Evelyn Evans taught high school English and more importantly she taught life. She took the time to give me and other of her students a glimpse into the potential that she saw within us. Another of my high school teachers once took me aside and expressed his opinion that I might be better served in pursuing a “technical education” … college was probably not a prudent option for me. Mrs. Evans looked beyond my struggles with spelling, penmanship, and adolescence to express a different opinion. There are only two assignment artifacts that I have retained from those days, not because of the content of my classwork but because of the content of Mrs. Evans’ written comments to me. Her words mattered and it is not hyperbole for me to express that they may have changed the course of my life.
Each of us has the potential to give the gift of “words that matter” to either encourage or discourage. Be mindful in the exercise of such an awesome responsibility.
Peace Everyone, Pete
PS: There was also Mr. Robert Dreher. He was a successful attorney in Carbondale Illinois who taught a “Survey of the Law” general education course at Southern Illinois University. On the first day of class he confidently strode to the front of the auditorium and announced to the assembly of over 100 students, “I’m Robert Dreher, I’m a LAWYER… you may call me Mr. Dreher or Professor Dreher. You may NOT call me Doctor Dreher… because I’m a LAWYER.” Mr. Dreher, though short and portly, wore his three-piece suit with the strength and dignity of a medieval knight in armor. The large cigars that protruded from his vest pocket were like a coat of arms.
At mid-term, we were required to submit an essay to him. The day that the papers were to be returned to us Mr. Dreher began his lecture by first asking, “Is Peter Schloss here?” (we had never spoken). I raised my hand and he then asked me to see him after class. My heart was in my throat for the next 50 minutes. After class I walked up to him and asked, “Professor, you wanted to see me?” He looked me in the eye for a moment longer than was comfortable and asked, “Have you ever thought about becoming a lawyer?” “No sir”, I replied… To which he responded, “You should”. That was the extent of the “conversation”. Words that matter.
There are many great nations in the world today, but perhaps only one whose people are self burdened by the sobriquet of “Greatest Nation”. There are also a few nations whose people wish to have that burden. So it is and so it has always been.
That burden has been borne by Rome, Macedonia, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, ancient China, and a host of other notables whose accomplishments are recorded in the annals of time and the ruins of tourist destinations. During their reign as “The Greatest” was there ever a time when their citizens imagined that they would not be the greatest? Could Romans imagine a world without Rome? Could Britains imagine a day when the sun did set on The Empire?… Spaniards and Portuguese contemplate a North or South America where they held no territory?
Humans have a wonderful instinct for the moment. We identify events and we memorialize them with monuments and sometimes holidays… we teach them to our children and they become part of our culture. The year 1066, December 25th, July 4 1776, December 7 1941, June 6 1944, and yes 9-11. Dates and events that remind a people of an important moment in time.
Humans are good at recognizing the crossroads of history, but poor at recognizing historical trends within the times that they live. There is typically no one day that marks the apex of greatness nor the moment of decline. With the benefit of telescopic hindsight those “events” can be identified, described, and written about… that is the purview of historians. Books that chronicle decline take hundreds of pages to describe the erosion from “greatest”, and notwithstanding that the decline occurred, the books often generate controversy among peers as to when and how.
It is perilous for a citizen to warn of decline or the loss of greatness during the time that the mantle of “greatest” is worn by fellow citizens. At best the cryer is marginalized, at worse vilified… sometimes even prosecuted. Yet their cautions to fellow citizens were proven in time. Warnings are threats to the status quo. Cautions threaten both the entrenched brokers of power and the population that is ever eager for the assurances that they remain “The Greatest”.
No doubt there were Romans, Britains, Spanish, Portuguese… who saw their leaders redefine “truth”… who recognized the concentration of power into the hands of a few whose agenda was the pursuit of personal goals and an abandonment of the nation’s interests… who saw their people equate military might as the sole measure of greatness, abandoning maintenance of infrastructure, and neglecting the care and education of their people… who recognized that fear mongering was merely a ploy to divert a peoples attention from the real ills of their time… who saw their one nation becoming a house divided.
The inertia of greatness may well be the ultimate cause of the decline of all great civilizations. When confronted with a peril to navigation a small boat can alter its direction with ease, but to change the course of a great ship much effort, distance, and time is required… if the peril is not recognized in time then disaster is inevitable.
Fortunately, all this is about history and boats. Nothing here is relevant to the place and times within which we now live.
Our non-stop flight from Iceland to Kansas City touched down in KC the evening of June 22nd. Three days later and I am still catching up on mail, bills, time with family, and reacquainting myself with the marvels of my own bed and shower. My backpack and assorted items from the journey remain piled on a chair in our bedroom, demanding my attention. Perhaps later today, but first these closing “Thoughts” from the journey.
