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.
England: 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.
France: 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.