Monthly Archives: December 2010

The Last Post of the Year

The last three weeks of the year were at home in Dallas, a mix of holiday and family fun, plus service with the Dallas Ramp Project. On the 11th we built Sheila a ramp. She wept when we finished. Before we left, we visited briefly, and she explained that she had just arrived home after nearly three months in the hospital – “just” meant five minutes before we got there.

Sheila and her ramp

Dorothy and her ramp

On the 18th, Dorothy got a ramp, and on the 22nd we did our annual “Christmas ramp” for a Katherine in suburban Lancaster, followed by lunch and a couple of beers, by tradition at Gloria’s, a Salvadoran restaurant in South Dallas.

Robin, Dylan, and Carson arrived on Christmas Day (Brett had to work the last week of the year), and we had fun, though a little less than expected because the tots had serious colds (some up-and-down nights made us grateful for morning coffee).

On the penultimate day of the year, I got a call from Dan Sheffield, one of my brother’s early-childhood friends on Arden Avenue in Edina. A week earlier, I read on the website of the Minneapolis StarTribune that his dad had died, and I tracked him down in Colorado Springs to send condolences. I was delighted that he picked up the phone – we got caught up on 45 years of our lives. As I have written, reconnecting is a huge joy.

It was sunny and windy on New Year’s Eve, and I hopped on the bike that morning for the last 25 miles of the year, putting the total for the year to at a personal-best 3,225 miles. I almost hit a three-inch chunk of road concrete, and I muttered. Then I remembered that when building the ramp for Dorothy, I took a picture of the curb in front of her house. The cement was stamped Works Progress Administration; the WPA was one of President Roosevelt’s solutions to get the nation back to work, building roads and bridges and much more.

The WPA curb, still perfectly solid after 75 years

Dorothy’s 75-year-old curb was still in perfect shape, and 10-year-old curbs in our new neighborhood are already crumbling. As a nation we claim to care about quality, but we have lost the ability to recognize it – and insist on it – both in our private and our public consumption. We need to regain that ability.

The crumbling new curb, near our house

Happy New Year!

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To Europe, the Last Teaching Trip of 2010

Old City Hall, the Altes Rathaus, Leipzig, Germany

Four days after returning from Thanksgiving in Virginia, I flew to Europe, landing in serious early winter in Frankfurt, snow and cold. And canceled flights, which meant that, flying standby, I did not get a seat on Lufthansa’s 9:45 departure to Leipzig. I headed back out to the ticket counter, checked in for the 1:20 flight, and headed to the Admirals Club to work my e-mail and relax in a nice space (in September, for the first time ever, I had to pay to renew our membership, but it’s worth every dime for times like that). When I was leaving the club, I said hello to a German fellow – I should know his name by now – who has worked in the club for more than two decades. He told me the sad news that the club is closing in 2011, when American combines its facilities with BA in the other terminal. It was a sad reminder that change brings trouble to good people.

Stood in a long line at the security checkpoint, a repeat of the morning. But there was good news at Gate A25, a seat for me on the 1:20 flight. Whoopee! It’s only 187 miles to Leipzig, a quick flight. As we approached, I had a nice T-t-S moment with a young Leipziger. Born in 1975, he was 14 when East Germany collapsed; he noted that he studied Russian from age 5 until the big change. Now he was an IT contractor, self employed, no trouble getting jobs. Happily, my checked suitcase appeared, I wheeled it toward the train station, bought a day ticket for the LVB, the local public-transport service, and rode a suburban train and a tram into town. It looked like Leipzig got about eight inches of snow. Removal was clearly not the city’s – nor property owners – strong suit, but I quickly got my Minnesota winter balance as I skidded (not rolled) my wheeled suitcase up Gräfestrasse to my hotel. The street was lined with big old houses from the 1900s to 1920s, including a couple of Art Nouveau beauties.

