real-time location and availability (so cool).  I always heard Charlotte was a nice place to live, and zigzagging on the greenway confirmed it.  Really lovely.  Rode around a bit more, then into downtown, and a nice side-by-side T-t-S with Shannon Binn, head of Sustain Charlotte, an advocacy organization.  Always good to meet committed young people.

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The new Mecklenburg County Courthouse featured a series of panels with our ideals.  We’ve still got work to do.

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Charlotte skyline and the Little Sugar Creek Greenway

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New-to-look-old streetcar, Gold Line

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Captain James Jack of the Charlotte militia, who in May 1775 rode 600 miles north to Philadelphia to deliver documents expressing Charlotteans’ desire for liberty.

Returned the bike at ten, and walked back to the hotel, pausing for a brief engagement with a young black man, who opened with “What did you do with that bike you just had?” and closed by offering his hand and wishing me a blessed day.  If each of us could each day have just one interaction like that, we would have a better world.

Showered and walked several blocks to the Dilworth Neighborhood Grill, site of my talk to the local chapter of the American Advertising Federation.  Longtime readers of this journal know that last decade I did a ton of these talks, mostly in Texas and neighboring states (and had spoken to the Charlotte group once before, in 2009).  Met my hosts Alex and Jonathan, visited with some friendly locals, and delivered a short talk on crisis management.  Garrett, a billboard salesman, kindly offered to drive me to the airport, and we had a good yak along the way.  Flew home, a fine trip.

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Your scribe by the River Po (thanks, Massimo, for the great day and the pic)

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Minnesota, Illinois, Ontario, Quebec, Connecticut

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Yale University

Well before sunrise on Thursday, October 20, I hopped bus and Metro to National Airport and flew home to Minneapolis/St. Paul.  Bought a $6 ticket good for 24 hours of rides on the public transit system and jumped onto the Blue Line light-rail for my alma mater, the University of Minnesota.  Met hosts George and Debbie John for lunch at the Campus Club, a faculty retreat on the top floor of the student union, then delivered a talk to Debbie’s undergraduate advertising and branding class, a seriously bright group of youngsters.  Afterwards a walked a couple hundred feet to Wilson Library, the main repository at “the U,” to do a little research: I was looking for annual reports of Republic Airlines, the company that launched me into the airline business (I’m intending to write a business case study about their remarkable turnaround).  Found the reports deep in the library basement (had to move other materials to get at the folder with the stuff).  After that, I went one floor down, to the sub-basement and the John Borchert Map Library, named for one of my Ph.D. advisers.  I drafted most of my dissertation on a big table in a far corner, and it’s always fun to find that spot.

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Mall, University of Minnesota

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Maybe only in Minnesota: a quilt depicting the geological regions of the state, Wilson Library

Because the visit was less than 24 hours, I opted not to stay with friends, and found an Airbnb perfectly located a few blocks from the Blue Line.  Katie the host met me at 5:30.  The place was wonderful, a classic South Minneapolis bungalow, spotlessly clean, with a nice big bedroom – and good heat on a blustery and chilly day.  Worked a bit of email, took a short nap, and at 6:30 headed back to the Blue Line and into downtown Minneapolis, passing the massive new Vikings’ stadium, and on to dinner with pal-since-1963 Tim McGlynn at Freehouse, a cool brewpub.  Got caught up on Tim’s comings and goings, had a couple beers, and a nice pulled-pork sandwich.  Was back at Katie’s and asleep well before ten.

Up early Friday morning, out the door, expecting a busy day.  Waiting for the eastbound #21 bus, a nice T-t-S exchange with a bicyclist well bundled against the cold:

Me: Going far?

Cyclist: Stillwater [which was 30 miles away]

Me: Wow, a long ride.  Are you commuting to work?

Cyclist: No, just a day ride to clear my head and see the fall color.  I’m getting married tomorrow.

Me: Congratulations!  That’s exciting.

Cyclist: Yes, for sure.

Me: It will work if you work at it [raising my arm and pointing to my ring finger]; 38 years.

Cyclist: Wow, congratulations on that.

Me: Again, to you. Have a joyous day tomorrow.

I rode five minutes east to a Dunn Bros. coffee shop, where at seven I met my young friend Emily Sheppard, daughter of my late friend and B-school buddy Jack.  I’m a friend and have become a mentor.  We see each other two or three times a year now, and it’s always fun to catch up.  Emily moved from New York back home to the Twin Cities late last year and is settling in.  We had a coffee, and because she works for Dunn Bros. she treated me to breakfast, yogurt and a gooey cinnamon roll.

Emily drove me back to the Blue Line, I hopped on, then flew to Chicago, then a short hop to Champaign and my first visit to the University of Illinois.  I was pumped about being on the third Big Ten campus in two weeks.  Was headed to my 12th lecture to the U of I EMBA program, which normally meets in downtown Chicago, in the Loop, but once a year heads to the main campus.  Rented a car with a free-day coupon (total cost was $1.73 for taxes) and drove north to downtown Champaign.  Dropped my bags at the hotel and zipped across town to the red-brick campus.  The second Emily of the day, a program assistant, welcomed me, and provided a welcome late lunch in a box.

Fortified, I set off for a walk around the core of the campus.  Some wonderful old buildings, two grassy quadrangles, and lots of sculpture.  Really nice.  I am a softy for inspiring words carved on the side of university buildings and other places of learning, and above the front entrance of the main library was the following: “The whole world here unlocks the experience of the past to the builders of the future.” Wow!  At 3:00 I had a short meeting with Carlos Torelli, a friend and host who moved from the U of M earlier in the year.

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Business school classroom building

 

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This lovely foliage was straight from lyrics of a school song:”We’re loyal to you, Illinois / The orange and blue, Illinois.”

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Lorado Taft (1860-1936), “The Pioneers,” original plaster model of a bronze in suburban Chicago

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Another Taft sculpture, according to an adjacent plaque it was part of a “vast unfinished Fountain of Creation to stand at the east end of the midway in Chicago,” prepared for the 1893 Columbian Exposition.  Below, Lincoln Hall, outside and in.

 

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Main Quadrangle, U of I

From 4:55 to 6:30 I delivered a talk to the EMBA students, a lively and engaged group (as I have written many times, I really like teaching older, experienced students).  They invited me to beer and dinner at Murphy’s, a classic college dive in Campustown.  It was way fun to yak with students – the U of I always seems to recruit a really great mix of people and experience.  Kevin, for example, works for Otis Elevators, and he had all sorts of interesting info about the business of vertical travel.  Two tidbits: elevators move the equivalent of the world’s population every three days, and the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in the Chicago Loop, sways six to eight feet on high-wind days.  Whoa.  Also met an expert in energy conservation, a pharmaceutical researcher, and more.  They showed no signs of leaving early, but I was plumb wore out.

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EMBA students and good guys Marty, George, and Kevin

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Champaign City Hall at dawn

Could have slept in on Saturday morning, but I don’t sleep in, so was up in the dark and down the the hotel gym for 20 miles, then a big breakfast, and back out to the airport.  Such a joy to fly into and out of small airports, where the scale is gentle.  I was headed to Toronto via Chicago, so needed to get into the Canadian way, a way I admire greatly.  So I tracked down Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s address to the UN General Assembly a few weeks earlier.  His concluding words:

Listen, Canada is a modest country. We know we can’t solve these problems alone.  We know we need to do this all together.  We know it will be hard work.  But we’re Canadian. And we’re here to help.

We landed in Canada at 2:45, I hopped on the Airport Rocket (actually line #192 of the Toronto Transit Commission, but sure like the name!), then onto the subway east to downtown.  Checked in at a Holiday Inn on the edge of the University of Toronto, a place I always stayed when teaching at the U of T (a gig that inexplicably went away about 2012).  It was even colder and windier than Minneapolis two days earlier, just howling.  Winter was coming!

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Old and new on the campus of the University of Toronto

I hadn’t been on the U of T campus for awhile, and was drawn, almost magnetically to the university’s war memorial, Soldier Tower, built after World War I.  I have been there many times, because it is a superb place to give thanks to all who made freedom possible, in Canada, in the U.S., and lots of other places.  As always I read aloud the quotation from the Greek statesman, orator, and warrior Pericles:

Their story is not graven only on stone over their native earth, but lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men’s lives.

Woven into a free and democratic Germany, into a new constitution for Japan, and so many other places.  I prayed a gratitude to all who made that and more possible.  We can never repay them, but we should remember them every day.

Grabbed a quick nap and at six met Javier Ortega, a young friend from Chihuahua now living in Toronto.  We had a great, brief catch-up.  At 7:15 my longtime Canadian friend Lorne Salzman and his wife Nancy picked me up and we motored south and west to Bent, a small new restaurant with seriously good food.  We ate well and more important had a great catch-up chat.  I met Lorne in 1993 when he helped American Airlines with an investment in Canadian Airlines (that didn’t work, but the friendship has endured!).  We covered a lot of conversational territory, but one topic is worth amplifying here: Lorne relayed in some detail that remarkable level of care his 89-year-old mother received in her last weeks of life.  Humane, thorough, professional, and entirely free, thanks to Canada’s system of universal health insurance.  His mom’s experience, the truth, is so distant from the creeps like Trump who diss the Canadian solution, one that covers everyone, delivers excellent care, and does is for half of what the U.S. spends (as a percentage of GDP).

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Highrise apartments continue to soar in Toronto, this at the corner of Yonge and Bloor

Was up early a fourth consecutive morning, out the door, east on Bloor.  My admiration for Canada was tested slightly when the TTC #320 bus broke down and I had to walk more than a mile to the train station, but the exercise was fine!  Hopped on the UP Express, a new train that zips from Union Station to Pearson Airport (the U and the P) in 25 minutes.  The Airport Rocket bus and subway is cheaper, but UP was a nice ride.  Ate a couple of bran muffins from Tim Horton’s en route.  Air Canada texted me the day before with news that my preferred flight at 9:00 was canceled; I was flying standby, so was a little stressed, but got a boarding pass for the 10:00 flight, and was in Montreal just after 11, for my 17th appearance at McGill University.

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The UP Express at Toronto airport

Bought a three-day pass on STM, the public-transit system, and hopped on the #747 bus into the city.  Had a great T-t-S session with Ash, a fourth-year medical student at McGill.  Born in Punjab, India in 1983, he came to Canada at age 16.  When he graduates he want a residency in dermatology or family practice.  I told him how much I admired Canada, and relayed my father’s awful experience when you don’t have health insurance.  We yakked across a bunch of other topics, and were downtown in no time.  Shook Ash’s hand, wished him well, and hopped onto the Metro, riding several stops to my “hotel,” which for the third consecutive year was a large apartment atop a highrise university dorm.

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Lionel Groulx metro station; every one of these people has health insurance.  Every one.

As happened before, the front desk guy had no clue how to check me in (and in fact did it wrong, because the next evening I was no longer “in the system” and had to persuade the clerk that I really did live there!).  Changed clothes, and headed next door to lunch at Kantapia, a family-run Korean place.  I was one of two Europeans in the place, and tucked into a big bowl of noodles.  Fortified, I bought a one-day pass on Bixi, Montreal’s superb bike-share service, and rode west into a howling wind, five miles, through the affluent Westmount neighborhood and into Notre Dame de Grace, NDG to locals.  The eastbound sailing was nicer, save for two close calls with cars – Bixi handbrakes are weak, and a left-turning Toyota almost pasted me.  Wished I knew how to say “asshole” in French!

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Lunch, Kantapia

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Street art, Notre Dame de Grace neighborhood

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Bixi station

Took a nap, and at 5:30 grabbed my laptop and headed on the bike east a mile to Rue Saint-Denis and the Latin Quarter, a place I’ve gotten to know well.  Nipped into L’Amère a Boire, a brewpub I visited many times, for a pint and a chance to bring this journal up to date.  I then ambled down the street to 3 Brasseurs, another brewpub, but with a wider dinner selection.  Had a brief T-t-S with a waitress.  I told her if the worst were to happen and Trump got elected, I would move north; “And we will welcome you with pleasure,” she quickly replied.  Nice!  Tucked into salmon, mashed potatoes, and green beans, Sunday dinner.  Was asleep early.

