French Quarter Festival day 1

It is the first weekend after lent in NOLA, so of course it’s time to have a party.

The opening day of the four day French Quarter Festival started of with a drum line and parade on Bourbon Street to Jackson Square. Music started on five stages at 11:00, and ended with fireworks over the Mississippi River at 8pm.

Weather forecast for the day held out a high likelihood of rain, but the combined wishes of thousands of attendees produced a warm, comfortable day with plenty of good food and drink.

Day two will have music at 12 open air venues. Choosing among the more than fifty performers will be an exercise in logistical planning. It promises to be a hot sunny day. I think I’ll wear a hat.

Opening parade
St. Louis Cathedral overlooking Jackson Square
Preservation Brass Band opens the festival at the Jackson Square stage.
Cory Ledet and his Zydeco Band
Bag of Donuts a fun local cover group with the great medley of Queen’s greatest hits among other favorites.
Gerard Delafose and the Zydeco Gators
Irma Thomas, Soul Queen of New Orleans was the closing headliner.

Preminiscences, Part 1: First We Take Manhattan

We were on the ferry leaving Dubrovnik, heading north to Split, Croatia, when I recognized we were making our way back home.  Dubrovnik is the furthest point of travel on this trip and we have been retracing our steps with still some days left until we get home.  It’s clearly too early to start thinking that this trip has ended, but I have been reflecting on the trip in anticipation of that end. I find myself considering the entirety of this “vacation” as if it is already complete.  It is too early to reminisce, but in anticipation of the time it will be appropriate to reminiscence, I will engage in some pre-reminiscence, that I will refer to as my preminiscences.

Let’s go back in time to the hazily remote past when Paula and I decided to undertake an international venture.  For quite a while I had been reluctant to consider leaving the country, particularly for Europe.  Initially I was deterred by the COVID travel restrictions since I wanted neither to enroll in the global medical experiment designed by mad scientists, nor allow strangers to stick swabs up my nose, into my brain, before boarding a plane back home.  But those restrictions have been paused. That reticence was replaced by a concern that we really didn’t know how bad the situation would get in Europe due to the economic and political fallout from NATO’s war with Russia. (BTW we still don’t know and since we are leaving for Germany tomorrow, I have some concerns still.

It was Paula’s idea, I must admit, that we should put aside any misgivings and hit the airways rejecting cowardice and just accepting the uncertainty.  Why let concerns like potential food and fuel shortages, runaway inflation and social unrest stop us.  She was right, of course.  Any belief that we are not in a period of uncertainty at any given time is merely a superstition.  Existence is uncertain, and though we cannot determine whether the British Pound or the Euro will collapse as a medium of exchange in the next few months, we can also not be assured that we are safe from asteroids crashing into the house next door.  “Crappy Diem,” I said,” Let’s make a plan.”

We decided on a modified version the long adventure we had planned for April 2020. I still haven’t forgiven the world for forcing us to forgo that plan. We got most of our money back from the deposits and non-refundable payments we had made, but that is faint recompense from missing the celebration of my 70th birthday (a few days late) on the summer solstice at a pagan stone circle in the Orkney Islands. That experience was to be the culmination of a three-month trip starting in Italy and including a tour of Central Europe by train before trekking through Scotland.

This trip we would take the train tour of central Europe, but not as a one-way journey from south to north, but as a loop, starting at one end and ending at the other (if you are unsettled by the notion that a loop has ends, please refer to Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov).  We settled on a detailed itinerary: start and end in Berlin with many stops in between.  That’s the degree of specificity we had when we made our flight arrangements.

We prefer to take the fewest flights to any destination, and in this case we made the journey to Berlin in two flights:   a red eye from Albuquerque to New York City (JFK) and a second overnight flight from JFK to Berlin.  That plan gave us an eighteen-hour layover at JFK.  “Well,” we thought, “we’re still young and there is no reason we can’t do two all-nighters in a row with a full day of activity in between.”  After all we could do that with ease fifty years ago, so what has changed?

A recently bygone prophet announced that “first we’ll take Manhattan, then we’ll take Berlin.”  (yes, I know who said it: it was the same guy who is referenced implicitly in another reference later on.) That was our theme as we headed on to the wild of New York City. Taking Manhattan is not such a big deal, provided you were born there or had spent enough time to understand the city. We did not fare quite so badly as some other noteworthy out of towners (another cultural inference, if I may be blunt) we actually did sort of okay once we figured out how to get out of the airport and into the MTA. 

