Blog # 12 Rome, Beijing, Cologne, Swindon Wiltshire – England

October 18, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

Italy: Rome: Standing in the center of St. Peter’s, I have, perhaps for the first time, an inkling of eternity.

China: Beijing, Tianlun Dynasty Hotel, 50 Wangfujing Ave.: From my room in this luxurious hotel, I look down many floors below to where construction on the street is taking place. Workmen in what appear to be dress black suits, sockless and in tennis shoes, handling jackhammers, shoveling dirt. I am told that every day many thousands come from the provinces to work in the city. Where are the hard hats? The work boots? From the same window, I look down into a nearby hu tong. A different world! Hard to reconcile my hotel room with such squalor and cramped living quarters. I am told that many of these community compounds have been destroyed to make way for new prosperity. A way of life perhaps best gone. But how do they feel?

img_8321Germany: Cologne: During dinner at the Jarczyk’s, Heinz asked me if I liked opera. He was amazed when I told him that I had never been to one. He immediately rose from the table and went to the phone; I understood enough German to know he was asking about what was on and getting tickets for the four of us. That weekend, I saw Carmen at the Köln Opera Haus: a story about a Spanish woman written by a Frenchman with German “sub-titles” moving across the bottom of the stage. (At one point I had to smile at the running translation when, at the point Carmen is ridiculing Don Carlos for attending to duty rather than running into the mountains with her, it incongruously read “Don Carlos, du bist ein Dummkopf!”). At intermission, sharing champagne, I said to Heinz that I was still trying to get it together that here I was, a kid from Brooklyn, attending an opera in such plush surroundings. When we returned to our seats, he handed me the playbill with his finger indicating where I should look. There I read that the actor playing Don Carlos was from Brooklyn, and that the second female role was played by a young woman from Staten Island!


England: Swindon Wiltshire: Came upon a “round-about” (traffic circle) that was a maze of entries and exits, so many that we circumnavigated it several times before we finally got off — of course, it was the wrong one. Told later that Swinton was the town where the roundabout inventor was born! I wonder if they ran him off!


Blog 11 Lechlade – England, Basel – Switzerland, Paris – France

October 11, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

5106179_1ed4fb43England: Lechlade: Visited “Shelley’s Walk”, a tree-lined path that skirts a weathered church. Story goes that it was on one of Percy Shelley’s perambulations here that he composed one of his poems (the name of which I cannot recall!).

Switzerland: Basel: I visit the town hall to see if I can find out anything about my grandfather whom I’ve never known, Jacob Steiner, who came from this city to New York sometime in the late 1800s. My German is faltering; the bureaucrat impatient. “Steiner?” he says with a snort. He points to several volumes. “Steiners!” he says. Without knowing which canton my grandfather came from, apparently it was like asking for “Smith” in New York City! All I had was my grandfather’s name, so I left knowing as little as I did when I came.

top-floorFrance: Paris: At the second landing of the Eiffel Tower, I cannot find the way to the elevator that takes you to the top. Walking up to two uniformed men, I hesitatingly ask (since I did not know the word for “elevator”), “Ou et le sommet?” Both men look at me for a moment and, with a smile, simultaneously raise their index fingers to indicate “up”. Properly embarrassed, I revert to English and ask how I might get there. Again, in unison, they then point to the elevator. (An odd thing for me was that when I reached the top, I could not bring myself to step over to the rail and look out. It was the first time ((but not the last — the fear reoccurred when I climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Dome with Piero Breccia in Rome a few weeks later)) that I discovered I had somehow acquired vertigo — a new thing for me!) Another time my meager French let me down (I can read the language fairly well, having taken the subject in college) was in St. Germain en Laye, taking a bus from the home of Isabelle and Bertrand to spend the day sightseeing in Paris. When the bus stopped at our corner, I stepped on the first step and firmly said, “Trois.” The driver looked at me and said, “Trois?” “Oui,” I answered confidently. He looked pointedly at Cornelia and me and said again, “Trois?” Annoyed, I again said, “Oui!” Once again: “Trois?” Before I could really make a fool of myself by insisting on “three” a kindly old man in a front seat leaned over, held up two fingers and said, “Deux”, pointing at the two of us. For some reason “trois” and “three” were synonymous to me (or at least sounded so) and who knows for how long the driver and I would have been “trois-ing” each other while the busload waited for me to be enlightened? Interesting that, by and large, my poor language skills were never an issue in any of the other countries we visited. Almost to a person, when people saw us in difficulty — in Spain, in Germany, in Holland, in Italy, in Belgium, in Beijing, Shanghai — wherever — they were quick to step in, help out and lead us onto the correct path.

