Friday, September 23, 2005


I have to warn my faithful readers that I am going on two short trips in the next several weeks that are likely to elicit another spasm of prose.

The first will be the first weekend in October when I will be attending my niece's wedding in Bloomington, IN. This will be interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is that my brother, the real estate wheeler-dealer, will be doing the nuptials. I am a little jealous of him, having thought that my 18 months seniority in age and my occupation as a "man of the law," would have made me the natural person to ask to do the wedding ceremony. Apparently, the fact that my brother has a mail-order ordination from the Universal Life Church, dating back about 30 years trumped my otherwise superior qualifications. I'm sure in this day of the internet, I could have gotten an equally valid license in short order, but my gentle hints were ignored. My brother refers to himself as "the sensible one" in our clan, which tells you more about him than the rest of us. Anyone who has to go to such pains to establish his bona fides has valid reason for thinking that people might question them. I am sure that the wedding ceremony will be somewhat unlike most of the ones being performed in the rest of America that Saturday.

The following week, I am going to Atlanta for a reunion of some buddies of 37 years ago when we were all farm boys doing our alternative service as conscientious objectors in Flint, MI. We had our first reunion last year in Portland, OR and had such fun we decided to do it again this year in Atlanta. My buddies have all become right-wing Republicans, but miraculously, last year, the subject of politics did not come up. I didn't say anything because I know when I am out-numbered, and they did not say anything because they have a lot of class. But going deep in Dixie with a bunch of George Bush supporters is sure to get my juices flowing. Whether the juices will be creative or tiresome, I will leave to others to judge.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Pictures of Our Trip

Pension Villa Maria, where we stayed in Lucerne. See "Getting Around In Lucerne," September 8, 2005.

Do you know Jack? Members of the quartet after the Monday evening performance of a composition by the German composer, Helmut Lachenmann. From left, Chris, Kevin, Lachenmann, John and Ari. See "Jack Knocks Them Dead," September 8 and "Jack Knocks Them Dead, Part II," September 9, 2005.

The poster in the train station's Information Center we spot as soon as we arrive in Lucerne. Chris is at the bottom center looking straight ahead. Pierre Boulez is entering from the left. This photograph is from 2004. See "A Familiar Sight in Lucerne," September 7, 2005.

The walk along the quai by the shore of Lake Lucerne. See "Life Along the Quai (Modified)" September 7, 2005.

The Dying Lion of Lucerne, a statue carved from "living rock" and the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world, according to Mark Twain. See "The Big Shew," September 10, 2005.

Chris and Jeremy. Still poor despite their father's investment in flight insurance. See "Fear of Flying," August 28, 2005.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Bush, Brownie and Blunders

Finally, Bush has achieved his expressed goal while running for president in 2000 of being a uniter. Everyone, except for a few right-wing nuts, agrees that the disaster relief efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina were botched. Bush was even heard, the other day, accepting responsibility if the federal government made mistakes in the effort.

While it was nice to hear Bush accept responsibility for any mistakes, it was not really his decision to make as to whether he is responsible for how the federal government does its job. He is the guy at the top. His people are running things. It was his decision to appoint Joe Alumbaugh, whose main qualification appeared to be his ability to raise millions for Bush's political campaigns, to head FEMA, and then to promote Alumbaugh's college roommate, Michael Brown, whose previous experience consisted of running a horse breeders' association. He is responsible for the mistakes in New Orleans, just as he is responsible for the mess in Iraq. And the same corporations who are profiting from Iraq, companies like Halliburton, Vice President Cheney's old company, are already getting no-bid contracts in New Orleans.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Bush has gained any wisdom out of the ordeal. He showed up in his shirt sleeves on television last night to speak to the nation with precious few specifics as to how the people suffering from the aftermath of the hurricane are going to be helped. If aid to New York City after the 9/11 disaster is any guide, the realities will not meet the promises. Federal relief efforts became bogged down in politics, with communities in places like Wyoming getting money for projects that had nothing to do with 9/11, simply because they had influential congressmen who demanded a piece of the pie.

There was no call from Bush for any national sacrifices. There was no plan as to how the cost of reconstruction is going to be financed. Again, if the past is any indicator, Bush will leave it to our children and grandchildren to pay off the national debt he is piling up.

There will be more disasters, natural and man-made. But our country will be in no better shape to handle them until we get rid of the one in the Oval Office.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Go West, Young Man

Horace Greeley advised ambitious young men to go west more than 100 years ago, and it is still good advice for young men and ladies.

Today, I took youngest son, Chris, to the airport for a plane to San Diego. He will be studying composition for his master's degree at the University of California - San Diego. I have never been to San Diego, but I understand that it is a beautiful place. I have been following the weather there since last spring when I found out Chris would be moving there, and the weather has been perfect. I hope that we can go often to visit.

When I graduated from college, the idea of going to California occurred to me, but I knew no one there and felt more comfortable staying in the Midwest. I should have gone. The Midwest gets so hot in the summer and so cold in the winter, and its inhabitants, like me, tend to be sort of gray and stodgy. Maybe Californians do not enjoy life more than us Midwesterners, but they make us think they do.

The members of Jack were teasing Chris about how he is going to change after two years in California. "You'll be saying, 'Hey, Dude, that's good enough'" was the comment one of them made when we were in Lucerne at Lowenpick, eating ice cream. Apparently, Chris has a reputation among non-family members for being a perfectionist. (That reputation does not extend to family members who see less than perfect housekeeping efforts.) Chris was known at Eastman for being minimally dressed for the winter cold, even being admonished once by a homeless man that he should dress warmer. He was wearing shorts when I took him to the airport for California, and I would not be surprised if he wore them every day from now for the next two years.

Ah, to be 21 again.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Sons Still Poor

Sunday, September 11, 2005

6:20 a.m. We are sitting at the departure gate at the Zurich Airport. This does not seem like an auspicious date to travel. Everything is going with Swiss precision. Swiss precision, however, did not note the fact when we entered the country last Sunday that Rosalee had not signed her passport. They catch it now; the deed is done and we are allowed to leave without any talking-to.

9:35 a.m. (Amsterdam time; 2:35 a.m. CDT) We are sitting in the airport (I won't attempt to spell the name) waiting for our connecting flight to Detroit. Our plane was 10 minutes late leaving Zurich, but got to Amsterdam five minutes early. How un-Swiss-like, but then I guess we were in Dutch hands.

We get our money changed back to U.S. dollars, and, amazingly, still have some money left. We brought along in cash half as much as I feared that we would need to spend; intending to use ATM cards for more as we needed it. I think sticker shock at the high Swiss prices made us more thrifty than we had planned to be.

We stopped at a book store because Rosalee thought she might run out of reading materials; having packed all of her extra books in the checked luggage. We asked if they take U.S. dollars and the clerk said "sure." But the bill was $30 for a book whose price tag on the back said $14 Canadian and an overseas version of the New York Times, whose price tag said $8. We must have paid one heckuva high exchange rate. But, then, this is kind of found money. Easy come; easy go.

We were told to be at the gate at 9:20, although the flight does not leave until 10:50 a.m. That seems excessive, but we follow instructions. It turns out that they are using special security precautions. Maybe they do this all the time now in Europe, but we have not gone through anything like this. They are interviewing everyone personally at little podiums set up through the secured part of the departure area. The line is very long. The security agent quizzes us about where we were; where we stayed; what we did; who packed our bags; whether we are taking any gifts that someone else packed. I forgot to mention, when the agent asked, that we were carrying a wrapped gift that we had not opened from Jorg and Regula for their friends in Champaign. Oh, well, they would not try to blow up the plane. Although it takes a long time to get through this process, I am not complaining. My sons can just stay poor.

As we are waiting to board, I overhear a conversation behind me. A man asks what sounds to be an older gentleman if he is from New Orleans. Apparently, there is some kind of identification on his carry-on bag. "Yes, I am, and everything is gone!" he said. He continued, "My wife is a physician and her office is gone; not there anymore. The water is up to the roof of our house and everything is destroyed; clothes, furniture, everything."

"Were you overseas when the hurricane happened?"

"Yes, and thank God, I was. We would have stayed. We have gone through many hurricanes and we always stayed." He went on to relate that some acquaintances who stayed are dead.

The man is disgusted with the government's relief efforts. He says, "If you're rich, you get nothing. All they do is give you a low intererst loan which you have to pay back with money that you have paid taxes on. If you're poor, you get all kinds of free things."

Some of the sympathy I had been feeling for him disappears. Poor little rich guy. Maybe he should give everything away, so he too would qualify for free government handouts. I want to go over to admonish him, but I decide that I do not want to die; this close to being home. (Rosalee would have killed me.)

We're sitting on the plane, waiting until 10:50 to leave. At 10:45, there is an announcement to please check our personal belongings. There is a computer notebook that has been found at the security checkpoint. Fifteen to 20 men jump up and check their packs. Rosalee says, "Notice they're all men." (She does not mean this as a compliment to men.)

We're three hours away from our estimated arrival time in Detroit. I have read my $8 New York Times and it doesn't contain 50 cents worth of news. It's amazing; I have been totally away from all decipherable media now for a week, and there is nothing in the newspaper of record that is really new. The Times, which in my opinion, is still the best of all the media, is still up to its old tricks of quoting anonymous sources when anonymity can't possibly be necessary except to hide the identity of some spin doctor and giving opinions disguised as news.

Example: There is an article on page 6 by Hassan M. Fattah about an inquiry into the murder of a former prime minister of Lebanon. A UN investigator is going to Syria next week as part of the investigation. Here is what the reporter says, "Damacus cafes were full this week and its markets bustled as an erie sense of normalcy belied the crisis the city might soon face. But, in stolen glances and whispered conversations, the city's growing anxiety bubbled to the surface."

