Life on Board

Transportation comes in many flavors.  The planes have their air lanes.  The auto stays to the highways while the train sticks to its tracks.  Our boat has its river, in this case, The Rhine.  The differences are significant.  While in the air I can only get an idea of what I am seeing far below.  Granted, it does provide a very unique perspective.  The train and the auto, because they are grounded, afford me a view of the surroundings I pass through, but the speed diminishes my ability to take it all in.  The boat, well this is where the difference truly shows itself.

The pace of a boat is flat out slow.  If you are trying to get from point A to point B in any kind of serious time limit, it’s not going to be your first choice.  However, if you really wanted to take in the scenery, then a river boat is a perfect choice.  With its wide vistas and its unobstructed views, the river boat gives you everything year eye can take in as every bend in the river provides a new vista.  The slow and easy pace will lull you into the relaxation your mind and body could never convince you to take.

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We are four days into our river trip and I thought I would describe life on this boat.  We rise around 7:30, and check the weather and our location by stepping out on our veranda, really try not to take a trip without one.  After reading the daily news summary conveniently delivered to our room, it is down to breakfast.  We can eat inside or take our breakfast on the front sun deck where the views rise to meet us.  Am I sounding like an over privileged, pampered and spoiled tourist yet?  If so, it’s not my fault, for this was the cruise line’s desire to begin with.  Well yeah, I confess.  Later in the morning, we will assemble on the fore deck to depart the boat in search of our guide.  The cruise line has set up an area tour for every day.  If I don’t wish to partake, I can retire to the sun deck or back to our stateroom veranda.  Today, we toured the 800 year old Marksburg Castle.  I may mention that again later.

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Afternoon generally finds us sailing to our next site, no fuss, no worries, no work on our part.   We can watch the scenery roll by as the river slides quietly by beneath our boat or take in a discussion or two provided by the entertainment host.  By this time, unless you are a hermit, you will have met ten to twenty new people from multiple states and countries.  If you were diligent, you will perhaps have become travel partners with one or two of the couples you have met.  Recalling the names and places is challenging but everyone is forgiving.  In our case, we have met a couple with many similarities and have been arranging to do activities together.  They are open and warm, interesting and fun.  Who knows, we may stay in touch after the trip, for a moment or a spell or perhaps for a lifetime.  The beauty is, that for now we are travelers in arms.  I teased my wife the first night.  While sitting at the bar, I asked her if we should fish or be bait.  Fishing meant we would go out and seek couples to talk to.  As bait we would sit at the bar and attempt to look interesting.  Which one did we choose?  Maybe a little of both.

Evening on the boat is a mixed bag.  Sometimes, as will happen tonight, we are docked in a port city and we can explore the city center by foot before working our way back to the boat.  Other nights, we will retire to the lounge and listen to some entertainment while locked in conversations ranging from family and kids, to current and past careers, next or past trips and anything in between.  Still other nights, exhausted from our excursions, we may retire to our state room for an early evening or perhaps a moonlit lounge on the open air veranda, watching the river glide beneath us as we head for our next port of call.  No matter what the choice, the day has provided us with sights and experiences that we will not soon forget but that with any luck at all, we will surely repeat.

Got to close, we are off to tour the town of Rudescheim with the goal of finding a cozy place to dine and another chance to lift a toast to tomorrow.

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If its Thursday it must be Cologne

After an all-night sail, we arrived in Cologne.  Well, close to Cologne.  There was a medical emergency yesterday afternoon and a gentleman had to be taken off the boat and transported to a Dutch hospital.  Great care was taken by the cruise line and we were later thanked profusely for our understanding of the situation and the delay.  This morning, the cruise line arranged for an early embarkation at an alternate site and transportation by bus to the city of Cologne with a promise to meet us later at the Cologne docks after our day touring the city.

Our tour guide began our tour by explaining just how boring and plain Cologne would be and then proceeded to fascinate us with the history and sites of the city.  A university professor of medieval history with a dry wit and perfectly timed sarcasm, he both educated and entertained us over the next two hours.

Cologne, as we learned, is an ancient Roman outpost for what was then Germania.  The city was completely leveled by Allied bombing raids in World War II meaning that even when buildings looked old, they were in fact no older than that period.  Cologne is a stubborn and traditional city that believes in not changing.  As a result, they rebuilt in the style of the original buildings.  The city was always and still is built on top of the ancient Roman walls.  Cologne’s two main streets lie on the lines of the old Roman Road and their purpose mirrors that of the old Roman city.  The building done on the skeleton of those old walls still divide the new city form the old city inside its Roman footprint.