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Place des Arts, performing arts hall

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Montreal has become known for projecting images on building facades at night; here a rotating series of iconic people and events on a building of UQAM, the University of Quebec at Montreal

Was out the door at seven Monday morning for a full day of lectures.  Step 1 was breakfast at Tim Horton’s on Rue Sherbrooke, where I recognized Celine behind the counter.  “I remember you from last year,” I said, and she told me she had been at that store for 18 years.  Bowl of oatmeal, raisin-bran muffins, and coffee, and I was ready for the day.  Met my McGill B-school host Mary Dellar at 8:15, and plunged into the first talk at 8:35, then another at 11:35.  Mary and I had a quick lunch at one and I headed up the hill to the law school and my annual talk on airline alliances to grad students at McGill’s Institute for Air and Space Law.  Finished that at five, back to the B-school, worked my email, and from 6:30 to 8:00 gave the last talk to members of the undergraduate Marketing Network, a young and engaged group.  Whew, more than six hours of talking.  I was worn out, but after changing clothes I headed back to the Latin Quarter (that night by bus, a very short ride) and beer and dinner at St.-Houblon, a great little pub with seriously creative food.  The Montreal Canadians, the hockey team locally known as the Habs, were playing Philadelphia, and I watched the last half of the game, Habs winning 3-1.  Woo hoo!

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Young entrepreneur Marc-Antoine and your scribe, McGill University

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Dinner, Saint-Houblon; even a pub presents food with style!

Tuesday morning, coffee at Tim’s, then met McGill Prof. Bob Mackalski at his athletic club at 7:15 for breakfast and a great yak.  He’s marketing whiz, very strategic thinker, and we covered a lot of ground.  Walked a block to school, gave a final lecture in Mary’s class, said goodbye, and rolled my suitcase south to the #747 bus to the airport.  While working my email at the departure gate, I heard a distinctive voice I recognized.  Looked up, and ten feet from me was an old boss, former American CEO Don Carty.  After he got off his call, we chatted for a bit – I hadn’t seen him in more than six years, and was good to catch up.  I mused at the prospect of running into someone like that, and even more remote, in his hometown of Montreal!  Said goodbye to Don, hopped a flight to Chicago, then home to Washington.  Had the dogs on a walk by 7:15.

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Montreal is booming again; as I have often observed about social democracies, they don’t seem to have trouble keeping the lights on.

After lunch on Friday, October 28, I hopped bus and Metro to National Airport and onto a jet to LaGuardia, bound for New Haven and a first visit to son Jack’s new town (the original plan was for him to pick me up in Hartford, 50 miles from New Haven, but I had some time and thought I’d save him the drive by hopping a train from New York).  As often happens, LGA was a mess, and the flight was 40 minutes late.  I still thought I’d make the 6:17 train from Harlem station, only 4.2 miles from the airport, but rush-hour traffic put me on the platform at 6:20.  Roll with it, I thought, and got on the 6:42, into New Haven at 8:20.  My first visit to the home of Yale University, and I was pumped.  Jack picked me up at the station and we headed to dinner at Caseus, an agreeable bistro and cheese shop.  Tucked into a big dinner and some fine conversation, and headed to his downtown apartment to watch the World Series.

Up early Saturday, out on a car tour of New Haven, around the downtown and university, then up to East Rock, 300 feet above town, for a good look at the city and Long Island Sound.  It was a crisp morning, perfect viewing.  Parked the car, grabbed a coffee (the Starbucks, across from Yale, was buzzing with the low hum of brain power), and set off for a thorough walking tour of the campus.  We visited the Center for British Art, in a striking building designed by Louis Kahn, then the Yale Art Museum, with a stunning collection, bigger than most big-city museums.  I’ve been on a lot of campuses, and Yale was perhaps the finest I’ve ever seen, wonderful old stone buildings, beautiful grounds.  We stopped for a Thai lunch, then headed back to the apartment.

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New Haven is full of old buildings from many periods of American architecture; I’ve always been fond of the style known as Bracketed Italianate, on commercial buildings like this and homes.  Below, terracotta architectural detail.

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Jack’s favorite sitting room, Center for British Art

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Brand-new construction, in traditional style

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Jack laced up for the gym and I headed out on his new, bright-orange Trek, north 15 miles on the Farmington Canal Greenway, a bike and walking trail along a canal built in the 1820s.  It was a perfect afternoon to cover some distance.

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On the Greenway

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Former lock, Farmington Canal

We then watched a little college football and at 5:15 headed out for dinner then up to Ingalls Rink to see the Yale men’s hockey team open the season.  The arena, designed by Eero Saarinen (Dulles Airport terminal, Gateway Arch in St. Louis), was way cool, small, with a soaring roof – it’s nicknamed “the Whale.”  College hockey is to me the apex of the sport, fast and clean – players check each other, but there’s no fighting.  We had seats right on the glass at the blue line, perfect vantage to appreciate Yale’s speed, great passing, and outstanding defense.  Best of all, the Bulldogs won, 4-1.  Just a wonderful time.

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Sunday morning Jack went to the gym and I walked the campus again.  We then motored around the suburbs before heading to Little Italy for an early lunch at Frank Pepe’s, a pizzeria in business since 1925.  Piles of meat, cheese, and vegetables atop a crispy thin crust baked in a coal-fired oven, maybe the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.  Whew.  We zipped across town and west to Costco in Milford, then a couple of hours of football on TV, then a speedy ride north to Hartford and a flight home.  New Haven is a great town, and I look forward to going back.

 

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Old Campus Quadrangle

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Mexico and Madison

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One of the best places on any college campus: the terrace of the Wisconsin [Student] Union, on the shore of Lake Mendota, Madison

Travel in the last quarter began four days after returning from the north of Sweden.  On Wednesday, October 5, I flew to DFW and on to Chihuahua, Mexico, my fifth visit to a booming city that now counts a million residents.  My academic hosts, Laura and Monica from the Universidad de La Salle, a Catholic (Christian Brothers) institution with 15 campuses throughout Mexico, picked me up at the airport.  We headed to dinner at Las Faenas, a pleasant taqueria I got to know on my last visit, in December 2015.  Pilar, one of their faculty friends, joined us, as did a student, Santiago, who helped organize the visit.  We had some tacos and a nice chat, and they dropped me at my hotel, literally across the highway.

I knew the visit would be short and busy, and we got started early the next morning.  The main event that day was a student conference at the university (known as ULSA), and at breakfast I met a very interesting fellow speaker, Mario Arvizu.  Originally from a small city in Chihuahua state, he now lives in the capital and makes a living with his voice, narrating TV commercials and dubbing Spanish into Hollywood films (he was the penguin voice in the animated “Madagascar”).  We had a nice, but too short yak before I peeled off to give a press briefing related to my presentation the next day, sponsored by EVM, an association of sales and marketing people.  About fifteen media folks showed up, and I told them a little about the talk (my “Ten Things” preso), and answered questions.  The first three were all about the prospects of Donald Trump, who I simply called the evil man with the orange hair.  They were clearly worried, and with good reason, given his racist remarks about Mexicans, his desire to dismantle NAFTA, and more.  Ugh.

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One datapoint for a booming Chihuhua: new condo across from my hotel

At about 9:45, we headed up the hill to ULSA, and I was able to hear the last part of Mario’s talk, and an interesting presentation from another fellow on corporate social responsibility.  Then it was my turn, noon to 1:30, and it went well.  Big audience, more than 300 students.  Afterward, bunches of students wanted to get a photo with me, and I was glad to oblige.  Lots of fun.

 

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Mario Arvizu, urging students to follow their dreams

Two students drove me back to the hotel.  It was well past lunchtime, so I ambled a block to Barriga, an agreeable restaurant I also visited in December, for a big plate of chiles rellenos and a Coke.  Time for a quick nap, did some consulting work, and at six met Lester, a former student I met in Chihuahua in 2013.  We headed into town for a couple of beers at La Antigua Paz, a wonderful old-school bar.  Lester now works for a company that makes airline seat covers and cushions, so we yakked a lot about aviation.  Great fellow.

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Advice outside a bar

 

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Where are we?  Home Depot, Chihuahua.  The volume of U.S. retailers and restaurants in the neighborhood attests to the merging of economies and societies.

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Lester at the bar

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Musicians at La Antigua Paz

Up at dawn the next morning, back to ULSA for the EVM presentation, more than 200 people, another big deal.  Great to meet lots of wonderful people, hardworking, sincere.  The orange-haired man has no clue.  An EVM official, Raimundo, drove me to the airport for a noon flight, a few hours in DFW, a delay, home at 12:30 a.m.  A lot crammed into 2.5 days.

 

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The view from Universidad la Salle

 

Home for less than 36 hours, then back to National Airport, west to Chicago, and north 109 miles to one of my fave places, Madison, and my tenth consecutive visit to the University of Wisconsin.

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It’s been awhile since this geographer posted some views from above; here, the shrinking steelmaking landscape of Gary, Indiana; below, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, with the circular accelerator clearly visible from above.

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Grabbed a bit of biking in the fitness center, washed up, and headed by city bus to Oakwood, a retirement complex on the west side of town, to visit one of my Ph.D. advisers, Professor John Fraser Hart, and his wife Meredith.  Now in their 90s but still vital, we had a nice visit, and an ample Sunday dinner in the dining room.  A nice visit, a small way to recognize a man who helped me improve my writing skills, something that has served me throughout my career.  It was good to see them.  Back at Union South, the second presidential debate was underway, students jeering at Orange Hair.

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Up way before dawn Monday morning, onto the fitness-center bike, then to breakfast with my UW host, a wonderful fellow, Jan Heide.  We got caught up over eggs and coffee, walked to the business school, and I delivered two back-to-back lectures to his first-year MBA students.  In previous years I was done at noon, but instead of heading back to the hotel I walked two blocks to Science Hall, a massive, red-brick Victorian building that has been home to the university’s highly regarded Geography Department for decades.  A couple of years ago I made contact with the department chair, Lisa, and offered to give a talk; in 2016 it happened, an informal lunchtime yak with eight students about job prospects in applied geography.  It was my first preso in a geography department in 31 years!

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Samples of student work from the Introduction to Cartography class; when I taught that course at Minnesota in 1978-79, we only used India ink and paper!

Picked up a two-wheeler from Madison’s bikeshare system ($6 for 24 hours), rode back to the hotel, took off my suit, ate two pieces of cold pizza from the geographers, and grabbed a quick nap.  At three I got back on the red bike and started a series of short rides (if each ride is under 30 minutes it’s free) around Madison.  I know the city pretty well now, so zoomed around familiar parts of town – the shores of lakes Mendota and Monona, around campus, and more.

 

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On the shore of Lake Mendota, aboard the BCycle shared bike

At five I rode over to the Wisconsin Memorial (student) Union and their wonderful, recently enlarged terrace on Lake Mendota, for a beer.  Had a nice T-t-S with a Turkish grad student at the University of Kansas, working on a Ph.D. in astrophysics.  He’s studying the collision of galaxies, out there 5.5 billion light-years.  Whew, rarefied stuff.  Back on earth, we talked about recent developments in his homeland, Syria, job prospects, and more.  A nice yak.  At six I met Jan for dinner at Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry, a famous burger joint.  More good chatter.  Then back to the hotel and a hard sleep.  Thirty miles on bikes, three talks, plumb wore out.

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Penny, a Welsh Springer Spaniel; UW is studying a canine disease similar to MS in people; because it only affects male dogs of this breed, females like Penny are available for adoption

Tuesday morning was up and on the fitness bike, then breakfast with Dan Smith, former dairy farmer and great guy.  Rode the red shared bike around town a bit, circling the wonderful state capitol and stopping to buy a red UW T-shirt.  Just after noon I delivered a talk to undergrad HR students, then biked over to the Babcock Hall Dairy Store for a liquid lunch: large chocolate malt from university-made ice cream – in America’s Dairyland, UW plays a major role in improving the science of cows and all the good things they give us.  I raised my glass to those marvelous animals!  Finished the visit with a second talk to undergrads, headed to the hotel, took a short nap, and worked a bit.

 

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The Babcock Hall ice-cream plant

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No lake view, but still pleasant: the terrace at Union South; the colorful metal chairs and tables are a UW union tradition

At 5:30, I ambled downstairs, grabbed a beer and sat on the terrace of Union South – a pleasant place, but not on the lake like the main student union.  Read stuff on my iPhone, and at 6:40 met Jan and Maria Heide for dinner.  We motored across town to Sardine, right on Lake Monona, for a colossal dinner and nice yak.  They are fine people.