March 5, 2017 was the day that I “met” Carmen. She was the telephone agent for Viking Ocean Cruises. We talked for almost an hour, first about the details of booking a transatlantic repositioning cruise that would take us from Puerto Rico to Barcelona Spain, and then about life and family. We became Facebook friends and Carmen has followed our wanderings ever since. April 11, 2017 was the day that we booked the cruise and thus took the first tangible steps in translating a dream into a reality.
Christine and I have mused about an extended trip abroad since the early days of our marriage. Contemplation became earnest with our retirements in 2015 and the structure of such a journey began to take form in our discussions. With the completion of our goal to camp in 49 States, 8 Canadian Provinces, and the Yukon Territory it became our “next thing”.
August 31, 2017, we purchased one-way travel aboard an Icelandair flight from Oslo Norway to Kansas City, with a one-week stopover in Iceland. This secured the bookends of our journey. We now knew the date of our departure from Kansas City to Puerto Rico, March 24, 2018, and the date of our return to Kansas City, June 22, 2018. On October 22, 2017 we purchased Eurail passes that would allow 60 days of open rail travel throughout most of Europe. Except booking accommodations for our arrivals in San Juan and Barcelona the pages of our storybook journey would remain mostly blank until we were actually on the road.
Friends provided us with insights into their own travel experiences. We listened, learned, and a plan developed. Neighbors Charlie and Mary, and my friend Hugh provided us with insight into Ireland. Moira and Gene lent us maps and advise on Scotland. Cal and Nancy shared their own plans for walking the Camino Portuguese. We would miss seeing them in Porto by only a couple of days. Kris and Dennis provided us with details from their own experience walking the Camino Portuguese and their plans to walk the Highlands of Scotland. We would miss seeing them in Port William Scotland by less than a week. We will now miss seeing Dennis ever again in this lifetime as he tragically perished on May 30th while hiking in those Highlands.
One can pour over maps, talk with friends, cruise the internet and thus come to understand and anticipate the places and things that will unfold in the course of a trip, a vacation, or a journey. However, trips and vacations are primarily about places. A journey is also about people. There are no resources to anticipate the chance interpersonal encounters of a journey. Preparation for those encounters is a matter predetermined by one’s own interpersonal skills. Like flowers on the tundra which must adjust their lifecycle to fit within an abbreviated growing season, a journey compresses the time within which relationships can form. Our journey was filled with new relationships and the brevity of the encounters did nothing to diminish the depth and richness of the experiences. In another post to follow I intend to acknowledge as many of those relationships as my memory will allow and to extend my gratitude and affection to those who allowed us into their lives and thus became a part of our life “story”. But first…
For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed watching people. I love to be invisible to those around me and become a part of the wallpaper of a place. I imagine what they see as they cast their eyes about. I wonder who they are, where they have been and where they are going. I look for answers to those questions in the clues of their dress, gate, and facial expressions. If their eyes should pass across me I wonder how I appear to them. I ask myself the question of what they see when they look into a mirror and if there is a disconnect with what I and others see when looking at them.
By the numbers we have been outside of the United States and “on the road” for 91 days, traveled nearly 22,000 miles/35,200 km (a distance that nearly equals the circumference of the Earth) through 16 countries, and visited as many capitals. We have been exposed to media within those countries and the opinions of those who we have encountered. As citizens of the United States we have been a magnet for the expression of those opinions. We have had the opportunity to watch our Nation from abroad through the eyes of others. As a temporary outsider I have found myself wondering what the United States sees when it casts its eyes around the world. As a temporary outsider I wondered about the United States, where has it been, and where it is going. I have looked for answers to those questions in what the United States projects on the world stage, in the consistency of its policies, the effectiveness of its institutions, its reliability as an international friend and partner to its allies. I have asked myself the question, “What do the people of the United States see when as a country they look in the mirror.” Is there a disconnect with what those outside the United States see when they look at us? Our journey gave me pause to ask these questions and then to answer them for myself. I invite similar reflections from you.
41 years ago today we were married. The extent of pre-nuptial counseling that I received was the minister’s pragmatic advice, “If it doesn’t work out then get a divorce.” It has worked out, but then we continue to work at it.
In the context of the last 87 days this has been a good day, but not exceptionally so. In any other context today would have been spectacular beginning with lambs bleating beneath our window.
We visited a museum dedicated to Iceland’s pre-modern turf homes. Unfortunately the museum was closed, but we were able to enjoy views of the exterior and gain a sense of those pioneer times.
