Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Odds and Ends: Part 2

© 2022 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

 

As I mentioned in Part 1, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I spent time going through my bookcases, and I found some long-forgotten treasures. One of these was a large Rand-McNally New Standard Atlas of the World, published in 1900, when many national borders were quite different than now.

To get an overview of significant events, births, deaths, and other information from 1900, click here. Some highlights taken verbatim from that site are:

  • Dwight F. Davis creates the Davis Cup tennis tournament.
  • In France, the length of a legal workday for women and children is limited to 11 hours.
  • The second (modern) Olympic Games is held in Paris.
  • L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is published in Chicago.
  • The first line of the Paris Métro is opened.
  • The first Michelin Guide is published in France.
  • Winston Churchill is elected to Parliament for the first time.
  • Milton S. Hershey introduces the milk chocolate Hershey bar in the United States.

By the way, it may surprise you to know that 1900 was not a leap year, even though it is a multiple of 4. As it happens, only those century years that are multiples of 400 are leap years. So, 1600 and 2000 were, but 1700, 1800, 1900, and 2100 are not. As a result, we have the oddity that 1896 was a leap year, and the next one was eight years later, in 1904.

Here are this month's topics:

  1. In various parts of the English-speaking world, married women's names are often written in the form "Mary Brown (nee Jones)" to indicate that Mary's married name is "Brown" and her maiden name is "Jones." The word nee is an Anglicized version of the French née. This designation can also be used if the woman's name was changed for reasons other than marriage. The male counterpart is . (I do know an American man who took his wife's family name when he married her.)
  2. Speaking of things French, a written invitation to an event usually contains something like "RSVP date." Although I've heard people try to make the four letters into abbreviations for English words, they really are an initialism (acronym, that is) for Répondez s'il vous plait, which means "Please respond (by date)."
  3. In English, men and women are often referred to more formally using the honorifics Mr., Mrs., Miss, and Ms. Back when I was a boy in rural South Australia, the local newspaper often had photos of groups of men and/or women, and the captions identified their names starting with honorifics. Oddly, instead of Misters (the English plural of Mr.) for men, the term Messrs (the French equivalent) was used. For woman, Mesdames (also French) was used. (As it happens, there isn't a universal way of writing the plural of Mrs. in English.) Although Mrs. comes from Mistress, introducing your wife as your mistress might have unintended consequences! While we might think that the term Ms. came about with the feminist movement of the 1960's, it actually dates back to the 17th century. And regarding the commonly used American term ma'am, as English actress Hellen Mirren (in the role of Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison) famously said, "Don't call me ma'am. I'm not the bloody Queen." By the way, for the gender-neutral folks, we now have Mx.
  4. Quakerism is a Protestant religion founded in England in the 17th century. While I had heard of it previously, my first contact with a Quaker was when my family was hosted by a country-doctor couple in Wales in the 1990's. (He was a Quaker, and she was an atheist, although she did attend Quaker meetings.) The term Quaker comes from "one who quakes," as in "trembles at the name of the Lord." What sets Quakers apart from most other Christian religions is that they have very simple meeting houses, no clergy, it's not male-dominated, and there is no child indoctrination (Sunday school). The US state of Pennsylvania, "The Quaker State," was founded by Quaker William Penn. When I visited the Monteverde cloud forest area of Costa Rica, I met a number of American descendants living there who were Quakers. Being pacifists and not wanting to pay taxes to help finance the Korean (or any other) War, they began to leave the US in the 1950's. While they started out as dairy farmers, they eventually got involved in ecotourism, which is how I came across them. US President Nixon was a Quaker.
  5. In the 1950's a popular brand of cigarette tobacco in Australia was Peter Stuyvesant. I thought nothing of that until many years later when I discovered that it was named for the man who had been the governor of Dutch New Amsterdam (which later became New York City when the Brits took control). I never did understand why the makers might have thought that Aussies would be attracted to that connection (assuming they even knew about it). Stuyvesant died at age 80 in 1672, while his namesake ciggies did not debut until 1954. Perhaps he died of lung cancer; hmm?
  6. Wall Street is known around the world as the US financial hub on Manhattan Island, New York City. But how did it get its name? One of the two theories is that back in the late 1600's, the Dutch settlement on that island was small, and a wall ran around the northern boundary to keep out "Native Americans, pirates, and the English." The street by the wall became Wall Street!
  7. The title Duke of York has been given to the second son of English/British monarchs since the 15th century. (The current title holder is Prince Andrew.) In 1664, King Charles II granted his brother James (the Duke of York) the land that currently contains the US state of New York, hence its name and that of New York City. "New York, New York, it's so nice they named it twice!" From my elementary school days Down Under, I remember that "The grand old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men. He marched them up to the top of the hill and he marched them down again. And when they were up, they were up. And when they were down, they were down. And when they were only half-way up they were neither up nor down." Now, when Charles becomes king (and gives up his title Prince of Wales), his first-born son, William, will take on that title. However, will his second son, Harry, get to be Duke of York? That is, will Uncle Andy be de-Yorked? As best as I can tell, NO; Andrew will keep that title until his death.
  8. Have you ever drunk a Bloody Mary? Although the origin of its name is not known for certain, one of the prime candidates has to do with Mary I, Queen of England, who because of her staunch Catholicism, went about executing Protestants. "Off with their heads, wot!" According to Wikipedia, this drink contains, 'vodka, tomato juice, and other spices and flavorings including Worcestershire sauce, hot sauces, garlic, herbs, horseradish, celery, olives, salt, black pepper, lemon juice, lime juice and celery salt. Some versions of the drink, such as the "surf 'n turf" Bloody Mary, include shrimp and bacon as garnishes.' Speaking of Catholics vs. Protestants: One day at a Catholic girl's school, Sister Mary Elizabeth asked her students what they'd like to be when they grew up. Maria said she'd like to be a nurse in a poor neighborhood. "Wonderful," said Sister. Next, Theresa said she'd like to be a missionary Doctor in Africa. "Fantastic," said Sister. Then Jane said she'd like to be a prostitute! Well, Sister fainted on the spot! Later, when she had been revived, she asked Jane to repeat what she'd said, and Jane did. Sister replied, "Praise the Lord! I thought you said, 'a Protestant!'"
  9. Speaking of Worcestershire sauce, one can actually use too much of it, and sometimes I get pretty close to that limit when I have a bottle in hand! To all you Americans, here's a lesson in correct pronunciation: Worcester is the county town of Worcestershire. And the town's name is spoken as if it was spelled "Wooster," not "war cester." OK, got that? (BTW, with Warwick, the county town of Warwickshire, one does not pronounce the second w unless one wishes to be labelled a philistine! You don't want to be accused of having pedestrian tastes do you?) Apparently, the sauce is a source of umami, and is the British equivalent of Asia's soy sauce. Speaking of savory sauces, often when one sits down for a British pub meal, the condiments on offer include brown sauce, which, frankly, seems like an uninviting name. Apparently, it's so boring, no-one ever came up with a proper name for it. That said, I have been known to sprinkle the odd packet of it on my full English breakfast!
  10. In recent years, there's been a lot of media coverage of Islam and its adherents, Moslems. Now it seems that if a religion has been around for a bit, it inevitably breaks into sects of one kind or another. And so it was with Islam, with its Sunni and Shia factions. [I'm reminded of something a Protestant once said: "The only thing worse than not being Christian, is being Catholic!"] And when the sects are not fighting a common enemy (think the Crusades), they are fighting among themselves (think proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia). The basic dispute between the two Islamic groups is the line of succession to the prophet Muhammad. Regarding groups with very strong differences of opinion, if you have never read "Gulliver's Travels," do learn about the Big-Endian/Little-Endian controversy regarding which end of a boiled egg one should open. (I first learned about these terms as they apply to computer science.)
  11. Tomato: fruit or a vegetable? Apparently, a botanist says fruit, while a horticulturist says vegetable. I say, "Who cares? Just shut up and enjoy it!" BTW, like Worcestershire sauce, tomato is also a source of umami. And, yes, people do disagree about how to pronounce the word: tomayto/tomarto! Now I've seen yellow and black tomatoes, but my attitude towards them is that I'll pass on eating one unless I'm very hungry and eating in the dark. After all, everyone knows that proper tomatoes are bright red! (BTW, if you haven't seen the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes," I recommend it.)
  12. Henry VIII had Walmer Castle built as a fort in County Kent "to protect against invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire." Later, it became the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a title that was held by numerous, distinguished people, including Winston Churchill, Robert Menzies (former Australian Prime Minister), and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The five (cinque in French) ports are Dover, Hastings, Hythe, New Romney, and Sandwich.
  13. So, which provinces of Canada are bilingual? While French and English are both widely used and taught throughout the country, only New Brunswick has made them both official in its constitution.
  14. My adopted home state in the US is Virginia, the first state, having been settled in 1607. It was named by Sir Walter Raleigh for Queen Elizabeth I, the "virgin queen," really! As a citizen of the British Commonwealth and as a school student in Australia, I learned about King John signing the Magna Carta (Great Charter) at Runnymede. When I visited that site, I was surprised to not find any significant English memorial of that historic event! However, there were three American memorials: There is a tree planted by QEII in soil from Virginia to commemorate the anniversary of the founding of that state; there is a small monument erected by the American Bar Association acknowledging the English law as a basis; and there is a memorial garden in a grove dedicated to President John F. Kennedy.
  15. I first learned about the soldier/statesman/explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton when I was visiting my Dutch historian friend, Gerard. Burton is a prominent character in Phillip Jose Farmer's sci-fi series, "Riverworld," to which Gerard introduced me and which I highly recommend. From time to time, as a I read various pieces about history, I some across references to Burton. And I was most surprised to find that a well-known biography about him was written by the mayor of a small town very near where I currently live in Virginia.
  16. We tend to think of Western European countries as having been around for a good, long while. But not so, Belgium, which is rather new, becoming independent in the 1830s . The country is multilingual. The Flemings in the northern part, Flanders, speak Flemish, a dialect of Dutch, while in the southern part, Wallonia, the Walloons speak French. (A few people speak German.) "In Flanders Fields" is a well-known poem about WWI. The red poppies that grew over the graves of soldiers killed in action became a symbol around the world on Armistice Day. My main exposure to Flemish was on a bus tour from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Mostar, Bosnia. The guide was originally from Flanders, and she spoke Flemish and English to her group.
  17. Speaking of newish countries, Finland was created in 1917 while Russia was preoccupied with revolution. Over the years, Finland was occupied by Sweden and Russia. The country is officially bilingual, supporting Finnish and Swedish. As a result, all public signs are in both languages. Although part of Scandinavia, the language Finnish is not related to other languages from that area. I've had the good fortune of visiting this fine country a number of times, going to the Arctic Circle on one trip to meet Santa Clause, in person, well north of there to Lapland on another, and around the country by train and bus.
  18. The UK Houses of Parliament are instantly recognizable around the world. But did you know that they are formally known as the Palace of Westminster. Although the structure looks quite old, it was destroyed by fire and completely rebuilt starting in 1840 to look old! Its distinctive tower houses the main bell, Big Ben. The week I hiked into London while completing my 187-mile walk along the Thames Path, because of unusually high humidity, the big clock slowed down and then actually stopped! On a separate trip, my teenage son and I sat in the Visitors' Gallery during sessions of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
  19. According to Wikipedia, "West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in the United States. Located on the Hudson River in New York [state], West Point was identified by General George Washington as the most important strategic position in America during the American Revolution." It's the home of the Army's military academy. Some very well-known graduates were astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and George Armstrong Custer, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Robert E. Lee, Douglas MacArthur, George S. Patton Jr., and Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.
  20. The first European explorer to come across New Zealand was the Dutchman, Abel Tasman. Sometime later, the islands were named Nova Zeelandia (from Latin), after the seafaring Dutch province of Zeeland. In Dutch, this became Nieuw Zeeland. (Dutch explorers had also named Australia Nieuw Holland.) The Māori name for the country is Aotearoa, meaning "land of the long white cloud." (The Australian state of Tasmania and the Tasman Sea are named after Tasman.)
  21. The Olympic Games are well known, but are you familiar with the Commonwealth Games, held by member countries of the (formerly British) Commonwealth of Nations? They are held every four years, midway between Summer Olympics. Some events included that are not in the Olympics are lawn bowls, netball, cricket and squash.
  22. Damask is a woven fabric whose name was derived from the city of Damascus, capital of modern-day Syria.
  23. According to Wikipedia, Jet "is a type of lignite, the lowest rank of coal, and is a gemstone. … It is derived from wood that has changed under extreme pressure. … The adjective jet-black, meaning as dark a black as possible, derives from this material."
  24. In March of 2020, just prior to the US lockdown for COVID-19, I was vacationing in Tahiti where I was at the downtown port talking to passengers disembarking from a cruise ship. Tied up near the ship was what I thought was a super- or mega-yacht. Now when I grew up in rural Australia, I came to know a yacht as a small boat with several sails, that held 1, 2, or 3 people, and bobbed about on a freshwater lake. But when I stepped off the length of this baby, I figured it was about 350 feet (108 meters) long. After speaking to someone nearby, I found out it was brand new and had just been delivered to fellow Aussie, James Packer, who had paid US$200 million for it. Apparently, a yacht longer than 100 meters is known as a gigayacht. At 14 knots, the twin diesel engines, and fuel tanks with 91,000 gallons give the yacht a range of 6,500 nautical miles. Now, what would you do with a spare $200 million?
  25. There I was working on my German vocabulary when I came across the term fata morgana, which certainly didn't sound German to me; in fact, its origins are Italian! It means mirage. Other foreign language surprises I recall were learning that nostril in Spanish is la ventana de nariz, literally, window of the nose, and toe is el dedo del pie, literally, finger of the foot!
  26. I first came across the term wrangler in the context of cowboys handling horses and cattle. But then I started seeing it in movie credits, usually in the context of a handler of some kind of animal or inanimate product. According to Wikipedia, the word `is derived from the Low German "wrangeln" meaning "to dispute" or "to wrestle." It was first documented in 1377. Its use as a noun was first recorded in 1547. Its reference to a "person in charge of horses or cattle" or "herder" was first recorded in 1888.' My most recent encounter with the word was as a Cambridge University England student "who gains first-class honours in the final year of the university's degree in mathematics."
  27. Growing up in Australia, I learned that a yahoo was a derogatory term meaning "A rough, coarse, loud or uncouth person; yokel; lout." (I have since learned that such creatures are, unfortunately, not limited to my home country!) I was surprised to learn recently that the word was invented by Jonathan Swift in his book "Gulliver's Travels," in which Yahoo is the name of a race of brutes."
  28. I had heard of dumdums, special kinds of bullets designed to expand on impact. It was developed at the British Royal Artillery Dum Dum Arsenal, in the town of Dum Dum, India.
  29. The use of the term "quack" as a slang synonym for doctor, is well known. However, it is more appropriate to use it for someone who claims to have some medical background when they don't. Apparently, the term comes from the Dutch word "kwakzalver," which means "a seller of ointment."
  30. Regarding people of mixed race, according to Wikipedia, "In the slave societies of the Americas, a quadroon or quarteron was a person with one quarter African and three quarters European ancestry (or in Australia, one quarter aboriginal ancestry)." Other terms are octoroon and hexadecaroon, mulatto, and mestizo.
  31. There I was watching a nature program about monkeys when the term "opposable thumb" was mentioned. When I went to Wikipedia to read about this, I was surprised to find so much information about thumbs! Interestingly, the medical term for a thumb is pollex, from Latin. In the good old Roman days, the width of the thumb was 1 inch wide, and was 1/12 of a Roman foot.
  32. The French Foreign Legion is not just a military group seen in old films about north Africa. It is very much alive and well today! "As of 2018, members come from 140 different countries."
  33. There's a body of water in the US state of Massachusetts called Webster Lake. Its claim to fame is that "it has the longest name of any geographic feature in all of the United States." Longest, that is, when spelled using its invented, supposedly Algonquian Native-American-sounding name, Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. The meaning of the name goes something like, "You fish on your side; I fish on my side; nobody fish in the middle." Reading this reminded me of another very long place name, in Wales, that I learned of many years ago, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Apparently, that is only the second-longest in the world. The first is Māori-based from New Zealand: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu. Click here to read about long-place names.
  34. The word alibi comes from the Latin for "elsewhere."
  35. Recently, I was involved in the preparation of a tax return for a non-profit organization, and I had need to consult IRS (Internal Revenue Service) Publication 526 Cat. No. 15050A, "Charitable Contributions." There, I found the following: "Expenses of Whaling Captains: You may be able to deduct as a charitable contribution any reasonable and necessary whaling expenses you pay during the year to carry out sanctioned whaling activities. The deduction is limited to $10,000 a year. To claim the deduction, you must be recognized by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission as a whaling captain charged with the responsibility of maintaining and carrying out sanctioned whaling activities. Sanctioned whaling activities are subsistence bowhead whale hunting activities conducted under the management plan of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. Whaling expenses include expenses for: • Acquiring and maintaining whaling boats, weapons, and gear used in sanctioned whaling activities; • Supplying food for the crew and other provisions for carrying out these activities; and • Storing and distributing the catch from these activities." Who knew that such advice even existed!
  36. Apparently, Hell is right here on earth. It's a community located in the US state of Michigan, and has a population of around 70 people!
  37. When referring to temperature in the metric system, the terms Celsius and Centigrade seem to be interchangeable, and they are! The scale was originally named centigrade from the Latin centum and gradus, 100 steps. However, later it was renamed Celsius "after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius (1701–1744), who developed a similar temperature scale." BTW, -40 Celsius is also -40 Fahrenheit!
  38. Many of us have heard the term Ides of March, which is usually associated with the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Just what is an ide? Actually, the word is used in the plural, ides. For most months, it's the 13th day, but for some months, including March, it's the 15th day.
  39. Apparently, ichor "is the ethereal fluid that is the blood of the gods and/or immortals." And watch out, it's toxic to humans!
  40. Piccadilly Circus is a well-known intersection in London, England. According to Wikipedia, "Around 1611 or 1612, a Robert Baker acquired land in the area, and prospered by making and selling piccadills, … each of which is a large broad collar of cut-work lace that became fashionable in the late 16th century and early 17th century."
  41. I have long known the term "Grand Prix," but always in the context of motor racing. It's French for "Grand Prize," and is actually used in numerous contexts (follow the link). According to Jack's Reference Book (1908), it was first used for a horse race at Longchamps, France, established by Napoleon III in 1863.
  42. The term "peeping Tom" is well known as "A person who watches another without the other's permission and usually without the other's knowledge, especially for the purpose of deriving sexual pleasure from the sight of the other." But who was Tom and at whom was he peeping? For an explanation of that, click here. Basically, Tom looked at Lady Godiva riding naked through the town.
  43. Did you ever hear of a 10-gallon hat? It's a kind of cowboy hat that is sometimes mentioned and worn in Western movies. Its origins are likely from several different Spanish terms neither of which has to do with the amount of water such a hat could hold.
  44. As I travel the world, I find that America and its people are either loved and admired, or despised. Rarely do I find someone without an opinion on them. I recently discovered a possible explanation for some of America's traits in the works by prominent US historian, Frederick Jackson Turner (1861–1932). In his Frontier thesis he talks about "how the idea of the American frontier shaped the American character in terms of democracy and violence. He stresses how the availability of very large amounts of nearly free farm land built agriculture, pulled ambitious families to the western frontier, and created an ethos of unlimited opportunity. The frontier helped shape individualism and opposition to governmental control."
  45. It seems that the humble umbrella started out as protection against the sun (as in parasol), with use in rain coming later. I grew up in Australia, which like some other countries in the British Commonwealth, uses the slang term brolly. On one trip to London, England, I figured that as I would be there a week, it was bound to rain, so I should take an umbrella, something I never carried at home. Not having one of my own, I took my wife's. In London, I was in a supermarket, and when I left, I noticed I'd left my brolly at the checkout. As I was walking back to retrieve it, a man came out carrying it to see if he could find its owner. When I approached him saying it was mine, he was quite surprised. After all, it was a woman's umbrella, and I was a man! Apparently, real men don't carry paisley-patterned brollys!
  46. You probably know that "utopia is an imaginary community or society that possesses highly desirable or nearly perfect qualities for its citizens." But did you know that this word was invented by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book "Utopia," which describes "a fictional island society in the south Atlantic Ocean off the coast of South America?"
  47. From time to time, I've been known to make a large pot of creamy onion and potato soup. Then when I eat some, I add the magic ingredient, cayenne pepper. There's a connection between that name and the town and river of the same name in French Guiana. As it happens, the cayenne pepper fruit measures 30,000–50,000 SHU on the Scoville scale, a unit of "measurement of the pungency (spiciness or "heat") of chili peppers, as recorded in Scoville Heat Units."
  48. When growing up in rural South Australia, we set off fireworks on "Guy Fawkes" night. As it happens, Guy was a very naughty boy, and was arrested for helping plan to blow up the English House of Lords. Our fireworks were much milder than barrels of gunpowder! This night was November 5, but Down Under, that's before the start of summer, when things are quite dry and fire danger is high. So, after many years, common sense dictated that the Aussies abandon the practice.
  49. While reading a page on the UK newspaper Guardian's website, I came across the following question and answer: 'When did the term "First World War" get used? And when did people realise that the "Second World War" was such?' One response was, 'The term "First World War" came into use on or close to 3 September 1939. That is to say, as soon as the Second World War started. Until then it had been referred to as The Great War.'
  50. Even though the terms Satan and The Devil seem to be used interchangeably, I was surprised to find that each has its own (lengthy) entry on Wikipedia.
  51. Occasionally, when watching a movie involving sailing ships, we hear about Davy Jones' Locker. Just who was Davy Jones, and what did he keep in his locker? Of course, the term "is a metaphor for the bottom of the sea: the state of death among drowned sailors and shipwrecks." It has been suggested that Davy is the ghost of Jonah who was swallowed by a whale.
  52. Something we all take for granted when shopping is the Universal Product Code (UPC code), which "is a barcode symbology that is widely used worldwide for tracking trade items in stores." According to Wikipedia, "The first UPC-marked item ever to be scanned at a retail checkout was a 10-pack (50 sticks) of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum, purchased at the Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio, at 8:01 a.m. on June 26, 1974." In the late 1960's, after school, I worked at a supermarket. This was before UPC codes (and computers that can track them) were introduced. As such, prices had to be marked on each item, and when prices changed, new price labels had to put over the old ones. And the checkout operators had to memorize the prices of each week's sale items.
  53. The modern-day use of the word "etiquette" has to do with social customs. However, the word comes from French, and meant, "property, a little piece of paper, or a mark or title, affixed to a bag or bundle, expressing its contents, a label, ticket."). Later, "The French Court of Louis XIV … Versailles used étiquettes (literally "little cards") to remind courtiers to keep off of the grass and similar rules."
  54. The English-speaking world has adopted the Japanese word "tsunami" (pronounced tsu-na-mi), which literally means "harbor wave." In the year following the Fukushima earthquake and subsequent tsunami, I was in Crescent City, California. While at a beach, I came across a notice asking anyone who finds human remains washed up on the beach to contact authorities. Apparently, such things did cross the Pacific Ocean from Japan after that disaster. That adds a whole new meaning to flotsam and jetsam!
  55. The concept, and subsequent symbol for, zero makes for some interesting reading; take a look! BTW, as a kid in Australia, we referred to that number as nought. Of course, Americans just have to spell that naught!
  56. Recently, I was watching a legal drama video, and I heard for the first time the abbreviation SC (Senior counsel). Being from a British Commonwealth country, I was familiar with QC (Queen's Counsel) and, from reading, KC (King's Counsel). These are titles given to a lawyer who has attained a certain level of achievement. Now some countries have left the Commonwealth, and some of them have renamed these titles to SC, as they no longer have a queen or king. A person who has achieved any of these titles is often said to have "taken silk."
  57. Speaking of British-based legal dramas, they have barristers and solicitors rather than what Americans would call lawyers or attorneys. The former primarily argue cases in court while the latter deal with the clients directly. So, when a case goes to court, a client works with a solicitor who then works with a barrister who handles the client's case in court. (For some entertaining reading/TV episodes about life in the English lawcourts, I highly recommend "Rumpole of the Bailey.")

