"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words. " ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Handed My Own Life

University of Glasgow Coat of Arms

[Thanks to Peter Bunder & Good Shepherd for this photo & caption]

Back to school already! The calendar year is nearly two thirds gone, yet in semester - speak the year is just beginning! After a few decades on the academic calendar, it becomes hard to measure time in any other way. I began my Freshman year at Northeast Missouri State in the fall of 1975, finishing four years later with a B.A. in English, one of the mere fifty - two Bachelor of Arts candidates listed on the last page of the graduation program (Spring 1979). My educational goals were not shared by many of my peers (most of whose names were listed among the many hundreds preceding the B.A.'s). While I did not elect to obtain the then popular Bachelor of Science in Education, I somehow or other ended up teaching for a number of years and was imprinted by numerous examples of what it meant to be an educator.

The closest I've come to a mission field was teaching at the Community College of Philadelphia. I taught a class for students who were trying to qualify for Freshman English -- so pre-freshman English. A few had not graduated from high school, but they had special admission status as returning students. A few were traditional students (age 18 or so) who had just not been served well by the Philadelphia public school system. Most were returning students, African American women about my age (late 30s at the time) and many were grandmothers! They were always surprised to learn that I was the mother of toddlers, at my age. I was impressed by the commitment they brought to their course work, and their determination to improve the level of their writing skills. Their dedication was inspiring, and many times they seemed to surprise themselves and each other with the success of their achievements. My last semester there, Spring 1998, I participated in a departmental evaluation, in an attempt to reveal something of how these small successes were accomplished.

Always my goal was to reveal to the students their own capacity for intelligent thought, as mine was revealed to me. In An American Childhood, Annie Dillard vividly describes her initiation into the world of natural science, her early discovery, years before college, "that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself." I love her scenario of revelation, though the indifference of her privileged parents fills me with some misgiving:
“Mother . . . gave me to understand that she was glad I had found what I had been looking for, but that she and Father were happy to sit with their coffee, and would not be coming down [to check out her biology experiment in the basement]. She did not say, but I understood at once, that they had their pursuits (coffee?) and I had mine. She did not say, but I began to understand then, that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself. I had essentially been handed my own life” (148 - 49, emphasis added).
In Homegrown Democrat, Garrison Keillor writes of his education in very similar terms, describing himself as an undergraduate "with no money to speak of and no clear plan for the future but . . . teachers who engage him with gravity and fervor and that's enough. That was the true spirit of the university, the spirit of the professors who loved their work. That was the heart and soul of the place . . . ." He enumerates half a dozen of his most inspirational professors, concluding with a visit to the library where "that Niagara of scholarship holds you in its sway, the deluge and glory of learning, and you begin to see where work and play become one. And imagine working at something you love. And that was how the University of Minnesota gave me life" (94 - 96, emphasis added).

Several times during my undergraduate years, I too was "essentially handed my own life," not just in the English courses which catered to my "private passion" but once in a science class where we learned that "Much knowledge is gained in pursuit of even elusive goals," and once again in music appreciation where the professor explained that "we don't know what we like -- we like what we know" and then proceeded to teach us just how much there was in the world to know and like and love. Not only did I obtain personal attention when necessary, but upon one memorable occasion during my Freshman year when I arrived at an office door at the same time as a classmate, the instructor soon had us tutoring each other. My questions were answered by a peer whose questions in turn I was able to answer! Thus, even in uncertainty, my own competence was reinforced. I learned that I was capable of intelligent thought and that I could impart as well as absorb information. This was an invaluable discovery, which stood me in good stead as an educator. Though it was not always easy, I aimed for a similar transference of accountability during my years as a classroom teacher.

As for my private passion, one of my most rewarding undergraduate challenges was to work as an editor of the student literary magazine, learning to test and question my own critical thinking skills in ways which continue to influence and inform every writing task I undertake. I knew when I arrived at Northeast that I wanted to major in English; and when I took Modern British Fiction, I knew what, one day, my field of specialization would be. Never before had I read such wonderful novels or worked on such exciting assignments! From a handful of professors, I encountered generous and enthusiastic encouragement, and was challenged by their faith in my work and by the valuable information which they choose to share.

Regardless of one's private passion, the public study of language and literature should yield a certain breadth of vision when it comes to solving problems, analyzing common or repeated themes, and dealing with human conflict in a humane way. To portray the inevitable links between existence and language, to create an environment of personal actualization in which a whole and steady vision might be realized, to repair the learned disjunction between speaker and utterance, to not be fooled by wordcraft or lazy thinking -- those were some of my goals as a teacher of English. Particularly in teaching composition it seems important, perhaps it is even a mission to show students how to be responsible to language, to own it, and to overcome indifference.

I pointed out to them the significance of their own authority in what Stanley Fish calls the "interpretive community" and the relevance of their own contributions to the discursive enterprise referred to by Robert Maynard Hutchins as the Great Conversation and the Civilization of the Dialogue:
"How, then, can higher education escape dogmatism, narrowness, the invasion of academic freedom, and failure in its proper intellectual task and still do its duty by morals and religion? A possible answer lies in the Great Conversation. The Great Conversation began with the Greeks, the Hebrews, the Hindus, and the Chinese and has continued to the present day. It is a conversation that deals, perhaps more extensively than it deals with anything else, with morals and religion. The questions of the nature and existence of God, the nature and destiny of humanity, and the organization and purpose of human society are the recurring themes of the Great Conversation.

