Monthly Archives: September 2012

London, Königstein, Nüremberg, St. Gallen

The picture-postcard Europe: gable in Nuremberg’s old city

The day after house-hunting, I rode into Washington with Robin.  She dropped me a block from the White House.  I walked over to the American Airlines offices, said hello to a colleague (it was a little early for the rest of the team to be there).  Had a cup of coffee, and at ten met a colleague from the hotel business, Paul Cerula, for a yak about inbound tourism.  Headed out to the airport, flew to Chicago, then to London for the first European teaching for the fall semester.  I was actually headed to Germany and Switzerland, but stopped in the U.K. to meet a new friend, Jonathan Nicol, and attend a small air show at Cambridge Airport.

A sleek new Embraer Phenom at Cambridge Airport

High point of that day was a ride in a punt, the flat-bottom boats that ply the River Cam, mostly with tourists.  In all my visits to Cambridge, I had never gone punting.  It’s sorta pricey, but that day it was free, and Jonathan was the punter, propelling us a couple of miles with a long wooden pole.  Earlier in his life, he had worked summers as a punter, and he still had the touch, as did one of his colleagues, Olivia Scarlett, who also knew the trade – and they both still had the tourist narrative down pat, reciting details about Newton’s Mathematical Bridge, Kings College, and more.  Oh, yes, we brought along a couple of bottles of cava, Spanish sparkling wine.  It was a fun ride.

Our captain and punter extraordinaire, Jonathan Nicol

Punts in the Granta Millpond, Cambridge

Trinity College, Cambridge, from the River Cam

I was plumb wore out when we docked, so I peeled off to the train station, bought a couple of sandwiches for dinner, and rode back to London.  Hopped the Tube two stops to Old Street, and walked three blocks to my accommodation on Haberdasher Street.  It was my second experience with AirBnB, and Allan and Ben from Brisbane were both congenial hosts and had a nicer, cleaner flat than the one I visited in May in Liverpool.  It was in a Georgian row house.  My room was big, with a firm bed.  Bath spotless, kitchen well equipped.  I yakked a bit with my hosts and clocked out.

Finsbury Square, London, EC2

Late-summer blossom, Finsbury Square

Up early Wednesday morning, out the door to Jonathan’s office.  My first class was not until Friday, so it made sense just to hang in London.  Worked all day.  High point that day was dinner at Hot Stuff, a small (25 seats) Indian restaurant in Lambeth, on the south bank.  I had wanted to eat there for years, and finally an opportunity.  Bought a couple of cans of Czech Budvar beer (the real Budweiser), and headed in for a yummy dinner.  Introduced myself to proprietor Raj Dawood.  His mom founded Hot Stuff in 1988.  A decade later, she got sick, and Raj quit his job as a real-estate agent to run the restaurant.  The clientele were a perfect mirror of multicultural London, and it was a splendid experience.

Hot Stuff proprietor Raj Dawood and your scribe

Hustle and bustle on the Tube

First light on Haberdasher Street, Shoreditch; my digs were just behind the tree.

I was up at first light Thursday morning, and my iPhone bore good news: the sellers accepted our offer on the house in Virginia, subject to selling our house in Texas.  Woo hoo!  Was soon onto one of the cool rental bikes that Barclays Bank sponsors, a network of thousands of bikes across London (I’ve written about it before).  My destination was relatively close, 60 Marlborough Road in the Upper Holloway district of Islington.  In 1977, 35 years earlier, I had stayed there with long friend Mary Lee Adler while doing the last bits of research for my Ph.D. dissertation.  The place had not changed.  The ride was tonic – though the bikes are heavy, I wore bike shorts and a T-shirt, and was motivated. Only downside was the main roads already busy with morning traffic.  Cycling in London is not for the faint of heart!  Returned to Jonathan’s office and worked all day – I got a lot done.  Met him for dinner, and was asleep early.

Was up before four Friday morning, bowl of cereal, out the door to City Road and the 214 bus to King’s Cross, Tube to Paddington, and Heathrow Express to the airport.  A small kerfuffle on check in, entirely the fault of Bank of America – three weeks earlier, and a day after buying a cheap British Airways ticket on my debit card, B of A e-mailed me to say there may have been hacking on the card and they were sending a new one.  I asked if I’d have any problems with BA.  No, they assured me, the payment had already been made.  But the check-in agent at Heathrow didn’t get that message, and there were five minutes of to and fro that almost caused me to miss the flight.  Grrrrrrrr.

Arrived the next stop, Frankfurt, at 9:45 and onto bus #58 to Frankfurt Höchst, a suburban station in the lee of the huge Höchst chemical factory, then on a pleasant small branch line, the Taunusbahn, north ten miles to the pleasant hill town of Königstein, in the green Taunus hills that I had often seen on approach to Frankfurt Airport.  Patrick Rath, a Ph.D. student at the University of Kassel, picked me up at the station and we drove a mile or so to a very cool small conference center, the Siegfried Vögele Institute.

Now owned by Deutsche Post DHL, the privatized postal service and logistics provider, the series of three linked buildings were originally a psychiatric sanatorium.  In 1905, Dr. Oskar Felix Kohnstamm (1871-1917) opened the 25-bed facility targeted to artists, intellectuals, and other high achievers.  While recuperating there, several well-known German figures produced notable works; for example, Gerdt von Bassewitz wrote a much-loved children’s book called Peterchens Mondfahrt, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner painted many wonderful expressionist canvases. Later, Hitler decided that Kirchner’s paintings were retrograde, and destroyed them.

