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Remembering Jim Britton, The Traveling Kind


James S. Britton (1947-2018) in a good place: Bozeman Brewing Co., Bozeman, Montana, July 2017

On Sunday, February 25, I drove a rental car north toward a week of teaching at Penn State (described in the previous post).  As I motored west and north through the Maryland suburbs of Washington, I cued Emmylou Harris’ and Rodney Crowell’s “The Traveling Kind”:

In the wind are names of poets past | Some were friends of yours and mine

And to those unsung, we lift our glass | May their songs become the traveling kind

My brother Jim was the traveling kind.  He died unexpectedly in early February at age 70.  In coming to grips with the sadness and grief of losing my only true sibling, I have thought often of brother-and-brother travels through the years.  The first trip I recall with clarity was our 1956 family vacation to visit Uncle Harold and his kin in Montana.  And the last was also to Montana, we two brothers exploring our paternal roots, just seven months ago.


Two brothers, Castle Mountain Ranch, Montana, July 1956

Here are some brief vignettes of other travels with Jim, mostly from a long time ago:

The North Shore and Gunflint Trail, Northern Minnesota, 1957 and many more times

On our first visit in 1957 and every year save one until 1966, Jim and I marveled at the Northern Lights, enjoyed pan-fried fresh fish at Greenwood Lake Lodge (cabin 9 was our favorite), tucked into blueberry pancakes at the East Bay Hotel in Grand Marais, and went fishing by ourselves and with our father – best place was tiny Sunfish Lake, brimming with walleyes.  Dad trusted Jim with the aluminum fishing boat and 5½ horsepower Johnson motor, and we two zoomed around the lake a lot.


Two brothers, Cabin 9, Greenwood Lake Lodge, Minnesota, August 1957

Trips on the Burlington Zephyr (passenger train) to see kin in Chicago

The train rides on this streamliner, down to see family, were formulaic, beginning with our mother dispatching Jim and I to run down the stairs of the Great Northern Station to the platform, hop on the coach just in front of the dining car, and grab the four seats facing each other at the base of the Vista Dome. Chairs secured, we headed upstairs to enjoy the scenery, especially the hundreds of miles in the Mississippi Valley.  I can still recall sights from those rides, and even smells: the hot metal smell of train wheels and brakes, and the wool seat upholstery, infused with tobacco smoke.  And the taste of freshly-grilled hamburgers for lunch in the diner.


Our mom didn’t have a camera, so I had to grab this pic off the Internet, and the image of the postcard below



The short trip to Marshall Field’s in Chicago, November 1957

Though our Gram (maternal grandmother) often took Jim and me from their big apartment on Logan Blvd. into the Loop (downtown) by El (elevated train/subway), I have vivid recall of one trip.  It happened when our family was moving to Cleveland, and on a night when Field’s, Chicago’s vast department store, stayed open past dinnertime.  Jim and I had misbehaved earlier that day – I can’t recall the transgressions – and Gram axed a promised trip to Field’s enormous toy department.  Our comportment must have improved, because just before dark she relented.  “Hurry,” she said.  We left the apartment and walked briskly west and south to the El station on California Ave.  I remember waiting on the wooden platform for the train as if it were yesterday, Gram holding Jim’s and my hands.  I don’t remember what toys she bought us, only the joy of grandmotherly kindness and redemption.


No pic from that trip to Field’s; and none of the two brothers with Nonno and Gram, but this one of Jim in about 1953 makes me smile

The road trip to Florida, August 1964

Jim’s friend John Lillejord tagged along for the adventure, a circuitous route south in the big blue Oldsmobile, to visit grandma Florence, Uncle Walter, and Aunt Mil, who had moved to the Sunshine State two years earlier. We boys hung out in the TraveLodge in Holly Hill, body surfed at the vast Daytona Beach, ate fresh shrimp along the Intracoastal Waterway, and more.

Lutsen, Minnesota, March 1969

A weekend trip to ski fast, then Jim and his buddies partied hard in a room in Olson’s Motel in Tofte.  That time and almost all the time, he let me tag along. And on that trip he taught be how to drive the stick shift of his Sunbeam Alpine, winding south on Highway 61, hugging the North Shore of Lake Superior.


Not long after that spring ski trip up north, Jim moved to the West, where he stayed for the rest of his life.  He remained “the traveling kind,” moving by car, truck (for years and years in a reliable Ford F-150 pickup), and by bicycle.  Jim and I shared a passion for two-wheelers.  Though he bought a skinny-tire machine years after me, he quickly bested me, routinely riding 100 miles in a day, taking on some astonishing road trips through the mountains, and competing vigorously in a range of road races.  It was in those events when he was strongest.

After marrying his beloved Pam in 1989, the two of them became the traveling kind, by car on many trips across the west and occasionally further afield.  A couple of decades ago, they ventured across the Atlantic, and made a number of way-cool bike trips through Italy, where Jim decided that he ought be also be called Giacomo.  In that country they would be known as tipi da viaggio (special thanks to my paesano Massimo in Milano for nuanced translation; as a sidebar, just before he died, Jim and I started talking about a trip to Italy to meet Massimo and see some places described in the touching new novel Beneath a Scarlet Sky).


Jim and Pam, Crater Lake, Oregon, 2009

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Jim and Pam at home in Jacksonville, Oregon, July 2017

In the five decades he lived in that spectacular and mostly empty part of the world, I visited far too infrequently.  And I’m sad that we never traveled together again until last summer’s trip, which he correctly described as “epic.”  I am grateful for that last time together (my loving account of that trip is here).

Further along I-270, Emmylou and Rodney sang:

When the music slowly starts to fade | Into the light’s last soft decline

Let us lie down in that evening shade | And rest among the traveling kind.

Like me, Jim was the traveling kind. We miss him.  His newspaper obituary is here; I’m working on a eulogy, which I hope and pray I will be able to deliver later this year.

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Jim loved all mountains; here the Bridgers north of Bozeman, Montana



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To Penn State


The Nittany Lion, mascot and team name at The Pennsylvania State University; at left the sculpture created in 1942 (his right ear was being repaired); at right huge paws welcome visitors to the university’s art museum

On a rainy Sunday afternoon, February 25, Linda dropped me at a nearby Marriott, where I picked up a rental car and drove north, headed for a week as “professional-in-residence” in the College of Communications at Penn State.  I had the whole afternoon to drive 175 miles, so I took the scenic route: freeway to the Pennsylvania border, then two-lane highways of varied quality north.  It had been a long time since I drove the ridges and valleys of the Appalachians, more specifically the Allegheny Mountains.  Up and down and up and down, through some interesting and old towns, mostly small.  A couple of wrong turns here and there, but was at the Nittany Lion Inn, the university’s historic hotel, by 4:45.  Parked the car and would leave it in the same space for four days.


The drive north took me through historic Pennsylvania towns with lots of old buildings

At 5:45 I met my host for the week, Prof. Ron Smith.  We motored a couple of miles to a brewpub, and another prof, Steve Manuel, joined us.  I did a little research on the faculty I would meet that week, and knew that Steve would have some stories.  And he did.  Entered the Marine Corps in 1969 as an enlisted man, firing from a helicopter gunship in Vietnam, and departed 28 years later as a major at the Pentagon.  Quite a lot of action in between.  Since leaving, he has gone on 60 USO tours as a photographer, in between teaching stints at Penn State, where he’s served for two decades.  “Been shot at?” I asked.  Indeed, he replied.  It was quite a meal.

Up way early Monday morning, to the hotel gym, then breakfast with two more faculty, then into Ron’s advertising creative strategies class.  Did a bit of consulting work, met Ron for lunch, then at 2:00 met the person responsible for the Penn State invitation.  In October 2015 when I was teaching in Chicago I spent a couple of hours with a longtime American Airlines colleague.  His daughter Margaret came out to the patio to say hello, Tom introduced her, said she was an advertising major at Penn State, adding, “Margaret, you should see if Rob can be invited to speak.”  Almost 2½ years later, Margaret, her classmate Audrey, and I were yakking at a coffee shop in downtown State College. A fun chat.  Headed back to campus, Ron found me an office, and I was set.  Worked until 5:30, walked back to the hotel, changed into jeans, and headed back to town.


Old Main


The school’s buildings and grounds were in really good condition, especially well-maintained older structures


The Nittany Lion Inn, my digs for the week; built 1931, university-owned, and used for teaching in the school’s hospitality-management program

Earlier I had spotted a promising tavern, the Darkhorse, on an alley called Calder Way.  Zipped in, sat down, and in no time was chatting with Nolan the bartender.  Nice TtS piled on top of SMN (Small world, no?): he worked for five years as a counselor at a summer camp for special-needs kids on Big Trout Lake in Minnesota, two miles from my pal Tim McGlynn’s cabin.  Also yakked with a couple of colorful locals, Alec and Eric.  A nice time.  Next and last stop was India Pavilion for dinner, then home.

Tuesday, same drill: on the fitness bike, breakfast (on my own), then to class: one before lunch and two after.  In between, a delightful lunch with more faculty: Tara, Frank, and Denise.  Back to the room, changed clothes, out the door for a beer, then a spicy Thai curry.  Wednesday, again.  Breakfast with a prof, then to his class and another.  Lunch with grad students and Denise, brief meeting with the dean, Marie Hardin, worked a bit more and got prepped.


Self-explanatory, and so true!


I welcomed these intepretive signs all over the campus, many of which noted “firsts” at Penn State, like this one

The main event of the visit was a keynote speech in the student center at 6:30.  Denise, Ron, and I had an early dinner in the Nittany Lion Inn’s superb dining room (like Cornell, Penn State has a “hotel school,” and the inn is used extensively for hands-on lessons in hotel and restaurant management).  The keynote went well – attendance was a bit sparse, but your scribe delivered a solid talk, and answered some great questions.  After the talk, two people with airline connections introduced themselves: Debbie, a former Continental flight attendant, and Jillian, whose mom has worked on the ramp at LaGuardia for American and predecessor companies back to Piedmont Airlines.  Walked back to the hotel, changed clothes, and had a nightcap beer.