Up in the morning dark, out to the airport, and flew home via Chicago, dogs out for a good walk by noon.

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Two Weeks in Europe

 

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Tübinger Tor (1255) watchtower, Reutlingen, Germany; my digs were in the smaller yellow house

On Saturday, September 17, Linda dropped me at the Metro for National Airport, then a short hop to Kennedy and onto a big Silver Bird to London Heathrow.  I was flying standby to Stockholm, so I had to clear immigration and speed to the British Airways check-in area.  I sped, but not fast enough, and they didn’t let me check in for a flight that departed in 50 minutes – the one that had plenty of open seats.  Plan B was a SAS flight at 10:35, and I lucked out – a bunch of passengers were on a delayed incoming flight, so I snagged a chair, gave the check-in agent a hug, then did my little “made it on the full flight” dance.  Woo hoo!

Arrived Stockholm on time, and at the immigration desk had a splendid, brief Talking to Strangers encounter with the inspector.  After a few of the usual questions, he said “A very warm welcome to Sweden.”  I replied with thanks, mentioning I had visited more than 20 times.  “And you are always welcome, every time,” he said, with a big smile.  Can you imagine a U.S. inspector saying that?  Nope.  Zipped through the airport to the train station and onto a local train to Knivsta and the #102 bus up to the hamlet of Berga, and the home of my longtime Stockholm School of Economics host Hans Kjellberg, wife Mia, kids, and a cat named Sudden.  Hans was in the kitchen chopping vegetables for Sunday dinner, and Mia was working (a real estate broker, Sunday a workday).  We chatted a bit, but the perfect autumn weather beckoned; jumped onto Hans’ old bike and pedaled off into the countryside, a dozen miles, past the country home of Linnaeus (who worked at Uppsala University nearby), a splendid old church, and recently plowed fields.  Almost every house and barn was painted what Americans call “barn red,” the red-oxide paint that covers rural buildings in many countries because it’s inexpensive to make.

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Off the #102 bus still life: just a few hundred meters from the Kjellberg’s house in Berga

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Scenes from the bike ride

Mia was home when I returned, and we had a good yak before tucking into Thai curry and stir-fried vegetables.  Pelle and Kristina, two of their three kids, were there, and we covered a bunch of topics.  As expected, lots of questions about the upcoming U.S. elections.  I worked my email a bit, and at nine we tuned into the ice hockey world cup from Toronto, Sweden vs. Russia.  I barely stayed awake for the first period (but was happy to learn the next morning that the Swedes beat Putin’s team!).

Up early Monday morning, out the door in the car with Hans, back to Knivsta, onto the train 40 miles to central Stockholm, and a brisk walk to the school for my 11th visit.  From 10 to 12, I delivered a lecture on airline loyalty programs to Per Andersson’ class (Per is another long host).  Hans, Per, and I walked a couple of blocks to a great buffet lunch place, then back to school for an afternoon of work, camped in Per’s office.  I needed a walk, so ambled toward the royal palace and parliament (the Riksdag), pausing to admire the solid architecture of the early 20th Century and some pretty awful stuff from the 1960s and ‘70s.  The city was still brimming with tourists.

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Altar, Adolf Frederiks Kyrka

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The Grand Hotel

 

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Sandstone facade detail, above and below

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Hans and I caught the 5:11 train back to Knivsta, changed clothes, and by 6:15 was in their red Saab station wagon with Kristina, who was headed to day one of a new job in Uppsala.  I walked around a bit, past the huge Domkyrka, seat of the Swedish Lutheran Church, then back to Stationen, a bar and restaurant in the old railway station.

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Hops blossoms, Uppsala

Met another SSE host, Anders Liljenberg, at eight for a beer, light dinner, and great conversation.  For more than a decade, Anders has been dean of the SSE facility in St. Petersburg, Russia, and we yakked about the many challenges of that job (and, of course Donald Trump and Mrs. Clinton).  Hopped the #102 bus home, yakked with Hans and Mia, and clocked out.  A busy day.

Up early Tuesday morning, good-byes, and back on the #102, this time north to Uppsala and my seventh visit to its old (1477) university.  First task was a talk to Ekonomerna, the student business association, then a lecture to Prof. Sabine Persson’s international marketing class.  The morning sped by.  Had a quick fish lunch with Sabine, worked a bit, walked back to the main station and hopped on the bus to Arlanda Airport.

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Mia’s paternal great-grandfather, grandfather, and grandmother, and a few of Mia’s aunts and uncles; at left is Frida and her daughter Brita who emigrated to the U.S. around 1920.

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The Kjellberg house in Berga; traditional style, built about 2005

Flew to Copenhagen.  A little grumble here: Scandinavia has long been known for sensible, functional design, but the CPH terminal is a total mess: bad directional signage, cramped, terrible passenger flow.  Much of the problem was airport designers’ recent focus on converting terminals to shopping malls, but it made me pretty cranky.  Hopped on a jet for Stuttgart.  There was a supermarket in the arrivals hall, which was a super-convenient place to grab a light “picnic” dinner to eat on the bus for my destination, Reutlingen, 30 miles south.  Then the fun started: for the second time that day it was not easy – even for this experienced flyer – to find the way, in that case to the airport bus terminal.  And once I got there, the X3 bus to Reutlingen was not listed on the departure board.  After a lot of to and fro with two other passengers, we finally spotted the stop and soon the X3 rolled in.  I was in my digs by ten, a cool B&B called WachtRaum Reutlingen, in an old house two doors from a historic (1235) watchtower, the Tübinger Tor.  Slept hard with windows open.

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Two-course Danish dinner: one of their world-class hot dogs and a cold Carlsberg; the repast alleviated my crankiness with airport design

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Classic Porsche in the Stuttgart Airport, a 3D advertisement for the nearby Porsche Museum

Out the door Wednesday morning, quick breakfast at a nearby organic bakery, and walked up the hill a mile to ESB, the European School of Business at Reutlingen University.  Worked my email in the student union, and from 11:30 to 1:00 delivered a talk on leadership to a big (130) group.  Quick lunch in the Mensa, then a video interview.  Whoosh, it was already 3:00.  My ESB host, Oliver Götz, suggested a drive up Achalm, the hill above town, and up we went, to the terrace of a fancy hotel for a coffee and slice of apfelkuchen, apple cake.  Oliver dropped me (he was headed home on the train, across the country to Münster).  Changed clothes, took a few pictures, and at seven met a couple of German pilot friends, Wido and Karl, for beer and dinner at a microbrewery.  Whew, the third busy day in a row.

 

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A paint contractor’s office, showcasing his work

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Half-timbered building, Reutlingen old town

Thursday was finally a day to relax, sort of.  Out the door at seven, to the train station and a ride north to Stuttgart, then onto an ICE fast train to Frankfurt.  Toward the end of the ride, a nice T-t-S moment with fellow passengers in the compartment, mainly listening to a 76-year-old woman telling us about her trip to India (she got on at Frankfurt Airport).  The train to Berlin was on the adjacent track, and I hopped on the 11:02 ICE.  First step was to bring this journal up to date.  Step 2 was lunch in the dining car, always a joy.  The night before, my two pilot buddies winced when I told them I was taking the train to Berlin.  “You can fly there in under an hour on Germanwings,” said one.

But no jet could do what the Bordrestaurant did, transporting me back to childhood, to lunch in the dining car of the Burlington Zephyr, gliding along the Mississippi River, toward grandmothers in Chicago.  Tucking into a bowl of chicken stew as the gently rolling landscape of Thuringia passed, I was glad to be on track.  We arrived Berlin a few minutes late, prompting a fast dash up two levels to the ­S-Bahn (suburban train), zip, zip, and soon was in Hermsdorf, one of Berlin’s pleasant, leafy northwest suburbs.  Hopped on the #107 bus and arrived at the home of long friends Susan and Michael Beckmann by 4:15.  Susan and I had a cup of coffee and a good yak, then son Niklas, age 7, and I set off for a little bike ride around the neighborhood in their suburb, Glienecke-Nordbahn, which was once part of East Germany.  These districts have lots of green space, and to my great surprise we were essentially in the country within a few blocks, riding past pastures and barns.  We stopped at a playground on the way back for a whirl on the steel merry-go-round and swings.  Susan left to pick up daughter Annika, almost 5, from dance class.  When she returned, I zipped out for 7 more quick miles on the bike, for a total of 10.  Family dinner was homemade pizza, with “Onkel Rob” helping the kids with their English and them helping me auf Deutsch.

After the kids were asleep Michael and Susan told big news: after 14 years with the train-maker Bombardier Transportation, he accepted a job with a Danish company, and they were moving to Copenhagen.  Wowie!  They were excited, as was I.

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The former head office of the Prussian Railways, Berlin, now headquarters of Bombardier Transportation

Friday was a big day, long anticipated.  Several times previously, Michael had invited me to the big railway trade show InnoTrans, held in Berlin every two years, and it was finally time.  We stopped at his office so he could have a quick meeting, then hopped the U-Bahn (subway) across to the Messe, the huge fairgrounds.  The two Transport Geeks were in heaven, wandering past company booths selling everything related to tracks.  Most impressive were companies like SKF (and GE in the USA, though we didn’t see them) that are evolving from just making things to making things that keep track of the things they make: for example, multiple sensors on rail wheel-trucks to monitor vibration, temperature, motion, etc.  GE calls itself a “digital industrial company.”

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Free lunch from a German exhibitor: Leberkäse

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Best of Show: Stadler’s new high-speed train for the Swiss Federal Railways

 

Along the way, I wore both my marketing hat and my transport cap.  One observation with the former: pseudo-experts have told B2B rail companies that they needed to have a slogan. Not many are reasonably clever or appropriate, and most of them are blah; some are incredibly stupid, and a few of them, especially from non-English-speaking countries, do not translate grammatically into English.

And one observation with the latter: I was much taken with comments from a man at the booth for Doppelmayr, an Austrian-Swiss maker of aerial trams and gondolas, familiar to me after decades of riding ski lifts.  In addition to the winter-resort sector, they now build systems as urban mass transit, and have installed systems in places like La Paz, Bolivia.  The Doppelmayr guy said that they have a strong selling point with mayors: their systems can be operational within one election term!

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Scenes from InnoTrans: above, from a seat-fabric manufacturer; below, 3D printing capabilitiy

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The last notable stop was at Rail and Road Protec, where a clever Dane, Ulrik Rasmussen demonstrated his graffiti detection system for mass-transit interiors.  Odor sensors hidden behind a small loudspeaker panel can quickly detect volatile compounds in permanent broad-tip markers and from spray cans; for a little extra you can add an acoustic sensor for the ball that rattles inside the spray can.  Once detected, it plays your choice of message (“You call that art?”) and alerts the police.  Wow.  Michael and I had a good yak with Ulrik, a fascinating inventor-entrepreneur.

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Legos: what else would Danes use to draw attention to their exhibits

We took the U-Bahn back to the car, drove home, and made fast for Zur Krummen Linde, the cozy restaurant near their house where we dined many times during Advent trips.  The kids were good and we were able to sit at table for two hours, enjoying beer and a fine meal.  Because of the September visit, I won’t be returning in December, so this was a sort of a goodbye to a nice tradition at a very agreeable place.

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On the way home from InnoTrans, we saw the famous Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, steeple still damaged (and purposely not fixed) from a 1943 bombing

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Top, the Krummen Linde, and a splendid 1906 facade in the same village, Stolpe

Saturday was time to chill.  We took a short bike ride with Niklas, Michael pointing out a couple of places where the Berlin Wall separated their neighborhood from West Berlin.  The past is still with us, and Berlin has done a good job of remembering how awful that separation was.  We had a long breakfast, including homemade bread and jam.  About noon the kids, Michael, and I set off for “public day” at InnoTrans.  We parked right in front of the (1936) Olympic Stadium, the place where Jesse Owens smashed the Nazis “master race” illusion.  Hopped a shuttle to the Messe, and spent the afternoon walking outside, hopping on a few trains and trams (the inside exhibits were closed).  The kids were troopers, helped by periodic stops at a little fun fair with inflatable jump houses and slides.  It was another gorgeous, sunny day, and a fun time.   Susan made another fine dinner, and we were all asleep early.

