Monthly Archives: November 2018

Across the Atlantic Again: Switzerland, Italy, Germany, England

Vineyards in the Adige Valley near Bolzano, Italy

I was home from Omaha less than two days.  Hopped on a flight to Philadelphia at two on Sunday afternoon, November 4, then across the ocean to Switzerland, bound for my debut in the business school of the University of Zürich.  Landed at eight on Monday morning, grabbed a big tub of yogurt (I slept through breakfast on the Silver Bird), and climbed on the #10 tram for the university.  Happily, the small Hotel Plattenhof was 1) right by the school and 2) had a room ready for early check-in (larger Swiss hotels are less accommodating; this place had a friendly and flexible vibe from the beginning).  I took a shower, put on jeans, and headed into the center for a short walk-around.

More great art in Philadelphia airport: Adam Ledford’s “Fly Me to the Moon” (nice glimpse of the 1950s!), and Colleen McCubbin Stepanic’s “Peak”

 

Good morning, Switzerland; protruding cloud in the center of the photo is water vapor from a nuclear power plant (well, yes, I know the country pretty well!)

Enormous cedar tree across from my hotel — on Cedar Street!

Above, window shopping on Bahnhofstrasse, the city’s fanciest shopping street (those are boots for ice-climbing); below, detail in a shopping arcade

Swans in the Lake of Zurich, eager for handouts from tourists loaded with loaves of bread

At noon, I met Rev. Paul Brice, pastor of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, a little outpost of England in the middle of Zürich.  I’ve known Paul for about a decade, back to when he was chaplain at Sidney Sussex College, my digs at the University of Cambridge.  Paul showed me around the church, originally built by the Swiss Reformed Church for services at an adjacent cemetery.  We walked down the hill to an Indian restaurant for a buffet lunch and good conversation.  Said good-bye and looked around town a bit more (I had hoped for a short ride on one of the ferries that play the Lake of Zürich, but they run infrequently in fall and winter).  Back to the hotel, worked a bit, short nap, worked some more, and at eight met my young, longtime colleague Jochen Menges, who has just taken the chair of leadership and human resource management at UZH.  We ate at Oberhof, 100 feet from the hotel, in a building that dated to 1293.  Had a schnitzel and potatoes, a good base for a long sleep.

The Limmat River

Intense autumn color in the park near Paul’s church

Up early Tuesday, time to stand and deliver, two back-to-back lectures to Jochen’s undergraduate and Masters students.  At 12:15 we parted, I headed back to change out of my suit, then to a nearby Mensa (student cafeteria) for lunch.  Fortified, I walked down the hill, into the Grossmünster, the city’s largest Protestant church, and up 180 steps to nearly the top of one of the two towers.  Great views, though it had clouded up a bit.  Spent another couple of hours joyriding on the city’s superb public transit system (especially the dense network of trams), using my 24-hour ticket.  Worked a bit, short nap.

Above and below, graceful main lecture hall at UZH

Above and below, views from the church tower

Mosaics depicting postal transport modes, Sihl Post Office

Colorful sign for the Oberhof Restaurant

At 6:30 I met two of Jochen’s assistants, Nicolas, a Swiss postdoc, and Leonie, a German Ph.D. student.  We hopped the #6 tram into the city and tucked into a big dinner and some good conversation.  Said goodbye, rode the streetcar back to the hotel, and clocked out.  It was Election Day in the U.S. (I voted a month early), and I was determined not to check results until 6 a.m. Wednesday.  And it worked, though as often happens on the second night in Europe, I kept waking up.

The train to my next teaching gig, at USI in Lugano, Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland, was not until 1:30, so after breakfast I zipped downtown and walked along the Limmat River and through the Altstadt (old town).  Was able to snap a quick, though poorly composed picture of the reception hall of the main police station, designed by Alberto Giacometti, before an officious woman waved me away (in fairness, posted signs said the hall was closed for renovations).  Hopped on a funicular up to ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, walked a bit of the campus, then next door to the university.  UZH is proud of the fact that it was the first university in Europe to be founded by the state rather than a monarch or the church, and proud of some notable alumni, like Albert Einstein.  At 11, I met Martin Natter, marketing chair in the UZH business school.  In all my guest teaching I’ve never had a meeting like that: within 15 minutes he had invited me to give a lecture in February 2019, set the date, agreed on terms, done!

Oil vial from a Roman bath, ca. 40 B.C.; during redevelopment, builders have unearthed lots of material from Zürich’s Roman past

The city has lots of “wedding cake” buildings

Spires in the old town

Ceiling of Giacometti’s police hall, and detail at ETH

Ambled a few hundred feet from the B-school to my hotel, checked out, hopped the #6 tram downtown, bought lunch, had a little picnic in the sun in front of the Swiss National Museum, and got the train south.  As I wrote in 2018, the Swiss have finished a $9 billion, 35.5-mile tunnel through the Alps (the Gotthard Base Tunnel), which made the trip way faster than before.  North of the mountains, it was sunny and you said “Danke” to the SBB conductor; south it was rainy and the word was “Grazie.”

Swiss National Museum

Was in Lugano by 3:50, onto a bus and to the Hotel Lido.  For several years, I stayed at a newer hotel much closer to the campus of Università della Svizzera Italiana, but was back at this four-stars-but-worn hotel.  Happily, they had a fitness bike, slightly broken, and I cranked out some miles.  Cooled off, then ambled a block to a new restaurant, Neapolis, featuring Naples-style pizza.  The website made it look promising, and I especially liked the owner’s comments, pushing back on unfair social-media reviews, plus this gem:

We want to highlight that our production involves original ingredients, manual processing, care of cooking, firming times, hours used exclusively for the product and subtracted from other working processes, all which go far beyond the time and cost of buying an industrial and / or frozen product. We regret that “occasional” clients omit such realities, artisanal and contractual, and they criticize the cost. Therefore, clearing any doubts, we invite the “critics of Sunday” to reflect well before pointing out and remembering, as a pure example, that there are people who want to have Louis Vuitton bags, others … supermarket bags, so the use is the same and everyone is free to have, in fact, to eat what he chooses.