Like other schools with agriculture majors, Penn State has an on-campus creamery; it was way bigger than the one at the University of Wisconsin

Thursday morning, back to the gym, packed the suitcase, tossed it in the rental car, and headed to my office.  After lunch and a detour for a milk shake at the Berkey Creamery on campus, I met a soon-to-graduate student, Mike, who was torn between a career in comms and one in the cockpit.  We chatted for an hour, and after he left I felt much better about young people – Mike was hardworking, kind, humane, thoughtful.  He’d make a good pilot.  Last class ran 3:30 to 4:30.  By then it was pelting rain.  Walked briskly back to the car, fueled up, and headed home, this time on the freeway.  It was, alas, one of the most awful drives in almost half-a-century behind the wheel.  Sheets of rain nearly the whole way, fog on the ridgetops, and once on I-70 a parade of semis, many of which were in the uphill left lane.  I was seriously glad to be home, even to clean up a couple of MacKenzie’s accidents on the basement carpet!

The visit to Penn State was superb, and I told host Ron that I would very much like to return in future years.


The lion motif was everywhere on campus!



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London, Germany, London

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Romanesque church (from 1156), Maria-Laach Benedictine Abbey, near Andernach, Germany

My wings were clipped for 39 days, until February 10, and my first priority in that time was to help Linda recover from her second knee replacement.  Happily #2 went way, way better, and at “decision time” in late January we agreed she would be well enough for me to resume my mobile life.  I was way excited on the 10th when Linda dropped me at Georgetown for a morning lecture before heading to the airport.  Woo hoo!  It was pouring at noon, so rather than walking across the Potomac to the Metro, I hopped in a taxi on campus.  Enjoyed my first Talking-to-Strangers moments of 2018, a nice chat with the driver.  He emigrated from Iran “when Nixon was president.” I asked him if he went back.  “Every year,” he replied, smiling, “and I’m going again in two weeks.”  It would be a two-month sojourn to five places, visiting friends and family.  I gave him a good tip, “for your travels.”  A good start to the trip.

Although I was headed to London, I detoured up to Connecticut, flying to Hartford, where Jack picked me up.  We zoomed south to New Haven, dropped my bags at his pad, headed to a quick burrito dinner, then the main event, Yale men’s hockey vs. Princeton.  We went twice the previous season, and it was good to be back in the Ingalls Ice Rink, designed by the famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen (Dulles Airport, Gateway Arch in St. Louis, other cool stuff).  Even better when the home team scored three goals in the first six minutes.  Princeton pulled within one, but the Bulldogs clinched it with four more goals in the third period.  Back to the apartment, inflated the airbed, off to nine hours of sleep.



Ingalls Ice Rink at Yale, known fittingly as “The Whale”

Up at seven Sunday, yakked, read, and at nine jumped on the exercise bike in the YMCA gym (two blocks from home, very handy), pumped out 20 miles.  Back home, showered, and at 10:45 were first in line for pizza at Frank Pepe’s, a New Haven institution since 1925.  Tucked into a big one.  Jack then took me on a wonderful car tour of New Haven, into some places I had seen before, and some new neighborhoods.  An interesting place.  He dropped me at Union Station, kiss and hug, and onto the 1:25 train to Grand Central Terminal, New York.  The ride south and west was interesting, through the backyards of affluent suburbs, past some hollowed-out industrial districts, then into the vast metropolis.  Arrived Grand Central on time, detoured into the main hall to gaze upward at the remarkable robin-egg-blue ceiling, adorned with painted constellations – it is one of the world’s most magnificent transport hubs.  My T-Geek professed mastery of New York public transit got dented shortly thereafter: the chosen route did not work, because of weekend construction on the line that would get me close to Kennedy Airport.  So I reversed course, headed to Penn Station, then the Long Island Rail Road, and one more short ride; I still managed to arrive JFK with time for a beer in the Admirals Club.


New Haven Union Station


Waiting for the 6 Train

Hopped on the 777 to cross the ocean.  While watching the movie, I noticed the passenger a row ahead and across the aisle holding a musical score. Then he was moving his hands as a conductor would. When we landed, it was time for TtS. As he out away the musical score that read “Leonard Bernstein,” I asked the maestro where he was conducting. “Rome,” he replied.  I apologized for not recognizing him, and asked of his home orchestra. “Two,” he said, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London and Santa Cecelia, Rome.  Later that day, I Googled, and he was Antonio Pappano.  I zipped through London Heathrow, hopped on the Tube east, and by long tradition cued The Beatles – “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Yesterday,” and other tunes are a perfect welcome to England.


Maestro Pappano’s inflight rehearsal

Changed trains twice, and by 7:30 was ringing the doorbell at Carolyn and Omar Merlo’s house in Kew, near the famous botanic gardens.  Had a good yak with Carolyn, who was home from her job with the BBC because daughter Sophie and son Freddy had a week off from school (Omar was teaching in Qatar, home late that night).  Also greeting me was Mr. Waffles, their 14-month-old golden retriever, who was 1) absolutely huge, and 2) totally wild.  He seemed to remember me as the old guy who liked to play, so we did some tug-of-war until my hands were covered in slobber.

Showered, changed clothes, and headed out to my first gig at London Business School.  I had some time, so paused for a jolt of coffee, and at 11:15 met Hannah, a MBA student from California, and two of her colleagues, then from 11:45 to 12:45 gave an annual talk to the LBS Marketing Club.  Very well attended and lots of good questions from seriously bright students.  Walked back to the Tube, rode two stops to Oxford Circus, and met a young entrepreneur friend for lunch and a good chat.  It was a nice day, clear and cold, and I simply could not resist a ride on a one of London’s shared bikes, so off I went, pedaling west from Whitehall, past Buckingham Palace, across Hyde Park, then west to beyond Hammersmith, eight miles.  I planned to hop the Tube back to Kew, but the line was down, so had to take a very crowded and very slow bus home.


London window shopping: the London Transport Lost Property office at Baker Street (note the year the iron went missing), and the elegant Pinarello bicycle showroom on Regent St.


More Regent St. elegance

Whoops, forgot to get a key when I left that morning, and no one was home, so I walked back to “downtown” Kew for a pint at the Tap on the Line, the only pub in London directly on a Tube line.  Carolyn had my mobile number, and texted me to come home, so I finished my pint and headed back.  Changed clothes and at 7:30, she, the kids, and Mr. Waffles walked a few blocks to the Kew Gardens Hotel, a very agreeable pub, for a nice dinner.  We were having fun, and had even more fun when Dale, a former student of Omar’s a now good pal, arrived.

To describe Dale as a character doesn’t even come close.  He grew up in San Diego, in a large Mormon family, but the stories he told of adolescent hijinks made the wild kid in our neighborhood seem like a choirboy.  My stomach hurt from laughing as he recalled tales of stealing a massive concrete panther mascot from a rival high school and putting it in their front yard (he professor father and mom were out of town); using a Volkswagen as a raging bull to chase kids around their backyard; and seeing if they could hang from the Coronado Bridge for a minute without letting go and dropping into the water far below.  Whew.  Wild kids.

Slept hard, nine hours.  Omar was in the kitchen when I lurched down the stairs with my suitcase, and we had a cup of coffee, cereal, and a good catch-up.  Left the house at 8:45, had a quick cup of coffee with another friend, then hopped the Tube to Imperial College.  Met Omar for lunch, then delivered a lecture to his M.Sc. class on branding, big, 180 students.  Dale attended, and we visited a bit after, then I peeled off.  A quick yak with Mikhaela, a longtime friend at Imperial, then onto the Tube, across town to Liverpool Street Station, then the train to Stansted Airport, and a Ryanair flight to Frankfurt.  Arrived 10:30, headed to the train station, hopped on the 11:39 train to my next destination, WHU, a private business school in the Rhine Valley.  It was the very last minutes of Mardi Gras, or Karneval as they call it in that part of Germany, and I spotted only one remaining reveler along the whole line, a turquoise-wigged young woman on an adjacent platform in Mainz.  Arrived Koblenz, a very familiar place, at 12:55, walked to the Hotel Trierer Hof (built 1786, began welcoming guests three years later), head hit pillow at 1:30.  A long day.


The “classroom,” auditorium of the Royal Geographical Society

Up at 7:30; six hours of sleep was not enough, but it had to do, because it was showtime at 9:45.  Zipped across the Rhine on Bus 8, walked up the hill to the very-familiar WHU campus in Vallendar, and delivered a leadership talk to a sparse group, reduced from either flu or Karneval hangovers (more likely).  Dashed out, back to Koblenz, changed clothes and walked to the train station.  Hopped on a local train to Andernach, then almost missed Bus 310 (I couldn’t find the stop, and would have missed it save for all the students climbing on; Wednesdays must be early dismissal).


My longtime digs in Koblenz

I was glad I made it, because I was bound for Maria-Laach, a Benedictine abbey 11 kilometers north.  I met one of the monks two months earlier, on a flight from Copenhagen to Frankfurt.  Among other things that day, he told me the Benedictines were noted for hospitality, and invited me to tour the abbey on a future visit.  I was excited.  Along the way, I had a nice TtS with a teenage boy of 13 or 14, who told me the abbey was really interesting, and that the nearby large lake, formed by a volcano, was where he went sailing in the summer.  The bus took a circuitous route to the abbey — the 6 miles or so took 40 minutes via Nickenich, Wassenach, and several other small burgs, dropping chattering students at each one.