Splendid late-19th Century burger's house, Gräfestrasse

Detail below window; this is true craft, such a pleasant aspect of the Old World

My hotel, two miles north of the center, was spartan, but clean, quiet, and cheap (at this time of year, all resources are allocated toward Christmas for the family, most of which Linda manages). The shower worked great, and being clean was good. But I needed to make up for lost time, so I dressed in the warmest clothing I had and headed back out, onto the streetcar into the city center. The Christmas markets, a German tradition, were in full swing in several places in the core, and the mood was festive. I headed into St. Nikolai Evangelical Lutheran Church, and I smiled broadly, not because as a Lutheran believer I felt perfectly at home, but more because a historic church is the best proof that one is the Old World. The building, built out from origins in the medieval era, had an unusual ceiling (18th century). On the way out, I picked up a brochure about the church and read it quickly. In addition to an architectural history, there was a moving narrative of the church’s substantial role in the 1989 collapse of the GDR. “Peace prayer” services, held every Monday evening, were a powerful force, one that the Stasi and other organs of the state could not combat. A GDR central committee member later said: “We had planned everything. We were prepared for everything. But not for candles and prayers.”

I bought Dylan and Carson a postcard and ambled on to Thomaskirche, the more famous Lutheran church in Leipzig. It is really the mothership of Protestant music. Johann Sebastian Bach was cantor from 1723 until his death in 1750. Angels must have grabbed my feet, for I arrived just in time for the Motette, an hour of sacred music for women’s choir and organ. We enjoyed works by Mendelssohn, Mozart, modern sacred-music composers, and of course an organ prelude by Bach. We joined in two brief hymns and and prayer. Pastor Wolff delivered a brief homily. It was magic, pure serendipity.

Spiritually fortified and feeling splendid, it was time for dinner. I had my vectors to the Bayersischer Bahnhof, a microbrewery and restaurant in a former train station. The tables were all booked, but the kindly host showed me to a stool at the bar, a perfect spot to enjoy a couple of glasses of Gose, a local specialty that is top-fermented, slightly salty, rich in vitamins, and according to an advertisement from 1900, “nerve strengthening.”

I immediately liked the place on several levels – ambience, mix of patrons, and a splendid slogan, In vollen zügen geniessen – enjoy it in full. And I did, especially the huge portion of
Jägerschmaus, a goulash made from game, and three enormous dumplings made from day-old pretzels. It was the definition of heavy food, but was precisely what I needed. A barman and duty mamager asked if I was enjoying the meal. I responded by showing him a photo of my German great-grandmother Ottilie, which prompted nice chat. He seemed surprised I found the place. I told him that The New York Times had spotted it earlier in 2010.

After dinner, there was a true T-t-S moment, chatting with the fellow at the next stool, a young guy from Hanover, in Leipzig to earn a Master’s in clinical psychology. I showed him picture of Jack, studying for the same degree. The photo was taken a couple of months earlier, Jack standing next to the Minnesota Vikings mascot, which delighted the German lad, who plays American football. “I love the sport, but I’m bad at it.” Nice.

It was home about 9:30, and I was worn out. Walked across the street, hopped on the tram, and was asleep by 10:15. A great evening.

Slept hard until three, then up for two hours, then back dreaming until seven. Packed up, walked back to the tram, and headed to the Hauptbahnhof.

The East German walk symbol, a striding man, is making a comeback!

Put my suitcase in a locker, had a quick breakfast, and headed into the center, retracing steps from the night before, back to St. Nikolai to take some pictures, then into Riquet, a traditional café in a wonderful Art Nouveau building. It was cold, and I needed both warmth and another cup of coffee. Restored, I ambled around the center, taking snaps of the old city hall, and the Thomaskirche.