The one very prominent original building is the impressive Gothic Cathedral of Cologne that sits in the city center just up from the old Roman port on the Rhine.  Legend says that it was spared by the Allied bombers while others say it was a miracle and God saved the church.  Our guide watches our expressions and then at just the right time says “sorry, just not true.”  It was bombed just as all other buildings in Cologne, by chance or by accident, and was hit by no less than thirteen separate bombs.  So how does it survive?  The secret lies in the structure.  It is predominately covered with windows and the walls are made of heavy volcanic stone.  As the bomb explodes, its energy is dispersed through the windows while the heavy structure of the walls survive the rest of the blast.

There are so many statistics about this building, including the time it actually took to construct, but I will leave them to you, the reader, to research with a little time spent on Google.  I will share one thought provoking fact.  The windows I spoke of are all original and made of beautiful stain glass.  One even dates to 1248 AD when the cornerstone for the cathedral was first placed.  After telling you that it was the windows absorbing the blast that ultimately saved the cathedral, how can they still exist?  The Nazis as early as 1933, years before the war began, removed the windows and hid them away.  In the words of our guide “they knew early on, that what they were doing was going to end in a serious thrashing and took the precaution to save the windows in case they won.”  Talk about giving one serious pause.

We finished our day in Cologne with new found friends, sharing a local brew or two, or maybe even three, in one of the open market areas of Cologne.  Our toasts were genuine.  “To good travel, to a great adventure and to new friends.”  This is what travel is about and why it is so important to experience.  Travel shows us the diversity of the world and its cultures while reminding us that enemies can become allies and that at the end of the day, we really aren’t that different.  We are all travelers going somewhere and when our paths cross we discover that our hopes and dreams sound amazingly similar.

Castles tomorrow.  Stay tuned.

Tilting at Windmills

I am comfortably ensconced on the good ship Ingvi of the Viking Fleet.  We have a reasonably sized, open veranda room on the top deck.  It is nearing the end of day two and we are sailing toward Cologne tonight.  Tomorrow morning we will awake to the portion of the Rhine running through Germany.  We have been told that in the upcoming days, our boat will be passing by over forty castles located up ahead in the Rhine Gorge.  But today was about windmills and their role in the history of the Netherlands.

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Marksburg Castle

Before our day’s outing, we were briefed on the history of the Netherlands.  The name itself means “low lands” and the costal third of the country holds 85% of the population on land that is up to three meters below sea level.  So why would people live in an area that would be so difficult and expensive to keep dry?  The reason is simple, the land is fertile and the coast provides the base for their trading.  The end result is that the people of the Netherlands are pioneers in the art of water management.  They raise the water the nearly ten feet necessary to move it into the rivers that drain the area leaving behind the rich fertile land that is now dry land.

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As you can guess, this is a major task requiring ingenuity at every step.  The water must be sent out and the sea must be kept from coming in.  Early on, the water needed to rise around three feet, but due to further sinking of the land (see the effect of peat farming), the height required, increased.  The solution was found in windmills.  The windmills, set in a series, were able to gradually step the water up the ten feet needed to drop it into the rivers.

The windmills, still in operation today, date back to the 1700’s.  We were allowed to enter a working demonstration windmill, climb to its very top cap and witness the huge wooden gears working the pumps located in the base.  The woosh of the four huge sails was incredible.  To our surprise, we were told they were only turning at about one-third of their maximum speed.  Even at this speed, the thought of being hit by them as they turned less than a foot from the ground, kept spectators well behind the barrier gates set up to keep us a safe distance back.

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When inspecting these behmouths, you are first awed by their sheer size, afterall, the miller and his family would live inside the windmill.  When you realized that all of their inner workings were hand made of wood and that they are still running after nearly three hundred years, you are struck by the workmanship.  It was explained simply as “without the windmill, there would have been no Netherlands to inhabit.”

Today has been another day of reality intercepting perception.  I have an improved understanding of why the Netherlands exist and a renewed respect for the farmers turned civil engineers who invented and continue to improve water management.  They are proof that necessity is the mother of invention.