"There may be many ways in which a college or university can continue the Great Conversation, but it would seem offhand that one of the best ways is through the reading and discussion by all the students of the books in which the Great Conversation has been carried on by the greatest writers and thinkers who have taken part in it. I emphasize discussion because of the contributions that this method makes to the moral and intellectual habits we desire; and I emphasize reading and discussion by all the students and faculty because in this way the formation of a community can be advanced. To continue and enrich the Great Conversation is the object of higher education.

"The Civilization of the Dialogue is the only civilization worth having and the only civilization in which the whole world can unite. It is, therefore, the only civilization we can hope for, because the world must unite or be blown to bits. The Civilization of the Dialogue requires communication. It requires a common language and a common stock of ideas. It assumes that everyone has reason and that everyone can use it. It preserves to all their independent judgment and, since it does so, it deprives any individual or any group of the privilege of forcing their judgment upon any other individual or any other group. The Civilization of the Dialogue is the negation of force. We have reached the point, in any event, when force cannot unite the world; it can merely destroy it. Through continuing and enriching the Great Conversation, higher education not only does its duty by morals and religion; it not performs its proper intellectual task; it also supports and symbolizes the highest hopes and the highest aspirations of humanity."
Robert Maynard Hutchins
from Morals, Religion, and Higher Education

In keeping with this focus on dialogue, I stressed the need to adhere to certain objective principles (use of the apostrophe, for example, or the conjugation of verbs!) not merely for the sake of following rules, but so that the students' contributions to the dialogue might be taken seriously; so that they do not undermine their own authority as readers, writers, and speakers; and so that they may learn to make the best use of that "tight economy of energy" which for Mina P. Shaughnessy characterized the transfer of meaning via the written or spoken word. In the developmental courses which I taught, I hoped for my students to discover that expressing themselves verbally went hand in hand with reading and expressing themselves in writing; and I tried to impress upon them that most human endeavor, education in particular, is a verbal undertaking. I urged them to think of each essay as "a try," an attempt to tackle one more problem and eliminate it before confronting another.

Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction contains a structural analysis of the curriculum in which he warns students that literary studies "are a question of the signifier, not of the signified. Those employed to teach you this form of discourse will remember whether or not you were able to speak it proficiently long after they have forgotten what you said." Despite the appeal of Eagleton's analogy, I always was, in fact, keenly interested in what my students had to say; and I continually reminded them that it is for this very reason -- the significance of their message -- that their mode of signification is so important. Myself a student of the message as well as the medium, I have to admire "that rare educator," described by Maya Angelou in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings "who was in love with information . . . [and desired] to make sure that some of the things she knew would find repositories so that they could be shared again" (209). If, as Angelou suspected, such an impulse was not motivated solely by a love for the students themselves, then certainly it derives from a sincere conviction that they proceed with awareness, as cognizant as possible of their role in creating and naming the world which surrounds them -- a way to give them life, to hand them their own lives!

Henricus de Alemannia Lecturing his Students
from Laurentius de Voltolina, 1350s
For more on higher / liberal education, see
my previous post: "Back to School: A Scent of Knowledge"
and this vintage video: Bryn Mawr College

For a bit of academic humor you might want to try
33 Teachers Who Got The Last Laugh,
or Your Teachers Were Funnier Than You All Along

which I found to be very entertaining in a Breakfast Club kind of way!

In fact, it reminds me of another movie Class in which the English instructor is handing back papers with a negative remark for each one. When he gets to the last one, his comment is "This one offended ALL my sensibilities." It's been 30 years since I saw this movie -- (warning: it's a stupid movie; so this is not a recommendation) -- but I never forgot that one funny line!

That's the thing about being a student or a teacher: it always seems to involve grading! Reminiscing about these good and bad movies reminded my brother Bruce and me of our best grading stories.

Bruce wrote to say, "I once got a paper back with the international traffic symbol for "No" -- the circle with the slash through it -- covering most of the first page. In one of the few spaces not covered by the circle was the word "NO!" in big red letters. The rest of the pages just had big red Xs from corner to corner. The test was a final that I was required to take, but it wouldn't affect my grade. I only had to get something like a 40% on the final to get an A. So, I just went in and wrote drivel . . . didn't even study. The professor called me into his office and told me something like this: 'I know basically all you have to do is spell your name correctly on this test to get enough points for an A, but you ARE going to take this final.' He gave me an incomplete and I had to go take the finals when we got back from Christmas."

The prize correction / comment, which I still enjoy for it's sheer uselessness: "Revise for smoothness." This is the one and only comment that one of my dissertation readers put on the top of my 300 - page rough draft, without one single mark anywhere throughout the entire document (did he even read it? I think not). Now, whenever Gerry and I hear any piece of totally useless advice, we just say, "Revise for smoothness."

My advisor Leonard Orr (one of the inspiring professors invoked above) gave me some useful advise: He said to wait a couple of days, change a couple of words around, re-submit the paper, and say, "I revised for smoothness." Worked like a charm!


Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, August 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Front Porch of My Life

Illustration for May Day from A Time to Keep
by throw - back American illustrator and writer
Tasha Tudor (1915 - 2008)

After eight weeks of travelogues (Berlin, Philadelphia, Hanover, Paris), here is a change of pace. Where is one of the best places to spend a good deal of the summer? Why, Out on the Porch, of course! So many happy memories of sitting in the rocking chairs at dusk; swinging -- sometimes precariously -- on the porch swing, playing in the miniature sandbox, building a fort or setting up a dollhouse, preparing the garden vegetables, waiting for the mailman, hoping for a friend to drop by or running over to someone else's porch and ringing the doorbell, perusing poems about front porches, reading -- maybe even writing! -- the great American novel. Cliches?

The Drama Critic Warns of Cliches
"When the curtain opens
on a front porch," says the critic,
"I walk out," meaning
I suppose those ubiquitous
rocking-chairs, an old grand-
ma or pa, the usual cataclysm
of ho-hum raw emotion,
plenitude of gnats, fireflies, and
wisteria at dusk.
Let me not omit
from this banned semiology
of porches, my own front porch
on the Maryland corner
of First and Anson, almost blotted out
by a scrim of rhododendrons
fanged with pink blooms. . . .

"Even worse," the critic continues,
"someone's mother always has cancer." It's true,
my mother does have cancer;
it's a cliche, a convention, you can hardly
blame her. Probably
I have cancer too, almost certainly;
perhaps it has already leaked down,
down to my two daughters, killing
each other so innocently there on the porch.
Perhaps the clear scrim of blood
is already transformed, the understudies
already warmed up
and taking over. . . .
. . . Surely
this is my front porch for life.

by Evan Zimroth (b 1943)
contemporary American novelist, poet, professor

Detail from The Old Checkered House, 1944
by renowned and unique American folk artist
Grandma ~ Anna Mary Robertson ~ Moses (1860 - 1861)

"All this was before the big supermarkets
and shopping centers and affluent subdivisions
with no sidewalks and the monster highways
and the innocence lost.
It was even before there was television,
and people would not close their doors and shut
their curtains to watch the quiz games or the comedy
hours or the talk shows where everybody talks at once.
We would sit out on our front porches in the hot,
serene nights and say hello to everyone who walked by."

from My Dog Skip (p 6 - 7)
by endearing American author and pet - lover
Willie Morris (1934 - 1999)


A few of my odd little front porches:





Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, August 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Monday, July 14, 2014

Travelogue 4: Paris


My Father
[sung by Judy Collins]

My father always promised us
That we would live in France
We'd go boating on the Seine
And I would learn to dance

We lived in Ohio then
He worked in the mines
On his dreams like boats
We knew we'd sail in time

All my sisters soon were gone
To Denver and Cheyenne
Marrying their grownup dreams
The lilacs and the man

I stayed behind, the youngest still
Only danced alone
The colors of my father's dreams
Faded without a sound

And I live in Paris now
My children dance and dream
Hearing the words of a miner's life
In words they've never seen

I sail my memories of home
Like boats across the Seine
And watch the Paris sun
Set in my father's eyes again

My father always promised us
That we would live in France
We'd go boating on the Seine
And I would learn to dance

I sail my memories of home
Like boats across the Seine
And watch the Paris sun
Set in my father's eyes again

words and music by Judy Collins (b 1939)

Storybook Edition, illustrated by Jane Dyer

I can never hear Judy Collins sing this song without also recalling the poem "As Children Together" by Carolyn Forché (b 1950). As I wrote last year, the closing lines tell you all you need to know. They tell you that going to Paris can change your life:
If you read this poem, write to me.
I have been to Paris since we parted.

[To hear a recitation, to order The Country Between Us, to learn more.]

When I visited Paris in 2002, my friend Vickie -- the best personal
travelling consultant that a girl could ever hope for! -- sent me a suggestion list that I carried with me every where I went!

Vickie in 2001, at the grave of Colette, in Pere Lachaise

Gerry had been making occasional trips to Fontainebleau but had not been inside the city for twenty years; and I had never been before, so it was an exciting time for us. We couldn't do everything but did as much as we could. I accompanied Gerry to a couple of the conference events, particularly the opening night dinner at Versailles -- so opulent, with a harpist, and a fingernail moon hanging in the sky above the formal gardens. Now why didn't I remember to take my camera? Gerry spoke at the 7am Technology Breakfast, which was well attended, considering the early hour (and the lateness of the previous evening at Versailles). Each night, we stayed awake until 1am, when, from our hotel window, we could see the spot light go out on the Eiffel Tour. Now why isn't it lit up all night; wouldn't that be the American way?

In between official commitments, we walked along des Champs Elysees -- no shopping but did have french onion soup, salad Nicoise, and some sidewalk cafe novelty drinks: The Diablo for Gerry and the Kir Royale pour moi; also drank a lot of Perrier ($4 per bottle) and splashed out for some ice cream at Berthillion ($4 per scoop). Inflated prices? No! Non - tax - deductible contributions to the preservation of Paris? Yes! Living in downtown Philly taught me to be tolerant of the tourist trade as a steady source of revenue for keeping cities vibrant. I appreciated all the happy visitors riding in the horse - drawn carriages along Pine Street, right past my front door, keeping Philadelphia alive and well; after all, because of them the surrounding streets were always clean!

We went to see le tour Eiffel but declined to stand in the very long line for a ride upward. Same with Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, and the Musee D'Orsay -- next time! It seemed that since we were there for such a short time, it was not worth waiting hours for any one attraction. Instead, we just took in whatever we could by strolling the lovely grounds, a great tourist activity in which to indulge without young children who may not yet consider aimlessly walking around any city to be a pleasurable vacation activity. However, it's what Gerry and I enjoy most, in London as well as Paris. Also on our strolling - but - not - stopping list were areas like the Place Vendome, Palais Royal, l'arc de Triomphe, Tuileries, and Centre Pompidou.