Siegfried Vögele Institut, Königstein im Taunus

Interior, main building; the “paintings” are actually large photographs, the only surviving images of large works painted here by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, whose expressionist Hitler banned

We joined a dozen EMBA students for lunch.  They were all managers from Deutsche Post DHL, and the company was paying for their degrees (nice!).  From two to four I presented a Harvard Business School case on direct marketing, and offered some perspectives from American Airlines.  It was a good session.  Back to the room, a short nap, a bit of work, and I rejoined the group for dinner and afterward a short talk on my leadership experience.  They were staying for more drinks, and I wanted to join them, but the bed beckoned, and I finally got eight hours of quality sleep.  Earlier we had a great yak across a range of topics; it was interesting to get their views on the Euro crisis and the U.S. presidential elections.  Not one of the people at our long table thought the Republican nominee was capable.  And certainly not nice.

Königstein castle

Autumn ensemble, flower shop, Königstein

Saturday morning dawned clear and cool. Ate breakfast with the group, said goodbye, and walked back to the train station.  Königstein is a seriously affluent place, evident on the amble (the night before, Manfred said “here, even the au pairs drive Porsche Boxsters,” which seemed like only a slight exaggeration).  It’s less than 25 miles from downtown Frankfurt, so many wealthy businesspeople live there.

Frankfurt main station, the Hauptbahnhof

Vineyards in the Franconia region of Bavaria, from the train

Hopped back on the Taunusbahn to Frankfurt’s main station, and onto the fast ICE to Nuremberg, two hours east in Bavaria.  Arrived at 12:35 and walked about a kilometer west to the Holiday Inn City Center, which when I booked it was really good value.  Room was ready, washed face, headed out for a look, and quickly realized one possible reason it was so cheap: it was right around the corner from the red-light district, where women were hanging out in windows, rather like vending-machine wares – the last time I had seen such a sight was Amsterdam in 1971!

New building in the old town, nicely designed to blend into the ancient landscape

Bought a weekend ticket on the VGN, the local transit system, and rode a couple of stops west on the U-Bahn, to see Courtroom 600, the site of the 1945 Nuremberg trials that convicted senior Nazi leaders.  The city museum department has created a very good “Memoriam.”  It’s actually still a working courtroom, so has been modified a lot since 1945, but you could sit in the court and hear echoes of the brilliant lead prosecutor, Robert H. Jackson.  As you may know, the trial was the first time in history that leaders had been held to account for their behavior and for crimes against humanity.  The interpretive exhibits were powerful, and told the entire story, from the creation of a set of rules for the proceedings (the London Charter, May 1945) to the sentences for those to be hanged and those to be imprisoned.  Remarkable and chilling, but ultimately satisfying, especially because the precedent has enabled the contemporary tribunal in the Hague that has dealt with devils like Milosevic and Charles Taylor of Liberia.  Rule of law.  A great concept.

Courtroom 600 today

The original benches on which the defendants sat

U.S. prosecutor Robert H. Jackson, from an exhibit panel

Took the U-Bahn back to the main station, had a herring sandwich, and hopped on the #9 tram for another look back, at the Nazi Documentation Center and Rally Grounds on the east edge of the city.  Nuremburg was one of the “Fuhrer Cities” that were one expression of Hitler’s megalomania.  He and his architect Albert Speer had planned these grand expressions for Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Linz, Austria (the dictator’s home town), and Nuremberg.  The enormous, partially-built congress hall in Nuremberg houses the documentation center, essentially a set of exhibits that thoroughly interpret the rise of National Socialism.  Though I knew the broad outlines of the sad story, I learned quite a lot, especially the origins of the movement during the Weimar era of the 1920s.  Grim, but a fine expression of Germany’s willingness not to deny, but to come to grips with the sordid decade-plus.  As I wrote in the center’s visitors’ book, “for the four decades that I have traveled and worked in Germany, I have struggled to understand how the intelligent and hardworking German people could have made this disastrous wrong turn.”

The partially-build Nazi Congress Hall, site of the Documentation Center

From the Documentation Center exhibits: million-mark notes from the 1920s; the woes of hyperinflation were one of Hitler’s building blocks

Photo from the exhibits: from VE day, May 1945, Nuremberg

Hopped the tram back to my hotel, again walking past the hookers (I growled at a couple of pimps, but they paid no heed).  I needed a workout, and pounded 16 miles on the exercise bike, cooled down, and headed out for dinner.  The coolest thing on the way to the restaurant was the Straße der Menschenrechte, the Way of Human Rights, a monumental outdoor sculpture in the old town, 27 massive white concrete pillars on which each article of the UN 1948 declaration is carved in German and one other language.  I especially liked that the article in English called for the right to move freely, to travel.

Part of the wall that surrounds the old city

Around the corner, a nice Talking-to-Strangers moment, with three young skateboarders, kids much younger than the teens and young adults that were doing tricks on adjacent railings and steps.  I asked if I could take their photo, they said yes, I snapped it, then chatted with two brothers from Canada, age seven and eight, and their eight-year-old German friend.  The older boys attended an international school and could already speak four languages.  Carl, the father of the Canadians, soon arrived and I yakked with him; he was working for Siemens, a major Nuremberg employer.

The young skateboarders, two Canadians and a German

Looking back, I regret that I did not research dinner venues well enough.  Nuremberg is known for small grilled sausages, and I ended up at a touristy place called Bratwursthäusle.  To its credit, they’ve been in business for 699 years, so they certainly know how to cook a brat, but I think I could have found a place with more locals.  Still, I ate well, on potato soup, six links, potato salad, and sauerkraut, as well as a couple of Tucher wheat beers from the nearby brewery.  I was seriously full, but it was the basis for a hard sleep.