Fr. Augustinus was waiting for me in the abbey parking lot, and welcomed me warmly.  First stop was the welcome center for a short video introduction.  The abbey opened in 1156, and there was a fair bit of upheaval in the nearly nine centuries since.  Napoleon dissolved monasteries, sold off property.   Today the abbey has 35 monks and 220 staff to operate the abbey’s many enterprises – one of St. Benedict’s rules was every monastery had to be self-sufficient, and this one was a large enterprise, operating a hotel, conference center, large shop and art gallery, and a garden store renowned in the region.  We toured the grounds, had a cup of coffee, then visited the Romanesque church and a spectacular library that was built when the Jesuits briefly held the abbey in the late 19th Century.  Here are some scenes:

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The Abbey Church


Detail, Abbey Church


Two interpretations of Fr. Gilbert, founder of Maria-Laach


The Benedictines create art to honor God, and the abbey grounds, church, and buildings abounded with lovely paintings, frescoes, and sculpture, including these contemporary works depicting Fr. Gilbert, Mary, and Noah



The abbey library, built in the 19th Century by the Jesuits

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At five, I thanked Fr. Augustinus and wished him well, then hopped into one of the abbey’s cars, meeting Herr Hoffmann, one of the 220 staff.  He was friendly but spoke no English, so the ride down the hill to Andernach was entirely auf Deutsch, together with hand gestures and lots of comparing photos on our mobile phones – wives, kids, dogs, the universal sharing of family.  Hopped on the train back to Koblenz, and took a short nap.  Whew, a long and good day.  At seven I wandered a few blocks to one of my world-fave taverns, the Altes Brauhaus, opened in 1689.  Had a couple of beers and a plate of cold herring with fried potatoes, yum.  Then a solid sleep


In the Altes Brauhaus

I woke, on a day off, to two or three inches of snow.  Plan was to head across to WHU, work the morning, meet two long WHU friends for lunch, and go to a thermal bath, in nearby Bad Ems, in the afternoon.  After breakfast I ambled to the stop for Bus 8 and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  After 90 minutes it was clear that a little bit of snow had massively disrupted service, so walked to the train station and hopped the rails to Vallendar.  My faith in German efficiency and perseverance was slightly dented.

Met Heidi and Sandra for lunch, a now-annual event, at an agreeable little Italian place.  Tucked into pasta, and made great conversation with nice people.  Because I didn’t get any work done that morning, and a new assignment arrived, I spent the afternoon working at WHU, and got caught up.  Missed the baths, but stuff happens.  Headed back to Koblenz, pausing at the bus stop for another TtS, with a WHU Ph.D. student who had lived in Chicago for a year as an intern with the German-American Chamber of Commerce.  Headed back to the Altes Brauhaus, then home.  Another long sleep, catching up from earlier in the week.

Friday morning, time again to stand and deliver.  My new WHU host, Jane Le, was ill on Wednesday, but was there that morning to introduce me to a class slightly larger than two days earlier.  Gave the talk, lots of good questions.  Afterward, Jane’s TA, Mommin Durrani, invited me to coffee, and although I had a bit of work I was so glad I accepted.

Mommin was one of the most interesting grad students I’ve ever met.  He was from Peshawar, Pakistan, close to the Afghan border, a chaotic and unstable area.  He had just arrived in Germany, after Jane agreed to supervise his doctoral thesis, which will be an ethnography of informal security personnel – the brave and totally underpaid people who defuse IEDs and other dangerous stuff.  He has been embedded with these workers, and will return for more field research.  His work is groundbreaking, sure to shake up the field of organizational behavior.  Just one story: the U.S. Defense Department sends bomb-defusing robots to Pakistan, but they are useless in a place without 24/7 electricity, so the team uses decidedly low-tech solutions, like magnets attached to string.  That launched a discussion of appropriate technology, the failures of Western-imposed economic development “solutions” (think World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development), positive developments like microcredit, and lots more.  My chat was easily one of the most fascinating conversations in the past year – and I meet a lot of interesting people.

At one, Mommin, Jane, and I met at the Mensa (school cafeteria) for a quick lunch.  To my great delight, grünkohl (cooked kale) was on the menu, with boiled potatoes and a giant sausage.  We yakked across a bunch of topics, then headed back to the classroom for my last talk of the week.  By the numbers, more than 300 students in 6 days, at 4 schools.  Good to be productive.  You can’t mess with consistent quality, so tippled and dined once again at the Altes Brauhaus.

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Spires of the Liebfrauenkirch, Koblenz


Wasting food is not an option, but it’s hard when you’re traveling; a bit of ingenuity for the leftover schnitzel, hanging outside my hotel window; it made a nice Saturday lunch!

My train was not until 10:30, and in my ongoing drive to be productive, agreed to be filmed for a series of WHU-student-produced videos.  Jöran Heikhaus picked me up at the hotel at 8:25, and we zoomed across the river to campus, with great chatter along the way.  As I have written here, I deeply admire the German tradition of apprenticeships and internships, and Jöran was the poster child – worked briefly in Sydney and London, was helping a B2B startup in Koblenz, and still studying full time.  Very cool.  We laid down about six short videos, zipped back to the train station, and said goodbye.  Great lad.

I hopped an earlier direct train to Düsseldorf Airport.  Rather than using the time to bring this journal up to date, I looked out the window at some interesting stuff: a mothballed nuclear power plant (it had operated for less than two years in the 1980s); a wonderful mural of Bonn’s most famous son, Beethoven (a kilometer south of the Hauptbahnhof), and the huge Bayer chemical complex in Leverkusen, north of Cologne.  Along the way, a nice TtS with a law student enroute to Düsseldorf.

Flew Saturday afternoon to London Heathrow and into easily the longest immigration queue I’ve seen in 51 years of crossing borders.  It took way more than an hour to get through.  About halfway along, a nice TtS with Casey from Minot, North Dakota, who designs sweaters for upmarket ski-clothing brands Obermeyer and Spyder.  She grew up in Billings, Montana, so we had a nice yak about my father’s native state.  Went to college in Colorado, moved to New York, then Denver, then married a fellow in the air force, hence Minot.  She was fun to talk with, and it made the long wait a bit less unpleasant.  Finally admitted to the U.K., I hopped on the fast train into town, then the Tube, then a fast mile walk to the home of my long friends Scott and Caroline Sage.  Their daughter Eva, now three, still recognized me, even though it had been 14 months; and they had a smiling new daughter, Sadie Rose.  It was such a joy to be there.  The grown-ups visited briefly, then the Sages left for dinner.  I stayed until Carrie, their wonderful caregiver arrived, then peeled out for dinner at Khas Tandoori, one of those slightly-worn looking neighborhood Indian restaurants that dot London.  Scott recommended it, and it was terrific.  Home, and asleep by 9:30.


Scott and Sadie Grace, 6 months, and Eva Rose, already 3


Chopped green chillies, always a good addition

Visited briefly with the family Sunday morning, and at nine walked east, across Queen’s Park to St. Anne’s parish, where I worshipped in late November.  The vicar, Mother Christine, and I yakked a bit before.  The congregation was yet smaller than the previous time, but so friendly.  Afterward, as before, I had a cup of coffee and chatted with another two from November, father-and-son scientists Mark and Patrick Haggard, and a new fellow, a U.K. civil servant, from the Ministry of Finance.  Renewed, I walked home, said hello to close friends of the Sages who were there for lunch, and headed out.


Late-winter still life, Scarlet & Violet

First stop was Scarlet & Violet, in my limited view the best florist in the whole world, to get Caroline a gift card (the house was full of Valentine and spring bouquets, so I thought a chit for later made sense).  Then into Café Mineiro, run by Brazilians, for another jolt.  They made great coffee, and I sat down to admire the shelves of Portuguese and Brazilian packaged foods.  The place had a friendly vibe and, as I have written many times in these pages, ordinary experiences like this are better than a visit to a famous museum.


The Sunday scene in Cafe Mineiro

I walked a mile south to a museum, not a famous one, but a good one for a former ad man: the Museum of Brands, Packaging & Advertising.  Their collection was enormous, starting in the Victorian era, with the rise of what we regard today as modern consumerism, to the present.  Food, toys, games, all sorts of stuff.  Although the artifacts were great, the interpretation (museum speak for explaining things and putting them in context) was weak.  Still, pretty cool.  It was lunchtime, so I bought a couple of sandwiches and a pint of skimmed milk, found a “picnic spot” on a side street, and tucked in.  Headed back just as the friends were leaving the Sages.  Scott and I yakked a bit, then took Eva to a nearby park.  Had a light dinner and headed to bed to read.


English packaged goods through the years


Intrepid workers of the gig economy; I told them I admired their work


My picnic venue


Evidence of a multicultural London


You know the street is moving upmarket when a Bentley is parked!

Up Monday morning, into central London, worked a bit, and at 12:30 met my former, longtime host at the London School of Economics, Sir Geoffrey Owen, and Scott for lunch in Notting Hill.  We three had gathered the year before, and the 90 minutes were like a mini think tank – lots of discussion of U.K., European, and U.S. politics, economic trends, old industries and new, and more.  At the beginning of lunch, I told the two that I had planned to create an agenda but did not, and as I said “see you next year” to Geoffrey, he replied, “Have an agenda ready!”

At 3:45, I met my friend Jan Meurer, a retired executive from KLM.  We were repeating a successful visit to Cranfield University, 50 miles northwest of London, and dialogue with students from the school’s specialized air transport management and airport planning M.Sc. programs.  Gary, a drive from the school who I had met previously, picked us up at the train station, and we had a good yak (small world: his wife had worked in a Girl Scout camp 50 miles from my home in Minnesota).  Jan and I carried on the dialogue from 6:30 to 8:15, answering students, making comments, and having fun.  It was a good session.  Hopped the train back, then the Tube and London Overground back to the Sages.  Picked up a sandwich and cole slaw for a late dinner.  A long day.