When I sat down at my table, I was feeling a little lonely.  The couple next to me was chatting with their children via FaceTime on their iPhone.  I thought of my traveling-salesman dad, who ate dinner alone for decades, in Appleton, Wisconsin, Devils Lake, North Dakota, and hundreds of other Upper Midwest towns, then I thought of what he often said to me when I was in a bad mood: “Snap out of it.”  So I did.  The pizza was great, and my server was a friendly young guy, half Swiss and half Italian.  A little T-t-S with him after the meal, showing him pictures of my Italian great-grandparents and other kin.  Asleep at 9:30, finally a long, hard sleep.

Neapolitan-style pizza; at right, a first: spray bottles for the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar!

When I checked into the hotel the day before, the clerk gave me a Ticino Card, good for unlimited public transport on all modes, throughout the canton.  Free mobility excites the Transport Geek, and because I was not teaching until afternoon, I mapped out a morning excursion, north and west to Locarno on Lake Maggiore, then up the Melezza Valley on a narrow-gauge railway known locally as FART (Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinese).  It doesn’t translate well, but it was an awesome ride, west and up and up and up, lots of curves.  The train to Locarno was 5 minutes late (very un-Swiss!), so I missed an earlier train and thus had to shorten the ride up the valley, getting off at Verdasio.  It was remote.  Three days earlier, when I got off the #10 tram in central Zürich, I said aloud, as I often do, “Well Butch, this is it; this is Bolivia,” words spoken by Robert Redford, a/k/a The Sundance Kid, in the 1969 movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” when they disembarked in some remote town in that country (they headed south to rob banks).  But when I got off the FART train in Verdasio, that statement really had currency!  I was back at USI in time for lunch in the Mensa.

The first mile of so of the FART train is underground, and the graffiti artists have been busy; then you surface and things look much better

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Swiss-made: at left, regional train from Stadler, and a von Roll fire hydrant; as I have written many times, part of Swiss prosperity is a cultural propensity to buy locally, even if it costs more; below, a $2,2o0 Swiss chair that doesn’t look too comfy!

The view from the fitness bike

Met my host and long friend Omar Merlo (we first met at Cambridge, and I’ve followed him to several, schools, mainly Imperial College London, where he is full-time), and delivered a talk to a dozen grad students.  Headed back to the hotel, rode the bike, worked a bit, and at 6:30 took a local bus into downtown, then a Postbus (the Swiss postal service, 180 degrees different from the USPS, runs a network of buses all over rural Switzerland) up the hill to Omar’s place.

He grew up in Lugano and he owns a small flat in the village of Carona.  His father and sister still live in Lugano, an Omar invited me to an early birthday party at the flat.  When I arrived the welcome was like I was part of the family: hugs and kisses from father Luigi and his partner Alida; sister Adriana, husband Sandro (who I had met several times before), and daughters Victoria (12) and Nicola (14).  The banter at the dinner table, and the laughing, were nonstop, moving easily between English and Italian.  Luigi and Alida did not speak English, so Omar translated – we also discovered that both grandfathers spoke rudimentary Spanish, so we occasionally conversed that way.  The main course was Alida’s wonderful lasagna, then a special almond-cream birthday cake for Omar.  It was a special evening – so wonderful for a visitor to be invited into a home when traveling abroad.

Slept hard again, up Friday morning and out the door, onto a regional train south 50 miles to Milan.  Walked a kilometer to the Pasticceria San Gregorio, and at 10:20 met longtime (since 1991) friend and former American Airlines colleague Massimo Vesentini.  We only had about an hour, so we talked fast, updating on families, work, and a little about the state of the world.  He accompanied me back to Stazione Centrale, hugged, and went back to work.

Massimo Vesentini, and an unusual ceiling display at the coffee shop

I hopped on the 12:05 fast train east to Vicenza, ultimately headed for the Brenta Valley, where my late brother Jim and wife Pam vacationed for many years, bicycling up smaller valleys and around the villages of the Veneto region.  In my backpack were the last of Jim’s ashes, and I wanted to consign them to the ancestral (well, 25% at least) homeland of which he was most proud.  Our dear Giacomo loved Italy and all things Italian.  A few months before he died, we agreed that we needed to do a cycling trip back to the Veneto, and that journey would include a visit to Pinarello, maker of some of the world’s best bicycles (I’ve owned a red one since 2011).  Once I committed to take his ashes, I wrote a paper letter to Fausto Pinarello (son of founder Giovanni, who started building bikes at age 15), told him that story, and that I bought my Pinarello on Jim’s recommendation.  Three months passed with no reply, and I gave up on the prospect.  Then just three weeks earlier an email arrived, Alice sending a nice invitation.

So at Vicenza I jumped on a local train east to Treviso, then into a taxi to the factory, arriving about 3:45.  Alice was the receptionist, and she called Andrea, a young marketing manager, who led me around the showroom, then into the production area.  It was fascinating.  They build bikes in three small plants, and this one, attached to their main office, was only for the serious high-end machines, the ones the best pros use.  We saw the paint shop, decal-application room, and the assembly area.  It was hand-crafting at its best.  As a souvenir, I got a Pinarello water bottle.  Shook Andrea’s and Alice’s hands, thanked them profusely in Italian, and hopped back in a taxi.