We got to Louvre at 9am before the crowds and spent hours in there on Saturday, admiring Winged Victory, the Mona Lisa, and so on and so forth. To read on the plane, I took along Girl With a Pearl Earring and Girl in Hyacinth Blue, in light of which, I had hoped to see Vermeer's Lace Maker while in the Louvre, but that wing was closed. Worse luck. I thought of Ben and Sam in the basement of the Louvre which was excavated in 1985 to reveal the foundations and the moat of the old (12th C) Louvre Fortress. There is also an incredibly detailed scale model of the Louvre Castle (as seen in the Duc de Berry's "Tres Riches Heures," October):

In search of lunch, we passed a couple of interesting looking Irish Pubs: The James Joyce (near out hotel) and Kitty O'Shea's (near Place Vendome). We considered Harry's Bar but in the end decided on Cafe Le Sarah Bernhardt before taking the Metro out to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. On the way out we used the Pere Lachaise Metro stop, which was fine; but on the way back we used the Gambetta stop and found that to be a really charming area. At the cemetery, we paid our respects to Colette, Heloise & Abelard, Proust, and, of course, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde:

It was all very romantic and restful. We wandered along the Seine, and Gerry bought a Van Gogh knock-off from a street vendor, his birthday present to himself. Pretty cool to have your birthday in Paris; for proof, see date on above photo! My birthday present, a week early, was a bottle of L'Air du Temps that I have used sparingly over the years. Although Paris is often listed with all the world destination cities -- London, New York, Rome, Tokyo, etc. -- I certainly did not find it to be an in - your - face bustling metropolis. Not that I've ever been to Rome or Tokyo, but I do know what it's like trying to make your way down the sidewalks in London or New York, and even Philadelphia on a busy day. Paris was nothing like that. A few crowded Metro rides, but otherwise, incredibly calm and mellow. We had a wonderful time. The flights were tiresome, but we suffered only minimal jet lag on the way over and none at all coming home. Now why haven't we been back? My L'Air du Temps is nearly finished . . . then we absolutely must return for more!

For daily updates on contemporary Paris,
check out these fun pages
where my friend Rozena C writes & translates:
Messy Nessy Chic & My Little Paris


Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, July 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Travelogue 3: Hanover


"Life . . . is never the way one imagines it.
It surprises you, it amazes you, and it
makes you laugh or cry when you don’t expect it."

"This garden was made with difficulties, love, wild enthusiasm, obsession, and most of all, faith. Nothing could have stopped me."

"As in all fairy tales, before finding the treasure, I met on my path dragons, sorcerers, magicians and the Angel of Temperance."

~ Niki de Saint Phalle ~
(1930 - 2002)

~ 1993 ~


Eve Blossom
Kurt Schwitters' own translation of "An Anna Blume"

Oh thou, beloved of my twenty-seven senses, I love thine! Thou thee
thee thine, I thine,
thou mine, we?
That (by the way) is beside the point!
Who art thou, uncounted woman, Thou art, art thou?
People say, thou werst,
Let them say, they don't know what they are talking about.
Thou wearest thine hat on thy feet, and wanderest on thine hands,
On thine hands thou wanderest
Hallo, thy red dress, sawn into white folds,
Red I love Eve Blossom, red I love thine,
Thou thee thee thine, I thine, thou mine, we?
That (by the way) belongs to the cold glow!
Eve Blossom, red Eve Blossom what do people say?
PRIZE QUESTION: 1. Eve Blossom is red,
2. Eve Blossom has wheels
3. what colour are the wheels?
Blue is the colour of your yellow hair
Red is the whirl of your green wheels,
Thou simple maiden in everyday dress,
Thou small green animal,
I love thine!
Thou thee thee thine, I thine, thou mine, we?
That (by the way) belongs to the glowing brazier!
Eve Blossom,eve,
E - V - E,
E easy, V victory, E easy,
I trickle your name.
Your name drops like soft tallow.
Do you know it, Eve?
Do you already know it?
One can also read you from the back
And you, you most glorious of all,
You are from the back as from the front,
Easy victory.
Tallow trickles to stroke over my back
Eve Blossom,
Thou drippy animal,
I love you!!!!

~ Kurt Schwitters ~
(born in Hanover 1887 - died in London 1948)
Dadaist Practitioner of
Poems Performances Pieces Proses Plays Poetics

~ 1919 ~


In March of 2006, we had the opportunity to spend our Spring Break in Hanover, Germany because Gerry was teaching a week - long seminar at GISMA, who sent him emails that began: "Good Morning Professor McCartney Dear Gerry." Who could resist such an entreaty? We flew into Manchester, England, stopped by Liverpool for a weekend to see Gerry's parents and let Sam stay there for some quality time his British grandparents. Then Gerry, Ben, and I flew on to Germany, where Ben and I were full - time tourists while Gerry taught.