Tuesday was the last teaching day.  Hopped the bus back to Imperial College Business School and delivered a two-hour seminar on crisis management.  Worked a bit, jumped on the Tube across town, and at 1:00 met my longtime friend David Holmes for our annual winter lunch.  David is a wonderful fellow, retired from a senior post in the Ministry of Transport and ten or more years at British Airways, where I met him.  We were back at Rules, London’s oldest restaurant (opened 1798), a comfortable place in Covent Garden.  We’ve done the lunch for more than a decade, and it’s always a joy to reconnect, updates on family, the state of the world, and some critical commentary on Britain (from him, not me!), including a long discussion on the railways.  He is another Transport Geek, though a refined sort.  His most entertaining tale was the account of his resignation in the mid-1990s from the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London, a protest over their deplorable treatment of women.  He’s just reapplied, and said he hoped he could host me there in 2019.  We shall see.  Octogenarians can still be regarded as troublemakers!


The New Academic Building, London School of Economics

I peeled off at 3:10, walked several blocks to the London School of Economics for my 19th appearance.  Delivered a talk to about 50 students from four to six, then I was done for the (long) day.  Zipped home, arriving in time to read Eva four bedtime stories.  Tucked into Lebanese take-away.  Asleep early.

Up at 6:30, goodbye hugs and kisses, across Queen’s Park to the Tube, Heathrow Express, and a flight to New York JFK, then home to Washington.


Sadie searching for milk . . .










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A Flying Start to 2018: Chicago, Briefly

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Winter, seriously: Not the arctic, but Lake Michigan east of Chicago

As I did on the first day of 2017, on New Year’s Day I was up early, out the door, onto the Metro, and aloft on the Silver Bird to Chicago; same destination: the northwest suburb of Arlington Heights for the annual party of my cousins.  Five of the six children of my Uncle Bapper (that’s how my older brother Jim first pronounced “Joseph”) live in Metro Chicago, and four are within two miles of each other.  As I noted last year, Bapper’s early disablement and death created remarkable tightness among the kids, and they are always fun to visit.  Landed in below-zero weather and headed to the rental car lot, then drove eight miles across well-familiar terrain.


The Budget rental car was a mess, and no one was around, so I resorted to self-help measures (and later got a refund on the rental)

Before the party, I spent almost four hours yakking with Cousin Jim, oldest of the six, and his swell wife Michaela.  They are nearly as close as siblings, and it’s always great fun to catch up.  They’re in the throes of college admission for their oldest, Jack, and have two right behind, Charlie and Katie.  We motored a few blocks to Cousin Mike’s, who with his wife Gail were the 2018 hosts.  In no time I was hugging cousins, spouses, and kids.  It was a lot of fun.  They are a very tight bunch, and it’s a joy to see them together.

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Rock-and-roller Charlie Fredian and his new Fender bass

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Cousins Jim, Bob, and Mike Fredian

Was up early the next morning, and like the year before motored east to suburban Glenview for breakfast with Cousin Larry and his wife Judith.  Larry is actually a first cousin once removed; his mom Alice was youngest of my maternal grandfather Jim’s six sibs.  We had a caloric breakfast and a good catch-up about his three kids and several grandchildren.  They are fine people.  We drove back to their house, where I had made a firm friend with their new dog Blackie, and yakked some more.  When I left, Lorenzo kissed me, and I was reminded that Italian men (and even just 25-percenters like me) kiss each other.  Nice!

Drove briskly back to the airport.  On the way, passed the first McDonald’s (well the first one built by Ray Kroc) in Des Plaines, noted that it was now a museum, and further noted to visit soon.  Flew home, trip one done and fun.

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Home to Minnesota to Mark the Passing of a Long Friend


Our dear Mr. Jensen is up there, in the Heavens

There was one more trip before 2017 closed: to Minneapolis to deliver a eulogy at the memorial service for my 12th Grade English teacher, Mr. Bud Jensen, an early mentor and a friend for 50 years.  Linda came along to visit her mother, now 95, and on the decline.  I was a little stressed about landing two hours before the service started, but thanks to the great American Airlines we were right on time.


The view from above: the southeast shore of Lake Michigan; Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood; and farmland in northeast Iowa


I dropped Linda, visiting briefly with her mom and next-youngest brother Gordy, then motored to the service at the Colonial Church, a longtime Congregationalist institution in my hometown of Edina.  Visitation was an hour before, and scores were already there, another indicator of Bud’s impact.  I spoke briefly with his wife Jinny and the other two eulogists.  It was one of those times you wished there were little bubbles hovering above people’s heads, with their name and connection to Bud.  I was pretty sure that the longtime boys’ varsity basketball coach was there.  And just before the service I had a few words with my 11th Grade English teacher, Mr. Stotts.  Whew!

Bud was a longtime member of the chorale, so of course the choir and soloists sang throughout.  Here is my eulogy:

Good afternoon.  Even for a seasoned writer, drafting these words was a challenge, because my former English teacher will be looking down to ensure that I follow proper composition principles, but mostly because mere words, even well chosen, cannot capture the essence of this kind, generous, and righteous person.

Almost 50 years ago, in September 1968, 25 of us at Edina High School headed for fourth period honors English class.  As we entered the classroom, we could tell that the new teacher, Mr. Jensen, was cut from different cloth. 

Wait, we wouldn’t have used a metaphor like that yet – that was the kind of stuff he would teach us.

The other 12th grade English teachers like Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Wyatt were known quantities; they had taught older brothers and sisters.  We had rap sheets on them.  But not this new guy. 

What was different?  We spotted two things right away.  First, he was really young.  The other English teachers were, in our adolescent view, ancient.  Second, the room had curious decorations, like a big Fred Flintstone plush doll. 

And from day one, we knew that Mr. Jensen’s teaching style would be different.  Although the brand-new textbook focused on British literature, with really old people like Shakespeare and Jane Austen, Mr. Jensen wove in current stuff, from popular culture.  The story of St. George, patron saint of England, became a riff on a new toothpaste brand that carried the slogan “a nurdle a day keeps the dragon away.” 

Senior English was also about improving our writing, and our new teacher was flexible about topics we could choose.  Elevated classmates opted to analyze deep meaning in Gulliver’s Travels for the big mid-year project, but this Aviation Geek got away with writing about modern British airliners.  I got an A.

So, point one: Bud Jensen was for more than 30 years a superb teacher. 

Point two: he was a caring teacher.  Many in our society expect, indeed demand, that teachers take on duties that, in a better world, ought to be done by parents and others.  Although this expectation has increased in recent decades, even in the late Sixties many teachers, like Bud, understood their larger role, and stepped forward. 

Since then, hundreds of Mr. Jensen’s students, including many here today, came to know that for him these added responsibilities were not a burden, but part of his job.  Like a calling.  I learned this from my own experience.  In high school, I was slightly adrift.  Not a troublemaker or a doper, but in need of direction and stability.  Home life was unhappy: my father was broke and sick, and my mother was an alcoholic.  Mr. Jensen didn’t know all the facts, but sensed the need to help, and he did, in subtle ways – I felt under a gentle wing.  That care helped so much.  For me it was like a bridge, because within a week of leaving Mr. Jensen’s classroom I had found clear direction in the form of a part-time job that provided both identity and money to afford tuition and books at the University of Minnesota. 

Point three: Bud Jensen was an exemplary human being.  Through the years, he would tell me, modestly of course, of his many volunteer contributions, to institutions like his beloved Hamline University, and especially to individual young men and women.  It was that specific help that was so remarkable: cash to students in need, practically adopting people who began to stray, and so much more. 

The last time I saw Bud was 15 months ago on my annual visit to the Minnesota State Fair.  Bud and Jinny and two friends gathered at Surly.  As we waited for a table, of course with beer, Bud brought me up to speed on his latest service to others.  Later that night, I made an entry in my my travel blog.  I wrote, “There’s a reason I’ve stayed Bud-connected for nearly half a century: he and Jinny are among the finest folks I’ve ever met.  If you looked up humane, committed people in the dictionary, you’d see their faces.”

Though self-reliance is a valued trait, people delude themselves when they think their success comes solely from their own efforts.  Every one of us have grown and prospered with the help of others – in public institutions, not least our schools.  And especially with the help of people who have supported, encouraged, and nurtured us.  Bud Jensen was one of those people.  Thank you, Bud, for everything.  We will miss you.

After the eulogies, uplifting words from the two pastors.  They clearly knew him well.  And when they repeatedly said Bud was in heaven, I nodded my head.  Those of us who believe in a hereafter cannot, if they are honest with themselves, know nor predict whether God will dispatch them upward (my own prospects seem far from assured!), but I had no doubt that Bud had, as his obituary confidently stated, “joined the bass section of the heavenly choir.”  Amen.

After the service there was a reception in a church hall, with the baked goodies for which Minnesotans are famous.  I visited briefly with several who complimented my words, including John Benson, a fellow teacher and former state representative, and was again reminded of the essential decency that is my native state.

I returned to the condo of Linda’s mom, and visited with her other three siblings, as well as three nephews that I see infrequently, sons of the youngest sibling, Mike.  We said goodbye and drove to a nearby hotel.

Both of us needed some cheer and fun, and found it in one of our favorite restaurants, the Black Forest Inn in south Minneapolis.  I have been a patron since 1971, back to the days when founder and owner Eric Christ, a German immigrant, did not worry much about the legal drinking age!  Linda and I had, through four decades, spent lots of happy times at the Black Forest, and that night was no exception.  An accordionist roamed, beer and wine flowed, and we tucked into a fine dinner.  It was a nice end to a long and difficult day for both of us.

