England, By Way of Minnesota

U20Roof trusses and decorative ironwork, London Paddington Station, designed by the great engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel

On June 20, I flew back to Minnesota, for a mini-reunion of the Edina High School Class of 1969.  One of the class stalwarts, Todd, has organized these sessions for 15 or 20 years.  I was actually headed to London the next day, but simply could not miss a second reunion in a month, so I took a circuitous “back road.”  First stop was lunch with my nephew Evan, who I had not seen in two years.  We had a good catch-up, especially about his new career plan, to be an author.  His goal was 5 books before age 30, and he’s already cranked out two, including Ubered, about his experiences as an Uber driver.  At two, he dropped me at my Airbnb digs on Minnetonka Blvd. in St. Louis Park, a suburb adjacent to Edina.  Had a brief but great chat with my host Ben, a middle-school math teacher and serious marathon runner.  Super nice fellow.  Repaired to my bedroom in the basement and worked for an hour.

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Airbnb host Ben’s medals from a series of marathons in Duluth, Minnesota, and his modest house on Minnetonka Blvd.

At 3:30 I walked a mile to the reunion venue, McCoy’s, and in no time was chattering away with classmates.  I was the seventh to arrive, and I recalled five of six names.  Only Steve Hopkins, now a Montanan, eluded me.  Not bad recall.  About 20 of a class of 806 showed up, a dedicated and good-humored group.  We lamented the recent loss of classmates and teachers.  John arrived, toting a portable oxygen generator, upfront about his terminal lung disease.  Well, shit.  Got caught up with a bunch of fellows – six of them were heading up to northern Minnesota to fish from a big houseboat.  Yakked with Peggy, Nancy, Nancy, and Barb, the only women to attend.  And we laughed a lot.  A lot.  As I summarized after attending the previous one in 2016, it was the most fun you could have in three hours, among wonderful, decent people.  Minnesotans.  And we all agreed that our short-term goal was to stay vertical until the big 50th reunion next summer.

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Pal-since-1963 Tim McGlynn and I peeled off at seven, grabbed a pizza and a great (if depressing) yak about current events and more uplifting chatter about our families, including his new granddaughter Georgia.  Mac dropped me back at the Airbnb and I promptly clocked out. ZZZZZzzzzzz.

Awoke at my customary time, 6:00 Eastern, 5 in Minnesota.  Awake.  “Must rise, must tour,” as we used to tell our kids when traveling the world, so I zipped into downtown on the #17 bus (senior fare $1), and had a great walk down the Nicollet Mall (a pedestrian way, not shopping center), past Orchestra Hall, the former Dayton’s department store, the Federal Reserve Bank, and more.  Stopped at a Caribou Coffee for a jolt and an apple fritter, ambled south to the new domed football stadium, hopped on the Blue Line train to the airport, and flew to New York La Guardia.  On the flight were 30 members of the “Honors Choirs of Southeastern Minnesota,” bound for Montreal.  They were excited (and some looked a little scared); for me it was a wonderful reminder of the goodness that airlines provide.

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Scenes from my amble in downtown Minneapolis, above at left, Minnesota sculptor Paul Granlund’s “The Birth of Freedom”; below, the 1929 Foshay Tower, once the city’s tallest, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the graceful former Northwestern National Life Building, designed by Minoru Yamasaki and opened in 1965

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Landed at one, hopped on the bus to Jackson Heights, Queens, the E Subway into Manhattan, then the #6 train north to 86th and Lexington.  I’ve often described New York as a mix of the best and the worst, and the sidewalks on 86th were purely the latter.  Leaky garbage bags, litter, half-full takeout food containers. Ewwww.  Then I entered the best: Ronald Lauder’s Neue Gallerie on Fifth Avenue, a showcase of German and Austrian art from the first three decades of the 20th Century.  I was there to see Gustav Klimt’s “Woman in Gold,” formally Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I, the colossal 1907 painting that the Nazis seized, the postwar Austrians retained (and hung in the famous Belvedere Palace museum), and Adele’s nice, Mrs. Maria Altman, fought to reclaim.  And she won, as those of you who have seen the wonderful dramatic film that told the story.  After watching the movie (and I’ve now seen it several times), I vowed to see the work in person.

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From the air: automotive test track near Detroit, along Lake Erie’s north shore, and forested valleys in central Pennsylvania; below, a nice view of downtown Brooklyn

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And there she was, splendid, along with several other Klimt portraits and two landscapes.  It was a moving sight – Adele’s journey from Vienna to Fifth Avenue is one of my favorite stories of persistence and will.   An interpretive panel next to the work explained that Byzantine mosaics Klimt saw at a church in Ravenna, Italy, inspired the variegated golden texture of the background.

Gazing at the work for some time, an elementary reality presented itself: unlike musical compositions, books, or movies, which are created (and enjoyed) sequentially, the visual artist must conceive of the whole work all at once.  Whew!  The upper floor of the gallery was closed for a new installation, so I finished early.  Sat on a park bench on the edge of Central Park, then walked a mile or so south, then east to the subway and out to Kennedy Airport.

