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England, Germany, Switzerland: First Teaching of 2020

The main square in Trier, oldest city in Germany

 

I was home for most of January.  By the 25th, I had itchy feet, raring to get back on the road, into the skies, and into the classroom.  That Saturday I flew to Charlotte, then east on a big Silver Bird to London.

Above left, our faithful wingman at Gate 35, Washington National Airport; right, a muddy river and new suburbs south of Charlotte. Below, an empty car early Sunday on the Bakerloo Line; at right, winter green in a wet city.

Landed Heathrow at 7:30, zipped through the airport, onto train and Tube, and was at friends Scott and Caroline Sage’s house by 9:00.  Caroline was in the U.S. on business, so Scott was Mr. Mom to Eva, now almost five, and Sadie, two.  We yakked for a bit, then walked east to a Sunday farmers’ market, then into Queen’s Park, first to the wonderful farmyard (a nice idea: bringing domestic animals to the city), then a long stay in the playground.  Sadie especially wanted me to hold her hand while she walked along gently rising round wooden steps.  “Again,” she squealed.  It was fun to be “Uncle Rob” with two small children.

Above, Sadie and Eva, intreprid urban scooters; below, varied produce (parsnips!) at the farmers’ market. At bottom, goats and energetic swingsters.

We ambled home, tucked into quiches bought at the farmers’ market, then naps for all.  At 3:30, we walked a few blocks to see David and Claire, and their kids Rose and Emily.  The grown-ups had a good chat in the kitchen, then the kids ate dinner.  Always fun to get to know new people: they were Australian, a lawyer and PR exec.  Headed home, bath time for kids, then Scott and I tucked into Indian takeaway and more chatter.  Scott is seriously well informed and well read, so conversations are always varied and stimulating.

Up early Monday morning, out the door, onto the #52 bus south to my 19th appearance at Imperial College London.  Slurped two pricey coffees, did some work.  At 11, it was time to stand and deliver, the first talk of 2020, to 150 masters’ marketing students.  As in previous years, the venue was just off campus, in the auditorium of the Royal Geographical Society.  This geographer felt right at home!  Ate a quick lunch in a café in the B-school building, worked a bit of email, and from 3:00 to 5:00 delivered a second talk, on crisis management.  A good start to the semester, but by the end I was a bit tired.  Hopped the bus back to Scott’s.  Continued our conversation over dinner.  After, Phil, a business associate who lives nearby, came over for a chat about his start-up company, 7 Bridges.  Fascinating stuff.

Above left, at Imperial College London, homage to engineering professor (worked on locomotive propulsion), and the midday scene in Dalby Court. Below left, looking out from the entry foyer at the business school, and Royal Albert Hall at twilight.

Up with the kids Tuesday morning, Scott peeled off, and I headed into central London for a quick meeting, then to Euston station and up to Milton Keynes, 50 miles north, for my sixth appearance in the air transport management program at Cranfield University.  As we’ve done twice previously, friend Jan Meurer, a retired exec of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, joined me for a lively discussion.  About 2/3 of the questions were about climate change and the environment, proof of how quickly that issue has become front and center in the airline business.

Old and new in and near Finsbury Square, City of London; construction continues to boom in central London

At 3:45, one of the university’s drivers, Jason, zoomed us back to Heathrow.  I was expecting traffic jams along the way, but we got there quickly, and without a hitch.  Jan peeled off at Terminal 4, and I zipped away at T5, with plenty of time for a couple of beers and a spicy vegetarian curry.  Flew to Frankfurt, waited 90 minutes, and hopped a late train up to Koblenz, for my 19th visit to the private business school WHU.  Head hit the pillow at 1:40.

I slept in, 8:30.  My alarm clock were the tradesmen in the corridor installing air conditioning for the hotel, but it was time to rise and shine.  After breakfast and a little detour to buy a new bottle of 4711 (the original Eau de Cologne made not far from me; generically, cologne is called that because of 4711, produced since 1799, a citrusy fragrance that has been my long fave), I hopped on the #8 bus across the Rhine to Vallendar, the small town that’s home to WHU.  Worked a couple of hours in a glassy student common room.

The WHU masters class, undergrads, and, after classes, my iPhone screen, showing 42 invitations to connect via LinkedIn.

 

My “office” at WHU

At noon I met longtime host Sandra Boedeker for a pasta lunch at Petrocelli, a few steps from campus.  It had been two years, so there were plenty to update, and some good conversations about contemporary Germany, particularly about primary and secondary education; like the U.S., the country needs more teachers.  At 1:30, it was time to work, back-to-back lectures to grad and undergrad classes.  At 5:00, I was plumb wore out, but happy with great discussions in both courses.  Hopped back on the #8 bus, worked a bit in my hotel room, and ambled a few blocks to a long fave place, the Altes Brauhaus, serving beer and good food since 1689.  Wednesday night, the place is hopping, but I found a stool at a small circular table (I had perched at that spot a few times before, with a good view of the whole place), asked for a beer, then a plate of herring and fried potatoes.  Yum.  Was asleep early, a hard sleep finally.

Thursday was a “day off,” and I had a plan: a day trip to Trier, Germany’s oldest city, upstream on the Moselle River.  The train ride followed the river, past storybook villages, vineyards on steep slopes, hilltop castles, a deer (hunting) stand right next to a field of solar panels.  (As I’ve noted admiringly before, Germany committed awhile back to boosting renewable energy, and they’re meeting targets; it’s all about will, and about common agreement across political parties.)

Above, a splendid old house on the Kaiserstrasse, Trier; below, Porta Nigra.

We rolled into Trier at 10:40, and I set out to explore the town.  First impressions, around the train station, were unfavorable, even seedy, but soon improved as I ambled along Kaiserstrasse, lined with large homes that spoke of rising prosperity in the last decades of the 19th Century and the first one of the 20th, before it all tumbled down in two wars.  Trier was an important outpost of the Roman Empire, and evidence still exists, as in stop one, the Porta Nigra, a city gate built 160-200 AD, and an impressive piece of engineering.  Walked on, toward the main square, the Marktplatz, lined with splendid buildings.  Then to the colossal cathedral, the Dom, a church for 1700 years.  That’s a long time, and the interior was a blend of lots of architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque.  Wow.

Trier’s most famous son, Karl Marx

 

Above left, architectural detail, and right an ornate facade from, remarkably, the 13th Century. Below, and bottom, the cathefdral interior.

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Equally impressive was the Liebfrauenbasilika next door, Germany’s oldest Gothic church, from the 13th C.  It was cruciform, with 12 pillars supporting the structure.  Beneath these soaring structures, we are made small, humbled, and that’s a good thing for us, even for nonbelievers.  At noon, “the sound of Europe,” tolling bells above, in the Dom.

Above left, just part of the cathedral, from a courtyard; right, one of the 12 pillars in the Basilica of Our Lady; each held a section of the Apostles’ Creed, here the end: “and the life everlasting, amen.”

 

Above the door of The Lion, Germany’s oldest drug store, 1241

I hopped a bus a few blocks for a quick look at the Roman baths, but didn’t go in.  Circled back to the old town, the Altstadt, bought a sandwich at a supermarket, and hopped on a bus out to the Roman amphitheater, also 2nd Century, site of spectacles and processions, and of course lions versus gladiators.  Way cool.

The Roman Amphitheater; did I hear the echoes of roaring crowds, cheering on the fight?

After four hours, I had seen a lot, and was flagging a bit, so doubled back to the station and hopped on a slow train back down the Moselle.  Hopped off at Cochem, a town I saw on a 2004 visit to WHU, with a huge castle looming above town.  Back on a train, a fast one, and soon back at my hotel.  A fine day out.

Above, signs of the times: at left, a new organic bakery’s take on the old signs that guided people who could not read; right, a vestige of the Cold War, speed limit for tanks is 80 on the highway, 30 in town.

 

Above, Cochem castle and the town in the Moselle. Below, scenes of villages along the river.

The grocery-store lunch was a bit thin, so I headed out for an early dinner.  I love German food, but a little spice is good, so I zipped into a Thai place a block from the hotel.  I had seen it many times before, but never eaten there.  When I ordered the curry, the waitress asked, “Mittelscharf?” (medium spicy).  “Nein,” I relied, “sehr scharf, pikant.”  She nodded, and awhile later, she delivered.  A huge plate, well spiced, yum.

Up early Friday morning, back across the Rhine to WHU.  Worked the morning, and brought this journal up to date.  Ate lunch in the Mensa.  At 1:40, I met Lisa Eidenberg and Nicholas Peterson, active in a student group called WHU Inside Business; I had done some things with them in previous years, and that day it was time for another video interview.  A long one, in the splendid setting of what probably was the dining room in the huge mansion that was WHU’s first building on campus.  We yakked for almost two hours, and the students were really happy with the interview.  I said goodbye, walked to the bus stop, and back across the river to Koblenz.

Above, rooftop solar panels on an old house in Vallendar (the new one in the foreground did not have them). Below, details from the old building at WHU.

The day was warm, sun was out, an hour of daylight left, so I changed clothes quickly and headed out for a stroll, bound for the Deutsches Eck (literally “the German corner”), at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers.  Towering over the historic site is a huge 1898 bronze of Kaiser Wilhelm II (Willy2 as I call him) mounted on a horse, an angel at his side.  I hadn’t been to the Eck for many years, and wondered if the American flag was still at the end of a row of flags of the Federal Republic and its 16 states.  Yes, there it was, and it made me happy to see it.  Further along, a nice reminder of the awfulness of the Cold War: slabs from the Berlin Wall and interpretive panels.

Above: beneath the U.S. flag, these words: in memory of September 11, 2001, in friendship with the American people. Below, Willy2 and golden light across the Rhine.

On the interpretive panels describing a divided Germany was the story of Elke and Thomas Schlegel. The East Germans imprisoned her for the crime of applying to emigrate. In 1984, West Germany paid a ransom to release her; she now lives in Koblenz.

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Walked back to the hotel along the river, did some work, and headed back to the Altes Brauhaus for dinner.  Found the same stool and little table in the corner, and watched the busy Friday-night scene develop.  Was especially happy to see that a lot of the servers were immigrants (mine was Tunisia).  Tucked into a nice plate of Himmel und Erd (“Heaven and Earth”), blood sausage and liver sausage, mashed potatoes, and apples.  German soul food, for sure.  Walked back to the hotel and had a nice conversation with Frau Demmer, one of the owners.  She and the other family members know me by name, and we all remember why I’m a loyal customer: in 2009, another small hotel locked me out on a Friday night; no one was there, and a helpful person at a nearby Italian restaurant walked me to the Trierer Hof, where I was welcomed.  You stay true to those people and places.  Just like at home after dinner, I read a chapter or two of a novel, and clocked out early.

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Up at 6:25 Saturday morning, quick breakfast, out the door, brisk walk to the railway station, and onto the 7:48 train to Mannheim.  The ride was nice: along the familiar Rhine valley, then through Mainz and Worms (where the Emperor tried, unsuccessfully, to nail Martin Luther in 1521, only five years after he launched Protestantism).  Changed trains in Mannheim, through Stuttgart and Ulm and Augsburg (another famous place in Protestant history, where the Lutherans laid down their articles of faith – for example the sensible idea that priests should be allowed to marry).

I hadn’t been to the capital of Bavaria for more than a decade, and was excited to be there, if only for 24 hours.  Arrived 12:30, grabbed a supermarket lunch, and hopped on the #16 tram, slow, but direct to my Airbnb.  In no time I was chatting with host Ruth Lange and getting to know her swell sheepdog Camilo.  A seriously nice Airbnb: big room in a beautiful apartment, building from about 1910.  Ate lunch in the room, and hopped back on the tram, all the way across the city to Nymphenburg Palace, an enormous and sprawling “low rise” castle on the west end of Munich.  Lots of people were walking the grounds, but the castle interior was almost empty.  For the second day in three, my mouth was permanently agape, gazing at the wild Baroque ornamentation.  Whew.  Spent an hour walking through the various rooms (including the bedroom where crazy King Ludwig II was born – the interpretive panel was a case study in euphemisms about his two-decade rule and removal).  Hopped back on the tram to the next Baroque site, Asamkirche.  I roamed all over Munich in many visits in my 20s, but I had never seen that one, almost literally dripping excess.  More slack jaw!