There were waterfalls…
and really big waterfalls.
We left the interior in favor of the south coast and the community of Vik. We will be here two nights and then return to Reykjavík on Thursday in anticipation of our Friday flight back to Kansas City. Our lodging in Vik is a well appointed satellite cottage adjoining an ultramodern hotel with a top notch bar and restaurant. There is even a half price “happy hour” where beers are discounted to $7.00 from the usual $14.00. One does eventually get over the “sticker shock”.
Those of my generation may recall a time in 1972 when the eyes of the world were focused upon two men and the chess board that separated them. The stage was Reykjavík Iceland and the players were Soviet Russia’s Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer of the United States. The chess they played was at a level beyond the comprehension of all but a very few. The Cold War tensions seething in the workup to the match were palpable. It was not just white pieces vs black pieces but West vs East, Democracy vs Communism, Good vs Evil… National Pride on the world stage was at stake in a time that the United States still took pride in its reputation on the world stage. Bobby Fischer was our hero and he was victorious.
In 1975 Fischer forfeited his title and went into seclusion until 1992 when he and Boris Spassky played a rematch tournament in Belgrade Yugoslavia. The once heroic Fischer was declared a criminal by the United States, citing his participation in the match as a violation of an economic embargo that it had imposed upon Yugoslavia. The US issued a warrant for Fischer’s arrest and thereafter he remained a fugitive from the country that once adored him. He was eventually granted asylum and citizenship by Iceland where he lived until his death on January 17 2008 at the age of 64. He was buried in an obscure church cemetery surrounded by farmland just outside of the small town of Selfoss. It was there today that I found Bobby Fischer… “en passant”.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. We have gifted each other an upgrade to our flight on Friday from coach to first class. We have earned it.
By the way, this is the REAL Budwar “Budweiser” beer from the Czech Republic, not the Dutch owned “American King of Beers”.
Berlin is a city fettered to the tragedies of its 20th Century past. The people of this city could have easily turned their back on this past, or worse declared it to be “fake news”, but they recognize that ignorance of history merely perpetuates the malignancy of the past. This city lives the lesson taught in 1863 by Spanish philosopher George Santayana that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There are current world leaders who could benefit from that lesson.
The people of Berlin have taken the fetters of the 20th Century and made them into the jewelry of the 21st Century… their version of beating swords into plowshares. Take for example Herman Goehring’s Luftwaffe headquarters. When built in 1935 it was the largest government building in Europe. It was one of the few centers of Nazi government to survive the bombs of World War 2.
Today, it has been modernized into a clean and efficient center of finance. Facing it across the street is a large information display that declares its use under the Nazi and Communist regimes, and its proximity to the events surrounding the Berlin Wall.
The Reichstag, a focal point of government under the Third Reich, retains its classic exterior but the war destroyed interior has been replaced by an ultramodern interior. 20% of the cost of reconstruction was dedicated to art, much of it pertaining to the tragedy of the Nazi past. Among the displays was a 20 foot portion of the tunnel that played a part in the mysterious fire of 1933 that the Nazis used as a pretext to suspend many personal rights within the country.
Of course there is the 5 acre Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,
and the outline of the Berlin Wall.
There is Checkpoint Charlie,
and the nearby “Mauermuseum” dedicated to the history of the infamous Berlin Wall and the spirit of those who sought to escape it.
The Brandenburg Gate, is adjoined by a Room of Silence, a place for silent contemplation of the past.
The “Palace of Tears” was once a border crossing between East and West Germany at the Friedrichstrasse Train Station. It is now a museum to that past and juxtaposes images and films produced by each side concerning events of the times.
Of course there is much more. My point is that the beauty of Berlin is not limited to its architecture. It extends to the soul of a people who are committed to remind themselves and the world that the 20th Century is a recent past and the bigotry, xenophobia, and State sanctioned criminality of that time may become the heritage of any country that ignores the lessons of that past.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. Our exchange student “son” Andre shared with us two large and well organized volumes of memorabilia from his yearlong stay with us in 1992-93. There were pictures, news clippings, and the other items common to such personal collections. It was great fun to be reminded of our own youth (40 at the time!) and forgotten family times.
One item held my attention. In 1992, 16 year old Japanese foreign exchange student Yoshi Hattori was shot to death in Baton Rouge Louisiana by Rodney Peairs. Yoshi was on his way to a party and went to the wrong house by mistake. The homeowner, Peairs, was acquitted upon his testimony that he thought the boy presented a threat to him. The tragedy and the outcome of the trial were addressed in a letter to the other exchange students. It is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.