NYC does not come with instructions.  It seems there should be some type of information system at the airport, with giant arrows in blinking lights, instructing newcomers where to get the instruction manual for New York before trying to operate in it. I did not find that kiosk, but did see a big sign saying “Welcome to New York: Deal With It.”

I’ll forego most of my complaints, but will just say that the expression “if you don’t know where you are going you will probably get there” should have a New York City corollary: you must already know how to get there before you can know how to get there. Enough said. For now anyway.

We arrived at JFK at a few minutes before 6AM, and given this, that and the other thing got to the subway about 8 having achieved lifetime satiation for Dunkin Donuts coffee. We started out heading to the Metropolitan Museum and Central Park, but sidetracked ourselves thinking a walk on the High Line would be a better strategy to stay awake than strolling at museum speed and lolling in the park for a few hours.  After about 10 minutes on the High Line we decided coffee and breakfast would be a better idea, so we departed the High Line, heading towards the Flatiron building hoping to find a good place to satisfy out cravings.

What we found, unintentionally, was the Chelsea Hotel, which started me thinking about unmade beds and limousines waiting in the street. 

After a couple minutes debating whether we could ask for a room with hourly rates we decided to head on to see the sights.  The hotel has outlived its Bohemian past and such a request would probably be misunderstood.  We headed on to the Flatiron Building where we made a few observations.

One:  you can see the Empire State Building from there.

Empire state building from our lunch table.
Flat iron building with scaffolding.
Another “Flatiron Building”. This one is in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I put this in just because, plus which, it was taken almost one year earlier, to the date.

Two:  there are a lot of street food outlets in the parks adjacent to the building

Three:  It appears to be not so unusual to order beer with breakfast in NYC.

Seeing the Empire State Building from our breakfast table, we headed that direction but decided not to stop, passing the building and walking on to the New York Library where we went for a tour.  The Library is an interesting place to visit for the architecture and for the exhibit.  It is a museum of the history of recorded thought, including exhibitions on the evolution of written languages, the development of printing technologies, up to the current period where pluses and aughts record our thoughts.  This is one of my favorite images of a self-organized exhibit situated serendipitously below a painting of Guttenberg making a demonstration of his press.

The recording of memory

The Library holds an impressive array of artifacts: a Guttenberg Bible, a first printing of the Declaration of Independence, the handwritten notes of George Washington’s farewell address, and an original hand written copy of the first twelve amendments to the US constitution, ten of which were adopted as the “bill of rights” and one of which was finally adopted in 1976 as the 26th amendment.  Here are a few images highlighting our visit to the Library. 

Outside the main entrance
Prometheus bringing fire to what’s left of my hair.
An original first print one of the Declaration of Independence
Washington’s farewell address

After leaving the library we noted that St. Patrick’s cathedral was a mere few blocks away and

On the way we passed by Rockefeller Center.

What better way to preview a trip to Europe than to visit a cathedral, since there are so few of them to be seen over there.  Well I was impressed.  A few photos.

Of course no trip to New York can be complete without a trip to Grand Central Station, where we headed for dinner. Unfortunately the restaurant we were heading for appears to no longer exist, so we took the obligatory photograph, grabbed a bite in a different restaurant and headed back to the airport.

I’m not satisfied with this post, but I’ve been toying with it for two weeks so I’ll post it now.

Modern conveniences

Like many people I know, I have concerns about the power Google has over access to information. However when they have technical innovations like “Translate” they will continue to have adherents. Check out these two photos to see how much more accessible are the signs and posters in the native tongues.

A portion of a description of the bells in the St Nicholas tower in Ceske Budejivoce. The signs were only in Czech.
Open the photo one import into Google Translate and you get this.

This works well for signs, monuments, menus, and instructions that are helpful to understand when traveling.

Autumn has arrived

Stopping in Vienna for an overnight stay to catch a train to Czech village of Cesky Krumlov tomorrow morning.

Autumn arrived, it seems, before we got here. Time for the winter jackets to come out of the packs.

Paula studies the German menu with the translate app while leaves fall off the trees around us.

Snapshots of Zagreb

I’ve decided that pictures really are worth a lot more words than my words usually convert, so here is my discounted essay about a day in Zagreb, Croatia.

At the Zagreb Assembly building Tesla is remembered for offering to build a alternating current power plant for the city in 1892.
And of course Tesla is remembered fondly, though perhaps not by all.
The view from our apartment on a rainy, overcast morning.
This market happens every day, including two stories underground. Incredible variety of fresh produce. And meats. And cheeses. And breads. And did I say sausages?
Advertised as the shortest funicular in the world. 5 Kuna for a one way trip (about USD 0.60).
Paula always chases the clouds away.
Lotrscak Tower dates from the 13th century.
A view from the top. The church, by the way, has the loudest bells at 6 in the morning.
Out apartment is in the building on the left where we can view the Dolac market and it’s aftermath.
This is the Greek co-Cathedral of St. Cyrus and Methodius. Built in 1830, rebuilt after the 188p earthquake and now being repaired after the 2020 earthquake.

I’ve contacted a contractor to install this roof on our home. It would be a great addition to the neighborhood.
Another of those darn medieval structures closed for repairs. Many of the older structures were damaged in the 2020 earthquake.

Prague Museum of Communism

While I was in Prague thirty years ago, newspapers were publishing the names of people who had been coerced into signing contracts with the authorities to provide information regarding matters of which the state had some interest.  Jiri, my host, would show me the list in the morning, highlighting who were his neighbors and colleagues, and who were his cell mates when he was in prison for his crimes against the state.  It was an interesting time to be in Prague as the nation was coming to acknowledge what Jiri called the “deformation” caused by fifty years of totalitarian rule.

I was attending the international conference of the Institute of Cultural Affairs, which is an NGO focused on organization and empowerment of communities.  I would travel each day on the Metro, forty five minutes each way with two train changes, to reach the conference facility.  I watched the fellow passengers sit in stone silence, eyes straight to the front, refusing eye contact and not speaking for the duration of the trip.  I could sense the utter alienation of the citizens one from the another.

Many details of the conference are lost in the haze of an aged memory.  Among those surviving is a reference made by the keynote speaker of the “parenthetical phrase” that started in 1917 and was now coming to its close.  Our trip to the Museum of Communism makes me question whether the “close parenthesis” has yet been typed onto that page of history.   The conditions described at the museum reverberate through time and many of the vibrations echo in the present and in my own country. As the statement mis-attributed to Mark Twain reminds us, history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

The exhibit starts with a presentation on the origin of the Czechoslovakian state from the Austrian-Hungarian empire at the close of World War I, the birth of the Czech Communist Party and its growth in response to the post war poverty and. the Great Depression.  Then there was the “great betrayal” of the Munich Agreement when other European powers ceded the Czech border lands and ultimately the entire nation to the Nazi regime. In this part of the exhibit, I remembered Jiri showing me the various informal monuments where the bullet holes still remained in the walls where partisans had been executed.   And I recalled that earlier in the day I came across one of those monuments. 

The Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia was clearly harsh and brutal yet the suppression of the mind and spirit that was achieved in the next phase of totalitarian rule was complete and comprehensive.  As I read the text and saw the images of the communist periodI knew that I had not really understood what Jiri had called the “deformation.”

The exhibit showed how in nearly every aspect of life, from the family, the church, the civic organizations, and the entire industrial enterprise had become a tool of oppression.  What is called “oppression” in the West today is a mere shadow of the oppression experienced by the Czechoslovakian people (as well as the other nations and cultures on “that side” of the iron curtain.

Fathers of Communism
Timeline of totalitarianism
Heroes of Socialism

Know your place

Among the actions taken to implement the regime, as outlined in the exhibition, were:

  • Adoption of emergency powers by the State;
  • Exclusion of opposition political parties and implementation of one-party rule;
  • Monopolization of news and distribution of information;
  • Suppression of dissenting views through censorship, harassment, and the use of raw state power;
  • Currency reforms directed at degrading the economic position of the citizens;
  • Centralization of economic and social planning;
  • Elimination of small businesses and entrepreneurs;
  • Elimination of private ownership of farmland and centralized control over food distribution;
  • Use of the legal system and judiciary to persecute;
  • Ideological indoctrination of children and instruction in a revised history to sever links to the past;
  • Politicization and weaponization of police and military and using it against the population;
  • Systematic surveillance of the population using technology and networks of informants and secret police; and
  • Compelled obedience to the State through economic, social and physical coercion.