Left, the view of the Englischer Garten from my room in Ruth’s Airbnb, and her dog (and my new friend) Camilo.

 

Above left and right, the jaw-dropping Main Hall at Nymphenburg. Below and at bottom, furnishings and decoration. At very bottom, just part of the sprawling palace.

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Above, the Asamkirche interior; below, the church facade and the city’s famous New Town Hall

I walked across the center – most of it closed to cars, very pleasant – drawn magnetically to the Hofbräuhaus.  I paused at the entry, my mind gliding back to 7:00 PM on Friday, September 21, 1973, when about 10 friends (and my beloved Linda) and I met at that very place on the eve of Oktoberfest.  Incredible that we all aligned in a time before smartphones and email and all that.  I clearly recall that pal Greg served as banker for the group, and when we sat down asked for enough deutschmarks for each of us to have three liters of beer.  That’s 100 ounces, people.  Some in the group drank Coca-Cola at the ‘fest the next day.  Just nuts, just youth.

Above, scenes from the world’s most famous beer hall (including a splendid ceiling).

 

It was 4:30, and the place was not that full.  Found a seat, asked for a half liter, and drank slowly, taking in the scene.  Two young Russian women sat down across from me.  We had a short yak; they were both in children’s animation, working for private TV channels in Moscow, in Germany for a trade show.  I walked out and into steady rain; when I left the Airbnb three hours earlier it was a spring day, sunny and warm, so I didn’t wear my raincoat.  Dashed to the #16 tram and was soon home.  Worked my email, washed my face, and at six headed out again, bound not for a touristy place but for the echt (genuine),  restaurant called Wirtshaus in der Au, a big place on a side street near the Deutsches Museum and the Isar River.  A place with the slogan “Beer and dumplings since 1901” has got to be a good place, no?  It was crowded, and I offered to eat at the bar, but a kindly server said I could have a table that was reserved from 8:00, almost 90 minutes away.  Sat down, smiling broadly.

Above, the Wirtshaus in der Au; below “Das Original” dumplings

After asking for a beer, I fell into a splendid T-t-S with two young people in the next table.  He was a recently-graduated physician in the German Army, the Bundeswehr: the military will pay for all your medical training and living expenses (6 years) if you agree to 11 years of service.  We yakked across some other topics before and after I tucked into two dumplings filled with pork chunks on a bed of creamy, mustardy sauerkraut.  Yum.  When the doc left, I thanked him for his service, adding that after my dad became badly injured fighting in the Pacific in May 1945 military doctors like him helped him recover. “I might not be here had it not been for people like you.”  He smiled.  I hopped the tram home, put on pajamas, and read.  Slept a long time.

Up early Sunday, a bit of writing and two cups of instant cappuccino compliments of host Ruth (there were other touches, such as a spring of spearmint on my bath towel, and men’s washing gel in the shower).  Ambled a mile to a bakery and café, through the upmarket neighborhood of Bogenhausen.  Had another coffee and a huge sweet roll with nuts.  Walked back, yakked with Ruth, rubbed Camilo’s tummy, and said goodbye. Hopped on the #16 tram one last time, riding nearly to the train station.  I spent a fine 75 minutes worshiping at St. Matthäus, a large Lutheran church.  The place was perhaps one-quarter full, rather a lot for Germany.  The pastor had a wonderful singing voice.  I recognized only one of the hymn melodies, but God heard me (I pray!).

Above, my Airbnb from the street, and a nearby Lutheran church. Below: how you can tell you’re in a posh neighborhood: Bentley, Porsche, Mercedes! At bottom left, a music school near my Airbnb appropriately named Ear Worm (I’ve always liked that phrase, describing a tune that totally sticks in your brain); bottom right, the interior of the 1950s-era St. Matthäus.

Wheeled my suitcase through light rain several blocks to the Hauptbahnhof, bought sandwiches and a Coke for lunch, and hopped on the EuroCity train to Zürich, where I would teach the next day.  The spread between first- and second-class fares was small, so I splurged for a big seat.  An hour west and a bit south of Munich, the Alps came into view, small at first, then bigger.  It was an awesome sight (mouth agape again).

We rolled west and south, around the east end of Lake Constance (Bodensee), through familiar St. Gallen, Switzerland, and arrived Zürich just before five.  Hopped the #6 tram a few stops, up the hill to my hotel, also familiar.  Worked in my room a couple of hours, then hopped another tram to my dinner venue, Tibits, a vegetarian buffet.  Moved down the food chain with a nice meal, and was back home in 90 minutes.

Above, climate change and/or a poor winter for snow: small ski areas in the German Alps. Below, the Zürich Opera House, and a classic “Welcome to Switzerland” sign: a slice of cheese pizza, six bucks!

Up Monday morning.  I had a client call at ten, which allowed just enough time for the Transport Geek to unfurl his new travel umbrella and walk several blocks to the Dolderbahn, a rack railway that climbed several hundred feet up toward the city zoo.  Took the call, stored my bags, and hopped the tram into the center and lunch with Sander, a new fellow from the University of St. Gallen, at Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world (1898).  Then back up the hill to the University of Zürich for my fourth appearance there, a lecture to a large undergraduate marketing course.  Had a quick apple juice with my host prof, Martin, then back to the main station.

The Dolderbahn

Unhappily, the express (ICE) train to my next destination, Kassel, Germany, was canceled, so had to take two ersatzugen (substitute trains) one to Basel, then on to Kassel.  I was so looking forward to dinner in the ICE dining car, but the Deutsche Bahn train from Basel to Kassel lacked any foodservice (save for a fellow wheeling a cart with overpriced snacks and drinks); luckily, I had 20 minutes in Basel, so found my seat on the ersatzug and dashed through the station to find some grub.  Done, and back on the train.  It was a long ride, almost six hours, shortened nicely from Frankfurt, when Norm from Wisconsin entered the compartment.  Norm, whose parents emigrated from Germany in 1963, liked to talk, and the time went quickly.  Arrived Kassel right on time, and walked 10 minutes to my Airbnb, another nice place in a prosperous neighborhood.  Host Renate did not remember me from a short visit in December 2014, but I remembered her and the house.  Was asleep fast.

Not quite the meal from two nights earlier in Munich: my “picnic” on the train to Kassel

I did not speak until 7:30 that night, so I donned jeans and a sweater, bought a day ticket for the city trams, and hopped on the #4 into downtown.  Had a light breakfast and coffee at a simple place.  After apologizing to the cashier for my poor German, we had a nice, of brief, T-t-S.  I told her why I was in Germany.  Rare for Germans, she then asked me what country I liked better.  I replied that I liked Germany a lot.  “Und kein Trump,” I said, no Trump.  She laughed.  Up to speed, I ambled to the university and worked the morning in a student union.  At 1:00, I walked a couple of blocks to the apartment of Patrick and Elli, long friends, for a splendid lunch and good conversation.  Daughter Lotta, now nine, returned from school, and we soon packed up a lot of gear, drove to the Airbnb for a quick change of clothes, then to the Kassel ice arena.  Lotta has become a devoted hockey player, and it was fun to watch her suit up and head onto the ice.  Sadly, I didn’t have time to watch the practice, because my host Oliver picked me up for an early dinner.

Above left, my Kassel Airbnb and a splendid lion in front of city hall. Below, stovetop scenes in the Rath kitchen: kale braising lightly, and a truly old-school espresso maker. At bottom, Patrick and Kassel hockey star Lotta.

I met Oliver nine months earlier, and he was one of those people you like right from the start.  We had a great conversation and an enormous dinner, huge schnitzels with potatoes.   I told Olli I was in a food coma, probably not the best state for a presentation to the local marketing club.  We stopped briefly at an uber-cool ad agency where his wife and son work, then to the speaking venue, in a converted 19th Century warehouse by Kassel’s older railway station (still called the Hauptbahnhof, but was less busy than the other station on the edge of the city).  Met a bunch of people before the talk, delivered the presentation, and met more afterward.  A very warm reception, super nice people.  But by 10:30 I was worn out.  Olli delivered me back to the Airbnb, and into Zzzzzzzzz.

Above, staircase in a splendid old building in Kassel; below, new Kasseler friends (my splendid host Oliver is to my right). I’m gripping my two speaking awards: a 3D-printed Hercules with microphone, and a typical Kassel sausage, which, alas, I could not bring home because of U.S. Customs restrictions.

An early start Wednesday morning, 5:15, with immediate bad news: my train to Hanau, near Frankfurt, was 40 minutes late, which meant I’d miss my connecting train to the airport, and maybe my American flight home to Charlotte.  I hatched a Plan B, standby on the Lufthansa nonstop to Washington at 12:50, showered, and walked 10 minutes to the station.  Ah, serendipity: an ICE train was leaving in two minutes for Fulda, halfway to Frankfurt, so I hopped on.  Even more luck: a regional express train left Fulda for Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof four minutes after we arrived.  I’d arrive at the airport only 17 minutes after the original train, but still no guarantee of making the flight.  The ICE dining car had just opened, and I enjoyed a big cup of strong coffee enroute to Fulda.

I had six minutes in the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof to make the connecting train for the 13-minute glide to the airport, plenty of time.  Arrived FRA at 8:30.  It was winter, fewer passengers, and I changed terminals, got through immigration and security, and was at the gate at 8:59, woo hoo.  When I got on the big Airbus, I told one of the flight attendants, Fran, “I am SO glad to see you.”  I told her the train story, and after settling in, told her and her colleague Geraldine that I had worked for American for 22 years, and was happy to help if they needed help.  Fast friends.  Later in the flight, I got to know Fran a bit more: this was her 50th year as a flight attendant; she started with Piedmont Airlines when she was 19.  Just a great gal.

Left, the totally empty dining car on the ICE to Fulda (sure wish it had been on my Zürich-Kassel train 36 hours earlier); right, your scribe with Fran, taking care of customers for more than half a century.

Landed Charlotte at 1:55, hopped on an earlier flight, and was home by 5:15.  A great first teaching trip.

 

 

 

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To Chicago at the Start of 2020

Cousin Jim and Michaela

The new year started with a trip, up early and onto a flight to Chicago, bound for a party with cousins and friends at Cousin Jim’s house in suburban Arlington Heights.  Landed early, and sat in the terminal for awhile (I was renting a car for a day, 24 hours and 29 minutes, and wanted to get the most out of it on January 2), then in the new car-rental facility.  Picked up a Hertz rollerskate, and was soon motoring through Des Plaines, a familiar suburb, then onto U.S. Highway 14 northwest toward Jim’s.

Sculpture in the new car-rental building at O’Hare

A new year normally makes people look forward, and while I did that I also looked backward, way back to childhood, and memories of many trips – often at Christmas and New Year’s – to visit kin on both parents’ sides.  I connected the car sound system to my iPhone and played “The Traveling Kind” by Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, a favorite tune that helped me think back.  We often took Highway 14 between the home of Aunt Mildred (one of my dad’s two sisters), Uncle Walter, and my gloomy paternal grandma.  More on them in a moment.  Past Mount Prospect, I glanced to the right and saw the mortuary where we began to say goodbye to Jim’s parents, Aunt Sally and Uncle Bapper (that was how my brother Jim first pronounced “Joseph”).

In no time I was hugging Jim and Michaela.  We had a good yak before the party started, me helping a bit in the kitchen.  Michaela is a superb cook and host, and the tables were groaning with snacks.  Friends and neighbors were invited, but I spent most of the afternoon catching up with the four of five Jim’s siblings who live nearby (John, the youngest, is in Texas): Bob, Mike, Lisa, and Donna.  Jim, Michaela, and I yakked some more after the party ended.  And we were all asleep by nine.  A good first day of 2020.

Was up early, more time to chat in the kitchen, then drove east to another familiar suburb, Glenview, for breakfast with Cousin Larry and wife Judy.  Larry, who I sometimes call Lorenzo, is a first cousin once removed – born 1937, he’s the youngest child of my maternal grandfather’s youngest sister, Alice.  When he opened the door, he kissed me; that’s what Italian men do!  We hopped in my car and drove to a swell breakfast spot nearby, for a big breakfast and a catch-up; it had been two years, so there was plenty of news on both sides.  They are fine people, and I just wish I had connected with them earlier, instead of 2010.  Lorenzo grew up on the same street as my mother, and in fact his dad bought my grandfather Jim’s grocery in the late 1940s.  Whew!