We were up at 5:15, back to the airport, and home by noon.

I still have the 1969 project that Mr. Jensen graded well.

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Europe Again, Part 2: Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria


Sofia, Bulgaria, a fascinating place

Arrived in Denmark on time at 9:45 on Sunday the 3rd, collected my bag, and met longtime pal Michael Beckmann and his son Niklas, now 8.  For years, an Advent tradition was to meet them in Berlin, but earlier in 2017 they relocated to Copenhagen when Herr B. took a job heading fleet management at DSB, the Danish State Railways.  Regular readers know we’re both Transport Geeks in extremis, so his new job fit.

And we had a T-Geek day planned: into the main station, then west to the island of Fyn and the city of Odense, best known as the home of Hans Christian Andersen.  We were not headed to the land of the Ugly Duckling, but to the Danish Railway Museum.  We ate an early lunch, zipped through a tunnel, and by 12:15 were in the museum, a very cool place full of awesome hardware, much of which you could climb on.  We agreed that there was room for more interpretation – the explanation of the collection and its impact on society – but it was still cool enough to hold our interest, and that of a little boy, for three hours.


Splendid wooden roof in Copenhagen’s main station; and on a train, not a ship, to Odense


Above and below, scenes from the Danish Railway Museum




The last exhibits we visited were about the deluxe trains of the Wagons-Lits Company, and the extensive youth travel in the 1970s and ’80s enabled by InterRail, a pass for unlimited rides

We hopped on the train back to the capital, then out to the suburb of Tarnby and their new home.  Wife Susan and daughter Annika, almost six, greeted us, the latter jumping into “Onkel Rob’s” arms at the station.  We zipped home, and tucked into a wonderful dinner.  Home cooking was so welcome: baked salmon, mashed potatoes, salad, beer.  Wonderful.  Yakked a bit, but was asleep before nine after a very long day.


Like the Swedes, the Danes love their flag, and the Beckmanns have joined the practice!

Up early, breakfast, out the door with the kids, onto the bus, dropping them at the German School in central Copenhagen, an institution founded in the 16th Century.  Hopped on a suburban train west to Høhe Taastrup and a suburban office park where the DSB has its headquarters.  I volunteered to give a short seminar on crisis management best practices, and we were pleased that the session was well attended.   Ate a big, early lunch, walked back to the station, and hopped the train to the airport.

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Enormous Lego blocks in the DSB offices, depicting the four Myers-Briggs personality traits

Scandinavia is well known for design, but Copenhagen Airport is a total mess: stairs to toilets, poorly signposted, just a wreck of a place.  But my SAS flight to Frankfurt was a delight: punctual, friendly cabin crew, and a Benedictine monk, Brother Augustus, as my seatmate.  His monastery is close to Koblenz, where I visit every winter, so I may zip up to see it; Augustus explained, “Benedictines are very friendly; you are welcome, and we have a guesthouse for visitors.”  We talked a bit about Luther and the Reformation anniversary.  Nice T-t-S moments.

Arrived FRA early, zipped through, waited a bit, and hopped on the Deutsche Bahn for my 6:00 PM gig at the University of Cologne.  Though we left only 6 minutes late, we arrived Cologne 30 minutes late.  I was cranky though not especially stressed.  Hopped on two trams and was in front of a student business group, MTP, by 6:13, delivering my talk on leadership and effective management.  A nice group, engaged, good questions.  Afterwards, we walked back to the tram and into the Altstadt for a glass of glühwein, the hot spiced wine popular at Christmastime.  The place was packed, so I only stayed for one, but managed to yak a bit with a number of students, including a lad who was an exchange student in suburban Minneapolis five years earlier, and who now visits his U.S. “family” every summer.  So cool.

Hopped tram #9 one stop, west across the Rhine, checked in at the second youth hostel of the trip, but much nicer than the one in Lausanne, and busier.  Changed clothes and walked less than 100 meters to Lommerzheim, a little bar and restaurant right across Siegestrasse from the hostel.  I had stayed at the hostel several times, but had never visited the gastätte.  The place was awesome: tiny, packed, convivial.  I stood at the bar for some of the little (0.2 liter, about 6 ounces) Kolsch beers, tapped from a wooden keg.  As is traditional in these parts, the server keeps count of your bill by stroke count with a soft pencil on a paper beer mat, in this case from the local Päffgen Brewery. The bartender was managing multiple bills, so asked each tippler his or her name when first served.  I replied, “Heinz. Mein name ist Heinz”!   It was nearly ten, and I didn’t want a huge meal, but the sauerkrauteintopf (sauerkraut stew cooked with ham hock) caught my eye.  The bartender warned it was “a very big portion,” but I ate every bit.  So good.  I was smiling the entire time – this was pure travel serendipity.


I slept in Tuesday morning until seven, into the hostel breakfast room, packed with youngsters.  The energy and noise were welcome.  We are young, again.  Packed up, walked across the Rhine, marveled at the Cologne Cathedral (Dom) next to the main station, and got on the 9:46 train to my fifth school of the trip, a fave, WWU (Westfälischen-Wilhelms Universität), the University of Münster – my 17th visit since 2003.

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Cologne, 1945, from a photo exhibit on the north wall of the enormous cathedral (Dom)

Arrived just before noon and hopped on a bus for a short ride to my hotel.  Alas, no check in until 3:00.  I like Germany a lot, but sometimes German rigidity gets in the way of customer experience.  There was no sense fighting the system, so I left my suitcase in the luggage room and headed to lunch.  After many visits, I know the town well, so headed two blocks to Töddenhoek.  Took a seat in the corner of the front bar and tucked into a bowl of linseneintopf, thick lentil soup with chunks of ham and sausage.  Yum!  Fortified, I walked across town to the university’s marketing department, to see my longtime host Manfred Krafft.  Chatted briefly, then worked for a couple of hours.

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Art and Culture Museum, Münster

Checked into the hotel, took a short nap, worked a bit more, and at 5:45 walked to a classroom and delivered a lecture to a course on direct marketing.  My host for that class, Jonas Schmidt, invited me to dinner, and at 8:15 we met at Drübbelken, a rustic restaurant that I had never visited.  The dinner was enormous: two slices of ham (called Kasseler) with roasted potatoes and a huge mound of grünkohl, cooked kale – one of my favorites dishes, German soul food.  Whew, I was full.  The conversation was equally fine.  I had met Jonas briefly a year earlier, but didn’t know him.  By the end of the evening I did.  A fine young fellow, of solid character.

It was another short night: up before five, out the door to the bus, then the 6:01 ICE train south to Mannheim.  I was bound for the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, one of Germany’s best schools.  At Frankfurt Airport station, Jan Müllerschön met the train.  I met Jan at the 2012 South American Business Forum in Buenos Aires.  Back then, when I told him about my guest lecturing in Germany, he asked if I had ever visited his alma mater, KIT; I said no, and he said he would set to work securing an invitation, which materialized in record time.  Jan somehow found out I was returning, and emailed me about coming along to hear me speak.  I was honored, all the more because he was taking a vacation day.  Germans get six weeks, but still!  We had a nice yak on the train (he now works for the freight side of the Deutsche Bahn, DB Cargo).

At Karlsruhe, we hopped the tram to school and to the Marketing and Sales Research Group.  Greeted some old friends, met my host Prof. Martin Klarmann, and from 11:30 to 1:00 delivered a lecture.  We had an hour until the next one, at 2:00, and I doubted we could walk to a familiar Italian restaurant, order lunch, eat it, and get to the class on time.  Lunch was speedy and a little rushed, but it was fun to yak with doctoral students.  The 2:00 talk on airline revenue management was among the liveliest in my 28 years of guest lectures.  An animated and forceful young woman who described herself as a “Post-Marxist” asked some good and provocative questions early in the talk; a bit later we sparred a bit about corporate honesty.  Some of the other students seemed embarrassed, but I loved it!

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New classroom building, KIT

I peeled off at 3:45, hopping on tram #1 east to the town of Durlach.  Now a Karlsruhe suburb, it was once a freestanding town.  A very old place, quaint, quintessentially Europe to this visitor.  Checked into the Gasthaus Zum Ochsen, a half-timbered inn from the 16th Century (I had stayed there twice before).  Worked a bit, and at six met Martin for a dinner in the inn’s very fancy (and pricey) French restaurant.  A long and fun dinner: he is a superb conversationalist, knows tons about German business and politics, and almost as much about the situation in the U.S. – he’s better informed than me!  Dinner was four courses: scallops, cod, venison, and a flaming apple pie for dessert.  Whew.

When I got to my room, bad news hit.  My 12th Grade English teacher, Mr. Jensen, had died.  His wife Jinny called.  He was a great teacher and adviser nearly 50 years ago, and we had stayed close through the years, emailing book recommendations and visiting when I was home in Minnesota. I remember getting the news of another death, that of Jack Sheppard, in another European hotel room on the same evening, December 6, 23 years earlier.  Like then, I cried alone.  Jinny wasn’t sure when the memorial service would be, but she was sure I’d be a eulogist, and that made me proud.


Durlach, a very pleasant old town, above and below


Was up early the next morning, out the door of the inn, to the Durlach station, and onto the first of three trains back north to Münster.  It was déjà vu, just like two days earlier: lunchtime, room not ready.  Dropped suitcase and headed to the Mensa for a salad, then to the Marketing Center for a quick chat with long host Manfred Krafft and a couple of others.  Then by tradition I walked across town to a gift and toy store to buy two Christmas ornaments, small wooden angels handmade in the Erzgebirge, a mountainous region in Germany’s east.  Back to the hotel, get a room key, work a bit.  Met student hosts Julian, Charlotte, and Nora at six at Kruse Baimken, a small traditional restaurant.  Had a second dinner with grünkohl (this time with a bratwurst) and good conversation, then from 8 to 11:30 did my now-traditional kaminabend (literally “chimney evening”) with 15 students, part of an elite group of undergrads.  It’s always a pleasant experience.