This is not news; it is garbage dressed up on wrapping paper to make it appear to be news. There is no crisis in Damacus; it is the reporter's opinion that there might soon be one. In light of the fact that there is no crisis (by the reporter's own words) what makes the sense of normalcy "erie?" Well, he can tell that underneath the "normalcy" there is growing anxiety because he has noticed stolen glances and whispered conversations. Maybe, unlikely as it might be, there are people living normal lives. Flirting is going on with all these "stolen glances" and the "whispered conversations" are assignations. And this is from the best newspaper we've got.

At Detroit, we get on a little turboprop puddle jumper and an hour later, we are in Champaign, where Chris picks us up. He actually flew out of Zurich on Saturday; stayed overnight in Rochester, N.Y. and got to Champaign Sunday morning.

It was a wonderful trip. The flight insurance was a waste of money. But it was a fun waste of $100, and it did give some peace of mind to my fear of flying.

Don't go away though. The first weekend of October, we have a wedding in Bloomington, IN of the first of my nieces and nephews to get married. The nuptials will be pronounced by my younger brother whose credentials were bought by mail order 30 years ago. Then there is a trip to Atlanta to see some old buddies. So, I will probably still have some things to write about, although hopefully less frequently and voluminously than the past week.

The Day After

Saturday, September 10

Maria takes the news of our early departure with good grace. "Well, what could you do?" she asks. She is not going to make us pay for tonight, even though our cancellation is less than 24 hours. We have a last hearty breakfast and checkout. It is dark and misty, about the way we feel after a great week in Switzerland.

We walk down to the Old Town section and walk along the farmer's market stalls set up along the river. They let their zuchinni's get way too big. The Swiss farmers' organization has displays promoting Angus beef. They have a mechanical bull in a ring, going in circles, although no one is trying to ride him. American country and western music blares through loud speakers.

The farmers' market includes a fish market. The fish purveyors dress the fish for their customers around a fountain, with a lion's head on four sides of a middle column; water coming out of the heads' mouths. They use this water to rinse off their knives and the dressed fish.

About 11:00 a.m., we part ways; Rosalee to return to shopping, me to the internet cafe to wrestle with the y's and z's. At 1:30 p.m., we meet for lunch at the Hotel Des Alpes. I feel a lack of having tried a fair sample of Swiss cheeses, so I have a cheese plate, with all kinds of hard and soft cheeses, accompanied with olives, pickled onions and pickled cucumbers.

I have seen the Alps, eaten my fill of cheese, heard my son play and am now ready to leave Switzerland. I spend another couple of hours at the internet cafe, trying to get my blog up to date, and get it up through Friday night.

At 4:45 p.m., we meet to catch the train to the Zurich Airport. As we glide noiselessly along, Rosalee remarks, "This doesn't feel like riding a train. It feels like riding an elevator -- sideways."

At the airport, we find the shuttle van to take us to our hotel, "The Fly Away." The van driver asks us if we are flying out early tomorrow morning, and when we affirm, he suggests we check in at the KLM counter, go ahead and check the luggage we are not carrying on and get our boarding pass. He said we will be able to avoid the long check-in lines in the morning when we will be able to go directly to the departure gate.

We find a deserted area in the airport, to repack our luggage so that we have what we need in the carry-on bags and check in. Then we catch the next shuttle to the Fly-Away. Rosalee was skeptical about the hotel when the travel agent at the train station suggested it to us. Sounds like what might be called "the Bedbug" in the U.S. However, I remind her that we are in Switzerland. They do not have hotels that are not neat and clean. Turns out I was right. The hotel is very modern and high tech and spotlessly clean.

We try to eat at the hotel pizza parlor, but there is an hour wait; there is no seating outside and it is hot inside. So, we take the desk clerk's suggestion and go find the Lowen (yes, Mr. Autodidactic Grammarian, I know that the "o" is supposed to have two dots over it. The European keyboard I had to use in Switzerland had lots of funny characters. I could probably figure out how to do that on this American keyboard, if I cared.) The Lowen turns out to be an excellent choice. It is in an out-of-the-way side street (so out of the way that I get lost trying to find our way back to the hotel) patronized by locals. They have excellent food. I have weinerschnitzel mit schwein instead of veal, and it was perfect. The weinerschnitzel is lightly breaded and perfectly done. The pommes frites are hot and crunchy. It even comes with vegetables, cooked carrots.

We finally find the hotel and are back in bed by 9:30. We have to get up at 4:30 to catch the airport shuttle and make it to the airport in time for our flight home.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Chris Pops A String

Friday, September 9

We arrive a few minutes before 6:00 to pick up the free tickets Chris and Kevin have reserved for us. The Swiss are nothing if they are not sticklers for time, so we have to wait until precisely 6:00 p.m. We sit outside under the soaring roof of the concert hall and watch lightning in the darkening sky.

A few minutes after 6, we go in and get our tickets. They are not together, but the helpful staff exchange them for two that are together. We find seats in the lobby and watch the gathering crowd. This concert is in the main hall, the hall where the famous orchestras of the world have been playing in August and September, the only concert scheduled for this evening.

Rosalee spots a woman wearing a dress exactly like hers. You just cannot trust designers anymore to give you one-of-a-kind dresses. But Rosalee wears her dress much better than the other woman, presumably Swiss.

At 6:15, we are permitted into the main concert hall to await the 6:30 talk by Boulez. We are hoping that it will be in English. Chris said that Boulez uses English as the language in which to talk to the orchestra.

The program tonight will start with Alban Berg's "Lyrische Suite" and end with "Amerique" by Edgard Varese. In between will be three works by young composers, commissioned especially for the Lucerne Festival. They are Christopher Bertrand, Dai Fujykama and Bruno Montovani (no, not the elevator music guy.)

At precisely, 6:30, Boulez comes wout with Fujykama and Bertrand, and someone else, who is apparently the master of ceremonies. He speaks in German, and I eventually pick out that he will be interviewing, Boulez, Bertrand and Fujykama and that he and Boulez will be speaking German, Fujykama, will speak English and Bertrand will speak French. Why did those people at Babel have to build that damned tower? We can only hope the Japanese guy gets plenty of time to speak.

The moderator and Boulez talk for a long time. As they talk, I look around the hall. It is very modern, but not as stark as the smaller venue where Jack played Monday night. It is relatively narrow, long and very high. There are four balconies. Imposing organ pipes are high up in front. There is lots of wood, but the walls are made of white textured tiles. Chris has told us that the sound is very good. I do not know the seating capacity, but would guess it is about the same as Krannert Center in Champaign which holds several thousand.

Ah, now it is Fujykama's turn and the moderator speaks flawless English. Fujykama was a piano student. He came to Europe from Japan when he was 15. He is 28 now. He first heard traditional Japanese music at Damstadt, Germany in 1997. Before that, he had only studied classical music. This was an awakening for him and he tries to incorporate traditional Japanese sounds into his music. Boulez interrupts to say (in English) that Fujykama had sent two scores to him with his application, pieces written two years apart. Boulez saw such a progression in the complexity of the ideas in the two compositions that he decided to commission him to write for Lucerne.

After about 15 minutes, it is Bertrand´s turn. The moderator switches seemingly flawlessly between German, English and French, but then I could not tell about German and French. At 7:15, the conversations end, and we go find our concert seats, which are in the first balcony, on the right side, with a clear view of the conductor and the string section. It is also a good vantage point to look over the hall. It looks like it will be pretty well filled. There are people all the way up in the fourth balcony. Although I do not get quite the same sense of affluence of the crowd as the people we saw in the lobby on Monday night, this was a well-dressed crowd. Black was the predominant color for both men and women. There were lots of bare and partially bare shoulders and strapless gowns. But the guy directly in front of me is wearing a plaid shirt with a mashed up collar. Probably a musician, who is here to hear, not to be seen.

I wonder where all the money comes from to support this enterprise. The orchestra has about 125 members, about one-third of them for the states. They are all being paid their airfare, room and board to come here and play. That has got to be big bucks, even though they recoup a some of the money in ticket sales. In looking over the roster, I see solid pedigrees. There are musicians here from the New England Conservatory, Julliard, Indiana, Oberlin, Northwestern, as well as Eastman. Christopher´s assistant concertmaster is a PhD student in violin from Indiana University, already has a paying job as concertmaster of the Montgomery Symphony, has premiered a violin work at Carnegie Hall. How the heck this Amishman´s kid, who only yesterday was playing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" in the talent show at the Champaign County fair, and who did not major in violin, but in composition, at Eastman, can be the concertmaster is beyond my grasp.

It is 7:30. From where I sit, the main floor looks to be 90 percent full; the first and second balconies completely full; the third balcony about 75 percent full and the fourth balcony completely full. This is a good crowd. There is an announcement; then, hey, an English translation. "You must turn off all cellphones. No photographs or recordings may be taken." They would not allow me to take my briefcase containing my camera into the hall. I had to check them one of the cloak rooms. Rosalee got in with her purse, the camera inside. She had planned to take a photograph at the end, but decides not to after the stern warning.

The orchestra files in. No, it´s not the full orchestra, just the string section. The Berg must be just for strings. From our angle, we can see Chris just outside the side door to the stage, waiting for his cue. He walks slowly in, to polite applause, takes a slow bow and then tunes the orchestra and sits down. The lights go down. Boulez walks in to similar applause. He shakes Chris´s hand and then takes the podium.

The piece starts very softly; very melodic; very listenable, even for a non-musician. It is a beautiful piece. Wait, that´s Chris doing a solo in the first movement. He has a longer solo in the third movement. At the end, the music fades out very softly. It is very beautiful. There is nice applause, nothing thunderous. Boulez is brought back twice for bows. He doesn´t give Chris any special recognition for the solos. Bummer.

The orchestra goes out and the chairs are re-arranged for the full orchestra. This time, Chris does not do a special entrance. This piece features a bassoon soloist. The brass are more predominant than the strings. This sounds less like traditional classical music, but it is still very listenable. The piece ends and the soloist takes several bows, and then calls up the composer, Montovani.