Judy and Cousin Lorenzo

Larry is a superb artist; he made a good life as a commercial artist and still paints, as this wonderful (and for me emotive) scene of my favorite North Shore of Lake Superior; and Blackie, my new pal.

 

Back at their house, I hugged and kissed them both, patted their dog Blackie, and peeled off.  My watch said there was time for one more place from the past, so I drove south and east to Lowell Avenue in the Sauganash neighborhood, parking right in front of Aunt Mil’s and Walter’s house.  I closed my eyes and was immediately back in their kitchen, maybe 1957 or ’61.  The circular fluorescent ceiling light was buzzing, as were my parents, Mil, and Walt.  They were smoking, drinking, and laughing.  It was always a happy time there.  I opened my eyes and looked left, across the street, to the embankment that once held a railway branch line, now a bike trail.  Back in the 1950s, I was afraid of the steam locomotives that chugged past, pulling freight and commuter trains.  Memories.

Aunt Mil and Uncle Walt, circa 1950

Drove back to O’Hare and dropped the car.  Looked at my watch, time to see one more person.  Walked up the stairs above the American Airlines check-in counters, and found a former colleague, Franco Tedeschi, who is now VP of the O’Hare hub.  I surprised him, and we could only chat for a minute, but it was good to see him.  He’s got a big job.  Flew home, put the dogs on leashes.  A good start to the New Year.

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To Germany and Ireland, Last Teaching of 2019

Erfurt, Germany

After fun on Thanksgiving (including a trip to see the Washington Capitals pro hockey team, with way-cool fifth-row seats thanks to Robin), I flew to Charlotte and on to Frankfurt for the last teaching trip of the year, six schools in Germany and one in Ireland.  Landed early, still dark.  Waited a few hours, then hopped on the ICE fast train to Cologne.  As I have for the last several years, stayed at the newish youth hostel in Deutz, across the Rhine from downtown and the big cathedral (long readers nay remember that I served on the board of the U.S. hosteling organization in the 1990s).  Rolled my suitcase into a storage room, bought a day ticket on the KVB, the local public transit, and hopped on a tram for the university.  It was already lunch time, so of course I headed for the Mensa, the student cafeteria.  As in Tübingen three weeks earlier, diners needed a special stored-value card, but this time I got creative, asking a student in front of me in the checkout line if she would be a “bank,” and she agreed; I gave her cash, she charged my lunch on her card.  Problem solved, and I tucked into a huge bowl of lentil stew, eintopf, with a big sausage on top.  Yum.

Above left, the view from the Cologne-Deutz youth hostel (football arena in background); right, lunch at the Mensa. Below left, a splendid old building on a main avenue, and a new structure on the campus of the University of Cologne.

Hopped back on tram #9 for a bit of joyriding, then back to the hostel and a nice room, clean and ready.  Took a tonic nap and a shower, suited up, and headed back to the uni for my first of 12 gigs in 9 days, to a student marketing group called MTP.  About 40 attended my talk on American Airlines’ marketing after the 2001 terrorist attacks.  As we did in previous years, we hopped back on the tram to one of the ubiquitous Christmas markets for some conversation and traditional Advent glühwein.  It was a larger group than usual, more than 15, and it seemed like everyone wanted to ask a question.

The enthusiastic MTP group at the Christmas Market

A handful of Muslin women firmly asked some hard questions about discrimination after the attacks and subsequently; I answered forthrightly, no excuses, no rationalization.  In 18 years of presenting the talk, that gentle-but-firm intervention was a first.  Even more interesting, none of the students were marketing or even business majors; they were students of medicine, economics, history.  They must have seen the talk promoted on campus, and chose to attend.  I was glad to be able to provide an American view far different from what they hear from Trump.

After 90 minutes, I was worn out, and hungry.  After some selfies and a group photo, I peeled off, back to the hostel, changed clothes and zipped across the street, literally, to Lommerzheim, surely one of Germany’s greatest bars.  Tiny, convivial, cozy.  It was my third visit, now a December tradition.  As on previous trips, even at ten on a Monday night the place was hopping.  Got standing room at the bar and asked for a beer.  Like many places in Germany, the servers keep track of beers (the traditional glass in Cologne is small, less than seven ounces) with pencil on beermat, and to identify my bill the bartender asked, in German, for my name.  “Hans,” I replied, “mein name ist Hans.”  A friendly fellow next to me heard me talking to myself in English, and he said “Hello, Hans,” starting a nice T-t-S with him in English und Deutsch, and with his mother-in-law, who only spoke German.  She asked what I did, and I replied.  She expressed respect, then told me, as best as I could figure, that she was a street-sweeper for the city.  I managed to reply that all jobs are good, important, needed.  She smiled.

It was past dinnertime, so I tucked into the trip’s first plate of grünkohl, the traditional cooked kale (with potatoes and onions).  My December-trip target is always four meals with this best of German “soul food.”  So good.  With that as base, I slept hard, eight hours.

Up Tuesday morning, smiling in the youth hostel breakfast room, imagining that I was young again (and in many ways, still feel that way).  Quick breakfast, some welcome coffee, and out the door, across town for a little sightseeing in ordinary neighborhoods. Then back to the hostel, grabbed my suitcase, and headed to school #2 and my 19th trip to the Marketing Center at the University of Münster.  The first part of the ride was through the now-dreary industrial landscape of the Ruhrgebiet, Germany’s historic industrial core, now mostly hollowed-out.  But the last 40 minutes were through the familiar rural landscape of Westphalia, past small farms with brick buildings and barns (solar panels covering many of the roofs), grazing sheep and cows, hunters’ deer stands.

Above, scenes in a pleasant Cologne suburb; below, repairs are always underway on the Dom, Cologne’s enormous cathedral. At bottom, distinctive steep-gabled houses along the Rhine near the Dom; at very bottom, a street musician belting out Christmas carols in front of the cathedral.

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Arrived Münster a bit late, ambled to my hotel, changed clothes, and at 3:30 met a new host, Michael Gerke.  From 4:15 to 5:45, I delivered a talk to Masters students.  Next gig was at eight, so ambled a few blocks to Pho, a Vietnamese nudelhaus I visited a year earlier. Tucked into some spring rolls and a spicy tofu curry, stopped briefly at the hotel, and proceeded to gig two, to the Münster chapter of MTP.  It was the debut of a new talk on airlines and climate change, a topic very much on the minds of Europeans.  The “airlines are evil earth-wreckers” narrative has taken control, and it was up to me to, in a small way, re-balance the discussion with facts and a reminder of all the good things that airlines make possible.  Candidly, I expected more push back, even hecklers, but it was all calm.  Walked home and clocked out.

Facades and gables in the dwindling afternoon sun, Münster

Wednesday morning dawned sunny and cold, and my third Münster gig was not until evening, so for the second year in a row I rented a comfy (and well-maintained) bike from the hotel and set off, first on the leafy promenade that circles the city core, then south around the Aasee lake, then east to the bike path along the Dortmund-Ems Canal.  This was a waterway far different from those I know in England, because a) it was very wide, and b) it was still very much in use as a commercial route.  I rode several kilometers north to a lock, and lucky for the Transport Geek, a long barge was in the lock, headed downstream toward the North Sea.  I watched the whole process, far different from the muscle-powered routine I knew from locking through in the West Midlands.  Fascinating stuff for the T-Geek.  Rode back to town, stopped in the offices of the Marketing Center for a chat with some friends.

Here are some scenes from the morning bike ride:

At 12:30, I met Julian Allendorf, who for four years was my student host at Münster.  We ate lunch atop the new city offices, with great views of the Old Town, Altstadt.  And the lively conversation was better than the view, mostly about all that he had done in the past year: finished his doctorate; worked for three months for the Foreign Ministry in Berlin; traveled around Western Canada in an RV, to Egypt, and England; and more.  He’s now interviewing for jobs, and it was fascinating to hear the many prospects he had.  We also discussed political woes in Germany and the U.S.  A super-interesting fellow.

Above, part of the Münster Dom, and the view from the city hall cafeteria; below left, lobby of the city hall, and right, in the lobby, the custom of “chalking the door” a blessing to mark the arrival of the Magi — the years are left and right, and “CMB” is the Latin abbreviation either for the names of the three Wise Men, or Christus mansionem benedicat, “May Christ bless this house.”

Peeled off, back on the bike, a few blocks to the store that sells little Christmas guardian angels, schutzengelen, that are handmade in a region called the Erzgebirge in the state of Saxony.  I’ve been buying them at the same store for years.  Check and done, back on the bike for some last miles, for a total of 25.4 for the day.  Napped, worked a bit, and at 6:00 met four Ph.D. students who hosted me for dinner, then to the now-traditional Kaminabend (“chimney evening”), an informal discussion of career advice and other topics with bright undergraduates.  That evening it was a small group, nine, but lots of questions.  Started at 8:00, finished at 11:30.  I was worn out, but it went very well.

Münster’s wonderful shopping street, the Prinzipalmarkt, by day and by night; the house at the left is the only one on the street that survived World War II bombing; all others were rebuilt after 1945.

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Slept in, until 7:45, breakfast, suited up, and headed to the third stop, the Technical University at Dortmund.  Walking to the Münster station along Grüne Gasse, I spotted a lone stolpersteine, the small brass markers embedded in sidewalks that note the former residences of Jews. It caught my eye because you usually see multiple markers, noting the deportation of an entire family. It marked  Leonore Kaufmann, born 1902, deported by Nazis in 1942 to Izbica, Poland, a transfer point for Jews awaiting deportation to concentration camps in that country.  Her fate was simply listed as Verschollen, missing. That would have been in many ways the worst outcome, because survivors would hold out hope that she would be found, and alive.  So grim.

Arrived Dortmund at 10:40, checked into the hotel, a dropped my suitcase, and hopped on the S-Bahn for my fourth visit to the Technical University of Dortmund.  Met a great host, Hartmut Holzmüller.  We yakked for awhile, then ambled to the Mensa for a fish lunch and a longer chat.  I have many academic hosts, all nice, but Hartmut stands out, because our values and world view are aligned; I always enjoy meeting him – he seems more like a cousin.  From 2:15 to 3:45, I delivered a talk in his marketing-engineering class.  Worked a few hours, and from 7:00 to 8:30 spoke to a dozen members of CEFU, a local business group associated with the uni’s marketing department; we had drinks and sandwiches afterward, and Hartmut drove me back to the hotel.

Up a bit late again Friday morning (7:30!), down to breakfast.  I was at a NH Hotel, originally a Spanish chain, and based on two samples, Dortmund and Düsseldorf, they offer the best hotel breakfast buffet on the planet.  Just a colossal array of food, and all high quality.  I only had a sandwich the night before, so I tucked in, so good.  My train to stop four, Kassel, was at 10:43, so I zipped out for a walk.  In 90 minutes I had covered a good part of the center, on foot, then three miles on a shared bike.  I’ve always been a bit proud of my ability to cram a lot of touring into a short time, and that morning was a fine example.  Just a great little outing.

Above left, December 6 is St. Nikolaus Day, and even hotels hand out candy to good boys and girls; at right, St. Peter Church, Dortmund. Below, detail on a building facade, and the atrium of the Kroger-Haus, built 1912 and rebuilt after wartime destruction, in 1953. At bottom, an aerial view of central Dortmund in May 1945.

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Hopped on the train to Kassel, enroute a nice T-t-S with a woman about my age returning to her hometown of Paderborn for the weekend.  We mostly yakked about the decline of punctuality on the Deutsche Bahn (though our train was almost on time).  Arrived Kassel at about one, into howling winds and icy temperatures.  Took the tram three stops west to the end of the line, then hiked up the hill, past the huge sandstone castle that was the summer residence of “Willy 2,” formally Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor.  (I later learned that the castle was also the HQ of the German command during World War I.)

My hotel (where the MBA students I would address later that day were staying) was seriously posh, a spa hotel, four stars.  Checked in and zipped next door to the Alte Wache, a pleasant café in a building from 1842, for a late lunch.  Next stop was the hotel fitness center, for a needed 25 miles on an exercise bike.  That was tonic.

Above, my lunch venue up the hill above Kassel; below, the kaiser’s palace and icicles on the ornate lampposts.