Travel: Memories of Prague and Eastern Germany

© 2018, 2022 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

It was March, and I had two business meetings in Europe 10 days apart, and it didn't make sense to come back home between them, so I thought, "Could I possibly find something to do in Europe for 10 days?" Of course, the answer was, "Yes!" And then I thought, "Why not add some extra personal time to the end as well?" And so, my trip would last four weeks. I'd start in Prague, the Czech Republic, with four days of work, then head to Eastern Germany for 10 days of play visiting several friends, hop on over to London, England, for three more work days, and then head to rural England for a final week of play. I had several offers from friends to come along and carry my bags! However, I declined, taking instead my stuffed toy caterpillar (Mr. C) and several imaginary friends.

Heading Out

I had a nice, easy morning. I got my final email fix, packed my gear, and headed out around 11:15 am. In Reston, I visited friend Cathy at whose place I left my car. Right on time, my Pakistani cab driver arrived to take me to the airport, where I checked in and cleared security without delay.

As I approached the information counter near the inter-terminal train station, I saw an elderly volunteer who looked quite interesting, so I stopped to chat. She was 85 years-old and very much enjoyed her job helping passengers with their questions. She'd had 125 queries on her shift so far. I caught the train to Terminal C where I went into United Airlines' Business lounge to get some emergency rations and a newspaper.

At Gate 14, things were very busy due to the weather delays caused on the previous day, and, consequently, the flight was full. However, boarding of the Boeing 777 went very smoothly, and Flight UA989 took off on time. I had one of the best seats on the plane, at a large exit door. My 20-something seatmate was a United flight attendant who was on a private trip headed to Linz, Austria, to visit her boyfriend's family. She was a very interesting person, and we talked at length, of many things. For supper, I chose the pasta in heavy-cream sauce with salad and bread. The mango sorbet dessert was extra good. I declined to watch any video, and, after a short read, I lay back my seat and tried to sleep.

[Next day] Although I'd closed my eyes for several hours, I probably slept for no more than an hour, which is par for the course on an overnight flight to Europe in Economy Class. We landed at FRA on time in light fog. After a flawless flight, the big plane parked out in mid-field, the crew opened both the front and rear doors, and we walked down steep stairs to waiting buses. Then we were taken on a tour of the airport before pulling up at a terminal. After I cleared passport control, where I got my 5th stamp in my new US passport (the most recent one being when I left Munich, Germany, two months earlier), I headed for my connecting gate. Near that, I spied a Lufthansa Senator's Lounge, so I stopped by for an unnecessary snack of scrambled egg, sausage, and bratwurst with ketchup, all washed down with a steaming-hot cup of milk coffee. I also got an English-language newspaper.

After a short wait at Gate 50, a full flight of passengers boarded buses to an Airbus A319 parked out in mid-field. As I had a seat in the very last row, I entered through the rear door where a smiling young German flight attendant welcomed me on board. Lufthansa Flight LH1392 was 15 minutes late departing. The flight lasted about 45 minutes during which time we were served a cookie and drink. I read a newspaper and worked on a Sudoku puzzle.

Arrival in Prague

We had a smooth landing at PRG, and having cleared immigration in Frankfurt, it was an open border into the Czech Republic. All signs were in Czech, English, German, and Russian. Now I'd recently changed banks and had used my ATM card several times before leaving home just to make sure it worked. But, don't you know, when I tried to use it to get cash, I was rejected. I tried three times, certain I had the right PIN, and was locked out. Don't you just hate that when that happens! Being a seasoned traveler, I had several backup cards, so I used one of those to relieve the machine of CZK 4,000 (koruna is Czech for "crown"). The exchange rate was CZK20 to US$1.

By that time, my luggage arrived, and I headed to where there used to be a desk to buy a ticket on the bus to downtown. Well, don't you know, that service had been discontinued since my previous visit without any consultation with me! But, as you may recall from my previous writings, my travel (indeed life) motto is "Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B!" At the visitors' information desk, a polite young woman informed me that a new service now ran from the airport to the main train station downtown, departing every half hour, and she'd be happy to sell me a ticket for CZK44 ($2.20), an exceptionally cheap price. Of course, by the time I got to the bus stop, a bus had just left, so I had a 25-minute wait. Although it was quite cold out, I had on thick socks and warm clothing. While waiting, I chatted with a mother and son from Southampton, England.

Although the bus was adequate, it wasn't quite as nice as the one it replaced, hence the lower fare. After the 20-minute ride, it was a 10-minute walk from the train station to my hotel, which was exactly where I'd left it on my last trip in June 2016. It was 11:30, check-in wasn't until 15:00, and my room wasn't ready, bugger! I'd discovered my mistake regarding the ATM card, so tried again with the correct PIN, but it rejected me saying I was "locked out," having used up my three tries. To stay awake, I walked the neighborhood getting programs for music concerts and getting some sunshine. I stopped by my local supermarket where I browsed at length looking at all the items, packaging, and language. As you might expect for this part of the world, many products are sold across borders. For example, the bag of potato chips I bought was labelled in both Czech and Slovak.

Soon after I returned to the hotel, my room was ready, so I boarded the high-tech, glass-enclosed elevator (AU: lift) and went up to my room. After a long, hot shower, I felt decent, and I unpacked while sampling my 4% whole milk, potato chips, and tropical juice. To help with jetlag, it is best to get on local time as soon as possible, so I decided to try that, although I could easily have crashed. As I'm always looking at signage for photos for my blog series, I noticed the unusual "Do not Disturb" sign hanging behind my door. On closer inspection, it read, "CALM. Seeking Peace; no service needed," which was quite clever.

I wiled away the afternoon working on personal and business things until 18:45, when I dressed in my Japanese yukata and slippers, and went down to the health club in the basement. There I had two 15-minute sessions in a very hot sauna with cold showers before, in-between, and after. It was quite invigorating. Lights out at 19:45, asleep at 19:46!

[I had my first visit to Prague in 2009, and this was my sixth one. All of them were for business, for the same committee, and at the same meeting place. So, I'd gotten to know the city and the neighborhoods where I stayed and walked to work.]

[Next day] The bed and super-soft pillow were Heavenly, and I slept like a baby for five hours, waking at 12:45 am. As I was wide awake, I got up, boiled the electric kettle, and had a cup of soup and some cheese and crackers. Then I took care of new email (it never stops arriving) and started work on this diary. I then slept another five hours. At breakfast, I unexpectedly met a colleague, so we ate together and talked some business. Back in my room, I worked for several hours before having a 3-hour nap. Then it was back to work before supper in my room.

At 19:00, I arrived at the health center where I was met by Helene, a trim, athletic-looking young mother of two small children. She invited me into her private room, asked me to disrobe and lie face-down on the table, after which she vigorously exorcized all the demons from my body. Yes, Dear Reader, I had signed up for a 1-hour Swedish massage! To show how serious she was, first she knelt on the table overtop of me, and then she stood, both times putting all her weight on her hands which she used to "walk" up and down my spine. We chatted a bit, and I learned that before she had kids, she enjoyed hiking in remote places, such as Iceland, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. She worked hard for more than an hour. I then spent an hour rotating between a cold shower and the steaming sauna. It had been a great first day in-country, and very soon after I got into bed, I was asleep.

It was a very poor night for sleeping; I had only a few hours. For the rest of the time, I lay in the dark, thinking about sleeping! When my alarm went off at 07:45, I got up against my will. Outside, it was snowing steadily, and the temperature was just above freezing. I had the usual, very nice buffet fare for breakfast.

Getting Down to Business

At 09:30, a colleague and I set off for our meeting place, making sure to not injure ourselves on the slick snow-covered sidewalks. The group had a busy and productive day, and as usual, while the others went out for lunch, as meeting secretary, I snacked in the room and brought the meeting minutes up to date and worked on action items. I got very tired around 13:00, but got a second wind at 16:00. After the meeting ended, I worked on administrative issues for another hour.

The snow had stopped, and light rain fell, making the snow slushy and sidewalks even more slippery. At my local supermarket, I picked up some emergency rations and a nice salad for supper in my room. I ate while alternating between three English-language TV news channels.

I headed down to the health club very much looking forward to more sessions in the sauna, but that was not to be. It appeared the staff had forgotten to fire up the unit, so I returned to my room dejected. My solace lay in chocolate!

[Next day] The ritual for Day 2 of my meeting was much like Day 1. On the way back to my hotel, I swung by the main train station to buy a ticket to Germany. I couldn't get one to my final destination, so got one to Berlin.

At 18:30, three colleagues met me in my hotel lobby, and we walked to a restaurant nearby for supper. I had some nice pork medallions with fried eggs and roasted garlic sauce, all washed down with a jug of lemonade with some exotic flavor and lots of small pieces of mint. I shared a dessert.

Apparently, the porter of my hotel was out sick for a few days, and as he oversaw the sauna, it wasn't running for the second night in a row. It is so hard to get good help these days!

[Next day] It was hard getting out of bed, but I made it down to breakfast. The day was clear and warmer than previously. We started the final day of my meeting at 09:00, and worked steadily until 16:30, with a break for lunch. I almost fell asleep mid-afternoon as jetlag overcame me. Afterwards, I took a colleague back to my hotel where we worked in the Business Lounge.

At 18:30, long-time Czech friend Robin met me in my hotel lobby, and we went out for supper. [I met him 20-odd years previous when I hosted him in Reston, Virginia. And each time I've come to Prague, we've gotten together.]

By Train to Germany

[Next day] Travel Day! Sleep wise, it was a very poor night. After five days in-country, I was still nowhere near getting on local time, bugger! When my alarm went off just after 06:00, I struggled out of bed and had a long, hot shower. At that hour, the breakfast room was almost empty, and there were more staff that diners! I made a snack "to go." Back in my room, I packed the last of my gear then checked-out at the front desk. Then I walked out into a cold, but very sunny, morning pulling my luggage over the rough tile and cobblestone sidewalk, the wheels making lots of noise as I did so, waking the neighborhood. If I had to be up this early, then so should everybody else!

The main train station was quite busy when I arrived at 07:45. Interestingly, platform assignments were not announced until about 20 minutes before departure, so like everyone else, I was standing watching the Departures board. Finally, the platform for the Euro City 176 "Johannes Brahms" train, to Hamburg, Germany, was displayed, and I headed off to Platform 7, the furthest away, where I waited in the cold open air. The train arrived five minutes before its departure time. There were two First-Class carriages, both at the end, and I was at the back of the final one, in a glassed-off area of 20-odd seats, all to myself. Was I being isolated from the other passengers, or they from me? I had a table, electric power, and free wifi connection. I was accompanied by my very colorful stuffed caterpillar, Mr. C., who was sticking out of the front of my shirt.

Although the train was painted and decorated in the Czech railway livery, the company seemed to have an association with the German railway company, Deutsche Bahn (DB), and the paper ReisePlan (itinerary) placed on each seat was written in Czech and German only. Soon after we departed, a uniformed waiter came through offering complimentary newspapers and bottles of water, and taking orders for food and drinks. Although the train was headed to Hamburg, I was only going as far as Berlin. There were just a few stops along the way. The train was very quiet with none of that clickety-clack noise! When the conductor came through, I had questions about buying a ticket in Berlin for the rest of my journey. However, he didn't speak English, so I had to dig deep to find enough German words and grammar to sound halfway intelligible. It was hard work, but I managed it.

As we went north, we came to the River Elbe, which we followed all the way to the German border, and on into Dresden. [The Elbe runs all the way to Hamburg and out to the North Sea.] I'd been to Dresden once, in February 2013, when I'd trained up from Prague for a meeting with a university professor, and had an overnight stay. As the city was buried in snow back then, I saw very little of it.

As we progressed, trees were taking on some green buds, and fields showed small green plants pushing through the soil. There were occasional groups of wind turbines. In-between working on personal things on my laptop, I watched the world go by out the window as we raced along at 160 kph (100 mph).

As we approached Berlin, next to the train line, there were many garden plots, most with some sort of structure ranging from a primitive hut to a summer cottage. After a very comfortable and uneventful 4:20 hours, we arrived at Berlin's main train station. A few days before, I'd studied my options for the connecting trip. It was a bit complicated and involved two train changes, with tight changes with little room for delays. I had 30 minutes to buy a ticket and get to the right platform, and I had visions of a very long line at the ticket counter. As it happens, the Travel Gods were on my side. After riding escalators up three flights and taking a wrong turn, I was helped by a very efficient man who gave me a printed itinerary and then handed me off to a young woman at the next counter to issue me a ticket. As it happened, the middle leg of the itinerary I'd planned had been cancelled, so the first two legs had to be changed. And as half of the travel time would be in single-service trains only, there was no point in paying for a First-Class ticket.

Everything went so smoothly that I was on my first platform with 10 minutes to spare. Don't you just love that when that happens! The first leg took all of two minutes and involved riding an S-Bahn train one stop. There I descended way down underground to another platform where I waited 10 minutes for another S-Bahn that took me to Oranienburg. We stopped at all 16 stations along the way! There, I rode the elevator (lift) with an elderly Canadian couple from Vancouver. Interestingly, the station had platforms numbered 20–30 only; there was no indication as to what happened to numbers 1–19! After A 15-minute wait, I boarded a very comfortable double-decker carriage and sat at a window downstairs. Once again, I watched the countryside go by and, from time to time, I wondered what it had been like to live there in East German times when this area was behind the Iron Curtain.

A Visit with Belinda

About 2:30 hours after leaving Berlin, I arrived in Altentreptow where Belinda, a friend of 20-odd years, was waiting for me. [I'd last seen her when I visited four years earlier, on the way back from western Poland. We'd first met when I hosted her in the US.]

Back at her house, we talked of many things, and as she teaches English, we soon got out an English dictionary and an English-German-English dictionary to help us in our discussions. We had a nice supper of beef goulash with boiled potatoes, and slices of tomato with mozzarella cheese and basil. Surprisingly, given my lack of sleep the previous night, I didn't start yawning until 20:00, so I capitalized on that by going to bed at 20:30. As Travel Days go, it had gone very well.

[Next day] I slept soundly until 03:00, but try as I might to get back to sleep, once I got a new writing-project idea in my head, I got very creative, and after two hours of brainstorming in the dark, I got up and started writing up the idea on my laptop. After that, I brought this diary up to date by which time it was 08:00. I went back to bed and slept until 11:30 after which I had a light brunch.

Around 13:00, we headed out in overcast weather with a very faint mist. We drove 90 minutes to the Baltic Sea Island, Usedom, which Germany shares with Poland. Our destination was the Army test site at Peenemünde. [Belinda took my son, Scott, and me there in 2000 during our first visit to her place.] This is where the rocket research and testing went on, which resulted in the infamous V1 buzz-bomb and V2 rocket. We toured the control bunker (now the visitors' center) and the power station, the only remaining buildings. The power was mostly to make oxygen for rocket fuel. We spent 90 minutes touring the museum and walking around the power station and grounds. Nearby was an old Soviet submarine. I read how that after the war, the Allied nations of the US, Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France each took scientists and engineers back to their respective countries to help build their military weapons and civilian space programs. The US group included Wernher von Braun who became a major force at NASA.

We drove home on back roads, and had a quiet evening. Lights out at 20:00 after a very nice day.

[Next day] I slept in two shifts, but didn't get up in-between, so I guess that's some sort of progress. After a shower, I was ready for the world, but was das Welt ready for me? Breakfast consisted of left-over beef goulash on toast with coffee and juice. It was Heavenly! Belinda loaded up her washing machine with all my laundry, and then we both settled down to administrative chores. She was trained to teach English, Russian, and French, and her job that morning was to grade some French papers, while thinking in German, and talking to me in English!

I hung my washing on the outdoor clothesline where the sun was shining brightly, and a light breeze was blowing. It had been a good while since my clothes were dried outside on a line! However, after three hours, most things were dry.

At 16:00, we headed out in the car. The first stop was Quilow, a small village where Belinda grew up and her mother had been Principal at a Primary School. There, we picked up her brother, Olaf, to take him out for a meal. Belinda's parents are both buried in the village cemetery, and I took photos of quite a few graves, all of which were mini gardens with small trees, bushes, and/or flowers. Many were covered with creepers, and all were covered with pine branches, as is the custom over Christmas. From there, we drove to Greifswald and to an old fishing village, Wieck, where the River Ryck runs into the Baltic Sea (which, by the way, the Germans and other neighboring country folk call the East Sea).

Our destination was "Jack & Richie's Steakhouse," a very nicely appointed restaurant decorated in a Wild West theme. I ate a small serving of pork spareribs cooked with a spicy sauce and served with coleslaw and garlic bread. Although the menu was in German, modern-German society uses many American-English words and phrases on a regular basis. For example, some of the items were "Mississippi BBQ Chicken," "Jack's Ribs," "Crispy Six" (6 chicken nuggets), and "Kentucky Mix" (onion rings, mozzarella sticks, steak strips, sweetcorn, garlic dip, and chili sauce). Many such names seem to be primarily to make the items seem exotic. Apparently, it works! I finished off the meal with a scoop of strawberry ice cream, which came with some small pieces of peppermint leaf. Afterwards, we drove Olaf home and then returned to our place in light fog. At several points along the highway, we were met by hundreds of UFOs hovering in formation ahead of us with blinking and steady red lights. Well at least I imagined they were UFOs! In fact, they were wind turbines each of which had blinking lights on top and one or two sets of static lights at lower levels of their towers, all for aviation safety.

[Next day] After 12 hours in bed with about 10 hours of sleep, I got up to a wintry day. After a cup of coffee, toast, and slices of salami, I dressed in business attire, and headed out to meet the day. Fifteen minutes later, I arrived at the Gymnasium Altentreptow, the town's high school. I chatted with the principal who I'd met four years earlier. I then was a guest speaker for him in a 90-minute English class for Year-11 students (age 17). Belinda joined me for lunch in the cafeteria. Afterwards, I joined her for an English class for Year-8 students (age 14). First up, they had a 20-minute test on gerunds; you know, those "-ing" words! I too took the test, which was quite challenging to start with, but I did OK. Then it was "open-question" time for about an hour.