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Prinzipalmarkt, the main shopping street in Münster

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National pride is a sensitive subject in Germany; I am thus trying to figure out if this janitor’s duster, with the design of the flag, is disrespectful!





Cologne-Bonn Airport is working hard to be friendly and humane, with a big kids’ play area, fussball tables, and more

Another short night, up about six and out the door, onto the train south to Hamm, then Cologne, then Cologne Airport.  Was headed to my 30th and final school of the year, the American University in Bulgaria (AUB) in Sofia.  I was really ready to go home, a bit tired, but promises must be kept.  I started getting enthused when we descended into the Sofia Valley, with tall snowy peaks, the Rila Mountains, to the south (tallest in the Balkans, rising to almost 10,000 feet), and a lower range to the north.  I would have otherwise hopped on the Metro from airport to town, but AUB had arranged a car.  The driver was a young woman, recently retired at age 20 from the Bulgarian national gymnastics team.  Friendly, but not talkative.

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The Rila Mountains, on approach to Sofia

A former student, Kaloyan, met me at my hotel (a fancy Hilton) at five; when I landed I saw an email proposing a two-hour walking tour.  We set off, and my attitude changed almost immediately. Kal, who had studied in the U.S. and was in a MBA class of mine at Cambridge, was both a wonderful fellow and a perfect tour guide, providing detail on architecture, city planning, the economy, and history of the capital of a relatively small (7.2 million) country.  We walked briskly north along the main shopping street, then through the government quarter, and on to churches and cultural institutions.  Now I was fired up about a new place!


A former bath house (top), now an art gallery, and National Theatre


L to R: St. George Church, the residence of the Turkish ambassador, and St. Alexandar Nevski Cathedral

He dropped me at a Metro station and peeled off for his company Christmas party.  I retraced my steps to a little café called Rainbow Factory on a side street in a pleasant neighborhood sprinkled with embassies.  The place was full but not crowded, almost all youngsters in their 20s, but welcoming to an older guy with a smile.  I had a local craft beer, worked my email a bit, and read the Wikipedia article about Bulgaria.  A long a tortured history, one of those places where one neighboring power or another tromps its boots over the locals (not unlike, say Finland or Hungary); most notable were the almost 500 years of Ottoman rule, which finally ended in the late 1870s.  Retraced my steps toward the center in search of dinner (I failed to do the customary advance research, nor to ask Kal for recos), but spotted a pleasant, simple restaurant on a side street.  Looked in the window, diners having a good time, so in I went.  I kind young woman found me a table, and I tucked into a Bulgarian salad and grilled squid with garlic.  Yum!  Walked back to the hotel.

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A universal scene: youngsters with screens, Sofia Metro

Up early Saturday morning, finally time for some exercise in the hotel gym, a tonic 10 miles on a bike, then ironed my suit, breakfast, and out the door (my class was not until 12:30).  Bought a day ticket for public transport, equivalent of $2.50.  Headed back into the center, walking around on a sunny morning.  Except for the former East Germany (which is a special case, for sure), last time in Eastern Europe was a decade earlier, in Poland.  It was clear that Bulgaria had in the 27 years since the collapse of Communism developed substantially.  Per capita GDP was nowhere near the richer parts of Europe, but a market economy was clearly thriving, and a consumer society emerging.  Bulgaria has been in the European Union since 2007, and signs of EU regional support were everywhere, especially on public transport and roads.

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Learning to write in Cyrillic: “No new towels, thank you.”

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View from my hotel roon, Saturday morning


Main shopping street and (below) downtown scenes


Hopped the #94 bus up the hill to AUB.  The main campus is in Blagoevgrad,  a town south of the city, but they had a building in the southern suburbs, the Elieff Center, with three floors of classrooms and a small auditorium.  My talk on crisis management to a weekend EMBA program went well; students were almost all Bulgarian.  During question time, a long-haired fellow, cranky-looking, asked me how we manage the global crisis that is Donald Trump.  Whew, good question, for which there was no answer!  That was a first.


In contrast to Germany, national pride, in the form of the flag and national colors, is celebrated!

I hopped on the bus down the hill, changed clothes, and resumed my role as a tourist.  Wandered past a mosque and around the Serdika archaeological ruins that were discovered when tunneling for a new Metro line.  Then east on a tram, into ordinary neighborhoods, and a nice walk through a big park, Zaimov, on a warm and sunny Saturday.  The place was full of people – Sofia had a lot of parks, and they were popular day and night.  Parks are always a good thing.  Walked west again to the big churches of St. Alexandar Nevski (looking old but finished in 1905), and St. Sophia (old, 6th Century).  Orthodox churches tend to be dark inside and thus a little gloomy, but the icons and paintings are always fascinating.   I had some pizza at the school, but needed a little snack, so hopped the Metro back toward my hotel and bought a big yeast pastry stuffed with chopped pickles and ham, the equivalent of a dollar.  Took a quick nap, and set out for the evening, bound for a Kanaal, a craft-beer bar Kal recommended, easy to reach via a direct bus to within a block.  Halfway there, a young woman with a West Highland terrier boarded.  Our Henry’s Bulgarian cousin.  We both got off at the same stop, and I showed her a pic of Henry on my iPhone, prompting a nice T-t-S and a little nuzzle with the dog.

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Archaeological ruins, Serdika Metro Station


Artifacts from the 2nd Century AD, when the place was Roman and called Serdika

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Metro station

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Mosque, downtown Sofia, an artifact of 500 years of Ottoman domination

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Soviet-era Lada automobile, still on the road

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At the thermal spring, central Sofia

Kanaal was awesome.  Dizzying array of beer (including stock from the South Carolina microbrewery I favor when we’re on summer vacation at the beach).  I insisted on drinking local, and enjoyed a couple of Bulgarian IPAs, as well as chats with the very-friendly staff, and the owner, Lyubomir (what a name: it means “love and peace”).  He said it was a bit tough getting Bulgarians to care about their beer, and to pay more for it.  I hopped on the tram back to the center, then the Metro north to a restaurant I found online.  Alas, they were full, and because it was already after nine, I headed back to the hotel and tucked into a nice bowl of spaghetti in the bar.


St. Alexandar Nevski, and St. Sophia


The distinctive Orthodox iconography

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Elegant early 20th Century apartment


Anti-Russian souvenirs (left), and church door handle

Sunday morning, back to the gym, huge breakfast, out the door.  It was sunny and warm the day before, but snowed about three inches overnight, and footing was slick in places.  But my Minnesota winter balance returned, and off I went.  The Transport Geek needed to see the railway station (Kal later explained that the company was still state-owned and very inefficient), but it was underwhelming, so I turned around.  Rode to the end of the M2 Metro line to a shopping mall, for a firsthand look at Bulgarian consumerism.  The Metro day ticket, paper with a simple stripe code, had to be revalidated by the ticket seller at every station, but there was no ticket seller where I was to board.  So I asked the first English speaker I found if I could “tailgate” him through the sliding-door barrier.  Sure, he said, and that launched a wonderful T-t-S with a young Italian, finishing his sixth and last year of medicine locally.  We chatted about medical education (more flexibility and more clinical opportunity in Bulgaria than Italy), his likely continued study of psychiatry, my work, and more.  Just a delightful moment.

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View from the hotel Sunday morning

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Paradise Center mall


Suited up, retraced my steps and bus back to AUB.  Delivered a second lecture on airline revenue management, shook some hands, and said goodbye.  Done teaching for the year.  Thirty schools visited, including eight new ones.  By the numbers, about 2,300 students and more than 150 classroom hours – a new hours record.

Back to the hotel, into blue jeans and warmer clothes.  The sun had come out, but it was still in the 20s F.  Back to the center for another amble, this time visiting a round church in the middle of the courtyard of a government building.  St. George, the oldest in Sofia, was originally built by the Romans in the 4th Century.  During the weekend, the Cyrillic alphabet occasionally challenged, but street, Metro, and lots of commercial signs were also in English.

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Former Soviet-style headquarters of the Communist Party of Bulgaria, now parliament offices

At 3:45 I returned to Kanaal and had a nice chat with owner Lyubomir and a friendly woman bartender.  Kal arrived at four for my promised “free beer” and a wonderful chat about his career, and especially his early life.  In high school, he earned a scholarship from George Soros’ Open Society Foundation to study in the U.S., and he spent a year at Fountain Valley boarding school near Colorado Springs.  Among his achievements: rodeo competition!  He returned to the small university city east of Sofia (his parents were a university I.T. professor and a high-school teacher) finished high school, and almost by accident got a full ride at Colorado College, also in Colorado Springs.  After graduation he took a job with Ernst & Young in New York, and worked some other jobs.  He returned to work at home, which after being away for many years “was like color TV after watching black and white.”  In 2010, he enrolled at Cambridge, where I met him the first time.  We agreed that his story of transformation was testament to the positive power of Soros’ philanthropy in his native Eastern Europe – AUBG is also a beneficiary, in the form of many student scholarships.  We hugged goodbye at six.  Although he recommended a good local restaurant, I was tired, and for the second night in a row broke my rule of not dining in a hotel, tucked into a nice chicken sandwich, and clocked out at 8:45.

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“наздраве,” Cheers, to Kaloyan Kapralov, a great fellow and true Bulgarian

Early to bed, early to rise: up at four for the second time in a week, into a taxi to the airport, and a Ryanair flight to Rome’s other airport, Ciampino.  The zip across to the larger Leonardo da Vinci would be tight, and I was a little stressed when we arrived 10 minutes late.  But I had carry-on, the airport was small and empty, and I was able to hop on a local bus to the train station, then a commuter train into Rome’s main station.