Day two on the river is coming to an end as I type this blog.  Tonight I will sit out on our veranda and listen to the river roll by as our boat sails its waters.  Later I will retire to the vibration of her engines and the gentle rocking of the waters as they slide by beneath us.  Tomorrow we explore Cologne and I can’t wait to record my next experiences.

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Cathedral of Cologne circa 1248 AD

 

Impressions of Amsterdam… or how I so wanted to be Dutch

This is my fourth entry.  If you missed the other three and want to catch up, go to http://www.kenismsblog.com and look for the “Journey Begins”, “Somewhere over Ireland”, and “A little History and a little Beer”.

I just finished my third day in Amsterdam and felt it appropriate to give a summary, caution…. I didn’t say it would be brief.  Many things about the city stuck out for me.  It is ironic that I grew up in a small town that was mostly Dutch descendants but it took me until day three to put that in perspective when I saw a familar name on a boat slip.

Enough about reminiscing.  In no particular order, these are the five things that most impressed me or at least left my opinion changed…. canals, bikes, trams, pulleys and the red light district.

Canals are laid out like beltlines in Amsterdam and they not only provide an alternate transportation system, they drain the city, divide the city into neighborhoods and provide a landmark for navigating through the city.  They flow gracefully as they surround the city and provide dock sites for countless houseboats.  The tour boats ply their waterways all day and into the evening, giving all who climb onboard a very different view and a unique perspective on the city.

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As you navigate the city and especially its canals, you will notice pulleys protruding from the upper eaves of almost every building.  They look perfectly part of the architecture but are utilitarian in purpose.  Taxes assessed against buildings in the city were originally based on the frontage of the building.  As a result, the locals reduced their tax liability by building their houses perpendicular to the street they faced.  This reduced their taxable frontage but meant the buildings were extremely narrow, often no more than ten to twelve feet.  This adaptation left them too narrow to move anything of size into the building much less up to the upper floors.  The solution was pulleys.  The pulleys allowed the tenants to simple hoist their furniture and goods up to and through the windows.  The effect is impressive.  Some buildings, built very close to the canal bank, would go so far as to slant the upper floors out over the street below to further advantage the canals.

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One feature of Amsterdam that stood out for me was the trams.  I have been to cities with tram systems, but Amsterdam takes it very seriously.  The trams run everywhere and on time and timely.  I never had to wait more than ten minutes nor did I have to work very hard on what tram I needed to board.  To make life even better, the passes are inexpensive and so easy to use.  Scan in, scan out.  Jump on, jump off.  Now I admit we scanned out improperly one night causing the system to think we had ridden all night, but after a slight inconvenience, a stop at the conductor’s desk, we were back on track, no pun intended.  Next time I am sitting in a line of semi-parked cars on our beltline, I will be thinking longingly of what I can only wish we had.  Thank you Amsterdam.  You gave me every opportunity to explore your city.

 

It would seem a glaring ommission if I were to skip over the red light district.  Afterall, it is likely the first thing you thought of when Amsterdam was mentioned.  I am happy to tell you it exists.  It is a business but it is not quite as visible as your imgination might project.  It is in fact, well marked and yet hard to actually find.  As you wind through the streets and alleyways of “old town”, you find yourself craning your neck looking at every window for a glimpse.  At best you will find the occassional bikini clad mistress in one of the windows.  The red light district is historic in nature and actually meant to keep the city cleaner and the business ironically less obtrusive.  The Dutch were traders and Amsterdam was their base.  As such, there were plenty of sailors and traders to make prostituion a very profitable endevour.  Without the control of the red light district, the confrontation would be much more…well confrontational.  The red light district provided control of the taxes and the location.  Did I go looking for the district, of course I did.  But then everyone does.  It’s just history you see and pretty much required.

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I have saved the best for last, the bikes.  I can only try to do this topic justice.  There are, at best estimate, over 600,000 bikes in Amsterdam.  Considering the population is 900,000….well, pretty impressive.  I suspect that World War Two had a lot to do with it’s growth, the flat landscape and attention to bike lanes only add to the attractiveness of this mode of transportation.

 

 

 

The numbers are one thing.  I knew, because everyone told me, that there were going to be bikes everywhere.  But it is so much more.  In America we ride fancy bikes, often ten speeds at the very least, hunched over our handlebars and attempting to see how far and how fast we can ride.  Some might use their bikes to get somewhere, but most of us just ride to ride.