On the way home, we stopped by a bakery—German bread typically has no preservatives, so people buy it every one or two days—and a supermarket, where I rescued some whole milk, a salad, and some gummi bears. Back home, we worked on various projects. While doing so, I had a German internet radio station playing in the background. After a "traditional" German supper of salad, whole milk, and potato chips, I had a wonderful cup of coffee and a cookie with raisins. (Is there no end to my gourmet palate?) I called my next host to make plans for my train trip to her area later in the week.

[Next day] After an almost-uninterrupted night, I finally seemed to be on local time. After a small breakfast, I headed out in light drizzle for Belinda's school. Starting at 10:00, I worked with her in two English lessons. The questions I got covered a wide variety of topics from religion, organ donation, politics, Germany, travel, and food.

Around 13:00, we drove to Neubrandenburg, a large city to the south. There, I rescued some euros from a cash machine, and we settled into a coffee shop for hot drinks, a snack, and a chat. I walked around the main street area taking photos of some interesting signage. Then we went to the train station to buy a ticket for the next leg of my journey. Although Belinda was with me, I decided to give my German a workout. After I explained to the very pleasant older woman agent that I spoke only a little German, she spoke slowly and explained everything to me in a very polite and professional manner. However, when it came to say that I preferred to sit facing the direction of the train rather than backwards, I resorted to Belinda for help. We drove home via a country road through several small villages and farmland.

Back home, we each worked on personal projects and had a light evening meal.

[Next day] After 10 reasonably restful hours in bed, I got up around 07:00, and had a small breakfast while listening to an album by Andrea Bocelli. It was another overcast day. After my morning email ritual, I worked on administrative chores.

After some false starts, I finally found an AirBnB place in which to stay during my time in England after I leave London, and I worked on a plan for my first few days of that leg. In the note I sent to my hosts, I wrote, "I'm traveling with a very colorful stuffed-toy caterpillar and several imaginary friends!" I didn't want them to think I was a "normal" guest.

At 13:45, Belinda came home to get me, and we headed out for Greifswald, 45 minutes to the north. She had to attend a meeting of regional English teachers. Meanwhile, I walked into the main shopping area, which is a pedestrian mall. It was very cold out! As soon as I entered the town, things looked familiar from my visit there four years earlier. I went into some stores, mostly to get out of the cold, and took some good photos of signage. Afterwards, I took a long walk around a residential neighborhood.

When we were back in the car, we both thought about eating something hot, so we stopped off at a large shopping center that had a number of eating choices. I had a nice hot, but spicy, bowl of goulash soup with a bread roll. It was just the thing for a growing lad! I also bought Belinda a bottle of wine for her up-coming, BIG birthday.

Back home, we had an easy evening of snacking, drinking, music, talking, and TV news. Lights out early.

Off to Erfurt

[Next day] Travel Day and the Ides of March!

Well, don't you know, after 6½ hours of solid sleep, I lay awake for three more, bugger! I finally dozed off again and got up at 08:00. After I showered, I had breakfast and washed the dishes before packing my gear, which somehow seemed to have expanded. Don't you just hate that when that happens! Then I played some easy-listening music from an internet radio station while handling email and planning some travel activities.

At 11:15, I headed out under overcast skies hoping the rain would hold off for my walk to the train station. It sure was cold out. I arrived in 20 minutes, and had a 40-minute wait. Four other young people were already there, three of them smoking, and two of them playing with their phones. (Some bad habits are universal!) The station building was closed permanently, and was in a state of disrepair, although a good clean and some renovation would make it a nice building.

A young man approached me and asked me a question in German, although I figured that wasn't his native language. I replied in German that I spoke only a little of that language, but did speak English. He then switched to English, of which he had a good command. He was a refugee from Eritrea in northeast Africa, and had travelled to Italy by boat from Libya. From there he requested asylum in Germany. He had recently completed five months of German-language training, and had a good grasp of that. He spoke Arabic as well. None of these were his native language. He was looking forward to getting a job and being busy, and was enjoying experimenting with European food. He was very pleasant, and we spoke for 30 minutes. He seemed like he'd be a good contributor to whichever country he finished up in.

Regional Train 05 pulled up right on time at 12:16, and about a dozen passengers boarded the double-decker train that had five carriages. I settled into an upstairs table with four seats, and spread my gear around. Having looked at the First-Class seating area, I didn't see any advantage in upgrading. Although there was no internet service, I did have power, so I plugged in my laptop, found some headphones (which my airline now gives away on every flight), and played some "Body and Soul Duet" albums while looking out the window and bringing this diary up to date. In a field next to the railway line an array of solar panels was making the most of the sun that was getting through the thick cloud cover. The array was about 100 meters wide and 500 meters long. Sadly, a number of stations we stopped at along the way were even more dilapidated than the one at Altentreptow.

As I was editing photos on my laptop, my electronic calendar raised two alarms that reminded me of my "previous" life. The first, was to schedule the annual termite inspection of my house. The second, was to schedule the 5-yearly pumping-out and inspecting of my septic tank. Unfortunately, it was not so easy to arrange either from my upstairs seat on a train in Germany, and nor were they very high priorities on my list for the day.

After a 2-hour quiet-and-smooth ride, we approached Berlin, and in the distance, I saw the distinctive Fernsehturm (TV tower) in the former East Berlin. [In 2000, son Scott and I ate a meal in the revolving restaurant at the top.] We pulled into Berlin's main train station, a rather new building in the heart of the city. Although I could have gotten a connecting train in 15 minutes, I chose one 50 minutes later, so I could take a walk around the station. I stopped by McDonalds McCafé for a milk coffee and to use the McRestroom.

I went down to Platform 2, and after a few minutes, the inter-city express, 1538, to Frankfurt arrived. From the carriage arrangement on a sign, I'd discovered mine would be the last one, so I made my way there to find someone in my seat. As that seat had a reservation sign, the man moved to another seat before I had a chance to evict him. As I had a wifi connection, I set to work dealing with a lot of non-urgent email that had been piling up in the past six days. I shared four seats at a table with a young woman who was headed to Erfurt for business. We had quite a conversation, and although I'm sure I butchered the German language repeatedly, she was polite and said that she could understand me perfectly well.

A Visit with Astrid and Günther

After 90 minutes, we arrived in Erfurt, the capital of the state of Thüringen, the home of the world's best bratwurst, or so the locals claim. There to meet me was Astrid, a teacher I'd met and hosted in 1995. I'd last visited her six years earlier. We drove to her quaint village, Tiefengruben, where we were met by her husband, Günther. After Astrid started a load of laundry for me, we sat in the dining room and talked of many things for hours, stopping for a light evening meal. I spoke mostly in German and they mostly in English. And even though that did absolutely nothing to help my sadly lacking comprehension of spoken German, it let us communicate quite effectively.

A restaurant in the village also rents rooms, and that's where I stayed. I walked the 400 meters there, unpacked my gear, and "made myself at home." It was very nicely appointed with a great bed and worktable. It even had indoor plumbing! Lights out at 22:00 after a very good day.

[Next day] I had an uninterrupted night and, when I woke at 07:30, I actually felt rested. It was raining, and the village was immersed in a thin fog. As predicted, snow had fallen. After a long, hot shower, I brought this diary up to date and went through my photos from the day before.

At Astrid's house, I sat down to a light breakfast, which morphed into the usual discussion of the English and German languages. Late morning, Astrid and I dressed warmly and headed off in light snow to the town of Apolda. For a small town, it has a well-known art gallery that has hosted exhibitions of many famous artists. Currently showing was a large collection by Andy Warhol. On display were the following: Campbell's Soup Cans I, Mao, Lenin, Skulls, Love, Shadows, Marilyn Monroe, Sunset, Camouflage, Flowers, and Sarah Bernhardt. The only ones I got a little bit excited about were two of the "Love" prints. The series of 10 called "Sunset" are not often shown, and are somewhat unknown. We spent time in the giftshop looking at cards and prints for sale, and compared notes on the various galleries we'd visited around the world.

Although the weather had deteriorated, Astrid decided to brave the roads, and we set off for her school in Weimar. At 18:30, a 1-hour musical play began with 80 10-year-old students performing. I understood an occasional word and some of the visual effects, and enjoyed the singing. The drive home was quite slow, as a number of large transports and cars were slipping around on the roads. Back home I tested the apple-almond cake we'd bought to make sure it hadn't gone bad. After a small slice, I wasn't sure, so I tested it again!

[Next day] I arrived at Astrid's place where Günther served me a fried egg with bacon pieces on bread. It was just the thing for a light breakfast, along with a cup of coffee. We sat at the table talking afterwards. Outside, it was -7C (20F), and some villagers were out for the annual "spring cleaning," but they could do little with all the snow on the ground. Around 11:30, Astrid and I rugged up with long underwear, scarves, and caps, and went for a walk around the village. The wind was quite strong until we got into the forest. I shot photos of various half-timbered houses.

Back home, Chef Günther served a great lunch of fish with curried Asian vegetables and flat noodles. We talked of many things, and got into the usual English/German word discussions before Astrid and I had a Backgammon tournament. We had three great games despite our both being rather rusty with the move calculations. The next thing we knew, it was "afternoon teatime," at which time, we ate slices of apple-almond cake with tea and coffee. We made good use of our dictionaries and tablet computer with access to Wikipedia. I then worked on bringing this diary up to date. Later, we paused for a light evening meal.

[Next day] I woke after a long sleep feeling quite rested. I worked in my room for a couple of hours before walking to Astrid's place. At 12:30, we went to the restaurant (above which was my rented room) for lunch. Of the three dishes on offer, I chose the pork schnitzel with Brussel sprouts and French fries. I washed it down with a glass of johannisbeere (red-current) juice. The proprietor joined us for a chat.

Astrid and I drove to Erfurt to buy my train ticket for the following morning, and to have a look at the main church, and to walk around the plaza nearby. I took some photos of some traditional buildings and signage. However, after taking my gloves off for only a minute, my fingers were absolutely freezing. The strong wind made it feel very cold. Back home, I had a piping-hot coffee. We played more Backgammon and then I posted the 100th installment of my blog. It had been running for more than eight years without a missed month.

We had a light evening meal together and visited various places around the world via Google Maps. Then I said "Goodnight" to Astrid and "Goodbye" to Günther. Back in my room, I prepared for my business meeting in London on Tuesday.

Next time, we'll continue the trip in London and Norfolk.

Signs of Life: Part 27

© 2022 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from a trip to Frederick, Maryland, USA, during an ice-storm in January!

 

After some jerking and jiving, you can sample the jerked chicken.

 

Sweet words from that great philospher, Winnie the Pooh.

 

There we were, dancing cheek to cheek among the clothes racks!

 

I don't actualy know how good a housekeeper a squirrel might make, but I'll take the company's word that this is a positive association.

BTW, did you know that a squirrel's nest is called a drey?

 

An artsy sign on a restaurant that has food for the discriminating palate.

 

I like spicy Mexican food, but if the expression on the skull is anything to go by, this place has it way too hot!

 

What looks like an inocent sign at a produce market actually turns out to be a take-off of the Bremen Town Musicians: a rooster atop a cat, on a dog, on a donkey, from the Brothers Grim fairy tale.

 

Does she or doesn't she? Perhaps we'll never know!

 

I went looking for this place but when I got to the address, it wasn't there!

 

While this was indeed an auto repair place, it was a non-profit one intended to "Provide Low-Cost Reliable Transportation & Repairs To Low-Income Families."

 

Hmm! It's hard to imagine getting service at a barber that is not live or authentic!

 

Now there's an offer you probably don't want to accept.

 

Perhaps one could choke on a slice!

 

Being a non-recovering bookaholic, I very much enjoyed this bookstore, which did indeed have a number of large iguanas inside. However, it was hard to tell if they were curious.

 

Just the place for a drink and some witty conversation.

 

There is no kissing and telling at this makeup store.

 

Oh, the Things that I have Written

© 2022 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

I've been writing for publication for nearly 40 years. What started as a sideline in 1983, developed into a mainstream business in the 1980s and 1990s, and around 2010 became my primary source of income, which until then had mostly come from consulting and training. Considering that I failed Years-11 and 12 English in high school, my writing career was quite unexpected. In fact, even now, there are days when it doesn't seem real. After all, "Published authors are other people! How did I ever become one?" Not only do I like writing, for the most part, I actually enjoy it! And when you get paid for doing something you enjoy it's not really work.

For some background on my writing career (with tongue-in-cheek commentary), see "Rex on English and Writing," a piece I wrote when I launched my blog in December 2009.

My guess is that most writers started out as avid readers; I know I certainly did. In that vein, take a look at my essay "Books by My Bed" from October 2010.

In this essay, I'll describe my efforts with regard to writing, editing, publishing, and proofing.

Getting Started

In late 1982, I bought my first computer, an IBM PC, a year after that model debuted. Knowing that once I got my permanent residency Green Card I would go into business for myself, I set about teaching myself various computer-related topics. Very quickly I identified the C programming language as the topic on which I would base my future. [In hindsight, it turned out to be an excellent choice.]

Several months into teaching myself this language, being naïve like most first-time authors, I thought the world was ready to read my writings on the subject. After all, thought I, "What better teacher to have than someone with an enquiring mind and who just learned the subject matter three months earlier?"

At the time, there were two mainstream IBM PC-related publications: PC Magazine and Softalk for the IBM PC. I sent off letters to the editors of both, and not long afterwards, the editor from Softalk, Craig, called me to say that he was interested to talk further. Here's the (lightly edited) initial letter I wrote to him in August 1983:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I have been a subscriber and avid reader of your magazine "Softalk for the IBM-PC," since its inception. I would like to contribute to your magazine, and I feel I have the necessary equipment and ability to do so. I have written a significant amount of end-user documentation, and designed and conducted many education classes for all levels of computer users, as well as designing and coding systems. One particular area I would be interested in is reviewing software products.

I own an IBM-PC with 64K and 2 double sided disk drives, MX-80 printer with Graftrax, IBM monochrome screen, PGS HX-12 color screen, and FTG light pen. Software includes PC-DOS V1.1 and V2.0, CP/M-86, BASIC interpreter, small-C:PC (a subset of 'C'), the IBM MACRO assembler, and the CALC-86 spreadsheet.

I use this configuration for consulting, tutoring and for personal research and education in various areas including compiler and language design; and interactive and color graphics, particularly as it applies to computer aided education. I plan to add hardware and software on a regular basis.

Please advise me if you can use my services in some capacity. I look forward to the possibility of contributing to your fine magazine.

Yours Sincerely, Rex Jaeschke

As I was an untested author, Craig assigned me several products to review to see my writing style and my ability to deliver on time and to a certain word count. Once I passed those tests, he committed to a 3-part series, The C Spot, that introduced the C language to readers. At the end of that trial run, I continued with a monthly column.

Magazines often have a 90-day lead time; that is, the author needs to submit an article 90 days prior to the publication date. When my first column installment finally appeared in print, I had an idea: "Wouldn't it be great to syndicate that column to a second, non-competing publication with some adjustments/customization for that second publication's audience?" I did just that, and my writing career had begun! Not being one to sit around and wait for things to happen, within 18 months, I'd dreamed up an idea for a new publication, which launched in 1985 with me as editor.

Magazine Columns and Features

During the 1980s and 1990s, I wrote a number of regular (typically monthly) columns, each around 3,000 words. These included:

  • Softalk for the IBM: C columnist. As mentioned above, this is where I got my start. Thanks very much, Craig, for taking a chance on me. Unfortunately, the publication ceased operation within a year of my joining.
  • DEC Professional: C/C++ editor of the column "Let's C Now," with final articles appearing in Digital Systems Journal. This was the magazine to which I syndicated my Softalk column. I spent 12 years working with them. Thanks, Linda, for the big hand up!
  • The Programmers Journal: C columnist. For one issue, I wrote a piece discussing whether a programmer should learn C. The title was "To C or not to C; that is the question," which, of course, paraphrased Shakespeare's famous line, "To be or not to be," and the front cover contained stylized versions of the letter C with a Shakespearean art theme.
  • The C Users Journal: columnist
  • NT Developer: contributing editor
  • Enterprise NT: columnist
  • VC++ Professional: contributing editor
  • Computer PR Update: This short-lived sojourn took me into a very different world, that of public relations. While it was a learning experience, what I learned most was that that direction was not for me!

At one time, I had three monthly and one quarterly column on different aspects of the same general topic, C. That was definitely challenging.

There is nothing quite like a looming deadline to get the adrenaline going! On more than a few occasions, I had writer's block up until a few days before a deadline. (However, I never missed a deadline!) Then, the creative juices would start flowing, and away I'd write, often finishing with a piece that had to be broken into two, and sometimes three, parts, which then gave me a break for the next month or two. Sometimes I got creative even without having a deadline, so was able to create a stockpile of spare articles. However, on several occasions, other contributors failed to deliver, and my editor would ask for an extra piece. In one extreme case, most features in an issue were mine!

When writing about computer programming, one device I learned early on reinforced the old adage, "A picture is worth a thousand words." In my case, the visual was a computer program rather than a picture. After spending hours dreaming up and refining just the right program example(s), it was easy to fill in the supporting narrative.

Occasionally, I'd write a one-off feature for one of various magazines, including the long-revered Doctor Dobbs Journal.

A Newspaper Column

I've always been a great believer in looking for opportunities and then "making something happen." To that end, quite early in my writing career, I proposed to a local newspaper, the Fairfax Journal, that I write a weekly column on home/small business computing. They agreed, and I did that for a year or so.

Each week, I had to introduce a topic, say something useful about it, and conclude it, all in 600 words without being able to rely on readers having read any previous installments. That was the hardest writing I ever did, and it paid the least, by far!

Before the first installment was published, the newspaper sent a freelance photographer to my home to take a photo of me that would appear next to my column. Was he content with a quick headshot or two? Oh no, we spent several hours with me standing inside and outside in different locations and poses with him shooting several rolls of film. The final shot chosen was printed in black and white, and was a closeup of my head. Any of the shots would have sufficed!

Books

Once my column with DEC Professional had been running for several years, I proposed to that publisher that we make several collections of the articles in book form. The timing was right, as they were launching a book-publishing division. The end result was a 2-volume set. Some years later, I produced a new edition designed to support my growing seminar business, and then a third edition followed.

In late 1984, I joined the US committee that was developing the first standard for the C language. This language had been used to write programs that can be ported (moved, that is) across dissimilar systems. As a result, my book, "Portability and the C Language," came out in 1989.

In 1992, I wrote "The Dictionary of Standard C." Later that year, during a lecture tour to St. Petersburg, Russia, I funded a pair of academics to do a Russian-language translation, as their countrymen were eager for technical information. Later, a Japanese publisher produced a version in that language. It was interesting to see how the publishers wrote my name in the Cyrillic alphabet and using Japanese kanji and kana characters.

Not everything I touched turned to gold, however. In fact, several of my very early book efforts were quite forgettable even though more than a few copies were sold!

[If you should ever be tempted to write a book, once you get past the egotistical reasons for doing so, you'll very quickly find that the return on investment for most authors is less than the minimum wage! After a few thousand dollars advance payment, royalties might be 15% of the wholesale price, which is often discounted by 60% from the suggested retail price. As such, the author royalty on a $20 book is around $1.20.]

Starting a New Publication

So, after writing features, columns, and a book or two, what to do next? Why not start a publication and become an editor in the process?

I dreamed up the idea of a quarterly publication, The C Journal, I found a publisher to handle the production and business end of things, and I appointed myself editor. I also wrote a regular column. (While most editors have formal training and work their way up the ranks to that position, I was a man in a hurry. I simply jumped in at the top and made it up as I went. After all, "How hard could it possibly be?" Sometimes you can plan too much!)

As a member of the US C standards committee, the timing was right, the publication was well-received, and it ran for three years before being sold. The new owners published bi-monthly and then monthly, and I continued as a columnist with them for some years.

Writing Smart

One of my two business rules is "Never ever hire anybody!" and I've been wildly successful at that. However, when working alone for oneself, one's income tends to be tied to the amount one can charge per hour and the number of hours worked. In general, one cannot build a product that can be sold over and over without staff and an organization. However, that isn't so with intellectual property in the form of writing if one takes the right steps. Soon after I started writing for publication, I wrote my agreements to give my publishers first world serial rights to my materials, and to use those materials in reprints and collections later on. Instead of giving them all rights and then begging to get some of them back later on, I went the other way. They got what they needed then, and I kept the rest.

How then to generate and reuse material? By design, my research for articles merged very nicely with my work on the standards committee, as well as my experience in teaching seminars, and writing books. All four activities reinforced each other giving me more "bang for the buck" for my time and expenses.

Learning about Typesetting and Layout

Once PCs became available, it was only a matter of time before desktop publishing followed, although that needed some serious computer horsepower, higher-resolution graphics screens, and laser printers to really take off.

Even before I got into layout and typesetting, I used to add typesetting codes to the articles for several columns, to indicate bold, italic, and such. Eventually, I adopted the LaTeX system, and with that and a laser printer, I could generate very nice-looking documents. In fact, under contract, I produced some reference cards on various topics for clients using that system. I also published a quarterly journal (see later) and my early seminar manuscripts.

Around 2000, I took on a major consulting project with Microsoft, which involved editing a 500-page specification using Word. [I continue in that role 22 years later.] As such, my long association with Word began. In 2007, I helped write, and took on the editorship of, a 6,500-page specification for Microsoft's Office suite that included Word's new docx file format. That specification was also written using Word. Around 2008, I started converting all my seminar materials and some of my books to Word format.