Riquet Cafe, in a splendid Art Nouveau building

St. Nikolai Church

Ceiling, St. Nikolai Church; this was one of the most unusual old-church ceilings I have ever seen

Thomaskirche, Bach's church

Choir rehearsal, Thomaskirche

Martin Luther rendered in stained glass, Thomaskirche

J. S. Bach in bronze, on the south side of his Thomaskirche

The Mädlerpassage, a deluxe shopping arcade

Commerzbank's main Leipzig office

Detail, Commerzbank

Door detail, civic building

Last stop was at the Runden Ecke (“round corners”), a building that was once to local headquarters of the East German domestic spies, the dreaded Stasi (you may recall that a year earlier we visited a former Stasi prison in East Berlin, and Gerhard, our tour leader, was a former inmate). The building had been recycled for more peaceful uses, including a small museum that told the story of the 1989 revolution. Leipzig was one of the centers of ferment, and the story, told in pictures, words, and a few artifacts, was moving; the collection included protest banners; mugshots and arrest reports of protesters (what brave souls they were, I thought); guitars used to accompany protest songs. Powerful stuff, proof of the compelling virtue of freedom.

Former Leipzig headquarters of the East German Secret Police, the Stasi

Photo of a photo: true heroes, Leipzig protesters, January 1982; how brave these men and women were, and fearless

1982 poster, early evidence of the zeal for reform in the GDR; I felt massively proud that the Lutheran church, our church, played a large role in the collapse of the corrupt regime

One of the most profound artifacts in the collection: duplicating ink; in a time before cellphones, you could not spread the word without paper and a means of duplication

The snow continued to slow down transport, and my train to Berlin was more than an hour late, but by three I was giving Michael and Susan Beckmann hugs outside the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and a wave to their son Niklas, now nearly two, and the same happy and smiling tot I noted a year earlier. It was the third year in a row that we met, and we decided it had become a firm tradition.

As I have noted many times, one of my travel joys is to do or see ordinary things in foreign places, so I was delighted to accompany them to KaDaWe, the big department store on the Kufürstendamm, the main drag of the former West Berlin, where Niklas had a haircut appointment. The place was absolutely packed, prompting Michael to wonder about the deep recession. Niklas was a bit wiggly with the barber, and, aha, I pulled out my iPhone and began scrolling through pictures of Dylan, Carson, and MacKenzie. He was much taken with our tots, and the barber speedily finished his work.

We ambled around a packed Christmas Market, enjoyed a glühwein and some bread akin to, but much better than, fruitcake, and caught up on our lives. The yakking continued at Gasthof zur Krummen Linde, a traditional inn close to their house. Before we sat down, I enjoyed a wonderful and too brief T-t-S moment with Uli, a fellow who I learned had lived in Texas for a number of years. German people are friendly. Dinner was splendid, starting with a large glass of Märkischer Landmann, a really chewy dark beer I first tried a year earlier. But the main attraction was roast goose with dumplings, red cabbage, and grunkohl (chopped kale cooked with pork fat). So good. So good. We headed back to their flat, had another glass of glühwein, and clocked out. I was so tired that I cold barely pull the comforter over me.

It was snowing Sunday morning, more winter. We walked with Niklas to the local bakery for fresh bread, and returned to a large spread, including fresh weisswurst from a butcher near the home of Susan’s parents in Bavaria. Lots to be said for a really long breakfast.

Advent breakfast table at the Beckmanns. Yum!

Niklas and Michael Beckmann on a perfect young Transport Geek toy, an ICE fast train

In the early afternoon we bundled the lad into the station wagon and headed into the city, to the wonderful Technical Museum. First stop was at Michael’s office, a block from the museum; it’s totally fitting that the main office of Bombardier Transportation, a world leader in a range of railways and urban transport (where Herr Beckmann is VP-Strategy) is in the former headquarters of the Royal Prussian Railway Directorate.

Bauhaus office building, looking as fresh and contemporary as when it was built 75 years ago

The Technical Museum, Berlin; a DC-3 from the 1948 Airlift anchors one corner

We had a little more than two hours in the museum, but it was still wonderful. The two Transport Geeks were in heaven, wandering through a huge collection of railway hardware and exhibits tracing the history of German railways, which incidentally were celebrating their 175th anniversary.

Wirtschaftswunder means economic miracle; it was a word that perfectly described the huge strides Germany made in the two decades after 1945. This neon art combines that great word with an outline of the TEE, a high-speed train from that era.