Rosalee remarks that this is probably the best orchestra in which Christopher has ever played and I agree. They sound phenomenal. The chairs are rearranged for the Fukyjama piece. The violins are in the back, middle; the cellos are in the front. The orchestra comes back out, Chris with them. He tunes the orchestra and then sits down. This piece sounds more like the stereotypical new music with strange sounds. It sounds like Halloween music. Chris has another solo in this piece. In fact he has the last note.

The audience claps enthusiastically. The composer is brought out and the audience keeps clapping. This piece is probably the best received of them all so far. The composer is wearing a tuxedo coat, white shirt, no tie; with his shirt tail hanging out. He said during the pre-concert conversation that his mother is here. I wonder what she is thinking about his get-up. I know what Christopher´s mother would be thinking. "Where have I gone wrong?"

Then there is intermission. The lobby is full of smoke. The Swiss do love their cigarettes. After 20 minutes, we go back inside for the second half.

The orchestra comes out; Christopher with them. No special entrance. The piece starts with percussion and then the flutes and woodwinds. This is the Bertrand piece.

Oh, no, it looks like Chris has broken a string. He is pulling on something up near the scroll during a lull in which the strings are not playing. I hope he does not have a solo. When Chris is playing again, I watch his fingerings and see that they are different from the fingerings of the associate concertmaster. I´ll bet that he is transposing the piece as he plays and playing on the three remaining strings.

The audience claps enthusiastically at the end. They bring the composer back several times. No standing ovation. Chris is having an animated conversation with his stand partner. The orchestra goes out and the stage is reorganized.

The orchestra comes back out for the final piece. Hopefully, Chris has had time to replace his string. He stands and tunes the orchestra. He does not like what he hears and makes a hand gesture. Then, satisfied, he sits back down. Boulez comes out, takes his bow and takes the podium. This is the Varese piece.

The oboes and the harps start this piece off. This is the strangest sounding piece of the program. Some of it is very forlorn and lovely. Then sirens go off and the timpani boom, boom, boom. I like it. In the climax, there is a great deal of wood clapping with a wood clapper.

The piece ends with an ear splitting boom from the percussion. There are many cheers and bravos, not only from me. Boulez takes several bows, then shakes Chris´s hand and the hands of all the front row players. Boulez goes off, then is called back yet again. He recognizes the percussion and brass. The audience starts standing. (I swear, I was not the first. I was not the last either.) Then Boulez grabs Chris´s hand and extends both their hands in the air, like politicians just nominated for political office. I get something in my eye that requires a handkerchief. Finally, Boulez grabs Christopher´s violin and holds it aloft while pushing Chris off stage ahead of him. That is a signal for the orchestra to leave even though the audience has not stopped clapping.

We head out the door and I ask one of the uniformed guards how to get backstage. She directs me out the door and to the back. There another uniformed guard lets Rosalee and me in. I go so fast I forget to stop at the box office to get my camera. We ask for Chris and are given conflicting directions, but then come upon Boulez. I wait while an older gentleman talks with him for several minutes and some orchestra members have their pictures taken, then introduce myself. He murmurs sweet nothings. "Fine musician." "Glad to have him" etc. I was hoping he would give me some better quotes like, "Most extraordinary violinist of his generation," or something.

We go find Chris. He is being congratulated by other orchestra members. It turns out his string did break, and he did try to play on the remaining strings. I asked him what he would have done if it had happened before one of his solos. He said he would have nodded to the associate concertmaster who would have taken over. Another musician there said he saw it happen once to the Boston Symphony concertmaster, and he just handed over his violin with the broken string to his associate and played his violin. The associate handed the violin back, and it kept being passed back until it landed in the hands of the last violinist, who was stuck with going off stage and fixing it.

We do not spend too much time with Chris. He needs to be with his friends. His plane leaves at 10:00 on Saturday, and he will probably be up all night. That is okay. He is 21, and does not need any advice from us.

By the time we leave the concert hall, it is pouring down rain, the first bad weather of the week. We have one umbrella between us, and wind up pretty wet back at Villa Maria. Tomorrow, we will hang around Lucerne all day, and then head to Zurich for the night and then home. Be home Sunday afternoon about 5:30. This trip was well worth the time and money.

The Big Shew

Friday, September 9

This is it; the day of the big show. The Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra will do its concert tonight at 7:30 p.m. We`ll see what all the excitement was about.

We are up at a leisurely hour. The blisters on my foot have almost completely disappeared, thanks to two days of light walking and a change of shoes.

Another perfect day, but then I repeat myself.

We take a leisurely stroll along the quai, by the lake, stopping at times to sit on a shaded bench and work on our journals or reading, and then moving on. We have limited goals today. We want to get some of the festival posters featuring Chris and we want to see the dying lion statue. (I have been a lawyer for so long, that it is almost impossible for me to write the word "statue." It always comes out "statute." I guess I need more vacations.

We sit and enjoy the passing parade and then stroll down the lake to the concert hall box office. The young lady at the ticket office says that we can pick up our free tickets to the concert tonight at 6 o´clock. Although not bearing the prices of the big orchestras that have been there this summer, this is not a free concert. Tickets run 30 francs (about $24) each. The orchestra members are all entitled to one free ticket each, and Chris and Kevin have reserved free ones for us. Boulez will give a pre-concert lecture tonight at 6:30. Hopefully, we will be spared the exercise of play a little and talk a lot before getting to actually hear the piece.

The ticket office cannot help us with getting the posters. The young lady directs us to the Festival offices several blocks away. On the way, we decide to stop at the train station to verify arrangements for our departure Sunday morning. The man at the international information office had told me several days ago that we could catch a train at 4:13 a.m. that would get us directly to the Zurich Airport by 5:30 a.m., plenty of time for our 7:00 a.m. departure. He had assured me that the buses run all night, even on Sunday´s, so there would be no problem getting to the train station early Sunday morning.

That was then. Now we have a different man helping us. No, no, no, no way, he tells us. There is no 4:13 a.m. train from Lucerne to the Zurich airport. The earliest is 5:13, which would not get us to the airport until 6:30, not enough time to catch an international flight. He told us if we wanted to take a chance, there was an office in the train station to which you could take your luggage for direct check-in, which might give us a chance, but would be risky. It turned out the airplane luggage check-in place would not take luggage for KLM. So, there is no alternative but to leave Lucerne on Saturday evening, stay at a hotel near the aiport Saturday night and take the hotel limousine over to the airport on Sunday morning. A travel agency next door makes all the arrangements, so it is no big deal, except that we had reserved seven nights from Maria, and we will be cancelling one night on very short notice. Also, I have gotten fond of Lucerne, and the thought of leaving a day earlier makes me sad.

Next stop, the Festival Academy offices, several blocks away. The office is on the fourth floor. There is an elevator-looking thing beside the stairs, but it looks like one of the old-fashioned elevator cages like you see in old French movies. After pushing the button to summon the elevator with no results, we huff up the stairs.

We are met by two very attractive young women at the Festival offices who try to be helpful. But the marketing director tells us all of the posters are in use until the end of the festival, which is not for another week. (Apparently, there is a piano part to the festival, which will run for another week.) They can have the pictures that we are interested in, blown up and printed on poster board, just like the ones we have seen in the Tourist Information office and shops around town, but the cost would be 280 francs, plus they would be difficult to take on the plane or to ship, because of the size. They offer to give us the pictures on a CD and we can take them to a print shop and have them printed up ourselves. That seems to be the only alternative short of trying to shoplift a 4x6 poster, so we accept.

Then we stop at Movenpick again for some food and ice cream. (An anonymous commentator on an earlier post chided me for misspelling Movenpick. I can only tell that autodidactic grammarian that I am just putting down what I see. No umlauts. No regrets.) We get a cute young waitress with a sunny smile who takes our orders and then, when Rosalee asks if there is a rest room inside that she can use, says with a straight face, "No!" We accept that with equanimity, having gotten used to the Swiss penchant for not giving our free amenities, when she says, "You have to pee on the floor!" and starts laughing. This was so un-Swiss-like and her accent was so perfect, I thought she must be an American. She was Swiss, but had studied for a year in high school in Georgia. When I press her on it, she can even belt a few yáll´s to prove her bona fides.

After lunch, we head for the Dying Lion sculpture. This is what Mark Twain had to say about it in "A Tramp Abroad:"

"The commerce of Lucerne consists mainly in gimcrackery of the souvenir sortö the shops are packed with Alpine crystals, photographs of scenery, and wooden and ivory carvings. I will not conceal the fact that miniature figures of the Lion of Lucerne are to be had in them. Millions of them. But they are libels upon him, every one of them. There is a subtle something about the majestic pathos of the original which the copyist cannot get. Even the sun fails to get it; both the photographer and the carver give you a dying lion, and that is all. The shape is right, the attitude is right, the proportions are right, but that indescribable something which makes the Lion of Lucerne the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world is wanting.

"The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff, -- for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lillies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water lilies. Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful, woondland nook, remote from the noise and stir and confusion -- and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is."

It is still exactly as Twain described it, except that the vines are mostly gone, replaced by moss. It is still true that no reproduction I have ever seen, including photographs do the statue justice. There is a heartbreaking expression on his face, caused partly by the downward shape of his mouth, and the look in his eyes. I think Twain´s use of the phrase "carved from the living rock of the cliff" is pure genius. Who would think to describe rock as "living" but that is exactly the right word in this context.

After spending quite some time in the shady repose of the park around the statue, Rosalee went off in hunt of the perfect souvenir and I came to the internet cafe to update my blog. We met at 5:30 for sandwiches and then took the bus back downtown to the concert hall to pick up our free tickets.

The concert merits its own posting, which I will do next.