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I made it!  A welcome sight, the 8:20 regional train to central Rome

On the short ride (standing on a packed train), I spotted aqueducts near Cappannelle; curious, I Googled: they were ruins of the Aqueduct of Quintili built in 151 AD to feed the pool and spa of two rich brothers.  Hopped the 8:50 airport express to da Vinci.  Hurry up and wait: my Silver Bird to Philadelphia was 40 minutes late, but I was glad to be heading home.  On the way, I watched a grim movie, “Dunkirk,” about that awful moment early in World War II when 300,000 British troops were stranded in a beach town across the channel from home, and were essentially sitting ducks.  It was a reminder that despite its challenges, European integration is a really good thing.

In case you were wondering: in 17 days I rode 108 different public transport vehicles: 5 jets, 29 trains, 32 subways, 13 trams, and 25 buses.  Mobility is such a blessing.






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Europe Again, Part 1: England, Switzerland, Italy

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In the old town, Lausanne, Switzerland

On Saturday, November 25, I felt like a yo-yo: out the door at 12:30, to National Airport, then JFK, then back to Europe for the eighth time in 2017, last teaching trip of the year.  I was home for 10 days, most of that time with a lingering cold (I had zero colds in 2016-17 and already two this fall/winter).  I was a still a bit wobbly, but, as they say in the circus, the show must go on.  We celebrated my 66th birthday the night before, two days early, and apart from a lot of fun and a great Mexican dinner I got a new rollaboard suitcase, replacing a cheapie I bought about 18 months earlier (I simply gotta think of luggage as tools, and I never bought cheap tools!).  The new one was already way easier, better balance, more stability.  Ready!

Landed Heathrow a bit late, onto the express train to Paddington, then the Tube to Queen’s Park.  It was a cold but sunny morning, and the walk to the Sages’ new house was refreshing.   Figured out thermostats and Wi-Fi, changed clothes, and walked several blocks east, across Queen’s Park, to St. Anne’s (Anglican) church.  I was immediately glad I made the effort, for the congregation, though small (about 25 in the sanctuary, which I later learned was typical Sunday attendance), was so welcoming.  Before worship I met Alice, Kay, and the Vicar, Christine Cargill from Australia.  The order of service is almost identical to the Lutheran liturgy, so I was right at home – and knew the tunes for half of the hymns.

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Queen’s Park

The Vicar, also known as Mother Christine (I rather like that equivalence with Father), had a wonderful, down-to-earth manner, and her sermon was superb: just remind us of the basics.  In the announcements after benediction, Vicar Christine welcomed me as “a special guest.”  I stayed for 45 minutes for coffee and some wonderful conversation, mainly with Prof. Mark Haggard, a psychologist at Cambridge (lives in London weekends), and his son, Prof. Patrick Haggard, a neuroscientist at University College London.  Seriously interesting people.  And believers.

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Altar, St. Anne’s; the glass back wall reminded me of the Dallas synagogue visited in January

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Chevening Road, Kensal

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A splendid old Austin Healey

Walked back, ate a late breakfast, and at 12:30 hopped on the #52 bus a mile or so to the bikeshare station closest the house.  In no time, I was zipping south, and in two miles was back at The Design Museum in Kensington, last visited in June.  The place was packed with visitors to a temporary exhibit on Ferrari, but that was of almost zero interest.  I was there to see the finalists for the 2017 Designs of the Year Awards in six categories: architecture, digital, graphics, product, transport, and fashion.  Some way cool, and way innovative stuff:


Solar-cell power supply for mobile phones, and the famous Pussyhat


Aspirational emojis for girls (not princesses!), IKEA’s new dowel fastening system, and a model of a tower that can capture potable water from the atmosphere


Piaggio’s robotic Gita personal helper, and a redesign for the Welsh “brand”

Got back on the bike and rode to South Kensington for a quick sandwich, then east to the Royal Mews, the stables Robin, Carson, and Dylan visited in June.  Carson had lost a little mirror with a royal corgi on the back, so I bought a replacement.  Check and done.  Back on the bike.  At four, I met longtime friend and ex-AA colleague Don Langford for a quick pint at a pub ‘round the corner from his house in Belgravia, and a good catch-up.  Then onto the Tube west to Earl’s Court and a spicy dinner at Masala Zone.  Polish and Italian waiters in an Indian restaurant in the U.S. would be unlikely, but common in London.  My plan for a quick return home was dashed (the Overground suburban rail service was down for weekend repairs), so it took awhile to get home.

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Man and best friend, The Duke of Wellington


I always ask for chopped green chillies; before and after

I was asleep at 8:45, and a hard sleep, too.  The cool room was tonic, especially with a thick comforter.  Slept eight hours, up about five on my birthday, breakfast, and out the door into wind and light rain – more typical British winter weather.  Onto the #52 bus and Tube to Paddington, then hopped on the 7:00 train west to Reading.  It was one of Hitachi’s brand-new trainsets, sleek and shiny, but already gawky after just six weeks of service (the UK media are not amused).  Halfway to my destination, the train came to a stop for 10 minutes, “due to a fault with one of the safety systems.”  Hmmmmm.  Changed trains in Reading and headed south to Southampton for my debut at the University of Southampton business school.  At the station I met a longtime German colleague Heiko Frenzen, now teaching there.  We hopped on a bus to campus, had a coffee and a good catch-up, and from 11 to 1 delivered a talk on airline data mining.


Two Paddington Station icons: Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer and engineer of the Great Western Railway; and the famous bear

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Hitachi UK’s new high-speed train

Hopped the bus back to the center and a spicy goat curry at a Caribbean restaurant.  Walked to the train station, said goodbye to Heiko, and hopped on a slow train to Gatwick Airport.  Arrived in time to change into jeans, check my bag, buy a sandwich for the flight (was not very hungry after a late, big lunch), and call my brother and home.  Flew to Geneva on EasyJet.  I was once again unimpressed with the behavior of my fellow customers.  At the gate, some woman was swearing at the gate agent, who was doing his best to be calm but firm.  When I got to Moktar, I told him I was an airline veteran and I was on his side. “She swore at me,” he said.  “I know.  Hang in there, brother,” I replied, and shook his hand.  A little bit of airline solidarity.  We arrived Geneva 10 minutes early, which allowed me to get the 10:47 train to my destination, Lausanne.  With a short Metro and bus ride, I was in my digs by 12:15, late by my standards.

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Birthday lunch

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Southampton Guildhall; the city has a very pleasant feel, with lots of green space

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Here’s my idea for increased airport revenues: some of us will pay extra to avoid walking through a shopping mall!

I was billeting at the Jeunotel, a Swiss Youth Hostel.  My hosts at HEC, the business school of the University of Lausanne, proposed to pay for only one hotel night, and somehow we talked them into paying for two nights at a youth hostel.  Private room, not a dorm, bath across the hall.  A bit spartan (the walls and ceiling of my room were entirely concrete), but Swiss-clean, and a comfy bed.  I was overtired, which always means hard to fall asleep, but down I went, seven hours, not quite enough but pretty good.  Earlier in the year, I stayed in the wonderful big youth hostel in Cologne, and the private rooms with private baths had soap dispensers in the showers, but the Swiss version was old-school, so I had to innovate: I filled a plastic bag (from my backpack, always a good idea to carry!) with soap from a dispenser by the communal bath sinks, and, Voila!

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My room (cell) 308

I had the morning free, so I retraced steps on my first Lausanne visit in 2013, on bus and Metro down to Lac Leman (Lake Geneva).  It was partly sunny, with great views of the lake and the Alps in the distance.  Hopped back on the Metro, up the hill to the old town and cathedral, then back to the hostel.  Put on a suit, hopped back on public transport (the hostel provided a two-day card for bus and Metro), and rode a mile or so west to the university.  I had an hour before meeting my several-schools-host Omar Merlo of Imperial College London, so sat in the Mensa and brought this journal up to date.

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Views of Lausanne above, and below



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View from the Mensa, University of Lausanne; the Matterhorn is the pointy peak at left-center

Met Omar at noon for a filling lunch (the Swiss version of meatloaf) in the Mensa; he presented me with a swell birthday gift: salt and pepper shakers in the form of little Swiss cows.  Moo!  Worked a couple more hours, and from 3:20 to 4:50 delivered a lecture to his marketing-innovation class.  He peeled off back to London and I hopped the Metro and bus back to the youth hostel, via a supermarket for a sandwich, potato salad, and beer.  Many of you know my energy derives in large part from good and regular sleep, and I needed to catch up, so was in pajamas and lights out by 7:30.  Like a four-year-old, but almost ten hours of dreamland was precisely what was needed.

Was up briefly ‘round midnight, but then down until 6:40.  Packed up, grabbed plenty of coffee, and hopped on bus and Metro back to the railway station and onto a train for Lucerne.  It was a scenic ride, with snow in the upper elevations.  And was interesting to see the many small and mid-size Swiss manufacturing companies along the tracks.  Take just one: Hunleker AG;  I Googled and found their website and their description:

Anyone who processes paper and print knows our name as a byword for excellence. It stands for “Excellence in Paper Processing”. That is our constant claim. Working for the printing industry since 1922, we are an independent, owner-managed family business which today has some 280 employees around the world.

As I have written many times from Switzerland, one has to admire a country where wages and living standards are among the world’s highest, yet a company in a remote place has global presence.

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Near Fribourg, Switzerland

Changed trains at Lucerne, then at Arth-Goldau, and onto a train bound for my next teaching in Lugano.  The Transport Geek was pumped, because I was soon in the recently-opened Gotthard Base Tunnel, one of the world’s longest.  It took 22 minutes to speed through 35.5 miles of rock.  This was one of Europe’s costliest infrastructure projects, and another demonstration of will to improve mobility, a trait sadly missing in my country.  Traversing the tunnel was a bit like flying at night: dark outside, a whoosh not unlike a jet, and a ride almost as smooth as being aloft.  Impressive.