Up early Sunday, did a bit of work, then out the door for early touring, across the wonderful old city to the castle, and up the steps of the Sinwell Tower for a superb view of the city.  Here are some scenes from the old city:

Atop the tower, my camera battery, which I forgot to charge, emptied, so I walked quickly back to the hotel, then across to the middle of the old town to St. Lawrence Church, the Lorenzkirche.  In the middle of Catholic Bavaria, I was amazed to see that the largest church in the old town was Lutheran, or Evangelical as they call it in Germany.  And 700 years old, so at some point it obviously morphed to Protestantism.

So for the second in as many Sundays, I was back in church, and like the week earlier, the pastor was a woman, Claudia Voigt-Grabenstein.  Of course the service was in German, but I tracked a lot of it, themed around Mary.  And really all I needed to know were four words, Gott ist mit dir, God is with you.  Before the service began, I had a nice chat with an older lady sitting next to me, and she welcomed me warmly.  It felt so good to be there.  And as in worship a week earlier, I clearly understood and confirmed why I was Lutheran, but in the German context: the church of Luther was also the church of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other brave pastors who dared to oppose the Nazis (and they hanged him in April 1945, 23 days before they fell), and it was the church of similarly fearless pastors that quietly supported change thence revolution in the former East Germany in the 1980s.  Protestantism should always be about pushing back on established injustice.

Also as I noted the previous week, music is a big part of Lutheran worship, and that Sunday it was enormous, colossal: an all-volunteer choir performing Bach’s 1724 cantata Meine Seel erhebt den Herren (My Soul Magnifies the Lord).  Prior to the service, the choir director did a quick rehearsal with the worshippers, and it was once again clear that Lutheran liturgy was not a spectator sport: as in McLean, these were people who participate!  I think the lady next to me was surprised that I could sing the hymns, but they were familiar, for example, Bach’s “Ave Maria.”  The last cool thing about the service, which I had experienced in Germany about ten years earlier, was the way communion was organized – groups of people form a circle around the altar, hold hands, say a brief prayer, then the bread and wine is given.  It was a wonderful time.

After the service, I reckoned it would be okay to snap a photo

I headed back to the hotel, checked out, and walked briskly to the last sight of the Nuremberg visit, the German Railways (Deutsche Bahn) museum.  Nuremberg was the birthplace of German railways, with importation of the first steam locomotive, the Adler (Eagle) from Newcastle, England.  This Transport Geek (it’s been awhile since I used that term, maybe too long!) really enjoyed the exhibits, which told the story of the DB, and included a great set of locomotives, from a replica of the Adler to the most modern Intercity Express (ICE).  Also notable were the honest interpretation of the DB’s responsibility for transporting Jews during the Holocaust, and the postwar partition of the railways into West and East Germany.  I only wish I had more than two hours.   Some glimpses:

The oldest remaining railway car in Germany, ca. 1838

Detail, reconstruction of the first German locomotive, the English-built Adler

Exterior detail, royal railway carriage of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, a man with a taste for the ornate

A Nazi-era modern locomotive; note the covered swastika — it is illegal to display the symbol, even in a museum

A suitcase belonging to a Holocaust victim; the Deutsche Bahn has for many years acknowledged its pivotal role in the extermination of Jews.

I walked back to the hotel, grabbed my suitcase, headed to the station, and hopped on the 2:57 train to Augsburg.  It was crowded, but the ride was only 65 minutes.  From Augsburg, I got on a pleasant regional line south to Lindau on the Bodensee, the large lake between Bavaria and northeast Switzerland.  The train engineer’s “cockpit” had a glass back wall, and the T-Geek sat in the first row, for a superb view out the front and side windows.  And I could see the speedometer, and admire the fact that even on a small branch line the tracks were engineered to allow sharp curves at 75 mph.  At a moment like that I lamented that we don’t invest in public (or for that matter private rail) infrastructure to enable that kind of performance.

A village in the Allgäu region of Bavaria; note the solar panels on roofs — you saw them on houses, on barns, as freestanding “farms” by the railway tracks

Ferry arriving at Lindau on Lake Constance (Bodensee in German)

After about 30 minutes the Alps came into view, and much of the rest of the two-hour ride was through the low foothills in the region called Allgäu.  At Lindau I snapped a couple of pictures of the lake, then climbed on a very unpleasant train; it was the end of the second day of Oktoberfest in Munich, and the cars were packed with revelers.  I stood in the vestibule for the 40 minutes, glad for the quiet.  We arrived St. Gallen, my next teaching stop, at 7:41, and I was glad to get off, walk literally across the street, and check into my hotel.

Sunday dinner: this is what $10 buys in Switzerland!

Was up at dawn on Monday morning, strode a few blocks to a fitness center with which the hotel had a contract, and rode an exercise bike.  Another tonic workout.  Dressed, ate, and walked up the hill to the University of St. Gallen for my 12th visit.  Met my young host, Georg Guttmann, and delivered a lecture on airline pricing to an engaged group of 25, mainly Swiss.  A couple of the students joined Prof. Sven Reinecke, George, and I for lunch in the Mensa, the university cafeteria.  I peeled down the hill to work the afternoon.  All 11 of my previous visits had been in winter, and it was delightful to see the town and surrounding hills in late-summer green.

Window shopping provides a great view of the cost of living in Switzerland, as well as the huge quality of its manufactures: here, a top-of-the-line Bernina sewing machine offered at the equivalent of US$6100. Yow!