We See The Young Woman

8:05 a.m., Thursday, September 8

We are on the train heading towards the Jungfrau (Young Wife) which is in the real Alps. I would like to spend another day giving my blisters a chance to heel, and a four-hour train trip, each way, to the Alps and back seems like just the ticket. The mountains around Lucerne are lovely, and interesting to a Midwesterner, but I have become jaded. I want to see some real Alps, with snow and glaciers. Mt. Pilatus is about 6,000 feet above sea level. The Jungfrau (billed by Swiss Railroad as "Top of Europe," is 13,680 feet high. Although the peak of Mt. Pilatus is above the tree line, there is no snow on it this time of year. It was hard to know how to dress. Mt. Pilatus was not cold at all. I assume Jungfrau will be colder (note to self; refrain from obvious jokes.) But, if the sun is shining, as it is certainly is in Lucerne, I do not want to have to drag along a coat and be hot. So, I am compromising with a long sleeved shirt. I assume Swiss Railroad would not be selling excursions to some place we have to rough it very much.

We are now traveling through beautiful farming country. Lots of cows; lots of pasture. Once in a while, a field of corn, that looks just like Illinois corn. Amazing. Again, the train is very quiet, but not deathly so. People are talking. Some English-speaking kids are sitting several seats away and chattering. Although we are in a no-smoking section of the car, the smoke drifts in from next door. The Swiss sure do like to smoke.

Maria usually puts out breakfast at 7:30, but we really need to be leaving the pension by 7:30. We went down a few minutes early, and she took the interruption in her schedule in good grace, even making cafe au lait for us quickly. She is a great hostess; always full of bonhomie and efficiency.

8:40 a.m. We are in a tunnel, approaching Berne, and I am updating my journal. I have my feet propped up on the seat opposite to bring my knees high enough for my briefcase to rest on them and form a writing desk. The conductor walks by and makes me put my feet down. It is hard to follow all the Swiss rules when you do not know what they are.

9:00 a.m. We arrive in Bern precisely as scheduled. In my short experience, I have never known a Swiss train to deviate even one minute from the published schedule. We have to switch trains here for Interlaken. We have six minutes to find the train and get on. No problem. The only problem is that we inadvertently get on a smoking car. We move.

9:10 a.m. We are leaving Bern. Still no sign of any Alps. I know, I know, I should have checked a map and gotten the geography straight in my head before I started complaining.

9:25 a.m. We are starting to see some small mountains, but nothing very Alpsy. We are at Thun. I am thinking about asking for my money back.

9:42 a.m. Nary an Alp to be seen anywhere. I specifically told the guy at the train station that I wanted to buy a ride through the Alps. This is what he recommended. We get to Interlaken in 20 minutes, so at the very best in a two-hour train ride we will have 20 minutes of Alps views.
Well, it is a comfortable ride anyway. My feet are happy, even if we do not see any Alps. The views have lakes, small hills, tidy farmsteads, with piles of chopped wood. But no Alps.

9:55 a.m. We are pulling into Interlaken. Rosalee keeps saying how gorgeous it looks, and she is right. It is gorgeous. I see one lone Alpsy looking peak in the distance. This is not the Swiss Alps as I pictured them.

10:20 a.m. At Interlaken, we switched to an older, I believe, narrow guage, train to Lauterbrunn. The map has nice pictures of Alps at this location. I do not see any. False advertising.

10:31 a.m. We just got to Lauterbrunn and I have spied an Alp. It has snow on the top. But I wanted a plethora of Alps.

10:35 a.m. Nice local color. I just saw two men with hand scythes cutting hay on a steep hillside. This is just the way my ancestors would have done it 350 years ago. The mountain streams are starting to look muddy. This area had serious flooding and mud slides several weeks ago. The trains were shut down. Maybe the Alps slid away.

10:50 a.m. We have switched trains again, this time to a cograil train composed of five or six cars. The engine is straining to get us up the grade. The views are spectacular. I guess this must be the Alps because I see more than one mountain with snow at the top. But it is not a plethora. But, I guess I will not ask for my money back.

11:15 a.m. This is amazing country. It is so picturesque, it seems like it must be a movie set. We are sitting on the train, stopped, waiting for one in the opposite direction to go by, I guess. We are up very high on a mountain; the hillsides are very steep, but there are still farms around us. There is a continuous clanging of cow, sheep or goat bells. The sun is warm, but the air is crisp. Gradually, the sounds of paradise are broken by the sound of a helicopter. Two cograil trains pass us going down the mountain. These trains are all electrical, so the train itself makes no sound as we sit here. The third downbound train passes us, and we are off again, up the mountain.

12:15 p.m. We have changed trains again and are still on the way to the "Top of Europe." We have been in a tunnel for the last 20 minutes, so the scenery has not been so good. Now, we have stopped, so people can go to observation windows and look out. We`re somewhere in the middle of a mountain. There is lots of snow and ice outside the windows. It is very cold, off the train.

12:37 p.m. We`re at the Top of Europe. The Jungfrau. The temperature outside is -.8 C. I am not sure what that translates to in Farenheit, but I believe it is pretty cold. We are all snug and cozy inside the huge complex, with three or four restaurants, and tunnels and elevators taking us all the way to the top. Outside, there are some ski tracks and Rosalee spots several skiers. Let them have their fun. I prefer the touristy inside.

Unlike Karen Carpenter, when she was "on top of the world," we are hungry. We enter the cafeteria and are greeted by signs in German and English. The German menu say, "Tageshit." I know what "tage" means in German, at least in Pennsylvania Dutch, it means day. I decide to order the pork cutlets off the English menu and let the Germans have their shit. They deserve it. I believe it was Mark Twain who said that the man who invented German should be shot, but I cannot find the quote right now.

We take an elevator to the summit, at 13,680 feet, about 500 feet above where the train took us. The very top is socked in with clouds, so there is nothing to see out the observation windows but white. So, every takes turns posing for pictures by the sign proclaiming the altitude and weather. Then we ride back down the elevator and catch the first train back. Very little walking. I did not need any warmer clothing. And the scenery is even more beautiful going down.

A man on the train several seats away remarks to his traveling companion, "He`s reading Mark Twain`s A Tramp Abroad." I guess he does not realize that I can hear him. Or he does not care that I can hear him but does not want to address me directly. That is okay. I did not want to talk to him either.

Scene on the train to Berne. Four elderly women in hikers` gear across the aisle from us are talking. A fifth woman comes in and they ask (with gestures, they are all speaking German) Rosalee to gather up her stuff from the seat next to her so she can join them. Then, a sixth woman, similarly attired, comes in and starts to talk with them. I start to gather my things from the seat next to me so she can join them, but one of them says to me in English, "Leave your things. She can sit somewhere else." I wonder what that was all about.

We get into Bern, again have just six minutes to change trains, have some confusion because the conductor on the train into Bern told us that the train to Lucerne was on a different track than it turned out to be. We hop onto the right train, literally seconds before it starts moving. At the end of another hour, we will be back in Lucerne. We will take the evening off tonight from concerts and get to bed early.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Life Along the Quai (modified)

Wednesday, September 7

Up at 6:30, another great breakfast with the ebulliant Maria. It is another perfect day; temperature in the 70s, clear and sunny. Our only planned activity today is to meet Chris at 6:00 to have a fondue dinner, a very touristy thing to do, but then we never pretended not to be tourists.

I am sitting on a bench on the quai beside Lake Lucerne, letting my feet rest and enjoying the passing parade. Mark Twain describes this area in "A Tramp Abroad" much better than I can. He says:

"Lucerne is a charming place. It begins at the water`s edge, with a fringe of hotels, and scrambles up and spreads itself over two or three sharp hills in a crowded, disorderly but picturesque way, offering to the eye a heaped up confusion of red roofs, quaint gables, dormer windows, toothpick steeples, with here and there a bit of ancient embattled wall bending itself over the ridges, worm-fashion, and here and there an old square tower of heavy masonry.

"Between the curving line of hotels and the lake is a broad avenue with lamps and a double rank of low shade trees. The lake front is walled with masonry like a pier, and has a railing to keep people from walking overboard (The railing is no longer there.) . . . . (N)urses, children and tourists sit in the shade of the trees, or lean on the railing andwatch the schools of fishes darting about in the clear water or gaze over the lake at the stately border of snow-hooded mountain peaks. (The peaks do not have snow on them this time of year.)

Here are some notes I made along the quai:

10:30 a.m. Just sitting here on a bench being mooned by a swan. This swan has had its head under the water and its ass aimed at me for at least 30 seconds. I presume its fishing, not insulting me.

11:15 a.m. I see a head in the water, way across the Lake. Apparently, a swimmer is swimming across the lake. Seems rather dangerous with no one else around to help him if he gets into trouble. Swimming has never had much attraction for me since my cousin tried to drown me while purportedly teaching me how to float in his gravel pit. That episode deserve more exposition some other time.

11:30 a.m. Young mothers on roller blades gracefully gliding this way and that, pushing their baby carriages along the quai. Old woman in a wheelchair, head lolling, being pushed by a young man -- nurse? Grandson? He is talking to her, but I hear no responses from her. He must be a grandson; hired help would not bother with the conversation.

11:45 a.m. Frail-looking woman in her mid-80s, with a club foot sits down on the bench next to me and starts jabbering in German. I tell her that I do not speak German. She asks me, "Do you speeek Anglisch?" "Some," I admit. She then switches to Anglisch and tells me she is going to sveeeem in dur lake. It is very gut for you." I agree (that it is good for her, not so good for me.) She wishes me a good holiday and hobbles off to enter a small building where I had earlier noticed attractive young women going. Must be some sort of sveeeming place.

12:20 p.m. A blimp floats out of the mountain range and heads across the lake. I try to take a picture of it, but I am sitting in the shade, aiming into the sun, and my viewfinder shows no blimp. The sound of the engine gradually gets louder as the blimp flies almost directly overhead. It is not the Goodyear blimp. The name on the side says "Girsberger. Sitting Smart." I am sitting, but I assume the sign is not meant personally for me. The blimp keeps circling over the lake, about 1,000 to 1,500 feet up, for about 15 minutes then flies off.