A year earlier, we did not allow enough time to get to Tegel Airport, and we remedied that in 2010. I hugged Michael, kissed Niklas, and headed to the Swiss check-in desk. Luck was with me: I got the very last seat on flight 971 to Zurich, and it was one of the flight attendant jumpseats in the back of the Airbus A319. I introduced myself to the young woman in the rear, told her I knew how to operate the door, and we zoomed off. She disappeared to deliver the service, sandwiches and drinks, and I just wass thankful for being spared more standby stress. She was back in 30 minutes, and offered me a sandwich. There was a beer on the counter, and she offered that, too. I was sort of amazed, because I’m quite sure that in the U.S. the FAA frowns on tippling by jumpseat occupants, but I was happy to wash down my sandwich with an icy Heineken. Nice!

We circled for a bit, above freezing rain. Landed, walked briskly through the airport, and onto the 8:52 train to St. Gallen and my tenth visit to the university there. The third night in Europe was again bumpy (I am cranky about my loss of immunity from time changes, but there’s not much I can do about it). Out the door and up the hill to the business school, time to stand and deliver in Prof. Reinecke’s marketing class. After the talk, several students joined us in the Mensa, the student cafeteria, for a yak, and I headed back down the hill and into a needed nap.

Office still life, University of St. Gallen; Duden, I learned earlier in the trip, is the authority on German spelling and usage

Worked a bit, and headed out for a walk around town, looking at shop windows filled with Christmas wares. I paused for a long time in front of a music store, admiring not only a range of cool guitars, but also a small array of simple (and not made in China) instruments for children.

I took a seat for a 6:30 organ concert in the Klosterkirche, the wonderful cathedral attached to an old abbey (St. Gall, the city namesake, was an itinerant Irish monk). High above me in the sanctuary, an absolute Baroque masterpiece, was the wonderful carved angel that has welcomed me for more than a decade. She points upward, urging the faithful toward the higher ground, on earth and after. I do love her.

University of St. Gallen

At 7:30, Lydia Ebersbach, who had been my student host for three or four years, a new doctoral student, and two others joined me at a large round table at Fondue Beizli. We had a lot of fun, and toasted Lydia on completion of her Ph.D. and securing a wonderful marketing job in Shanghai with the German appliance maker Miele. It was a nice evening.

The rain had stopped Tuesday morning, and I jumped on a local train down the hill to the Bodensee (Lake Contstance in English), to see a wonderful whimsical building designed by the imaginative Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Way cool. I wished that Dylan were with me, because of the color and fantasy of line.

Hundertwasser's compact Market Hall, Staad

Decorative columns, Market Hall

Lake Constance, or Bodensee

Headed back to St. Gallen, suited up, met that day’s host, Winfried Ruigrok, for lunch, and spent the afternoon in his international management class. Hopped the bus down the hill, ate a quick bowl of soup and a dark beer at a favorite brewpub, and clocked out early. As Dylan would say, “I exhausted.”

Was up at five Wednesday morning, onto the 5:44 train back to the airport, and British Airways to London City Airport. There was low cloud in the south of England, so we were a bit late, but I was not in a hurry. Had a cheese sandwich at Pret a Manger to supplement the inflight ham sandwich, and a cup of strong coffee, and hopped on the train to Bank Station, below the Bank of England.

Splendid ornamentation, The City

The perfect sandwich! 18th Century town house, The City

Rolled my suitcase west and a bit south, and at noon met my London School of Economics host Sir Geoffrey Owen. We had a nice but hurried lunch, and at one I delivered the last lecture of the year. As in previous years, I then held a 90-minute Q&A session with a team of ten students who were working on a strategy question (yet to be formulated) about American Airlines (other teams work on cases about Glaxo Smith Kline, the supermarket chain Tesco, BMW, and other big firms).