Back on the train, one change, arriving in Bassano del Grappa (yes, it’s the place that gives the simple brandy its name) at 6:10.  Short walk to my modest hotel, wash face, and at 7:00 I met Walter, one of the Italian friends that Jim and Pam made on their trips.  Walter, 39, was a wonderful guy, spoke great English (he had worked in England), always smiling.  We headed to L’Antica de Abbazia, a pizza restaurant in a former Benedictine abbey.   We had a great meal and got to know each other a bit.

Next stop was his Aunt Elsa’s bar in the village of Pove del Grappa, a few miles north of Bassano, which was where the Brittons stayed (sadly, the hotel they always used had closed).  They actually met Walter through Elsa – every day after their bike ride they would stop at her Bar Romanelle for an orange juice or soft drink before heading back to the hotel.  Elsa was away when we arrived, eating her dinner.  While waiting for her at a table outside, an “opposite T-t-S” happened.  A pretty young woman kept staring at me.  Finally she walked over and, apologizing profusely for interrupting, said “I love your accent; where are you from?”, which launched a chat about the U.S., including, alas, politics.  Soon Elsa was back behind that bar, at age 71 still working hard.  We had a chat with Walter translating, and met her daughter Eva and grandson (“Gabri Blu,” who at age 10 was already one of Italy’s best hip-hop dancers; go figure!).  I was plumb wore out, and Walter looked tired, too, so we motored back to Bassano and parted with hugs.  It was a long day.

I woke in the middle of the night with a start: where were Jim’s ashes?  I knew I packed them, but where?  Rummaged through my backpack and suitcase, and, aha, they were exactly where I put them a week earlier.  Up at seven, breakfast, and out the door.  As in northern Minnesota in August, I wanted to dispatch Jim to the earth, air, and water.  Earth first, at the base of still-blooming roses at the northeast gate of the (walled) old town.  Then into the air along the wall of the ancient Ezzelini Castle, and finally into the Brenta River from the historic Ponte Vecchio (old bridge), designed my Andrea Palladio, Italy’s most famous 16th Century architect.  Every deposit violated Italian law (so Massimo informed me weeks earlier), which requires that all human remains be buried in a cemetery, but, well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do!

R.I.P., Giacomo: the last of my brother returned to the earth, the air, and the water

Above, looking north, up the Brenta Valley; below, the Ponte Vecchio designed by Palladio

With the day’s main task finished, prayers said, and tears shed, I ambled around Bassano for a couple of hours, through the old town.  Two highlights.  One, the Saturday open-air market with beautiful local fruits and vegetables.  My eye landed on peeled whole garlics, then immediately a memory from 60 years ago: the smell of garlic sautéing in olive oil in my grandmother’s kitchen in Chicago.  Two, climbed to the top of the ancient city tower, Torre Civico, for great views in all directions.  In the tower were a series of interpretive panels in several languages that explained Bassano’s evolution in great detail; most salient was that the river was truly the lifeblood of the town: abundant water for drinking and bathing; for crops and watering livestock; for shipping (south to Venice and the rest of the world); and for power, for example to spin silk thread.  Scenes from Bassano:

At left, new meaning to the phrase “attack dog”; at right, the town’s namesake product

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Ambled back to the hotel grabbed my suitcase, and got on the 11:25 slow, slow train up the Brenta Valley, over a pass, and down into the Adige Valley to the City of Trento.  As we went north and west, house architecture looked less Italian and more Alpine, with steeper gables to handle the weight of snow; and ecclesiastical architecture tended away from Romanesque toward Austrian-Baroque.  Also notable: lots of fruit cultivation: grapes, apples, apricots, pears.  I had an hour between trains, so I found picnic fixings at a supermarket, then ate lunch in a pleasant park with fountains, ponds, and ducks.  Last ride was 35 minutes north to Bolzano, in the autonomous province of South Tyrol.  This is complicated: there’s another autonomous province to the south, Trentino, and together they made up the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. Yes, it’s Italy, but about 40 years ago the national government in Rome transferred most legislative and administrative powers to the two provinces; and taxing authority, which means the region keeps 90% and remits only 10% to the national treasury in Rome.  The whole setup reflects historical forces going back centuries, and a lot of to and fro following World War I and World War II.  In South Tyrol, 62% of the population have German as a first language, 25% Italian, 5% Ladin (an ancient tongue spoken in remote valleys, not unlike Romansch in Switzerland), and the remainder are the languages of immigrants.  You can read more in Wikipedia!

San Lorenzo (12th C.), Trento

Walked a few blocks from the station to my Airbnb, met the host’s son, Andrea, 23, and settled into a nice big room in a large flat.  My host, Simona (she was in India), had taken great care to decorate the guest room.  It was beautiful, and the bed beckoned, for a short nap.  Andrea showed me his bike out on the street and gave me the lock key for riding the next day.  I hoped for no rain, because some two-wheel touring would be great.  Out the door before six, literally steps to my dinner venue next door, a brewpub called Batzen.  Settled in on a stool at the bar, had a couple of beers and a nice plate of meat and potatoes.  Sitting on a bar stool and paying attention to customer interaction, I learned a bit about the dynamics of language and power (my bartender was a neutral party, a young immigrant from Albania!).  Walked next door, called home, and was asleep by ten.  Hard sleep, dreamland.

Up at seven, looked outside, cloudy but no rain, so pedaled off for a quick ride around town, south then west, then back.  Stopped for a double espresso at the little Bar Luce by the Talvera River, which joins the Adige in Bolzano.  Back to the house, light breakfast with bread and jam (rolls from dinner the night before, squirreled away, jam from the fridge).   Back out on the bike, across the river to the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church, which I found on the Internet.  The locals, whether German- or Italian-speaking, are largely Catholic (and overtly so, judging by all the roadside shrines).  It was Armistice Day, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the Great War, “the war to end all wars,” and it seemed to be a good day to give thanks and supplication.  (Although Italy changed sides in 1914 and joined the Allies, the region’s historic ties to Austria, and thus the Austro-Hungarian Empire, made it likely that a century earlier a lot of locals were “on the other side.”)