1:00 p.m. Sitting on a bench beside the lake, eating a sandwich and salad Rosalee has picked up at a grocery store. Chris and Kevin happen by. They are on their way swimming. This is their day off. No rehearsals; no practices; no performances. I tell them that sveeeeming is good for them. Rosalee insists that Chris put on some of the sun screen she has brought along. Nothing to bring an achieving young man down to earth like having his mother show up and make him put on sun screen.

Rosalee goes back to shower and change for the evening concert while I go back to the internet cafe to update my blog.

At 6:00, we meet Chris for dinner at a touristy place that serves fondue. We can not go to Switzerland and not have fondue, even though Maria has told us that the Swiss usually just have it in the winter months. We order a plain cheese fondue and wait and wait. And wait. And wait. There are only six tables occupied. I do not know what could possibly take so long to melt some cheese. When it finally comes, it is tasty, but Chris has to gobble because he has to go back to his place and change clothes.

It turns out Chris and Kevin wound up not going sveeeeming after all. They ran into some friends who wanted to "read" through music. (Meaning that they just play through some pieces that they have not practiced, for their own pleasure.) So that is what they did all afternoon.

Chris is feeling nervous about the Friday night orchestra performance. He says he does not like the pressure of being concert master. This is different. Chris has performed with many different orchestras, been concertmaster many times before, been in competitions and auditions, and I have never known him to admit to any nervousness. We ask him why he feels nervous, and he does not have any answers. I suggest to him that it might be because he had nothing to do with selecting the musicians or the music, but is held responsible, to some extent, for how the string section performs. He does not think that it it. He says the musicians are very excellent musicians. So I cannot help him with his nervousness. I ask him how he likes Boulez as conductor. There was apparently some kind of controversy when he was conductor of the Chicago Symphony. Chris thinks he is great. He said when he really gets into a piece, he can be brilliant.

Later, we meet Chris and Kevin at the concert. The concert tonight is by an ensemble of Academy players. Boulez is conducting. This is another lesson performance. The featured composer talks a while, then has the ensemble play selections which he explains. This goes on for an hour, then there is a 20-minute intermission, after which we hear the piece in its entirety. The piece is called "Fragments of a Portrait," by a french composer, Phillipe Mancoury. They also do an early Stockhausen piece, "Kontra-Pierskte No. 1," and "Octandre" by Edgard Varese.

It is another long day, but not so much walking, so my feet are happy. My blisters look to be healing. I am in bed by 11:45, and have the alarm set for 6:00 a.m. because we want to catch an early train to see the Alps.

Mount Pilatus

Tuesday, Sept. 6

I woke up this morning with two new blisters. I am not allowed to have blisters because of my diabetes. Although my shoes are very comfortable Birkenstocks, too much walking in the same shoes will cause your feet to protest. I put a couple of bandages on the blisters and switch to tennis shoes.

Down to breakfast with the cheery Maria. Today is her 64th birthday. She is all smiles and gemutlichkeit. (Hey, I know three German words.)

We catch the bus for the train station and buy our tickets for Mount Pilatus. We will take a one and one-half hour boat trip on Lake Lucerne to Achnitigal, then take a half hour trip up the mountain on the world`s steepest cograil train to the peak where there is a restaurant and observatory. When we are done looking, we will take a gondola part of the way down, ride an alpine slide and then go down the rest of the way in a gondola and take a bus back to downtown Lucerne.

The boat leaves at preciselz 10:25. We decide to sit inside by a window to keep from getting too much sun. With the window open, there is a nice breeze. This is another perfect day. Sunny. Temperature is in the low 70s I would guess.

The cruise is very peaceful and relaxing. The boat makes six to eight stops at little villages around the lake, all of them looking like postcard scenes, with traditional Swiss houses and lots of flower boxes. We see a fly on our window, the first insect we have seen in Switzerland. No one has window screens. The doors and windows stand wide open, and there are no flies and mosquitos. I noticed this in Paris too. I do not know if Europe is just too clean to breed flies or what. Rosalee reminds me that she killed a spider in our room the other day, so I guess they must have some insects, but not many. Only the affluent ones, I would guess.

The views of Mount Pilatus keep changing as we move around the lake. Most of the passengers are German-speaking. The announcements are mostly in German. Even the English ones sound more German than English.

We finally arrive in Achnitigal and get in the train. The grade is 48 degrees at some points, but the car stays level, so there is no sense of danger. The view is spectacular as we climb the mountain. Along the way, we pass working farms, with cows grazing in the meadows, their bells making continuous tinkling sounds.

At the summit, there are paths, some more steep and others blasted through the rock to give a fairly level way to get around the top. We take the easy route, although it involves many stairs. We can hear the tinkling of the bells, even at the summit. Goats push up to the fence to lick the hands of the tourists.

My feet are complaining when we finally sit down for a lunch of bratwurst and beer at one of the restaurants. The food is very good, and not that expensive, for Switzerland. Certainly better than aluminum snack crackers.

We buy some souvenirs; I buy the perfect hat for my walking buddy. We will see if he is reading my blog as promised because I am not going to give him the hat until he mentions it.

We head down the mountain on the gondola. It is not as scarey being on the gondola, as it is to see them swinging over vast nothingness, supported by slight cables, with rocks far down below. About half way down, we get off to get my alpine slide ride. Rosalee thinks I am being childish for insisting on this ride. She points out that most of the people going on it are kids. I know I am being childish, but the ride we took 15 years ago in Galena, Illinois, was such fun that I will not be discouraged. (An alpine slide, for those unprivileged enough not to have experienced one, is a track down the mountain on which you slide, sitting on a special tobaggon. It has a brake with which you can control your speed. At the bottom, you are pulled back up via a ski lift.

I am more hobbling than walking by the time we get to the slide, about half a mile from the gondola. Changing shoes did not clear up my blister problem. Rosalee is extremely skeptical about doing this at our age. I ask the attendant about it, pointing out my age and weight, and he encourages us to do it. So we lock briefcase, purse, coat and camera in a locker and head down the mountain.

What fun! It would have been more fun if a cautious Japanese man and his daughter were not going very slowly ahead of me. I saw them start slowly, so I waited a long time before starting to give them a chance to get way ahead of me, but I caught up with them about three-quarters of the way down. No matter, it was well worth the time, money and hobbling.

The gondola we get on to go the rest of the way down the mountain is a four-person car, instead of the approximately 16-person car we started wtih. It hangs from a cable, much closer to the ground; maybe 15 or so feet off the ground, which is now covered in grass, rather than the car that was a thousand feet above rocks we started off with. There is another passenger in our car, a man who is a biologist and was up on the mountain to take scientific readings. He is a pleasant traveling companion and entertains us with the facts and lore of the region.

When we get to the bottom, there is a 15-minute walk to catch a bus back to downtown Lucerne. My feet are really hurting by the time we make the bus and get back to the pension.

We are going to another concert this evening, one Chris has recommended, although he is not playing in it. This is by a percussion ensemble. We barely have time to shower and change to dressup clothes before we have to catch the bus to get there. This concert is not at the main concert hall, but is at an alternative venue in a residential neighborhood. Maria helps us to locate the place on the map and gives us instructions on which bus to take to get there.

But either Maria is mistaken or we do not follow her instructions for we get off the bus in a neighborhood of houses, with no possible venue for a concert. We try asking several people, but everyone we accost does not speak English or pretends not to. One man, working in a yard, tells us it is down the steps to the left. But there are no steps to the left that we can see. Finally a young woman comes along who knows where were are trying to go and tells us she will walk with us most of the way. We head between houses, along what looks to be private paths, and sure enough come to a series of steps to the left. When I say steps, I do not just mean a few steps, but a plethora of steps. We step and step and step. We finally get to the bottom of the steps, and then follow some streets to where the young lady has to leave us. She gives us careful instructions and we proceed, anxious that we are going to be late.

By the time we get to where the concert is supposed to be, we are sweating heavily in our good clothes. We find a deserted-looking warehouse, with no apparent way to get in, and are convinced that once more we have been misled. Luckily, Rosalee spots the associate concertmaster making his way around the back of the building, so we follow him around and find ourselves in a vast warehouse-like space. It is packed, with at least 1,000 people, and has more percussion instruments on the stage than I have ever seen in one place. The woman at the door gives us earplugs, but I resolve to fully experience this concert. Besides my hearing is so bad, a few more decibels are not going to make any difference. This turns out to be not a dress up kind of concert. Most of the audience is young, although there are some gray hairs of people older than us. Pierre Boulez is conducting, and he is way older than us. If they can do it, we can do it.

The first piece is by Rihm. I do not know what the piece is called because, although there is a program, there have been changes to it and all of the announcements were in German. I do know there were six complete drum sets, and when they were all beating in unison at the beginning, I could feel the vibrations in my chest. It was an awesome (in every sense of the word) piece.

When the concert was over, I hobbled over to the bus station, the correct one being only about two blocks from the concert place. When we got back to our room, it was past midnight. I took off my shoes and socks and saw that my blisters were open and bleeding, in addition to a newly-activated corn. Okay, I have reached my limit. Tomorrow, I will stay off my feet.

Jack Knocks Them Dead Part II

I already know, before Lachenmann starts talking that this is sort of a demonstration performance. Jack is going to do the piece once, and then the orchestra is going to do it again, Lachenmann having re-written what was originally a quartet piece into an orchestra piece. I figure out that Lachenmann must be explaining what he did, which is fine if you understand German. My mind wanders. Two video cameras are recording the event. L. is wearing a light linen suit that is wrinkled, a white shirt and no tie. I do not think he would be admitted next door.

L. keeps talking. He says something that makes three people laugh. I have come to hear my son play. I do not care Jack about what L. might have to say. L. says something that sounds like "aufong" which I think is German for "begin." More people chuckle. Chris looks like he is about to fall asleep.

Finally, L. says, in English, "Lets play now. How you say (then some German word.) Ah, that was the problem. L. was filling in time until he could figure out to tell Jack to start playing.