At 6:30 I met a really interesting young man, Gieri Hinnen, a Ph.D. student who has worked for Swiss International Air Lines for three years, and was writing a dissertation on energy and environmental issues in the airline sector.  We repaired to my favorite St. Gallen bar, Zum Goldenen Leuen (you can figure out the name!) for a couple of beers and two hours of fascinating discussion.  Gieri was very knowledgeable and articulate, and it was a pleasure – it had been a long time since I had a solid conversation on airline strategic issues.

St. Gallen traditional and modern; in foreground, the cantonal (county) emergency-response center, designed by Santiago Calatrava

St. Gallen

Tuesday morning, back to the gym, worked the morning, then up the hill to meet my other St. Gallen academic host, Winfried Ruigrok, and Georg Guttmann for a seriously caloric lunch (young venison, spaetzle, red cabbage, roast chestnuts) and a good chat at Wienerberg, a splendid old-school restaurant across from campus.  After lunch, I met Franziska Brunner, who runs St. Gallen’s masters’ program in economics.  At 3:45 I headed west to class, passing with delight a farm that abuts the campus (Switzerland’s rural ethos – well beyond Heidi – endures!), admiring the well-kept barn and the contented calves grazing in verdant grass.  From four to six I delivered the lecture on airline alliances to Prof. Ruigrok’s international management class, a very global group of 60 students.  Lots of questions.  Afterward, a group of students surrounded me, eager to learn more.  We talked for 20 or 30 minutes, and I begged leave, but they followed me down the hill and into town, Brazilians, Swiss, Germans, Chinese.  I felt like the pied piper!

The University of St. Gallen; there are, literally, no old buildings on the main campus

The farm that adjoins the campus

Braunvieh calf; this is the most common breed of cattle in Switzerland, akin to what we call Brown Swiss in the U.S.

After breakfast Wednesday morning, I headed to the magnificent Baroque abbey church (an Irish monk, St. Gall, is the town’s namesake, and the monastery has long been an important part of the town).  Wednesday-morning mass was on, but I sat quietly in the back for daily prayers, and a chance to greet the wooden angel who has welcomed me there for more than a decade.  She and I have had many conversations; that day, her arm pointed the way forward to a new adventure in a new city.  I was glad for her uplifting counsel.  Here some views of the old town:

The Baroque Abbey Church

My favorite St. Gallen haunt, The Golden Lion

Walked back up the hill to campus, worked a bit, and at one met Sven Reinecke for lunch, and a welcome late addition to my visit – two days earlier he e-mailed to ask if I could deliver a one-hour talk to an exec ed marketing program.  I was delighted to do so, and at enjoyed lunch with a handful of the students, who came from a wide range of Swiss companies (and the U.S.’ Johnson & Johnson).  The talk was short because at three I hopped on the #5 bus down the hill, for my last lecture, to full-time MBA students, another very global group.  More great questions and interaction from a bright cohort.  Then back to the hotel, retrieved my suitcase, and hopped on the 5:48 train to Zürich.  It was a very un-Swiss ride, because we arrived in the big station four minutes late, requiring a stressed dash to catch the ICE Intercity Express north to Germany.  I just made it, and even found a good seat.

Village a few kilometers from St. Gallen

After cooling down and getting my ticket punched, I headed three cars back, to the dining car, the ­Bordrestaurant, for beers and dinner.  Ah, the dining car, a place to conjure happy memories of lunch enroute to Chicago in the 1950s and ‘60s on the Twin Cities Zephyr; of a ride on the 1910-vintage diner, “Kariba,” on the way from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls in 1974; and many other meals on wheels.  The diner was quite busy, but emptied fully when we arrived at Basel.  I enjoyed a wheat beer, a hefeweizen, and a bowl of hearty pea soup with ham, finished the day’s New York Times on my iPhone, and read several chapters of a novel.

Changed trains at Mannheim, then to Frankfurt Airport and onto a suburban train, riding one stop west to Kelsterbach and a long (but familiar, from 2010) walk in light rain to the cheapie Ibis Hotel (hotels right at the airport are like $250 a night, which makes no sense).  Head hit pillow after midnight and, oh my, did I sleep hard.  Up at seven, to the airport, and onto American Airlines to DFW.  It was a great trip, but I was so happy to head for home, from the last trip of the third quarter.

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A Weekend of Transitions

Frederick Hart’s depiction of creation, National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

On Saturday, September 15, I flew to Washington, D.C. for the first of three transitional experiences that weekend.  We arrived a little late, track-improvement works on the Metro slowed things down (as regular readers know, your correspondent does not like taxis), and I arrived late at my destination, the Quaker meeting room at Sidwell Friends School.  I joined more than 400 people who paused on a lovely late-summer day to remember and honor the life of Andy Steinberg, an aviation lawyer with whom I worked at American.  For the second time in two years, I mourned the far-too-early death of a good fellow, described in the memorial folder as “a man of extraordinary intellect, integrity, and humility.”

A range of eulogists spoke.  A colleague, Bruce Charendoff, delivered awesome praise, citing the above qualities, and more.  He was a kind and loving person, totally devoted to family.  Daughter Madeline told sweet tales of him reading bedtime stories, some from books, others made up, like that of Mr. Chen, whose white Toyota minivan had doors that morphed into wings, bearing the Chen family skyward toward many adventures.  And Andy’s wife Roxann spoke well – how many of us could undertake such a painful task – quoting Roman poet Quintus Ennius: “Let no one weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men.”