We arrived today by train in Brussels Belgium and were greeted by Bryony Ulyett who we have not seen for 26 years! She will be our companion for the next two days, sharing the sights and culture of a country at the western crossroads of Europe. She and Christine appear below in front of the birthplace of actress Audrey Hepburn.
Belgium is officially bilingual (Dutch and French), and Brussels City is not only the nation’s capital and location of Belgium’s Royal Palace, but also the de facto capital of the European Union. It is believed that there are more ambassadors and journalists in this city of 1.2 million than in Washington DC.
We began savoring the local cuisine and exceptional beer with her this evening. The real tour begins tomorrow.
Travel of a significant duration will inevitably include times of problem solving. As detailed in an earlier post, we were caught in a rainstorm while in the Netherlands. Christine’s iPad became “toast”. She has coverage to replace it, but only with the same model. The Apple Store in Amsterdam did not have one in stock and it could take up to two weeks for one to arrive if ordered. Of course, we have left Amsterdam and are now in Brussels Belgium.
As luck would have it, the Apple Store in Brussels was a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Christine left me at a street side restaurant with permission to caress a Belgian Blond or two (it’s a style of beer) and continued on to Apple to tell them her tale of woe.
I understand the importance of the iPad to Chris. It contains her books, puzzles, provides email and video contact for her with the “little people”, and most of all provides her with a reprieve from the uninterrupted version of me. I get it. The Brussels store had ONE in stock!
While Christine was engaged for nearly two hours at the store with the task of transferring data and functionality to the new device one might imagine that I would have become either bored, inebriated, or both. Instead, It turned into one of the most pleasant and insightful 2 hours of this journey.
I sat solo under an umbrellaed sidewalk table. It had rained earlier in the day so the pavement was wet and there was a lingering mist in the air. This was a busy upscale urban shopping district so there was a constant flow of traffic and people. A stream of life passed me from left to right and right to left… male, female, caucasian, black, oriental, young, old, fit, disabled… those characteristics stood out, but what was impossible to discern was nationality.
I was “invisible” to those who passed my table. I had become part of the wallpaper of that street scene. When I sought to make eye contact folks appeared to look right through me. The rare exceptions were a very old woman who met my gaze with a broad smile, and a few youngsters who looked at me with a mixture of wonder and curiosity. It was an extraordinary experience.
I found myself wondering. My literacy is limited to English and stands in stark contrast to the common command of at least two, or three languages by these pedestrians. Christine was availing herself of services in a “foreign country” with the same seamless ease that she would expect in Kansas City. Our sojourn will tally visits to 17 countries yet involves only 6 different currencies. Our Eurail Pass is a magic carpet of travel recognized by 28 countries. Our T-Mobile phone plan allows us virtually the same telephone and data access that we enjoy stateside, but extended to over 140 countries. We see familiar products and brands in virtually every store. I could go on…
What could any thinking nation ever expect to gain by succumbing to the siren song of xenophobia and isolationism. What insecurity drives those voices. Certainly, the forces of innovation that have conferred stardom upon a nation on the world stage sing an entirely different song.
I am writing this on May 31st. We have concluded 2 very nice days with our friend from the 2013 Camino, Jacobien Ubbink and members of her family. It was really nice to be guests in her home and have the opportunity to reconnect in depth. We spent yesterday with her touring the Rijksmuseum and wandering amid the canals and byways of Amsterdam’s Old City.
The Rijksmuseum of Dutch Art and History has been located In Amsterdam since 1808. It houses a phenomenal collection of priceless paintings by such 17th Century masters as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Steen. The Museum has over 1 million objects in its collection, of which approximately 8,000 are currently on display.
Rembrandt’s masterwork, The Night Watch (1642} is the focal point of an entire gallery of masterpieces.
One of Rembrandt’s works that may be very familiar to Americans of my generation has been the package trademark for Dutch Masters Cigars since 1912.
The gentlemen in the painting are not discussing the finer points of a cigar’s “predominantly tobacco with non-tobacco ingredients”, but rather are a group of merchants evaluating cloth. Thus, the title of this 1662 masterwork is, “Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild”.
Of course, there are other eye popping pieces from other periods as well.
The current museum building itself is a work of remarkable architecture. It was designed by Pierre Cuypers and built in 1885. It is one of the centerpieces that define this beautiful city.
I learned today that while we were touring the Rijksmuseum yesterday, another Camino friend from 2013 was there as well. Had we only known… Damn the bad luck that prevented us from meeting!!!
Amsterdam is perhaps the most culturally open place that I have ever visited. By my measure, the people of Amsterdam are friendly, polite, and English of a very high order is spoken throughout the city. Yes, there is the “Red Light District”, and yes the odor of burning marijuana may be encountered, but the city is safe, clean, steeped in history, and exceptionally charming.