There is silence. Swiss train compartment silence. I stop writing because the sound of my pen on my $17.89 brown soft leather journal with gilt edged papers and a maroon silk bookmark disturbs the silence. Then the first violin starts very softly, almost a ghostly sound. After about two minutes, L. starts talking again. Damn him. How did he figure out how to say stop so quickly. Then L. stops and the quartet plays a little. Then it stops and L. talks a little. This goes on until 8:30. Then L. walks off the stage and Jack does the piece from the beginning.

The piece is very modern, but listenable. The quartet members at times make a very classical sounding sound; at other times strange sounds that do not sound like they come from stringed instruments. They sometimes play with mutes on the stringsö other times above the bridge. The piece takes about 20 minutes, then ends abruptly. Nobody makes a sound or breathes for about 10 seconds, then Chris very slowly brings his bow down to the resting position, signaling the end and the audience erupts with cheers and bravos. They take five curtain calls. I think the audience should give them a standing ovation, but I am not about to embarass Chris by being the only one to stand. Maybe they do not give standing ovations in Europe. Then there is an intermission and we go into the foyer again. Everyone is smoking. Did I say the Swiss smoke a lot? Everyone is speaking German except for a few Englischers here and there. I pick up a couple of cough drops from a big bin, half expecting some greedy Switzer to pop up from behind the bin and demand five francs payment. I abscond with the cough drops and go back inside for the second half.

The Academy Orchestra is playing the same piece as re-written by Lachenmann for the second half. Chris sits out this performance since he just played. The associate concertmaster, who is a PhD violin student at Indiana University, and has already played at Carnegie Hall, moves up to concertmaster in Chris`s absence. They go through the same exercise in the second half, with L. talking a lot and then alternating talking and playing by the orchestra and then L. leaving the stage and the orchestra playing the piece completely without interruption. It sounds like a completely different piece, although there are familiar snatches here and there. I guess the point is to help people understand what they`re hearing, which is a good idea, if you can understand what the speaker is saying. Chris, who had four years of high school German, tells us later that he could not understand what L. was saying either. He said no one could understand him, even the fluent German speakers.

Afterwards we find Chris and ask him to pose for pictures with Jack. He agrees and they find L. to pose with them. I suggest we treat them to ice cream and they (minus L.) agree.

As we were walking through the foyer, a tall older man stopped Chris and talked to him a little bit. Afterwards, Chris told us it was Wolfgang Rihm, who I take it is a very famous composer. The other members of Jack seemed very impressed that Rihm had liked their performance. They said that L. also liked it. He told them "Don`t change anything."

We went to the Movanpick restaurant for our ice cream. I found out later that Movan is a small bird that "picks" its food, but the name should be spelled Mowan. Go figure. It was fun listening to Jack talk. We found out many things that Chris would never have told us. Although they were satisfied with how they played, they were practically giddy over their Saturday night performance, which was the day before we arrived. They played a piece by a Greek composer, Xanakis. They felt like they had really nailed it. Rihm told them he had never heard it played better. There was a smaller audience, but they were called back for eight curtain calls. A Swiss agent was in the audience and wants to sign them up for some concert dates. He could not make the performance tonight, but planned to send someone.

Kevin and Chris are staying at one host family and John and Ari at another one. John and Ari`s family heard Jack`s Saturday night performance, and afgterwards gave John 200 francs ($160) and told him to buy drinks for everyone. At Swiss prices that would buy about a beer each. (Just joking, it would buy way more booze than one would hope one`s son would drink.)

They tease Chris about his clothes. Kevin got Chris to actually wear a nice sweater because his luggage was several days late in arriving and Kevin got to dress Chris. Besides his suit, white shirt and two ties, Chris brought two pairs of jeans, some jean shorts and 4 or 5 t-shirts. He does not like to dress up.

We walked back to the pension and got to bed, just after midnight. A very satisfying and tiring day.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Jack Knocks Them Dead

In the main concert hall, the New York Philharmonic is playing with Loren Mazel conducting. The crowd for that concert is dressed elegantly, the women in evening gowns, the men dressed in tuxedos or suits. People dress up for concerts in Europe.

We get to the hall about 7:15 for the 8:00 p.m. concert. The doors are not open yet. The foyer is very large and has several bars and restaurants where people can gather and eat and drink before going in for the concerts.

Chris had warned us that people dress up. We`re not wearing elegant, but I have on a sports coat and tie and Rosalee has a dark dress and sports some pearls. About as dressed up as we ever get. I figure the designer dresses are going to hear the New York Philharmonic. They don`t know Jack. Yet.

Rosalee and I find lounge chairs across from a nun in full traditional habit. I haven`t figured out whether she is going to the big concert or the important concert. At 7:30, the doors open and most of the well-dressed people enter the main concert hall. Rosalee, the nun and I go in the second room. It is fairly large, but is very stark. Everything is black; walls, ceiling, chairs, even hardwood floors. The ceiling is very high, maybe about 50 feet high. There are about 500 chairs set up, although the halls looks like it would hold half again that many. I worry that the audience is going to consist of the nun, Rosalee and me, and we will be swallowed up in that big room. But a steady stream of people come in. About 7:40, a handsome young bearded man, wearing a black suit, black shirt and white tie walks across the stage. It takes me a moment to realize that it`s Christopher, placing his music on the stand. He walks off. We don`t embarass him by cheering.

People keep coming in. I see Pierre Boulez sitting in the back. By 8:00 p.m., amazingly enough, most of the seats are taken. The chatter spontaneously quiets down a few minutes after 8:00. Then the cellist, Kevin, (who happens to be from Lancaster, PA) walks in, followed by John, the violist, Ari, the second violinist, Chris, the first violinist, and Helmut Lachenmann, the composer.

The audience applauds enthusiastically. Jack bows and then Chris gestures generously towards Lachenmann, who also takes a bow. Then Lachenmann starts talking, in German. I have no idea what he`s talking about, my vocabulary being pretty much limited to "pissoir." He keeps talking. And talking.

(Sorry to do this, folks, but my internet time is about to run out. I have to finish this tomorrow.)

Do You Know Jack?

We woke up at 7 a.m. (3 a.m. CDT) ready to roll. We make sure we`re downstairs for breakfast by 8 a.m. when Chris is supposed to call. Maria greets us heartily with a typical Swiss German breakfast. She has large crusty rolls, slices of salami and other lunch meats, muesli, orange juice and three kinds of jams. No fruit, other than orange juice. My typical breakfast consists of an orange and a bananna. I like to get a good start on my five fruits and vegetables a day, by starting out with two fruits. But we`re on vacation, and after the big plate of hashbrowns, bacon and egg last night, now is not the time to turn virtuous.

Rosalee asks for coffee and Maria brings her a pitcher of hot coffee and a pitcher of hot milk. Rosalee knows the drill from Vienna, and carefullz pours an equal amount of coffee and milk together into her cup. I try some. I think I will re-introduce caffeine into my diet, at least for the next week. The old stomach is just going to have to buck up.

The weather is perfect. Temperature in the low 70s, sunny skies. We decide to walk along the lake to the train station instead of taking the bus this morning. Although hotels like this side of the lake, the actual lakeside and the walk along it (they call it a "quai") are kept public. Big old chestnut trees line both sides of the sidwalk forming a canopy. It is a beautiful walk. Old people go hobbling along with their walkers, young mothers zip along on roller blades, pushing their baby carriages. An idyllic scene.

We go to the Festival box office to see about tickets for the big names here for the Festival and everything is sold out. The New York Philharmonic is playing tonight, St. Martin`s Academy in the Fields on Wednesday night. The Cleveland, London and Berlin orchestras have already been here, in August. The top tickets run 290 francs ($232) a seat. The cheap tickets start at 30 francs. Chris can get us free tickets for his concerts, the first of which is tonight, and the second and last of which is Friday.

The concert hall in Lucerne is a work of art. It sits right on the shore of Lake Lucerne, and the architect has tried to bring in the water theme. There is a little canal that flows through the building. The back of the building is made to look something like a ship. There are two main halls; the larger one is where the big orchestras are playing, and where the Festival Academy Orchestra will play on Friday night. The smaller one, right next door is where tonight`s concert will be.

We meet Chris at noon at the Tourist Information office. He doesn`t look much like the poster, which is based on a photograph from last year. For one thing, he now has a beard, which we knew about; he grew that this summer before leaving for Europe; for another thing, he is not wearing glasses anymore, which we also knew about; he got fitted for contacts just before leaving for Europe. What we were not expecting, was the haircut, a buzz cut that one of his friends gave him after he got to Europe. I think it looks cool and have no objection to it. Rosalee complains; she would prefer a pony tail.

We walk along Pilatiustrasse, in search of a place to eat. Pilatiustrasse is named after Mt. Pilatius, one of the local landmark mountains outside of town. Mt. Pilatius is named after Pontius Pilate, whose ashes were supposedly buried in the lake there and whose ghosts would periodically stir up the lake and the inhabitants and cattle around it because he was trying to wash the blood off his hands. Sounds reasonable to me.

We find a restaurant, despite the Swiss sticker shock. Although we had been warned that everything is very expensive in Switzerland, we weren`t quite prepared to have to pay 20 francs each for a simple chicken salad lunch. Plus, we got taken on the water again at 5 francs for bottled water. Chris educated us later. If you just want regular water, you can`t just ask for water, you have to ask for "tap water." Damned thieving Swiss.

Chris`s quartet, Jack, is playing in the smaller hall tonight. They are playing Helmut Lachenmann`s second quartet. The name, Jack, is composed an acronym derived from the members` names. They are John, Ari, Chris and Kevin. I think it`s a cool name they ought to keep if their quartet keeps playing. That way, if someone say they have never heard of the quartet, they can say, "You don`t know Jack?" Oh, the puns would be endless. Chris has to go rehearse and we will meet him after the performance.