In Amsterdam it is all about the transportation.  The first striking difference is the bike itself.

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They are utilitarian in design, three speed at best, with straight handlebars, up high where you can ride erect, eyes on the road ahead.  The bikes almost look old fashioned with their cargo boxes, child seats and saddlebags attached.  But the effect is so different.  Bike riders ride, no, glide by effortlessly, easily keeping pace with the cars, buses and trams that travel one lane over.  This creates a slight problem for the uneducated in that they own those bike lanes and the pedestrian must be ever vigil.  I had been warned about that and had envisioned the American version of a speeding biker, finger erect, letting me know I had invaded their sacred space.  But it was so different.  They owned the bike lane, even earned it with their elegant simplicity, but it was just the gentle jingle of their bike bells that you would ever hear.  Two days in, I was getting accustomed to their prescence and had come to respect their right to the lane.  Afterall, they were going somewhere, be it to work, the market or to some other event that they would arrive at without any addition to the carbon footprint.  Just tire tracks left quietly by human effort alone.

 

There is really no way to fully describe Amsterdam.  I and other travelers can tell you our stories but in truth, you will just have to experience it.  I hope that you will one day get the chance and I truly hope you won’t miss the opportunity.

It is almost midnight here and the river boat I am on, the Viking Ingvi, has just left the pier.  Tomorrow I get to expand my exploration as we head up the Rhine to new sights and new opportunities.  I hope you will keep following me, but until the next edition, I am off.

Somewhere over Ireland

We have been flying all night, which is a relative term.  While my watch says it is 5:00 am, the outside tells me it is much later.  Seven hours later to be exact.  It is a strange sensation, especially if it is the first time one has ever done it, to fly east, racing toward the sunrise.  The airlines, Delta in our case, does everything possible to help you through this body clock dilemma.  You are served dinner at 11:00 pm, lights and all noise dimmed, eye shades handed out along with blankets and pillows all to get you ready for the big time shift that awaits you.

I walk through the plane several times during the wee hours of the morning, enviously watching the seasoned travelers actually sleeping.  But sleep eludes me.  Though the seats are “comfort seats” designed for extra leg room, my legs will not let me sleep.  They twitch and remind me that I am sitting up when they want to be stretched out parallel to gravity.  The night passes and then at roughly 1:00 am, my time when I should be sound asleep, the plane catches up with the sunrise and reality sets in, you have reached tomorrow, today.

The plane comes awake at 4:30 am.  By this I mean that the lights are slowly brought up and breakfast sounds are coming from the galley.  At 5:00 am we are having breakfast, while miles below, somewhere over the coast of Ireland, they are sitting down to lunch.  As we are landing soon, my body will just have to adapt if this adventure is to begin.  It has been twenty-four hours since I got up in my bedroom thousands of miles behind us.  The world has shrunk and we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Next stop, Amsterdam, with its canals, windmills and bikes…..hundreds and hundreds of bikes.

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The Journey Awaits

We are sitting in the Minneapolis airport tonight, eagerly anticipating our eight hour trip to Amsterdam.  It is mind boggling how small the world has become and how globally we have all evolved.  An ocean between continents is a mere pond jump in today’s travel times.

We have anticipated this trip for six months and yet it was just not real until my younger daughter deposited us at the airport and admonished us, as grown daughters are now entitled, to stay out of trouble, be safe and enjoy ourselves.  We will be in Europe tomorrow morning, sometime.  I say this because while my wife laid out all the plans, I stayed blissfully unaware of the details.  In fact just the other day when asked where we were flying through, my response was “the air?”  After several days exploring Amsterdam, we will hopefully board our boat for a tour down the Rhine River.  I say hopefully for we were warned just yesterday that due to low water levels our boat ride may become a bus or train ride.  We remain hopeful but are also steeled to make the best of whatever awaits.

Adela out to sea

Hopefully not our Captain…..or our boat.

So Europe awaits.  Castles, mountains and cities older than any of our time frames in America will unfold before us.  My goal will be to document the sites and scenes and to mingle with the people we meet along the way.  My daughter, Kathryn, told me some time ago that the secret was to be in front of the camera and not behind it.  The tourist sees only what is presented to them but the traveler experiences the people and their culture.  When tomorrow finally arrives, I want to be in front of the camera.