Roxann also offered the following view that brought tears to this traveler’s eyes:

Andy believed that traveling is an essential component of a good education.  I also think that one reason Andy was such a skillful negotiator was that he had visited with people and experienced varied cultures on every continent except Antarctica.  He believed that if you can understand the world from another person’s point of view, you have sufficient knowledge to come to agreement.  Respect and kindness, of course, don’t hurt, either.  Endeavoring to understand how the world looks through someone else’s eyes and heart was the underpinning of his relationship with me, with our children, and I suspect with many of you.

The remembrance continued at a reception at St. Alban’s, the boys’ school of the National Cathedral, several blocks south (Andy’s son Malcolm, who also spoke, is a senior there).  People offered me rides, but the quiet time was good for reflection about life and about death.  And it enabled me to take a couple of photos – the late-afternoon light perfectly illuminated the façade of the cathedral parsonage and, further on, Frederick Hart’s magnificent Ex Nihilo Typanum, a bas-relief of the creation above the main doors of the big church, a work I have long admired.

Bas relief, parsonage, National Cathedral

The reception was a happier time, an opportunity to greet many old aviation friends, like Bruce, with whom I worked from my first days at Republic Airlines in 1984.  I enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and some nice finger food, then again set off on foot, east to the Woodley Park Metro station, through an amazingly quiet (and posh) neighborhood that offered more time for thinking.  I rode south, then west into Virginia, to West Falls Church, where daughter Robin picked me up.  We had a good yak, but I was soon asleep.

After breakfast the next day, transition two began.  We met sister-realtors Tracy and Leslie Wilder, and began looking for a house.  A house for three generations: Linda and me, Robin, and granddaughters Dylan and Carson.  Yes, dear readers, after 25 years in Texas, the Brittons are moving to Northern Virginia.  Following Robin’s divorce (which, happily, is now almost final), Linda and I had discussed the prospect, but reckoned it was some years off.  Then, a few weeks ago, Linda quit her job; she had wanted to pursue “one more career,” and the timing was right.  As a consultant, I can work anywhere.  So we decided “let’s go!”

To be fair, both Linda and I spent a lot of time the previous weeks thinking about the move.  I had some mixed feelings, and when you contemplate something like a move, you can’t be conflicted.  As often happens, my bike was where the whole thing got resolved, a week earlier.  The resolution rested on two points.  One, what we are doing is minor compared to what other loved ones have done for us.  Imagine my Dad volunteering to defend our freedoms, shipping off to the Pacific, and returning three years later in much worse shape than he left – but giving all of us freedom.  Two, as a Christian who believes in judgment day, imagine me standing in front of St. Peter and him asking me why I didn’t do what I knew to be right.  What would the answer be?

The first house we saw was the one, but we slogged along and looked at seven others, all in McLean, Virginia, about 10 miles west of Washington.  One of those would work, too, but not as well as #1.  So we drove back, took another hard look, and the next day signed a contract offering to buy it.  As I write this, there’s no answer, but one way or another we will be moving.

The weekend’s third transition actually began before Sunday house-hunting.  Robin and I got up early, had a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal, and drove to Redeemer Lutheran Church in McLean, for the 8:30 service.  On the way in, we introduced ourselves to Pastor Sandy Kessinger (a woman, all to the good).  It was the early service, and the worshipers were mostly my age or older, but they were an enthusiastic lot – Lutheranism has a strong choral tradition, and several of the elders sang with strength.  We liked Pastor Kessinger, and her homily (a good test of shepherds) was linear and basic.  I’ve long said that faiths are not essentially complex.

It felt so good to be back in God’s house.  When we relocated to Allen in 2007, we stopped worshiping regularly, a combination of a much longer drive to the Lutheran parish to which we belonged and some disagreement with the new pastor, a younger, more conservative guy who took over when our favorite Rev. Jon Lee, a fellow Minnesotan, retired.  And though I am broad-minded about faiths and sects, I became a Lutheran by choice, not least because it was the original Protestant faith (I’m looking forward to the 500th anniversary of Luther’s first protest against Catholic dogma in 1516).  Another benefit of the move will be proximity to that congregation.

Lastly, two important reasons for moving:

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To Niagara Falls, Strictly Business

The Canadian side of Niagara Falls

“Rinse, repeat” lasted a bit longer, just over a day.  In the U.S., summer ends the day after Labor Day, the first Monday in September: students head back to school in most places, workers get serious about work, and I flew north to Chicago and east to Buffalo, New York, landing at one.

I was headed to a seminar in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  The limo and shuttle services wanted some $70 to drive me 30 miles; a quick look weeks earlier showed that Buffalo’s public-transport agency, Niagara Frontier, would get me there for $4.50, with a short connection in downtown.  So I hopped on their airport express.  Halfway downtown it started raining, and by the time I got off it was coming down steadily.  Opened my umbrella and ambled a block to the transfer point, and onto route 40, which would drop me a block from the Rainbow Bridge, across the Niagara River from Canada.

Buffalo, at least what I saw from the two buses, looked better than I expected.  It’s a city hit hard by deindustrialization.  Lots of job loss.  Niagara Falls, New York, last visited more than 30 years earlier, also looked a bit better than I thought it would.

It was absolutely pouring when I got off the bus.  Happily, the pedestrian route to Canada was well marked and I got across the river and into Canadian immigration.  I must have been a sight to the inspector, but he was polite and waved me through.  As I’ve done before, I told him it was great to be in a country that provided health care as a basic human right.  “I hear you,” he replied.  From there, totally soaked, I ambled across the street to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, hailed a taxi, and rode a few blocks to the Hilton, home to the Bombardier Airline Executive Seminar, an annual conference I last attended in 2009.  I was a presenter and agreed to stay for the full 2.5 days.