At 5:45, I met Scott Sage, a young pal – and friend of Robin’s for 20 years – who I have often described in these updates. Scott’s an interesting fellow, well informed and endlessly curious (a couple of powerful virtues), and we caught up since our last yak six months earlier in Texas. His pub choice, the nicely named Last Running Footman, was packed, and it took us more than 30 minutes to find a drinking place where we could sit down. It was a good time. He’s a sort of mentee, and I’m proud to serve. Based on an evening of excess 18 months earlier, we stipulated a two-pint limit, so we parted about eight. Ever thrifty, I had booked a Holiday Inn Express a few Tube stops north. The room was fine, but the internet was kaput. Dropped my stuff and walked a couple of blocks south on Finchley Road to Eriki, an Indian restaurant I found online. It was just okay – no Indian people dining, one of my reliable tests.

I slept hard. My iPhone alarm jolted me awake at seven. The HI-Express didn’t have working internet access, but they had a decent free breakfast. I spotted a Starbucks across Finchley Road, so crossed the busy street and worked my e-mail, hopped on the Tube to Kings Cross, then walked a block to Tony and Peter, the Greek Cypriot barbers that I have visited three or four times, most recently 18 months earlier. Tony was getting a new car battery, so Peter, who recognized me instantly, did the trimming, including a straight razor on my neck. We mostly yakked about our families, but also about the frigid weather, North Korea, and how much he likes Las Vegas. It was nice to reconnect.

Looking good, I pointed the suitcase south, walking about a mile and a half down Kings Cross and Farringdon roads, past where Robin lived in 2004 (the city, though vast, is familiar), to 25 Farringdon, site of the afternoon meeting. I had about an hour, and zipped into a very pleasant tea house with a door sticker promising free wi-fi (password: EarlGrey!). In the small stack of e-mails in my inbox was a note from geography friend Tom Harvey, replying to a message I sent him back in October – when I was on the terrace of the Wisconsin Union in Madison, I sent him the paragraphs from former advisor and mentor John Borchert’s autobiography, about his first teaching experience. His story from 1945 struck a chord the day after my last lecture of 2010. It ended simply: “The class applauded. And I was hooked.” My feelings, precisely.

I spent the afternoon visiting with Martin Cunnison, an ambitious young Brit who I had met in October, and some of his colleagues. His accounting firm kindly loaned us a conference room in a posh new building in the City, and supplied a nice lunch, too. The meeting ended about 3:30, and I ambled west on Holborn. I am lucky enough to be able to visit London often, but because there’s so much to see and do, at the end of a trip I always wonder what I’m missing. It seemed too late to head to a museum, so I hopped on the Tube, west, for a third consecutive pre-Christmas visit to The Old Packhorse, an agreeable pub in Chiswick owned by Fuller, Smith & Turner, my favorite London brewer (maybe it’s the mythical griffin on their logo; who knows?). I confess to breaking my no-drinking-‘til-five rule, but 4:45 seemed close enough. I bought a pint of their London Pride from the barman (like lots of them, from somewhere in Eastern Europe), pulled out my laptop, and brought this journal up to date.

I’ve often written about the comfort of circularity – in a world of change, returning to the same places is nice. So after leaving the pub I checked into a hotel near Heathrow Airport and made a third annual visit to Desi Flava, a very local Indian restaurant (I was the sole non-Asian patron) just east of the runways. The owner, from Hyderabad, recognized me with a waggle of his head, and I felt right at home.

After a very nice onion dosa (a rice and lentil pancake) came a lifetime first. I’ve been enjoying spicy food for nearly 50 years (since first introduced to Mexican TV dinners, if that counts), but in front of me that cold night was a dish too spicy to finish. Wasting food is abhorrent, but my mouth was on fire, and I worried that if when I left the café I turned toward the runways I would simply take off! So I headed east on Bath Road, a mile back to the hotel, clocked out, and flew home, finishing the last trip of 2010.

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New York, and Thanksgiving with Family in Virginia

Manhattan real estate always surprises; here, a skinny condo inserted into, and towers above, an ordinary commercial landscape on 23rd Street

Linda drove me to DFW before dawn on November 19, and I flew up to New York, to participate for a sixth consecutive year in Princeton’s Business Today International Conference. We arrived LaGuardia a bit early, which allowed me to forego the pricey cab ride into Manhattan, opting instead for an $11 taxi to Jackson Heights, then the F train to Lexington and 63rd. Faster, cheaper, and way more fun. I still had a bit of time before the conference kickoff lunch began, so I rolled my suitcase and backpack south on Lex.