I hadn't even anticipated how much I was going to appreciate my bonding time with Ben, but I really did, especially, since we spent many hours just the two of us together walking around and taking photographs and going to museums while Gerry was working and Sam, of course, was back in England. Ben loved running around with the camera, capturing what he liked to refer to as "the essence of where today meets yesterday." For example, this juxtaposition of 21st century transport and 19th century architecture was taken at the Herrenhausen Gardens, just a short drive from Hanover's city center:
Tram Obscures Palace

In fact, Herrenhausen was our only jaunt outside of walking distance (besides Gerry going to work). It was not really all that far, and we were not sorry to have visited the Indoor Rain Forest House and captured the essence; however, unlike those websites that suggest this attraction is equally beautiful at all times of year, I would recommend saving this landmark for the summertime:

Bleak Mid - March

Gerry taught every morning and every afternoon joined us in some local excursion; and I know that he too really enjoyed having so much time with Ben -- it was nice for us to be able to treat him as a "kid" for a little while, before he grew completely up. Sam, on the other hand, was busy receiving the royal treatment as Grandpa's Boy! I think both Ben & Sam relished being the "only child" for a week, but they were glad to be back together at the end of the week for some good ol' sibling together time:

As for our tourist activities, Gerry, Ben, and I found Hanover to be a beautiful old city -- carefully reassembled after the War to blend reconstruction and preservation of whatever was left standing with new construction (well, I guess you could say this of most German towns). Hanover is not necessarily a tourist destination (like Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Munich, Berlin) but still there was plenty to see and do, and we enjoyed it all and certainly wouldn't mind going back if we have another chance. There is a wonderful huge stone - paved central square in the Old City, dominated by a gigantic medieval church and encircled by ancient historical buildings, plus some shiny new shops, such as the Oil & Vinegar store, which was full of great kitchen gifts and supplies -- along the lines of Williams Sonoma. I don't know if Gerry's teaching duties would ever take him there during the month of December, but I could just imagine the whole street scene filled with holiday sights and sounds and aromas of a traditional Christkindlmarket!

We lived in a local apartment complex, and picked up our supplies at the small shops on the plaza level:

Everything at the deli looked great, but we didn't buy anything there. We bought bread, sweet rolls, croissants, and ready - made sandwiches from the bakery -- just by pointing at each item and holding out our money and letting the cashier take the correct change. Everyone there seemed very helpful and honest, even though they could have easily fooled us! As on any trip, we encountered those -- such as the cashier at the little "Tabac" shop, where I picked up a few cards -- who were always kind even when neither of us could understand a word the other was saying, and those who weren't, such as the staff at the less than charming restaurant (Spago) where they treated us like Space Aliens. Reluctant Greetings Earthlings! Yankees Go Home!

We went to the grocery store every day for cereal, milk, orange juice, lettuce, strawberries, pasta -- things like that, just for general eating and snacking. We quickly learned to take along the big shopping bags left behind the previous tenants in our apartment, and to do our own bagging really quickly because there is no room for the items to stack up at the end of the tiny little conveyor belt. When buying Fanta or Mineral Water (for a mere 19 cents -- though in the restaurants it was more like $5 for the same size bottle!), we paid a plastic bottle deposit that we got back the next time. It was all kind of simultaneously New Age progressive and Old School quaint, reminding me in some ways of shopping as a child, with a basket on my arm, at the old - time corner grocery store with my grandparents.

In the dairy case we found nice wedges of Brie for 99 Euro - Cents. We had this for a snack a lot, along with bread from the bakery -- such a treat compared to the cost of Brie in America! This is also where we picked up items for the apartment, such as paper towels, laundry soap, etc. As Fruhling and Frohe Ostern were drawing near, the grocery counter was covered with the most beautiful Easter candy that I've ever seen! And over on the regular candy aisle we found our favorite German candy bars, miniaturized:

Ritter Sport Minis
So cute -- the perfect souvenir!

Ben and I spent the mornings following the Self - Guided Red Line / Thread Walking Historical Tour, using the little red information booklets to help us find our way and give us all the background information.

Leaving the apartment area, we walked east on Calenberger Strasse until we reached Rote Reihe, featuring the Lutheran Neustadter Kirche surrounded by a stone plaza; beyond that is a Concrete Memorial where the Jewish Synagogue used to be; and beyond that St. Clemens Catholic Basilica. This is a nice side street to walk down and take some photos, then circle back up to Calenberger Strasse and cross Leibnizufer, a divided major thoroughfare. The crosswalk and crossing lights make it very pedestrian friendly, even if there happens to be a lot of traffic. As soon as you're across the street, glance down to your left and you'll see the giant colorful Nana sculptures created for the City of Hanover by Niki de Saint Phalle.

Going forward, onto Schloss Strasse and Kramerstrasse, you'll cross a little footpath over the canal / moat. On the left is a large tower from the old city wall; on the right is the Leine Palace. Along Kramerstrasse, we liked the Historiches Museum, off to the left on Pferdestraße, for the scale models and the local color; this was Ben's favorite museum. Further along on Kramerstrasse, you can indulge in a creamy Italian ice cream cone Mr. Gelato (on your right). You'll recognize the big plastic ice - cream cone outside the door -- along with the All - American "Big Boy." We were never quite sure what the Big Boy was doing there, but he provides a very Midwestern presence, just in case you're feeling homesick!

At this point, you can turn in any direction for great shops, pubs, restaurants, and an immersion into medieval German history; for you are now at the Old Town Center, Old Town Hall, and mammoth Market Church mentioned above. From here, you can veer off to the right, cross Karmarchstrasse, and visit the Market Hall:

This market is nearly identical in nature to Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, if you happen to be familiar. It is filled with small stalls selling all kinds of gourmet groceries, and numerous little restaurants selling snacks and stand - up meals (plus a few sit - down places). Very colorful.