At 7:30, I met my host Andreas Mann, as well as several of the MBA students.  Had a nice chat with Sebastian, a project manager with Deutsche Post DHL, then headed into the classroom for a “dinner speech” that was actually before dinner – so I quickened the pace a bit.  The class was tired after a full day, and only one question.  Applause, and walked to a huge buffet dinner.  High point was a long conversation with Andreas, an executive at Wintershall Dea, a Kassel-based oil and gas company partly owned by the chemical giant BASF.  We yakked about mergers (they were in the process of integrating a smaller company, and it was challenging), organizational culture, his home region around Freiburg, in Baden-Württemberg, and about one of that state’s most famous exports, Porsches (he owned one).  Super interesting guy.

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For whatever reason, I tossed and turned that Friday night, maybe fearing that I would oversleep and miss my train to weekend fun.  Rose at 6:15, shower, breakfast, then down the hill a mile or so to the train station (the tram did not start on that line until 10).  Onto a fast train a short distance to Fulda, then onto another ICE east to Erfurt, capital of the German state of Thüringia.  It was the 14th German state visited in my nearly 50 years of travel in that country (only two left).  We arrived a bit late, but still plenty of time for a full day of touring.  Stashed my suitcase and backpack in a locker, and headed toward the Altstadt.

There was plenty of evidence of post-reunification investment, like the new train station.  The German federal government has spent billions and billions in the former East Germany.  Remarkably, in recent Thüringia state elections, Die Linke, the Left Party, comprised of recycled former Communists, and the neo-Fascist AfD party got the most votes, and Die Linke formed a minority government.  What part of the old failed system – an abusive system where at least 1% of adults were spies for the Stasi, the state security service – do people not understand?  And how is a return to positions that gave rise to the tragedy of National Socialism, the Nazis, going to move things forward?  Just makes me crazy.

A little reminder of the old days: a street named for the first Soviet cosmonaut.

Thinking about the leftists reminded me that the day before, David Brooks wrote a column in The New York Times reminding people of the multiple failures of socialism; here’s just one snippet that seemed to fit the local situation:

It doesn’t matter how big your computers are, the socialist can never gather all relevant data, can never construct the right feedback loops. The state cannot even see the local, irregular, context-driven factors that can have exponential effects. The state cannot predict people’s desires, which sometimes change on a whim. Capitalism creates a relentless learning system. Socialism doesn’t.

But, hey, I was a tourist, and I took an immediate liking to the urban landscape, especially the ornate buildings from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  The city was crawling with “Christmas tourists,” locals and visitors milling about the many Christmas markets in the center.  First stops were the cathedral, the large Dom, and the adjacent St. Severin church, both Catholic.  Then I climbed up to the Zitadelle Petersburg, a 17th Century fortress nearby, with good views of the city.  Back down the hill, and across to the Krämerbrücke, a bridge over the small Gera River that didn’t seem like a bridge, because it was covered with shops and houses – the only one of its kind north of Venice.  Way cool, but way crowded.

Above and below, lovely old facades in Weimar. At bottom, scenes of the Dom, the (Catholic) cathedral where Luther was ordained.

Above left, the organ in St. Severi Church, and the Petersberg fortress above the city.

At the east end of the bridge, I spotted the logo of the Methodist Church, seemingly out of place in a land of either Catholics or Lutherans, but there it was, the Ägidienkirche, originally from 1110 and rebuilt in 1324.  Sorta old.  And with a tower you could climb for €2.50, less than $3.  Up I went, with a nice T-t-S along the way, a young mother who grew up in Erfurt but now lived in North Rhine-Westphalia, not far from Münster.  The stairs were in way better shape than the rickety ladders I climbed to the top of a church tower in Göttingen three months earlier (must be Methodist discipline!), and the views from the top were superb.

Above left, children fascinated by 19th century mechanical puppetry in a shop window, and dried plants on offer. Below, city views from the church tower

Back down, it was lunch time.  Some earlier web research suggested a nearby place, Wenigermarkt 13, with Thuringian specialities.  Tucked into two Kloßscheiben, sliced fried dumplings filled with sausage, and a nice salad.  Yum!   (Not so yum was the waitress, who assumed that because I was an American she could help herself to a 30% tip, and not give me change for the €20 note I tendered; in Germany, service is included, but it’s polite to leave some coins, perhaps 8-10%, which I did.)

Hopped on a tram back to the train station, collected my stuff, and rode east 12 miles to Weimar, my overnight venue.  Checked into the Hotel Kaiserin Augusta, steps from the train station, dropped my luggage in the room, and zipped back to Erfurt.  I had a day ticket on local transport, so again did a bit of joyriding, on Tram #3 to the edge of town, past blocks and blocks of Soviet-style highrises.  Socialist paradise, at least until 1989.

Rode back into town to the last tourist stop, the Augustiner Monastery, where Martin Luther lived as a monk from 1505 to 1511, six years before he decided to protest the corruption of the Catholic church (he was ordained in Erfurt Cathedral, visited earlier in the day, in 1507).  Ambled around the grounds, and at 4:30 attended an Advent concert featuring 14 brass musicians, who played in a courtyard.  Through the years, I’ve visited a number of monasteries, but almost all of them (like Bebenhausen near Tübingen last month) are no longer alive.  But this one was, not just that night, but always, as a center for Protestant teaching, thought, and reflection (you can actually sleep there, but the rooms were already booked when my plans were clear).  Listening to the music, I thought of Gram, my German grandmother and devout Christian; she would have known the tunes, which were unfamiliar to me, except the last, “Tochter Zion,” to the melody of Handel’s “See the Conq’ring Hero Comes.”

Above left, carriage in Erfurt; right, the view from my hotel room in Weimar; the red banner advertised offices to rent in that splendid building. Below, the Augustiner Monastery.

After the music I walked back to the tram, rode to the Hauptbahnhof, then back to Weimar.  Brought this journal up to date, and at 7:30 walked south into the Altstadt.  My first restaurant choice was full, but across the street there was space in the Köstritzer Schwarzbierhaus, in a splendid half-timbered building.  Tucked into leg of duck, two enormous boiled dumplings, and red cabbage with a distinctive smoky essence.  So good, and a nice platform for a long sleep.

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Up and out the door at first light (about 8:20), for a good walk around Weimar.  It’s a graceful city, with lots of old buildings and not much of the awful “modern” architecture from the East German period.  The city was marking two centenaries in 2019, the birth of the Weimar Republic, so named because the structure was hammered out in the city, and lasted until the Nazis took power in 1933; and the Bauhaus architectural movement, which began at the small design university.  I ambled south a mile or more to the uni, then tried to get to one of the famous Bauhaus homes, a mile further on.  Unhappily, I had to cross a stream, and the bridge I needed was closed for repair.  I was running out of time, so backtracked to the university, where, to my great amazement, the main building was open.  Pure serendipity.  Wandered around inside, snapping pictures and expecting to be thrown out as a trespasser, but no.  As I left the building, I told two couples, in broken German, that the building was somehow unlocked, and they ought to go inside.

As part of the centenary of the Weimar Republic, and to remember, large photos of Holocaust survivors lined one of the main streets of the city; every one of the people shown was still alive. “Zeuge” is the German word for witness.

Above, the main building of the Bauhaus University; below, interior scenes and models in a workshop.

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Hopped on a bus back to the hotel, stored my luggage, and onto another bus west to a grim destination, the Buchenwald concentration camp (KZ in German).  As I have written many times before, Germany does not deny genocide and slavery like the U.S. does, and these memorials are powerful.  The Germans have a long word for it, vergangenheitsbewältigung, translated as “a painful history that citizens would rather not confront but that must be confronted in order not to be repeated.”  Let’s hope, but the rise of nationalist and racist political parties like the AfD, which received 23% of the vote in the recent state election, is discomforting.  William Faulkner’s fine quote came to mind: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

I spent two hours walking the grounds where Nazis murdered 56,000 during 8 years of operation.  Almost 300,000 people, age 2 to 86, were incarcerated in brutal conditions, with forced labor, medical experimentation, and torture.  Ten percent of that number were children.  Along the way were helpful interpretive panels, including one noting that the large stone memorial to the “Little Camp,” a particularly horrific place separated from the main camp, was designed by inmate #87900, New York architect Stephen Jacobs, then Stefan Jakobowitz.

Spent an hour in a building with exhibits that told the story, along with a trove of artifacts.  Tears welled several times along the way, and into a full sob as I walked through the last building, the crematorium.  A grim few hours, a reminder.

Above, entrance to the camp, with the clock showing the hour of liberation on April 11, 1945. Below, the gate inscription reads “To Each His Own,” which the SS interpreted this to mean that the “master race” had the right to destroy others. At bottom, a reconstructed barracks.

 

Above and below, artifacts from the interpretive center (the photo album belonged to one of the camp commanders; the swastikas on ribbons were given to German women who bore many children).

The oil painting at left was one of many originals that prisoners created; the work at right was a commemorative installation.

 

Above, a prisoner’s ink drawing of the crematorium, and the building today; below, a grim reminder of humankind’s ability for evil.

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Took the bus back to Weimar, grabbed my suitcase and backpack, and took three crowded and late trains across Germany to Karlsruhe, in the southwest state of Baden-Württemberg (where I was in November, in Tübingen), for my seventh visit to KIT, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.  Walked to my usual lodgings, the Zum Ochsen, a half-timbered old inn built 1746, dropped my stuff, and walked across Durlach, a small town a few miles from Karlsruhe and a now familiar place (indeed, all the German teaching venues are now like an old neighborhood!).  Sat at the bar of Der Vogel, a brewpub annually visited, and tucked into the third plate of grünkohl in six days.  Yum.

Left, a strong-armed server at Der Vogel; right, an only-in-Germany offer: the Karlsruhe public transit system, the KVV, offering free mulled wine or nonalcoholic punch on three Advent Mondays. I’m not expecting a similar offer in Washington!

Up Monday morning, out the door and onto the tram to KIT.  Spent the morning working.  Enjoyed a sort-of-spicy Thai curry for lunch with postdoc Sven and Ph.D. student Ingo.  Quick lunch, as is the custom, back to work.  From 3:45 to 5:15, delivered a talk to undergraduates.  Walked back to the marketing department, worked for a bit, and at 6:45 drove with host Martin Klarmann to Anders auf dem Turnberg, a fancy restaurant at the top of a nearby hill.  Like the year before, we had enjoyed the “Goose Menu,” with that bird as three of the four courses: goose pastrami as starter, goose noodle soup, and the main dish of leg of goose.  Yum.  It was a long dinner, three hours, and I got home late.

Left, the view from my KIT office; right, a novel Advent calendar.

And left early Tuesday morning, out the door to the Durlach train station and onto a regional train east to Stuttgart, capital of Baden-Württemberg.  Had 45 minutes until the next train, south to my ninth visit to the European School of Business at Reutlingen University; the train station and adjoining tracks are undergoing a huge reconstruction (one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in German history), and there’s no warm place, so I ambled across the street (as I did the previous spring) to a fancy Steigenberger hotel, used the clean toilets, and enjoyed the warm lobby.

Hopped on a nonstop train to Reutlingen, met host and long friend Oliver, and zipped up to the university for a short meeting with another prof.  Then down the hill to a huge lunch in the center.  From 1:45 to 3:15 I delivered a talk to a big group of undergrads.  Said goodbye to Oliver, and hopped on a bus to the train station, just making the first train back to Stuttgart.  One of Oliver’s colleagues mentioned that Stuttgart has one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany, and close to the train station, so I opted for a train an hour later and walked a few blocks to take a look.  It was nice, but those markets are so ubiquitous that little seemed distinctive.  Back to the station, and into a fast train back to Durlach.  Oops, turned out that my day ticket for trains within Baden-Württemberg was not valid on fast trains.  The conductor was polite, but I felt badly; I like to follow the rules, so I got off at the next stop and onto a slow train home to Durlach.  Changed clothes and headed back to Der Vogel for a late dinner.  Lights out early.

Above, Reutlingen has tons of splendid half-timbered buildings (called fachwerk in German). Below, Stuttgart’s Christmas market; at right, Alexander Calder’s 1973 sculpture, “Crinkly avec disk rouge,” completely surrounded by market stalls

Packed up Wednesday morning, backpack on suitcase, rolled to the tram, and back to KIT for a lecture to Masters students, 11:30-1:00.  Sven and Ingo suggested another spicy lunch option, an Indian buffet, and I happily agreed.  It was so good, seconds, full, probably no need to eat dinner.  And they had whole green chillies to really heat things up.  Said goodbye to the boys, and hopped on a tram to the main station, then a fast train to Frankfurt Airport, and a flight to my 28th and final school of the year, Dublin City University (my seventh appearance there).