Italian “jet fuel,” Bar Luce

I emailed the pastor, Rev. Jäger, the week before to confirm that worship was at 10:00, and he confirmed.  I arrived early and he welcomed me warmly.  The congregation was small, perhaps 25 people.  Wonderful organist, I got through the hymns (easier auf Deutsch than Swedish weeks earlier), and sang the last, familiar one with special vigor, Martin Luther’s “Ein Feste Burg” (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”).  As I experienced at German Lutheran worship in 2002 and 2016, communion is truly communal, the group gathering in a semicircle at the altar.  It was a good place to be that morning.

Evangelical (Lutheran) Church

Bolzano had a wonderful network of bikeways

Evidence of long prosperity in the city

Back on the bike, zipping downriver several miles, then back to the train station for lunch fixings (almost everything is closed Sundays), then back to the Airbnb.  Tucked into a big sandwich, chips, and a Coke, then back out, short coast to the bottom station of the Ritten Seilbahn (cable car).  Bought a regional day ticket for €15, and hopped on.  Up, up, and away.  I hadn’t been on a big aerial tramway for years, and it was way fun, sort of like flying.  At the top, Soprabolzano (or Oberbozen in German), I hopped on a little narrow-gauge train east to the end of the line, then on foot, up to see a geological curiosity, “earth pyramids,” reddish-brown spires formed by deposition and erosion.  Alas, as I descended toward them a thick fog set in, and I saw nothing (as I got back to the little train station, the fog lifted, sigh).  Back on the train, back down on the tram, on the bike home and a short nap.

Villages above Bolzano looked decidedly Alpine; below, one of many shrines along roads and trails

The earth pyramids were down in the fog; at right, I did see a little one, barely visible; below, goats both real and imagined (oh, vanity! note she’s admiring herself in the mirror!)

At 5:30, I headed next door to Batzen, back on a bar stool for beer and dinner.  High point was a glass of their Habanero Pils, yes, spiced with hot peppers.  ¡Arriba!  Back home, re-packed by bag, starting reading a novel on my iPhone, then Zzzzzzzzz.

Woke before six Monday morning, out the door to the station and onto the 7:32 train north to Innsbruck, Austria.  In no time all Italian-style buildings disappeared, and I was decidedly in Central Europe.  We went through a tunnel below Brenner Pass, into Austria, and downhill to Innsbruck, last visited in 1973 when I was briefly a tour manager across the border in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.  Most people with an hour between trains would hang in the station, but I kept moving, out for a 40-minute walk through the center to the famous Goldenes Dachl (Gold Roof, below), a landmark built in 1500 for a royal wedding.

Back to the Bahnhof and onto the 10:40 to Munich.  Coasted east, down the Inn Valley, then across into Germany.  As soon as we crossed the border the solar panels appeared – the Germans so understand solar and renewable energy, what insight!  It was a little too early for lunch (11:30), but the train arrived Munich at 12:25 and it had a dining car, irresistible to this traveler who grew up riding trains with rolling restaurants, so I headed in for a small plate of meat dumplings and sauerkraut.  Not great, but the ambience was superb – the scene along the tracks was the Alpine version of the “storybook” landscape that I have often described along the middle Rhine Valley north of Mainz: this is the Europe that non-Europeans imagine it to be!

Hopped on the 12:47 train west to Plochingen, through Augsburg and past the huge church spire in Ulm that I climbed two years earlier, then onto a connecting train south to the historic university of town of Tübingen.  As the crow flies, from Bolzano it was only 165 miles, but it took nearly the whole day to get over and around mountains and hills.  I was teaching the next day at the European School of Business (ESB) in Reutlingen, 9 miles away, but Tübingen is a more interesting and historic place.  Hopped on the bus, stopped at the supermarket for breakfast supplies for the next days (brief T-t-S at the bakery with a young immigrant with family in the U.S.), and up the hill to Sandra’s and Tom’s Airbnb, my second visit.  They were away, but left directions to the hidden key, and I was in.  Unpacked, connected to Wi-Fi, did a bit of work.  Headed into the center at six, back to a cozy restaurant for a plate of bratwurst and fried potatoes.  Back home, asleep by 9:30 – I really didn’t do anything hard that day, but was totally worn out.  Way deep sleep, dreamland, tonic!

Up at seven to shave off four days of whiskers and don a necktie – time to stand and deliver (in the afternoon).  Had a nice, brief catch-up chat with Sandra before she headed to the gym (Tom was in Detroit), a couple of cups of coffee, and out the door.  Did some errands, worked a bit, brought this journal up to date, and at noon met Professor Dominik Papies, Marketing Chair at Tübingen University.  We had a good discussion and a nice lunch at a fancy restaurant, and by the end of the meal it looked very much like I landed another teaching venue at a storied university.  Dominik was a young guy, clearly up and coming; among other things, I learned he had been an exchange student at Eagan High School in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, not far from where I grew up.

Tübingen is a delightful university town; below, evidence that Germans lead the world in recycling: everything into the Yellow Bag (Gelber sack)

Nice wordplay in a help-wanted sign at a Tübingen bakery: “Weckle” means bun in the local (Swabian) dialect!

Took the train 9 miles east to Reutlingen, then the bus up to ESB, the European School of Business at Reutlingen, my seventh visit there.  Met my host Oliver Götz, and from 3:30 to 5:00 delivered a talk on airline selling to 40 undergraduates.  Oliver and I then hopped in his car and motored back to Tübingen, parked in a ramp just outside the old town, and walked to a new restaurant, Gasthaus Bären, specializing in Swabian tapas (Swabia is the historic region that rambles across two modern German states).  The latter two words turned out to be oxymoronic – traditional Swabian cooking is hearty, and the eight small, shared dishes turned out to be a huge meal.  Burp!