On the Rainbow Bridge, in pelting rain

This brochure rack in the Hilton was a perfect metaphor for the place: cluttered, with rather more hawking than you’d like.

Wowie, they reserved an enormous suite with a superb view of the (smaller) falls on the U.S. side.  Step one was to hang up all the stuff that got wet, and that was a lot – even stuff inside my suitcase and backpack.   Step two was the gym, 12 miles on an exercise bike.  Step three, a bit or work, step four a short nap.

At seven, I joined a welcoming reception, meeting a lot of new people, both from Bombardier, manufacturer of a wide range of small to mid-size commercial aircraft, airline guests from all over the world (Oman, Tunisia, Latvia, Canada, and more), and other presenters.  Some good yaks.  Wednesday morning, it was time to deliver a talk on how to improve airline alliances, which was well received.  After lunch, the airline people were put into three teams for a simulation exercise, and I peeled off to my room to do some work, then some bike exercise.

The American side from my hotel room

At 6:30, I ambled down the hill to get a better look at the larger Canadian falls, which drop more than 300 feet.  Although all the development on both sides of the river mar the grandeur, it’s still a remarkable sight.  I was a bit surprised at how popular the place still was – especially, it seemed, with recent Canadian immigrants.

What were they watching? Quite a sight . . .

Following the success of Nik Wallenda’s highwire traverse of the entire gorge, the Canadians decided to string a cable between two highrises, and each night at seven, aerialist Jay Cochran walks a 1250-foot tightrope; it’s especially impressive because he is 68!

One overlook gets you really close to the water!

New mass tourism: massive hotels on the Canadian side

The 1960s tourism infrastructure is struggling; this German-themed motel was closed

The American falls at dusk

We left the hotel at 5:15 Thursday afternoon for a great night out.  By this time the small group had bonded quite well, Michelle from Las Vegas, Surdeep from London, Danny from San Francisco, and about 20 others.  First stop was the Stratus Winery, a new, 55-acre vineyard, really impressive.  The Niagara Peninsula has long been a center of fruit production, but the grape business is relatively new, growth driven by tourism and proximity to a huge (10 million people) market within 100 miles.  Stratus’ building, indeed the whole winery, was LEED-certified (a new standard for environmental sustainability and energy efficiency).  Way cool.  We sampled a bit while listening to an introduction and welcome, had a brief tour of the production facilities, then did some aroma and blind testing.  Really fun.

Drove ten miles west to Treadwell, a restaurant focused on high-quality and local foods, where we had a colossal dinner (scallop and risotto to start, halibut, and a peach crumble for dessert).  Lots of fun.  To my left was Jorge Abando from Bombardier and across from me Tomasz from Eurolot, a start-up airline flying from Poland’s secondary cities.  A very fun group.

Friday morning was given to conclusions and summation, and in early afternoon we went by bus to Toronto airport, past Hamilton, Canada’s steelmaking city, then into metropolitan Toronto, passing an enormous residential and commercial node, Mississauga Town Centre, a perfect last reminder that Canada’s different – and to this long observer, better – approach to economic and social development works so well.

Mississauga Town Centre

At the airport we said goodbyes, and caught an earlier flight home.  A nice few days, which might yield some future consulting business.

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By Tradition, for the 22nd Consecutive Year: Judging the Best Barbequed Goat in all the World!

The BBQ team from Athens, Georgia

I’ve often used the phrase “rinse, repeat” to refer to serial trips, but the last day of August might have been a record.  The flight home from Chihuahua was late; it was almost noon when I got home, and I left for the airport at 2:15.  The 135 minutes were filled: a nice catch-up lunch with Linda, a short walk for MacKenzie, a shower, and unpacking/repacking.  A bit busier than I’d like, but it was time to keep a long tradition alive: judging , for my 22nd time, in the World Championship Barbequed Goat Cook-off in Brady, Texas, a town of 5,000 smack in the middle of our big state.

The itinerary was identical to 2011: at four I flew to Abilene, 170 miles west, and at five Jack picked me up in his blue Subaru.  It was great to see him, and to meet one of his friends from Lubbock, Brandon, a bright and funny young man.  We headed south, stopped in Coleman, Texas, for a pee and a drink, and by 6:15 were tucking into barbecue dinner (not goat) at The Spread.  The boys peeled off to see high school football, I checked in, did a bit of work, and rode the hotel’s exercise bike, which was tonic.

I was up before 6:30 Saturday morning, back onto the bike, showered, and at 8:30 we met Adam Pitluk, editor of American Way (American’s inflight magazine), and drove to the judges’ brunch in Melvin, a nearly-dead hamlet 17 miles west of Brady.  I recruited Adam to judging, and introduced him around; he got the traditional ration of rookie ribbing.  After a big repast, Jack headed to help judge cooking rigs (not as important as meat, but an essential task that he really likes), and Adam and I drove back to town.

On the ride from Abilene, I noticed a nail head in Jack’s right-front tire, so headed to a repair shop next to the hotel.  The door was locked, but a young fellow who worked there was in the shade eating a breakfast sandwich.  He kindly agreed to fix the tire.  I invited him to finish his breakfast; “it’s lunch,” he said, adding that he had been fixing and changing tires since 3:15 that morning.  After two dunks in the leak tank and no bubbles, we gave the tire a good inspection and could not find metal.  He did not want to charge me (“I didn’t fix anything”), but I pressed a $10 into his hand.  Small-town niceness.