Now if we could just get a plane in our gate.

Stay tuned.

I Came to the Mountains

It is the first winter in thirty eight years that I am not up to my eyeballs in tax returns.  Yes, retirement is good.  So what is a guy to do with this new found freedom?  Go to the mountains of course.  The thought of being able to ski after so many seasons on the sidelines was too much to resist.  And so we were off, my wife Deb, my daughter Kathryn and her boyfriend Eli.  For Eli there was the added excitement of skiing moutain terrain for the very first time.  Considering Midwest skiing happens on hills not mountains and the serious elevation might be a whopping 600 feet of vertical drop, this was going to be mind boggling.  And Eli was ready as were all of us.

We chose Winter Park for mutiple reasons.  First and foremost, was a very fee reduced week at a condo provided by a former client and family friend.  Second was the mantra I had heard.  “You go to Aspen for the views, Vail to be viewed and you go to Winter Park to ski.”  This was exactly what we were looking for and we found it.

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We arrived on the Sunday afternoon of my birthday.  Did I mention that this was also my birthday gift to myself.  Having flown into Denver, we hopped a shuttle for the ride up to Winter Park, crossing Berthoud Pass at 11,306 feet of elevation.  From there it was back into the Frasier Canyon area and into the village where we arrived at our condo.  I owe it to my benefactor to sing the praises of her condo.  Situated on the banks of the Frasier River and conveniently located in the center of town, we could want for nothing more.  We can both see and hear the river rippling below our balcony and looking east we can see the front slopes of Winter Park Ski Area, beckoning us up.  All around us the Rockies rise majestically to the deep blue Colorado skies.  The condo is functional, comfortable and cozy all rolled into one.  After a satisfying dinner at the quirky Henando’s Pizzeria and Pub, we are ready to plan our early morning rendevous with the ski hill.

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Monday morning dawns clear and crisp.  10 degrees to start our day but promises of middle to upper twenties by midday.  Absolutely perfect skiing conditions.  The snow is fast and the air warm enough to ski in relatively light gear and the vistas, thanks to crystal clear skies….out of this world.  From the top, we can see all of the Frasier Valley unfold below while the boundaries of the valley are encircled with 13,000 foot snocapped peaks.  Thirteeners as the locals refer to them.  We will start skiing at 9000 feet and reach 12,060 feet at the summit of Panorama Cirque.  We refer to runs by the only measurement that makes relative sense to us, “that one was a three Cascade”  This is a reference to the local ski hill back home and the only meaningful way we can compare the vertical drop.

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The views are spectacular and the range of change from bottom to top can best be described by not only the elevation but the change in temparature.  Shortly before noon we start our ride to the summit.  At base the temperature is a balmy 29 degrees but by the time we approach the summit it has fallen to 2 degrees with a negative 10 degree wind chill.  Of course we had cimbed 3000 feet to get there.  Standing on the summit, we make the decision to take combinations of runs that will allow us to ski a continuous line top to bottom.  Twenty minutes later we reach our lowest access point still a full “Cascade” above the resort base.  We are winded and tired but smiling ear to ear.  We skied non-stop for hours, each run evaluated for its nuances and our favorite features of the run.  Closing time comes too soon but we feel we have skied hard and gotten everything we could out of our time on the mountain.

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And this was day one.  Tomorrow and for the next three days we will continue to soak in the mountains, the vistas and the skiing.  Am I happily retired, at this point I can think of no better reward for a life long career of hard work than to be here in the Rockies on top of my world.

A visit with Faulkner

It is the end of the first week of December and I am where I have been on this date for the last ten years, Mississippi.  This the week I present seminars at sites across this southern state.  We started this year in Hattiesburg, home of Southern Mississippi State and we are finishing the tour in Oxford Mississippi, home of Ole Miss.  In past years we included Starkville Mississippi, home of Mississippi State.  It has been enjoyable being able to view all of these universities while also getting to experience the culture in so many different parts of this state.