Oliver dropped me at the Airbnb, I chatted briefly with Sandra, and was asleep before nine, because I was up at 4:30 Wednesday morning, out the door, and onto a bus to Stuttgart Airport, 25 miles north.  I was stressed, because the bus arrived 59 minutes before my flight departed.  But I was at the gate 14 minutes after the bus dropped me, stress relieved.  Flew Eurowings to London, landing Heathrow at 8:20, fairly short queue (under 20 minutes) at immigration, then onto the Picadilly (Tube) Line into town.  As always, once on the train I cued The Beatles, English genius at its best.  Off the train at South Kensington, and seriously in need of coffee (I had a light picnic breakfast on the bus to the airport, but no coffee).  Headed into Pret a Manger for two coffees and a Danish, and life was way better.  Walked a half-mile north to Imperial College London and worked the rest of the morning.

On the Piccadilly Line

From 1:00 to 2:00, delivered a webinar to alumni of the business school at the University of Hull, in Yorkshire (I’ve started doing webinars organized by an enterprising woman, Jane, who I met in Düsseldorf in 2017).   Grabbed a quick lunch from the cleverly-named  Pie Minister, a sort of indoor food truck in the Imperial student union.  The server, a smiling African immigrant, heard me say I was hungry and added another scoop of mashed potatoes and a ladle of gravy.  Time to deliver again, a two-hour seminar for about 150 Masters marketing students.  By 5:30, I was worn out.  Walked back to the Tube, then west to Kew and a night with Omar and Carolyn and their kids.  No humans were home when I got there, but Mr. Waffles, their more-than-spunky golden retriever welcomed me with games of fetch and tug of war.

Changed clothes, and walked a couple of blocks to the agreed dinner venue, the Kew Gardens pub.  Sadly, the kitchen was closed.  Omar arrived and we opted for dinner at Pizza Express in the Kew village, a serviceable chain and a fave of their kids, Sophie and Freddie.  They and Carolyn arrived, and in no time we were jabbering as old friends do.  Pizza, pasta, beer, and then a welcome sleep – had been up since 3:30 UK time.

Mr. Waffles plays tug of war; Freddie Merlo (far right) in front of the Queen’s School, Kew

Up early, more fun with Waffles, quick breakfast, then out the door with Carolyn, walking the kids a few blocks to school.  Hugs to all, then onto the Tube into Central London.  Quick coffee with a young colleague, then onto a sharebike a couple of miles to the London School of Economics.  Last gig of the trip.  Omar was teaching a intro to marketing course to undergrads, and I was guest.  Finished that at two, ambled a couple of blocks to Masala Zone, a curry chain, for a spicy lunch.  Then one more stop before it got dark, onto the Tube east to the Olympic Park, site of the 2008 summer games.

Mounted police, City of London

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

No games that day, instead a solemn event.  Four days earlier, I marked the centenary of the end of World War I in a church.  Now I was walking toward and around “Shrouds of the Somme,” an enormous art project consisting of 72,396 small (about 18” long) figures wrapped in white shrouds and arrayed in a grassy field in the park – one for each of the British and Commonwealth forces that died in the bloodiest battle in British military history.  When I came upon the scene, I wept, as did many others.  Over loudspeakers, a volunteer read names, ages, and the military unit of each.  Further along, a separate display, one shroud for each day of the war, and a small sign showing the death toll of that day.  I counted the tallies for Christmas, normally a day of peace: 1914, 147; 1915, 208; 1916, 269; and 1917, 281.  Then I thought of my great-uncle Maurice, who died a month before the war ended.  I didn’t know the day, so I Googled his name, and learned that he died of shrapnel wounds while eating lunch on October 11, 1918.  This was all so grim.

I bought a program when I entered the site, and read the story of the artist, Rob Heard.  Imagine my surprise when I saw him standing by the exit, chatting as visitors left.  Of course I had to thank him.  We had a nice exchange.  Despite his fame, he was quiet, unassuming, kind.  I told him about Maurice, and showed him his picture on my iPhone.  As I left, thanking him again, I told him that one of the many things I admired about the British was that they were good at remembering. “Yes, he said softly, “yes, we are.”

Left, reading names of the dead; right, artist Rob Heard

Headed back to town, picked up my suitcase and backpack (left at my friend’s office), worked in his lobby a bit, walked a couple of blocks to Liverpool Street Station, then onto the 7:00 train to Harwich, then the ferry across the North Sea to Hoek van Holland.  This was the fifth time I’ve returned from Britain via the Netherlands, to avoid the $250 (and soon to rise again) departure tax, and have a little adventure along the way (the whole package by boat, trains and breakfast included, is $125).  Was in my cabin and fast asleep by 9:45.

Up at 6:30, big breakfast, down the gangway, onto a bus, then a train, then another bus (the Dutch were repairing a piece of a major rail artery, which caused some disruption).  Along the way, glimpses of the orderly and dense Dutch countryside, intersected by canals and ditches – they do know their water!  Arrived Schiphol Airport at 10:25, in time for a coffee and chat with ex-KLM executive and friend Jan Meurer.  We had a good yak and some laughs, taking turns showing pictures on our smartphones.  Jan peeled off at 11:30 and I flew home via Philadelphia.

The orderly Dutch cityscape, Schiedam; at right, my friend Jan Meurer catching up on the news

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St. Louis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Montreal, and Omaha

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Along the Lachine Canal, Montreal

On Sunday, October 7, jumped on a quick flight west to St. Louis, bound for my second appearance at Washington University.  Landed early, hopped on the handy Metrolink light-rail from the airport, and within 30 minutes was at the hotel on campus.  Along the way, something I’d never seen on public transit: a card shark working passengers, mostly young black men, on the train.  I really wanted to get a picture, but, well . . .  He had a wad of cash, plenty of Franklins, and in the three minutes I was on the Blue Line train he had done a brisk business.