For practical advice about getting the most from your word processor, see my essay, "Making Good-Looking Documents," from December 2011.

Becoming a Publisher

To reinforce a skill that one is trying to learn usually requires an application for that skill. So, in 1987, it was time to launch another new publication, but this time with me as publisher as well as editor. And so was born The Jaeschke Letter. It contained information about my consulting activities and various technical tips, and it was circulated in paper form to my current and prospective consulting clients. In 1989, I got my first email account, after which I distributed issues electronically.

In March 1989, I launched another publication, the Journal of C Language Translation, a quarterly of at least 64 pages, for which I charged US$235/year. Yes, it was expensive! I was publisher and editor. After three years, I handed that over to another person who published issues for three more years. It certainly was a labor of love!

Proofing Manuscripts for Publishers

Once I became established as an author, I started getting requests from publishers of computer science textbooks to proof early and final drafts of books they had under contract. Most were by first-time authors, and more than a few of them were by university professors who had turned their (often not very good) teaching notes into a book. Once I got the hang of things, I was able to proof a manuscript in a relatively short time and actually make it worthwhile financially.

I well remember one instance where it was clear that this professor had taken a book on one topic and replaced various things to suit a new title. It was riddled with errors, which, of course, I pointed out. It took quite a while for the publisher to believe me. After all, four or five teaching colleagues of the author had already given it their blessing, so who was I to question that? I persisted, and after the publisher got another non-armchair expert to review the text, I was found to be the only reviewer who was actually doing his job!

Sadly, the number of titles on the market has very little to do with their quality; it's all about marketing and placement with booksellers. As I discovered, the best way to improve one's text is to find one's own reviewers.

Unpublished Works

When I started writing columns, the topics were somewhat random, and each stood alone. However, over time, I developed a plan for each series, which eventually led to turning that series into a manuscript suitable for use in a 3–5-day seminar environment. And so, my seminar business was born, and as I got experience teaching each course, I corrected and improved the teaching materials, and added problems for students to solve. As a result, I finished up with a lot of printed material that was only ever made available to paid customers attending my public and private seminars.

Discovering Essays, My Blog

In 1995, when my wife went back to university, she had to take an English class, and she chose to do it on a compressed schedule—eight days over four consecutive weekends—at a local Community College. Not having taken university-level English either, I decided to tag along. As it happened, the theme was essays. For me it was a whole new form of writing and as well as liking to read essays I found I was quite good at writing them.

By 2007, printed magazines were getting slimmer by the issue with many being discontinued or moved to on-line editions only. And with the availability of so much stuff on the internet for free, the opportunities to continue paid writing for publication like I had been doing pretty much dried up.

In mid-2009, I came up with the idea of starting a blog, on which I'd post a 6–8-page essay each month. The subject matter would not be about my work, per se, however. Of course, that is the very blog on which this essay was first published. It debuted in December of that year and has continued ever since.

Learning English Grammar

Having spent half of my elementary school years in a one-teacher school with seven grades being somehow taught in parallel, it is easy to see why I had few grammar skills when I started high school. Of course, by then, one was expected to have said skills, so they were not taught there. Fifteen years after I finished high school and started writing for publication, I still thought that grammar was the person married to grandpa! Imagine my surprise some years later when I learned that grammar was not in fact married to grandpa; they just lived together "without the benefit of clergy" and practiced conjugation.

English grammar can be an awfully dry subject to learn, and I was teaching myself. However, from time to time, I really got in the mood, and the first of my essays on English grammar debuted in July 2013 (English – Part 3: Nouns), followed by November 2013 (English – Part 4: Pronouns), November 2014 (English – Part 5: Adjectives), April 2016 (English – Part 6: Verbs), and October 2017 (English – Part 7: Adverbs). One fine day, I just might get around to covering prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections.

Who knew that at the grand old age of 60 I'd be writing essays on English grammar and playing grammar policeman? It really is never too late!

Writing as a Business

In December 1984, I started work on a committee producing a 450-page formal specification for a computer programming language. All of a sudden, the use of shall vs. should, and must vs. may became very important.

In 2000, I took on my first consulting project as an editor of a similar document for a different programming language. I started with an almost-complete 500-page specification, so was mostly involved with modifying it over the next six years. [In 2022, I'm still expanding it!] In 2003, I took on a similar project, but this time, I started with a blank sheet, and had to manage the growth and evolution of what became a 300-page specification as well as contribute substantial passages to it. Then in 2005, I started again from scratch, contributing 600-pages to what became a 6,500-page specification, which I am still managing in 2022. In more recent years, I've written several 200-page formal specifications for other programming languages. [One was for Facebook, and covered the PHP language. The other was for Microsoft, and covered their PowerShell tool.]

Conclusion

While I now have a lot of experience in the writing and publishing world, there is always more to learn, and new technology to deal with. I started with a simple line text editor on my IBM PC, and progressed to a full-screen text editor, through a series of ever-smarter editors that understood certain programming languages, committed in a big way to Microsoft Word, and more recently to using markdown on GitHub, a very popular platform for collaborative text creation and editing. Who knows what the next big editing tool will be, but we can be sure there will be one!

The choice of words can make a big difference, and in my world I often deal with people I never meet in person and whose first (or even second) language is not English. As such, I have gotten in the habit of "getting it right" even in casual conversation. I started to realize this one day when I caught myself about to end a spoken sentence with a preposition (something frowned upon by many purists), and rearranged the word order in my brain before I actually spoke it. And as far as the written word goes, I'm a huge fan of the rule set down by Strunk and White, "Less is more!" Basically, don't say in 20 words what you can say in 10! For example, "At this point in time, …" can and should be replaced with "Now, …." Politicians take note!

So, what else is there for me to do with regards to writing? Although I've never written fiction, a few years ago, I was lying awake in rural Germany with jetlag in the very early hours of the morning, and an idea for a series came to me. After an hour or so of thinking about it, I got out of bed and started writing down all my ideas lest I forgot them. It centered on an animated object with a clever name, whose adventures followed my travels. The idea was that each installment would be no more than a page and would be anchored by a photo of that object in some particular situation. Over the next week, I refined the idea quite a bit, but once I got back home to the "real world" the idea was "put on hold" where it has remained ever since. Perhaps I'll revisit it on a cold and rainy pandemic day!

I can honestly say that while I know some general (and R-rated) limericks, I have never had much of an appreciation for poetry. However, I have long been able to invent rhymes and song lyrics. On several, very rare occasions, I even managed to write what turned out to be a coherent poem. Here's a sample:

The Turning Point

A friend once said that life was hard
And man was born to thirst.
For power and love and knowledge
But only then at first.

For as he found the secrets
That unlocked his mystery door,
He surely must be blinded
By the treasures held in store.

And here's a humorous one I wrote for my sister on the occasion of her 50th birthday:

Happy Birthday, Sis!

As you get close to fifty
Things really aren't so nifty.
If you'll give me a minute, I'll explain
Your bum it starts dragin'
And your bosoms they start sagin'
And your hemorrhoids really give pain.

Arthritis sets in and your memory gets dim
And the bags 'neath your eyes start to sag.
And you spend half the day in the bog up the way
'Cos your personal plumbing's gone bad.

I know this sounds awful but that's aging you know.
We all have to do it my dear.
It happens really regular (like you used to be)
And it progresses a little each year.

So, the best advice I can say
Is to pass wind twice a day
And ignore all the gossip you hear.
There's more problems in store on the way to three score.
Which, by the way, will be in ten years!

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, look out!

For the past 40-odd years, I've travelled a great deal, and very early on, I got in the habit of keeping a travel diary, initially in paper form. Edited versions of more than a few of these have ended up as essays in this blog with titles of the form, "Travel – Memories of …." I've also produced an annual newsletter for friends and family around the world. For some years, that was also done in audio form.

Early in 2021, just after I turned 67, I started thinking about the future of my intellectual property, especially beyond my lifetime. When one dies, does that material just get lost forever? In an effort to not have that happen, for the stuff I can sell, I'm investigating doing that. And for that which still has value, but has no sale value (like my recently revised 1989 book), I'm looking at making it freely available on some website.

Oh, just in case you have been thinking about writing a book, YES, it is exciting when you first see your name on a book in a bookstore!

Travel: Memories of Beijing, China

© 2010, 2022 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

It was December 2010, and I'd been home from Europe 12 whole days, which was just enough time to unpack, do laundry, rest, and recover from the 5-hour time change. Now, it was time to head off again, in the other direction, for two weeks in the Chinese capital Beijing. Although I'd been to several of the Chinese Special Administrative Regions—Hong Kong (twice, once when it was still British) and Macao (once, when it was still Portuguese)—this was my first time to the mainland.

The Unplanned Routing to Beijing

I'd planned to fly Business Class from Washington Dulles International (IAD) via Tokyo, but the price was very high. However, if I flew with Air Canada via Toronto, the price was almost halved. Unfortunately, my flight to Toronto was delayed once, then twice, then a third and fourth time as a host of mechanics swarmed over the small Embraer jet. After a delay of more than two hours, the flight was cancelled, and I would miss my connection to Beijing. So, I was rebooked, on United Airline's direct flight to Tokyo, which continued on to Beijing. The ironic thing was that was the flight I initially wanted to take!

We landed at Beijing City International Airport (PEK) in light fog well ahead of schedule. The terminal was quite new and rather interesting, architecture-wise. After a long walk, I reached immigration, where after a cursory check of my visa I was passed through. It was another long walk to the baggage area and just as I arrived, bags from my flight started coming out. I stopped off at a tourist office desk to get a city map and information about a cash machine and taxi service. Customs was a formality, and at a money-exchange desk, I changed US$200 cash into Yuan (CNY).

I went outside to the taxi line where it was below freezing. I drew a young guy who apparently wanted to drive in the Indianapolis 500, and he showed me his "skills" on the way to my hotel. Throughout the 30-minute ride, I doubt we stayed in the same lane more than 15 seconds (I kid you not), and he was tailgating cars at 120 kph! To make it interesting, I couldn't find the piece of my seatbelt to clip my harness in. I found it best not to look at the road ahead and to sit back and think happy thoughts, like, "Is my will up to date?"

We arrived at my hotel/convention center around 11 pm, local time, where three young desk assistants eagerly awaited me. Between their minimal English, we managed, and I was given the key to Room 1603, a so-called luxury apartment on the top floor. My home for the next two weeks was a large apartment with a bedroom, a bathroom, a large lounge/dining room, and kitchen with all the appliances, a bit of glassware, but no cookware. There was also a large glassed-in balcony. Breakfast was included as was internet access, and all for about US$72/night, a very good price.

A Look at Some Sites

[Next day] Breakfast was served from 6:30–9:30 each morning, and I went down at 6:45. There were a couple of other early birds. I showed my room key and made the rounds to check out the buffet offerings. It was quite a bit like breakfast buffets I'd visited in Japan and Korea: a generic Asian section involving salad and dressing, and various other "local stuff," and the Western part with bacon, eggs, sausage, and toast. There was also a Chinese section with fried rice and various kinds of noodles. The day broke while I ate, and I had my first glimpse of China.

Around 9 o'clock, I phoned my local contact, Li Ning, who had offered to drive me around the city. (He was head of the Chinese delegation to one of the committees in which I participate.) At 10 am, he and his wife arrived, and we drove by the Olympic village, through Tiananmen Square, and then to a large shopping district where we walked through local markets, department stores, and the country's biggest bookstore. Along the way, we stopped off for lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Then it was on to a large supermarket to lay in a few supplies for my kitchen.

[Next day] I worked some hours to prepare for my up-coming conference, which then ran for three days.

Off to the Great Wall

[Next day] The day after my conference ended, I booked a tour. Our minibus pulled out at 9:15 and we were on our way out of the city to the Ming Tombs. Our guide was a young Chinese woman named Pan Jiao with an English name of Sally, and thus we became "Sally's Group," and followed our fearless leader and her yellow flag. It was quite cold out with a strong wind. We were a small group with people from the UK, the Netherlands, and the US. We stopped at a jade carving place with the requisite (enormous) showroom where we were all encouraged to buy. The pieces ranged from the very small to the truly gigantic, with none of them being cheap. We lunched in the attached restaurant.

We drove quite some distance along the bottom of a very old valley and, finally, started to see glimpses of the famous Great Wall, and very great it surely was. We parked at the base of the mountain. To get near the top we each sat in a sled-like device and were pulled up 20 people at a time, through a tunnel and then out in the vicious cold wind. At the end, we were right next to the base of a section of wall, where the really serious work began. The goal was to hike/climb to the top-most point, which didn't seem all that far away. And, horizontally speaking, it wasn't. But the vertical climb was a different matter, especially as we not only had to go up but over each rise, we seemed to go way down again. I decided to concentrate on the walk rather than take pictures and video, and to do those on the way back. The wall is one heck of a structure and was built over a 2,000+-year period. Although it was supposed to keep out the Mongol hoards, I kept asking myself why the Mongols would want to attack over those mountains anyway even if no wall existed. (I think it was built simply as a way to keep unemployment down!) Although the whole walk was very steep, I did okay on the sections that had steps. At least they were level, and I could rest occasionally. However, some parts were just flat stones at a steep angle, and coming down those was difficult. The surrounding countryside was harsh, almost semi-desert. I had dressed warmly with a knitted cap and windproof hood over that, plus gloves. However, each time I took my gloves off to take pictures or video, my hands got cold very quickly.

Back to Work

[Next day] After eight hours of solid sleep, I was awake around 6 am. I felt like I'd recently hiked a section of the Great Wall! However, a hot shower helped loosen me up. I went down for breakfast around 7 o'clock. Back in my room, I sipped coffee and worked some more on this diary before preparing to attend a conference.

At 8:30, I went down to the meeting room floor where I registered for the 1-day "2010 Conference on Document Information Processing." My colleague Li Ning was the organizer, and he welcomed attendees, then a number of Chinese dignitaries each spoke. About 150 people attended. At the first break, we went out into the cold for group photos, and then had tea/coffee. We reconvened soon after 10:30, and I was the first of the keynote speakers. I gave two presentations, which ran for 40 minutes total. After each sentence, I paused while my English was translated to Chinese. And this process was repeated for the other English presentation. For the presentations done in Chinese, I donned my headset to get the English translation, which was simultaneous; that is, the speaker did not pause. Two women sat in a booth at the back where they took turns translating, changing every 10 minutes or so. (I chatted with them later, and complemented them on the great job they did, especially given the technical nature of the topic.)

Lunch was a Chinese buffet served in the hotel dining room. I met some of the delegates, quite a few of whom were young graduate students. I was approached by one of the administrators and asked to fill in a form with information including my passport number. It turned out that I was being paid an honorarium of 2,000 Yuan ($300) for speaking, and I needed to sign for it. I did so, and in return, I received a plain brown envelope that was stapled shut. I decided it wouldn't be polite to open and to count it, so I stuck it in my pocket until day's end. (It did indeed contain twenty 100-Yuan bills.)

Most of the afternoon presentations were in Chinese, as was each corresponding slide show. Speakers had been asked to submit their papers and slide decks in advance, and these were distributed in both paper and DVD form. Cameramen took stills and video of much of the presentations. It was all very professionally done. Throughout, waiters came by each table to top up our cups of green tea.

Visiting the Nationalities Museum

[Next day] I rugged up against the elements and left my hotel at 10:40. In 10 minutes, I was near the Olympic Park main stadium that the world had come to know as the Bird's Nest. I was headed for the China Nationalities Museum, a showcase for the 56 nationalities that live in China. (The groups range from fewer than 10,000 members to many millions.) The open-air museum/park was right on the other side of the fence next to me, but it took some time to find the entrance. After a long walk, I came to an entrance, but it was locked tight. Don't you just hate that when that happens! I asked a woman passing by if she spoke English. She didn't, but when I pointed to the entrance, she seemed to understand and very confidently pointed me in the right direction. So back I went the way I had just come, and there in an obscure spot was the ticket booth and entrance.

The park covers more than 100 acres and is split into two parts, one of which is closed in winter. So, I paid my 60 Yuan and entered the half that was open. For the whole three hours I was there, I didn't see any other staff, and only a handful of visitors came through. The gardens were dead or dormant, the numerous water-based parts had been drained, and the large stream/lake was frozen. In all, it looked pretty drab and uninviting. However, I soldiered on shooting a few photos and some video. The land of the Dong was especially interesting with respect to its buildings and an impressive wooden bridge. Apparently, in high season, the place is full of performers in ethnic costume, but that was not the case now. However, I heard some music and followed that to the Tu village where a group of teenage boys and girls danced around a pole that was attached to strings of brightly colored flags. Some dancers wore costumes, and I stayed, watched, and shot video. The buildings were also colorful and interesting. In the Tibetan area, I chatted with a young woman who had a souvenir shop. Her English was decent, and she wasn't at all pushy, and we negotiated over the price for a pashmina, some scatter-cushion covers, and a wall hanging.

Having had a large breakfast, I hadn't planned to eat lunch, but as I exited the park, I spied a McDonalds and thought I should at least look in and see how it was done in China. No surprise, it was pretty much like home, but with a few twists. I ordered a small burger, French fries, Coke, and four chicken nuggets for the grand total of $3.50, and I went upstairs to eat with the locals. At the table next to me, a 5-year-old girl patiently practiced writing Chinese characters in a workbook under the direction of her mother. English-language Christmas music was playing, and I got my fill of Elvis and Mariah Carey, and decided to leave after the music tape started repeating. The 40-minute break had been most welcome not to mention nice and warm.

As I went outside, I spied a huge sign on the wall that said, "Chinatown." What a treat thought I at having located THE Chinatown of Beijing! It turned out to be a shopping center, and I went inside to see how the locals shopped. The ground level extended a great distance and contained stores selling mostly shoes and clothing with all stores looking very western. I rode the escalator upstairs to a huge place that was half department store and half supermarket. I grabbed a shopping cart and tried to blend in with the locals although I did happen to notice that none of them was tall, carrying camera gear, or looked much like me. I browsed up and down many aisles and noted how many things were quite cheap. Many things looked familiar, but the Chinese writing gave no clue as to the contents. Those Chinese have names for everything! (In fact, many signs and product packaging had English writing as well as Chinese, which made it easier for me to read some details.) I topped up my emergency rations with some peanut chocolate bars, cherry-flavored fruit rolls, and potato chips. Chips came in many flavors including sweet and sour fish soup, cucumber, and Mexican; I kid you not!

By the time I got back to my room, it was 4:15, and I was ready for a rest. The Great Wall expedition was catching up with my body. Much of my laundry was dry, and my bedding had been changed in my absence as I'd left the "change me" card on the bed. I watched a bit of TV, sorted through my new photos, and worked on this diary. For supper, I delved into my emergency rations. Then it was on to a long soak in a hot bath before bed. I put out the lights quite early.

Tiananmen Square and Olympic Park

[Next day] I had nearly 10 hours sleep, which was great. Around 7:30 am, I went down to breakfast where I had a fried egg with fried noodles. I'd half made the transition to a Chinese breakfast! Back in my room, I sipped a cup of Twinning's finest English breakfast tea while catching up with some world news.

At 10 o'clock, Chinese colleague Allison phoned me from the hotel lobby, so I packed my gear and headed downstairs. She'd hired a car and driver for the day, so she could show me around. It was bitterly cold out (-2C). We drove to Tiananmen Square, the world's largest square. It was built after the Chinese Revolution and occupies the space between the main South gate of the city and the main North gate, just on the edge of the Forbidden City. The driver dropped us in front of the People's Congress building. We crossed the street and went through a security checkpoint into the square where we went to Chairman Mao's mausoleum, but it was closed on Mondays. Don't you just hate that when that happens! We walked all around the square and looked at the elaborate gates and the buildings that housed them. On the north side, we went through three sets of city gates and their accompanying plazas. In one, we watched groups of soldiers engaged in some marching drills. Whenever I took off a glove for more than 30 seconds to take pictures or video, my fingers took some massaging to get warm again.

An hour exposed to the elements was more than enough, so Allison phoned the driver to meet us, and we headed out of the downtown area for lunch. I had expressed a preference for Szechuan cuisine, so we headed to a restaurant specializing in that. It was a very nicely appointed place. The best way to describe it would be "nouveau Chinese," with very nice modern furniture and décor, but a strong hint of traditional Chinese style. I sensed it was upscale, but it didn't exude an exclusive feeling, and prices were quite reasonable. We looked over the menu, which had lots of pictures and English descriptions. We shared a variety of dishes with meats, vegetables, rice, and noodles, along with oolong tea. It was great, and I ate quite a bit more than I needed. A colleague of Allison's, Pine, joined us for lunch, as did our driver.

After lunch, Allison went off to work while Pine became my guide. We drove to the Olympic Park, where the driver dropped us near the main Bird's Nest stadium. We got admission tickets and went inside for a look around. The 80,000-seat stadium was functional as well as a piece of art. During the games, an athletic track went around the ground while the inside space served as a soccer field, among other things. However, now, it was covered in man-made snow, which was being produced by a number of machines. A large crew was setting up for a Snow Festival. There were small and large ice-skating rinks, a castle, and various buildings for kids to visit, and a large space for families to play in the snow. We climbed a lot of stairs to the upper deck and walked around to view the arena from several angles.

After a short walk around the plaza, we headed to the Blue Cube, a large cube-like building that housed the water sports. It contains a large swimming area with wave pool, and many people were swimming there. The public can also use the practice pool, and a number of people were swimming laps. The main pool is only used for competitions and is next to the diving pool. Out front, Pine and I parted company and I walked the short distance to my hotel. Given the cold, I was very happy to be back indoors for the night. By the time I sat down in my room to sip a café au lait, it was 4:30. It had been a busy day, and as an honored guest, I hadn't been allowed to pay for anything.

I certainly didn't need to eat for the rest of the day, but that didn't stop me from snacking. I spent the evening watching TV, listening to some music albums, and playing games on my laptop. Lights out at 9:30.

Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven

[Next day] My alarm went off at 7 am, by which time I'd had a very good sleep. For the first time, I forewent the buffet breakfast choosing instead to drink tea in my room and snack on my emergency rations. At 8:20, the phone rang to let me know that my tour bus was minutes away from the hotel.

Once again, it was freezing outside although the sun was shining brightly. The Chinese tour guide, "Helen," welcomed me aboard her bus. There were five tourists: a couple of Chinese men, a young Portuguese couple who had been in Macao for a conference, and me. First stop was the summer palace, a place where emperors "escaped" the Forbidden City from spring to late summer. It consisted of some 600 acres three quarters being a man-made lake the soil and mud from which had been used to build a very large hill. The lake was frozen over, and the wind started to blow. I looked around a few buildings, but when I heard music and singing, I made my way up a hill to locate the source. I found a very enthusiastic group of pensioners and others singing from songbooks. A choir performed, and a number of musicians played wind instruments and drums. I captured a whole song on video. An elderly man approached me and asked me where I was from, shook my hand vigorously, and welcomed me to China and Beijing. Next stop was a pearl store, which had a lot of very nice pearls mounted in a variety of settings. We watched a guide open a freshwater oyster, which contained 20–30 small pearls. Those too small to use in jewelry are ground into powder, which is used in hand and face cream, among other things. Upstairs was a restaurant at which we ate lunch.

After lunch, we drove to the Forbidden City where the extended families of 20+ royal dynasties lived for some hundreds of years, and which was off-limits to all others. A series of very large and elaborate gates lead to the inner sanctums. There are more than 8,000 rooms! I shot some video, but each gate or door led to an even bigger and fancier set of rooms and courtyards that it really was too much. Very quickly, I had overdosed. It certainly was impressive, however. It has only been open to the public for 20+ years.

Next was a silk factory and that's where I got very close to spending some serious money. We watched silk being spun from cocoons, each one containing more than a kilometer of thread. I looked over some pure silk bed "blankets," and was on the verge of buying one, but thought that would need a zip-off cover. And, of course, what else to use but one made of silk. I saw exactly the one I wanted, but once I saw the cost and that of two pillowcases, I swallowed hard. It came to more than $700! As a consolation prize, I bought a nice silk scarf.

Then, it was on to the Temple of Heaven, a place that was visited twice each year by the emperor who took part in major ceremonies to pray for a good harvest and on the winter solstice to pray for a good next season. Nearby was a teahouse, and we dropped in for a tea ceremony. The hostess explained the process and prepared five different teas for us to taste. I particularly liked the leechee and rose petal. The staff tried hard to sell us all kinds of tea and tea-related utensils, but the prices were quite high.

Our guide left us then and the driver took us back to our respective hotels. I was last, and we took more than 45 minutes to get there through slow traffic. We kept off the main highways, which moved even slower. I gave the driver a small tip, which made him smile and give me a big handshake.

I was happy to be back in my room with the heat turned way up. The first thing I did was to boil the electric kettle and make a large bowl of vegetable soup. I watched some TV while snacking, and then brought this diary up to date. Lights out early.

Travel Day!

[Next day] After another 10 hours of sleep, I was up and at it! I went down for breakfast, picking up a copy of the English-language China Daily newspaper at the front desk. I took my time reading that while I ate. As I had covered all the sites I'd planned, and it was very cold out again, I decided to stay indoors for the day and work and play as the mood took me. For the first hour, I pulled together all my hand-written notes from the last 10 days, and updated my work and play action lists, so I could see just what it was I needed to do and in what order. After that, I paused for a cup of tea.

For my final breakfast, I had noodles and stir-fried egg. I figured that if I'd stayed another day, I might have "gone native" and started eating breakfast with chopsticks. Sacre bleu!

While eating, I scanned through some articles in the China Daily, and came across the following text in relation to American diplomacy: "Historians know well that the US has never been half as idealistic as it likes to see itself; … The spirit invoked by the Statue of Liberty, embracing the poor and huddled masses, still shines brighter than all the lights in New York City, but somewhere during the transition from an ordinary nation to an overextended military power, the US lost touch with its better angels and set itself on the road to being the new Rome." Hmm, some food for thought. "Bloody Communist propaganda," you say. But no, it was written by one Phillip J. Cunningham, a visiting fellow at Cornell University, New York.

At 11:30, I was on my way to the airport. It was clear that the driver was passed his racing prime. He didn't speed, he didn't tailgate, and for the most part, he drove quite safely. It truly was a miracle. And he adjusted the seat in front of me to give me maximum legroom. En-route, he even managed to stay in the same lane for minutes at a time. Out on the highway, I noticed a very strange phenomenon; numerous drivers were actually using their indicators to change lanes, although some of them were halfway into the adjacent lane when they turned theirs on. The sun shone brightly through the thin layer of smog, and we were at the airport in 30 minutes. I'd expected it to take at least an hour.

What to do with my 6:45 hours before departure? As it happened, the Air Canada check-in desk didn't open until three hours before flight time (at 3:45), and their customer service agent didn't arrive until 2 pm. And I couldn't get through to the business lounge until I'd checked in. I secured a luggage cart and proceeded to walk around the cavernous terminal looking for a place to "set up shop" for an extended period. I didn't need much, just a comfortable chair with a table and a power outlet (and maybe a hot tub, massage, and café au lait machine). Along the way, I found that the terminal provided free wifi internet access, but that required registration. I did so by scanning my passport in a machine, which then printed out my access username and password. I took an elevator up to a dining section in the hopes of finding a table at which to work, but found myself in an upscale restaurant area with lots of private dining and meeting rooms. So, I switched to the fast-food section on the other side of the terminal where I spied an electrical outlet near a spare table in Burger King's spacious eating area. I was operational in minutes.

After three hours of writing and editing, I packed my gear and headed to the check-in area and, lo and behold, it was open for business earlier than I expected. Check in went smoothly and quickly although I had visions of my return leg having been cancelled after the carrier and route change on the way out. I went through document control and then onto a train that took me to a satellite terminal. There, I went through passport control, security, and customs. My carrier, Air Canada, had reciprocal business lounge rights with Air China, and their lounge was close by. It was very large and nicely appointed with deep leather chairs all over the place along with quite a few sleeping rooms. I setup my computer at a table and sipped a cold glass of pink grapefruit juice. All the food on offer was awfully tempting, but I declined. It was a big step up from Burger King! I had about 1:45 hours before boarding time, so I worked on some documents I'd been writing. I made great progress.

At 5:45, I left the lounge to find a place to spend the last of my Yuan. In a duty-free shop, I spied some blocks of Milka chocolate with hazelnut. At 44 Yuan each they were no bargain, but my chocolate level was low. At the register, I managed to come up with only 85 Yuan, but the assistant accepted a US dollar bill to cover the difference.

I arrived at Gate E10 a few minutes before the scheduled boarding time, where I struck up a conversation with a Quebecois from Montreal. Soon afterward, we boarded Flight AC32, a nice new Boeing 777. There was no separate First Class, just a large Executive First Business section, which contained some 44 suites. I took up residence in Suite 4K, a starboard window in a 1x2x1 configuration. Each suite was angled at 45 degrees with the window suites pointed into the aisle. Each suite was appointed with all the facilities one might expect.

Once we pushed back from the gate, the pilot announced that flying time to Toronto would be 12½ hours, and that in Toronto it was -6C with light snow. We waited in line for takeoff for some time. Soon after we were airborne, the drinks service arrived followed by mixed nuts and a hot towel, much like on United's flights. I studied the menu making the hard choices. There was dinner, a mid-flight snack, and breakfast.

The appetizer was gravlax tartare timbale with marinated cucumber. What the heck is gravlax you may well ask. I did. (It's salmon.) That was accompanied by a green salad. The main course was a choice of beef, chicken, fish, or a Chinese pork dish. I went with the pan-fried breast of chicken in thyme jus with wild rice and Mediterranean vegetables, and boy was it good. I followed that with Camembert, cheddar, and Gouda cheese with water crackers and a good-sized glass of Portuguese port. Two nice tall cups of decaffeinated coffee chased it all down. Being somewhat disciplined I declined the chocolate lava cake and ice cream.

While I ate, I watched George Clooney in "The American." Although the story was rather slow, it was okay. By the time that ended, it was 10 pm, Beijing time, and we were 1,600 miles into the trip with 5,300 to go. We were flying at 33,000 feet at a ground speed of 583 mph. The outside temperature was a cool -61.6C. I set up my bed, put in my earplugs, and closed my eyes. After a while, I went off to sleep.

Some five hours later, I awoke feeling almost rested. It was 3:30 am Friday, Beijing time, and I set my clock back 13 hours, to 2:30 pm Thursday. According to the in-flight route map, we'd flown northeast from Beijing into Russia (north of North Korea), over the Sea of Okhotsk, the Arctic Circle, the North Bering Sea, just touching northern Alaska near Barrow. Then it was on to Yellowknife, North West Territories; Churchill, Manitoba (the polar bear capital of the world); and down to Toronto, Ontario. We had 2,000 miles to go in four hours. I sat back and watched "Takers" starring Matt Dillon.

As it was 6:30 am back in Beijing, our final meal was breakfast, even though it was 5:30 pm in Toronto. First up was a fruit plate, croissant with strawberry jam, and strong coffee. Then came an omelet with sausage, tomato, fried potatoes, and a floret of broccoli. After my sleep and movie, I really needed a big meal, not! But then it would also be my supper.

I filled in my customs form. Those nosey Canadians wanted to know if I was bringing in any firearms or other weapons, such as a switchblade, Mace, or pepper spray. (Does a Chinese-made AK47 count, I wondered. Probably.) As the form was bilingual, I had a little French lesson.

Overnight in Toronto

As we approached Toronto, I sang along and tapped my feet to the 70's channel on XM radio: Blood, Sweat, and Tears; Chicago; John Denver; and so on. We had a textbook landing and soon I was through immigration and customs waiting for my luggage. Along the way, I rode a 300 meter-long, and very fast-moving, sidewalk. I phoned my hotel for a pickup, which took 30 minutes to arrive. It was very cold out with light snow on the ground. I was in my room by 8:30, and after a nice hot shower, I handled email until lights out at 10 o'clock.

[Next day] After four hours of sleep in a very comfortable bed, I was wide-awake. I ate the last of my emergency food and then watched TV. By 5 am I was checked out and waiting for the 5:20 airport shuttle. Seven other guests rode with me to Lester B. Pearson International airport (YYZ), named for Canada's 14th Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Despite the early hour, the airport was quite busy. I checked in and pre-cleared US immigration and customs. On the way to my gate, I stopped off for a piping hot chai tea latte. At the gate, I chatted with some fellow passengers. Later, a passenger came on the PA system to announce that his wife was having a birthday and he'd like to sing "Happy Birthday" to her publicly. Of course, we all sang along. They had just gotten married and were headed to Vietnam for their honeymoon.

Our originally scheduled plane had been replaced by a bigger one, so I got a seat with more legroom. Don't you just love that when that happens! I was first aboard the Embraer 170 jet and settled into Seat 3A. We pushed back from the gate and taxied over to a concrete apron where something happened that I'd not experienced in all my years of flying. Our plane was de-iced. Two large trucks pulled up, one by each wing, and a large cherry-picker platform raised up from which each operator hosed down a wing and then coated it with some bright lime-green liquid. The whole process took 30 minutes. The 90-minute flight down to IAD was smooth and uneventful, and we landed around 10 am to find light snow on the ground. After a short wait for my luggage and a taxi ride, it was good to be home.

Signs of Life: Part 26

© 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from a trip to Munich, Germany, in December 2017, and elsewhere.

 

Banner from the Munich Summer Olympic Games Stadium.

 

Across the road from the Olympic Stadium was BMW Welt, BMW's "futuristic distribution center and exhibition hall." As they now own the Rolls Royce brand, I stopped by to check out the latest models.

 

In 2016, the city of Munich launched BeeZero, the first hydrogen-powered car sharing program.

 

I found it interesting to see the kangaroo with joey in her pouch.

 

A gay pride symbol. (A family of lions is called a pride.)

 

"Work shall set you free."

Sign at the entrance of the Dachau concentration camp.

 

Yes, "Smoking is deadly," and you see signs like this all around Europe, but the countries still sell cigarettes and people still smoke them!

 

Perhaps it's the German branch of the Italian "O Sole Mio" chain.

 

Purveyors of "fair, organic, and vegan fashion."

 

"We have to stay outside."

Some shops provide a place outside their entrance to tie up a dog's leash. Some also provide water dishes.

 

At the entrance of the unacompanied-minors' lounge at Munich Airport.

 

An interesting depiction of the US flag on a poster at Munich Airport, by Ogilvy, "one of Germany's most successful creative agencies in the field of marketing and communication."

 

A backstreet in Whitby, Yorkshire, a town where I spent four delightful nights.

 

Where refined Whitby residents walk.

 

Tiles on the front of a house, also from Whitby. In all my many trips to the UK, I have yet to eat a kipper, for breakfast or at any othertime.

 

A clever take on the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." See pitcher.

A pottery exhibit at a small gallery in Winchester, Virginia, USA.

 

A Little Bit of Music

© 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

For many years, I've said, "There is nothing really important in life, but if there was something, it would be music!"

Although I am musical, I do not play any instrument, but if I were marooned on a dessert island with an instrument, I'm sure I'd eventually figure out how to get it to make some pleasurable sounds.

In this essay, I'll talk about music during my formative years, how I got my son into music, and the ways I experience music. But before I begin, off the top of your head, write down the names of 10 of your favorite singers/performers and/or musical pieces.

My Early Exposure

My earliest memories of music go back to 1961, when I was seven years old. We lived on a farm in rural South Australia (SA), 30 miles from the county seat, Loxton. In our kitchen, on top of the fridge, we had a battery-powered AM wireless (radio, that is) with a circular clear-plastic disk with a red arrow that we used to rotate to select a station. We were located 150 miles from the state capital, and the federal government was very much involved in radio (and later TV) broadcasting via the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), which relayed programs to antennae in rural areas like mine. [Like in the UK, one had to pay an annual wireless license for the privilege of receiving radio (and later, TV). This was discontinued in 1974.]

All AM radio stations in SA had a 3-character designation, 5xx. In my region, the commercial station was (and still is) 5RM, which my Mom (AU: Mum) disliked intensely "because it didn't play real music, just that terrible rock-and-roll!" It mostly broadcast music with some news and sports. Being commercial, it had advertising breaks. The ABC made available 5MV, which being government funded, had no commercials. It carried news and current-affairs programs, agricultural market reports, with little, if any, music. I listened to it after school for several kid's programs whose serialized stories had some music and sound effects.

Although we heard and knew a lot of songs by American singers, by then, Australia had a strong and growing music industry of its own, in both pop and country (among other) genres. However, it wasn't until many years later I learned that lots of the hit records made by Aussies back then were in fact covers of songs that were previously made popular by American (or British) singers. [BTW, I didn't come across the word "cover" used in this context until I moved to the US in 1979.]

Our first record player was a battery powered model made by Kriesler that sat on top of a cabinet in the lounge room. It played at speeds of 33⅓, 45, and 78 revolutions per minute (rpm). It even had a stacker, which allowed multiple records to be loaded. At that time, the more up-scale households were buying radiograms, which were as much furniture pieces as music machines.

Mom played organ, mouth organ, accordion, and acoustic guitar (sometimes with steel strings). However, I don't think she ever had any formal lessons. As she played the organ in our church, she practiced that each week at home. However, she only played the other instruments on rare occasions, and then only at parties. When we lived in Loxton, Mom sang in the church choir. [To this day, I like a lot of choral music, and I have fond memories of hearing youth choirs sing a capella outside Notre Dame in Paris, and attending an evening concert in a cathedral in Budapest, Hungary, where a woman gave a moving rendition of Ave Maria. I also like listening to Welsh men's choirs.]

In winter, my rural community participated in sports matches against neighboring towns, and about once a month, the home team would host a community dance and supper (a light snack late at night). The dance band consisted of a piano, double bass, and drums.

Some small exposure to music appreciation was provided to rural students by the ABC, which distributed records containing episodes of a program called "Let's Join in!"

When we lived 30 miles from town, two of my siblings boarded in town from Monday through Friday, and each had private piano lessons for a term or two, although I think they viewed that as a form of punishment! In any event, neither continued. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to have such lessons.

At 15, I bought a stereo record player with twin speakers. When I left home and started work at 16, I took it with me, but it was a few years before I could afford to actually buy many records, and then only singles. [Some trivia: As I discovered in the US, 45-rpm records had a center hole about 1" (2.5 cm) across. In Australia, the hole was the same size as for a 33⅓. My first record player came with a plastic insert that I never knew what to do with. As I discovered years later, it was to put inside the large hole of a US-distributed 45 record, so it could be played on an Aussie player!]

I clearly remember when cassette tape was introduced in Australia in the early 1970s. This allowed portable recording units and recording from records. Unlike the US, in Australia the 8-track tape format was not popular.

Australia's second attempt to introduce FM radio came in 1975, but broadcasting licenses were strictly controlled. The only (ABC) station I had access to mostly played classical music, much of which was not my cup of tea!

My home state's capital, Adelaide, where I lived for 10 years, is a progressive city, and very arts oriented, hosting an annual international Festival of Arts. In 1976, it converted a major downtown street to a pedestrian mall, which gave rise to buskers (street musicians and performers, that is). [I am a great fan of street musicians, and I usually stop to listen, chat, and put some coins in their collection box.]

My Top-10 Songs/Singers Right Now!

Here are some favorites I thought of just this minute:

  1. "Georgia on my Mind" by Ray Charles
  2. "Crazy" by Patsy Cline
  3. Anything from Susan Boyle's album "I Dreamed a Dream"
  4. Something by Willy Nelson
  5. "Hotel California" by the Eagles
  6. Carol King's album "Tapestry"
  7. "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen and any other song from his album "Live in London"
  8. A Welsh men's choir
  9. Roy Orbison and "Oh, Pretty Woman"
  10. Etta James and "At Last"

Of course, if you ask me again tomorrow, I'll have a completely different list!

Playing Music Through My Son

With regards to parenting, there were two things to which I vowed to expose my children, and one of those was music. (The other was foreign languages.) I had one child, a son, Scott. He got a steady dose of music from radio, TV, recordings, and live performances from Day 1. As mentioned in my September 2010 post, "Making Allowances," from an early age, he had a cassette player to play prerecorded tapes of books, music, and games, to entertain himself while traveling. He was also an uninhibited performer!

By age six, he was tall enough to be able to sit at a piano, and he started piano lessons with Mrs. S for 30 minutes each week. I bought him a 5-octave electric keyboard to practice at home. He was an enthusiastic learner and willingly practiced.

After a year or so of lessons, we spent Christmas on the Netherlands Antilles island of Saba. One day, as we were walking past a small church, we heard organ music, so we went inside and sat quietly in a pew. An older man was getting to know the new electronic organ that had recently been installed, and once he noticed us, he stopped to chat. Being gregarious, Scott very quickly announced that he too played keyboards and his had an organ mode. So, the man invited Scott to sit with him on the seat to watch him use the keyboard, stops, and foot pedals. Scott then offered to give the man a lesson, to which the man readily agreed. Scott played a short piece, the man tried it a few times, and Scott announced that the man did quite a good job, and suggested he practice a few times each week. (Scott sounded exactly like his own teacher when she was speaking to him!) Scott's student was very gracious, and when we parted company, we invited the man to come to lunch a few days later. He accepted. When he joined us again, he gave Scott a nice music theory book, and it was then that we discovered he was a retired music teacher!

When Scott was eight, we traveled to Russia, stopping in Finland on the way. As was often the case when we traveled, he'd come across an "unattended" piano, which, of course, was just begging to played! On this day, he found one in a public room at a small hotel at which we were staying, and he sat down and started to play from memory. After playing a few pieces, when he stopped, people clapped, and he turned around to find he was in the hotel dining room and a group of tourists had arrived for lunch while he was engrossed in his playing. After his initial embarrassment, he enjoyed the attention and learned the valuable lesson of music as a means of international communication. (His elderly Finnish audience didn't speak English!)

When Scott was in 6th grade, he joined his school's chorus. That year, the county formed an All-County chorus made up of 600 voices, and his was one of them. For some weeks, they practiced in small and then larger groups, and on the day before the public performance, they rehearsed as one group for the first time with a professional pianist and conductor. The end product was exceptional!