Detail, former General Electric building, Lexington Avenue

In no time I was shaking hands with a bunch of bright youngsters, then listening to Steve Forbes, the founder (in 1968) of the Business Today organization. He’s a conservative fellow, but informed and logical, and even though I am not aligned with his views, I deeply respected his perspective. Would that our elected officials behaved the same way. Unlike previous years, my presentations were the next day, so I rolled the bags north a mile to E. 51st Street and the Pod Hotel. The Pod, in a quiet residential area, has some of the cheapest rooms in New York. I was not expecting much, and was thus delighted to find a contemporary, well-run, and spotlessly clean place. My room was not much bigger than the bed, but well designed and thus perfect for one night. Dropped the stuff and headed out for some touring. First stop was Greenacre Park across the street, a privately-built public space next door to a synagogue. The park’s centerpiece was a huge waterfall. The cascade sound was such an unexpected delight, drowning out every bit of urban cacophony – not just the honking horns but also the potty-mouthed residents dropping frequent F-bombs and other profanity. It was a lovely place.

The famous, triangular Flatiron Building (1902), at Broadway, Fifth, and 23rd

Spray-on plastic snow, 23rd Street, in preparation for filming a movie

Renewed, I hopped on the #6 subway south four stops to 23rd Street, and walked west to Eataly, a brand-new food emporium that chef Mario Batali and some investors opened a few months earlier. I noted its opening and put in on the list of stuff to see. I was glad I did. Inside was an array of cheeses, sausages and cured meats, fresh food, pasta, baked goods, wine, and more. Lots of attention paid, and some short “stories” told, about the origins of all the food; for example, the Brewer Ranch near Miles City, Montana, is the source for all their beef, from the Italian Piemontese breed. In between the various departments were tables and chairs and opportunities to sample the stuff. It was sensory overload.

Italian soft drinks, Eataly

Butcher, Eataly

After about a half-hour I walked outside and called my brother, who loves everything Italian, a sort of verbal postcard. Headed back in, wandered a bit more, and bought two souvenirs: small jars of apricot and peach preserves from Italy’s Piedmont region (where I was a few weeks earlier). It was way cool. Headed back to the hotel for a nap, and at six walked back to the hotel for dinner and chatter with students. The after-meal speaker was an energetic woman from Boeing Commercial Airplanes, interesting. At ten the bar opened. I slurped a beer, yakked a bit more, and walked back to my hotel.

After breakfast Monday it was time to stand and deliver. First assignment was to help some students with a case study that was part of the conference activity. Then it was time for a seminar on international aviation, a lot of fun. Lunch, more yakking, and it was time to leave. I do enjoy that conference.

It was warm and sunny in New York, a good day for a slow (well, slow for me) walk south on Fifth Avenue, past the famous lions in front of the New York Public Library, to 34th Street, past Macy’s and into Penn Station. I earlier plunked down $135 for a 159-minute ride on Amtrak’s new Acela Express (vs. $42 for a trip that took 35 minutes longer). The train was right on time, and the seats were comfortable, but the ride was simply awful. Yes, my standards are the railways of Germany, Switzerland, and Japan, but as we literally lurched and bumped, I thought “is this the best we can do, is this the best that America can muster on a rail line between the largest city in the nation and the capital of the republic?” Deep sigh.

We arrived Washington before seven, I hopped on the Metro west into Virginia, then the Fairfax Connector bus, hopping off less than 200 feet from Robin’s and Brett’s house. I’ve always enjoyed arriving under my own steam, and I smiled broadly and I arrived. Hugs all around, a quick visit, a bowl of soup, and off to sleep.