Blog #10 Munich, Rome, Beijing, Deichelweg Germany

September 20, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. 

Germany: Munich: Waiting in the Marienplatz to hear the glockenspiel, we hear loud shouting off to one side. “Raus Auslander! Heil Hitler” resounds off the enclosing walls. This, almost fifty years after the war! Police quickly close in on a man who is obviously drunk. A prank? A deep-seated resentment? Who knows the mystery of the human heart? Where were the police during the 1930’s?

Roman ForumItaly: Rome: Standing in the middle of the Forum early one morning, I see Cornelia looking into her guidebook. Perplexed. Why would someone look into a book when the actual thing is there in front of you? “I want to know what I’m looking at,” she said. Still perplexed.

China: Beijing: Passover Seder at a hotel “party room”: Once inside, we could not believe we were in China. Familiar prayers, complaints, kibitzing, food, kids running around unsupervised. Who taught the Chinese cooks to make gefiltefish?

Germany: Deichelweg: Visiting with Gabi and Norbert Wittmer, sharing supper at their home, we congratulated Gabi on a fine meal. “Thank you,” she said modestly. Norbert then reached out his arm and patted her on the back: “Ja! Our best horse,” he said. Taken a bit back at first, we laughed when we saw the twinkle in his eye. Apparently this was a favorite “joke” of his when guests complimented his wife. It was not Gabi’s! I’ve attempted to use the line a couple of times myself back home at our dinner table, but it usually falls flat. It’s not Cornelia’s favorite, either. Apropos the joys of translating idioms into another language, during the meal Cornelia asked if they wanted us to “knock off” the last of the salad. “Knock off?” they asked, puzzled. When we explained its meaning they laughed and enjoyed learning this new phrase. During breakfast the next morning, Norbert pointed at the platter of wursts and cheeses and proudly announced, “Let’s knock it out!” Our turn to chuckle — and another round of explanations. Oh, the idiocy of idioms in translation!

Glimpses #9: Germany, Italy, Switzerland

September 15, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. The introduction and first two “Glimpses” are in the Blog uploaded on October 2, 2016

Germany: Cologne: While visiting a distinguished photographer at his sumptuous apartment, the walls covered with photographs of famous people and places covering who knows how many decades, we approach the elderly gentleman seated in his wheelchair as our introductory remarks are translated by a serious-faced woman, too young to be his wife, perhaps his attendant. The meeting had been arranged by the director of Amerika Haus, a cultural arm of the U.S. Government at which I had recently lectured on a book I had written about the Cologne-based etcher/painter Heinrich J. Jarczyk. The very formal introductions completed, Cornelia casually asked if we could take a photo. Astonished glances of consternation were quickly and silently exchanged between the famous photographer and his attendant. A photo? Within moments we had quickly realized the misunderstanding. Our request was interpreted as our taking one of his photographs from his walls and the agitation perhaps on deciding which one to give up to these upstart American visitors! When Cornelia held up her camera, however, smiles and sighs of relief suddenly lightened the room and the situation — ah, the joys of bumbling along in a foreign country.

Italy: Siena: Treated to the lauded Italian sense of style in the tiny, front show-window of a shoe store: a single shoe atop a piece of drapery folded just so. (There is a European saying: “The French, with their logic, should think of it; the Italians, with their style, should design it; the Germans, with their sense of order, should build It.”). Siena is a beautiful little city, full of beautiful women (I never saw so many in one place!), many with high heels and all their elegant finery zipping along on tiny Vespas.