From here, you can head southward to the New Town Hall / Rathaus. You can also reach this area from Calenberger Strasse by heading to the Waterloo Underground stop and taking the pedestrian tunnel underneath Friederiken Platz. Be sure to go into the Rathaus lobby to see the four scale models of the city at different points in history (medieval, before WWII, after war, contemporary). At the back entrance of the Rathaus is a restaurant that was recommended to us (but we didn't ever find the time to eat there); and down the big steps is a scenic duck pond.

The Rathaus area is also the museum area. The Kestner is right on the corner, close to the front of the Rathaus. I really liked this small, peaceful museum, and Ben was mesmerized by the coin collection. The Landesmuseum (also called Lower Saxony Sate Museum) is behind the Rathaus, beyond the duck pond, through a little park, and across the street. Gerry liked this one best; it was comprehensive and classic. There was a snack bar (not as fancy as the Rathaus restaurant but nice), and a gift shop with lots of postcards. The Sprengel comes highly recommended by every guide book if you prefer Modern Art. If this isn't your favorite era, you might feel impatient in here; but it was perfect for me: "A major objective of the expansion is to allow extensive coverage of Niki de Saint Phalle and the Hanoverian artist Kurt Schwitters. . . . Besides Schwitters and de Saint Phalle [see poem and quotations above], the Sprengel Museums's key works include those of Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, Emil Nolde and Max Beckmann from before 1945."

I think that covers most of what we managed to accomplish in five days, along with the rest of the Red Line landmarks that I didn't mention here. Once you start walking around, you'll realize that before you know it, you will have covered the entire Red Thread several times. Along most of the path, there is an actual red line (well, more like orange spray paint) painted on the sidewalk to guide the tourists, but in some spots it's rather faded or perhaps obscured by stray litter. For the most part, the city is tidy, but there was a garbage strike on while we were there (so brace yourself), and some areas are in badly in need of some urban TLC. Well, we're used to that! We'd go again!

For additional pictures, see:
Spring ~ Time / Ice & Water
Apples, Walnuts, Leaves ~ / Ten Thousand Thousand
Rocky Road

Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, July 14th

Between now and then, read
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my running list of recent reading

Ritter Sport: They're Everywhere!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Travelogue 2: Berlin vs Philadelphia


Streets of Philadelphia
I was bruised and battered, I couldn't tell what I felt.
I was unrecognizable to myself.
I saw my reflection in a window, I didn't know my own face.
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin' away
On the Streets of Philadelphia.

I walked the avenue, 'til my legs felt like stone,
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone,
At night I could hear the blood in my veins,
Black and whispering as the rain,
On the Streets of Philadelphia.

Ain't no angel gonna greet me.
It's just you and I my friend.
My clothes don't fit me no more,
I walked a thousand miles
Just to slip this skin.

The night has fallen, I'm lyin' awake,
I can feel myself fading away,
So receive me brother with your faithless kiss,
Or will we leave each other alone like this
On the Streets of Philadelphia

Bruce Springsteen


Philadelphia: City of Brotherly Love
Sometimes I think that I know
What love's all about
And when I see the light
I know I'll be all right.

I've got my friends in the world,
I had my friends
When we were boys and girls
And the secrets came unfurled.

City of brotherly love
Place I call home
Don't turn your back on me
I don't want to be alone
Love lasts forever.

Someone is talking to me,
Calling my name
Tell me I'm not to blame
I won't be ashamed of love.

City of brotherly love.
Brotherly love.

Sometimes I think that I know
What love's all about
And when I see the light
I know I'll be all right.

Neil Young


The Streets of Philadelphia. City of Brotherly Love. As a city - dweller in downtown Philadelphia, my favorite urban activity was walking -- three or four miles in one direction, then three or four miles back -- admiring countless lovely green spaces and remarkable architectural details along the way. I swear I would discover new features every time, no matter how often I walked the same streets. When Gerry and I visited Berlin in 1993, we met a number of former University of Pennsylvania students, who seemed unaccountably disdainful of our fair city and the years they spent there before moving on to greener pastures in and around Europe.

I had hoped to share in their recollections of life in Philadelphia; but, strangely to me, they all seemed to draw one big blank. They had little to no knowledge of West Philly / University City, where I lived from 1993 - 2001 and where the University of Pennsylvania campus and my first Philadelphia house were located.

And they were even less familiar with downtown / Center City / Society Hill, where all the history happened and where I lived from 2001 - 2004.

Instead, their short - sighted experience was apparently bounded by the one or two buildings on campus where they attended class and whatever nearby apartment complex they had lived in at the time and some supermarket out in the suburbs where they would drive miles and miles away to get their groceries. What a wasted opportunity to shop local! They don't know what they missed by not enjoying the place while they lived there. A historical city like Philadelphia has so much to offer if you will just open your eyes! Some of the areas -- and I don't mean out-of-the-way places, but little gems and neighborhoods that are right in front of your eyes wherever you find yourself -- are truly as lovely as anything you'd see in Paris or Berlin. That was my thought on a good day.