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Niklas and Onkel Rob along the former Berlin Wall, Glienecke-Nordbahn

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The 1936 Olympic Stadium

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Your scribe with Max the Mole, the Deutsche Bahn’s chief spokesmole for railway construction

I got up at dawn Sunday and rode 18 miles, west to Hennigsdorf, where Bombardier has a big factory, then home.  After another nice breakfast, we all piled into the station wagon and headed west into Brandenburg (state), in the former GDR, to another T-Geek attraction. In 1989, less than a month before the Berlin Wall came down, some locals – no doubt with connections to the Communist Party (SED) – persuaded the former East German airline Interflug to land a surplus long-range Soviet airliner, an Ilyushin IL-62, on a grass landing strip adjacent to the place where aviation pioneer Otto Lilienthal died in a glider accident in 1896.  Improbable, weird, but the jet is parked (you can watch a video of the landing on YouTube) and open to view, inside and out.  The T-Geeks were pretty excited.  The jet is locally popular as a wedding venue, a little altar set up in the back of the plane.  Michael, Susan, and I were impressed not only with the aircraft and surrounding manicured grounds, but with the impressive collection of Interflug memorabilia (the airline shut down after reunification, redundant with Lufthansa and other carriers).  It was pretty cool.  We then motored a kilometer to a little museum about Lilienthal, who was truly a Renaissance man – inventor, engineer, businessman, playwright, actor.

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Interflug badge depicting Lenin: “His Ideas Live in Us”

 

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Michael and Susan off to where? Havana? Hanoi?

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Like the contemporaneous Wright Brothers, Lilienthal studied the anatomy and flight of birds

Pedal to the metal back to what is formally Berlin Tegel Otto Lilienthal Airport, kisses and hugs, and I headed south to Switzerland to continue teaching.  I was again flying standby, and this time to my delight I got a seat on the very first flight, 5:10 p.m.  And 20D turned out to be a great seat, because it opened up a terrific T-t-S episode, one of the best in months, with Thomas Marthaler. The conversation began after he bought me a beer, because none of my plastic worked in Air Berlin’s inflight payment device. Herr M. had just finished running the Berlin Marathon, his 11th of the year, and was headed home to Zürich, where he was a lawyer and member of the cantonal legislature (you may know that Switzerland is deeply committed to representative democracy, far more than the U.S. – Zürich canton has about 1.5 million people and his chamber has 180 members, 1 for every 8,000 Zürchers.  I like the concept!

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Thomas Marthaler

Thomas was a social democrat in a decidedly conservative place, but his views on dialogue and compromise would be very welcome in Washington.  We learned quite a bit about each other, too; his father worked for the Swiss Post, he was once the heavyweight boxing champion of Switzerland, and he liked to ski fast.  It was a delightful ride.

From a super Swiss guy to a jerk: at baggage claim, a local grabbed my suitcase and started walking away.  I politely stopped him and showed him the hidden ID tag.  He was not apologetic.  And then he demanded to look at the tag again.  Whew.  Made me briefly cranky, but maybe that was because I needed dinner, and found it quickly, tucking into a nice piece of salmon and boiled potatoes.  A wide range of humanity was coursing through the food court, and I smiled: what the jet airplane has made possible.  A father arrived to greet his wife, daughters, and mother-in-law, and I was reminded of a career well made.  Another T-t-S moment with his wife Sandra, originally from Croatia but now Swiss, living in Basel and working in pricing for Novartis, the big pharma company based there.  Her husband was back from a week learning to surf in Portugal.  The jet plane is a cool invention.

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The gift of flight: father and daughter reunited

I hopped on the SBB, Swiss Federal Railways, and zipped an hour east to St. Gallen, for my 16th visit to the university there.  At my hotel right across the street from the railway station, host Georg Guttmann’s bike was waiting for me, as it has been on each of the last three visits there.  I was tempted to take a little nocturnal spin, but headed to sleep.

Monday morning, don the necktie, out the door, on the bike, up the hill to St. Gallen’s highly regarded B-school.  Worked my email, and from 10:15 to noon delivered a lecture on airline revenue management to Sven Reinecke’s undergrad marketing class.  After the talk, three Ph.D. students and two students from the class invited me to lunch in the Mensa.  We had a nice meal and a good yak.  I then coasted down the hill to the hotel, changed into bike shorts, and set off for a long afternoon ride.  Down the “big hill” to Rorschach on Lake Constance (called Bodensee locally), then east to Rhine River (the size of a large creek) and across the border into Austria – the first time I crossed an international border on two wheels.  Rode a few miles in Austria, then reversed course.  The trudge up the hill (about 800 vertical feet) got a bit long, but was home by 5:15.

 

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Worked a bit, took a shower, and at 7:00 met the Rev. Paul Brice and his wife Hananja for dinner.  I got to know Paul when he was chaplain of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and a week earlier he sent me a surprise email; he remembered I was headed to Switzerland in September and suggested we get together.  Cool!  I did not know Paul well, and had never met Hananja, from the Netherlands, so we had a really fun melted-cheese dinner at Fondue Beizli.  Paul gave me the outlines of his life story as an Anglican priest; he now leads the Anglican parish in Zürich.  Lots of interesting banter across a range of topics, including the fact that all three of his siblings are ordained ministers.  Just a lovely evening.

Up early Tuesday.  It was raining hard, so I hopped the bus up to school, and banged out a consulting assignment.  At 12:45, by long tradition I met my host Prof. Winfried Ruigrok and Georg for lunch at Wienerberg, a cozy restaurant across from the university.  Had a good yak and a fine meal.  It had cleared off, so I walked down the hill, picked up the bike, and rode back up to school, spending an hour to bring this journal up to date.

At 4:30, I delivered a lecture to Winfried’s master’s class, then back down the hill, change of clothes, and back on the bike for a short ride to a cozy and familiar pub in the old town, the Goldenen Leuen.  Spent 90 minutes with Yves, a very friendly guy who tracked me down through students from the previous year; Yves was writing an airline-related master’s thesis, and we has a good yak and a couple of small beers.  Back at the hotel I ate a tuna sandwich and potato salad (the equivalent of eight bucks!) from a convenience store, all I needed after a caloric lunch.

Wednesday morning there was just enough time for a 10-mile ride before breakfast, then a lecture to Winfried’s MBA class.  I had almost forgotten to visit the wildly baroque St. Gallen abbey church, really a cathedral, so zipped over after class for morning prayer and a few words with the angel I first met in 2001.  Packed my bag, hopped on the 12:20 train to the airport, stuffed my bag in a locker, bought a day ticket on the ZVV, the local public transit system, and headed into town.

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Time to stand and deliver to MBA students

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In the St. Gallen abbey church

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Two Swiss angels: at the St. Gallen abbey church, and below in the Zürich main station

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The T-Geek did some research the night before, and the day ticket included rides on the pleasant boats that ply the Lake of Zürich.  From the main train station I hopped on a tram to the dock, gliding down Bahnhofstrasse, lined with luxury-brand stores, sort of Swiss affluence distilled.  It was a gorgeous day, and I boarded the Limmat for a 30-minute cruise to a pleasant, well-to-do, Erlenbach, six miles down the eastern shore from the center.  Even with a big breakfast, it was way past lunch time, and I headed to the Migros (Switzerland’s wonderful, ubiquitous supermarkets) for picnic fixings: organic lentil salad and a splendid, seeded hard roll, consumed picnic fashion on a shady park bench across from the store.

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On the Limmat River

Ambled back to the dock and hopped on a boat back to the city.  At the main dock I found the departure point for a small boat that plied the Limmat River, barely fitting under several bridges (“Do not stand up” was posted in multiple languages, because the vessel had a soft roof).  Hopped off at the last stop, which conveniently was adjacent to the main station.  Headed back to the airport and onto to SAS flights back to Sweden and the fifth school of the trip, Umeå University.  Their B-school is special, because it was the first foreign school I visited, in 1994.  This was my 21st visit.  We landed at midnight.  At the hotel, the friendly clerk handed me the key to another bike, this one provided by the student business association, HHUS.

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Refined airport art, Umeå

Six hours was not enough sleep, but I wanted a pre-breakfast ride to one of my favorite places on earth, the little island of Bölesholmarna in the Ume River.  It was chilly, about 39°.  Biking is huge in Umeå, and even before seven o’clock cyclists were everywhere, headed to work and school.

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The new B-school dean, Sofia, had organized a strategy and planning session, and at nine I was among long friends – members of the International Advisory Board (I’ve been a member since 1999), a main governing board, and a local advisory board.  Venue was the new Elite Hotel Mimer, built in Umeå’s old (1906) red-brick public school.  They had spent some big money on the conversion, and it was both impressive and a reminder that the Swedish economy is booming – “those socialists” have no trouble keeping the place humming.   The meetings were good, but high point was dinner, seated in between Håkan Olofsson, a native now living in Denver, Colorado, and Kjell Knudsen, former dean of the B-school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (I told Kjell I almost rang his doorbell five weeks earlier).

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The university has a fine design school, covering all aspects, including costume-making: here, an avant-garde interpretation of Figaro’s wedding costume; below, traditional dress for King Gustav III

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Another quick bike ride Friday morning, then 8:00 breakfast with Umeå friends Nils and Carolina Paulson, described in these pages for some years.  I was really sorry the visit north was so short, because normally I would have biked out to their house, four miles south of town on the river, for a visit with them and their three boys, Johann, Petter, and Olle.  We had a quick yak to catch up; I was especially interested in progress on their cabin 15 miles south of town, in a little village on the Gulf of Bothnia.  They showed pictures of the completed exterior – as with their main house, they were building it entirely themselves.  Very cool, and very nice, people, with a keen sense of the needs of others;  Carolina told me of her work with the Swedish Church, helping to feed recent refugees

At nine, I rode up the hill to the university, chatted with some old friends, delivered a lecture in early afternoon on airline service quality, and presented another “Drink and Learn” session later Friday afternoon at the pub that HHUS operates.  Rolled back to the hotel and zipped up to the sauna for some tonic sweating.  It was 7:00 when I returned to my room, and through the open window I could hear nearby bells pealing from the steeple of Umeå’s main church.  As I have written many times, those are “the sound of Europe,” and I paused to listen, and to remind myself how very lucky I am to be able to have experienced Europe so many times.

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Security detail outside the student pub for my “Drink and Learn” session

I biked over to a favorite pub, Lotta’s, for an ale brewed in their cellar, and a nice but too short T-t-S with Mike, a friendly local.  After that a quick dinner in the hotel and early to bed.  I woke before six, and figured I had just enough time for another quick bike ride, three miles to Bölesholmarna and back, then out to the airport for a long ride home – via Stockholm, London, and Charlotte – on the first day of the new quarter.  Was home by 10:00 p.m.  A great beginning to what will be a busy teaching season.

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The Umeå main church at dawn, from Bölesholmarna

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Three Trips in the U.S.: South Carolina, Minnesota, Texas

Northern Light Lake, Gunflint Trail, Minnesota

Northern Light Lake, Gunflint Trail, Minnesota

I was home from South America a few nights, not long enough, and it was time for the annual family beach vacation in South Carolina. We flew to Charleston, where Courtney, a long friend of Robin’s, was waiting for us.  We piled into the rented minivan and set off for Kiawah Island, our sixth visit there.  We unpacked, stocked the kitchen, and headed off to dinner.  Sitting on the deck of the Osprey Point Golf Club, we spotted the first alligators of the trip.  And not one or two, but six or seven, all in various states of repose along a pond by the 18th green.  The island brims with wildlife – not just thousands of ‘gators, but deer, and a remarkable array of water birds, like egrets, ibises, and herons.

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Courtney departed Tuesday and Jack arrived Wednesday.  Not much to report here about a week of lolling.  I did have some work to do, so each afternoon, after the beach or pool, I’d dress up a little, ride my rented bike to The Sanctuary, a very posh hotel several blocks from our villa, and settle in at a fancy desk in the corner of the lobby to work for a couple of hours.  And as I have done every time before, I jumped on the bike before dawn each morning for 20 miles or more in the (relative) morning cool.