At five, I reconnected with Bill Burnes, a St. Louisan and great fellow.  Back in Aughts, Bill and his colleagues worked at Momentum, the agency that handled American Airlines sales promotions.  I had not seen him in a dozen years, found him on LinkedIn, and up he drove in his Mustang convertible (it was about to pour, so the top was up).  We drove a mile to Salt & Smoke, a barbeque restaurant I visited the year before with students, and had a 2.5-hour repast, catching up, discussing marketing, ranting about the idiocy of procurement departments, and more.  Oh, yeah, some good local craft beer and a plate of pulled pork, beans, and tomato salad.  It was a great evening.

Up Monday morning to the hotel gym, cranked out some miles, breakfast, then over to the Olin Business School.  Met my host, Professor Chak Narasimhan, and delivered a talk to a small but engaged class in (distribution) channel strategy.  The Faculty Club was closed, so we walked next door to the law school for a quick lunch and yak.  Hopped in a taxi at 1:00, like the year before bound for the suburban house of Steve Schlachter, friend since 1963 and former AA co-worker.  Much of the joy of Talking to Strangers is conversing with people way different than me.  The cab driver, from the Kikuyu people of Kenya, was way different, but much the same.  We talked about work and family, about faith and values.  We also talked about how, almost five decades ago, we were nearly in the same place at the same time: on my only visit to Kenya, in 1972, we visited Lake Nakuru, famous for its huge flocks of pink flamingos.  A couple of years later, he started school in Nakuru, traveling from his home village 100 miles west.  Those kinds of time/place near-intersections are not uncommon, another datapoint on a mobile life.  I gave him a good tip.

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WashU has an impressive campus, not least for the quality of the buildings: renovated older halls and dazzling new ones

Steve and I immediately fell into a long chatter across a bunch of topics, including other friends, current events, and some substantial remodeling of their home.  We zipped a mile to the supermarket for some supplies (read: beer for Rob), then back for a mid-afternoon snack.  At four, I hopped on his sleek city bike and coasted down a big hill to Creve Coeur Lake, ringed with a great biking trail.  It was warm but not hot, and I cranked out 17 miles, then pedaled over to the gardening store where Steve’s wife Cindy works.  Steve met us at 5:40, we put the bike on the car rack, and drove home, up the hill (I sorta cheated a little, but the hill was big).  Took a shower, grabbed a cold beer, and at 6:30 we headed back to Paul Manno’s Café, a wonderful Italian place where we dined the year before (do you detect a pattern?  The St. Louis trip was like, as Yogi Berra memorably said, “Déjà vu all over again).  Was fast asleep well before ten.

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Creve Coeur Lake, suburban St. Louis

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Chris and Haley, Cindy’s father and daughter co-workers at Schmittel’s Nursery

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Hospitality!  Fellow Minnesotan Steve served my beer in a Vikings glass.  Skol!

And up at 4:40 Tuesday morning, out the door, and back to the airport for a 6:12 departure to Minneapolis/St. Paul on Delta.  Even though I had been to my home state just six weeks earlier, I was still excited to return.  Landed in rain and mid-40s temps, and began a bold experiment: public transit everywhere, no rental car.  Bought a Metro Transit day pass for $5 and hopped on the Blue Line light rail toward the University of Minnesota, where I would teach later in the morning and afternoon.  At the 50th Street station, a woman with some bulky bags squeezed in next to me.  “I’ve met you,” she said, “You’re a teacher.”  I replied affirmatively, launching an outstanding T-t-S.  More specifically, for the second time in two days it was a T-t-S-w-P-W-D-T-M – with people way different than me.  Susan looked Ojibwe, and halfway into the conversation I asked her if she were Anishinabe, the more respectful term for that nation.  Yes, she was, and told me that her “real” first name was Flower in the Wind (she said it both in English and Anishinabe).  Lovely.  We talked a lot about her 28-year-old son; she was happy that “he finally seems to be directing his energy in positive ways.”  Just before I got off the train, she told me that at age 55 she had outlived most of her friends, a sad commentary of the life expectancy of Native peoples.

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The famous spherical-triangle roof at Lambert St. Louis International Airport

 

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Flying into rainy weather, and a perfect flight on Delta Air Lines

I grabbed a quick breakfast in the B-school, worked a bit, then set off, across the wide Mississippi River to the East Bank Campus of “The U.”  It was raining lightly but steadily, so I ducked into a few buildings as I made my way around.  Paused for 20 minutes in the atrium of the architecture building, where a civil engineering job fair was just getting underway.  More T-t-S with several organizations looking to hire imminent graduates.  Despite all the time I spend at universities, they always fascinate me, that morning in the broad range of things to study.  After the job fair, I lingered in the mechanical engineering building, specifically in the shops where students built things.  Just wonderful.

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Longtime friend and stalwart Geography Prof. Rod Stewart in his tidy office

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The Washington Avenue bridge connects the U of M’s West and East Banks. As an undergraduate, I crossed this two-block-long span up to six times in a morning.  I still know the way!

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Outside the Mechanical Engineering shops; at right, a machine that can cut any material using 60,000 psi of water pressure.  Whoa.