I needed to rest up. Tuesday morning before nine, Dylan and I walked back to the Fairfax Connector bus stop, hopped on the #551 bus, and rode east to West Falls Church and the Metro into Washington. We repeated an adventure from July (“Pots [that’s me] will take me on a bus”). And our nearly-three-year-old granddaughter was pumped, as was Pots. Maybe, I thought, I have an aspiring Transport Geek on my lap, or at least a child who will grow up appreciating – as I did a half-century earlier – the value of public transportation. First stop was George Washington University Hospital, and a cup of coffee with old friend Chris Chiames, who now works there. Good to catch up. Next stop was American Airlines Washington office, to see old friends, and enjoy lunch with Carl Nelson. Dylan remembered Carl (and his miniature turtles), a fellow gramps, kindly. We had a great, quick visit, hopped back on train and bus, and were home by 2:30. Time for a nap.

On Wednesday morning, I got up and out the door on my folding bike, which now resides in Robin’s and Brett’s basement. Made my way on busy suburban roads to the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail, a 45-mile run from Alexandria to west of Leesburg, built on an abandoned railway of the same name. It was a pleasure to be back on a bikeway, like the previous month in Wisconsin. Biked about 11 miles, a nice workout. Grabbed a quick breakfast, and Robin, Carson and I drove west to Leesburg to Mom’s Pies, a renowned pie shop. There was a long line, which was a good sign. Chatted with a friendly lady in the line behind me. Picked up the pies and drove back to the house. At one I rode the bike two miles north to the Hyatt, checked in. Brett picked me up and we motored a few miles to Dulles Airport to pick up Jack, in from Minnesota. After dinner, we picked up Linda, and the family was together. Nice!

It was raining lightly on Thanksgiving Day, so I didn’t get to ride the bike before breakfast, but as I walked across Reston Town Center, a sort of mini-downtown, the first order of the day were prayers of thanks and intercession. We are so blessed. The rest of the holiday was at the Reck’s house, eating, playing with the tots, yakking, laughing. Friday was pretty much a repeat – we had planned some outings, but the kids were both a little sick, so we stayed close.

Saturday morning dawned bright and cold, and I zoomed out on my bike at first light, west on the W&OD Trail. It was the first day of my 60th year, and it made sense to start it with some exercise, a reminder of my mantra that “we are young.” Robin, Linda, and Dylan headed to the mall, Jack zipped into D.C. to see an old friend, and Brett, Carson, and I picked up fixings for my birthday dinner. Another swell, quiet day. Sunday morning was pretty much a repeat, bike ride on the trail, then over to the Recks to make Christmas sugar cookies. Dylan loved helping Nana roll the dough and press the cookie cutter down to make snowflakes, Santas, and sleighs; my job was to ice the cookies. Domestic bliss! We flew home at four, with some reluctance – quality time with those tots is such fun!

>> For more, and way better, photos of family at Thanksgiving, visit son Jack Britton’s Facebook page.

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“I didn’t even know I had a Cousin Lorenzo in Chicago”

Cousin Larry Frederick, born Lorenzo Federighi

On Wednesday, November 17, I flew north to Chicago for another teaching visit to Northwestern University. First stop was to see my first cousin once removed (one generation older), Lorenzo Enrico Frederick (originally Federighi, the family name was Anglicized to address anti-Italian prejudice). Larry and I connected in July, the week after Uncle Alan, Cousin Jim, and I visited the neighborhood where my great-grandparents, grandparents, and mother lived. On the flight, I re-read several e-mails Larry (b. 1937) sent in July and August, giving some details of his life.

Italian music fit, so I cued Andrea Bocelli. “Ave Maria” was first up. I have written before about the intersection of songs and place, and hearing that piece by Bach stirred a memory; I first heard it at my grandfather’s (Lorenzo’s uncle’s) funeral in 1958. But that sad recollection passed quickly – although my grandfather died at 64, when I looked at the Fredian family tree I saw that his surviving siblings lived into their 80s and 90s.