We decide to walk over the old covered wooden bridge spanning the river (it`s name escapes me at the moment.) There are paintings in the roof trusses, some of which were destroyed by a fire several years ago, but most of which are still there. Seeing the bridge is one of the must things to do in Lucerne, besides visiting the weeping lion.

Before visiting the bridge, I need to visit the bathroom, my bowels having decided now is a good time to start functioning again after leaving home. We were just across the street from the train station, and we knew there had to be public facilities in the station. I finally spot a WC sign and remember "water closet" is what we`re looking for; Europe calls its rest rooms "water closets" for some strange reason. I follow the signs downstairs. As I am hurrying, I see smaller lettering above the WC that says, "Mr. Clean." Great, that`s just what I`m looking for, a clean bathroom, although most train station rest rooms do not qualify to be called "Mr. Clean." I finally locate the place and, dancing on my tiptoes, try to go in, only to discover it`s not that simple. This is Switzerland after all, and they didn`t become a wealthy country just letting any Tom, Dick and Harry use their public restrooms. Oh, no, you have to pay to go in. But first, you have to decide what you`re going to do once you get there. It`s one franc for the "pissoir." (That`s one German word I think I can still figure out.) It`s two francs for the works.

By the time I figured out which of the coins in my pockets was a two-franc piece, I was happy to pay whatever they asked. Once you get inside, it`s nothing but luxury and cleanliness. No stalls with graffiti and door latches that do not work, like in the U.S. You get a regular closet, with three walls and a full door. There are red and green lights above the doors so you know which one is free, without surprising its inhabitant. As I left my stall, a waiting matron in a white uniform and armed with a mop and cleaning supplies, headed for the room to clean up. Jeez, I wasn`t born in a barn. I did find out later there are places to use the rest room for free in Lucerne; like in the concert hall next door, but only if you have a ticket for the performance. We also found some free lavatories on trains. But it`s a challenge, if you don`t want to pay.

After the ordeal at the train station, we strolled around the Old Town area. We looked at the paintings and visited the Picasso Museum. A Lucerne woman, Angela Rosengard, was a friend of and model for Picasso. Their Picasso pieces were nothing special, but the collection of photographs taken by an English photographer, Campbell, were very interesting. There were candid shots of Picasso at work and play, including one of him taking a bath, and others of him playing with his pet goat, his dog and his children.

Even better than the art is the fact that the WC at the Picasso Museum is a real bargain. It`s only half a franc of you need to use the facilities and you don`t need to declare your intentions in advance.

We stop at a grocery and buy some fruit and spinach strudel for some supper before Chris`s concert.

I realize this post has gone on fairly long, so I will do a separate live report of the concert.

Getting Around in Lucerne

I was saying, before I ran out of internet time in the last post, how difficult it is to use public transportation in a new place. We`re gradually figuring out the system in Lucerne.

We had read in a guide book that in Switzerland, zou buz the tickets before you get on a bus or train; you don`t give the ticket to anyone unless you`re asked. So on the train from the airport to downtown Zurich, we never saw any official looking person checking tickets. We asked Jorg whz anyone bothers buying a ticket? He warned us that about every other time, the conductor will come through checking for tickets and if you don`t have one, you pay a hefty fine in addition to the cost of the ticket. Since then we have had our tickets checked a lot, so I guess the trick is to keep you guessing.

Everything is in German here in Lucerne, with only occasional English translations. This is a surprise. Even Paris and Seoul had almost all public declarations and announcements in English as well as the vernacular. When we were here 30 years ago, it seemed like less of a problem. That is probably because I was 30 years closer to my three years of college french and to my German-like Pennsylvania Dutch. More Swiss stubbornness, I suppose.

In any event, we figured out the ticket kiosk, found the right bus after much searching, got on the bus and carefully counted out five stops before getting off, less than half a block from Pension Villa Maria on Sunday night when we got here. We walked up, rang the bell and were greeted by Maria, a large hale, hearty Swiss woman in her mid-60`s.

I found this pension through research on the internet, which is always risky. You never know how the pictures have been doctored, or what they chose not to picture. In this instance, we got exactly what we expected. This is a large house, what would be called a bed and breakfast in the states. Maria has nine rooms, onlz some of them with private baths. When I made the reservation, all the rooms with private baths were taken, but a room with a bath opened up and she showed it to us. It is very acceptable. Large, clean, plainly and sparsely furnished. A room with a bath down the hall would have been fine for me, but women like to spread out all the "necessities" required to make themselves presentable.

The price is not bad -- actually great for Switzerland. It is 160 swiss francs (about $112 U.S.) a night, about what you would expect to pay for a comparable bed and breakfast in the U.S.

Maria is great. She is very cheerful, outgoing and efficient. She tends to repeat everything you say, but at twice the volume and enthusiasm. She grabs Rosalee`s suitcase and heads up the stairs.

We call Chris`s hosts and he is out. We ask them to leave a message for him to call us in the morning.

Then we head back downtown on the bus to get something to eat. We decide to eat in the train station rather than go looking for something. We both have "roeschli" a tzpical Swiss comfort food. It`s hashbrowns with bacon fried in it, with an egg on top. This is not healthy eating, but we`re on vacation. The waitress asks Rosalee what she wants to drink. "Just water," she replies, like a rube. "Do you want gas?" the waitress asks. "No, thanks, I already have some." (Those of you who know my wife are not going to believe that last comment. Well, I should be allowed a little literary license for the sake of a good story, shouldn`t I?)

The waitress brings the water, a bottle of Evian at 5 francs ($4.)

By 10 o`clock we finally gratefully climb into bed, some 34 hours after leaving our bed in Illinois. Rosalee has gotten several hours of sleep on the plane; I got less than 20 minutes. Although, we have single beds, the mattresses are firm, the downy comforters are soft, the breezes blowing in the open windows are cool. And so to sleep.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Familiar Sight in Lucerne

When we got to Lucerne, we headed first to the Tourist Information office to get instructions on how to get to our pension. The first thing we saw when we walked in the door of the TI office was a large 4x6 poster advertising the Lucerne Festival. Featured prominently on the poster was a picture from last year`s festival. It showed the famous conductor, Pierre Boulez, making his way through the Academy Orchestra string section, with our son, Chris, standing directly in front of him, in the center of the picture. (Chris tried to be dismissive, when we mentioned this sight later. "Oh, those posters are all over town." Oh, well, then, I guess we shouldn`t be impressed.

On this trip, like on all of our trips, we use only public transportation (well, as much as possible. We did use taxis quite a bit in Korea, but everyone does; they`re very plentiful and cheap in Korea. In Lucerne, so far, I have seen one taxi.) Part of the challenge of being in a new place is trying to figure out how to use the public transportation to get around. Which bus do you take? Where do you catch it? Where do you buy tickets?-

Friends in Zurich

This is still September 4 (when written, posted on September 7.)

We get to the train station in Zurich and head for the "angel," a modernistic being hanging from the ceiling at one end. I go confidently for the spot because Jorg has emailed me a picture of the "angel" and we have agreed to meet there. Rosalee, for some reason, has little confidence in my navigational abilities. This thing does not look like an angel. It has no wings. It is recognizably female, very much so, with large breasts. "Are you sure this is where we`re supposed to meet?" she asks anxiously. That`s always the trouble with angels -- they never look like they`re supposed to.

About then we see a woman and boy of 12 or 13, wearing big smiles and Illini sweatshirts heading for us. This must be Regula and Lorenz. It turns out Jorg has gone to park the car. After stowing our luggage in one of the lockers, we head out to tour Zurich on foot. The friends of our friends were fast becoming just our friends. They are delightful people -- way more hospitable than we would have been had our situations been reversed. They take us up to the top of the wall of the old city. They take us down to the Limat River and show us the marker where our ancestors were drowned. They walked us over to Zwingli`s church, where our ancestors interrupted services to yell insults at Zwingli for giving up on purifying the church before he got the job done. They know an amazing amount of Mennonite history for people who have never been Mennonite. Maybe they have been studying up for our visit, although they deny it. They say they learned it as part of the history they learned in school. Amazing.

They showed us the church (whose name I have forgotten) with the Chagall stained glass. We had visited some of these sites when we were in Zurich 31 years ago. I particularly remembered one stretch of the river walk where, 31 years ago,there had been a fashion shoot going on, with a beautiful model standing there as we walked by. We walked and we walked and we walked. We were too excited to be tired, but it was with some relief when our host announced that it was time to take us home for lunch.

Our friends have a beautiful apartment almost overlooking Lake Zurich in a suburb of the city. Everything is expensive in Switzerland and the lake view houses are beyond expensive. Jorg gave a "hypothetical" number of a million for an apartment that would cost $150,000 to $200,000 in the states.

Jorg cooked a wonderful chicken and vegetable lunch, served with a local wine. (Yes, Zurich has vineyards on the steep hillsides surrounding the lake.) Its climate is more temperate than one usually thinks of Switzerland because of the side of the mountain it is on and the lake effect.

We had a good discussion about why Switzerland is Switzerland. It has not joined the European Economic Union and has no plans to do so. While the rest of Europe has switched to using the euro as its currency, Switzerland still uses the Swiss Franc, worth roughly 80 U.S. cents. Switzerland is admired for remaining neutral in World War II and during the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia. Jorg tells me it was more principal than principle. Or is it more principle than principal. Anyway, the Swiss were getting rich selling arms to both sides. During WWII, they were cautious about accepting refugees from Nazi-occupied areas, although they did so on an unofficial, ad hoc basis. I asked Jorg why Hitler did not invade and take over the munitions factories, and he said it suited the Nazis to have a place to hide money and loot; to have a financial system they could use; to have someone to act as go-betweens for unofficial contacts with the Allies. Besides, Swiss terrain would have been more difficult for Hitler`s panzer units to roll over like they did in the lowland countries.