 

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Last stop on the campus roam was the Borchert Map Library, named for a wonderful former professor; here a close-up of a USGS topographic map showing my father’s birthplace in Cascade County, Montana

Hopped the Green Line light rail back to the West Bank and met my longtime U of M host, Debbie John.  Delivered back-to-back lectures to her undergraduate advertising class, with yummy pizza in between.  At 3:30, I said goodbye, and hopped on an express bus, then a local bus, then three blocks through the rain to the home of long friends Deb and Phil Ford.  Such a joy to lodge with friends, way better than a hotel.  We yakked for an hour.  I cheated a bit and headed to dinner in Deb’s car rather than public transit, north to the home of Emily Sheppard and new husband Michael, plus their swell big dog Buster.  Emily’s mom Martha, widow of old pal Jack Sheppard arrived, and we tucked into a big dinner and lots of conversation.   But I was plumb wore out, so hugged them all before nine and drove back to the Fords.  Yakked briefly and clocked out.

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Undergrad advertising class, tucking into free pizza

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Canine pals along the way: Sadie (Steve and Cindy were petsitting) and Emily’s dog Buster

I didn’t teach until 9:55, but my body was still on Eastern Time, so woke up at 5:25 (one hour difference seems to mess me more than the five or six across to Europe!).  Showered and out the door, several blocks south and west to 50th and France, the shopping area of my childhood.  Stopped at the fabulous Wuollet Bakery for a Danish, then yogurt at Lund’s & Byerly’s supermarket, then a big Starbucks.  At eight I hopped on the #6 bus, a line from my childhood, and rolled toward downtown Minneapolis, then across to The U on light rail.  Delivered a talk to MBA students in mid-morning, met host Mark Bergen for lunch, worked the afternoon, and repeated the MBA lecture at dinnertime.  Mark is an enthusiastic and welcoming host – the only of my B-school hosts who whoops at the end of my lectures.  Great fun!

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50th and France, Edina, Minnesota, familiar for 60+ years

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Carlson School of Management

Deb and Phil picked me up at 7:30 and we motored a couple of miles to Brasa, a wonderful casual eatery we had visited several years earlier.  We tucked into a great dinner, and even better conversation.  Headed home.  Last nice moment of a good day was Deb playing some tunes, Cole Porter and the Beatles among others, on their Steinway.

Up early Thursday morning, out the door and onto the 46 bus across south Minneapolis and the Mississippi to the Highland Park neighborhood in St. Paul and a wonderful reconnection (and caloric breakfast) with Ruth Mordy Friedlander, who I had not seen in more than three decades.  Ruth was the daughter of Wendell Mordy, who was president of the Science Museum of Minnesota when I worked there briefly in the early 1980s.  Wendell, his swell wife Brooke, and Ruth, we all became friends, but the last time I saw her was at her wedding in 1984.  There was a lot to catch up on.  Staying connected and reconnecting is such a joy.

Ruth kindly dropped me at the airport, and I flew home.  A good start to the quarter’s peregrinations.

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After returning home, Ruth dug out a picture from the last time we met, at her wedding in October 1984; I’m holding a one-month-old Jack in his car seat, and yakking with the father of the groom

 

Ten days later, on a windy and crisp Sunday morning, October 21, I flew Air Canada to Montreal, for my third 2018 visit to McGill University and, by my pretty-accurate reckoning, the 100th trip to Canada since the first one in 1967.  Landed at 1:30, and made fast for the STM (local public transit) express bus downtown.  While waiting to board, I struck up a conversation with a friendly fellow American.  It turned out to be one of the better T-t-S ever.  Mark Inch served in the U.S. Army for 35 years, rising to the rank of major general and heading the entire MP organization.  He served in the new Administration as director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, but resigned after just seven months following significant, “principled” (his word) disagreements with the Attorney General and others.  We continued the conversation all the way into town.  He had a hugely varied military career (for example, serving with UN forces in Somalia in the early 1990s and teaching at West Point).  And he was a fellow geographer, earning a Master’s at the University of Texas at Austin.  Just a fascinating guy.

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After a quick connecting ride on the Metro, I checked into my “hotel” atop a McGill highrise dorm, a place now very familiar.  Hewing to formula, slurped a bowl of spicy noodles at the tiny Kantapia Korean café, then hopped on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare.  It was windy and cold, but I needed some exercise, and to see (for the first time) the largely Francophone neighborhoods of east Montreal.  Had a great ride until my iPhone suddenly lost all power.  The Bixi app was thus useless, but happily the kiosks at the stations recognized my debit card and account, and was back on my way, returning to downtown.  No phone meant no camera, and I wanted to snap some pictures of the neighborhoods and some lovely older buildings, especially churches.  Next time!

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Grabbed a quick nap, hopped back on a Bixi, a mile east to my fave brewpub, Saint-Houblon. on Rue Saint-Denis.  The friendly server told me that Michel, a manager there who I had gotten to know on many previous visits, had left two weeks earlier.  I had a couple of beers and a sensational plate of salmon and shrimp dumplings.  Rode back, clocked out.

I wasn’t teaching until Monday afternoon, so at dawn put on warm clothing and hopped on the Bixi, down the hill to the St. Lawrence River, then west along the formerly industrial Lachine Canal.  Lots of detours, because of the seemingly endless residential and commercial construction downtown and on the edges of the center.  The whole city seemed to be a construction zone, either buildings or roads.  My Republican friends would no doubt be dismayed to see all this growth in a “socialist” economy!  Rode back, parked the bike, and ambled a block to a bowl of oatmeal and muffin at Tim Horton’s.  Suited up, grabbed my suitcase, and headed south and west to the McGill campus.  My class was in the law school, but I parked for a couple of hours on the second floor of the business school and did some work.  Halfway through, a student who was in two of my lectures a year earlier sat down for a chat.  “Do you remember me?” he asked.  As I usually do, I apologized, but then actually recalled that he had worked summers for Delta in Atlanta, and we talked about career prospects in the airline business.  I subsequently sent a couple of email recommendations for him.