The "corner office" in the lobby of the Sanctuary Hotel

The “corner office” in the lobby of the Sanctuary Hotel

Dusk at our villa

Dusk at our villa

Dawn from the bicycle

Dawn from the bicycle

The trip is formulaic, and we still had not been into Charleston, a fascinating old place, so Thursday we headed there for dinner at Hominy Grill, one of my fave restaurants in all the world, well respected for their Low Country (regional) cooking.  Friday was more lolling, and we were back in Virginia early Saturday afternoon.  A nice time.  Trip one, done.

Moonset

Moonset

Robin, Carson, and Dylan

Robin, Carson, and Dylan

Uncle Biz with nieces

Uncle Biz with nieces

 

The second of the traditional end-of-summer trips began four days later.  Time once again for the Minnesota State Fair, whoopee!  Flew Thursday morning the 25th to Minneapolis-St. Paul.  On the descent, we glided over St. Croix County, Wisconsin, and its gentle and familiar landscape of pastures and woods, contour-plowed fields, and curving county roads (always designated with letters not numbers, like “UU”); it was good to be back in the Midwest.  At the airport. I changed into shorts, rented a car, and zipped through St. Paul to the Fair.  Parked on the front lawn of a family (up to $15 now; the owner said he cleared $4K last year!), and was on the fairgrounds by 11:40.  At noon, met two friends-for-50-years, Bob Woehrle and Steve Schlachter, as well as Rick Dow (30-year friendship!).

State Fair Gate

State Fair Gate

This Fair foursome was last constituted in 2013, and it was good to have the team reassembled.  According to formula, first stop is always the juried art show, where for 30 years I have bought lots of wonderful work.  This year nothing caught my eye, though there were some splendid pieces on display (a couple that I really liked were not for sale).  So we moved on, next to the Horticulture Building, then for samples at the Minnesota Craft Brewers stand.  Refreshed, we headed to the animal barns, for a thorough (much longer than in the last few years) look at 4-H poultry, rabbits, sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs.  We had some good conversations with 4-H kids; it was the first day of the Fair, and they were gearing up to show their animals and perhaps win a ribbon.

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Fair Friends

Fair Friends

 

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4-H Exhibitors prepping for competition

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Lace and quilt in the Creative Activities building

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Fiddlers on one of the Fair’s many small performing venues

Rick peeled off around four, and Steve, Bob, and I wandered a bit more, grabbed a couple more beers, zipped through the Creative Activities building, and left.  Bob was kindly hosting me.  He hopped on his bike and headed home, while I drove the few miles to their house in suburban Roseville.  Yakked for awhile with Bob and his wife Paula, ate a cheese sandwich, and clocked out.  A long, fun day.

Bob and I rose at 5:30 on Friday, had a quick coffee, and headed out on bikes, me on Bob’s and Bob on Paula’s, for a 14-mile leg stretcher that reminded me of how much Minnesotans care about parks and green space – we rolled on paved trails beneath thick woods, past creeks and ponds, just a lovely ride.  Grabbed a quick breakfast and was out the door.  In recent years I’ve visited another longtime friend, Tim McGlynn, at his cabin “Up North” (as Minnesotans say), but he was sailing with friends on Lake Erie, so I headed up Interstate 35 toward Lake Superior and the glorious North Shore.  I was making great time, so I stopped at Tobey’s in Hinckley for one of their famous caramel rolls, and instead of getting back on the freeway I “shunpiked” onto Minnesota Route 23, the aptly-named Evergreen Memorial Scenic Drive.  Unlike the Interstate, 23 had virtually no traffic, enabling me to eat the gooey sweet roll without becoming too distracted by sticky fingers. Yum!

Minnesota Highway 23 through the windshield

Minnesota Highway 23 through the windshield

The slow route was actually quite fast (lower speed limit but shorter distance compared to I-35) until I hit road construction in West Duluth; lurching along, I was reminded of the old saw: “In Minnesota, there are two seasons, winter and road construction.  Deindustrialization has shrunk the population of Minnesota’s third largest city by a lot, but the built-up area runs for miles and miles – 32.3 to be exact, from the city limits at the St. Louis River to the city limits at the Lester River.  Despite delays, I was in the Starbucks on Superior Street in time to meet an old friend, Bob Ryan (he was Cousin Jim’s roommate at Notre Dame four decades ago).  We had a cup and a good catch-up, then I was back in the Ford and headed northeast along the vast inland sea that is Superior.

Buildings from Duluth's heyday, a long time ago

Buildings from Duluth’s heyday, a long time ago

 

It had been six years, far too long, since I was on the North Shore, and 59 years since my first visit.  The place has long had enormous emotional pull, a combination of its dramatic scenery and happy memories as a child, teenager, and parent.  We’ve had a lot of fun up there.  First stop was lunch at Betty’s Pies.  I waited awhile for a stool at the counter, but it’s always worth it.

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Fortified, it was time for a short hike, five miles on the Split Rock River Loop, up the valley and back down to the lake (I had last done the loop in 2000).  My arthritic knees held up, easier climbing than descending.  Was so great to be back on the trail, beneath mixed evergreen and deciduous trees, birds chirping.  Saw paw prints and scat from black bears, but no critters.  Once I crossed the stream and headed back toward the car I found the first place where the trail was within a few feet of the water, removed my shoes, and soaked for 10 minutes in the icy, gurgling water.  That was tonic, and my feet stayed cold for about another mile.

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Ahhhhh

I was back on the road by four, zipping past the nearby yellow lighthouse and familiar hamlets (Little Marais, Tofte, Lutsen) and resorts with names I remember from childhood.  A few miles from the biggest town on the shore, Grand Marais (population, 1,351), I parked at the overlook just above Good Harbor Bay, cued mandolinist Peter Ostroushko’s “Heart of the Heartland,” and thought about all that happened in the nearly six decades since the Britton family stopped at this very spot to look east across the water.  It was a Friday afternoon in 1957, and a Friday afternoon in 2016.  Remembering how much my dear old dad loved the North Shore, I cast my eyes up into the blue sky, smiled, and told him I was back there.  The North Shore is a landscape of the heart.  It is so special to me.

Good Harbor Bay: the very same scene I recall from 1957

Good Harbor Bay: the very same scene I recall from 1957

Not a common warning sign in most of rural America!

Not a common warning sign in most of rural America!

I drove on, to my Airbnb digs, the curiously-named Hungry Hippie Hostel and Farm, 10 miles beyond Grand Marais.  It was a gravel road to the place, and the clouds of tan dust were just like what I remember as a kid.  Got my room, washed my face, and drove back to town, to the rooftop bar at the Gunflint Tavern, with an open-air view of the little harbor and the enormous lake beyond.  Since my last visit, they had begun brewing their own beer, and the IPA was sublime.

Better, though, was a long Talking-to-Strangers session.  It started with me admiring, aloud, a black Studebaker that cruised below.  I caught the eye of a fellow about my age, who said he owned a ’39 Studebaker.  He and his wife wandered over: Rolf and Layne Lindquist, the retired town dentist, and just a swell couple.  We had a long yak, including two small-worldisms: years earlier, when Bob Ryan lived near town, he and Rolf were in a Bible study group; and coming from Little Falls, Minnesota, he knew the Stoy family of physicians, the younger of whom, Tom, was another of Cousin Jim’s close friends a Notre Dame.  Whew!

Rolf and Layne Lindquist with your scribe

Rolf and Layne Lindquist with your scribe

The famous statue of bear cubs, Grand Marais harbor

The famous statue of bear cubs, Grand Marais harbor

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The view from my table at the Angry Trout

The view from my table at the Angry Trout

I walked along the shore to the Angry Trout Café, a place I had seen many times, but never visited.  Sitting in a comfy Adirondack chair near the water, I didn’t mind waiting for a table.  For the second time in five hours, it was worth the wait.  I was happy to read in the menu that local fisherman Harley Toftey was still supply restaurants with his catch and the server recommended fresh whitefish – it was max-locavore, Harley’s boat moored 40 feet from my table.  The meal was superb.  Drove back to the farm, where a nice campfire was blazing, and met Gabriel from Liechtenstein (you don’t meet many folks from a country of 37,000) and Amanda from Warsaw, husband and wife working in biotechnology at the University of Minnesota.  Another nice T-t-S experience, and above us the Milky Way.  Slept hard, windows open, almost cold.

Was up at 5:30 again, out the door, into Grand Marais for gas and coffee, then north on the Gunflint Trail to Northern Light Lake, a place we fished (seldom with success) when I was a kid.  I didn’t think I needed another hike, but the sign in the parking lot read “two miles, roundtrip,” so off I went.  Well, okay, the sign also mentioned “steeply,” and that was true – about 300 feet of rise in a mile, which was fine going up but hard coming down.  But it was so worth it, a splendid view of the lake at sunrise.  Wow.

Drove back to town, had a caloric breakfast, then a nice walk on the breakwater at the mouth of the harbor.  Headed southwest on Highway 61, through patches of rain, back to Duluth.  I had a little time to poke around, so headed to the touristy Canal Park area, snapped a couple of pictures, then headed west to a quick lunch at Subway and a visit to the Lake Superior Brewing Company, Minnesota’s oldest microbrewery (1994).  Two of three co-owners, John and Karen, were there, and I had a great yak with both.  And more small world: John Judd was a longtime city planner for the City of Duluth, so was not surprised that he knew Bob Ryan; but I was very surprised that his LSBC partner was the son of a UMD geography prof. I knew back in the 1970s.  Karen Olesen was born Karin Margrethe in the mostly Danish village of Askov, 50 miles southwest.  Sampled some beer, listened to plans for their upcoming “beer tourism” journey to Belgium, bought a T-shirt, and peeled off, pedal to the metal for St. Paul.

Artists' Point, Grand Marais

Artists’ Point, Grand Marais

The famous Duluth Lift Bridge, at the mouth of the harbor

The famous Duluth Lift Bridge, at the mouth of the harbor

Lake Superior Brewing Co, partners John Judd and Karin Olesen, with Ben, their newest employee

Lake Superior Brewing Co, partners John Judd and Karin Olesen, with Ben, their newest employee

Last big fun of the day was dinner with Bob and Paula, and my 12th Grade English teacher, Mr. Jensen (still hard to call him by his nickname, Bud) and wife Jinny.  We’re all craft beer fans, so we headed to the new and enormous Surly Brewing Company taproom in southeast Minneapolis.  The place was packed, but we grabbed some pints and yakked happily for 75 minutes, then tucked into burgers and fries, with more great conversation.  There’s a reason I’ve stayed Bud-connected for nearly half a century: he and Jinny are among the finest folks I’ve ever met.  If you looked up humane, committed people in the dictionary, you’d see their faces.

Sunday morning, Bob and I were again up before dawn and out the door on the bikes, riding 11 miles, including a nice loop around Lake Gervais.  Paula kindly cooked us a frittata for breakfast, we yakked a bit, and I headed back to the airport and a nonstop to Washington.  Trip two, check and done.

 

The third in the trio of late summer journeys began on Friday, September 2, early.  Like eight days before, I hopped the bus and Metro to National Airport, this time flying to Dallas/Fort Worth, bound for my 26th consecutive year as a judge in the World Championship Barbeque Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas.  The night before, I set my summer cowboy hat by my wallet, and that morning I thought, “it’s kind of a hassle to bring it,” so I left it on the table.  Happily, I came to my senses after walking 100 feet toward the bus stop, turned around, and fetched it.  Hat in hand, I continued the journey, wearing it (mainly for effect, for the stares) across Northern Virginia to the airport.

Landed DFW early, picked up a rental car (taxicab-yellow Hyundai Veloster, whew), and motored a few miles east to the Taj Chaat House, an Indian restaurant in Irving, to meet longtime friend Nisha Pasha; we worked together on American’s international planning team in 2000-01 and I visited her parents in Chennai (Madras) in 2010, but I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years.  We got caught up over a yummy and filling vegetarian lunch.

Nisha with a Taj worker and friend

Nisha with a Taj worker and friend

Condiments for lunch

Condiments for lunch

You'd never lose this little rocket!

You’d never lose this little rocket!