Other days could be more frustrating. Philadelphia could never -- nor can West Lafayette, Indiana, for that matter -- measure up to the pedestrian - friendliness of Berlin (see previous post). One disheartening morning, I was out for a walk, right through the heart of downtown, when I heard a truck driver yell out of his window at a car driver, "Go, you f---ing idiot! Go!" Of course, everyone on the whole block could hear him. How can you have peace in your head with rudeness like that filling the air? All I could think was, why didn't I take my walk down another street? Not to mention that it was clear for all to see why the car was not proceeding yet, even though the light was green: because the driver was yielding to a pedestrian who not only had the same green light but also just so happened to have the right of way. I would have done the same thing had I been the unfortunate pedestrian or the picked on car driver. But more often than not the car drivers were just like that truck driver -- so impatient and filled with completely wrongful certainty even when breaking a clearly posted law. It wasn't always easy to accept the reality that the very same human density that made the city so exciting and wonderful could also what make it ugly and stressful. On a bad day, that unfortunate dichotomy just choked me up and made me want to go to another city or maybe another planet where life is nicer. [Come to think of it, even here in Indiana, without any human density, we have been honked at (and worse) just for slowing down to turn into our very own driveway.] So where is that nicer place?

Could it be Berlin? I must say that it was easy to imagine myself living there, something I've never felt in London and didn't feel in Paris. My friend Cate knew how to lighten my mood with her humorous yet wise perspective: "Trust me: rude people are everywhere. It's a fallen world. Your experience was just unlucky timing; even though we have no control over it, timing is everything. Why, even in Berlin, you were probably standing next to someone yelling obscenities in German, but you mistakenly thought they were saying, 'Hey, beautiful American woman, you are lovely in manner of Goddess on Grecian Urn.' Seriously, the only response to drivers like that is for someone to yell back, 'Awww, get a life.' "

On one of my early summer walks a dozen years ago, I approached a Center City corner and recognized Ed Rendell (Mayor of Philadelphia, 1992 - 2000; Governor of Pennsylvania, 2003 - 2011) standing a few steps out into the street, looking rather distracted and apparently waiting for his ride. I was also astonished to see there on the opposite corner a confused old man wearing two pair of pants, one of them down around his ankles, the other pair up where they should be -- thankfully. He was muttering and struggling to pull the outer trousers either up or down; who can tell. I thought, now here before me is some kind of parable or allegory of what life in the city can do for a man: the best result, the cream of the crop, power and education and benevolence and vision; or the ultimate disenfranchisement and marginalization and sickness, mental and physical. Two members of the body of Christ? It was a puzzling, disturbing sight to see. In a second or two, Ed's driver pulled up, and Ed jumped into the front seat of a big black car and away they went. The poor old smelly guy continued muttering, apparently oblivious to all around him. And I strode purposefully on my way to the bookstore or wherever I was headed.

My simultaneous brush with greatness and despair, over in fewer than thirty seconds. I had somewhat hoped to make eye - contact with the future governor and say, "Good morning, Sir" and signal my support of his campaign, but there was no time to catch his eye without shouting out. Cate and I had experienced a less conflicted encounter with our good Mayor one sunny day the previous fall just as we were finishing lunch at our favorite little French sidewalk cafe near Fitler Square:

After lunch, we decided to walk around the block before heading on our way, and as we came back around to the front of the restaurant, there was Mayor Rendell, taking a seat just a couple of tables away from where we ourselves had been sitting. Now, in this instance, I don't think that it would have been inappropriate to call out and wave hello (we were standing across the street from him), but we were just too shy. There he was, pulling his sunscreen out of his pocket and rubbing it into his forehead so that he wouldn't get a sunburn while sitting outside for his lunch. Isn't that just a slice of life?

When I saw him the following year, on the busy corner in Center City, I had to wonder what his thoughts were as he jumped into the car. Maybe he was just worried about getting somewhere on time. Was he as oblivious of the confused street man as the street man was of him? Or did Rendell see the poor citizen of his City and say a silent prayer? Does Rendell have a solution for this problem? Is there a solution? Is it a problem? Or just something that looks problematic to those who consider themselves to be more fortunate? What did Jesus say about this kind of thing? What would Jesus do? What could Rendell do? And how about me? Would I find it as cool to make eye contact with the street man as to wave hello to Mr. Rendell?

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, June 28th

Between now and then, read
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my running list of recent reading

An Old Street of Philadelphia

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Travelogue 1: Berlin


from How German Is It
by Walter Abish
What is a thing? he asked rhetorically. Brumhold, it must be pointed out, was not referring to a particular thing. He was not, for instance, referring to a modern apartment house, or a metal frame window, or an English lesson, but the thingliness that is intrinsic to all things, regardless of their merit, their usefulness, and the degree of their perfection. The reference to perfection, however antithetical and invidious it might appear to be to the thinking of Brumhold, was made because the mind is so created that it habitually sets up standards of perfection for everything: for marriage and for driving, for love affairs and for garden furniture, for table tennis and for gas ovens, for faces and for something as petty as the weather. And then, having established these standards, it sets up other standards of comparison, which serve, if nothing else, to confirm in the minds of most people that a great many things are less than perfect. (19 - 20)