Do any of these measures seem familiar?

The exhibit concluded with the fall of communism in Europe.  Among the last panels we found the statement that “the fall of communism took ten years in Poland, ten months in Hungary, ten weeks in Germany, and ten days in Czechoslovakia.” That assertion addresses only the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989 and its aftermath. Earlier, the exhibition includes a long history of resistance and disobedience.  There was the “Prague Spring” of 1968, the annual self-immolation of protestors, and the various examples of cultural insurrection through art, poetry, and literature, distributed through the underground.

Names and dates of the martyrs for liberation

The last item in the exhibition is a video of the street demonstrations and the State’s response during the Velvet Revolution.  The heroism of the demonstrators who stood against the unconstrained violence of the State was astounding.  As for the closing of the parenthesis, it is an open question whether the citizens of the West have the clarity of mind and the courage to act as the totalitarian forces in our society solidify their control.

Beginning of the End
Velvet Revolution

Our Next Great Adventure (an introduction)

Our plane landed in Berlin under heavy clouds and hard rain.  I had hoped the forecasts would be mistaken as they had been so often when we’ve been able to compare real life conditions to media representations.  Weather forecasts tend to have the same bias towards sensational reporting as other so-called news.  As we approached Berlin, I was pleased to watch the ground below illuminated by bright sun in cloudless sky, but my once again I was not disappointed by my disappointment when we suddenly were descending into thick clouds onto rain drenched runway with haze and fog obscuring the terminal and peripherals.

In my mind, there are probably a few more cities more depressing than Berlin under clouds but I haven’t been to one yet.  My last trip to Berlin was thirty years ago as winter approached, and my expectations for today’s visit have been shaped considerably by that experience.  It was barely after the fall of the wall when the neglect and deterioration of the city from the communist deformation was evident.  It seemed the environment, particularly in the eastern zone, created its own overcast.  Of course, times have changed, and Germany has (or soon to have had) the strongest economy of the European Union, so I expect the malaise I detected thirty years ago has been overcome and that even the clouds and rain may become something else to appreciate.

Before leaving the airport Paula and I took some time for coffee and to steel ourselves to plunge into the Our Next Great Adventure.  By the time we left the airport, the sun was shining in a dark blue sky.  My skepticism has not necessarily served me well, but it has at least been a trustworthy companion.  We plunged into the city, confident or our ability to steer ourselves through an area where we have little understanding of the language and considerable ignorance of societal dynamics.  After a short break at our hotel we decided we should take a long walk in the city to delay the inevitable encounter with jet lag.  We immediately somehow locked ourselves out of the hotel, on a roof-top terrace in midst of a gigantic downpour.

How does that statement end? You know the one that starts “Past performance. . . . . ” Fortunately, we had both an umbrella and a cell phone so were able, after several calls to the front desk, were eventually liberated by a young woman who lectured us sternly, in the way only a German can lecture, and advised us not to engage in any further misbehavior.

There will be no photographs in this post.  It is only a teaser, an introduction to our new next adventure, about which we will describe in upcoming posts.  We will write about our sixteen-hour layover in New York City, and the two overnight flights we completed.  We will catch you up on our day in Manhattan and the joys of experiencing the city as a couple of “out of towners” (intentional reference to the movie).  We will also fill you in on how we happen to be where we are and where we intend to be next.

I am also uploading this post as an advisory for those of you who would think a good drenching is an acceptable substitute for abundant sunlight to stave off jet lag.  It’s nearly two o’clock in the morning and I’m in the lobby typing away.  Club music is playing over the speakers and young folks, in well lubricated good humor, are streaming in towards the elevator as I wonder how it is Tuesday night is a party night in Berlin.

Another bit of warning.  This blog will be over-taken by events.  By the next time one of us posts again we will be somewhere else.  Our hotel has a nightly rate slightly more than a round trip flight to JFK, so tomorrow we will be on a southbound train for a destinationabout which we will discuss later.

Fare thee well, for now.