 

At 2:15, I picked up Jack at the other airport, Dallas Love Field, and it was pedal to the metal to the site of the competition, 230 miles southwest (it was his 9th consecutive year).  Traffic slowed us a bit, but soon we were at 80 mph on I-30, then south and west through Stephenville, Dublin, Comanche, Brownwood, familiar places all.  Abundant summer rains turned pastures emerald, some of the greenest I had ever seen.  We had a good yak, and were in our motel room by 6:20, reading the local paper and news of the 43rd annual championship.  Chilled a bit, then headed to a nearby barbeque joint that had recently morphed from The Spread to Fat Boys BBQ.  But the food was the same, wonderful, juicy turkey, peppery sausage, beans, cole slaw, white bread (locally pronounced something like “wot bray-ud”!).  Sated, we repaired to the room for some college football on TV.  Lights out by 9:15.

The alarm sounded at six, downstairs to the gym, Jack on treadmill and me on recumbent bike, a fine workout.  Couple of cups of coffee, showers, then out the door and west 17 miles to Melvin, Texas, and Jacoby’s Café, part of a big complex of Jacoby businesses in a tiny place (pop. 187).   Backslapping, handshakes, and hugs commenced, some good-natured ribbing, tall tales, the banter among good ole’ boys. There was Eddie Sandoval, Jim Stewart, Melvin Hees, Terry Keltz, and so many more.  We were back, and it was so good to be back.  Like the North Shore of Lake Superior, the gently rolling pastures of McCulloch County and the event venue are another landscape of the heart.

Brunch, Jacoby's Cafe, Melvin, Texas

Brunch, Jacoby’s Cafe, Melvin, Texas

Outside Jacoby’s Cafe

 

After a more-than-ample brunch (chilaquiles, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and little bites of chicken-fried steak), we paused to remember John Morthland and Mark Pollack, two stalwart judges who passed away in the past year.  Then to the usual briefing, aimed mainly at the large number of rookie judges (easily identified by the goat horn around their necks!).  My name was not announced during the table assignments.  Uh oh.  But no mistake: after 25 years of service, I had been elevated to Super Bowl Judge, one of six senior positions.  The pressure was on, but I was so happy with the upgrade – the sole non-native Texan among the six.

As he has done for years, Jack peeled off with Riley King and Stewart Storms to judge Best Cooking Rig, and I bought gas in town, then zipped out to Richards Park to wander the site, yakking with old friends and making some new ones.  Our blue judge shirts made us immediately recognizable, and any number of competitors offered us beer, shots, whatever!

New mode of transport: the electric horse!

New mode of transport: the electric horse!

Miss Heart of Texas royalty

Miss Heart of Texas royalty

Goat Willie's, a perennial rig

Goat Willie’s, a perennial rig

Willie and friend

Willie and friend

Rig judges (L to R) Riley King, Stewart Storms, Jack Britton, and Lanham McCallum, deep in deliberation

Half-Apache Eddie Sandoval and Jim Stewart discussing the end of kids playing "Cowboys and Indians"!

Half-Apache Eddie Sandoval and Jim Stewart discussing the end of kids playing “Cowboys and Indians”!

Judging began at two, mystery meat: beef heart from Jacoby’s ranch, not exactly a common cut, but it was familiar to me, and the nine samples the Super Bowl judges received were all quite good.  About 3:30, we judged the Super Bowl goat, competition only open to first-place winners in any prior year.  Then just after four, we got the 2 finalists from each of 9 tables, 18 samples winnowed from 250 entrants.  When we tallied the scores in each of the three categories, I was happy that my grading was similar to that of the incumbent senior judges.  Hooray, I could hold my own!

Super Bowl judges

Super Bowl judges

We were eager to head back (Jack had more socializing to do), so after finishing my work and saying goodbye to a bunch of good ole boys, Jack and I drove back toward Dallas, stopping briefly at the Dairy Queen in Cisco, Texas, for sweet treats.  On the drive back we covered a bunch of topics, and one is worth reprising here: one of the things we most love about the cook-off is that we all get along, despite huge differences in thought and opinion.  I’ve often lamented (in these pages and elsewhere) the increasing tendency of people to associate and befriend only those with aligned political and social views.  That’s just so goofy.   At the cook-off, part-Apache Eddie Sandoval can tell Anglo Jim Stewart, “Go back from where you came from,” and everyone laughs.

We were back in The Big D by 8:30, Jack hopping out at the home of his buddy Lawson, and me continuing north to our old (1987-2007) neighborhood in Richardson and the home of longtime friends Jane and Brad Greer, and their new Labrador retriever, Perla.  I hadn’t seen them in almost four years, and it was good to reconnect and catch up (their son Ben and Jack were best pals through childhood and adolescence).

Rose at 6:30, visited a bit more, and at 7:15 headed out on Brad’s bike for a look-see of the old ‘hood and surrounding areas, including a good circuit around the still-fast-growing University of Texas at Dallas, just a mile from our old house.  A nice ride, 20 miles, on a surprisingly cool morning.  Showered, grabbed a cup of coffee, and zipped across to the home of Adam and Kimberly Pitluk in the next suburb, Plano.  Adam was longtime editor of American Airlines’ inflight magazine, and a swell fellow.  His younger daughter, Lily, seven, chatted with us.  Adam’s mom lives nearby, and we visited with her, then just we two guys.  We talked fast, and got caught up.  Hopped in the car, zipped back to the airport, and flew home.  I don’t think I could have crammed any more into three days!  The third trip, check and done, and summer over.

Lily Pitluk with the hat Rob remembered to bring!

Lily Pitluk with the hat Rob remembered to bring!

 

 

 

 

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Buenos Aires and Santiago

La Moneda, one of my favorite subway stations in all the world, because of "Chile Hoy (Today), a series of 14 large paintings depicting the land and people. Artist: Guillermo Muñoz

La Moneda, one of my favorite subway stations in all the world, because of Chile Hoy (“Chile Today”), a series of 14 large paintings depicting the land and people. Artist: Guillermo Muñoz, 2005

 

I’m traveling quite a bit less this year, and was home all of July, working and in the last week teaching a crisis-management short course at Georgetown.  Finished grading exams and projects on Monday, August 1, and the next day I headed to the airport for my ninth visit to the South American Business Forum, a student-run business conference in Buenos Aires.  The trip did not begin well: it took four hours to get to Miami.  And continued poorly: I was headed first to Montevideo, for a one-day quick look-see, and the 10:10 p.m. flight first posted an ETD of 12:00 midnight, then 1:30, then 1:30 the next afternoon.  Happily, the Admirals Club remained open all night, and I found a couple of comfy chairs, one for my seat and one for my legs, pulled my blazer over my head, and managed to get almost five hours of sleep.  Took a shower, and headed off to breakfast at the airport’s La Carreta, a longtime Miami institution.  Bowl of cereal and muffin, to which I added a nice dessert: Cuban tres leches cake.  I needed some sugar!

The map for the first leg of my trip: not a good start!

The map for the first leg of my trip: not a good start!

 

Dessert for breakfast!

Dessert for breakfast!

Never a good sign when police are called to keep order at an airport departure gate!

Never a good sign when police are called to keep order at an airport departure gate!

 

I could not abide hours in the airport, so I bought a public transit day ticket for $5.65 and hopped on the Metrorail train into downtown, then south to Coconut Grove, a neighborhood I knew well from working there three summers in grad school in the mid-1970s.  I opted not to leave my luggage at the airport club, and after walking a few blocks from the Grove train station I regretted the cargo – was immediately sweaty, and was reminded that Miami is not comfy in the summer (40 years ago, my host Herb did not believe in air conditioning, but he had a marvelous swimming pool which we used several times a day!).  Coconut Grove was once a funky sort of place, full of hippies and natural food stores and such, but real estate values have transformed the place, and it’s now boringly affluent.  Well-heeled tourists have replaced the flower children and bohemians.  More broadly, after being swatted down in the 2008 recession, Miami is booming again, high-rises everywhere.

Although Miami is becoming more vertical, there are still some interesting gaps in density

Although Miami is becoming more vertical, there are still some interesting gaps in density

The Miami building boom has resumed

The Miami building boom has resumed

One thing that hasn't changed in Coconut Grove: lush vegetation

One thing that hasn’t changed in Coconut Grove: lush vegetation

Back at the airport, the new ETD for the Montevideo flight was 2:30, then 4:00, then they canceled it.  So I got on the standby list for the 6:00 and 8:00 flights to Buenos Aires.  I have an AA-employee app on my iPhone that shows flight standby lists, and it was clear I wasn’t going to get a seat at six, nor probably at eight.  I repaired yet again to the Admirals Club and looked at other ways to get south.  The first available flight to Buenos Aires was three days hence (and from New York), meaning I would miss most of the conference.  Then, slap my forehead (why didn’t I think of this before?), I checked flights to Santiago, and I could get on American’s nonstop that very night, buy a standby ticket across the Andes to Buenos Aires, and be where I was supposed to be at the time I was supposed to be there (minus a stopover in Montevideo).  After a bit of drama at the gate, I got a seat, uttered a loud “woo hoo” and got on the Silver Bird.

The bad luck continued, though at relatively smaller scale: the 777 had a mechanical problem, so we went back to the gate, finally climbing into the sky three hours late.  While at the gate, I bought a standby ticket for a later flight to Buenos Aires, but I still needed to sprint through Santiago airport to make the 10:50 a.m. KLM nonstop.  God bless the Dutch, I snagged seat 20B, did a little dance at the gate (informing a bemused staff of my half-century of standby travel), and off we went.   It had been four years since I flew over the Andes, and I had forgotten both how tall they were and how close to the jet.  Way cool!

The Andes from seat 20B

The Andes from seat 20B

 

When I finally arrived in Argentina I practically kissed the ground.  Bought a bus ticket into the city, enroute working my email (Wi-fi on the bus!  Nice!).  When I got off in Retiro, on the edge of downtown, I was elated.  Even more, because of my many trips there, Buenos Aires felt comfortable, familiar, home-like.  Walked briskly to the hotel, 10 minutes, and checked in.  Sergio, one of the front-desk clerks, remembered me, and vice-versa.  More sense of home.

Welcome to Buenos Aires: street protest an hour after arriving

Welcome to Buenos Aires: street protest an hour after arriving

 

Showered, grabbed a quick nap, and at 4:45 met my long friend and now fellow SABF stalwart Rick Dow, and we walked a mile to the host institution, the Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires and an informal conference opening event, billed as a “tea party,” The Spanish word, merienda, sounded better, but in any event we were soon in the middle of what has long attracted us to the academy – the energy of youth.  Jimmy, a former SABF organizer, told us of his start-up venture.  Priscila, standing next to him, seemed eager to tell us her story.  So when Rick asked what she was working on, she became incandescent, and for good reason: an architecture student, she had designed recently designed a circular shield for a university astronomical observatory in Rosario.  The observatory is in the city center, and for many years has been unusable because of light and heat pollution, and dirt and particulates in the air.  She solved those problems with an ingenious design combining function and beauty, and the observatory will soon be again open to the heavens.  Whew!  Rick and I worked the room separately.  I met Gabriel from Germany, Javid from Azerbaijan (headed to Berlin to start a MBA), Qhayiya from South Africa, and lots more.  A fine kickoff.

At the opening merienda: a good start

At the opening merienda: a good start

 

Grabbed another short nap, and at 8:15 we met Juan Trouilh, the fellow who in 2005 first invited me to SABF.  More than a decade after helping to found the forum, he’s still deeply committed to its success, which is exemplary.  Rick, Juan, and I walked a couple of blocks west to Tancret, a Spanish restaurant, for a fine meal, mainly fish and seafood, some wine, and great conversation across a range of topics, not least the prospects for the new Argentine president, Mauricio Macri, a center-right candidate elected in late 2015, replacing years of corruption and cronyism by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and other descendents of the goofy Peronist ideology.   The last task before sleep, has become customary: a bit of cheerleading for the 18 members of the SABF organizing team 10 hours before the start.  Rick and I both spoke, cheering them on.

The first day of SABF is always a plenary, and the after the ITBA dean welcomed us, the first speaker was brilliant, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who told group that when facing challenges, we can either cry, become insular, or take control over what surrounds us.  She has chosen the latter, not an easy choice in a place divided by centuries of conflict.  Unhappily, most of the subsequent speakers were not of her caliber (and one was simply awful), but the day ended on a high note, a superb summary of the day from another SABF stalwart, Diego Luzuriaga.