One who is more concerned with the way that others live life than how he conducts his own should probably pass on visiting here. (Matthew 7:1-5)
Peace Everyone. Pete
We leave for Brussels Belgium tomorrow and will be visiting a young lady that we have maintained overseas contact with since 1991.
No pictures today. What I have to say can not be understood with the eyes, only with the heart. Christine and I have been on the road now for two months. With less than a month of this journey remaining it seems an appropriate time to share a reflection.
We have met hundreds of you, from restaurant wait-staff and hoteliers to fellow travelers. You are the young, studying and working to secure a future. You are the not-so-young who see that life has a horizon, life is a lottery. A few of you have planned life with a loved one who has not lived to share that dream. A few of you are confronted with the specter of serious illness, infirmity, disability. In reflection, we have become aware that none of you have had life presented to you on a silver platter. Each of you have met challenges and difficulties in life, yet every day you present us with the face of optimism and a deep inner joy. Your gratitude for life’s gifts allows you no opportunity for regret over its misfortunes.
We have been treated to amazing sights, both natural and made by human hands. We have enjoyed sharing with you, but we want you to know that you have been sharing with us as well. We take vicarious pleasure in your hopes, dreams, and plans for your own “next thing”… motorcycling across the USA, a cabin in the wilderness, journeying with an RV, trekking a Camino, or helping with the care of your children’s children. If you are reading this then I assure you that we are thinking of you, whether or not we have met in person and whether or not we know you by name.
Remember the last time you were sitting at a bar in the States and before you had finished your first drink one of the patrons came up to you, introduced himself, bought you and your wife a round, and then hauled the two of you over to a table full of his friends and family, making you the honored guests of the evening?… Yeah, me neither.
Of course, this is Scotland and not the States. Meet Garry Clifford, his oldest son, Sean, and their good friend John Curran. That is precisely what the three of them did. In less than 10 minutes they had Christine and me at their table and we became family. Garry’s wife Kathleen, Sean’s wife Julie, and John’s wife Carol were every bit as warm and friendly. We didn’t have the chance to buy our own drinks, let alone a round the rest of the night.
Garry and Kathleen have been in love with each other since they were 13. They have been blessed with 29 years of marriage, 5 sons, and a 2 year old granddaughter. Their sons are the best of friends with each other which Garry describes as the proudest gift that life has given him. He and Sean, who is his oldest son, are civil engineers and Harley Davidson enthusiasts. They share a dream of one day riding motorcycles together across the United States. Everyone at table loves the United States, frequently breaking into a chant of USA, USA, USA…
That is not to say that they aren’t saddened and bemused by the state of affairs in our country. Sean reflected that it is incredibly sad that this year it is more dangerous to be a high school student in America than in her military’s service.
Before we left on this journey I often remarked that I would consider these travels a success if just once we were approached overseas as strangers and made a part of someone’s universe of friends. My wish has been granted… in Scotland and with these very good people.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. We took a “hop on – hop off” bus tour of Glasgow. Many of the following images are from that tour through this remarkably beautiful city. We are now off for the Highlands!
After a 6 hour journey from Belfast by bus, ferry, and back on bus, we have arrived in Scotland. We will be in Glasgow for two nights and then proceed by train north into the West Highlands where we will spend at least 4 nights in Fort William. We have already been told that the great weather that is predicted for the next week is an anomaly. Seems we are taking sunshine with us wherever we go.
This has been a rare day where we have turned on the news. Another school shooting in the States. It is eye opening to watch the Europe news and commentary. The word “again” was repeated throughout the presentation, highlighting the disfunction of a system that is frozen to inaction by money and the power of the NRA lobby. It is not hyperbole to say that the United States is seen as a morally broken nation. “Click”, news turned off, but not the reality it reports on this side of the ocean.
Tonight is the 56th night that we have been away from home… we are entering week 9 of this journey. It would be disingenuous of me to solicit sympathy for the small fissures of homesickness that we have begun to experience. We continue to enjoy each day, but there are moments that cause us pause.
Each day brings questions about the quality of tonight’s mattress, shower, and room. When will the next laundry opportunity occur? Will our clothing make it through the next 34 days without falling apart? We have eaten restaurant food for 8 solid weeks. What will be our first home cooked meal? Most of all, we miss family. Our smart phones and tablets can ring up our children with no more difficulty than a local call within the States. However no matter how “smart” the device, it can’t bridge the temporal reality of a 6 or 7 hour time difference. I’m really not complaining, just presenting another side of this experience.