About 4:00 p.m. on Sunday (10:00 a.m. CDT) we finally caught a train near our friend`s house for Zurich, where we caught the train for Lucerne. By then we had been up for about 30 hours and our (butts) were dragging. I had purchased a comfortable pair of Birkenstock black dress shoes several months ago. When I tried them on, they were so comfortable that I told the clerk I never wanted them to take them off. Famous last words. Those were the shoes I was wearing in which to travel. I was anxious to get them off. As we rode to Lucerne, we could see that we were going through some beautiful agricultural country.

The train compartment was deathly quiet. I do not believe I have ever been in a quieter place. Even the woods have insects buzzing and birds chirping. We heard absolutely nothing in that railroad car (not even when we were awake.) No sound from the tracks. Nobody talking. No music playing. I started remarking about it to Rosalee when she shhùssed me and pointed to the sign. Apparently we were in a special compartment where everything was supposed to be quiet. We kept nodding off, but trying to stay awake until we got to Lucerne.

Swiss Police say, "Hi!"

This is Wednesday, 2:50 p.m., Lucerne time; 8:50 a.m. CDT. I had intended to have a lot more posts by this time. Yesterday, I finally had time and spent an hour hunting and pecking on this European keyboard, which is almost like an English keyboard, but has changed some keys, like the z and y around, and has put some symbols in different places. As the timer on my terminal was ticking down the time, I had two minutes left to go, and was going to type for another minute and then save and post my entry. About then a young Asian woman, 20 something, entered the booth next to mine carrying a violin. I stopped typing just for a minute to ask, "Do you play violin?" (I shouldn`t have wasted precious time with such an obvious question, but there it is.) She said "Yes," hesitantly, as if she was wandering why this old geezer was trying to strike up a conversation. "Are you in Lucerne for the Festival Academy?" "Yesss" still hesitantly. "Do you know Christopher Otto?" "Yesss," still wondering about the old masher. "I`m his father." "Ohhh! Wow!!!" Then big smiles from her and her friend. "He`s the concertmaster!" and they start talking about how much he has helped them (play the orchestra pieces, I presume.) About then I turn back to the keyboard to save and exit and am faced with a blank screen. Somehow the two minutes had disappeared and I lost everything I had typed. I was too frustrated with fighting the keyboard to start all over at that point, and besides I was supposed to meet Rosalee for dinner, so I left. Today, I will reconstruct as much of the prior post as I can.

At the end of my last post, it was 4:40 p.m. EDT, and we were about 20 minutes northeast of Detroit. I was about to say that as we were waiting for our turn to board the plane, Rosalee and I were commenting on the number of passengers in wheelchairs getting on the plane ahead of everyone else. There were at least 8 to 10 people on wheelchairs. Rosalee said, apropos of nothing, "Don`t they have euthanasia in the Netherlands?" "Yes they do; so we`ll probably have a lot fewer people in wheelchairs coming back," I said. She thought that comment was in bad taste for some reason. Well, when you have no class. . . .

Amsterdam, of course, allows people to buy and smoke marijuana, along with dying with dignity. And then they have their famous red light district. Rosalee wanted to make a chart of the people in the waiting area, categorizing them by who was going for the sex and who was going for the drugs. One stoop-shouldered old guy, decked out in loose blue jeans, with a wide belt and an almost matching blue shirt, and sporting a jaunty cell phone on his belt, looked to me like someone going for both the sex and the drugs. Of course, there are probably a few people, who, like Rosalee and me, are only going for the connecting flights.

The stewardess has issued to us our earphones. We have an entertainment center built into the arm rests with little LED televisions on the back of the seats in front of us. (This is an Airbus, A300.) I can`t get mz entertainment center to entertain. All it does is show our flight in progress. There`s a little slot in the hand controller in which to slide a credit card. Maybe you have to pay to see a movie or hear music. The airlines are pretty hard up these days.

Now the captain has announced that they`re having trouble with video system and are shutting it down to reboot. Probably the guy from Manpower never learned how to set his VCR either. Oh, well, better the entertainment system than the navigation system. Let`s just hope the same guy isn`t in charge of both of them.

8:05 a.m. Amsterdam time; 2:05 a.m. CDT

We had just enough time on the ground to do a quick update on mz blog and now we`re on a KLM flight to Zurich. It should take about an hour. What we saw of Amsterdam looked just like Detroit. Same architect must do all the airports. No red tile roofs. No canals. No narrow houses. No bicyclists. No red light district. (I looked for the red lights as our plane came in but saw nothing but dreary industrial lights, lighting up dreary steel buildings. I did see the nerdy looking guy in blue jeans making a bee-line for the exit with a gleam in his eye. There`ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.

We landed in Zurich ahead of schedule, zipped through customs with nary a question and picked up our luggage, which miraculously got there the same time we did. We put our luggage on one of the free luggage carts and then went to the currency exchange to change our money. We carefully divided up our Swiss francs and put the bulk of our money, along with our passports in our neck packs. Being experienced travelers, we are not about to get pick-pocketed like other naive travelers from the United States. Next stop, the kiosk to buy a phone card so we can call the friends of our friends, Jorg and Raqula, whom we have never met before, but who spent four months in Champaign, along with their son, Lorenz, several years ago. They have offered to show us around Zurich and feed us lunch before we head to Lucerne.

As I am trying to figure out the phone card and phone, suddenly, out of nowhere, a scruffy-looking young man wearing an earring and two weeks growth of beard, materializes next to Rosalee, flashes a badge and announces that he is from the Swiss State Police. My heart sinks. We`ve been here less than 30 minutes and already violated some little known Swiss law. It turns out that we`re being warned, this time, for carelessness. He says we need to watch our luggage better. We had our big suit cases on the bottom and my briefcase and another carry on bag in the tray on top. He said that he could have picked up the briefcase and walked away while we were fooling with the telephone. He said it looked like it had a laptop in it. The longer we talked the more suspicious I became. I didn`t really get a good look at his badge. I really thought that we were probably getting set up for some scam, and kept my wallet firmly in the grip of my left hand. I half expected him to tell us we had to pay him a fine on the spot for our carelessness, but after lecturing us, he walked away. Well, excuuuse me! Next time I`ll be more careful.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

We're in Amsterdam

It's 11:20 p.m., Champaign time; 6:20 a.m. Amsterdam time. We just got here after a seven hour flight from Detroit. Our plane for Lucerne leaves in about an hour. Here is the first installment from my $17.89 leather-bound, gilt edged journal with a maroon silk bookmark. I'll go as far as I can before my time runs out.

9/3/05 Detroit Metro Airport, 1:35 p.m.

So far, so good. We were packed and ready to go 10 minutes before we intended to leave the house, which was 9:00 a.m. It was a good thing we left early, because there was a long line at the Northwest gate to check in. Although we already had our boarding passes; Northwest issues those 24 hours ahead of time over the internet, we had to check our luggage through to Zurich. There was a large family of Indians (real ones, not American ones) in line ahead of us, and the lone passenger agent (who I later learned was also the lone baggage handler) was trying to get people to use the electronic check-in machine. It didn't help for those, like us,who had to check luggage, or who had to produce passports to start international flights.

Going through security was weird. I had to wait while the blue-gloved guard dug through Rosalee's purse. When I presented my boarding pass, briefcase and carry-on, the 60s something woman mechanically repeated, "Please present photo I.D. and your boarding pass," although she already had them both in her hand. Then she said, "You're fine, John," and waved me through without checking any of my carry-on stuff. I said, "Do I know you?" and she said, "Yes," without telling me her name. I said "How do I know you?" and she said, "I've been working here since the airport opened. You don't come through as much anymore." I've never been a frequent traveler; the last time being a year ago when we went to Portland for a weekend, and the time before that two years previously when we went to Korea. I don't think she could possibly remember me.

The plane from Champaign to Detroit was really small. It was a two-engine turbo-prop with two seats on one side of the aisle and one seat on the other. I had picked out our seats beforehand on the internet, so we sat on the single-seated side. Our pilot was a woman, which was reassuring. I figure that for a woman to get to be a pilot, she has to prove that she is better than the males vying for the job. Besides we won't be in a position where she will have to change a flat tire.

The Midwest is very beautiful from the air this time of year. The varigated fields in shades of greens and browns; the geometrical shapes of the fields, not all of them exactly square or symetrical.

The skies were clear and we had a smooth flight until we were about 15-20 minutes out of Detroit Metro. Then the plane started bucking; a couple of times my hands holding the newspaper suddenly flew up a couple of inches. I stayed calm, knowing that there was one of two things that could happen. We could land safely, or my two poor sons could be millionaires. Well, here I am, safe and sound and my children are still poor.

They gave us nothing to eat on the flight to Detroit except a bag of pretzels, which tasted like aluminum snap cookies.

We dressed up for the flight because my wife's uncle, who frequently flies to Europe told us that you have a better chance of being upgraded to first class if you're well-dressed. We stopped to eat at a Chili's on the way to our gate. I kept dropping pieces of lettuce and bread on my silk shirt until I stuck a napkin on my collar to use as a bib. My wife thought a dollop of ketchup on my shirt would pretty much end any hopes of traveling first class.

When we got to the gate, two and one-half hours before departure time, there was already a well-dressed gentleman sitting there. I carefully checked my shoes for milk spots and settled in to write in my new $17.89 cent leather bound, gilt-edged, etc. journal to wait for our departure for Amsterdam.

2:45 p.m. Detroit time, Detroit Metro Airport:

I just got back from having my ritual brandy in honor of one of Rosalee and mine's many common ancestors. This one, Andreas Diener, who is about six greats back, sailed from LeHavre, France in the mid-nineteenth century with his five orphan siblings. The last thing he did before the ship sailed was have a keg of brandy delivered to the ship. My brother has a photocopy of the receipt. Whenever, I cross the Atlantic, I like to honor him by having a brandy. My Christian Brother double shot, cost $7.73, probably a multiple of 10 of what his barrel cost.

4:40 p.m. Detroit time, Detroit Metro Airport:

We're now in the air northeast of Detroit. Whoops, I'm running out of time. Gotta go. Will get back when I next have computer access.