Ole Miss  Southern Miss   Mississippi state

Last night, knowing I had today free from my teaching schedule, I and my wife decided to indulge in some adult beverages and local cuisine at a nearby establishment.  The bar was pretty much empty save for two locals, the bartender owner and our waitress.  Called out immediately as foreigners, apparently by the insufficient number of extra vowels we put in our words, we confessed to being Damn Yankees.  We were then educated on the fact that we were just Yankees as Damn Yankee is a term reserved for those northerners who come down and then never leave.  I had been schooled.  The conversation turned to what we intended to do with our day off and we were then given a lengthy itinerary of sites in Oxford no visitor should miss.  I will note here that the citizens of the Great State of Mississippi are among the most gracious I have dealt with.  I never tire of the “thank you ma’am” and “yes sir” and definitely not the “can I get you anything else honey”.  That last one never grows old with me.  Included in their list of must sees was a surprise, at least to me.  Unbeknownst to me was the fact that Oxford Mississippi was the birthplace of William Faulkner and that his home is still here and maintained for the tourists.  If you are shaking your head wondering how a wanna be writer would not know this, I write but I don’t always read, at least not good William’s obituary.

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This morning we trekked on downtown and after some well received directions, made our way through the old neighborhood and found the house.  Built in 1848 and occupied by Faulkner from 1930 until his death in 1962, it was a little rough around the edges but sat on a stately manor covered with magnolia trees.  Under one particular grove of magnolias lay the still visible outline of a two hundred year old labyrinth.  The effect of all of this was to have a sense of actually being back there.  As we toured the house, I was peering out the rear window of one of the bedrooms when I spotted a gentleman walking the back grounds.  For a brief moment, in the tree filtered light, I was sure I was seeing Faulkner himself.  Arriving downstairs, I bumped into the gentleman who admitted dressing the part for his tour, hoping to regenerate the spirit of Faulkner who would then assist him in his writing endeavor.

When I had heard of the opportunity to view Faulkner’s home I had been unsure of why I felt compelled to actually follow through on the trek.  Now, walking through the labyrinth and the magnificent magnolia groves, approaching the house as Faulkner would have and then encountering the spirited writer, I felt something stir.  Once back inside the house, I began to read the various information attached to the museum displays.  One in particular resonated with me.  Faulkner had been commenting on the act of writing.  I will paraphrase here since they don’t allow pictures and they definitely frown on taking the museum pieces with you.  Faulkner basically said that writing a book was his fate, doom in that once you write you have to keep writing.  Eventually you can be writing just to write another book.  He described writing a piece only to read and reread and then to replace the words and then read and adjust again.  And when it was finally done, to wait on the story before letting someone read it for their opinion.

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I know this feeling and at times it is what creates writer’s block.  I know I need to write something that is rattling around in my head even when I just don’t feel ready to write it.  Once I write it, I agonize over whether it is good enough.  The problem, it never is, and you simply hope that you can get it right the next time.  It was redeeming and at the same time inspiring for me to read of Faulkner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, agonizing over his work and wondering if he had gotten it right.  Worrying that it could have been better.

I too will agonize over this piece.  Did I manage to tie the story line together?  Will I have made my point?  Will it even be worth your reading?  All I know is that somewhere in that walk through his house, Faulkner nudged me to write.  And in his way he gave me confidence to keep writing.

I think I need to thank two random Mississippians who gave me the time and invited me to take a memorable walk with Mr Faulkner.

The Slow Walk..or the only way to appreciate Madison

I just finished the world’s slowest walk also known as The Madison Farmer’s Market.  The pace was slow in part due to the throngs of people enjoying the chance to shop for the freshest produce to be found but also to the fact that it is the pace of a beautiful Saturday morning in Madison.  For anyone who has not been able to experience it, the Farmer’s Market stands as the center piece of Madison summer Saturday mornings.  The eight blocks surrounding the majestic Capital building are completely filled with all sorts of produce stands.  Mushrooms to Meats, cheeses and cheese curds to cauliflower and cucumbers, fresh bread to fresh cut flowers.  If you can imagine it, you can find it somewhere in those eight aroma filled blocks.  Goats milk anyone?  Maybe some Ostrich jerky.  And did I mention the Capital views and the vista’s down side boulevards to the two largest Madison lakes?  Or the view down State Street with the University and Bascom Hill at its terminus.