Above, dawn scenes in Durlach, including my inn at left; below, stolpersteine next door to the inn, remembering the Falk family. At bottom, flamingos in the Karlsruhe city zoo, standing out on a gloomy day.

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Landed Dublin, hopped on a shuttle bus to a nearby hotel, and clocked out.  Up early Thursday morning to the gym, steps from my room, for a tonic bike ride, then onto a Dublin Bus (way cool, every one of them has free wi-fi) a couple of miles, and a fairly long walk in the rain to DCU.  I was an hour early, so sat down at a tiny table in the lobby of the business school, and quickly fell into a wonderful T-t-S with Peter, owner of a carpentry business.  We had a fine yak across a bunch of topics: fitness, longevity, drivers who text while at the wheel, and more.  The chat was a reminder of the basic sense of equality in Ireland: Peter and I regarded each other as peers.

At left, a Dublin crossing guard with more vivid contrast than the pink flamingos the day before; at right, a plaza on the DCU campus.

At 10:15, I met my longtime DCU host, Naoimh (pronounced “Neeve”) O’Reilly. We repaired to the B-school café for a cup of coffee and yak with a few fellow professors, then back to back talks to her class and that of Cathal Guiomard, lecturer in the aviation management program at DCU.  Then it was time for a huge late lunch in the faculty restaurant, called 1838, three courses, and good chatter with Naoimh, Cathal, Marina, another aviation prof, and Nimra, one of my long-distance mentees (she works for American at Dublin Airport, and is hoping to start a Ph.D. in 2020).  Hopped the bus back to the hotel, worked a bit, changed clothes, and headed into the city.

I was not due for an annual meeting with longtime chum and former Aer Lingus exec Maurice Coleman until seven, so had some time to walk a bit, along the main retail street, and across the River Liffey.  Then spent a truly wonderful hour or so walking the grounds of Trinity College Dublin.  The quadrangle off College Street was quiet, a huge contrast with the hustle bustle of downtown streets, filled with shoppers and tourists.  Spent some time in the university’s Science Gallery, a fine effort to bring basic science and technology to the public.  On display was a cool exhibit on plastics, focusing especially on environmental impact.  I had a nice T-t-S with Nizam, one of the docents, working at the gallery to help pay for his medical studies, which he had nearly completed.  Born in Ireland, grew up in British Columbia, Canada, but moved back to Dublin to save on tuition. Headed for a career as a GP.

Above left, splendid Christmas lighting on the General Post Office, O’Connell Street, and at right Regent House of Trinity College Dublin. Below, scenes from the campus.

 

Was inside Mulligans of Poolbeg Street, one of the world’s best drinking places, a bit before seven, bought a pint of Guinness and waited for Maurice.  Spotted him on the other side of the pub, negotiating a couple of seats for us.  We got caught up (this was the fifth consecutive December meeting) on lives and families, and a bit on Irish politics and culture (he’s a savvy observer of both).  After 90 minutes, we engaged Andrew and Stephanie across the table; Andrew was Irish, had worked overseas, and was back in Ireland working in mental health; Steph was American, moved to Ireland with her father, a retired eye surgeon whose grandparents emigrated from Ireland in the 1920s.  It was a wonderful evening among the hugely talkative Irish.  There’s no better place for talking with friends or talking to strangers!

Above, the scene at Mulligans. Below, Maurice, and our new friend Stephanie.

Was up early, back to Dublin Airport, short meeting with Nimra, then onto a big jet west to Philadelphia.  Four hours there, then on the short flight to Washington.  Linda was heading out of town, so I picked up our car in the airport garage, drove home, and was hugging the only ones home, Henry and MacKenzie, by 7:45.  The last trip of the year, another fine one.

 

It’s always fun to transit Philadelphia International Airport for the great public art that is constantly rotating; at left, Matty Geez’s “Lollipop Cacti,” and one of many pieces from Lydia Ricci’s collection “Telling Stories from Scraps.”

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Postscript: a month after visiting Buchenwald, I went with my nephew Evan (visiting from Minnesota) to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.  Outstanding, and grim.  We then walked across the National Mall to the Museum of American History, and while touring an exhibit on money, came across an interesting artifact, a 2 Mark note only usable by prisoners at Buchenwald:

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A Day Trip to See Mr. Jefferson

Well, not Thomas himself, but his home, Monticello, and his legacy.  On my 68th birthday, Linda and granddaughters Dylan and Carson hopped into Robin’s (bigger) car and we zoomed 110 miles southwest, past Charlottesville, and up the hill to his historic estate.   Ate some lunch, watched a short film on Jefferson’s life, and hopped a shuttle to the top of the hill.  Wandered along the”street” that held many of the small industries that Jefferson fostered — he was a big believer in self-sufficiency.  At 1:15 enjoyed a superb tour of the mansion, led by a very able guide.   After the tour, we ambled through the basement of the mansion, past storerooms, privies, and more.

Non-American readers likely know that Jefferson was the third President of the United States.  On his headstone, which we saw after the house tour, were the three accomplishments he wanted inscribed (and not a word more, he ordered): “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, & father of the University of Virginia.”  Nothing about his other important roles and accomplishments, not least U.S. president.

Mr. Jefferson was a complex man. He wrote “all men are created equal,” yet owned enslaved people his whole life. We could dismiss him for that, but to do so would be to simplify complexity. He inspired countless people worldwide, and his ideas still shine a light on the humane ideal of freedom, and resonate in places like Hong Kong, Iran, and many others.   And in a time of intolerance of those of other faiths, the second part on his gravestone resonates — I suspect Jefferson’s desire to lift that up really was proxy for the other freedoms in which he believed so ardently.  And throughout the visit we were reminded of his commitment to education and insatiable curiosity. 

He strongly believed that an educated populace was the foundation of a vigorous democracy.  How far is that from today’s fake news, disregard for science, and lack of basic literacy (like reading a credible newspaper every day) among so many U.S. adults?

We Americans, at least those of us of good will, continue to work to – as it says in the preamble to our Constitution – “form a more perfect union.” Mr. Jefferson motivated the four of us.  I am proud of my nation, and (not “but”) acutely aware of our failings. 

We drove home just before and after sunset, a lovely day.  And a reminder that we need to do more exploring in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a place rich in history and varied natural landscapes.

Above, the weaving and textile building; below left, Monticello’s large kitchen, and the (all-important!) beer cellar; at bottom, slave quarters.

Above, part of an interpretive panel; honesty about slavery was a touchstone of the entire site — in written and spoken word, video, everywhere. Below, a list of goods to be imported from Europe, in Jefferson’s own hand.

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Postscript: the day after our visit, Robin, Dylan, and Carson ran in a Thanksgiving-morning run, the latter shown here with the version of Mr. Jefferson found at the Washington Nationals ballpark:

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Germany, Switzerland, Italy, England, France: Two Weeks of Teaching

Monte Rosa, a series of peaks at the top of the Aosta Valley; the ridgeline divides Italy and Switzerland, and its top summit is the second-highest in Europe after Mont Blanc; the famous Matterhorn, Cervino in Italian, is not far away

I was home for four nights, long enough to get 175 tulip and daffodil bulbs planted and a bit of end-of-summer work.  On Tuesday, November 5, I hopped the Metro and bus to Dulles Airport and flew Lufthansa’s big 747-8 nonstop to Frankfurt.  It’s a convenient and fast way to Germany, and like my last ride on that jumbo, the plane was packed with tour groups.  Seated around me were 30 Catholic parishioners from upstate New York, headed to Italy for two weeks, ending with a papal audience (or so they were promised).  I chatted with a number of them, including seatmates Pat and Mary Lou, who had never been to Europe.  It was another nice reminder of the power of the jet plane to broaden and improve our lives.

Landed FRA at 7:45.  Spent an hour with T-Mobile Support, trying to fix a recurring (and frustrating) problem with international roaming on my iPhone, but got it working.  Grabbed some breakfast at a now-favorite supermarket in the airport train station, then checked the train departure board.  Mine was 40 minutes late (as noted in previous posts, the Deutsche Bahn is really struggling with punctuality), so I opted for an alternate route, to the downtown Frankfurt station, the Hauptbahnhof, then a train to Stuttgart. We were on a new (for me) line, through Darmstadt and south to Heidelberg, skirting low hills with vineyards on the lower slopes, autumn leaves in splendid gold and yellow.  Lovely.

The train to Stuttgart was running only a few minutes late, but stopped abruptly a few kilometers from the destination.  We sat long enough to I missed my connection, a local train south to Tübingen, where I would teach my crisis-management short course two days hence.  I was cranky, and hungry.  Took an alternate route, almost missing my connection in a place called Herrenberg, finally arriving Tübingen at 2:15.  Grabbed some lunch (again at the REWE supermarket), and walked to my hotel, a lovely old place called the Hotel am Schloss (“the hotel at the castle”) atop a hill.  I was glad to be “home,” for a five-night stay.  Unpacked, did a bit of course prep, grabbed a quick nap, and at dusk took a nice walk around the old town, the Altstadt.  Then enjoyed an early dinner at the Gasthaus Bären, a place visited a year earlier.  Lively, friendly, and great food.  I attempted to engage my young tablemate, but he was preoccupied with his little screen.  Asleep by nine, a hard snooze, 9.5 hours, catching up from the night before on the 747.

Above, a classic view of Tübingen and the Neckar River; below, the view from my hotel room at dusk and dawn.

Up Thursday morning, a day off.  After breakfast, walked the town, including a nice stroll along the Neckar River. Smiled when I passed the youth hostel on the north bank, because I was active in the youth hosteling organization for many years (as a member and for more than a decade a member of the board of directors of the U.S. entity), and because the building had once been the local headquarters of the Hitler Youth.

Above, splendid detail on buildings in the old town; below the old town hall (1435)

Above and below, along the Neckar River; the swans and ducks swam toward me when I sat down on steps, expecting a handout

Above, in a college town, you see lots of variants on two-wheelers, including this extended machine; below, window shopping along Wilhelmstrasse: a poster for Hohner harmonicas as the best way to capture Chicago blues, and sensible advice for prospective patrons to The Last Resort bar.

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At 11, met Monika, the assistant in the uni’s Marketing Department, for some last-minute course logistics (showtime was in 22 hours).  I was getting an early sense that teaching an undergraduate course was going to be way different than my MBA electives at Georgetown.  After a nice buffet breakfast in the hotel, I was not too hungry, so reverted to the supermarket for a prepared salad and two seeded rolls, munching happily in the hotel room, still captivated by the view from the window above my desk.  At two, returned to Monika’s office to pick up some truly final stuff, and wandered the university a bit more, checking out the two classrooms we would use (one spartan and one well-equipped, the latter in the Neue Aula, built in the academic-classical style in 1846).  Founded 1477, the school is a storied institution in Germany, with dozens of prominent alumni, including the astronomer Kepler; philosopher Hegel; Chancellor Kiesinger (third chancellor of the postwar Federal Republic of Germany); Nazi resister, Lutheran pastor, and long personal hero Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and many more.

Above left, famous authors and philosophers from Germany and elsewhere grace the window frames of the old library; at right, a memorial to university alumnus Dietrich Bonhoeffer and 10 other graduates who died resisting the Nazis. Below left, the old botanic garden in the town center, and my hotel from the cobbled street.

Out the door in light rain Friday morning, down the hill and across to begin the compressed crisis management course.  The 30 undergraduates – 20 Germans and 10 exchange students – were a bright lot, and surprisingly talkative.  The chair of the Marketing Department, Dominik, and two assistants took me out for a quick Thai curry and a cup of cappuccino, then back to class until 5:30.  I was plumb wore out.  Walked home in the rain, and opted for dinner in the hotel (I had eaten there on prior visits to Tübingen).  It was a wonderful meal, cream of pumpkin soup, followed by the Swabian version of ravioli – in that case pasta filled with salmon in a rich cream sauce.  So good.