I motored out to the site of the competition, Richards Park, and ambled around for a bit.  A short bit, because it was already almost 100º.   Yakked with some volunteers, visited with old friends, and at two the first stint of work began, judging not goat but farmed venison.  Some good stuff, but just a warm-up to the main event at three.  There were 203 goat teams this year, which required more judges and more judging teams.  Veteran judge Mark Pollock, a musician who owns a guitar shop in Alpine, Texas, captained our table, along with Paul Feazelle, a rookie named Kim, and me.  We sampled 20 plates the first round, then 15, 10, and 5.  A lot of protein.  Some really good goat, and not many spit-it-out entries.  In between tasting, plenty of time to visit with old friends.  More than two decades on, it’s just pure joy to josh with a cadre of good ole’ boys (and a few girls, too).  Not much substantive discussion, but that’s not the point.

This year we opted to stay Saturday night, something I hadn’t done in years, and that was a relaxing choice.  After the winners were announced, Jack and Brandon headed off to Riley King’s family ranch, and I rode back to the hotel for a cooling swim with Adam’s family, wife Kimberly and daughters Maddie (7) and Lily (5).  We chilled in the hotel room Saturday night, and Sunday morning drove back to Lubbock, dropping Brandon and fellow judge Stewart Storms, then heading to lunch.  Jack dropped me at the airport, and I was home by 4:45, MacKenzie on leash.

Here are some scenes from the fun:

Veteran judges Rob and Jack Britton, on the judging stand, which is actually two flatbed trailers lashed together

No event like this could run without volunteers like these three

Experienced judge John Johnson from Lubbock, Texas, and his spouse Norma; the goat horn shouts her rookie status!

Miss Heart of Texas queen and her court

Rookie judge and American Way magazine editor Adam Pitluk and daughter Maddie

Veteran judge T. Flemming, utensils at the ready

Longtime event organizer Terry Keltz auctioning banners

It’s a goat barbeque, but the Chicken Team always shows up!

Jack Britton scoring the meat

An impatient contestant

 

Senior judges Sandoval, Stewart, and Brown wrapping up the competition

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Teaching in Chihuahua

 

Mural of General Pancho Villa riding into battle, Museum of the Revolution, Chihuahua

 

On Sunday, August 26, I flew to Chihuahua, for four days of teaching at Tec de Monterrey, Mexico’s best engineering and business school.  As you can tell from its name, the school started in Monterrey, the industrial center in the north of the country, but now has many campuses (my first visit was in January).

The Tec B-school invited me to be an “academic leader,” which meant a very busy four-day schedule.  One of the young faculty members, Priscilla Gomez, and her boyfriend Oscar met me at the airport and drove me to the hotel.  I unpacked and headed to lunch in the hotel restaurant, where Constantino the waiter remembered me from my visit seven months earlier.  Nice!  Had a big bowl of chicken soup with chipotle peppers, and fresh tortillas.  Yum!

At three, Fernando, the 16-year-old son of my Tec host, Prof. Ramírez, picked me up at the hotel and we motored a few miles north and east to some caves on the edge of the city.  I had never visited a big cavern before, and the stalagmites and stalactites were spectacular.  We walked about a mile underground, up and down, through dark spots (that would not be on the tour in lawsuit-crazy USA) and nicely lit formations.   Way cool.  Fernando was a sweet young guy, smiley and welcoming – we covered a lot of topics on the way to and from the caves.

 

Fernando

 

I was warm when he dropped me off, and the hotel pool beckoned.  I was not in the water more than 30 seconds when one of five young guys asked me, in Spanish, if I wanted a beer.  “,” I replied, and thus began 90 minutes of total fun with these locals.  They were funny.  We mostly spoke Spanglish across various topics.  It was a nice T-t-S episode.  High point in terms of insight was one of the guys relating his experiences working as a janitor in Ottawa three years earlier; he was clearly educated and had a good job in Chihuahua, so his perspective as an illegal in Canada was interesting, not least his withering criticism of their maybe-too-generous social welfare – “I don’t understand why they pay money to drug addicts who won’t work.”

My new pals were friendly, but after a couple of beers I needed an escape route. Snapped a photo of the group, thanked them all, and headed back to my room.  Ate a nice fish dinner and was asleep before 9:30.

The first day of classes, Monday the 27th, was super-busy.  First stop was to meet my host, Erika Ramírez.  We had a short chat, she introduced me to some colleagues, showed me to a temporary office, and introduced me to the first class, at 9:00.  I finished three lectures before 1:00, but the afternoon was free, and after a nice lunch with a faculty member I got a bunch of consulting work done.  I was back in the classroom – actually an auditorium – from 7:30 to 9 that evening with a presentation to students and some parents.  A young host, Luisiana Garza, and her boyfriend took me to dinner at El Retablo, a wonderful restaurant that we visited in January.  We had the Mexican version of chile rellenos, poblano peppers stuffed with meat and topped with a nutty cream sauce – yum.  Like most of my Mexican hosts, Luisiana was amazed at my fondness for spicy food.  I was back at the hotel about 10:30, and fast asleep.

Group study at Tec

Up even earlier Tuesday morning, lectures at 7:30 and 9:00, a video interview with Tec’s media-relations people at 10:30.  Lunch at 1:30 and a lecture at 3:00.  Back to the hotel, time for a nap.

The classroom atmosphere is strict, and that is a good thing. Profs typically did not admit students who were more than a few minutes late, and one required students to surrender their mobile phones. Nice!