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Flew to London, landing Friday morning at six.  Hopped into Paddington Station, grabbed a quick supermarket breakfast and a coffee, changed some dollars into pounds, and onto the Great Western Railway west to Worcester and what has now become a roughly annual visit to John and Diana Crabtree and family.  Diana and son Robbie (now 18) were waiting on the platform.  We zipped home, changed clothes, and headed to Sports Day at the Kings School in Worcester, where Jessica (almost 13) studies.  As a nearly-teen, she was deeply embarrassed when we cheered for her in the long jump and 100 meter dash, but it was good fun on a perfect late-spring afternoon.  The Brits were complaining about the heat, but for me it was comfy.  John was home when we arrived, and we had a great catch-up yak outside, followed by pizza and World Cup action on the TV.  Was asleep well before it got dark, but before dozing off I did a little calculation: since leaving home Wednesday morning, I had traversed about 5500 miles, an average of 100 mph for every one of the 55 hours.  Mobility is such a blessing.

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Jessica at Sports Day, and deep embarrassment (below)

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Worcester Cathedral

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Members of the Crabtree tribe: Jamie, 19, and Jessica’s pet hedgehog

Slept 10 hours, tonic.  Out the door and onto a bike, south five miles through villages I met the year before.  Paused at St. Michael’s in tiny Churchill, from the 14th Century.  Back home I ate a bowl of granola, made coffee (the Crabtrees are stalwart tea drinkers).  At 11, John and I rode with Diana to a point on the River Severn about three miles north of Worcester and we ambled into town along one of the wonderful public footpaths that crisscross Britain – in the country, for centuries, people have enjoyed the legal right of foot travel across property both private and public.  We had a great yak, which we continued over a pint (well, two) outdoors by the river, just upstream from the cathedral.   Diana picked us up, we headed home, had lunch, a nap, and a nice swim in their pool.  At six we walked to the village pub, Chequers, which now offers rather posh food.  James, 19, who just completed his first year at Aston University, joined us.  It was a lively meal.  Back home, we watched the last 30 minutes of Germany vs. Sweden, then “Darkest Hour,” a movie I’ve seen three times and would watch again.

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St. Michael’s Parish, Churchill, Worcestershire (14th C.); interior scenes below

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An old house in Crowle gets a new roof; thatchers still practice their craft

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Scenes from our walk along the Severn: barley and wildflowers; below, the river at Worcester

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John Crabtree, pal since 1981

Sunday morning, out for a shorter bike ride at seven.  Halfway into the ride, I encountered a bleating blackface sheep, covered in brambles, on the road.  He or she followed me as I biked along, and the animal was clearly in some distress.  A mile later I came upon a woman walking her dog, but neither she nor John knew how to report lost livestock.  I felt badly.  Back home, ate breakfast, then Diana, John, and I headed out the door at 9:30 to meet my other Worcestershire friends, Andrew and Janet Manning Cox (Andrew and John were for years fellow partners in a large English law firm; I first met John in 1981 when we were teaching at the University of New England in Australia).  We parked and went for a long walk in the Malvern Hills, all the way to the top, Beacon, elevation 1,394 feet.  The Manning Cox’s dogs Humphrey, Bobbin, and Rufus came along (and Bobbin disappeared briefly after encountering a small flock of sheep grazing at the top).  My knees did surprisingly well on the long descent.  Some scenes along the way:

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The lovely foxgloves cover the Malvern Hills

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Pausing for water along the way: Humphrey drinking from a nifty fold-out water bowl, and Andrew pausing at one of the springs for which Malvern is noted

At 12:45, we repaired to the Nag’s Head for beer and a huge Sunday lunch.  Verity Manning Cox, 18, just finishing secondary school, and her beau Dan joined us.  Another lively repast, punctuated with World Cup updates: England scoring and scoring again vs. Panama.  Andrew had invited me to an evening concert at Verity’s school, Malvern College, so I hugged the Crabtrees and headed a few miles west to Winthill, a wonderful country house.  Took a nap, had another swim, and at seven we enjoyed an hour of musical performance at college.  Verity flawlessly played a solo on tenor saxophone, “Oblivion,” a soulful tango work by the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.  There were seven other student solos, all backed by a professional orchestra.  It was a wonderful event.  Headed back for a late, light supper, outdoors on the third day of sunshine – as I brushed my teeth before bed, I noticed that I had gotten quite a tan in England!

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Worcestershire best mates Andrew and John

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Malvern College, and star saxophonist Verity Manning Cox

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Malvern Hills at dusk

Up early Monday morning, end of leisure, start of the work week.  Suit and tie, bowl of cereal, into Andrew’s car to the train at Malvern.  He rode 10 minutes to Worcester, said, goodbye, and I continued on to London.  As I have written before, it’s so wonderful to be invited into the homes and family lives of friends overseas, and the weekend was very special.