Students working on a team exercise in my course

Up Saturday, back to class, time zipped by.  The rain stopped and the sun came out, boding well for my Sunday off.  Walked home, changed clothes, relaxed.  Seven hours in the classroom is a lot.  Walked across town for dinner at the Gastätte Loretto, a place I visited five months earlier.  A foundation for people with a broad range of disabilities runs it, and it’s all about being inklusiv – the German word is almost identical to ours.  On their website, they write, “Through your visit, you contribute to inclusion and recognize people with all their skills and strengths.”  The place was busy but not full, and I was able to speak to the server entirely in German, always a good thing.  When you see the staff bustling about, you wonder about their stories, their struggles.  In every case, you’re glad they’ve found a work-home, a supportive environment.  It was worth the walk on a cold night.

Slept in on Sunday, 7:15.  Tucked into a big breakfast, then walked down the hill to Sunday worship at St. Georg.  Three youngsters were being baptized (they wait until kids are older in Germany, and they were about two, seven, and nine), which made for a nice service.  Walked back to the hotel, read a bit, then hopped on a bus north a few miles to Bebenhausen, a Cistercian monastery founded 1180.  It waned after the Reformation, and was dissolved in 1648.  In 1807, it became a palace for the royalty of Württemberg (who hung on well into the 20th Century).  I hopped onto the noon palace tour in German, the leader helpfully offering a guide to the rooms in English.  Much of the place had been renovated in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It was, as you’d expect, fancy.  The monastery tour was self-guided, the rooms much older, reflecting Gothic and Romanesque styles.  Way cool.  It was damp and cold, and I was glad to get back to the hotel and warm up.

Above left, from 1868, the palace and monastery were used as a royal hunting venue (nearby forests were full of game), and “trophies,” like this wild boar, were everywhere. Below, much of the palace renovation was done in styles popular just before or after 1900, like the Art Nouveau woodcarving at right.

Above, the palace exterior (note date, 1532); below, views of the “green tower,” and surrounding village. It would be pretty cool to live in Bebenhausen!

Above, exterior view of the monastery; below, wonderful Gothic and Romanesque vaulting was everywhere — truly remarkable craft when you think about the tools available centuries ago.

At left, until about 1520, the monks slept on pallets of hay; then they got bedrooms and beds (just in time for the Reformers to turf them out!); right, wonderful decorated ceiling in a library anteroom.

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At four, I met one of the most interesting youngsters in a long time, Italo, an exchange student from Brazil.  He had emailed me a week earlier, sad that my class was full (80 students applied for 30 places, and 10 were reserved for exchange students), and asked if we could somehow meet.  Why not, I replied.  Italo was a person you liked from the moment you met him.  He understood that life, for most of us, doesn’t hand you opportunity, you have to find it and earn it.  He grew up in a small city in the state of Sao Paulo, in a family of modest means, had been working since age 15.  Before that, he and his brother – now a physician – earned merit scholarships to a Franciscan school.  We covered a lot of ground in 90 minutes.  I was totally impressed with his drive: he had been working two or three jobs since arriving: bartender, cook in a Chinese- owned Tex-Mex restaurant, mover.  He was working two now, 36 hours a week: a white-collar gig with a genetic testing company, and still bartending.  And studying full-time.  He came to Tübingen with four students from his university, and on arrival decided that he needed to build a bigger community of Brazilian expats, so he created a website and now has 60+ Brasilieros from around the town.  You got the clear sense that he could do anything and go anywhere.  I meet a lot of students every year, and Italo was for sure someone I want to keep as a connection.

At seven I sat down to dinner in the Weinstube Forelle, a fish restaurant visited six months earlier.  Tucked into a wonderful dinner of pumpkin soup, followed by baked trout, yum.  Headed back to the hotel, prepped a bit for the last day of class, and clocked out.

 

Back to work Monday morning, day 3 of the 3-day class, another 7 hours.  As I checked out of the hotel, the friendly fellow at the front desk asked me to wait a moment.  And from out of the kitchen came Johanna, an always-smiling woman who I had spoken with many times during my stay, wanting to say goodbye.  When I checked in, she walked me up to my room, and we chatted several times in between.  In a small hotel, the staff do everything, so she cleaned my room one day, served me coffee, made change at the front desk.  She was so sweet.  I hugged her, pecked both cheeks, and promised to return.  People like that make traveling a joy.

I rolled my suitcase and backpack across town to the Neue Aula, and room 236.  The morning sped past.  I wanted to eat lunch in the university mensa (student cafeteria), but they didn’t accept cash or credit cards, only a university prepaid card, so I peeled off.  Spotted Tasty, a small place run by immigrants from, I guessed, Syria.  Ordered a shwarma.  It took a long time, and I was running low on time, so I ate half of the sandwich, and wrapped the other half for dinner on the train to Zürich, my next stop.  Finished the lecture at 4:30, and sat for the final exam.  Way formal, and written on paper, which meant I had to lug another two pounds in my backpack.  Said goodbye to students, hopped on the bus to the train station, bought a little cabbage-and-carrot salad to supplement my leftovers, and some beer.  Hopped on the local train to Horb, with a tight connection to Zürich.  Arrived on time at 9:23, walked a couple of blocks to the #6 tram, up the hill to my next home, the Hotel Plattenhof, familiar from two visits in the past year.  I was totally worn out.

Outside and inside the gracious Neue Aula

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At left, dear readers who imagine my life on the road is posh might consider my Monday dinner on the train, on my lap (not shown, a can of beer); right, a perfect welcome-to-squeaky-clean Switzerland scene in the main railway station!

Managed eight hours of Zzzz, barely, up early and out the door a few blocks to the historic main building of the University of Zürich.  Met my host Nicolas (my long friend Jochen, chair of the organizational behavior department, was home sick), and presented a talk on leadership to grad students, short break, then the same talk to undergrads.  It was a busy morning.  But lots more to do.  Jochen’s assistant Lissette, a fave, found me an office for an afternoon of grading the team projects and 30 exams from the crisis management course (I always get a bit crazed about getting that task done soon after the course ends).  Walked back to the hotel, literally next door, changed out of coat and tie, and dug into work, head down.  Finished the project grading and sent the results, grabbed a quick lunch at a nearby mensa, then spent three more hours reading and marking the final exams – something of a challenge, because unlike the U.S., where students now write tests on a laptop or tablet, these were handwritten, and some of the writing was hard to decipher.  But I got it done, grades calculated and sent.  Woo hoo!

Like the day before, Tuesday I taught in another splendid old-school academic house: though it was a UZH class, we were in the main building at ETH, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Ambled back to the hotel, worked a bit, chilled, then headed to dinner at Rosengarten, a traditional Swiss place, tiny, a few blocks from the hotel.  It was a neighborhood spot, and lots of diners knew each other.  Always fun to be in a place like that.  Tucked into zürigschnätzlets, super tender veal and veal kidneys, plus the fab Swiss version of hash browns, called rösti.  Yum.  Back in my room, I read for an hour, asleep way before ten.

Up before six Wednesday morning, did a bit of work in my room, ate breakfast, and walked down the hill with suitcase, headed to the railway station, with a pleasant stop for coffee with a young German friend, Tim, who I’ve known since 2004 (he was a Ph.D. student in Münster, Germany, back then).  Tim is now CFO of a Swiss space company, Ruag, in the job about a year.  We had a great chat about that new post, family relocation from Germany to Switzerland, and lots more.  He’s a fine fellow.  He sprinted to make his suburban train to work nearby, and I walked at a more leisurely pace to Track 6, and onto a train south to Arth, then on another train under the Alps (through the super-long Gotthard Base Tunnel, ) to Lugano, for my 11th visit to USI, Università della Svizzera Italiana,  the university for the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

Above left, the new addition to the UZH business school (with a typical Z-town car in the foreground); at right, in the old town, Altstadt. Below, scenes along the railway line north of the Gotthard Base Tunnel.

Class wasn’t until the next day, so I put the afternoon to good use, as a Transport Geek, and seizing a warm and sunny autumn day – rain was forecast for the next several days.  Checked into the hotel, then zipped out, stopping at the Migros supermarket for “picnic” lunch, then up a funicular to the train station (which is above the city).  North and west into the next valley, to Locarno, then back on the unfortunately-named FART (Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi) narrow-gauge railway up the Maggia Valley.  I rode the train a year earlier, but on a gloomy and rainy day.  The weather was stunning.  I was able to ride a bit further, to the last stop before entering Italy.  The normal round-trip fare would have been the equivalent of $38, but like the year before, on arrival the hotel gives you a pass for unlimited rides on public transport in Ticino for the duration of your stay.  Woo hoo!  It was a lovely afternoon.

One little caption from the train ride: the orange and yellow sign above left was the old “flag” signal used to tell the train driver to stop for passengers; this was at Borgnone, the last station before the line enters Italy.

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Got back to the hotel about 6:15, worked a bit, relaxed, and headed out to dinner at 8. I spotted a pizza place online (the way-cool pizzeria I visited a year earlier was way across town, and I was tired), and headed there, but it was takeout only.  New plan: back to the Hotel Pestalozzi, a simple place with fair prices: tucked into a salad, bratwurst, potatoes, green beans (like an autumn dinner on a Minnesota farm!), and a glass of local red wine, all for the equivalent of $26.  And the waitress was sweet: after I had some trouble with Italiano, we switched to English.  On the way out, a nice T-t-S with her about my Italian great-grandparents; where we lived; and some tourist advice for her, after she said “I want to visit America.”  I hope she gets there.

Slept hard, really hard.  Down to breakfast, and a wonderful exchange with Katia, the server.  I stayed in a different hotel the year before, and it was nice to be back at City, a new place.  Katia said she remembered me, gave me a big hug.  We chatted only a little, because she was busy.  Like Johanna at the hotel in Tübingen, she’s a total day-brightener.  Zipped out the door, another 90 minutes as Transport Geek, up to the station and onto another little narrow-gauge railway, the Ferrovie Lugano Pontetresa, the FLP, running west to Ponte Tresa, a nice town on another arm of Lake Lugano.  Didn’t get off in Ponte Trese, zipped back, changed into “teaching clothes” at the hotel, and headed to the university.  Worked in the library for the rest of the morning.

Above and below left, on (and alongside) the FLP to Ponte Tresa; below right, the beautiful Sacre Cuore church, just across from the university.

Above, lots of snow already in the Alps; below, window shopping in downtown Lugano: at left, huge salamis from Milano, and right, wonderful Christmas treats from the famous Swiss chocolate maker Läderach.

At 12:45 met my longtime academic host in Lugano and London, Omar Merlo, for a quick (but big) lunch in the mensa, then it was time to stand and deliver for two hours, to an engaged group of 14 grad students, mostly from Italy.  Walked back to the hotel, grabbed a quick nap (something rare on this, and on most trips to Europe).  At 7:15, I walked a few blocks to a bus stop and hopped on a yellow Swiss Post bus; yet another admirable aspect of the Swiss transport network, these buses reach thousands of places beyond the railway network.  From a mobility perspective, it is one integrated nation.

Left, wonderful local orange soda, part of the mensa lunch; right, I’m not much on slogans or mission statements, but I kinda like this one for USI.

The bus climbed a big hill south of Lugano, and I got off at the second-to-last stop, Bellavista.  It was up there to celebrate, for the second year in a row, Omar’s birthday.  The other guests arrived soon after me: Omar’s dad Luigi and girlfriend Alida; his sister Adriana, husband Sandro, and kids Nicola (15) and Victoria (13).  Like the previous year, Alida made an enormous and wonderful lasagna.  We all had seconds, then salad, then birthday cake, all with wine and celebratory champagne.  I felt truly like part of the family, the distant relative from America.  Warm, lovely people.  Luigi drove me down the hill to the hotel.  It was late by my standards, nearly midnight.  And I was really full.

Above and below left, scenes from Omar’s party. Below right, Your scribe and Katia at the Hotel City.

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Slept in, until seven, then down to breakfast, a little conversation with Katia, and out the door, up the hill on the bus, then onto trains to Milan.  The plan was to meet long friends Massimo and Lucia Vesentini at the end of the day, then head up to their chalet in the Aosta Valley of the Italian Alps (Val d’Aosta, on the Italian side of the tallest Alpine peaks of France and Switzerland), so I had time. The derelict industrial landscape along the railway line, together with clouds and gloom, needed a counterpoint, so I put on my earbuds and cued sunny Italian composers Puccini and Vivaldi.  Much better!

It was rainy and not swell for touring, but I had lined up a short meeting with a prof at Bocconi, one of Italy’s best B-school; so I headed to the campus, arriving about noon.  Ate an Italian sandwich in a shop before I found the mensa (where I should have eaten), but it was a good place to work a bit, with a fast wi-fi connection.