I got off in Bellinzona, 20 miles north of my destination, Lugano.  Grabbed a sandwich, stowed my suitcase in a locker (a very un-Swiss process that took 30 minutes, because of two defective lockers; happily, a Swiss Federal Railways fellow got it working, and with a smile).  After lunch, I set off for Castello Montebello, a 13th Century fortress and one of three castles in the town, which is the seat of the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.  Bought admission, and wandered around the top of the outer wall, with great views of town and the valley.  In the main interior structure was a small but nice archaeology museum.  Scenes from the castle and nearby landscape:




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Splendid Art Nouveau detail, Bellinzona

Walked down the hill, hopped back on a train to Lugano and a bus to my hotel near USI, the Università della Svizzera Italiana.  Grabbed a quick nap, worked a bit, headed out for dinner, back to the Hotel Pestlalozzi, a simple place I found the year before, with tasty and inexpensive (by Swiss standards) food.  Tucked into tender roast rabbit with potatoes and vegetables.  Yum.

Thursday morning, up and out the door to the university, my 9th visit.  Worked the morning, and for the second time in three days met Omar Merlo for lunch.  He peeled off to the class, and I joined at 3:15 for a lecture to a small group of MSc students, mostly Italian.  High point that day was dinner with Omar and his brother-in-law Sandro at a wonderful restaurant, Gallo d’Oro.  It was our fifth visit, and the jocular owner, Matteo, remembered us.  What a meal!  Started with pumpkin flan with a fondue sauce, then quail stuffed with spinach and prosciutto, then chocolate cake.  Whew!  Atop the cuisine was a lot of laughing and storytelling.  A splendid evening.


Happy diners: Omar, Sandro, and your scribe

Friday morning, out the door, on the bus up the hill to the railway station, and onto the 8:18 fast train south to Milano.  At the big central station, hopped on the #92 bus.  I was due to meet Marinella, my Airbnb host (coincidentally in the same building as the Airbnb where I stayed a year earlier) at 10:30, so in my usual way of cramming the max into every day I hopped off close to Piazzale Loreto to see the memorial to Tullio Galimberti, a member of the anti-fascist resistance executed by the Nazis in that location on 10 August 1944 (I learned about Tullio in a superb historical novel based on a real story, Beneath a Scarlet Sky).  Unhappily, the piazza had been greatly reduced in order to widen the roads, and I could not figure out how to get to the “green middle” – there were no pedestrian crosswalks.  It was, as the radical 1970s geographer Bill Bunge memorably wrote, “machine space.”  I was running out of time, so wheeled my suitcase south to meet Marinella on time.

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In the overgrown middle of Piazzale Loreto; but where is the memorial to Tullio?


My Airbnb in Milano

She was a lovely woman, a secondary-school teacher a bit younger than me.  We yakked in her beautiful apartment for about a half-hour, then she departed for a weekend job in Udine, four hours east.  That she left me to her whole house speaks to the essence of what people call “the trusting economy.”  I changed into nicer clothes and set off for a lunch at Bocconi, a private university and one of Italy’s best.  Hopped on the Metro, then a very crowded and slow tram #9 south to campus.  At one, I met Sandro Castaldo, a marketing professor who was one of my hosts on my only teaching visit, in 2006 (through the years I periodically emailed him and a colleague, but didn’t get any traction).  We walked a block to a small, family-run fish restaurant for a plate of spaghetti with seafood and a good chat.  The Bocconi business school and the larger university are both growing, so there might be teaching prospects in the future.


Milan scenes; at right, note inflatable snowman on balcony

At 2:30, I said goodbye and hopped on BikeMi, the city’s bikeshare system riding three miles back to the apartment, changed back into jeans, and returned to Bocconi to meet Celia, a new professor of leadership, introduced virtually by my Cambridge and WHU colleague Jochen Menges.  We met at a tiny wine bar on Viale Bligny.  We were immediately on a first-name basis with Gianfranco the owner, and he poured a couple glasses of a wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon from Trentino in northeast Italy.  Celia was on a tight schedule (a Canadian, she needed to get home to take her two older boys to hockey practice, classic Friday-night activity!), so we had a quick yak and she peeled off.  I stayed to finish my glass, and had a nice T-t-S chat with Gianfranco.  He spoke good English, so I could explain my Italian roots to him and a patron (who didn’t speak English, so Gianfranco translated) through old family pictures on my iPhone, starting with the photo of my maternal great-grandparents Enrico and Cesira and their kids.  It was a lovely moment; I hope I get invited to Bocconi if only to return to that bar.


Bar Est Di Lepratto Domenico Fausto


At 6:30 I hopped back on the packed tram #9 (it was a lot like the Tokyo Metro!), then onto the Metro and up the Lambrate district and a wonderful brewpub, Birraficio Lambrate.  The place was hopping on a Friday night.  Craft beer, free hors d’oeuvres, the Rolling Stones and Allman Brothers on the speakers, and for me a stool in the front corner, to watch the entire scene unfold.  It was one of those moments when I thought “we are young,” but in fact I was the oldest guy in the room by multiples!  I chatted briefly with a young Italian next to me, and a bit more when several of his friends arrived, including his girlfriend, a beauty who looked like she just stepped out of a painting by Botticelli.


Friday night in the Birraficio Lambrate

They were all from Ancona, on the Adriatic coast.  Ten minutes later another friend showed up, smiled at me, and introduced himself.  “Federico,” he said, shaking my hand; “Roberto,” I replied, and he began speaking in Italian.  I replied in broken Italian that I was a stranger, just a grandfather from America.  “Oh,” he said, “I thought you were the uncle of one of these guys!”  Nice to fit in, and a perfect vignette of a warm and friendly country.  Italy is such a special place, for its people, and much more.  Thirst slaked, I headed back to the apartment, stopping to buy some tortellini to boil up (the huge lunch was the day’s main meal).  After a light meal, clocked out, sleeping hard in the cool room.


Was up at 6:30 Saturday morning to do some work, eat some bread and yogurt bought the night before, shower, and out the door, across the street to a café for a couple of cappuccinos.  The place, a traditional neighborhood place, was owned and staffed by a Chinese family, further proof of the powerful transformative role of the jet airplane.  Stimulated, I walked across the street to wait for my friend-since-1991 (and former American Airlines colleague) Massimo Vesentini.  While waiting, another vignette of Italian civility: a delivery van was partially blocking the sidewalk in front of my building.  An old lady on a bicycle approached, and I could see I would keep her from passing the truck, so I quickly stepped out of the way.  As she passed, she smiled brightly and thanked me.

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Italy = style and refinement; even a cappuccino in a simple cafe on Viale Abruzzi

Massimo appeared at 9:30 with his little dog Lupetta on leash, and when I called her name, she started dashing toward me – did she recall my face from a year earlier?  We walked a couple blocks south to their street, popped across for a third coffee at their local bar-café, where, Massimo explained, he and the owner run a betting pool on the top Italian soccer league.  Cash changed hands.  It made me smile: another nice feature of Italy is a strong egalitarian sense.

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Massimo keeping book at the neighborhood cafe

Further stimulated, we crossed via Francesco Hayez and met Massimo’s wife Lucia, who was coming with us on our second annual “wine run,” to buy stocks for the winter – or at least until the New Year.  We walked a few blocks to where they park their cars, hopped in Massimo’s, and set off for the Piemonte, west of Milan and north of Genoa.  Sped down the autostrada, turned off, and started to climb into low mountains already covered with the season’s first snow.  Stop 1 was Tre Castelli in the village of Montaldo Bormida, where we sampled the classic Piemonte varieties, Dolcetto and Barbera (I prefer the latter), plus a nice spumante (sparkling).  We bought several cases.  Hopped back in the car and headed west to the spa town of Acqui Terme, where thermal baths date back to the Romans.  Old.  We walked the town, put our fingers briefly in scalding water flowing from a font in the town center, then into La Curia, a splendid restaurant in a very old building.  Tucked into a wonderful lunch, some wine, and good conversation.

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Early winter in the Piemonte and (below) at Tre Castelli, where table wine is €1.20 per liter




Scenes from Montaldo Bormida (top) and Acqui Terme

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Our lunch venue, La Curia

Back in the car, and about ten miles to the second and last stop, Castello di Tagliole in the village of Tagliolo Monferrato, where the same family has been making wine since 1498, in a castle that dates to the Tenth Century.  Old.  The place was empty and the big castle gates closed.  Rang the brass doorbell, spoke on the intercom, and the gates opened.  Into the cellar to sample and buy some more wine.  The clerk-pourer had emigrated from Sri Lanka 20 years earlier (there’s the jet again!).  We had a good chat about winter in northern Italy compared to the tropics.  It was just getting dark as we descended a steep hill on a narrow and windy road, then onto the autostrada back to the city.


Above and below: Castello di Tagliole; at top-right, weathered stone


We unloaded the wine, into the elevator, up to their big apartment.  Their daughter Martina was just leaving, but we had a brief chat.  I had one more glass of Dolcetto, hugged them both, and walked back to the apartment, stopping again to get breakfast for the next morning.  I needed to get up at 4:00 AM, so was asleep at 8:45, Zzzzzzzzzzz.

Sunday morning, out the door at 4:30, walking briskly northwest on Via Plinio and Via Vitruvio to Centrale station, onto the train to Malpensa airport.  I was cutting it a little close, but had time to down three cappuccinos from vending machines, surprisingly good, and cheap.  Hopped on EasyJet and flew north to Copenhagen.  The previous week was relaxed compared to the coming seven days, and I needed to start leaning forward!

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