Arrived just before 10, and hopped on the Tube to South Kensington and bound for an afternoon lecture at Imperial Business School.  Enroute was my first good Talking-to-Strangers of the trip, with a primary school teacher who was shepherding her class to the Tower of London, and a few snippets with pupils (always good to show them photos of Dylan and Carson on my iPhone).  She was super-friendly and smiling, asking about my work, home, family.  A nice interaction.  Londoners were complaining about the heat, but it’s all relative.  Ambled to Imperial and found a quiet study carrel just outside the Thermofluids Laboratory (curious, I Googled: they are “Focusing on Combustion, Heat and Mass Transfer and Fluid Flow.”)

 

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Imperial College totems: Queen’s Tower, opened 1887 to mark Victoria’s golden jubilee, and a statue of the monarch, in the lobby of the business school on Exhibition Road

At one I met long host Omar Merlo – this was already my third visit to Imperial in 2018 – and we zipped across to a big lunch in the student cafeteria (all those meatballs!), then into a lecture to a dozen MBA students, a small but engaged group.  Back onto the Tube, east to the Strand, and an atmospheric pub, The Old Bank of England (yep, it used to be in that building).  Met my pal Tim Letheren, who was in a guest lecture I gave at Cambridge years ago.  We’ve stayed connected, and we enjoyed a two-hour yak across a range of topics.  Hopped back on the Tube, and out to Kensal Green.  I often stay with friends Scott and Caroline Sage in that neighborhood, but they were out of town, so I booked an Airbnb nearby.  Reza welcomed me at seven.  We had a good introductory yak about our backgrounds.  His father was English, his mother Guyanese of Indian ancestry; he studied civil engineering but went into accountancy, and now does placement in the field.  I changed clothes, washed my face, and walked north on Chamberlayne Road to an Indian restaurant and a huge plate of food, with, of course, a side of chopped green chilies.  Ambled back to the Airbnb and clocked out.

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Ceiling, Old Bank of England pub

Up early Tuesday, out the door and into some serious rush-hour commuter congestion on the trains into the city.  Spent the day working in TechHub, a co-working space where a young friend of mine works at a startup.  I was the oldest guy in the building by a factor of 2.5x.  At five I ambled a block south to The Globe pub and met another young friend, Alberto Pose, an Argentine I first met at the South American Business Forum in Buenos Aires a decade ago (like Tim the day before and Abheer that morning, he wore shorts to work to cope with the heat). I hadn’t seen him for years, and it was great to catch up.  He’s working for Amazon in London.  His pal Rodrigo, also from Argentina, joined us for a yak and a couple of beers.  They departed promptly at 6:25 to watch Argentina vs. Nigeria in the World Cup (happily, their team won, narrowly escaping elimination). I hopped the Tube and bus “home,” washed my face, and walked less than a block to The Parlour, a wonderful gastropub I had visited several times with friend Scott Sage.  Tucked into a cold summer meal, pea salad followed by poached salmon.  Seriously good.

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From my perch in TechHub; the low hum of brainpower was evident

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In the dog-friendly TechHub: golden retriever Sailor, a dachshund, and samoyed in the offices of Waggel, seller of pet insurance online

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With young amigo Alberto at The Globe

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With a heat wave, most of the pub’s patrons were outdoors

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Pea salad, The Parlour, Kensal Green

Up early again Wednesday morning, Tube to the posh Belgravia neighborhood.  Met long airline friend Don Langford for breakfast and a good catch-up, plotting a possible visit to his cabin in the Stockholm Archipelago in September.

After Don peeled off, I fell into one of the best T-t-S in a long time with Hani, a merchant banker with a small firm.  It began with a brief exchange after I provided (hopefully accurate) directions to two Dutch tourists, then accelerated.  Went even quicker after I handed him my Georgetown business card with the address “Rafik Hariri Building”; he said “you’re in the building named for one of my countrymen.”  Mr. Hariri was prime minister of Lebanon, a true leader and unifier, tragically assassinated in 2005.  We carried on for 20 minutes or so.  A seriously enthusiastic guy, smiling, bright.  It was his 40th birthday.  A wonderful exchange.

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Posh cake shop, Belgravia

Walked back to Sloane Square, onto the Tube to Heathrow, and flew to JFK.  Rather than wait four hours for the connecting flight home, I hopped on public transit, two trains and a bus to LaGuardia.  At the Jamaica train and subway station, I jumped in and helped arriving visitors find their way to the right train.   As I hopped on the E train, I smiled as I saw a young black man helping a Pakistani family get their luggage on board.

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E Pluribus Unum.

Just missed the 7:00 PM flight home, so hopped on 8:00 PM flight to DCA.  Was home by 10:30, MacKenzie on a leash.  That was the last travel of the quarter.

 

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A little reminder that I still travel in much the same way that I did in my 20s: al fresco breakfast, London

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