I came to Madison in 1977 after spending the first twenty-six years of my life figuring out how to get here.  That fall, I began the next leg of a teaching career that would span twenty-one years and eventually morph into a career in financial planning.  In the ensuing years, I have owned two homes on the eclectic East Side, met my wife and raised two beautiful children.  I am currently enjoying being a part of the raising of two grandchildren and loving the fact that they can grow up here in Madison.  I have sat on the world famous Union Terrace chairs, ridden on all of her bike trails, taken in countless music venues in her parks, restaurants and saloons (sounds so much more inviting than bars), soaked in the culture of Art Fair on the Square, oohed and awed at Rhythm and Booms and cheered on the Muskies, Mad Hatters and eventually the Mallards baseball teams.  I have boated on her lakes, Monona and Mendota, watched water ski shows on her bay, yes that bay, the one with the “dock of it” and rode my bike along their shores.  And on gorgeous fall afternoons I ate savory brats, washed downed with local craft beers and cheered on The Badgers at venerable and historic Camp Randall.

If I sound like a tourism ad it is because one cannot help but fall in love with this city.  The activities it offers are countless.  The culture it supports is woven into its fabric.  The vistas and changing seasons are its own personal art gallery.  From its lakes and parks to its gardens and architecture, there is no shortage of scenery to satisfy any of the senses.

Forty years have passed since I moved in to my little apartment on the South Side of Madison and I have never reconsidered that move.  I guess taking that slow Saturday morning walk around the Square today made me realize and appreciate this city and all it offers.  The crowds just reminded me I wasn’t the only one to feel that way.  Hopefully there will be countless more slow Saturday mornings and my chance to remind my children and grandchildren who have lived in no other place, to never take it for granted.  Take the walk, slow down and enjoy the views.  Madison welcomes you every time.

On My Way Home

So here I am on American Airlines, bound for home.  My morning started at 3:30 am when I awoke, got ready and caught the hotel shuttle for the airport and my way too early flight.  After a two hour layover in Dallas Airport, we just left the tarmac and in a few hours I will be home.  This marks the end of my annual teaching schedule.  Please don’t ask what I am out there teaching unless you are short on both sleep and sleep aids.  My circuit begins in Wisconsin where we zig zag across the state but ends with a week travelling across the State of Mississippi, finishing just in time to still get home for Christmas.

I guess what I wanted to write about was the amazing experience of not just visiting another state, but working and interacting with the locals as well.  My experience is one of meeting incredibly gracious people with a very easy and much more laid back view of life.  I will say that the term “fast food” is kind of lost when you are down here in the South and believe me, when you are crisscrossing the state and driving between your hotel sites, you get a lot of opportunity for fast food.  Down South, they just aren’t in that same frenetic hurry that we seem to be in up here in the North.  Never the less, I do look forward each year to my “Journey’s Across Mississippi”.  I will shamelessly add that I can take extra heaping helpings of the “can I get’cha anything honey” or “how’s it go’en sweetie” any day and miss it every time I return home.

One of the fringe benefits I look forward to each year, is leaving the cold of Wisconsin weather in December for the subtle warm weather of that same time in Mississippi.  I would pack for sixty and seventy degree weather looking forward to even donning shorts on my day off.  So what went wrong this year?   It seems the cold weather somehow purchased an airline ticket along with mine and showed up to accompany me across Mississippi.  Though we did get one day of fifty degrees, I feared for snow on the rest.  What was humorous, was their reaction to this weather.  The term “oh my God, Hell is freezing over” seemed to be the general reaction.  That and blaming my wife and I for bringing it with us.  Newscasters warned the fearful citizens to bring in all animals, wrap your pipes and head to the grocery store for a week’s worth of provisions before the shelves were bare.  We saw all forms of warm weather gear as they prepared for this onslaught of “death by cold”.  Now in fairness, we in Wisconsin, given this same degree of cold, would at least have put away our shorts and flip flops.  We may have even donned a sweater.  But gloves, ski masks and parkas?  By the way, I still packed for seventy degrees.  Rather wore out that one sweater I had somehow packed, or was that the one I wore to the airport the day we flew down?

But I am on my way home now and I apologize to the Deep South for bringing that taste of winter with me.  I am told a good old snow storm waits for me to land so that it can blanket us with a beautiful layer of white.  The more I think about it, the more I look forward to it.  Poor Mississippi, suffering through the cold without the one beautiful benefit of winter, snow.  After all, what would winter and especially Christmas be without it?

So I will sign the end of my trip, gently dozing off on the plane while dreaming of a white Christmas and glad to be home once more.