After some years of lessons with Mrs. S, it was time for a change in teaching approach, and Scott moved on to Mrs. M, who was a concert pianist. She had a baby grand piano in her house, and that's what she used for teaching lessons. Each year, she hosted a concert for the families of her students, and each student performed a solo piece, and some performed duets with her. By then, I'd gotten Scott a new keyboard, so he had more octaves.

By the middle of high school (to which he had a 40-minute commute, each way), he had so much homework that he discontinued music lessons. However, he kept on playing, and I especially enjoyed occasional private concerts with him playing various tunes by Enya, Billy Joel, and Eton John, among others.

Scott now has a 6-year-old daughter, and he's passing his love of music on to her.

My Mainstream Musical Tastes

I like a wide range of musical styles, but the one I prefer today depends on my mood today! And it also depends on whether the music will be in the background and won't disrupt my foreground task, or whether I'm actually listening to the music.

I can be quite at home listening to rock and roll, some country, certain kinds of jazz, some blues, easy listening, folk, light classical, baroque, and even very light opera, especially of the comic kind produced by Gilbert and Sullivan. [Regarding G&S, I'm happy to admit that 45 years after the fact, I can still sing the words to a TV commercial for a used-car yard in Adelaide, that were set to the music of HMS Pinafore. They included the following, "He fiddled with the steering so very hard that he soon became the owner of a used car yard."]

Live Musical Performances

I attended only a couple of live concerts in my youth, one of which was the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Once I lived in the US, I'd occasionally pass through Las Vegas on a business or personal trip. Over the years, I saw the following acts there: The Righteous Brothers, Barbara Mandrel, the Pointer Sisters, Mac Davis, and Jubilee! (a spectacular production, complete with a very large Titanic sinking on stage).

A few years ago, I discovered some small/intimate performing places with no more than 200 seats. They sure beat trying to see the stage way off in the distance at a concert with 50,000 others!

I love live theater and musicals, the vast majority of which I've seen in London, England, as I've passed through on business and personal travel. A quick look at the past 20 years' worth of my travel diaries shows I took in the following musicals while there: Cats (also in New York City), Jersey Boys, Dreamgirls, Everybody's talking about Jamie, 42nd Street, Kinky Boots, Let it Be, Singin' in the Rain (50th anniversary, complete with heavy rain on stage), The Lion King, and Monty Python's Spamalot.

Once when visiting Adelaide, friends John and Kathy improved my "Kulcha Quotient" by taking me to a performance of Handel's Messiah. [On a previous trip there, I took in Cabaret.]

Turning the International Dial

From time to time, a recording sung in a foreign language becomes a big hit in the English-speaking world. Examples I remember and still enjoy, include the following:

  • "Dominique" by the Singing Nun (French)
  • Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad" (Spanish)
  • Santana's, "Oye Como Ba" (Spanish)
  • Nana Mouskouri; according to Wikipedia, "Over the span of her career, she has released over 200 albums in at least twelve different languages, including Greek, French, English, German, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Hebrew, Welsh, Mandarin Chinese and Corsican."
  • Charles Aznavour (French)
  • Julio Iglesias (Spanish; he also sang in French, Portuguese, and German)
  • Demis Roussos (Greek, German, and other languages)
  • "La Bamba" with Ritchie Valens (Spanish)
  • Andrea Bocelli (Italian, French, Spanish, Latin, and Portuguese)
  • Gloria Estefan (Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese)
  • Linda Ronstadt (Spanish)
  • ABBA (Swedish, French, and German)
  • Kyu Sakamoto's "Sukiyaki" (Japanese)
  • Enya (who has sung in 10 languages)

As a traveler and host, I've been introduced to a number of international artists, for example:

  • While with an adventure tour group crossing the Patagonia in Chile and Argentina, the bus driver constantly played tapes of Mexican singer Ana Gabriel. Later in the trip, I bought several of her albums.
  • I hosted a Brazilian woman who gave me a great CD by Tom Jobin, who sings in various languages.
  • On a day trip to the famous Italian hilltop town of San Gimignano, I came upon a woman dressed in traditional Florentine clothes playing harp. She was recording artist Antonella Natangelo, and I bought one of her albums.
  • While traveling through Mexico and various Central American countries, I got to like mariachi music, especially performed live in parks in the evening by strolling musicians.

When I play these albums today, in my mind I am transported back to the events that caused me to get them.

Things don't always work as one might like. I'd been in Japan for a week and each day as I went to my local train station, I saw many vendors selling cheap cassette tapes at stalls. However, not being able to speak the language or read the writing, I couldn't figure out what the tapes contained. However, I did like some traditional Japanese music. On the final day, I randomly chose a tape. Unfortunately, when I listened to it back home, it was of European classical music; don't you just hate that when that happens!

For some years now, I've had iTunes installed on my computers. However, I've never bought any music for it. Instead, I use it to play CDs I've ripped to disk, and to access the hundreds of on-line radio stations. For the first couple of years, I listened a lot to one from Bavaria, Germany, but that disappeared. Since then, I've alternated between old-time country, 70s and 80s popular music, and sometimes favorites from the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Occasionally, I'll try various Arabic, French, Italian (among other language) channels, just for some variety. Now, it's mostly a German channel with hits that span 40-odd years. And if I just want to relax, I'll switch to a traditional Hawaiian channel.

My Top-10 Songs/Singers, Several Days Later!

I just couldn't resist:

  1. Something from Jim Reeves
  2. The 2-CD set "The Essential Tony Bennet"
  3. Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon"
  4. Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable"
  5. k.d. lang's "Constant Craving"
  6. Enya's "Orinoco Flow"
  7. Elvis and "Love Me Tender"
  8. Queens' "Bohemian Rhapsody"
  9. Barry White and his Love Unlimited Orchestra
  10. The Beatles and "Yesterday"

Conclusion

Once Scott married and had some discretionary income, he purchased a new keyboard, and I inherited the previous one, even though I don't play. My thought was that if it was in full view in my house that, one day, I might get inspired to learn to play it. However, after many years, that still has not yet happened. (I think I'm stuck on the idea of having to practice and that it would be too much work to get to the level of proficiency I would want.)

Several years ago, at a private party, I met a man and I asked him, "What do you do for fun?" He replied that he ran a Beatles singing group. Several months later, I joined his group for its monthly Saturday night singalong, and I've enjoyed it ever since (until the COVID pandemic hit). We meet for 2½ hours and sing pretty much nonstop, going through all the songs on a given album before going around the room having attendees select their favorite piece from the Beatles' catalog as a group and as individual performers.

For some years, I've hosted amateur folk-dancers from Denmark, who bring their own musicians. I have very much enjoyed seeing their performances, and I've been to stay with several of the group members and "seen them in action" in their own country.

I've been known to tap my toes to music in Irish pubs, which was especially enjoyable once smoking was banned there! Jams by players of Celtic music has been, and still is, popular in my area here in Virginia.

By the way, to my initial statement, "There is nothing really important in life, but if there was something, it would be music," I have added food. Not just the eating of, but also the shopping for, and the preparation as well, especially when doing it with friends.

If you are passing through Prague, Czech Republic, and are looking for a musical performance, every night of the week there are 4–6 available, all at reasonable prices. In my experience, there is no language barrier: the musicians enter, they sit down, and they play non-stop for an hour or so, and there is little or no talk. The one show I attended that had singing involved Broadway Hits in English.

When I visited my ancestral homeland in Western Poland, the cultural highlight was a visit to a small village that had a very old wooden church, and that very night, it was packed for a concert of "Musica Sacra and Musica Profan," Music, Sacred, and Profane. By the time I arrived, the 150-seat church was almost full and 200+ more people were seated outdoors where they could watch the indoor event via closed circuit TV projected on a large screen. We squeezed into the back row of the church and settled into a musical treat as comfortably as one can on hard wooden benches. The first act consisted of six nationally known singers who sang a capella, and from time to time, made sounds with their mouths like a variety of musical instruments.

First, we had some classics, including wonderful renditions of parts of the spring suite from Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Ravel's Bolero, neither of which ordinarily has lyrics. Then came Polish-accented pieces in English written by the Bee Gees, Paul Simon, Phil Collins, Ben E. King, Freddy Mercury (of Queen), and Gene Pitney. There was a particularly good rendition of Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World" and "Hello Dolly." At the end, the singers got a very long-standing ovation, after which they sang an en-core. Then after another ovation, they gave a second en-core. It was a most enjoyable experience.

In August of 2010, I spent a few days in Cleveland, Ohio. The highlight there was the "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame." I walked around the main exhibit floor for several hours looking at guitars, cars, clothes, and other memorabilia from numerous well-known artists including Elvis. And I listened to many song snippets at various audio stations as I learned about the artists who had influenced the more well-known stars. Then I moved to a theater with a very large screen to watch several hours of a 4-hour concert filmed earlier that year. It featured many of the hall's inductees all performing at the same place. I came in near the end when Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel played. After a few minutes break, the video re-started, and I watched a lot more. The seats were comfortable, I got a stage-side view, the price was right, and the volume was LOUD! I really enjoyed it. I looked at more exhibits on other floors before sitting in another theater watching a 60-minute video that covered the highlights of all the hall's inductions, which started in 1986 well before the hall was completed. While I was familiar with most inductees, there were a few I'd never heard of. The Hall closed at 5:30 pm and I spent a bit of time in the gift shop. After six solid hours of high-volume Rock and Roll, my ears were ringing a little.

While I was reading Brian Greene's "Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe," a book I highly recommend, I came across the following quote from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: "Without music, life would be a mistake." Amen to that!

According to Greek philosopher Plato, "Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything."

Finally, here's a challenge for you: As you come to the very end of your earthly life and you are lying waiting for the Grim Reaper to take you to the next stage, whatever that be, what music would you like to have played? As for me, I'm thinking Pachelbel's Canon in D major, the theme from the movie "Ordinary People." And if I wasn't dead by the end of that, Vivaldi's Four Seasons could follow, as well as any Baroque music with brass, and then maybe some Spanish guitar. By the way, my mother probably thought that in Hell they'd play 5RM radio non-stop; after all, it was the Devil's music!

Travel: Memories of Normandy, France

© 2009, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

I had business in Paris, after which it was playtime in Normandy, followed by more free time back in Paris.

Heading to Caen

It was a cold and rainy December day in Paris. My taxi arrived at my hotel, and as I got in, I noticed that the meter started at nearly €10. Holy frog's legs! It took us 15 minutes to get to Gare Saint Lazare station where, after some searching, I found the main ticket office. A very pleasant woman sold me a one-way, First-Class ticket to Caen. The next train was in 30 minutes, but the track number was only announced 15 minutes before departure, so everyone stood by the main departure board waiting. Voila, up came Track 23 for Cherbourg with Caen as the first stop. For a pleasant change, the First-Class carriages were the closest and I boarded helping a young mother with her luggage.

The carriage was very nicely appointed, and I grabbed a single seat by the window, facing forward. We pulled out right on time at 13:10 and after a slow start through the inner city, we soon picked up speed. The sun broke through and came right in my window no doubt making a halo around my saintly head! A Malaysian man sat in front of me, and along the way, he shared his English-language newspaper with me.

We had a smooth ride through the countryside and the carriage was nice and quiet. We passed numerous lakes, rivers, streams, and evergreen and deciduous forests. The farms all had manicured fields of green with cattle, sheep, horses, and even some donkeys. One farm had quite a few miniature horses, which was appropriate, as it was only a small farm! On one farmhouse roof sat a team of reindeer pulling a sleigh. We passed through numerous villages and one large town. Quite a few homes looked like gingerbread houses. As we got closer to Caen, I saw several clusters of wind turbines. First, there were 14, then 16, and then another six, most of which had their 3-blade propellers turning. The weather improved as the day progressed, and by the time I reached Caen, the sun was out.

Caen and Surrounds

We arrived in Caen, right on time. I exited the train station and crossed the street to the tram stop. The two lines were laid fewer than 10 years ago. The instructions for buying a ticket were in French only, but after I watched a few locals go through the process I had it figured out. The fare was a flat €1.20, which was a pleasant surprise. I rode to the stop called Académie in the town of Herouville Saint-Clair. My host had emailed me directions and a local map, and everything went well to that point. However, it took me some time to reconcile the local directions with the town map at the tram stop. Once I figured that out, it took 15 minutes to walk to the house of Jean-Claude and Brigitte. A few raindrops fell along the way.

Brigitte and her husband had been members of Servas International for more than 30 years, but had not had any guests for more than two years. She showed me to my room in the basement with a work desk, high-speed internet connection, and bathroom all to myself away from the others. Soon after, Jean-Claude came home and chatted a bit. He was a mechanical engineer by training, but now worked with a lot of information technology. He had numerous interests including beekeeping, alternative energy sources, and the problems facing poorer countries. Brigitte worked in integrated-circuit production. A year earlier, she reluctantly gave up ballet. They had three children, aged 25, 22, and 19, and the youngest, Tony, lived at home. The parents were a few years younger than me.

Around 17:00, nine people arrived for a 2-hour bible study program. (Jean-Claude was a Huguenot.) Several brought food, and after they ended their discussion we shared some strong—as in, alcoholic—apple cider (Normandy is a major apple producer), some savory snacks, some cake that contained bits of ham, and a traditional Normandy dessert consisting of rice baked for six hours in milk and cinnamon. After the guests left, we managed to squeeze in a small supper of split pea soup and bread. Jean-Claude and I talked until late.

[Next Day] For breakfast, we had large bowls of tea that one lifted with both hands, and toasted bread rolls with margarine and honey from Jean-Claude's bee hives. Throughout, the rain was very heavy, but it soon eased.

Mid-morning, Jean-Claude drove me to the famous Pegasus Bridge and the adjacent museum. On the evening of June 5 1944—the day before D-Day—British forces in gliders and parachutes landed in the general area to pave the way for the invasion force in Operation Overlord the next day. One of the main missions of the advanced party was to destroy most bridges and to capture, and stop the Germans from destroying, three important bridges that the allied forces would need to get inland from the coast. The Pegasus Bridge was one that was to be saved and it was the first target captured. Three gliders landed right next to it with 28 soldiers in each. (Three others landed not far away.) They captured the bridge and crossed it, and the house on the other side was the first one liberated in the Battle of Normandy. The restaurant now opposite that house was called "Les 3 Planeurs," that is, "The 3 Gliders."

Some years ago, the original bridge was replaced with one that opened up to let larger boats go up the canal. The old bridge was moved to land nearby and a museum was added. It was most interesting and included a 10-minute film about the landing and capture. We walked around the grounds, which contained half of an original glider fuselage (made entirely of wood) and a full-size replica of a glider. At the bookstore, I bought some brochures and a "cricket," a small metal clicker that the invading force members used to signal each other.

After lunch, my hosts dropped me off at the "The Memorial, a Centre for History." I started out with a 35-minute film on the Battle of Normandy. The very large screen was split vertically with different original black and white movie footage shown on each side. One side showed the Allies preparing and executing the landing while the other showed things from the German perspective. Original and augmented sound made it very realistic, and I kept thinking of the opening scenes of the Tom Hanks film, "Saving Private Ryan." In one especially moving scene, the gun cameras of a German fighter showed allied soldiers literally being "mown down" as the plane raced along the beach with guns-a-blazing. Then halfway through the run the film cut to the present day in a light aircraft going at low altitude up the same pristine beach all in color. Then it switched back to the fighter's deadly run. There was no dialogue to speak of just the original English and German in some scenes and a few titles and newspaper headlines. The soundtrack was quite loud and very effectively portrayed the "fog of war." To be sure, it was a stunning start to my visit.

From there, I moved to a display called, "The Failure of Peace (1918–1939)." That involved walking down a gentle spiral ramp reading text and looking at photos on a timeline for that period.

Next came an interesting exhibit on the Cold War and I spent quite some time reading the text (which was shown in French, English, German, and occasional bits of Russian). I was especially impacted by the following paragraph: "The Allies, united against Hitler during World War II, were soon to split in two antagonistic blocs (1947–1991). On the one hand, the USA, whose ambition was to win over the world to its liberal model and establish a social order based on the law of supply and demand, private enterprise and faith in God. Against this messianic stance, on the other, the Soviet offspring of Marxism-Leninism promoted the idea of a fair deal for all in the best of godless worlds. In a state-run, planned economy, the individual gave way to the collective. The classless ideal of the Soviet giant and its satellites faced American hedonism."

Some exhibits were temporary and a new one had recently opened for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was most interesting. I browsed in the bookstore until the museum closed at 18:00 and after nearly four hours there I stepped out into the cold night air and walked several hundred meters to the bus stop.

Back home, I entered a nice warm house with wonderful smells coming from kitchen. Supper was served soon afterwards, and we had soup with bread and cheese—Normandy is the home of one of my favorites, Camembert—and salad with oil-of-walnut dressing.

[Next Day] I got off the tram at stop Saint-Pierre right in the heart of town and there right by the stop was a bank with a cash machine. And it was every so ready to hand over €240. (Don't you just love that when that happens!) Next on my To-Do list was to visit the town tourist office to see if there was anything special going on. Well, don't you know, a sign on the door said it was closed on Mondays. (Don't you just hate that!) As I was translating the sign, a couple came up to get information as well. He was Irish, and she was French, from Breton, the neighboring province. They lived in Dublin, Ireland. We exchanged local information and went our separate ways although I did bump into them several times more around the town. (In 2010, I stayed several nights with them in Dublin.) Fortunately, I had enough maps and information, so I headed off.

I walked some back streets and came across a Christmas market, but it was still being set up and nothing was open. Right opposite I spied a bakery that opened out onto the street and although I really didn't need to eat anything, the food looked so good and the food sirens called me over. Resistance was futile, so I bought a baguette with ham, cheese, and tomato, which the young woman toasted lightly on a grill. It tasted every bit as good as it smelled! Ten minutes later, I was at the Hotel de Ville (town hall), an impressive building. I went in, got some tourist brochures, and sat in a nice warm lounge reading about the things I was about to see.

First stop was Abbaye-aux-Hommes (Men's Abbey) and the adjoining abbey church Saint-Etienne, which William the Conqueror started building in 1064. He was buried there in 1087 and I paid my respects telling him that he wouldn't believe how the Brits had let things go since his day. And except for the Channel Islands, they didn't even own Normandy anymore! And as for their international cricket team, well "girly men" came to mind! I took photos of some great stained-glass windows.

Next, it was back across town and up a hill to Abbaye-aux-Dames (yes, you guessed it, Women's Abbey). That was the creation of William's wife, Mathilda. It was a much smaller affair, but then she wasn't Mathilda the Conqueror either! She was buried there in 1083.

William was born illegitimate and took over as Duke of Normandy at age eight. He married Mathilda, a distant cousin, against the wishes of the pope, and later, William built the two churches as a sort of penance to get back in the graces of Rome. Of course, that all happened before he hopped across Le Manche (the English Channel) and kicked Harold's butt at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066. (The battle actually took place at Battle some six miles inland. Soon after, William authorized the construction of Battle Abbey on the edge of the battlefield.)

I went back down the hill to mid-town and there dominating the center set on a rocky hill was The Château. William built it as his fortified castle and lived in a palace in the grounds. I spent time in the small but interesting "Museum of Normandy," which traced occupation of the area from way back in pre-history. I stopped in at the bookstore and bought booklets on William and Caen. I also toured a small exhibition on the reconstruction of Caen after WWII. (Apparently, 75% of the town was destroyed.) The churches and castle were impressive, and made even more so as admission to all was free.

Light rain fell as I left the castle and headed back into the shopping zone. I stopped off at a Spar Markt (a German convenience store-cum-mini supermarket chain) to do a little shopping. I looked over all the shelves of products not so much as to buy but rather to have a basic French vocabulary lesson. I bought a mid-priced bottle of red wine for my hosts, a bottle of tawny port from Portugal for me, two blocks of Milka hazelnut chocolate, and a bag of salted peanuts. That pretty much took care of my four food groups!

I had a 3-minute wait for my tram home, and managed to get a seat. A few raindrops fell as I walked home. By 16:00, I was dressed down, sipping coffee, eating chocolate, and working on this diary. It had been another good day and I'd covered all I'd planned. I got comfortable on the lounge and read one of my new booklets, on William the Conqueror, while sipping a small glass of port. The wine was adequate, which meant I had only four small glasses in the evening.

Brigitte came home from work, and we talked while she prepared supper, a bacon and egg pie baked in the oven. Cream is a major food in Normandy and the egg was whipped into lots of it. Brigitte went off to a yoga class, and Tony ate early as he had guitar lesson. Jean-Claude had been in Paris all day at a meeting, so he came home late, and he and I ate together while sipping glasses of port. We talked about many things. Everyone was back home by 21:00, and Tony gave us a little concert on his acoustic guitar. Lights out at 23:00.

[Next Day] Breakfast consisted of tea and bread with jam and honey. By 08:15, everyone was out the door, and I packed my gear. It was moving day. Some high-priority email had arrived, so I slipped into work mode for a bit. By 09:15, I was packed and ready for my 09:30 pickup. It was 7 degrees C out and calm although more than a little rain had fallen during the night.