Above left, an old-school travel promotion for a valley north of Milan (bad photo, couldn’t open the window); right, an abandoned factory. Below, scenes from a tram stop, headed to my meeting at Bocconi.

Seeing students sitting down with trays of mensa food – always basic, filling stuff – made me hungry again, so I lined up for a bowl of lentil soup.  While I was waiting to pay, a student asked me “Did you use to work for American Airlines?”  Whoa!  I replied yes, and he said he was in my lecture a year earlier at London School of Economics.  This was the second time in less than two months that this happened, but the previous encounter in St. Gallen was just before lecture began.  This time I asked Pierre-Louis (American father, French mother) if he wanted to join me for lunch, and we had a sensational chat.  He was spending an entire year as an exchange student at Bocconi, and will return to the LSE next academic year to finish.  Sort of like T-t-S, but more like TSW, totally small world!

At three I sat down with Sandro Castaldo, chair of Bocconi’s Marketing Department, for a brief chat about guest lecturing possibilities.  It was a quick meeting.  I left his office, walked a few blocks to the flashy new B-school campus, due to open in less than two weeks, then hopped on a seriously crowded tram across town.  Walked the last half-mile to Via Hayez 19, home of Lucia and Massimo Vesentini, and their swell dog Lupetta (“little wolf” in Italian).  I’ve known Massimo since 1991, not long after he became American Airlines’ sales manager for northern Italy.  Lucia was working from home that day, so we chatted briefly.

Above left, the new Bocconi business school, and right, new buildings on the main university campus. Below, the crowded tram, and one of the vintage streetcars that still rumble across Milan.  At bottom, a tummy rub for my new friend

Massimo got home from work about 5:15; we yakked for a bit, walked a few blocks to pick up their car, packed it up, installed a nervous Lupetta in the back of their SUV.  The Vesentinis think that she fears confinement perhaps because she and her three siblings were found in a box inside a dumpster, abandoned; they travel by car a lot, and Lupetta hates it.  We headed west into rush-hour traffic. It took an hour to get from slightly east of the center to the start of the superhighway, the Autostrada, an hour to get to the foot of the Aosta Valley north of Torino, and 35 minutes to climb up the Lys valley, across bridges and through tunnels and switchbacks, to their village of Gressoney-St. Jean.  It was already serious winter at about 5000 feet of elevation; at least a meter of snow had fallen in the previous days.  We left the narrow main road and climbed another 200 feet, on switchbacks, to their condominium, one of eight in a stone building that once belonged to the local baron.  The inside was rustic and cozy – and still a little cool (the heat had been turned on the day before, but it takes awhile).

Unpacked the car and headed back down to the village for a late dinner.  The place had the vibe of mountain resort towns everywhere: friendly, informal, with lots of young people in seriously good shape from climbing, skiing, biking.  I had venison stew and polenta, a big meal.  Lupetta sat beneath Massimo and Lucia, happily collecting tidbits offered.  Massimo was concerned about snow overnight; the new Audi had four-wheel drive but no winter tires, so we parked it and walked up the little road. It was midnight when I climbed into the bunk bed in the little bedroom that once was their daughter Martina’s.  Slept hard.

The Vesentinis and seven other families own this lovely stone building, a former stable

Up Saturday morning at eight, to mostly cloudy skies but a few patches of sun.  Massimo and I walked Lupetta, up the slope to a little set of houses, a place called Rong.  After a late breakfast, we set out on a long walk, into Gressoney to buy the daily paper, get another coffee (three for the equivalent of $4, way better than Starbucks!), and pick up some more supplies for dinner.  Always fun to see commerce in small places.  That valley and others adjacent are a linguistic intersection: for centuries, people have spoken French and German as well as Italian, as signs and place names showed.  The German came from the Walser people, a linguistic minority whose origins were across today’s border in the Swiss canton of Valais; they spread south, west, and east between the 12th and 13th centuries.

Above, fun in the snow with Lupetta. Below, the sacred and secular: roadside shrines honoring Jesus, and, yes, Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs!

We kept walking, across the village to the modest castle that belonged to Margherita, one of the last queens of Italy (and who loaned her name to the pizza, after enjoying it in Naples).  Lupetta chased snowballs big and small, pinecones, and anything else we could throw.  It was about 3:30 when we got back to the car.  Lucia and Lupetta hiked up to the condo, and Massimo and I took a short drive to the head of the valley, about four miles north and west, climbing yet more.  Turned around at Staffal, back down, then on foot to the condo, total distance on foot 8.7 miles.  Nap time!

Above, Margherita’s castle and the village church; below, one means of getting around Gressoney, and bags of polenta, a staple in much of Italy. Bottom, Lucia, Massimo, and Lupetta.

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Massimo started a fire in the ceramic stove, and soon the condo was toasty, almost too warm.  Lucia made dinner, osso bucco with sausage and rice.  So good.  And lots of good conversation.  I’ve gotten to know them pretty well through the years, so there are seldom lulls.  Asleep early.

Nap time, and a wonderful dinner dish

It was snowing Sunday morning.  Even for someone who spent 35 winters in Minnesota, a cold place, it was still hard to reckon with serious winter in the middle of November.  After breakfast we made two trips down with stuff.  Target departure time was 10:00, and we beat that by a minute.  The snow was coming down hard, and we rolled down the valley at a safe speed.  Massimo was a superb winter driver, and we didn’t slip once.  Less than 15 miles later, we were in rain and it looked like autumn again.  We got on the Autostrada, pedal to the metal back to Milano, then east to Bergamo airport for my flight to London and my last teaching gig the next day.  We made it way quicker than we thought, arriving about 12:30 for my Ryanair flight at 2:25.  Hugged the Vesentinis and Lupetta, had two pieces of pizza for lunch, and flew to Stansted Airport.  As always, a great time in Italy.  So nice to stay connected with long friends across the water.

Above and below, Sunday morning scenes, gray and vibrant; the fruit is a persimmon, called a kaki in Italy

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I don’t usually upload photos that are not pretty or interesting, but this one needed to be posted: a selfish jerk in a packed eating area at Bergamo Airport, hogging an extra stool. I ate my pizza standing up, right next to him, and called him out when I left, likening him to Donald Trump (“It’s all about me”). I felt immediately better!

Arrived London just before (early) sunset, onto the train, then the Underground, across the city to Omar and Carolyn Merlo’s house in Kew.  Carolyn and their kids Sophie (almost 11) and Freddie (8) were away, but Omar and their now-huge golden retriever Mr. Waffles were home.  Had a good yak, watched tennis on TV, had a quick dinner of fish and chips, and headed to bed.

Monday morning, time to get back to work, an afternoon gig at the London School of Economics.  First business was to accompany Carolyn, Sophie, Freddie, and Mr. Waffles to the kids’ school.  I’d done the walk many times, and a few parents and dogs were familiar.  After saying goodbye to the kids, Carolyn and I took Waffles for a walk around a nearby park. I packed up, hugged goodbyes, and walked back to the Tube, then east into London.  Met Dom, a young guy working in a start-up, for coffee and a good chat, ate lunch in the LSE mensa, and from 2:05 to 3:50 delivered a talk to undergraduates.

Above left, a fine portrait of Mr. Waffles; right, a lost bunny in central London. Below, the LSE campus is growing and modernizing, and the slogan at right says it all.

Several of them wanted to ask more questions after the lecture, and when I looked at my watch I thought “Yow, I need to go,” because my Eurostar train to Paris left in less than an hour.  The station was only two stops by Tube, but the departing on that train is like an airport: security screening, two passport controls (UK and France).  I made it with time to spare, but was a little stressed.  The Eurostar is seriously fast, and we were at Gare du Nord in central Paris in under 140 minutes.  Whoosh.

My next destination was dinner at Bouillon Julien, a restaurant I read about some months earlier in The New York Times.  It was walking distance from the station, 15 minutes or so.  When I arrived at 8:45, the place was hopping, but there was room for one, and in no time I was admiring the ornate interior, mostly unchanged since 1906 – “un véritable perle de l’art nouveau” as it said on the placemat.  It was, as I said to the French woman in the next table, “like being in a museum, like being in Paris before two world wars, the Cold War, the internet”!  She agreed.

I was not in a hurry, because my flight left the next morning, and I planned to spend six hours at the airport, not a hotel (many readers roll their eyes here, Rob’s idiosyncratic thrift).  I opted to return via Paris to avoid, as I often do, the huge UK departure tax, now up to $280.  So I had a leisurely dinner, first course of duck terrine, then salmon with grilled endive, and a splendid coconut pudding.  Yum, yum, yum.  The new owners’ have revived the original motto: Ici tout est beau, bon, pas cher – “here everything is beautiful, good, and inexpensive.”  The three course meal with wine was less than $35.

Left the restaurant at 10:30, ambled back to the station.  Then the France of some dysfunction kicked in: no suburban (RER) trains seemed to be headed to the airport – they normally run every 15 minutes.  So I hopped on a train that went within four stops of the terminal, to get closer.  At Aulnay sous Bois, waited on the platform for an hour.  Still no trains to the airport, but one arrived that went closer – to the stop just before the airport.  Hopped on that.  An English-speaking worker on the platform said there was a bus in front of the station that would take us (by then about 20 people) to the airport.  Well, sort of.  We got to an airport bus station that was not close to the terminal, but, happily, there was one more bus.  It was a 2.5 hour journey of less than 20 miles.  Found an agreeable bench for a nap in Terminal 2A, and fell asleep, mostly.

The American Airlines Admirals Club opened at 6:30 Tuesday morning, and I was the first member in, straight to the shower.  Cleaned up, ate some breakfast, and at 9:40 flew to New York JFK.  Arrived early, zipped through, and hopped onto train, subway, and bus to LaGuardia Airport for a 3:00 flight.  Was home by 5:00.

 

 

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27 Hours in Connecticut, 5 Days in Omaha

Winter came early to Omaha: two inches of snow on October 28

 

Was barely home (from Pennsylvania and Quebec), just two nights, and on Sunday, October 20 I flew to White Plains, New York, north of the Big Apple.  Son Jack and girlfriend Reed picked me up, and we motored around Westchester County, through lovely small towns like Katonah and Croton Falls, then into Connecticut, through seriously-posh Ridgefield to Bethel, a pleasant place where they now live, after relocating from New Haven earlier in 2019.  It was raining the whole time, but still a lovely drive, especially around the many reservoirs that store water for New York City.  Those areas felt almost like northern Minnesota, pristine and quiet, yet just over an hour from one of the biggest cities in the world.  We chilled a bit at their new pad, then headed out for dinner.  Was asleep early.

Above, Katonah, New York. Small-town feel, but less than an hour from Manhattan. Below, one of the many reservoirs that hold New York City’s water supply. At bottom, we stopped at Reed’s office; she’s the recreation director for the Town of Lewisboro, so it fit that she posed in front of one of the little buses used for outings.

Reed’s dog Kora is so sweet; she provided protection from marauders all Sunday night, from a perch on the guest bed.

Up at six, out the door an hour later, east to New Haven.  Jack is still working downtown, but soon will take a job much closer to Bethel (Reed works in a small town 14 miles from there, so both will have much easier daily commutes).  We had a good yak in the car.  He dropped me at the Yale School of Management for my debut there.  At 9:30, met my host Soheil, an interesting young professor, originally from Iran.  Delivered the airline revenue talk in the morning to MBAs and other master’s students, a highly diverse and engaged group.  Spent the lunch hour listening to a prospective faculty member sell herself with a lecture on her doctoral research.  Worked another hour, then delivered the same lecture in the afternoon to another engaged and varied class.  Soheil peeled off to meetings, I hopped in a Lyft to the nearby tiny New Haven airport, and flew to Philadelphia, then home.  Zip, zip, zip.

Above, interior of the modern Yale School of Management building. Below, the view from the air: the Connecticut shoreline east of New Haven; the North Fork of Long Island, and the estuary of the Delaware River.

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Six nights home was nice.  The two terriers, Henry and MacKenzie, especially liked the long walks.   Two hours before sunrise on Sunday, October 27, I hopped in a Lyft car to National Airport, bound for my second annual week-in-residence at the Aviation Institute of the University of Nebraska Omaha.  Talking to Strangers started before leaving our driveway.  Vakhtang, the driver, was a chatty and amiable fellow, from “the other Georgia.”  We had a great yak in the 21 minutes to the airport.  He suggested I do some guest lectures in Tbilisi, and I replied that I would like that very much.