Fernando Rodríguez, an aerospace engineering prof I met in January, picked me up at 6:00, and we drove back to campus.  He had arranged a dinner meeting of CEDIA, the group responsible for development of an aerospace-manufacturing cluster in Chihuahua that is home to Textron (Bell Helicopter), Honeywell (avionics), and a bunch of other blue-chip aerospace manufacturers.  Before the meeting, though, we spent 45 minutes with Antonio Ríos, director of Tec’s hugely innovative technology-transfer and business-incubation center called PIT2.  The idea of nurturing start-ups by locating them adjacent to universities is not new (think Silicon Valley), but the twist is that in many parts of the world – Canada, Germany, Sweden, and now Mexico – government and established businesses join in support.  Antonio provided a thorough tour of the building, which was almost literally humming with brainpower, even at 6:45.  Needless to say, the combination of brains and a labor-cost advantage holds bright promise for Chihuahua – particularly as lower-value-added manufacturing in many maquiladores heads to China.

PIT2

You can almost hear the low hum of brainpower at PIT2!

PIT3, under construction. It’s a very striking design, and like PIT2, will be fully LEED-certified for environmental sustainability and energy efficiency

The meeting began, and I offered a few thoughts about aerospace manufacture and clusters.  Answered questions, ate dinner, and visited with some of the delegates.  The cluster is large, 7,000 employees and growing.   Said goodbye, Fernando drove me home, and as I drifted off to sleep I pumped my fist – halfway done.  This was one busy week.

Desayuno todos los días — breakfast every morning was two kinds of chilaquiles, tortilla chips covered with cheese and sauce, plus refried beans, potatoes, and a small scoop of eggs. Traditional and delicious!

The high point of Wednesday was an e-mail from Erika with positive feedback about my performance so far.  She celebrated my “continuous attitude of maravillarte de la vida (amazing yourself about life) and your gratitude for life,” and that made me smile.  And get back to work, though Wednesday was not quite as busy.  In fact I had the morning off, and a young Tec employee, Claudia, picked me up at the hotel at nine and we visited two museums I did not see in January.

High-school students practicing for the big parade on September 16, Mexico’s Independence Day (1810)

First stop was the Museum of the Revolution, housed in Pancho Villa’s home not far from downtown.  I know the broad outlines of Mexican history, and as I observed on these pages in January, it took a long time – more than a century – for the Mexicans to become a free people, and it’s an interesting, if difficult, story.  The museum told it nicely, with a great collection of artifacts, including the Dodge car in which General Villa was riding when he was assassinated in 1923.  Bought some postcards and we headed to the next stop the home of Benito Juarez, the righteous five-term president of Mexico in the mid-19th Century.  Carved on one of the arches in the courtyard was my favorite quotation, “Respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz” – respecting the rights of others is the peace.  Juarez was ahead of his time; as a full-blooded Zapotec, he also pioneered the rights of people of color and indigenous nations.  A righteous person.

The Dodge that carried General Villa the day he was assassinated in 1923; note the bullet hole in the radiator.

 

The Museum of the Revolution is housed in General Villa’s house; although modest, it was large and had some nice detail, like this wall molding.

 

My favorite quote, from Benito Juarez

 

A sitting room in President Juarez’s home

 

Detail, courtyard, Casa Benito Juarez

 

Facade, commercial building, downtown Chihuahua

 

There were talks on Wednesday afternoon and another conference for students, their families, and others Wednesday night.  When that was done, I joined Javier Ortega, one of my student hosts in January, and three friends and we motored across town to Tio Taco, a modern place in a very flashy, suburban-American style office and shopping complex.  Javier said it was dinner with a few friends, but the table soon maxed out at more than 20.  Ate a fish taco and a meat-and-cheese taco, yakked with the youngsters, offered a bit of advice.  At about ten, one of the students, Michel, sang me a song, accompanied by a mariachi band.  Her voice was terrific, powerful with great range, and it was a touching moment.  Soon after, a shot of tequila arrived, and though I had a busy next day, I had to down it.  And soon beg a ride back to the hotel.  At moments like that, I told my hosts that of the 60+ countries I have visited, theirs is quite possibly numero uno in hospitality.

Thursday morning was busy with lectures.  At one, the school’s director general, Joaquín Guerra, welcomed me to the lunch meeting of the board of trustees.  Though the meeting was in Spanish, I tracked most of the agenda (Antonio from PIT2 provided some general translation).  I also had the opportunity to say a few words of thanks and praise, heartfelt.  Prior to the last talk, Thursday evening, a met briefly with an entrepreneur who had a clever idea and possible consulting work, all good.  The final talk was to businesspeople who were friends of the school, good questions.  My last words were from my heart, to apologize for my fellow Americans – public officials, the media, and others – who point fingers at Mexico.  “If there were no demand for drugs in my country,” I said, “there would be no violence, corruption, and sadness in yours.”

The week was a terrific experience on so many levels.  As much as I enjoyed the classes and the two plenary evening talks, the most satisfying experiences were the one-on-ones with students.  For example, I spent 30 minutes Thursday afternoon with Lester, who attended the Monday-night session, and was about to graduate.  He e-mailed me Wednesday morning asking about career.  His questions were vague and open-ended, and I replied as best I could.  So when I passed him Thursday and he called out my name, I sat down to talk, and in a half-hour I was able to provide many more ideas and possibilities to explore – you can’t do career-counseling in an e-mail.  He was so grateful, but the exchange gave me much joy.

I woke up at five Friday morning and flew home.  It was a busy but truly wonderful experience.  I have always liked Mexico enormously, through 42 years of visits.

Tec’s teams are nicknamed los Borregos, the Rams; not sure that applies to the women’s teams! The influence of U.S. collegiate sports was larger than expected.

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