Moving to a New Host

My next host, Martine, arrived right on time, and we drove to her house where we talked over coffee. I unpacked in my nice room, which had a big skylight that let the sun right in on me as I sat at a work desk. At 12:30, we lunched on breast of turkey with mushrooms in cream followed by fresh fruit. Martine was a retired librarian who kept busy on numerous projects. She had a steady stream of guests via Servas (mostly young people), and she provided housing for immigrants without papers. Mid-afternoon, she had a meeting during which I settled down to several hours of work.

Rain fell steadily but at 16:00, we decided to go for a walk anyway. We went to the canal and then along it for quite some distance before finishing at a retired friend's house. He invited us in for tea. We hung our wet coats in front of his nice big fire. Another friend was also visiting him, and we all chatted for some time before we were driven home. It was still raining gently.

Back home we worked at the dining table, Martine writing Christmas letters and me working on this diary. We sipped glasses of port to stimulate our creativity. Early evening, Martine's friend, also called Martine, arrived to join us for dinner. She was a retired teacher of children aged 5–10. We ate fresh-made crepes, filling them with cheese, ham, or applesauce, and washed them down with some strong apple cider. We talked of many things.

Later, I read an English-language newspaper that catered to the large and growing population of expat Brits living in France. (In Normandy alone, it was estimated that they owned 11,000 properties, and with a planned 10% increase in top-income tax brackets in the UK slated to start soon even more were considering a move across The Channel.)

[Next Day] I had a nice, large, comfortable bed and I slept quite well. And I was almost enthusiastic about getting up when my alarm went off at 08:00. By 09:00, I was seated in the kitchen sipping a cup of Joseph Tetley's finest tea and having a French vocabulary lesson from the teabag box. Several slices of toast with strawberry and pomegranate jam and a glass of grapefruit juice rounded out the fare. I read a few brochures in preparation for the day's adventure.

Mid-morning, we drove north to the coast and went west to the village of Colleville sur Mer, the location of one of the two US war cemeteries in Normandy. I talked at length with the young Frenchwoman at the information desk and once she figured I was really interested she opened her "private" drawer and gave me a detailed booklet on that cemetery as well as one that gave an overview of all 24 spread around the world in some 15 countries.

We started the tour with a film that followed the lives of several soldiers who died there and included interviews with members of their families. Next came a walk through a large set of panels each with text and photos and/or video about some aspect of the whole landing and push east. I found one story in particular very interesting. It was about the four Niland brothers. Two were killed at Normandy, and a third was captured in the Pacific. A fourth was also in the armed forces but the military command had him shipped home. This formed the basis of the movie, "Saving Private Ryan."

The rain was still coming down steadily and as it didn't look like easing off we headed out with our rain gear. The cemetery was located on a plateau 100 meters higher than the beach and 1 km inland. We walked down a path that lead to the dunes and then out onto Omaha Beach, which along with Utah Beach were the two US beachheads during the invasion. It would have been a challenge to go from landing craft through the shallow water 100 meters across the open beach to the low dunes and then up the hill even without having someone shooting at you!

Back up the top, we walked to a large memorial then out to the edge of the cemeteries. Some 10,700 Americans were buried there. As with my previous visits to US war cemeteries—in Luxembourg and the Netherlands—it was a very moving experience. After that, I had no interest in visiting any of the invasion museums in the area, as they were somewhat commercial and romantic about the whole episode, not to mention full of cheap souvenirs.

We started talking about how a bowl of soup and bread would be good right about then, so we set out to find a restaurant. Being low season there were few tourists out and almost all eating-places were closed. We finally found one open in the heart of the village of Arromanches, site of the Canadian landing at Juno Beach. (We'd passed the British Gold Beach on the way, and their Sword Beach was just a little further east.) We each had a rather good omelet. Just in front of where we parked we could see ruins out in the water of the temporary "Mulberry Harbor" breakwater and docking facility that the allies brought with them and assembled there as part of the invasion.

Back in Bayeux, we stopped by the museum for several hours to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry. It was 70 meters long and 1 meter high and was made around 1070. In 68 panels, it depicts the events up to and during William the Conqueror's invasion of England and the Battle of Hastings. Included in the admission price was an audio wand in a variety of languages. The narration was most interesting. We also toured an exhibit on the life and times of Normandy in that period. I stopped in at the bookstore to rescue a booklet on the Domesday Book (inventory of England) that William commissioned in 1085.

By the time we drove home, it was quite dark and there was heavy traffic and rain. Once inside, we hung up our wet clothes and sipped glasses of port to warm us up a bit. Just for something completely different, I picked up a book Martine had on the invented international language Esperanto and gave myself a lesson. Not long after, a series of guests arrived, and we chatted over glasses of port. One brought a large bowl of soup that she'd made, and we ate that with bread, cheese, and pâté. Afterwards, the group started a meeting of a charitable activity with which they were all involved, and I retired to my room to write up this diary to the sounds of Andrea Bocelli.

On to Avraches

[Next Day] Martine's friend, Monique, a medical doctor, joined us for lunch. I spent several more hours writing in my room. Then at 16:00, Martine drove me to the Caen railway station where we chatted for 15 minutes before saying our goodbyes. It had been another great hosting experience. As I waited for my train, a young woman sat next to me with her pet carrier basket. I thought she had a cat, but when she opened it on her lap out popped Gary the very fluffy rabbit. They were off to visit her parents who apparently just adored Gary.

Train number 52817 arrived at Track D, and I boarded. My carriage was very nicely appointed and even had vertical racks in which up to six bicycles could hang. We headed northwest and then south stopping at Bayeux, Lison, St.-Lo, Courtances, and Folligny.

We arrived in Avraches right on time, at 19:07; so far, so good. I got off the train and went into the station. I found a timetable on the wall and looked at the possibility of going closer to Mont Saint Michel the next day by train. However, as I was writing down some notes the stationmaster came over to tell me that she was locking up the station. Fortunately, there was another timetable posted outside. I turned around to see how to get into town as someone in their infinite wisdom had built the station some distance from the town, or vice versa. And there right in front of me was a thick fog. Don't you just hate that when that happens! Just then, an African man came waltzing over from a house across the street desperately in need to help me despite the fact that he didn't speak any English. Then he called over his friend who was quite drunk, but who tried hard to help by flapping his arms to show me that the shortest way into the city center was to fly. Very funny, I thought and thanked them for their wisdom.

I headed out on what looked like the exit road and just when I thought I was lost, right out of the fog shone the beacon of "Our Lady of the Hamburger," McDonalds. Yes, I was back in civilization or perhaps in Heaven! Needing some sustenance as well as directions, I went in, and don't you know, the manager was ever so helpful and spoke English quite well. I rested for 10 minutes eating a bacon cheeseburger and sipping Coke.

With my batteries recharged, I headed back out into the fog. Now the internet site had stated quite clearly that the hotel I'd booked was 2 km from the station, so I was ready for a hike. However, what they omitted to mention was that it was uphill at an incline of 75 degrees. (I exaggerate, of course; it was probably only 60!) I got to what I thought was the top of the hill, but found that was just the resting point for the Everest Stage 1 climb. I saw a sign going off to the left indicating the town hospital and with my heart jumping out of my chest that seemed the way to go. However, I pressed on in the opposite direction to Centre du Ville up several more inclines. I failed to find the street I was looking for and asked a series of locals, but they gave mixed signals, and I went around a bit until I came to the tourist office, which had a town map, yes! That got me headed in the right direction, but things still didn't look quite right, so I stopped to ask a man walking a dog for some help. The dog replied, "Go straight ahead to the roundabout, woof! Take the second right, woof! Then you'll see the hotel on the left, woof!" Wow, I thought, a streetwise dog! Well, I took his woof for it and headed in that direction again up an incline. However, the street name still didn't match my written directions.

As I walked up the dark and foggy street, I had visions of nefarious creatures lurking in the shadows ready to knock me unconscious, take my blood, and sell it for money to buy drugs. Just then, another beacon shone through the fog. I had come upon a pâtisserie and it was still open. And, don't you know, the owner was every so kind as to step out into the street and show me the hotel sign some 200 meters down the road. I thanked her and bought some juice and pastries.

I was running on empty when I entered the lobby of the Hotel Altos. The front desk clerk had been expecting me and welcomed me in English, and had just started to dial the phone number I'd given in my on-line registration. Of course, that was my home number, so it wouldn't have done him or me any good if he'd gotten through. Anyway, I had reached my destination for the day and my underclothes were soaking with perspiration despite its being very cold out. (Don't you just hate that!) My reservation was prepaid, so he explained the breakfast rules, gave me a wifi internet access code, and directed me to my room. I asked about getting to the abbey the next day and he replied that as it was off-season my only option might be a taxi the round-trip cost of which would rival my two night's hotel bill! I decided not to think about that until the following morning.

I entered my room, and the temperature was such that I looked in the closets for some antifreeze just in case my internal plumbing froze up during the night. The room itself was decent although in the middle there was what looked like a bed only it was smaller! I fired up my laptop and tried to connect to the internet. No luck. I tried repeatedly without success. As I'd had a similar problem at my last host, I decided the problem might be at my end, so I gave up for the time being. On to Plan B.

I ran a hot bath and got in only to find that the tub was quite short at one end. (Don't you just hate that!) It hit the spot though and I soaked awhile. Then as I got out of the bath, I slipped and had a fatal accident. Ha, got you, didn't I? With my luck that evening, an accident would have been a natural progression, but I digress.

I consoled myself with one of the pastries I'd bought on the final stretch to the hotel, while listening to an album by Duffy. Then I worked on this diary. What really pulled me through was knowing how much pleasure my readers would have reading about my trials and tribulations. (The Germans have a word for that, "Schadenfreude," pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.)

I worked on this diary and then on an essay I'd started writing the day before. Lights out at 23:15, ready for a long and deep sleep.

A Visit to Mont Saint Michel

[Next Day] Unfortunately, the sleep was neither long nor deep and I was wide-awake at 08:00. I snacked on the remains of a pastry and the last of my juice. I walked (uphill, of course) the 1 km to the center of town passing my local bakery. I waved to the proprietress as I passed, and she waved back. I arrived at the tourist office soon after 09:00 and waited until it opened at 09:30. A very helpful young woman pointed out the possibilities with regard to getting to and from Mont Saint Michel. As I was too late for the morning bus and train, I had to take a taxi there, but could return via bus-bus or bus-train. She called a taxi, which arrived in 10 minutes.

Despite the very cold temperature, the sun shone brightly as we left the town. In the low-lying areas, the fog was still thick. My driver seemed to be training for a Grand Prix as he put the cab through its paces on the narrow country roads. The temperature down near the coast was 1-degree C. The bay was shrouded in fog, but the upper part cleared for a minute, and we got a spectacular glimpse of the abbey and island seemingly floating on the fog.

The driver dropped me right at the base of the Mont and cheerfully charged me €40, about what I'd expected. I dropped by the tourist office to get a small map and brochure. There was no fee to enter the walled town and no English guided tours were available, so I was left to make my own plan. The many tourist shops were opening, and the patisseries were setting out their freshly baked goods. It seemed to me a good idea to find a nice warm place and a hot drink. Auberge Saint Pierre looked as good a restaurant as any, so I went in and in my best French ordered a large mug of hot chocolate "si vous plait."

The narrow main path meandered up a steady incline through the little town between the shops and restaurants. However, when I got to the entrance of the abbey near the top a sign informed me that it was closed just for the day. And all because of a monument/museum workers strike. Don't you just hate that! Well, they say that something good comes out of everything and, in this case, I saved the €8 admission charge. I chatted with other disgruntled tourists, which included a group of young Japanese guys from Tokyo and a Dutchman from Nijmegen.

Plan B involved walking around the town's ramparts taking photos of the church on the rock above and the mudflats exposed by the low tide. At sea level, I walked several hundred meters along the causeway to get a good photo of the whole island, which was about 1 km around. Then I walked out on the mudflats near the base of the fortifications. A sign warned of quicksand, so I made sure I followed the footsteps of the people ahead of me, that is, right up until those footsteps disappeared!

Although I'd seen and done everything, I had several hours to wait for the next bus. At 13:00, quite by accident I was back at the same restaurant I'd visited earlier. I had hot soup on my mind and the menu there offered three kinds of potage: vegetable, onion, and fish. My bowl of vegetable soup came with a basket of bread and a spoon so large it was almost too big to fit in my mouth (and we all know how big that is). The soup was just like my grandma would have made if she had been French. When I'd entered, the restaurant was quite busy, but I spied a table for two (for me and my imaginary friend) right next to the open fire. Now when I say "next to" I was almost on top of the fire, and boy was it toasty. When it died down a bit, I grabbed the hand bellows and blew some life back into it. All that was missing was a dog at my feet (and maybe some hazelnut chocolate, potato chips, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree).

I ordered a café au lait and tried to explain that I wanted less coffee and more milk plus extra sugar. That seemed to work out okay, and I enjoyed the coffee although I had to use up some of my own sugar supply as well. (My travelling jacket and outer coat have many compartments in which I carry a stash of emergency rations and equipment. Over 30 years of travel, I've made quite a list of things to take on each trip and to carry on my person.)

I bought a nice souvenir booklet and a small poster of the island for my office wall. Then I waited for the 14:35 bus to Pontorson. An older Italian couple was also waiting for the bus, and they asked me if I was German. Once we figured we had Spanish in common, we switched to that and chatted until the bus came. The 9-km ride was through the countryside in the sunshine. I got off at the train station to wait more than 90 minutes for a bus to Avranches. Inside, I got talking to the stationmaster who was very friendly. He told me that he could get me to Avraches 40 minutes earlier, so I bought a train ticket. Then I asked him about the projected go-slow train strike the next day and I think he was so bored there having nothing much to do that he made some phone calls to find out the latest news. Some 20 minutes later, he came out to the platform to give me a copy of an itinerary he thought should work to get me back to Paris. Such service!

A young Japanese man approached me on the platform to confirm he was waiting at the right place. He'd left Japan more than three weeks earlier and had ridden the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Moscow, which took a week. He rode 3rd class and shared a day/night compartment with soldiers going home for a break. He was headed to Cherbourg to catch the ferry to Poole, England. In a week, he'd fly back to Tokyo. He graduated university back in September and would start his job in April next year. We chatted on the train until my stop.

It made a big difference when I arrived in Avraches in daylight and without fog. And apart from those advantages, I had found out about a shortcut to town, so I headed off on that. The good news was that the distance was halved. The bad news was that it was even steeper than the way I'd gone the night before. Maybe more than 90 degrees! Well, not quite.

I stopped off at the tourist office to pass along information about the abbey's being closed and the actual cost of the taxi ride. I also picked up some information about hiking the cliffs on the old customs inspectors' trails near Cherbourg. Then it was up Constitution Avenue to Patton Circle in the middle of which was a large monument to General George Patton, famous U.S. tank commander in WWII. A tank from that war stood next to the monument. Once he'd liberated Avranches, Patton pushed out across France to Germany. On the edge of the circle stood two lesser "monuments," Boulangerie (Bakery) Patton and Pizzeria Patton, of which George would have been ever so proud. I stopped in at my local bakery to report on my day's activities and to buy drinks and some food. The proprietress cut a very long baguette in half and filled it with ham, cheese, and tomato.

As I approached my hotel, I found a group of 20 people blocking the entrance and holding a large banner. Apparently, they were protesting about something, but with the front desk clerk's limited English I was unable to find out what their grievance was. As far as I could tell there were no "Go home Yanqui!" signs.

After I freshened up and rested, I took my laptop downstairs to the lobby where, lo and behold, the wifi signal was very strong and I was connected to the outside world. A lot of business and personal email was waiting, and it took some 90 minutes for me to deal with it. The manager dropped by to chat and to offer me a ride to the train station the following morning, but only if the breakfast rush was over and he had a spare body. It was a generous gesture. Back in my room, I got into some writing on my laptop and had to force myself to stop and go to bed. Lights out after 23:00.

Back to Paris

[Next Day] Being a Saturday, there was less traffic on the main street outside my window. However, I still woke up before my 07:30 alarm. I packed my gear and took care of some email that had arrived overnight and was down at the front desk by 08:30. As there was no one available to drive me to the station, I set off for my 2 km morning walk.

The town of Avranches was coming alive and the coffee bars were busy, and I stopped at a bank to refresh my Euro supply. Then I got to the steep shortcut to the train. The good news was that there was no ice. That would have resulted in a very quick trip down the hill and numerous broken bones. The bad news was that an earthquake must have occurred during the night and made the hill even steeper. (Don't you just hate that when that happens!) The trip was slow but uneventful; however, at the bottom, the footbridge over the freeway was rather slippery. I managed that, but in the last few steps did an unscheduled "pas de deux with pirouette," which earned me a respectable 8.2 score from the judges standing nearby.

The train station was dark, and things looked ominous. However, it was unlocked so I went inside happy to find two others planning to travel. The good news was that the 09:49 train to Caen was running. (The only other trains scheduled that day were at 17:55 to Caen and 19:08 to Rennes.) At 09:15, the ticket agent arrived, and he was ever so happy to sell me a ticket to Caen and then on to Paris with only a short stopover. So far, so good, and I settled down to my petite de juener (breakfast) of pastry and lemon drink. (The last of the great gourmands!)

There was frost covering the tracks as the six of us stood on the cold open platform. The 09:49 arrived on time and was a very warm and comfortable train. I faced forward at a table and spent the 1:45-hour trip looking out the window. The sun shone brightly as we bumped along picking up speed. There were farms, farms, and more farms with green fields and contented cattle and goats. The aftereffects of all the rain were evident. Creeks were swollen, and fields were flooded. A conductor came along and as he spoke to me in French, he waved his hands, so I thought he wanted me to sing. Apparently, he was not that kind of conductor!

In Caen, I had a short wait for the train to Paris. The train was an express, and we raced through the countryside arriving in Paris Gare St. Lazare right on time at 13:45. I quickly found the Metro station nearby and headed out on the Green Number 12 line. I changed to the Yellow Number 10 line and after a few stops, I came up to street level right across from the house of my friend Stéphane. The second part of my Paris visit had begun.

Signs of Life: Part 25

© 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

From time to time during my travels, I come across signs that I find interesting for one reason or another. Sometimes, they contain clever writing, are humorous, or remind me of some place or event. Here are some from a trip to Munich, Germany, with a day trip to Salzburg, Austria.

 

Herr Hirsch's piano store (Klavier is piano in German). The keyboard faux awnings were a clever touch.

 

I never did figure out what this sign was trying to say, but it was on the door of a hookah shop.

[Reviewer John said: Perhaps it is a reference to the hookah-smoking caterpillar in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland where he is rude and confusing.]

In any event, A Google search of "come in we're closed" was illuminating.

 

This plaza floor was a giant sundial with the church steeple nearby casting a shadow to indicate the time.

 

Would you buy your menswear at a place with this name? Apparently, someone does!

 

When you are a regular customer at the famous Hofbrauhaus, you keep your beer stein there, under lock-and-key. There were thousands of them in racks in several rooms.

 

An unusual name for a German womenswear store.

 

Music, anyone?

 

Sign outside a candy store.

 

What caught my eye in this public garden was the prohibition on street musicians and entertainers.

 

According to Wikipedia, "A love lock or love padlock is a padlock that sweethearts lock to a bridge, fence, gate, monument, or similar public fixture to symbolize their love. Typically the sweethearts' names or initials, and perhaps the date, are inscribed on the padlock, and its key is thrown away (often into a nearby river) to symbolize unbreakable love."

 

In this neighborhood in Salzburg, all store signs were of the old-guild type, which signify the nature of the product sold therein. No guess as what this one sold.

 

While I do like my chocolate, I'm not sure I'm ready to go that far!

 

If you are in a German-speaking area in the weeks leading up to Christmas, look out for a Christmas Market.

"Get your potato slices, chicken wings, sweetcorn, ribs, and hot drinks at this stall!"

 

In the world-famous Getreidegasse in the heart of Salzburg, Austria, in the immediate vicinity of Mozart's birthplace.

 

Salzburg, Austria: "A [clothing] collection for women who like fine materials, play with contrasts and enjoy true fashion."

 

A clash of food cultures!

 

Odds and Ends: Part 1

© 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

 

Thus far, all the essays I've posted on this blog have each covered a single topic. Since I started writing installments, I've maintained a list of potential topics; however, for more than a few of them I'd be hard-pressed to write a whole page let alone 6–8 pages. And then there are the many hundreds of topics about which I could only write a few sentences or paragraphs.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I spent time going through my bookcases, and I found some long-forgotten treasures. One of these was "Jack's Reference Book for Home and Office: An Encyclopedia of General Information; a Medical, Legal, Social, Educational, and Commercial Guide; An English Dictionary." My copy was published in 1908. I bought it in Australia in the mid-1970's, and it came to the US in a shipping container with my 1,000-book collection back in 1984. [When I went to the Wikipedia page for this title, I was delighted to find an "External link" to a site containing all 1,100 pages of the 1909 edition. Take a look, especially if you'd like to know about proper business and personal etiquette!]

Along with numerous other books, I'd had this reference book alongside my bed for several months, and every now and then when I saw it, I would pick it up—it's very heavy—and browse a few pages. Every so often, I'd come across a new word, a new idea, or some interesting or obscure fact, and for no particular reason, I started making notes. [See my essay, "Books by My Bed," from October 2010.]