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At left, industrial buildings recycled as condos along the Lachine Canal; at right, the new construction that is everywhere in Montreal

At noon, I met my long friend (and now co-author; stay tuned for details) Bob Mackalski for lunch at Universel, a familiar and fave eatery a few hundred meters from the B-school.   We had a lot to talk about and less than an hour, but we managed to cover a lot of ground, mostly about his new job as director of McGill’s Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, the university’s business incubator.  Bob, a consummate marketing pro both in and out of the classroom, was brimming with creative ideas on how to advance the center.  It was a great yak, but way too short.  As I have written before, he’s one of the most interesting people I regularly meet.

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Montreal brims with street art; this colorful critter coiled outside our lunch venue

After lunch, I trudged up the hill on Peel Street (torn up for new water mains) to the Institute of Air and Space Law, and delivered a talk on airline alliances to a hugely multinational class of 20.  Back down the hill (wish I could have balanced on the rolling suitcase, wheeeeee), onto the Metro, the 747 STM bus, and a flight home.  I never tire of Montreal, even for a short visit.

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I visited just days after marijuana became legal in Canada; here a deposit bin just before entering the U.S. Customs Preclearance Facility

 

Six days later, on Sunday, October 28, I flew west to Chicago and on to Omaha, for a week of teaching in the Aviation Institute of the University of Nebraska Omaha.  Landed in early afternoon, hopped in a taxi piloted by a friendly Ethiopian immigrant (tech-savvy, I paid him via the Square app on his smartphone), checked into the hotel near campus, changed into jeans, and jumped on a Heartland BCycle, Omaha’s bikeshare system.

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Omaha’s Midtown district, anchored by Mutual of Omaha (insurance); new commercial and residential buildings and plenty of green space

I have for decades said that anyone who thinks the Midwest is flat has never been there, and that’s totally true about Omaha.  I headed east toward downtown, up and down, up and down, up and down.  Nearly everyone I passed nodded, smiled,  or made eye contact.  Chatted briefly with a few people at stoplights.  It was great to be “home” in the Midwest.  Had a good look at a pleasant mid-size city, then rode across the wide Missouri into Council Bluffs, Iowa – an interstate ramble.  I missed lunch, and my “fuel tank” was low on the ride back.  One way to conserve energy was to time the three downhill glides to zip through green lights at the bottoms – it was the cycling equivalent of large birds riding thermal updrafts in the summer!

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The city still has wonderful old buildings from its era of fast growth a century ago; at left, the former public library (note authors’ names above the windows), and a big office building in what’s simply called Commercial style

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The sinuous Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge across the wide Missouri (named for a former U.S. senator)

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My fave Omaha neighborhood, Happy Hollow, just east of UNO

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Nebraska microbrew, a reward for the hilly ride!

My UNO host and director of the Aviation Institute, Scott Tarry, and his wife Mary picked me up at 5:45, and we motored a couple of miles north into an agreeable older neighborhood called Dundee for dinner at Pitch.  A superb meal, and good talk.

As on every recent trip into the Central Time Zone, I woke at five.  The Courtyard by Marriott had a tiny fitness center and no bike, but happily guests could use a nearby gym, so I headed there for some exercise on Monday morning, then onto a shuttle bus and over to the larger north campus (UNO has two, separated by about a mile).  Spent some time getting settled, then in meetings with faculty.  Delivered three back to back lectures from 11:30 until 3:45, whew (glad to have eaten a big breakfast), then another talk from 6:30 to 7:45.  Then I was plumb wore out.  Back to the hotel, into jeans, and down the street for a Thai curry.

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The art in the foreground was funded under a 1978 Nebraska law that mandates 1% of the capital cost of constructing new public buildings be allocated to art; now there’s a good idea!

Rinse, repeat on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I was glad that Scott and his colleagues were keeping me busy.  Wednesday was Halloween, and a few students wore costumes (though not in my classes).  I missed trick or treating (it seemed like years since I was out of town on Halloween), and I didn’t finish teaching until 8:30 Wednesday night.  Whew.  Thursday was an easier day, two classes in the morning and a short one in early evening.  High point of the day was a nice T-t-S with the shuttle driver back to the south campus.  I was the only passenger.  He was an African-American man about my age.  I greeted him cheerfully, and sat down.  “Man,” he said, “you are in a good mood.”  I replied that I tried hard to always be that way, and cited sage advice from one of my bosses, CEO Gerard Arpey of American Airlines, who said we don’t really control much in our lives, but we have absolute control over our attitude.  That launched a great chat, mostly centered on family. I wished the ride were longer.  Back at the hotel, changed clothes, found a new BBQ restaurant for dinner, tucked in, and was asleep before nine.

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Nebraska clearly invests in higher education; UNO facilities were new or newer, and well-kept

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The first building on the new campus (1931, when a former private college became a municipal university), and the Henningson Campanile, named for a Nebraskan who headed a construction company that brought power to rural people, among other projects

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Two Omahans: painting of investor Warren Buffett in the lobby of the business school; and a recent arrival working the wok in the student union

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“Quest for Knowledge,” also funded under the 1% law

Friday morning, up again at 5:00, off to the gym for a longer ride (17 miles), then to a caloric breakfast with Scott and his Aviation Institute colleagues.  I did a “gentle hard sell” to return in 2019, because I really enjoyed the week with nice kids and a great, small faculty team.   Stopped to drop my expense report at the school, then, for the first time ever, hopped in a Lyft to the airport.  Kemy from Seattle was the driver, and it was a fine ride.  A young African-American from Seattle, he came east to college and stayed.  Showed me pictures of his kids, compared notes on house prices, and agreed that our President was a complete dolt (I’ll ride Lyft again, but not Uber, at least not until they hire more grown-ups to run the company).  Flight to Chicago was late, but I had two hours until my connecting flight.  Was home by nine.  It was a good week.

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Backlit ad in Omaha Airport; as a heartlander, I like the message and the double-entendre slogan. Hooray for civic pride!

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