SABF4

We buttonholed Priscila, the architecture student we met the night before, and Pascal, a Ghanaian we met earlier in the day, and invited them to join our table at the group dinner at El Figón de Bonilla, where we’ve eaten on the first night for years (the owner remembered Rick and me, hugged us, and at the end of the meal brought the table complimentary glasses of sparkling wine; that’s hospitality, no?).  Dinner was leisurely, which gave both youngsters the opportunity to tell their stories.  Pascal grew up in a subsistence-farming village in northern Ghana, without access to education, and in 2014 he graduated from Harvard.  In between was a remarkable story of determination, help from some Americans who believed in him, and pure serendipity.  Before Priscila began studying architecture, she qualified as a certified music teacher (piano and violin) at 17.  She was especially delightful because she opened her soul, telling us about being bullied as a child, about some odd experiences as an exchange student in Switzerland, and more.  It was a remarkable evening.

Saturday was spent in breakout sessions, punctuated by lunch with a Brazilian, a Pole, and an Argentine.  They were especially interested in what we did at American Airlines after the 9/11 attacks, and I was happy to tell them the story.  I skipped out of the last session in order to start writing closing remarks for the next day, which was my major job.

WindowWasherTriptych

Vertical ballet: window washers on Avenida Corrientes

Buenos Aires brims with architectural ornamentation

Buenos Aires brims with architectural ornamentation

At 7:00, Rick and I met a former SABF organizer with whom I’ve kept in touch, Julieta Rodriguez.  I had not seen her for six years, so it was good to catch up.  She was married a few months earlier, and we talked about matrimony, jobs, business, life, all at a bar around the corner from our hotel.  At nine, we hugged goodbye, and Rick and I hopped in a taxi out to the Palermo neighborhood and a wonderful steak-and-Malbec dinner at Rio Alba, a comfortable neighborhood place.  The place was empty when we arrived at 9:15, and packed by 10, including families with small children – the Argentines are flexible about kids’ schedules, a good thing for sure.  We shared a small bowl of ice cream, whence Rick remarked “They must have cows in this country!”

High point of day three was a short speech by Marcos Peña, chief of staff in the new government and, perhaps not coincidentally, the son of friend Felix, a longtime professor at ITBA (I’ve known him a decade).  Sr. Peña did not strike Rick nor I as a “business-as-usual” politician.  He was young, well-traveled (like us, a backpacker in an earlier time), smiling, articulate, and not glib.  The challenge for the new administration is to manage expectations.  It took decades of misrule and kleptocracy to create the mess, and fixes will take awhile.  But the country is in better hands than at any time since I began helping with the conference.  I did my closing, a short talk summarizing the conference and lifting up the stories of a few of the shining students we met, answered questions, and it was over.  Rick and I hugged a few more folks, walked back to the hotel, changed clothes, and headed across the street to a corner restaurant and bar for a beer.

Marcos Peña

Marcos Peña

A final exercise: students worked in teams to summarize learning from the three days

A final exercise: students worked in teams to summarize learning from the three days

At 8:15, we met Christoff Poppe, country manager for United Airlines (I met him years ago when he was working at United’s Chicago headquarters and earning a MBA at Northwestern).  American helped SABF for a couple of years, but United has really stepped up.  This was the third consecutive year when we’ve met Christoff for a meal (he also moderated a session on Saturday).  We drove in his car to the San Telmo neighborhood south of downtown and La Plata, a steakhouse where President Obama’s wife and daughters had lunch on a recent visit.   Christoff’s newest hire, Ary, coincidentally an ITBA grad and former SABF organizer, joined us.  Three airline veterans and a newbie, the latter marveling as we carried on about various aspect of our business, the carrying on rising in vigor as we tucked into a lot of meat and more than a little red wine.  It was a long and fun evening, a perfect way to end the visit.

The scene inside La Plata

The scene inside La Plata

 

I was happy that I could sleep in Monday morning, 7:30.  I had time for a short walk around the center, snapping a few pictures with a cool new digital camera (I had reverted to iPhone photos a couple of years earlier, largely because the digicam I bought in 2006 was bulky; this one is tiny, weighs 8 ounces, and has tons of power, including a 30X optical zoom lens).  Shook Sergio the hotel guy’s hand, promised to be back in 2017, and set off for the bus to the airport.  First stop, though, was to deliver the couple of pounds of meat left over from the night before.  I gently deposited it at the feet of a homeless person snoozing in a sleeping bag.

Recipients of our dinner leftovers

Recipients of our dinner leftovers

Buenos Aires' Avenida 9 de Julio

Buenos Aires’ Avenida 9 de Julio

In Buenos Aires, bakeries still deliver bread by bike

In Buenos Aires, bakeries still deliver bread by bike

Plaza San Martin

Plaza San Martin

Bus

Flew back across the Andes to Santiago.  Had a nice T-t-S moment with a woman immigration officer.  When I greeted her in well-accented Spanish, she responded in her language.  I asked if we could switch to English.  “No,” she replied, “you need to practice.”  Loved her assertiveness, and valued the lesson.  And valued Don Miguel, my first Spanish teacher, way back to fourth grade, 1960.

On the Metro

On the Metro

The flight was almost an hour late, which required me to hustle onto the bus then the Metro.  My 13-year-old Metro chipcard no longer worked.  The ticket seller at Pajaritos station smiled when she saw it, a look that said “this old guy is way, way behind.” At the hotel, in the suburban Las Condes office district, I quickly donned suit and tie, and headed to a 6:00 lecture for MBAs at Universidad Católica downtown.  It was my first visit there since 2012, and it was good to be back in Andrés Ibañez’s class.  Gave a quick lecture, spent 15 minutes with Christoff’s Chilean counterpart Arlette (a late invite to the class), and peeled off for dinner at a favorite rustic restaurant, Patagonia Sur.  It had been awhile, but the place was the same.  Had some craft beer and a plate of congrio, a large eel that is a fave, really tasty.  Was asleep before ten.

Another look at the art in the La Moneda Metro station

Another look at the art in the La Moneda Metro station

My only task during the last day in South America was a seminar for employees of LATAM Airlines, the carrier formed through the merger of LAN in Chile and TAM from Brazil, and it didn’t start until four.  So step one was a long walk around downtown, snapping some pictures.  Back to the hotel, worked a bit.  Step two was a 1:30 lunch with LATAM’s new VP-Network, Mike Swiatek.  Mike was a guy I knew only by reputation, and it was great fun to hear his story.  Son of a United Airlines gate agent in Buffalo (then LAX), after graduation from Iona College he headed to Poland to work for a couple of years (his family was Polish, and this was before the fall of communism, remarkable).  Back in the U.S., he moved to L.A., worked in banking, got into the way-competitive MBA program at the University of Chicago, and embarked on an airline career that took him to United, Continental, United again, Alitalia, Air New Zealand, and more.  Just a great story and a great fellow.

Juice squeezers are now everywhere in downtown Santiago

Juice squeezers are now everywhere in downtown Santiago; there must be a nutrition craze in town

 

The stock exchange building in Santiago

The stock exchange building in Santiago

Art Deco bank

Art Deco bank

Chile's National Congress

Chile’s National Congress

Atop the main building, Universidad Catolica de Chile

Atop the main building, Universidad Catolica de Chile

Spring

Lone protester, Supreme Court of Chile

Lone protester, Supreme Court of Chile

 

A former medical clinic that was a torture and execution center during the Pinochet era; it is now a protected historical landmark

A former medical clinic that was a torture and execution center of the Chilean secret police (DINA) during the Pinochet era (1973-90); it is now a protected historical landmark

ShoeShine

Delivered the seminar to about 70 youngsters, answered a few questions, hopped in a car, zipped to the airport, and flew home.  The annual SABF foray is such a joy: seldom does one have the opportunity to meet so many interesting and energetic young people in such a short time.  The future is in their hands.

Las Condes from Mike Swiatek's office

Las Condes from Mike Swiatek’s office

 

 

 

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Fort Worth and Dallas, then Bristol, London, and Paris

The prow of the SS Great Britain in Bristol

The prow of the SS Great Britain in Bristol

On Sunday, June 26, I flew to Dallas/Fort Worth.  It made sense to be in the air, because it was exactly the 50th anniversary of my first airline flight (The Huffington Post has published my essay on a half-century of flight, here).  Arrived DFW at sunset, and hopped in a cab to the Gaylord Texan, an enormous hotel a few miles north of the runways.  Along the way, a nice conversation with a Somali taxi driver who lived in frigid Minneapolis for eight years.  At the hotel, I met Jay Shelat and his colleagues from consulting client SmartKargo, and a handful of customers; the company was holding its first customer forum, and I was there to give a short talk the next day, and to schmooze a bit.  The group had been at a baseball game that afternoon, and were having a late dinner.  I opted to stay at Jay’s house rather than have a roommate at the hotel, and at 10:45 we departed.  Spent the next day and evening in meetings and socializing, and another night at Jay’s.

The view from 15C, my 50th Anniversary of Flight chair

The view from 15C, my 50th Anniversary of Flight chair

I was headed to Europe in two days, so rather than fly home for a day I spent Tuesday in Fort Worth and Dallas.  Jay dropped me at the airport, I picked up a rental car, and headed west to Cowtown (Fort Worth).  Took a nice drive around downtown, which I had not seen in years, and was happy to see a core in great shape.  The prominent Bass family began to invest downtown more than a quarter-century earlier, and the fruits of their commitment were obvious; retail was mostly gone, but dining, entertainment and cultural facilities are shiny, as are tons of condos and apartments.  It’s an impressive place. I then motored into Mistletoe Park, Park Hill, and a couple of other historic neighborhoods south of downtown, and was reminded that when we first visited these districts in spring 1988, a few months after moving from Minnesota, Linda and I agreed that we probably should have moved there!  Wonderful old bungalows, Spanish Colonial, and other styles, and lots of trees.

Tarrant County Court House, Fort Worth

Tarrant County Court House, Fort Worth

Mistletoe Park, a leafy old neighborhood of Fort Worth

Mistletoe Park, a leafy old neighborhood of Fort Worth

Splendid Craftsman bungalow, Fort Worth

Splendid Craftsman bungalow, Fort Worth

Just before noon I met a couple of former AA colleagues and long friends, Al Becker and John Hotard, both veterans of the PR team (which I led 1996-98), for lunch at the Paris Coffee Shop, a Fort Worth institution.  Tucked into a vegetable plate (collards, mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, and creamed cauliflower) and yakked about the old days and the new days with a couple of great fellows.  Motored back toward the airport, pausing to do a bit of work at a Starbucks near AA corporate headquarters.   As I have noted, sometimes strangers initiate a Talking-to-Strangers conversation, and while sipping an iced coffee a fellow tapped me on the shoulder and asked “Is your last name Britton?”  Yes, I replied, offering my first name.  It was John Gleason, who said he worked at American but “was kind of a nobody.”  “No one’s a nobody,” I said, and we had a nice chat about the company, his work, and mine.  It was a sweet moment.

Longtime airline colleagues John Hotard and Al Becker

Longtime airline colleagues John Hotard and Al Becker

American Airlines' Robert W. Baker Integrated Operations Center. Bob was a neighbor and friend for years, one of the finest airline people I've ever met; it's fitting that they've named the building for a master of airline operations

American Airlines’ Robert W. Baker Integrated Operations Center. Bob was a neighbor and friend for years, one of the finest airline people I’ve ever met; it’s fitting that they’ve named the building for a master of airline operations

Time to meet the next set of friends, Randy Essell, longtime airline scheduler, and Ken Gilbert, like me an airline jack of all trades, at 4:30 at On the Border, a longtime hangout for AA people a few miles east of the airport.  We had a beer and a lot of laughs.  Ken and his wife Peggy were hosting me that evening, so at 6:30 we made fast for North Dallas.  Dropped my stuff, greeted their swell dogs Papi and Bella, and we headed out to MesoMaya, a Mexican restaurant near their house.  Wonderful meal and great chatter – I hadn’t seen Peggy in almost two years.