In Bavaria as in the rest of Germany everyone is passionately in love with the outdoors, in love with what they refer to as Natur, and the splendid weather is an added inducement for the people to put on their Lederhosen and spend several hours serenely tramping through the woods, studiously looking at trees and birds, haphazardly selecting one path, then another, without exactly knowing where the path might lead. The splendid weather is also an inducement for everyone to breath deeply, to fill their lungs with the fresh country air. Ahhh. It is an inducement as well for many to open wide the windows of their apartments. Everywhere one looks one can see the open windows of Wurtenburg and, walking down one of the narrow and deserted side streets, one can overhear snatches of conversation of people who are preparing to go out for a walk or a drive in the country, or about to receive a visitor, or about to make love, their voices -- their lazy voices, their melodious voices, their shrill impatient voices expressing sentiments, feelings that can e said to t\match the warm summer day. And then, to boot, accompanying the snatches of conversation are the old popular tunes that surprisingly are still performed on the radio, because there still appears to be a great demand for old tunes, old marches . . . military bands, anything that will keep the past, the glorious German past, from being effaced forever' (26)


Gerry at the Pergamon Museum, 2003

Eleven years ago (May 2003), Gerry and I found ourselves in Berlin for a few days. Our trip to Berlin was good, though way too short to do justice to such a wonderfully hopeful and optimistic place. I must say that it was easy to imagine myself living there, something I've never felt in London or Paris. The city resonates with positive energy, and is filled an inspiring juxtaposition of the very old / the brand new / and the rebuilt . . . plus dozens of incredible museums. We didn't make it to the Judisches Museum or Agyptisches Museum (to see the bust of Nefertiti), but we did see all the Greek & Roman antiquities at the Pergamon Museum -- which you may have heard of, though I must confess that I hadn't. For me, the most amazing thing there was the huge Gate of Ishtar and the Babylonian Processional Street, reconstructed from the days of Nebuchadnezzar (605 - 562 BC). No photograph or post card could possibly do it justice (check out the web for many good views)! You just have to stand there in awe, surrounded on both sides by towering walls of brilliant blue & gold glazed tile, decorated with an ongoing parade of sphinx-like lions and dragons. Astounding! High upon the walls in a neighboring room are huge oil paintings showing what the Persian desert looked like when these ruins were discovered (1899 - 1914) -- "Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away":

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
Then hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 - 1822)

The incredible thing is that this wonder of the world was there, buried under all that sand! After seeing the Ishtar Gate, we went to see remnants of the Berlin Wall and spent a couple of hours at the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, very sobering to read all the testimonials of so much despair. Another somber exhibit of human suffering is the Kathe-Kollwitz Museum, which was just a few doors down from our hotel, the Kempinski Bristol, on Fasenenstrasse. Also on this block is the charming Literaturhaus and Wintergarten outdoor cafe, where we stopped for an afternoon Kartoffelsuppe break.

The gala dinner for Gerry's conference was held at the Museum fur Kommunikation, where we got to descend into the dimly lit archives and see the famous Blue Mauritius stamp (again, great pictures can be found on the web if you want to see). Just for the novelty of it, we also stopped by the Musikinstrumenten Museum when we were in the area of the Philharmonic, just across from the very recently reconstructed Potsdamer Platz. From the outside we saw the Reichstag (didn't go up in the dome) and the Brandenburg Tor and the Martin Gropius Bau, which has fabulous exterior detailing.

In Berlin with my Panama Bag, 2003

Coincidentally, a few months before our trip, Sam's 4th grade class was assigned a travel project, in which math and geography joined hands, as he planned and budgeted the perfect vacation! Conveniently for us, Sam picked Berlin for his research topic! He was very busy using Yahoo and Expedia.com to search out tourist attractions, convenient hotel locations, reasonable airline fares, seasonable family entertainment, and available restaurant choices. We couldn't resist trying out some of the restaurants he had tracked down on the web -- the Dressler Restaurant, for dessert on our first evening in town, and Reinhard's, on our final evening, for a delicious dinner --complete with Berliner Weisse mit Schuss, rot for Gerry and grun pour moi! Gerry indulged in a big plate of German sausages and pork chops and black pudding, while I opted for one of the seasonal white asparagus specials. Yum!

Both places were on Kurfurstendamm, just within a few blocks of our hotel, even though Sam had no way of knowing that at the time of his research! In fact, he had picked an entirely different hotel for his fantasy trip, and our first activity upon arrival was to take a long walk up to the grounds of Schloss Charlottenburg and locate Sam's nearby hotel, the Econtel . . . which appeared very trendy indeed from where we were standing . . . and just happened to be across the street from a Sports Club and a vivid green soccer pitch! The perfect location for Sam! Now, how did he know that?!

I hope that before too many years pass, Sam -- and Ben as well -- will be able to see all of these sights for himself. I can see now that Sam was right -- Berlin is a great and nearly inexhaustible location for a family vacation. Next time, I'd love to stay over long enough for a day trip to Potsdam and Park Sanssouci and Pfaueninsel (all recommended by Sam in his report). Also, Berlin appears to be a wonderful city for students, so who knows, maybe one day when Ben and Sam are in college . . . . I think that covers the highlights of our brief stay -- not forgetting, of course, Gerry's Friday morning presentation, which was well attended despite the early hour of 7:30! We had only a few moments for shopping, but we used them wisely by rushing out to the nearest candy counter to stock up on Ritter Sport chocolate bars, a treat we grew to love back in the years when Peg lived in Frankfurt / Heidelburg and kept us supplied! The only stressful part of the trip was just the routine travelers' exhaustion which seemed to overtake us on the flight home to Philadelphia. But we're over that now and ready to go back again!

One last thing --
the cars there follow all the traffic lights
and yield to bikers and pedestrians . . .
that alone made it seem like heaven!

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, June 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading