My son and sports

16 Oct

This week has witnessed the appallingly obscene depths to which the Republican candidate for President of the United States can sink. Everyone from Michelle Obama–in the most powerful speech of the year–to former NFL player Chris Kluwe have expressed disbelief, shame, and fear about assertions of sexual predation being dismissed by the candidate as  “locker room talk”. As so many people have stated, this grossly demeaning attitude is not only an abuse of women, but is an enormous slap in the face to men who play sports and spend time in locker rooms. My son Max, who has spent more than enough time in locker rooms, was disgusted enough to put up this note on Facebook:

I finally figured out my thoughts… Yes it is atrocious sentiments towards women, but it’s also demeaning to men and sporty men the most. We don’t talk like this… Ever. To imply we do and to equate it to playing sports degrades what is the purest outlet of physical expression and bonding we have. Locker room talk, in my experience, is more hopeful and joyous. All those endorphins make you talk about the future and the happy moments of the past. What you’re hopeful for and grateful for and why you’re happy to be hanging out with whoever you just squashed/ran/soccered with. Give me that back you shitty off brand pumpkin spiced dirt bag.

While these words made me proud of him for having grown into such an ethically decent human being, it also made me, as his mother, remember how important sports–or, as one says in Australia where Max did most of this athletic activity, sport–can be for young men. When we moved to Australia–where sport plays such a prominent role in public life and culture–Max was 7. The adjustment to this new place was difficult at first, not only because his first school was less tolerant of difference than it should have been, but also because he was just beginning to figure out what athletic competition was about, and which sports he would want to play. His first foray into cricket was a mistake–probably not the game to introduce an American-born child to before some other, less arcane, games were tried. In this, his father helped, by becoming a coach of t-ball, and then, baseball proper.  At the same time, Max began playing soccer, eventually becoming a referee, while we all started watching the big sports of the culture, Rugby League, Rugby Union, and Australian Rules football.

Through sport, Max became part of Australian life, and at the same time, learned to discipline emotions, how to be part of a team, and to enjoy athletic activity.  As fans, we all learned how to deal with disappointment with losses and with elation when our teams won.  I can still remember how proud Max was when he came home from soccer referee training, with his little pouch of penalty cards. He held up the red card, and said “Just think, Mom, a billion people fear this card!”  And I was immensely proud of him when he had to red-card a PARENT at an Under-12s girls’ game who was becoming abusive.  Sport, as he has said himself, taught him respect and tolerance and using good judgement. It also provided camaraderie, esprit de corps, and all those joyful things. In many of these exciting moments, his teams were coed, the girls being as much a part of the team as the boys.

He did NOT learn to consider obscenities or the demeaning of women to be part and parcel of an athletic life.  To this day, Max, who is now a husband and a father of a son, continues to love sports, both actively participating and watching competition as a fan.  I’m sure that if his son is interested, Max will impart all of those positive aspects that sports can provide for a boy. It’s a hard time for young men today. Let’s hope that sports can continue to offer the same kind of outlet for growing into healthy adults that it has provided for generations of men and women.  Thanks, Max, for reminding me of what you loved about locker room talk!

Australia! My Australia!

6 Sep

Having just returned from a near year of travels in Europe and contemplating where and how we should live in this next phase of our lives, I have been ruminating on our former and future relationship to our second home, Australia. We arrived in Canberra 26 years ago, in 1990, so that I could take up a position teaching art history at the Australian National University. Max was 7 when we arrived, we were 41. We were so excited to leave the U.S., and we were fully committed to becoming as Australian as we could be. We had no intention of ever returning to America. Here’s how I described our transformation there in my book, Images of the Pacific Rim:  Australia and California, 1850-1935:

My family and I were successful transplants. We took up Australian citizenship as soon as it was allowed. We learned all the verses to ‘Advance, Australia Fair’ and we followed every incident in cricket and four different football codes, none of them gridiron (as Australians refer to American football). We revelled in the magnificent birdlife and the beautiful beaches. After a few years in Canberra, I was commissioned to write, along with my husband, the Blue Guide Australia (1999), a cultural tour guide of the entire country.We considered the book, which took seven years to complete, a love letter to our new country.

But return to America we did. What happened? As I have begun writing this, the memories have made me sad and melancholy, so I am going to skim over some of the specific situations that led to our leaving, while giving some of our impressions of Australia as it appears to us today, as we sit here in the abysmal atmosphere of the 2016 U.S. election year.

The first shock came when I arrived at the university, to be told that the department had decided to begin a new degree program and that I would be teaching in this program–a decision that had never been mentioned in my interviews nor that I had any desire or predilection to teach. This was my introduction into a tertiary system in which the head of department has much more say over those under him than an American academic would be used to. My refusal to acquiesce set off an adversarial situation that remained throughout my time there. This man–and it’s important to state that I was the ONLY woman at that time in the department–would try to deny me tenure (one gets tenure in Australia without being promoted), and I was never promoted in the 13 years I taught there, despite glowing student evaluations and a decent record of research. I was, then, pegged as “difficult”–a woman, an American, and an uppity American woman at that.

Then came my first faculty meeting. In a room with at least 150 faculty members, I saw only 6 women. When one of these women had the audacity to raise her hand and ask a question, the entire room looked at her with astonishment, as if they were amazed and irritated she was there at all.  I can still see their faces! At that moment, I realized I had just moved my family thousands of miles to be part of an institution that was systemically sexist. We women on the faculty were meant to be utility players, were rarely given promotions, were often on part-time contracts, and every method would be made to prevent us from advancing.  Occasionally, the university would carry out a study of gender discrimination; the findings would state that yes, there was systemic discrimination, then the report would be put in a drawer and forgotten. This happened throughout the 1990s. I do think that in the 2000s some progress has been made on this front, but now the Australian university system is under such strains–the same that are happening in all universities–that the issue of gender equality is one of its lesser problems. (Read this and weep, and note that differences in the Australian funding system:

I adored teaching and I had some excellent students  and first-rate colleagues from whom I learned a lot,and I had the opportunity to contribute some real scholarship to a relatively new field, the history of Australian art and photography. But eventually, the dysfunctions of my department and the frustrations with the university became unbearable for me. And in Australia, having as small a population as it does, there really is little possibility for lateral movement to another position. And as far as I could see, at least in the fields that I was capable of working in, this systemic sexism existed across the board in the country. Those who followed the appalling treatment of Julia Gillard when she was Prime Minister will understand how entrenched in Australian attitudes is this masculinist misogyny:

I do feel that Australian women now may becoming more empowered, and have had enough of “mansplaining.” They are starting to revolt seriously, and I hope that a new generation of Australian women will have a real “fair go”, as the Aussies would say.

George also confronted different, yet related, workplace difficulties, in his case involving the painful and ultimately racist process of reluctant “Aboriginalization” on the part of institutions set up to support and aid the Aboriginal population. In his case, the attacks were a reverse kind of racism:  ageist, anti-American, and, yes, sexist. He was finally able to extricate himself from what should have been the perfect position for him, and worked as the assistant for a famous Aboriginal academic–only to find that he would have to be overseeing the dismantling of an academic program, an action of which George wanted no part. In both of our working situations, an Australian penchant for Schadenfreude, maintaining the status quo, and playing the power game came to the fore.

We do realize that all of these events and situations are just a microcosm of global transformations, but as it was happening to us in Australia, and as ex-pats, we were particularly sensitive to our personal experience within, for us, this new society.

We were trying so hard to become Australians! Ultimately, we had to face up to a fact that all ex-pats usually have to face:  you can never completely become a part of that other society, even one with as many affinities to the “home culture” as Australia has to the Western United States (I firmly believe that Australia has more in common with California than California has with Alabama or Maine). Max, who never lost his American accent, was, I think, quite happy in Canberra–it’s a great place to raise a boy, as long as he likes sports, and we were never happier than when we took Max to a sports oval or stadium for one of his many athletic competitions, whether baseball, soccer, or rugby. Being involved in and liking sport is a necessity to fitting in in Australia, at least for a boy. But he always felt a bit of an outsider, and rarely brought home friends to meet us. Again, this may just have been his personality, and I do know other Americans who have assimilated more completely than we apparently did, but as I have been thinking about our time there, I am still a bit baffled about what finally led to the decision to return to the States.

The process began, I think, when Max applied for colleges in the U.S. He was all set to go to Melbourne University, but just to humor me, I had him apply to a few schools where I had wanted to go in the U.S. Lo and behold, he got into Reed College–and, given that the exchange rate at the time made it appear that we were living in poverty, he got a full scholarship!  So after not having returned to America more than once in 12 years, he set off for university a continent away. That was hard, but we still assumed we would stay in Australia. For the first two years of his college life, Max commuted between continents. The realization that once he was in the U.S., the prospects of him returning to Australia to live were slim, was probably the biggest impetus to our decision to move back to California. If Max had indeed gone to uni in Melbourne and had stayed in Australia, we might still have been there.

Just as Max went off to college, we moved to Queanbeyan–a small town outside of Canberra, the only place where we could afford to buy a house. We had been persuaded by one of the art professors at the School of Art that if more of “us” moved there, we might be able to create a livelier social scene in this typically parochial country town. Then that art professor tragically died in a freak accident, having had no luck persuading anyone but us to move there!


We loved our funky house, which had once been a neighborhood grocery store with living quarters behind–we set out right away to fix it up and make it a fun, happy place. But here we experienced the absolute worst of the Australian character. Next door to us lived dope-dealing low-lifes, with barking dogs, lots of sad caged animals, and a teenage mother who handed her two kids over to her mother who screamed at them all day. Drunken fights took place often outside our front door, and very shady characters appeared constantly for their fix.  When we tried to get the other neighbors to join us in reporting them to the police, none of them would confront the family and were reluctant to go to the police. But when we were fixing up the house, painting it and removing aluminum siding, those very same neighbors were quick to report us for leaving debris on the verge. A fire truck, and two police cars appeared to give us a stern warning and told us to remove the offensive objects immediately. Obviously we weren’t ever going to be part of this community. We were seen as “having tickets on ourselves,” as snooty Canberrans, and what’s worse, AMERICANS–time for some “cutting down of tall poppies,” to use another Australian phrase. The last time we were in Canberra, we drove past the house. The garden that we had so lovingly planted and landscaped had degenerated into a mudhole, uncared for and unrecognizable.

The final straw, I think, was the 2001 election, in which the mean-spirited, nasty little piece of work that is John Howard was re-elected Prime Minister. I have never felt such high dudgeon about a political event in my life. When we first moved to Canberra, we felt that Australia was still a place committed to the common weal, that there was a sense of a shared communal bond that reminded us of America in the 1950s. (Australian patriotism is of the most touching kind, not overblown and xenophobic like America’s, but heartfelt and simple; we still sometimes go to Anzac Day ceremonies at the Australian consulate.) The PM then was the very populist Labor leader Bob Hawke, followed by the pugnacious yet elegant Paul Keating, who, while watching the old Labor constituencies crumbling, still held to decent social democratic policies begun by the great Gough Whitlam. But the ascendancy of small-minded conservatives like Howard marked a decided societal shift that mirrored, once again in microcosm, what was happening in the U.S. and around the world. Being so involved by living in the Australian capital, we just felt this shift viscerally. That election day was also the first and only time (again, in Queanbeyan) when we experienced anti-American sentiment directed at us. When we went to vote, the man at the polling station heard us speak and questioned whether we were qualified to vote. Sigh.

In the end, I think we just got so tired of fighting battles at work, and then having to be the representation of all that was wrong with America every time we opened our mouths. We got tired of being ex-pats. Don’t get me wrong, we do not regret our time in Australia at all! We made some wonderful lifelong  friends–many of them through AA, which was the greatest thing that happened to me in Australia, that I got sober. We miss the Aussie sense of humor (Roy and HG are national treasures: and a more nonchalant approach to life, we REALLY miss the birds, the beautiful clear sky, the incomparable beaches, the unique landscape. But when we went to visit two years ago, we felt that things were not right. That horrid neoliberal process that began with Howard has allowed, among other things, the continuation of a draconian refugee policy that, to our minds, has destroyed Australia’s reputation as “the lucky country”, where equality and a “fair go” were considered the greatest strengths. As one of my Australian friends in AA once told me, “scratch the surface of any Aussie, and you’ll find a racist.” While that is, of course, an exaggeration, and we know that the entire world is experiencing these reactionary swings, the Australian nonchalance in the face of what amounts to human rights abuses and outright torture is starting to affect the country’s image abroad, and, I think, is wearing on those caring Australians who don’t know what they can do to effect a policy change. We just sensed a different psychic attitude the last time we were there. Add to that the fact that Australia is now so expensive that there isn’t a house in all of Sydney under $1 million, and our dream of a nice, safe, happy place to live out our days has nearly vanished. And, finally, there are those pesky children–now a new grandchild. Australia’s permanent dilemma–being a Western nation far, far away from its ethnic origins, not en route to anywhere–is its greatest curse, or perhaps, its salvation. But for us now, it’s just too far.


And yet, and yet: there are those beaches, there is (at least for the moment) universal healthcare, and an easier, less complicated way of life.  The changes wrought by recent events may be a global dilemma, and one that internationalists like us, who really don’t feel completely at home in our own first country, just have to accept as the way of the world in the 21st century. My book Images of the Pacific Rim was about an “aesthetics of place”, how visual imagery creates conceptions of “home”; perhaps in the end, we will just have to accept that aesthetics are the deciding factor, despite any other considerations.

Cats, artistic and living, part II

3 Aug

In our last segment, we were just leaving Barcelona for Greece–home to more cats than I imagined could ever survive in the urban wilds!

They were everywhere–in the ruins of the Roman Agora, on the Acropolis, at bus stops, and by the hordes at every restaurant we went to. The Greeks seem to have an accepting attitude about them, neither condemning them nor particularly nurturing them (a lot of people do feed them), but just considering them part of the environment. I have written about the street cats before, saying that I did feel a bit uncomfortable about the sheer numbers of them and so many of that seemed malnourished and uncared for.
But there are also people who do care for them, and many Greeks have pampered indoor cats, too.


Evy’s very pampered indoor cat.

For a country now so overrun with cats, I found it interesting that so little ancient art included any feline imagery at all. There is, of course, the famous Lion’s Gate at Mycenae, and some lions in some friezes and 8th-century and Byzantine objects, but no cats of the domestic sort that I could find.  Were there no house cats in ancient Greece? There must have been, given that Egypt had so many.

Croatia was filled with felines, too, and our stay in Mlini on the Dubrovnik Riviera included resident house cats as well as those on the street. And I couldn’t help but be amused that at the rather intimidating border crossing into Montenegro (we were forced to turn around and go back for auto rental papers), the stern border guard’s demeanor was somewhat softened by the appearance of the officer’s champion mouser. That’s her, the white one with orange and black spots, below basking in the sun as we turned our car around.

In Montenegro we found in its lovely bayside walled city of Kotor Venetian-inspired architecture and sculpture as well as the Venetian-inspired Cats’ Museum about which I have already written (see my entry for April 13). And so many cat-themed objets for sale in its tony, upscale shops!

Other artistic objects in Croatia were a little thin on feline themes, except for all those lions in churches in Split and elsewhere. But I loved this frock in a Rijeka shop window!

From Zadar, we travelled on up the Croatian cost to that most multicultural town, Trieste. The town was one of our favorite places, as you can tell by my previous blog entry (see May 2). Some local cats, some street animals, but only a few feline-themed art pieces.

Right to the south of Trieste is the old Venetian outpost of Muggia, and as a Venetian product, the Lion of Saint Mark figures in much of the town’s symbolic imagery. When depicted with closed book and sword, as seen on the side of the Muggia Town Hall, it was a sign of war, a warning to aspiring conquerors that Venice would come to its rescue if attacked. Other lions in town are more welcoming, with open book and no sword.

Our weeks in Ljubljana, back in Vienna, and then in Germany were lovely, but yielded little in the way of cat imagery. (Except for this one bit of hilarious graffiti in Ljubljana’s Tivoli Gardens–which seems appropriate for our experience of that young and breezy town)



But I will end this account with our Toronto friends, all of whom have cats of various shapes and sizes. Welcome back to North America!

I just had to figure out a way to organize all these images of cats! I suppose I could write more ancillary text focussing on some cultural aspect related to the place and the context in which I encountered each of these animals and/or objects, but for now I’ll just hope that some of you will enjoy looking at all of them!

Cats, artistic and living, part I.

26 Jul


As most of you who followed our travel blog will know, one of my favorite photographic subjects on this trip was cats. I took photos not only of real cats that we encountered everywhere, but also of cats found in artworks in museums. Sometimes I stretched the definition of “cat” to include lions, so many of which appear in heraldry, ancient art, and monarchical images. So I have ended up with LOTS of felines!  It is most interesting, I think, to present these images by location, commenting on what they might tell us about the place:


In the city that inspired Eliot’s famous Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the source for the musical Cats, we saw, surprisingly, no street cats at all. This may be because we were in such a ritzy part of town and we didn’t go out late at night. We did find lots of sculptural lions, though–the one above is in the foyer of the British Museum, an ancient one and part of Lord Elgin’s pillaging of the Parthenon–and the National Gallery was filled with some marvelous painted examples. I love Pinturicchio’s cat, playing with Penelope’s yarn.


When we arrived at our lovely garden house in Prenzlauer Berg, we were greeted almost immediately by one of the neighbor’s cats, Pepe. Why are orange cats so likely to be so friendly?  Later he was joined by his companion Timmy, for wrestling matches on the lawn. Having them cavort made us feel so at home! And they made it possible for us to meet all of our sweet neighbors.

Artistically, we were lucky to find an exhibition at Die Brücke Museum of Max Kaus, a very interesting if little known Berlin artist, who often painted images of cats along with his wife. Max Beckmann was also a cat lover, apparently, from the number of them that appear in his intense paintings and prints. And for sweetness verging on kitsch, the Märchenbrunnen–the fairy-tale fountain–in the Volkspark Friedrichshain consists of endearing sculptures representing famous fairy tale figures, including this cat in the statue of Red Rose (Dornröschen).

While in Berlin, we made a trip to Danzig and region, my grandfather’s West Prussian birthplace. There we spotted another type of cat amid the fascinating old Mennonite houses–almost like Norwegian Forest cats. Here’s one lounging on a house stoop in my grandfather’s village.




We had some delightful interactions with real cats during our three-month stay in Vienna, all of them indoors. We never saw a cat on the street, Vienna being the tidy place that it is!  But our apartment building in Sigmundsgasse had two charming occupants who made themselves right at home in Nora’s apartment, even though they officially lived across the hall. These two were Kapidu and Puki, who often followed us up the stairs in hopes of receiving a little offering for their company. We were happy to oblige.

We also found cats in the unlikeliest places, including the gorgeous Lilith, effusive mistress of the Johannes Farber Gallery, and a sleeping Lucy at a country inn in the Kamptal. She never budged from her pillow on the bench the entire time we were there.

We were at the country inn where Lucy resides with our most enthusiastic cat fan, Heidi, Nora’s sister. After years working for Dior in Paris and in Asia, she returned to Vienna and opened a shop of cat objets d’art. Her Biedermeier apartment is filled with all manner of cats,  in the live form of the very princely Schatzi, and in artworks galore, most of them cat-oriented.

As a farewell present, Heidi gave us one of her many objects, a little tin toy of a cat with a baby pram. It’s adorable! heidistincat

I looked in vain for painted images of cats at the Kunsthistorisches. Not even the Spanish paintings had any! (If anyone has found a cat in a painting at the KHM, please let me know!) A host of cats appeared, of course, in the KHM’s superb Egyptian collections, which allowed me to spend more time in those rooms than I normally do–very enlightening. If in Vienna, be sure to look at the ancient rooms of the

Kunsthistorisches as well as in the galleries with the Bruegels and Velasquezes. A few genre paintings at the

Wien Museum included a few frisky kittens in some Biedermeier paintings, and a few glimpses of felines appeared in some Albertina offerings, but the only contemporary cat objects I saw were in shop windows.


We began to see street cats in Lisbon, although most of them in the Bairro Alto, the old district where we stayed, sat precariously on balconies or slept in shop windows.

The cats we saw here were of all colors and sizes. Most of them, even the ones in the street, looked fairly healthy and well-fed.

Lisbon is the city of magnificent tiles, so it is no surprise that the most delightful, the most rambunctious, images of cats we saw here were in some of the remarkable tiled murals in the gardens of the city.  First were the lovely tile friezes surrounding a pond in the Jardim Botánico Tropical in Belem–tigers and lions, but no domestic cats (although we did see some ferals here, too). Nothing, however, can beat the amazing Palacio dos Marquesas da Fronteira, still inhabited by the original family, with a garden overflowing with the most fanciful tiles from the 17th and 18th centuries,  showing cats doing all kinds of comical things, sometimes with monkeys. I still haven’t gotten any satisfactory answer about what the “iconography” was meant to impart, but they are just so delightful one doesn’t really care–and perhaps that’s the point of them.

Lisbon’s cultural pride and joy is the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum of Art, an absolutely splendid collection of artworks, both Western and Middle Eastern. But there were other cats in other museums in the city, too, and carved lions everywhere.


Finally, the university town of Coimbra offered delightful renditions on the side of its lovely Cathedral. In all, the cats of Lisbon were, like the city and the country itself, dignified and fanciful at the same time.



Oddly, we saw no street cats in Poblenou, the section of Barcelona where we stayed, although others told us that Spain–perhaps in other cities–was overrun with ferals. We did get to meet Annie Graul’s cats, and I assume other Spaniards have house cats, too.


Cats in paintings were rather thin on the ground as well, but oh, those lions in the Romanesque sculptures!  Not only in Barcelona, but in Girona as well.

Before entering into true cat land–Greece!–I think I will pause here, and continue with our feline meanderings in the next entry.  You get the idea, though! Taking images of cats kept me occupied and involved–kind of like Pokemon Go, I guess–and now I have to do something creative with all of them!

My Proust Questionnaire

9 Jul


The Proust Questionnaire has its origins in a parlor game popularized (though not devised) by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature. Here is the basic Proust Questionnaire.

1.What is your idea of perfect happiness?

    A peaceful, quiet place to live, within walking distance of a museum

2.What is your greatest fear?

   You mean other than death? Penury

3.What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?


4.What is the trait you most deplore in others?


5.Which living person do you most admire?

   Those saints who look after old people and really care about them

6.What is your greatest extravagance?

      Books and earrings

7.What is your current state of mind?


8.What do you consider the most overrated virtue?


9.On what occasion do you lie?

      When I don’t want to visit someone

10.What do you most dislike about your appearance?

     My legs–that’s where all my weight is, and they’re too short

11.Which living person do you most despise?

    President of the NRA

12.What is the quality you most like in a man?


13.What is the quality you most like in a woman?


14.Which words or phrases do you most overuse?


15.What or who is the greatest love of your life?

    Anybody who knows me knows who that is!

16.When and where were you happiest?

    When the Dodgers won the World Series with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale pitching. I was 13.

17.Which talent would you most like to have?

     Painting like Mary Cassatt

18.If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

     I wish I had a better sense of rhythm and could dance

19.What do you consider your greatest achievement?

     Learning another language

20.If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

     A revolutionary like Rosa Luxemburg, but with a more positive outcome

21.Where would you most like to live?

        Half of the year in Vienna, half of the year in Santa Barbara, CA

22.What is your most treasured possession?

        My great aunt’s hand-painted vase from 1916

23.What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

         Not being sober

24.What is your favorite occupation?

        Going to art museums

25.What is your most marked characteristic?


Black Lives Matter

8 Jul

When we lived in New Orleans in the 1980s, we first moved in to the back house of what had been a plantation mansion. It occurs to me now that this house was probably the servants’ quarters, so where the house slaves lived. The owner was one Wendell T. Dyer, a completely unreconstructed Southerner of the old stripe, who had “devoted” black housekeepers and who believed that women weren’t as intellectual as men! He was a complete gentleman to us, but we soon felt so uncomfortable living there that we moved to a shotgun house on a one-block street where each house had a Gothic romance kind of story behind its inhabitants. A few weeks later, while walking to the bank to get money to go to my father’s funeral, my 2-year-old in tow, I was robbed at gunpoint by a 16-year-old black kid. When the police came to take my statement, there standing on the street corner was Wendell’s black housekeeper. She was so dismayed to hear that the robber had been a black teenager. When Wendell heard about it, he acted like his prejudices were vindicated: “see what I mean about the Negro in this city?” he said. To which I replied, “And if it had been a white teenager, which it could easily have been, would you then expect me to walk on the other side of the street every time I saw a white teen coming toward me?” He did not like that response. And when I told him that the first house I had gone to for some support and comfort was that of our black neighbors–both counselors and teachers–he just walked away from me, shaking his head at the idiocy of Yankees. The cops who came to take my statement, by the way, were both black.
I really had hoped that now, 30 years later, these kind of attitudes about black youth would have changed. But the police response to young black men seems to have deteriorated. What can we do as white people to change this horrific system?

Things I learned in Europe

4 Jul



A tableau at Charlottenburg, Berlin. Consider the implications of the pose.


Now that we have been home for a little while, I’m pondering what lessons I may have learned, what experiences we had on our long journey. Here are some random thoughts:


**First and foremost, Anthony Bourdain was right:  “In a scary, cruel world: people are pretty nice everywhere.” Except for a very few instances, we had nothing but positive experiences meeting people everywhere we went. Even when we had no idea how to speak the language and the other people spoke little or no English, everyone was willing to help us find our way, and to share smiles and stories.

**Mass transit is sometimes frustrating and one often needs patience to decipher the schedules and routes, but European transit systems are the way to go!  I haven’t driven a car in 10 months!  Vienna’s system was excellent, as was London’s (believe it or not!); Berlin’s was predictably take-it-or-leave-it but efficient; Lisbon’s was quaint yet shabby


Lisbon’s famous trams

and buses were horrible; Barcelona’s was good but theft-ridden; Athens had reliable subways; Trieste’s busses were fun; and the Balkans had various degrees of bus and tram service, too.







Our rental car in Berlin

**European roads are now completely modern, and the freeways and highways easier to drive on than most American roads now. While I didn’t drive a car at all in Europe, George did, and we rented cars several times. Auto rental services are now extremely competitive, so the prices are very good when booked on-line. We rented a car for one week, and going one way, from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, for about €120.

**I really am a wuss about cold weather–I don’t know if  I could have endured an entire winter in Vienna. Lisbon had the best weather, and we were there in its coldest and rainiest month! Barcelona was colder in February than we had expected but still gloriously sunny on many days, and March in Athens and on Andros Island was cool and VERY windy, not yet warm enough to dip into the Aegean. April and May in the Balkans and Trieste was a QUITE changeable period, with the Bora (the famous Adriatic winds) appearing rather fiercely a few times, and then an unfortunate week of SNOW in Slovenia! Climate change is having an impact.

**Never do business with friends, or if you do, get everything in writing from the start, so there are no misunderstandings.