Switzerland: Berne: Friday evening and we seek out a synagogue to see if we can attend services. Two exotic/ commonplace surprises: Cornelia had to sit in a separate location high up in a balcony at the rear, and the strange sense of familiarity as the German-speaking rabbi switched to the same ancient Hebrew prayers we hear at home.

Italy: Venice: On the way back to the train station, crossing over the Rialto Bridge with Gabi and Norbert — the setting sun off to our left just as we reached its crest. Lovely! (Note: Gaby and Norbert Witmer, friends who live in Deichelweg outside of Munich and whom we met through the Jarczyks; we took many trips with them through southern Germany and northern Italy).


Glimpses #8: China, Germany, Switzerland

May 8, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs. The introduction and first two “Glimpses” are in the Blog uploaded on October 2, 2016

Bird Market, Beijing

China: Beijing: Walking the avenue outside our hotel (Tianlun Dynasty Hotel) I take in street scenes: an old man with a chair, a cloth, and a pair of scissors — haircuts given al fresco! A short distance away, a man selling birds from a birdcage to passersby who promptly release them into the air. As I watch, I see the freed birds return to the seller, to be sold again and again as the day goes on.

Germany: Esslingen/Karlsruhe: Many years ago (around 1955) I was stationed at Gersewski Barracks while in the army, in a small town named Esslingen just outside Karlsruhe. At least once a month or more, I would take a bus into Karlsruhe (a good-sized city) and go to a what became my favorite restaurant for wienerschnitzel (a meal my Mom used to make and one of my favorites). After some time, the waiter got to ‘know’ me and when I walked in, he’d ask, “Der Ushual?” and I’d smile and nod. He’d have the stein of Dinkelacher almost immediately on my table (also ‘ushually’ the same) and go back to the kitchen to order my meal. I was stationed there for a year, and after some months I’d had wienerschnitzel ‘up to here’ and once asked if they served shrimp. The waiter looked at me puzzled and asked, “Vas is das?” I began to describe a shrimp for him and as I did so, his face slowly turned from expectant to disgusted. When I got to the legs and feelers, he blurted, “You eat zis?” I looked up a bit sheepishly and murmured, “Wienerschnitzel, bitte.”


Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov, Geneva Switzerland

Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov, Geneva, Switzerland built in the 1700’s

Switzerland: Geneva: While walking around town we noted a synagogue that had intriguing architecture — it almost looked like a mosque. Circular in construction, we walked around the building but could find no access. As we walked, we came upon a couple who seemed to be heading there as well. They told us that it was closed but that it would be open the following day for a funeral for Still intrigued as to what it may look like on the inside, we decided to come back during the funeral. We were in for a complete surprise: the funeral was for the Dr. Alexandre Safran, head rabbi of Geneva and the place was packed with Swiss notables, both religious and political.

Funeral service for Dr. Alexandre Safran at the Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov

Funeral service for Dr. Alexandre Safran at the Sephardic Synagogue Beth Yaacov

We both had to sit up in the balcony, which was fortunate because it gave us the opportunity to take a few unobtrusive photographs of the proceedings. Several speeches were given in tribute to the rabbi and we felt rather privileged to have stumbled in on this special occasion. Cornelia wrote about the event in ART TIMES ( we returned home and, shortly thereafter, she received an email from the rabbi’s son, both thanking her for the article and requesting that she send copies of the photos she had taken. What a strange world in its mysterious interconnections!

Glimpses 5: Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, China

March 20, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs.. 

Coaster from U Fleku, Prague

Coaster from U Fleku, Prague

Czech Republic: Prague: Jacky, Jörg, take us to U Flecku, an incredibly old tavern some distance from the town’s center. Scarred wooden tables. Loud men-talk. Hearty laughter. Many mugs of Urquell disappeared from our table. How many dreams had been started, thwarted, and realized in this ancient beer hall? The following day, Cornelia and I visited the newly-opened Mucha Museum, while Jacky and Jörg explored elsewhere. (Note: We met Jacky Sparkowsky and Jörg Iwan in Berlin through the Jarczyks and have visited and traveled with them in Europe extensively).