Returning to Texas, a former resident notices, and admires, the big sky

Returning to Texas, a former resident notices the big sky

Out the door next morning, north through Richardson, pausing a couple of times in the neighborhood where we lived for 20 years.  “A nice place to have raised a family,” I said to myself.  At 8:00 I met yet another long friend, fellow Lutheran John Laine, who introduced me 20 years ago to the joys of building wheelchair ramps.  I stayed with that project until we moved to Washington, and since 2006 John has worked tirelessly to establish ramp projects all across Texas.  He is a righteous person.

John Laine

John Laine

 

Drove again through the former ‘hood, past the kids’ elementary and high schools, then out to DFW.  Flew to New York Kennedy, then on to England for the first teaching of the fall term, or else the last of the spring semester.  Landed in Birmingham at 7:15 Thursday morning, and hopped on a train to Bristol, a city I had long wanted to visit (I am gradually making my way to all of Britain’s secondary cities, and was not due in the classroom until the next day).

Train station or shopping mall? Birmingham's New Street is both, and both are well done

Train station or shopping mall? Birmingham’s New Street is both, and both are well done

 

I had a precise schedule laid out between 11:00 and the train to London at 3:30.  Hopped on the #8 bus west to Clifton, along the way a nice T-t-S with a Bristol University student; the convo pretty quickly gravitated to Brexit, then over to U.S. politics – as I did several times that trip, I tried to reassure worried folks that The Donald was not going to win in November.  Jumped off in the Clifton neighborhood, towing my wheeled suitcase up a hill (there were no lockers nor bag storage service at Bristol Temple Meads, the main railway station) for a good view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, a brilliant piece of 19th Century engineering that spans the River Avon, which is navigable to the ocean – before Liverpool, Bristol was a main port for ships plying the Atlantic and beyond.  Snapped some pics and headed down the hill to the Pump House quay, then onto a wonderful little city-run ferryboat that plies the inner harbor.  I was pretty excited to be in Bristol, and had in the first hour taken a shine to the place, best described as “hilly and curvy.”

Clifton suspension bridge, spanning the River Avon

Clifton suspension bridge, spanning the River Avon

North pylon, Clifton suspension bridge

North pylon, Clifton suspension bridge

 

Inner harbour ferry, Bristol

Inner harbour ferry, Bristol

 

Fellow ferry passenger

Fellow ferry passenger

Harbor scene, Bristol

Harbor scene, Bristol

Alighted at the SS Great Britain, like the bridge a product of the clever mind of English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1803-59).  Brunel is well-known in England but not overseas. As a Transport Geek, I learned about him years ago, as the brains behind the Great Western Railway, the network that runs west from London to Oxford, Bath, Bristol, Plymouth, and all the way to Land’s End at the tip of Cornwall.  The ship, launched in 1843, revolutionized sea travel in many ways, not least an iron, not wooden, hull, and a screw propeller rather than paddles.

 

I knew I was going to have a great visit from the start, when the people at the ticket desk said “no problem” to me leaving my suitcase and backpack.  First stop was the Drydock, below water, to learn how they built her, touch the hull, and get an overview.  Next, a thorough museum tracing the ship through time – she did a lot of different jobs in her 90-year life of service, from posh transatlantic crossings to carrying emigrants to Australia, to hauling cargo, and finally serving as a floating warehouse in the Falkland Islands.  That’s where someone who cared found her in about 1970, and began raising money to return her to her native Bristol and restore her.

23-Jun

 

22-Jun

Then I did something I promised to do since seeing the offer on the ship website: for £10 (on that day a lot less than before, $13.65, because of the vote to Brexit exactly a week earlier) I could climb the mast, up 85 feet to the crow’s nest, then out 20 feet on a spar.  Shannon, a young staff member, helped me into the harness, showed me the ropes (so to speak!), and up I went.  Along the way, John, a fellow visitor from the Midlands, kindly took pictures with my iPhone – while waiting to ascend, he, wife Barbara, and I had a wonderful T-t-S conversation, which began with Barbara saying she wouldn’t let John ascend, too old at 75 she said.  I tried to convince her otherwise.  Whooping and hollering on the way up, across the crosspiece, and down, it was just a blast.

Shup-Triptych-1

Next stops were below deck, where they had restored first, second, and steerage classes, the engine room, and more.  Volunteers dressed in period costume helped explain.  I had a nice chat with one, a retired aerospace engineer, who knew a ton about Brunel, the engines, and more.  I surveyed two decks twice, looked at my watch, and knew it was time to leave – I could easily have stayed for hours more.  In a country known for outstanding presentation of things from the past, it may well be the best example.  Just stunning.

In the engine room

In the engine room

Second-class cabin

Second-class cabin

First-class dining saloon and menu

First-class dining saloon and menu

Museum volunteers in period costume answered every question -- and I had a lot of them!

Museum volunteers in period costume answered every question — and I had a lot of them!

Broadside promoting the SS Great Britain to Australia

Broadside promoting the SS Great Britain to Australia

Inner harbor, Bristol

Inner harbor, Bristol

Bristol Temple Meads railway station

Bristol Temple Meads railway station

Hopped on another ferry, gliding toward Temple Meads station and chatting with a woman from London and her pathologist partner.  At City Center quay, I made fast east to the train, bought a sandwich, and hopped on the 3:30 Great Western express to London.  After a quick and welcome lunch, I worked most of the ride, thanks to free wi-fi.  We arrived London Paddington, a Brunel-designed terminal, on time at 5:15, but instead of heading to my customary digs with Scott and Caroline, I got on the Tube and headed west on the District Line to Kew (near the famous botanical garden of the same name), and two blocks southeast to the home of my Imperial College host Omar Merlo and his partner Carolyn.  Omar is a swell fellow, and I was glad for the invitation.  Rang the doorbell and in no time was friends with his kids Sophie and Freddie, 7 and 5, and his dear mother-in-law, Maureen, visiting from Australia (The Swiss Omar got his Ph.D. and taught for some years in Melbourne).

The family had just moved from a smaller house, also in Kew, and were getting settled.  Carolyn, a lawyer with the BBC, was still at work.  Omar ordered take-out Indian food, and showed me around the new house.  A keen musician and fan of all things musical, he took special pride in showing me a 1920s Capehart jukebox and a Swiss-made portable record player (“the 1920s iPod,” he said).  It was like being in a museum!  Carolyn returned (I had not seen her since a month before she delivered Sophie), we sat down to dinner and a good yak.  After helping clean up, we watched a bit of telly and I collapsed, well before ten.

Omar with "the iPod of the 1920s," a portable phonograph

Omar with “the iPod of the 1920s,” a portable phonograph

52-Jun

Inner workings of an elaborate Swiss music box, part of Omar’s collection of music-playing devices

Story time with Sophie

Story time with Sophie

Up Friday morning, and as at home the first task was to walk the kids to school, Queen’s, a Church of England school a few blocks away.  Maureen and I shepherded the scholars, and had a nice yak along the way.  I then peeled off, onto the Tube to Imperial College Business School and a lecture to the Executive MBA program.  Before the talk I had a coffee with another Aussie, Mikhaela Gray, who I described in these pages last year – she studied at the same school where I taught as a visiting lecturer in 1981.

Fan set, Rolls-Royce Trent jet engine, evidence of Imperial College's long tradition of excellence in science and engineering

Fan set, Rolls-Royce Trent jet engine, evidence of Imperial College’s long tradition of excellence in science and engineering

After the talk, Omar and I grabbed a bit of lunch with two of the students, then headed home.  I changed my clothes and headed out on one of Omar’s bikes, south to Richmond Park, a vast green field.  I had been there years ago while attending a meeting at a hotel in Richmond, a pleasant suburb on the Thames, and not far from Heathrow.  Omar’s mountain bike was terrific, and I circled the park 1.5 times, then back into Friday-afternoon traffic, 21 miles.  A great ride.  At home, Omar was cooking dinner, and Maureen was helping prepare for a summer fair at the kids’ school.  Sophie’s friend Olivia had arrived.  I yakked a bit with her, learning about a mum from Idaho and a dad from Northern Ireland, another example of the combinations largely enabled by the jet airplane!

Richmond Park

Richmond Park

The River Thames, upstream from Richmond

The River Thames, upstream from Richmond

Fallow deer, Richmond Park

Fallow deer, Richmond Park

A slice of English design prowess at a florist in Kew

A slice of English design prowess at a florist in Kew

After dinner, Omar and I watched a great UEFA European Championship soccer match, Wales upsetting the 2nd-ranked Belgium 3-1.  After tiny Iceland beat England a few days earlier, and Brexit woes, it gave the British something to cheer about.

Counterclockwise from right, Sophie Merlo, friend Olivia, Freddie Merlo, and Pooh

Counterclockwise from right, Sophie Merlo, friend Olivia, Freddie Merlo, and Pooh

It gets light well before five in summer, and I was awake early, out the door a bit after six for another 17 miles, this time along the Thames, upstream and downstream, pausing for a big mug of coffee and tub of yogurt in “downtown” Kew.  Carolyn, Maureen, and the kids departed for the fair, I suited up, grabbed my suitcase (I really didn’t want to leave such a convivial home), and headed back to Imperial for a lecture to a big (65) class in the Weekend MBA program.  Check and done, and Omar and I headed back to the Tube.  I hugged him and peeled off, east to St. Pancras Station and onto the Eurostar for Paris.

As I have written before, I am unhappy about the huge ($245) UK departure tax, so often head home from other nearby places.  This time Paris made sense, and for a specific reason: after the attacks of November 13, I committed to visiting the four bars that ISIS attacked.  A beer in each in the spirit of solidarity and, more important, to show those assholes that I am not afraid.  After a late lunch, short nap, and moments of panic about a misplaced wallet (it was in my suitcase, exactly where I put it when changing into blue jeans in the train restroom), we rolled into Gare du Nord just before six.  Put my stuff in a locker and headed south, less than a mile to Le Carillon, one of the four bars (15 dead and 11 injured).  The sidewalk tables were nearly all full, but I found a small table, got a small beer, and quietly prayed for the dead and toasted the living.  After paying, I headed inside to pee, and when passing the bar, I spoke with my waiter.  His English was as bad as my French, but he understood “last November” and “solidarity.”  Shook his hand and headed south a few blocks to bar #2, Bonne Bière (5 dead and 8 injured).  Shortly after I arrived, it began to rain hard; my table was mostly under an awning, and it was fun to see street life in the rain.

Le Carillon, Rue Alibert

Le Carillon, Rue Alibert

The shower lasted awhile, and I realized I was behind schedule.  Walked a mile briskly south to the third, Le Belle Équipe, (19 dead and 9 injured) stopping briefly at the Bataclan Theater, scene of the worst carnage (89 perished).  I found another open table on the terrace, and tucked into a nice plate of fish.  La Belle Équipe, which reopened on March 21, was perhaps the liveliest of the three, and all that life made me smile.  The joie de vivre in the joint contrasted with the four soldiers I passed enroute, 400 meters from the bar.  If my French were better, I would have thanked them for keeping us safe.

Bonne Bière, Rue du Faubourg du Temple

Bonne Bière, Rue du Faubourg du Temple

Patrons at Bonne Bière

Patrons at Bonne Bière

Bataclan Theater

Bataclan Theater

La Belle Equipe, Rue Charonne

La Belle Equipe, Rue Charonne

The adjacent table, La Belle Equipe

The adjacent table, La Belle Équipe

While watching the lively scene inside the bar and on the street, I finally hit upon the best, quickest way to express my feeling.  Connected to the bar’s free wi-fi, I typed the following into the Google Translate box on my iPhone:

I was working for American Airlines on 11 September 2001, so it’s important for me to express solidarity with the staff and customers at Le Belle Équipe.  We are not afraid.

When I departed, I showed the screen to my waitress, who murmured the French equivalent of “Awww.”  I hugged her and left, making fast for the Metro, collecting my suitcase, and heading out to the airport.  The last shuttle to my hotel departed the airport train station at 11:30, which kept me from visiting bar #4, Le Comptoir Voltaire.  I’ll get there next time for sure.  A promise.

Head hit the pillow just before midnight, up at eight, back to the airport and the Silver Bird home to Washington.  Another splendid trip.

68-Jun

 

We remember souls like Monsieur le Dramp, who died at La Belle Équipe. Photo and text (c) 2015, The New York Times

We remember souls like Monsieur Le Dramp, who died at La Belle Équipe. Photo and text (c) 2015, The New York Times.

 

 

 

 

 

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