I called Larry as I walked off the plane, and he said his wife Judy and he would pick me up at O’Hare in 20 minutes (they live in nearby Glenview). When they rolled up in their red Subaru it was a thrill: if I met Larry earlier, I was too young to remember, and here was kin; indeed, he and Uncle Alan are the only survivors of the older generation on either of my parents’ sides. Another connection. Wowie!

Where to begin the conversation? No logic prevailed, but over the course of the next several hours we relayed more details of our lives, our families, our beliefs. Judy and Larry have two daughters and a son, all living within 15 miles of their home. Roots were an important topic. Larry’s mother Alicia, my grandfather’s youngest sister, married Pietro Federighi a few years after he arrived in Chicago in 1921, after driving a truck in the Italian army and three years as Giacomo Puccini’s chauffeur – Larry showed me his dad’s Italian driver’s license. Larry did not have a lot of old photos, but he was kind enough to lend me all that he had, including a real gem, my grandfather Jim and his siblings Alicia and Frank as young kids, circa 1903. To hold an original photo of your ancestors, more than a century old, in your hand is to me a special experience, laden with emotion.

Before noon we drove a mile or two to the Glenview town center, an interesting place built on the former Glenview Naval Air Station (coincidentally a place that I toured with my second cousin, Lt. Thomas Fredian, when I was in first or second grade). After the Cold War ended and scores of bases closed, this chunk of valuable and desirable suburban land was nicely redeveloped; in the middle of the shopping area is the old airfield control tower, way cool. Lunch was at Bravo, a cozy and stylish Italian restaurant (where else would we eat?!). We yakked and laughed some more.

Back home, Larry showed me some of his paintings, sketches, and etchings, hanging throughout the house. His talent is considerable, and I especially enjoyed a couple of landscapes from my favorite Lake Superior, and a lovely and touching portrait of his mother (my great aunt) Alicia, done just after her death in 1991. It is such a joy to see the artist’s house, and even greater when he is kin.

The artist's tools

We chatted a bit more, the high point being Larry’s description of sleeping arrangements in the two-bedroom apartment where they lived, above my grandfather’s Centrella Grocery on Marshfield Avenue in Chicago (faced with declining health, my gramps sold the store to Larry’s dad in the late 1940s). There was still lots more to discuss, but we were out of time. At 3:15, Judy and Larry drove me to the Glenview train station, and I said goodbye. Italian men kiss each other, and we did. It was such a sweet day.

But there was work to do downtown, and I hopped on the Metra suburban train into the Loop, then the CTA 124 bus across the center to the downtown campus of Northwestern. Right on time I met my host Miguel Brendl, a very bright young marketing prof who I have described in previous updates. We yakked over a light dinner, and from 6:00 to 7:15 I delivered the lecture on what American’s marketing team did in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Class was small, about 15 evening MBA students, but engaged.

Said goodbye to Miguel, walked a block west on Superior Street, and checked into the Affinia, a pleasant boutique hotel. Unlike some of those kinds of places (where staff has clearly signaled that I was not sufficiently hip to lodge there), the lobby people were exceedingly friendly and welcoming. The room was swell.

I took off my necktie, worked a bit of e-mail, and headed out, south on Michigan Avenue, past all the glittering shops and stores, past windows already filled with Christmas décor and stuff, to the venerable Billy Goat Tavern. This was the place immortalized by Belushi and others in Saturday Night Live in the 1970s (“Cheeseborger, cheeseborger. No fries. Cheeps”). Long before those skits, it was a watering hole for Chicago Tribune and Sun Times journalists, whose offices were a few hundred feet away, in opposite directions. As I hoisted a bottle of Old Style, the classic blue-collar Chicago brew, I toasted the memory of the Tribune; although it is still being published, it is now owned and largely managed by people who are essentially juveniles wearing adult clothing but holding impressive bank accounts. Sam Zell and his team of misfits are in dire need of adult supervision.

Holiday window at the flagship store of Crate and Barrel, Michigan Avenue

Refreshed, I walked back to the hotel and clocked out. Was up at six, across Chicago Avenue town on a bus, onto the Blue Line subway to O’Hare, and home.

What a joy to find kin!

Larry and his swell wife Judy

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