Zipped through Charlotte Airport, and onto a flight west to Omaha.  Landed at 11:35, hopped in another Lyft (the driver was far less conversant silent really), and was at the hotel before noon.  The neighborhood, a new mixed-use development called Aksarben Village (Aksarben is Nebraska backwards), was built on the site of a former Ak-sar-ben horse track and fairgrounds, was by now well familiar, and I ambled a block south to lunch at Pickleman, which was staffed by way-friendly young people.  Then again, I thought to myself, I was back in the Midwest, a region of friendliness.  Tucked into some veg chili and a tuna sandwich, walked back to the hotel to change, and headed to a nearby gym that has an agreement with the hotel (I used it every morning in 2018).  Pumped out 20 miles, back to the room, short nap, a little prep for the coming week.

As a native Midwesterner, I like Omaha, not least because of messages like this! “We Don’t Coast” is such a fine slogan.

At 6:30, my host Scott Tarry, director of the Institute, and wife Mary, picked me up for dinner, and we motored a mile or two to an agreeable Italian restaurant for a big Sunday dinner.  Was home to watch game 5 of the World Series, and cheer on the Houston Astros vs. the Washington Nationals – though we live in suburban Washington, I was backing the team from Texas.

Up at six Monday morning, over to the gym for 10 miles on the bike, then to the UNO campus.  Worked a bit, and did the first class at 10:00.  After lunch I taught two more classes.  Scott had organized a small gathering of faculty that night a few blocks from the hotel, and I spent a pleasant couple of hours getting to know some of the other teachers.  It had begun to snow, and fairly heavily, so was happy to get a ride a few blocks to the hotel with Becky Lutte, a professor and accomplished pilot.

A couple of dawn views of the University of Nebraska Omaha campus

Rinse, repeat: stayed busy Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, a pleasant routine, riding the school’s shuttle bus from the stop right across from the hotel to campus, early breakfast in the student union, and into classes.  The four days sped past.  I didn’t get as much time to explore Omaha as on the 2018 visit, but spent an agreeable hour between classes Wednesday afternoon walking the campus and the nearby Fairacres neighborhood, well to do and beautiful.   I spent some time in the UNO Fine Arts Building, offering a varied array of things to learn — a nice reminder of the broadness of American public universities.  And a splendid T-t-S that night with Kathy and Greg Davis at a Thai restaurant in Aksarben Village.  We exchanged hellos when I sat down, but later, as they were finishing, we got into a long chat.  Dr. Greg was a dentist, almost my age, sold his practice and now keeps busy (a bit like me) teaching at the Creighton University dental school.  We talked weather, Omaha (they were both natives), the new African-American history museum in Washington (they were both African-American).  Even got some solid professional advice on new dental-crown technology.  A lovely few moments, relieving a small pang  of loneliness.

Above, a splendid home in Fairacres; below, scenes from a walk through the Fine Arts Building.

Nebraska has since 1978 had a law requiring that 1% of the cost of any new public building be allocated for public art. Now there’s a good idea, above and below.

Scenes from the rapidly growing Ak-sar-ben Village, a mixed-use development south of UNO. Built on a former horse track, the place offers housing, retail, and huge array of restaurants.

Up Friday morning at five, to the gym for one last workout, then out to a recap breakfast with Scott.  He’s a super guy, and we had a good yak about the week, and some ideas for the next visit.  My 9:18 flight to Chicago was three hours late, but happily was rebooked on a connection, and was home by 7:30, dogs on the leash.

 

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Penn State and Montreal

The iconic stadium from the 1976 Summer Olympics, Montreal

Was home from Minnesota for three nights, long enough to paint the garage floor and do some yard work.  On Monday the 14th, Linda drove me a few miles to a Hertz location, where I picked up a Nissan roller skate for a one-way drive north to my second visit to the Pennsylvania State University, Penn State.  It was a glorious morning, clear and crisp, perfect for a drive.  Started on the freeway, but hopped off at Hagerstown, Maryland, and zigzagged north on U.S. and state highways, over the Appalachian ridges and valleys – six ups and six downs by my count.  Through pleasant small towns and hamlets.  A lovely ride.  Just before arriving in State College, stopped at an overlook above town, and read an interesting interpretive sign: at the time of European arrival, 90 percent of Pennsylvania was forested, but the state is still 60% woodland.  And I was reminded of evidence, from earlier that morning, of a hardwood industry: lots of signs for saw sharpeners, chainsaw retailers, flooring manufacturers, and the like.  Some views along the road:

Happy Valley, home of Penn State

Arrived on campus at 12:15, checked into the Nittany Lion Inn (run by the school, in part for students in their hospitality program), ambled across the street for lunch, dropped the car (I was flying to my next venue), walked the campus, went to the gym, and took a short nap.  At six it was time to perform, to a packed room at an event of the student Ad and PR Club.  After the talk, club officers Haley, Morgan, and Jillian took me out to dinner.

Above, at left, Nittany Lion Inn; right, a new building on the vast campus. Below, in the presence of greatness: your scribe with Penn State starting quarterback Sean Clifford, who is friends with one of my Ad/PR Club hosts.

Up with the roosters Tuesday morning, back to the gym.  At 7:30, met hosts Steve Manuel and Ron Smith (both familiar from my visit 19 months earlier) for a caloric breakfast in the inn dining room, then off to four back-to-back talks.  There was barely time after the first one to zip over the Berkey Creamery for a chocolate shake – Penn State has a big ag program, and like the University of Wisconsin-Madison, they run a small dairy operation, from cow to ice cream.  It’s a wildly popular place (I tried the night before, prior to my club gig, but the line was out the door).  Finished the last talk at five, back to my room to change.

In the Berkey Creamery (my shake is in prep at left)

Met Steve at 5:40, and we motored to dinner.  He is a super-interesting and colorful fellow, former Marine officer, with lot of great stories, including plenty from his nearly three decades at Penn State, and a long stint as school sports photographer.  The guy has a lot of talents.  His colleague Denise Bortree joined us for the meal, and more great conversation.

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Was asleep by 8:45, because I was up at 4:20 Wednesday morning, out to the small airport, onto a 6:00 jet to Philadelphia, then a connecting flight to Montreal and my 24th time at McGill University, a long favorite.   Landed in Canada before ten, onto the superb #747 express bus into the city, and up the hill to Desautels, the McGill business school.  Met host and pal Bob Mackalski, and sat in on a class on innovation, not to present, but make a few comments from the back row.  Ate a big lunch at a fave restaurant – great in part because everyone in the place knows and likes Bob, so we get rock-star service.  At 2:30, we co-taught an undergrad brand management class.  I peeled off, walking to my digs, at the top of a McGill dorm.  Great place, huge apartment.  Did some work, and at six headed out to a new brewpub, via Metro and bus.  Waited 45 minutes for a bus that never came, so reversed course and headed to my fave pub, Saint-Houblon on Rue Saint-Denis.

The view from above: wind turbines in New York’s Adirondack Mountains; harvest time in Quebec, and pleasant suburbs west of Montreal.

Wednesday night, and the place was packed.  While we waited for a table, a kindly server brought us small glasses of free beer, way cool.  In 10 minutes, I was sitting at a counter on the balcony, with a great view of the bustling place.  Studying the beer menu, “Pêche Blonde” caught my eye, and I asked for a pint.  Wow!  Made with lots of peaches.  The server was super-friendly, offering samples of anything else that caught my eye.  Tucked into a nice plate of spicy tofu and vegetables, and headed home.

At left, Saint-Houblon; right, the Berri UQAM Metro station — like many in Montreal, it features vibrant stained glass windows and other public art.

Was up at 6:30 Thursday after a much-needed long snooze.  Worked my email.  At 8:20, I headed out, into cold rain and strong wind, east a couple of blocks to a cozy café, to meet a long friend of Fabio Scappaticci, my young pal in Geneva who I visited three weeks earlier.  Ridha and Fabio met each other as teenagers, and are as close as brothers.  Six months earlier, I had attempted to help Ridha with an aviation job, and it was nice to meet him in person.  A way interesting guy with a great family story.  Mom and Dad from Palestine, first years in Saudi Arabia, moved to Canada at 11.  After a long yak and a nice breakfast, we walked to his condo, met his French wife and young daughter Leah.  We walked Leah to day care across the street, which was a lesson in itself: the sparkling clean, amply staffed, well designed facility was actually run by the province.  Such a different model from the U.S., and better.  Yes, taxes are much higher, but services like that facility might even make conservatives – certainly the ones who claim to be “pro family” – reconsider how we do it south of the border.

Above, a rain-blurred view from Ridha’s apartment; below, Leah and Ridha; at bottom, the corridor at Leah’s day-care center.

At 12:30, I met McGill law lecturer and longtime host Kuan-Wei Chen, known as David, for lunch.  Sadly, my favorite little Korean place, Kantapia, next door to my digs, had closed, but we found a new Korean place on Peel, and tucked into a fine lunch and good conversation.  Walked back, took a tonic nap, and worked a bit.

Above, lunch at Woojirib Korean Restaurant (the stone dish was cooking my eggs); below, evidence of strong winds.

At 4:30, I suited up and walked briskly south on Rue Sherbrooke.  It was still raining, and the north wind had picked up.  Up the Peel St. hill to the McGill Law School.  I was way early.  In one of the foyers was a permanent exhibit of Inuit printmaking, seven prints from the 1980s.  As I admired the expressiveness, I was also saddened by the knowledge that Europeans – in Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere – tried to force native peoples to be like us. Why?  I had no answer, but I surely enjoyed the art, especially the two interpretations of caribou (the wild version of semi-domesticated reindeer).

At left, “Caribou Acting as Men,” by Oshoociak Pudlot (1909-1992), Cape Dorset, Nunavut, 1983; right “Spirit of Summer Caribou,” by Pitseolak Ashoona, also from Dorset, born 1904 and created this in the year of his death, 1983.

At 6:00, it was time to stand and deliver my airline-alliances lecture to a small group of graduate law (LLM) students.  Finished at 8:15, and walked back to the room.  It was (by my standards) late.  I was tired, but also hungry and thirsty, and was reminded of a similar evening in Cologne several years earlier: I could just put on my pajamas, or put myself “out there.”  So I pulled on jeans and zipped out, a block north to the #80 bus, rode 15 minutes and a short walk to a microbrewery and pub, Dieu du Ciel! (literally God in the Sky, or Good Lord! by Google Translate, either way a nice name).  It was nine but the place was still hopping.  Found a stool at the bar, got a nice welcome, and tucked into a couple of beers and a wonderful pizza.  The place exuded such a friendly vibe, and none of the youngsters minded that I was, like the night before, the oldest person in the place by a factor of two or three.  “Out there” was the right place to be.

Slept in on Friday, until seven.  It had stopped raining, streets were dry, so it was time for a ride on Bixi, Montreal’s bikeshare.  Hopped on a silver cycle and headed east, into what had historically been a series of working-class neighborhoods, almost solely francophone.  Zigged and zagged, and ended up in Maisonneuve Park, a huge urban green space.  Rode around the park twice, then rode back downtown, 13 miles.  Breakfast at my fave Tim Horton’s, oatmeal and a bran muffin.  Packed up, stopped at the McGill bookstore to buy a souvenir quarter-zip fleece with school logo, hopped the #747 bus to the airport, and flew home.  Canada is always such a joy.

At left, part of a huge frieze that spans four walls of Montreal’s Central Station, depicting signal Canadian scenes and featuring the words of its national anthem; right, a portion of a brilliant stained-glass window that also interprets Canada from Pacific to Atlantic, installed at Dorval Airport in 1960 and moved to its new transborder terminal (I like the cargo ship sliding down what seems to be Niagara Falls!).

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Postscript: walking from my gate at Washington National Airport to the Metro, I passed a small exhibit of artifacts from the old days of flying. This poster caught my eye; when we lived briefly in Cleveland, Ohio, 1957-59, my traveling-salesman dad sometimes flew on Capital Airlines (which merged into United in 1961). The turboprop Vickers Viscount was brand new back then, and my late brother Jim and loved going to the airport to pick him up, stand on the observation deck, and listen to the plane’s distinctive whine.

 

 

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