In March of 2021, a year into the pandemic, I had an epiphany, which according to Wikipedia, is "an experience of sudden and striking insight." The idea that came to me was, "Why not start a series of installments, each of which contains short pieces about completely unrelated topics?" Not only would I use up some of those many notes I've been making over the years, I'd be encouraged to make even more notes as I read things in future, and I'd have "something for everyone" in each such installment. And with copious links to Wikipedia, the reader might be encouraged to research further.

But what to call the series? I started out with "Bits and Pieces," but I knew that was just a working title. After looking in a thesaurus, I found numerous possibilities, including the following: miscellaneous things, odds and sods, hodge-podge, all and sundry, mingle-mangle, mishmash, oddments, ragbag, remnants, eclectic mix, grab bag, miscellanea, miscellany, omnium-gatherums or omnium-gathera (Latin for a collection of everything), and farrago (a collection containing a confused variety of miscellaneous things). What struck me about the last one was the derived adjective farraginous. I thought, "There's a fine word to inject into a conversation!" "I say, Your Highness, thou art looking most farraginous this evening!" Or, perhaps, "Don't be so darned farraginous!" Try it the next time you are attending a dinner party with guests most of whom you have never met before. By the way, the word means random, miscellaneous, or indiscriminate.

In the end, I settled on "Odds and Ends." According to www.idioms.online, 'Odds and ends probably derived from an earlier term from the mid-1500's, odd ends, referring to short leftovers from bolts of cloth and then later to short leftovers of any material, such as "odd ends of chain" or "odd ends of lumber." By the mid-1700's it had morphed into "odds and ends" and become more generalized, acquiring its present meaning.'

[Another treasure I came across while searching my shelves was a very large Rand-McNally New Standard Atlas of the World, published in 1900, when many national borders were very different than now.]

Here then are this month's topics, all of which have "crossed my desk" in recent times:

  1. Santa Claus is a corruption of Saint Nicholas, "the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, prostitutes, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students in various cities and countries around Europe." Having been raised in a British Commonwealth country, my Christmas gift giver was called Father Christmas who has his own tradition. [Regarding Christmas presents, I'm reminded of the story of the father who, early on Christmas Eve, spends all the family Christmas money at the pub, and when he gets home, he remembers he was supposed to buy a present for his son. Luckily, there, right in the front yard was a load of horse manure that had been delivered for the garden. Quick thinker that he was, he got the boy's Christmas stocking and filled it from the pile. The next morning, the son is out playing with the boy next door, the latter of whom says how he got a cowboy costume, complete with toy gun. When he asked the first boy what he'd gotten, the optimistic reply was, "I had a horse, but it got away!"] For more than you ever wanted to know about Christmas and northern winter gift-bringers in various countries, click here.
  2. Nova Scotia is a Canadian Atlantic province. Apparently, some early settlers from Scotland decided it looked a bit like home, so they named is using the Latin term for "New Scotland." As for me, I visited Nova Scotia some years before I set foot in Scotland, so when I was travelling around Scotland, I remarked how it reminded me of Nova Scotia! I've had just the one trip to Nova Scotia, but am very much looking forward to going back, especially to Cape Breton Island.
  3. Lots of people celebrate St. Valentine's Day, but what is it and why? "It originated as a Christian feast day honoring one or two early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine and, through later folk traditions, has become a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world." The date February 14 was set way back in AD 496. Of course, one cannot be allowed to have too much fun; the day is banned in some places.
  4. My mother was quite musical, and among the numerous instruments she played was what I knew as a mouth organ, which, I discovered many years later, in many places, is instead called a harmonica. The early wooden, Chinese mouth organs (sheng) date back to 1100 BC.
  5. Many of us know the tune "Scarborough Fair" made famous by Simon and Garfunkel back in 1966. One of that song's lines is "And tell her to make me a cambric shirt." Just what the heck is a cambric shirt? Apparently, it's "one of the finest and densest kinds of cloth … originally from the French commune of Cambrai." Later, cambric became known as chambray.
  6. There is an old saying that goes something like, "He's as old as Methuselah!" He "was a biblical patriarch and a figure in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam." He was also reportedly the grandfather of Noah, but when you've lived for 969 years, you probably don't remember all the children you fathered! As for the credibility of this age claim, "Bible commentators have offered various explanations as to why the Book of Genesis describes him as having died at such an advanced age; some believe that Methuselah's age is the result of a mistranslation, while others believe that his age is used to give the impression that part of Genesis takes place in a very distant past." Click here to see Methuselah's supposed family tree. The ten oldest people in modern-recorded history are listed here. [It is my understanding that old is halfway between your current age and 100.]
  7. Lewis Carroll is a well-known author whose main claims to fame are his books, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass." His real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and he was a faculty member of Christ Church college in Oxford. Alice was a real person, a daughter of the college dean. According to Wikipedia, his pen-name "was a play on his real name: Lewis was the anglicised form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll an Irish surname similar to the Latin name Carolus, from which comes the name Charles. The transition went as follows: "Charles Lutwidge" translated into Latin as "Carolus Ludovicus". This was then translated back into English as "Carroll Lewis" and then reversed to make "Lewis Carroll"." If you should ever find yourself in Oxford, do tour Christ Church and stop by the dining hall to see the dodos and other characters from Carroll's works pictured in the stained-glass windows, but don't go at lunchtime, as the hall is in use by students at that time. [BTW, that dining hall was the one featured in the Harry Potter movies.]
  8. When watching a movie or TV police show, unidentified men and women, especially dead ones, are often referred to as John Doe and Jane Doe, respectively. Apparently, "John Doe and Richard Roe were the fictitious plaintiff and defendant, respectively, in the quaint system of ejectment procedure that was followed [in England] until 1852 when the legal farce was abolished." Ejectment is a process followed to recover the possession of, or title to, land.
  9. After watching a travel program on the Isle of Man, I went on-line to learn more. It is not part of the UK, but, rather, is a self-governing British Crown dependency. And QEII happens to have the very-Butch title of "The Lord of Mann." (She is also the Duke of Normandy of the Channel Islands, another Crown Dependency.) "In 1881, the parliament became the first national legislative body in the world to give women the right to vote in a general election, although this excluded married women." The island hosts a well-known, international motorcycle race, and the people and their language are called Manx.
  10. Are you up to speed with your vexillology? According to Wikipedia, it "is the study of the history, symbolism and usage of flags or, by extension, any interest in flags in general." I came across this term when I found a book on my shelves that was "all about flags." Who knew there was so much to know about that subject! There are fields, fimbriations, finials, flies, headings, and hoists, and that's just for starters. Of course, the International Federation of Vexillological Associations just had to have its own flag!
  11. Anyone who's seen a British movie or TV show involving a policeman, likely has come across the term Bobby, slang for a member of London's Metropolitan Police, and the distinctive accompanying helmet. The story goes that the name comes from Sir Robert "Bobby" Peel, founder of that force in 1829.
  12. The name William the Conqueror is well known, but was his name really William? Actually, no, but that information had been kept a secret from me until I visited his grave at the Abbey of Saint-Étienne in Caen, France, in 2009. On his tombstone was written Guillelmus, Latin for the French name Guillaume. So how ever did that become William? To learn about the history of the name William, click here. Oh, and more fake news, the Battle of Hastings did not take place at Hastings. Instead, it happened some six miles west at a place that is now called Battle. The 1066 battlefield has never been developed, and one can walk it listening to an audio recording of a re-enactment from the perspective of various participants, including Harold's queen, who was helping the hospital corps.
  13. Here's another word to drop into a conversation, drupaceous, which Wikipedia happily tells you, "of, relating to, resembling, or producing drupes." A drupe is a fruit with a stone or pit, and a drupelet is one of those little outer pieces of a blackberry or raspberry. You can make it sound good or bad.
  14. As for the nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill, some say its origins are from the time of King Louis XVI of France who lost his head (he was beheaded) and his queen who came tumbling after. Also suggested is some connected story idea from Iceland. In any event, mending one's head with vinegar and brown paper was a treatment for bruising, with the paper acting as a bandage. Anyway, when I was a wee lad, I learned that "Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. Jill the dill forgot the Pill, and now she has a daughter!" But that might just be the rural South Australian version.
  15. If you know anything about the Garden of Eden, you'll know that Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel, one of which killed the other. It came as a complete surprise to me when I read in Wikipedia that 'A third son, Seth, is born to Adam and Eve, and Adam had "other sons and daughters" (Genesis 5:4).' Now, a question I've had for many years has been, "If there were no other families in existence, with whom did their children beget their own children?" One (unauthorized) lesson I remember from Sunday School was, "How long did Cain hate his brother? As long as he was able!"
  16. The modern meaning of dictator is, "a political leader who possesses absolute power." However, back in the Good Old Days of the Roman Republic, it was a form of magistrate given absolute power for a set time during which they had to account for their actions." BTW, I've often said that I think the best form of government is a benevolent dictatorship. However, most dictators do not start out being benevolent, or if they do, they don't stay that way.
  17. Just where did the English names for days of the week come from? Sunday – the sun, Monday – the moon, Tuesday – the one-handed Norse god Tiw, Wednesday – the Germanic god Woden, Thursday – the Norse god Thor, Friday – the Anglo-Saxon goddess Frīja, and Saturday – the Roman god Saturn. [Numerous Romance and other languages chose instead, to name what in English are Tuesday through Friday, using words derived from Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus, respectively. BTW, I started my list/week with Sunday. Is that normal? Some cultures start it on Monday.]
  18. Recently, I was rewarding myself with a good-sized portion of milk chocolate with hazelnuts because I'd gone a good long while without having committing any of the Seven Deadly Sins! Apparently, these, are "a grouping and classification of vices within Christian teachings, although they are not mentioned in the Bible. … they are pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth, which are contrary to the seven heavenly virtues." It seems that a mortal sin is something yet again. [Regarding sinning, in Ireland, two priests—one a Catholic, the other Protestant—worked in the same area and were friends. One day they met, and one saw the other walking. "Where is you bicycle?" "Someone must have stolen it." "When that happened to me, the next Sunday I gave a sermon about the Ten Commandments with particular emphasis on 'Thou shalt not steal!' And lo and behold, my bicycle was returned." "OK, I'll try it." The next time they meet, the priest is riding his bike. "I see my advice worked." "Yes, it did. Just as I got to the bit about not committing adultery, I remembered where I'd left it!"]
  19. A word that is often in the news here in the US is gerrymandering, "a practice intended to establish an unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district voting boundaries, which is most commonly used in first-past-the-post electoral systems." It's named after an American politician, one Elbridge Gerry, in conjunction with the humble salamander amphibian; really!
  20. Did you ever sit on a divan, a "long, cushioned seat?" Apparently, these seats can be found along the walls in Middle-Eastern council chambers. The word is Turkish with Persian and Arabic origins.
  21. Where did the name "England" come from and when was it first used? "It takes its name from the Angles, a Germanic tribe deriving its name from the Anglia peninsula, who settled during the 5th and 6th centuries." So, England is the Land of the Angles! [I vaguely remember learning about the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes in elementary school.] Related is Anglo, "a prefix indicating a relation to, or descent from, the Angles, England, English culture, the English people or the English language, such as in the term Anglo-Saxon language."
  22. What do you suppose is on the menu at a death café? As Wikipedia states, this "is a scheduled non-profit get-together for the purpose of talking about death over food and drink, usually tea and cake. The goal … is to educate and help others become more familiar with the end of life." I've attended two, and found them most interesting. Most attendees spoke about dealing with their own parents' decline and death. At the first one, there was a couple younger than 40, and the husband was terminally ill. Once they explained their situation, that changed the whole dynamic.
  23. We are familiar with people listing the pros and cons of some approach, but just where did this saying come from? Quite simply, the Latin word pro means for or on behalf of, and contra means against.
  24. On several occasions when spending time in London, I've visited the British Library, which I highly recommend doing. They have developed a system for digitizing various old manuscripts and allowing you to look at them, by turning virtual pages. The one I perused was a notebook of Leonardo da Vinci's. A most interesting thing I learned was that he wrote letters in reverse and words from right-to-left, so you need a mirror to read his writing. Of course, the page-browser reverses it for you. In a separate exhibit, I saw a Lufthansa airline napkin with the original, hand-written words—including edits—of one of the Beatles' songs that they wrote while flying. One time, I attended a series of business meetings at the library, which involved software for preserving documents. I was given a tour of the restoration rooms where people were working on some 1,000-year-old Japanese scrolls.
  25. Countries have national anthems, and that for the UK is, of course, "God save the King/Queen." The US has a well-known song, "America (My Country, 'Tis of Thee)" set to the same tune. Australia used to use the UK anthem as well, until Australia had a competition to replace that song with "Advance Australia Fair" in 1984, after I left. Although I am an Australian citizen, I must confess that I don't know the new anthem. That said, I do remember a version of the old anthem from elementary school, "God save our gracious cat, feed it on bread and fat, God save our cat." Apparently, New Zealand and Denmark are the only countries with two anthems of equal standing.
  26. In modern use, a neophyte is someone new to a particular subject. However, back in the old days, it was someone recently baptized into Christianity. (From the Greek néos [new] + phutón [plant, child].)
  27. When I was a young lad living on an Aussie farm, we kept cows, some of which were Friesian. For many years I was blissfully ignorant about how this breed of cow got its name. Then after a few trips to the Netherlands, and being a map lover, I discovered the Dutch province of Friesland, where the Friesian language is widely spoken (among cows as well as people). [I have to say that the Friesian flag is one of my absolute favorites.] A few years later, I became very good friends with a Friesian couple. Now here's a travel tip: when travelling by train from Amsterdam to Groningen, halfway there the train splits in two with one half going to Leeuwarden (in Friesland), in which case, it's best to be in the correct half! [I've since learned that Guernsey and Jersey cattle come from the Channel Islands of the same respective names.]
  28. If you are trying to find an underground water supply, you might try using a divining rod (also referred as a dowsing rod). Such a rod supposedly can help locate water, mineral ore, oil, and even graves. In the US, dowsing for oil is called doodlebugging.
  29. Rugby is a well-known code of football, especially enjoyed by New Zealanders, Japanese, Samoans, Fijians, French, and Brits, and anyone else wanting to have their nose broken, repeatedly! Apparently, it was invented by a student who attended Rugby School, which is located in the English town of the same name.
  30. Recently, I watched the 1973 Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman movie "Papillon" (which is French for butterfly). Late in the film, McQueen is sent to Devil's Island, a penal colony in the Salvation Islands of French Guiana, on the north coast of South America. Being part of France, that territory uses the euro. It is also the launch site for the European Space Agency.
  31. The term Yankee is often heard in movies, especially those set during the US Civil War. It often refers to Americans from the (northeast) New England states. [For many years, my neighbor was a retired US Navy pilot born and raised in West Texas, part of the South in that Civil War. He claimed that he only learned that Damned Yankee was two words when he left Texas!] The contracted form Yank often refers to any American. Back in 1979, after I'd arrived in Chicago to live for a year, I was explaining rhyming slang to someone, and they asked if we (Aussies) had a nickname for Americans. I replied, "Yes, septic tanks, Yanks!" Of course, that is hardly flattering, but if an Aussie really likes you he insults you. Of course, he also does that if he really doesn't like you!
  32. More fake news! For many years, there has been a rumor that Columbus was the first European to discover the Americas in 1492. It turns out that he was well and truly beaten by the Vikings, who set up camp in Newfoundland and surrounds 500 years earlier. You can read all about it here.
  33. Many countries have only one official language (think US and Australia), more than a few have two (think Canada and Belgium), and some even have three or four (think Switzerland). Of course, numerous countries have minority languages. Wikipedia states, "Papua New Guinea … is the most linguistically diverse country in the world. … [There are] 839 living languages spoken in the country." Back in the 19th Century, the northern part, German New Guinea, was a Germany territory. After WWI, it was administered by Australia. The southern part had long been British New Guinea, but in 1905, they handed it over to Australia, as Papua. Both parts continued with completely separate administrative systems until they combined and became an independent country in 1975.
  34. During my first trip to Vienna, Austria, I learned about Friedensreich Hundertwasser, "a visual artist and architect who also worked in the field of environmental protection." He is famous for Hundertwasserhaus, an occupied apartment complex that is one of Vienna's most visited buildings. There is limited access to that, but a visitors' center is only a few blocks away. Do drop by if you are in town, take some photos, and buy the wonderful guidebook.
  35. Many people talk about the country Holland when they really mean the Netherlands. And more than a few Dutch people are sensitive to the difference. In reality, Holland refers to the two Dutch provinces North Holland and South Holland, the former containing Amsterdam. The Netherlands is the largest of four constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands: the 12 contiguous provinces in Europe along with the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba; Aruba; Curaçao; and Sint Maarten. I've had the pleasure of visiting the six Caribbean islands each once, and the home country many times. When asked why I love to go to the Netherlands, I reply, "for the vla!," which is Dutch for custard.
  36. Speaking of "things Dutch," there I was driving through rural Netherlands when I saw a large windmill off in the distance. I got off the main road and went in search of it, so I could get a good look up-close. I finally found it, and it was magnificent, its huge sails turning in the wind. It was located in the village of Breukelen. Before New York City was so named and became English, it was called New Amsterdam, and was Dutch territory. One area, Brooklyn, was named after that Dutch village back in the old country.
  37. When did we start using surnames (that is, family or last names)? According to Wikipedia, "Examples of surnames are documented in the 11th century by the barons in England. Surnames began as a way of identifying a certain aspect of that individual, such as by trade, father's name, location of birth, or physical features. It was not until the 15th century that surnames were used to denote inheritance." Many Spanish family names begin with de/del (meaning of/from): examples include De La Cruz, De Los Reyes, Del Rosario, De Castro, and De La Rosa. Italian names have a similar custom: De Laurentis, Del Monte, and Di Caprio. Some families have compound surnames, that is, names made up of more than one word, which are sometimes hyphenated. Spanish people often have two surnames, the first of which comes from the father's first family name, the second from the mother's first family name. See also Double-barrelled name.
  38. The word nostalgia is Greek for homesickness.
  39. Many of us are familiar with nuns, those women in a (sometimes very strict) religious order. And most often they seem to be Catholic. When the Church of England broke away from the Catholic church under Henry VIII, it retained its nuns. Nuns also exist in eastern orthodox religions, as well as Buddhism. I highly recommend the autobiographies (and other works) by Karen Armstrong, an Englishwoman who left her convent, and has since become a respected authority on various world religions. Perhaps the world's best-known nun was Mother Teresa, an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic. [I recall that she died only a few days after Princess Dianna, whose death hogged the headlines, sadly relegating coverage of Mother Theresa's life to page 5 or 7!] And then there was the Singing Nun, whose hit record "Dominique" was huge!
  40. I've been known to sprinkle a dash of nutmeg on my pumpkin or rice pudding. That spice comes from the ground-up kernel of a stone fruit, often found in Indonesia.
  41. According to Wikipedia, "Vandalism is the action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property." It comes from the German tribe, the Vandals who, apparently, went around destroying things (at early-history soccer games, apparently).
  42. Have you ever witnessed someone or something "running amok?" It's not an uncommon term. It's "sometimes referred to as simply amok or having gone amok, also spelled amuck or amuk, is the act of behaving disruptively or uncontrollably. … The phrase is often used in a less serious manner when describing something that is wildly out of control or causing a frenzy." From the Malay language, it means "to go on a killing spree."
  43. A term sometimes used in American film and song is Dixie, a nickname for the southern states, typically those that were part of the Confederacy during the Civil War. It can also be referred to as Dixieland (as in Dixieland jazz). There is no clear agreement on the origin of the term, but one interesting possibility is that it came from the label Dix (French for 10) on ten-dollar bills issued by a bank in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
  44. The title Dalai Lama is "given by the Tibetan people to the foremost spiritual leader of the Gelug or "Yellow Hat" school of Tibetan Buddhism." The current Dalai Lama lives in exile in India, and is well known around the world, and respected by people of all (and no) faiths. Successors to the title are deemed to be reincarnations. Now, there are lamas and there are llamas, and it's best not to confuse the two. The following poem (by Ogden Nash), which I learned in elementary school, will help. "The one-l lama, He's a priest; The two-l llama, He's a beast. And I will bet A silk pajama There isn't any Three-l lllama."
  45. You've probably heard of a vendetta, an on-going feud between two people or families. This Italian word comes from the Latin vindicta (meaning vengeance). A couple of well-known feuds are the Wars of the Roses (England) and the Hatfield-McCoy feud (US).
  46. It is common knowledge that nitroglycerin is a powerful explosive used to make dynamite. But did you know that your heart doctor might prescribe it to you as a medication? (And, NO, I don't mean as a laxative!) It seems to me that taking too much of the stuff for chronic heart failure may well cause your heart to fail catastrophically! So, just who and how did this medical treatment get discovered? Did someone say, "I'm having chest pains. Let's see if things improve if I chew on this stick of dynamite."?
  47. If you know something about WWII in Europe, you likely will have come across the term Vichy France. This was a French state that tried to maintain some French independence and neutrality while Germany occupied much of the country. It was based in the town of Vichy. François Mitterrand (President of France 1981–1995) served under the Vichy Regime.