Germany: Bergisch Gladbach: Walking back home with Heinz after a visit to his favorite art shop, we stop along the way at one of his favorite haunts — a small Italian restaurant where they warmly welcome him. Our order? An espresso and shot of grappa — enough to spur on at least an hour of small talk!

Germany: Leipzig: We find a tavern on the small square and see what we can get for lunch. As we sit at our table, I discover that this was the very place where Goethe wrote part of his “Dr. Faustus”. I try to conjure up his shade and absorb his spirit. All I come away with is the taste of beer. A short distance away, the church where Bach was choirmaster. My mind whirls with history.

 Switzerland: Somewhere in the Alps: Taking a short side trip on a local train from our Eurail route from Germany to Italy, we are in a carriage filled with young skiers. Rounding one mountain as we come from shade into full sunlight we unexpectedly come upon a sky filled with multi-colored hot air balloons, all sailing past our window at eye-level! Fantastic to see their tropical, parrot-like colors against the backdrop of snow-covered Alps!

China: Beijing (1999): A city of bicycles! (I hear that now they are rapidly being replaced by automobiles in China’s burgeoning economy. It was already a city of dense smog and pollution in 1999!). Beijing — A city of signs we cannot read!

Glimpses 7: Germany Italy Ireland

March 2, 2017

Originally intended as a small book, “Glimpses: In which a Casual Traveler Ruminates on Passing Scenes—1989-2011″, I should like to share it with my readers in a more informal manner as a series of Blogs.

Germany: Berlin: Passing under the Brandenburg arch (there was a time in Imperial Germany when only the royals were allowed to pass under this arch) and strolling along “Unter den Linden” (how many times had I read about this famous street!) and then a trolley ride with Heinrich to the Eastern side only one year after the wall came down. As we ride past the uniformly gray and drab city, I see tears in Heinrich’s eyes. I am sorry that we insisted on going to “take a look” (old Berlin Gallows humor: Airline Stewardess: “Welcome to Schönenfeld Airport! Please set your watches back forty years!”) The Russians deliberately retarded improvements—you could still see bullethole-ridden walls everywhere—to punish the Germans for WWII. How many sad memories this country has! At one point we got off the trolley and walked a few streets, stopped at a small store to buy sandwiches. The woman who waited on us was obviously pleased that we stopped in, delighted to discover that we had come from America. As she wrapped our lunch, she asked if we had a “messer” (a knife) to cut our sandwiches. We shook our head “no” and she turned back to her counter to pick one up and carefully wrap it before she tucked it into our bag. We protested, but she insisted that it would come in handy later. We were touched; to have so little yet to be so willing to give away one of her utensils to us. And a surprisingly pleasant memory as well!

Italy: Cinqueterra: Eating fresh calamari on the Ligurian shore. Delicious! Back to Portofino later that day, walking the ‘pedinale’ up on the hill behind the town.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Ireland: On the way through the Burrens to find the Cliffs of Mohrer, we get lost and stop to ask directions from a lone man walking the road. He speaks for several minutes while giving hand directions. Neither of us understood a word he said. We continue and find the cliffs on our own. Gusts off the Atlantic so strong that we could not stand upright — the wind got under one of my gloves and peeled it right off my hand! I would have lost it forever if I hadn’t grabbed it quickly. Wildly beautiful!

Northern Germany: On a houseboat trip through Germany’s northern lock-connected lakes a few years after the Wall came down in Berlin, we (Jacky, Jörg, Cornelia and I) dock at a small town on one of the larger lakes. At a gift shop I see caps on sale that read: “Middletown Police Department”! When I asked the lady behind the counter about them she said she knew nothing about the little town in upstate New York (a town in a neighboring county from where we live) or how the hats got to her store.

Germany: Malchow: On this same houseboat trip, when we came to the town of Malchow, there was a one mark “toll” to enter the town’s small harbor, the coin taken by a man on shore with a pouch at the end of a long flexible pole…what might he have done if we had ignored the small pouch dangling before our eyes?