**I am totally dependent on cyberspace. The internet and the cyber universe have changed everything about the entire world, and nowhere more dramatically than in the possibilities they offer for those who are travelling; globalization is the result. Not only were we able to do all our business online from anywhere we were staying that had WiFi, but Skype and Google Hangouts made it possible for us to talk to and see family–including a brand new baby grandson!–while sitting in an apartment in Slovenia or at a restaurant in Gdansk.

**I learned a lot about how Europeans really live in their homes, thanks to the internet. For one of the great innovations of the internet made such a long trip possible. That is, of course, the development of accommodation sites, AirBnB, HomeAway, and We found a perfect tenant for our house through SabbaticalHomes–the best site for finding academic long-term rentals–and we found great apartments through AirBnB and HomeAway. One needs to be careful with these sites, especially AirBnB, to make sure you ask all the right questions, e.g., WHAT FLOOR IS THE APARTMENT ON? More than once, we ended up having to schlep our bags up 5 flights of stairs. Photos can also be deceiving, so if the size of the rooms/room is important to you, be sure to ask for dimensions. That being said, for us, staying in apartments and homes rather than hotels is the ONLY way to travel! We could never have afforded eating in restaurants for all of our meals, and having space to spread out and get out of our suitcases was important to us.

**There are no real estate deals left in Europe, unless, of course, you don’t mind being out in the middle of nowhere in less than desirable locations. We looked at real estate prices in all the places where we stayed, and almost all of them were comparable to what one would have to pay in a desirable city/town in North America, sometimes higher, sometimes a little bit lower, but essentially the same. We did find some “fixer upper” farmhouses out in places like Zwettl, Austria or Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, so if you don’t mind being in the country, it may be possible to get modest deals. In most cases, we’re talking apartments, not houses, although in the country, farmhouses have been discovered by city folk, and so rural areas near desirable cities have gotten pricey, too.

**While we did end up wearing absolutely everything we brought with us, I do think that next time, I would take fewer things, and buy stuff locally instead. Travelling with so many suitcases got very tiresome and encumbering.


**I learned that I really have no patience with global mass tourism. I know that makes me a snob of the first rank, but the endless crowds and throngs pouring out of tour busses at popular sites such as Park Güell, the Parthenon, and the entire town of Dubrovnik, just made the experience unenjoyable for me. We were so tired of dealing with this phenomenon that when in Trieste we chose not to go to Venice.


**I loved seeing so many children wherever we went. The adorable groups of daycare attendees being led by their minders–holding hands and walking in pairs–just boosted my spirits every time. Most of the school-age kids still walked to school on their own, lots of them played outdoors unsupervised, and to my eyes, they seemed to be allowed to be children longer than happens in America now. They did have cell phones and played video games, but still seemed a bit less involved with media, and were still able to run free.

**Architecture. It’s all about architecture. Need I say more?

**Oh, and nature. So many gorgeous vistas, immaculate city parks, verdant landscapes, forested mountainsides, and wildflowers everywhere in the spring. Nature was the one of the best parts of our travels, everywhere we went.

**Although I already knew this in my heart, I did learn that I really couldn’t bear living where I couldn’t speak the language, no matter how much English is spoken there.

**I like nothing better than to be in museums. It’s my continuing passion. The greatest thrill on this trip was to see so many new artworks and to discover genres I have admired for so long. I learned that my affinity for the Spanish Romanesque was validated: seeing 12419239_2595209089720_3733127715003269652_othe Beatus of Gerona in the Girona Cathedral was a thrilling moment–a big one off of my bucket list!






**I discovered that I am far more resilient than I thought I was. I stopped running to the doctor every time I had an ache or pain, chiefly because we would have to pay high rates to go to a physician. Instead, I just walked my way through the wonky knees and hips. All those flights of stairs just had to be climbed!  This has been for me one of the best lessons absorbed on our travels–if it isn’t life-threatening or too painful, then just deal with the small ailments, and get on with things. I am consequently now less neurotic about my old body, I hope.

And finally:

**I learned that we are perfectly happy being together 24/7, day after day, in small spaces, as long as we can sleep in separate beds! We had SUCH a wonderful time together!