Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Euro Trip Day 5--Lichtenstein Castle and tour of Mershstetten

Euro Trip Day 5—Lichtenstein Castle

My sister and I got up around 7:00 am on the 24th because breakfast was at 8:00. I showered, dressed, blah blah blah. At 8:00 we went over to the tavern where our breakfast was already set out for us. What a spread! There was a soft boiled egg, German rye bread (at least 7 pieces), a tray of various meats (including Leberkaese) and cheeses with cucumbers (used on almost everything here in this part of Germany) and tomatoes, a one litre bottle of orange juice (orangesaft) and a one litre bottle of water (carbonated; not a favourite). With the bread, we were given a raspberry marmalade and we also had the choice of tea. We ate very well. Ich bin zat we would say to Marie!

We had the car so we headed over to Walter’s and Elizabeth’s to pick up my parents. Apparently, my dad had a very difficult time sleeping simply because the pillows were not firm enough. My dad has had a real rough go at this vacation. His feet and his knee have been giving him problems since day 1 and I had hoped that they would start to subside but no. We’ll see what happens for the rest of the trip. We talked for a little bit and then got into the car to go to Lichtenstein castle (Lichtensteinenschloss) which is fairly close by. We had some problems navigating, however. The roads are not clearly marked as they are in the states and you have to navigate via certain cities. Once we got into Muessingen, we made one wrong turn and ended up going about 25 km out of our way but we finally managed to get back. Although I was frustrated by the navigation (for which I was responsible) we were compensated by the beauty of the tals (the valleys) of the region. A more picturesque scene is such a rarity. We finally arrived at Lichtenstein Castle which you can see from the freeway. It is built atop a high mountain and overlooks the cities of Reutlingen and Liechtenstein. The places is named Lichtenstein because of the rock which is white in color. Lichtenstein=white stone.The castle was originally built by the Knights of Liechtenstein in 1388 though it was later destroyed by the citizens of Reutlingen. However, this particular castle has never been besieged. The original walls are still there. Eventually the Wurtemburgs, a Germany noble dynasty, eventually inherited the castle and ruled the area as dukes, princes and kings. This particular castle is still possessed by the heir to the Wurtemburg dynasty who lives there only on occasion but maintains a more permanent residence in the nearby city of Stuttgart. The current form of the castle is due mainly to this heir’s great grandfather, King William of Wurtemburg and Urach though he did preserve much of the earlier foundations and creations.

The castle is small by standards we often associate with Medieval castles, but it is nonetheless quite fascinating. It is not extremely spacious in any of the rooms. There is an armoury room with some splendid suits of armour from various time periods. One of the suits, in particular, still had damage from a jousting match! The chapel is quite small and has two magnificent paintings on either side depicting the Annunciation and the Nativity of Christ, both of which date to the fifteenth century by the master Michael Wohlgemuth who, himself, was the teacher of the great German master Albrecht Duerer. The most stunning painting dates to 1450 and depicts the Assumption of Mary (Dormition or death) into heaven. The drinking room is also very modest with tables at the side and a place reserved for the duke or guest of honor at the top. There is also a pulpit where someone would regale the other guests with tales of the hunt. Often other kings of various regions of Germany would stop here to hunt fox, deer and wild boar and they would be the ones expected to tell stories. Of interest in this particular room is the world’s longest champagne flute, measuring almost 2 meters in length! How one would drink from this is a mystery. Moving upstairs we got into the King’s Room where a number of frescoes commemorate famous members of the House of Wurtemburg. One of them, I was surprised to find, Duke Eberhard, founded the University of Tuebingen which, later, became one of the main intellectual battlegrounds of the ideals of the Protestant Reformation. Also in this room are several mirrors, one of which has a huge hole in it though it is not completely shattered. During the closing days of WWII, allied tanks shelled Lichtenstein Castle (for reasons unknown; the Nazis were never occupying the area) and one of the shrapnel of the shells hit the mirror and another the floor, which I did not see. The Reception hall was quite magnificent with a splendid painting of King William shown in full military regalia as a major of the artillery which he commanded for the Prussian (German) Kaiser during WWI. This particular painting is all the more striking because no matter where you move in the room, his eyes are always fixed on you. Eerie! We moved out and went back downstairs where we found another portrait of a bowman doing the exact same thing. No matter where you were, his aim was always fixed on you! We looked around the castle for a few more moments, got some good shots of the surrounding area and then set out again for Mehrstetten.

Headed home, I had a number of questions. The tour was given in German (which I expected) and there was no real literature available to purchase save for a small pamphlet. I suppose I could do some research via the internet, but I don’t have access to the internet at this time.

When I arrived back at Walter’s and Elizabeth’s house, I went up to my uncle’s condo and asked him a few question where he gave me some more information about the Schwaebishce Alb and the people. The Schwaebians are German but come from a more ancestral and uniform stock than their other German counterparts. Their language is different. Many of them speak Schwaebish still although it is dieing. Though the kids may learn it at home, once they get to school, High German is what they learn and are encouraged to practice. I’ve already made mention of several Schwaebish dialectical differences and I won’t repeat them here. The language is the last of the Allemanisch group of the Germanic family when Frankish and German were largely indistinguishable. Then the two groups separated and Schwaebish retained much more of a French character than the German to the north. The Schwaebish people are by nature very easy going and very peaceful, a thoughtful people. Einstein and Benz (as in Mercedes-Benz) came from this region. It is all the more ironic, my uncle tells me, that during the Third Reich, this region went to war with little reservation. But, then again, it was a different time. However, this area also produced the Hohenzollerns and the Hohenstaufens, the former, who became founders of Prussia and the later German Kaisers who built the most impressive war machine in history; the latter, great warriors such as Friderich Barbarossa (the Stupor Mundi—amazement of the World) and a number of Holy Roman Emperors who had to assert control of their loose confederation particularly in the northern Italian states by force. This world is coming to an end in many respects. The younger generation is leaving and embracing the ways of northern Germany.

My uncle then took us on a tour of Mershtetten. This was great for my mom and for me too. I learned that Mershtetten was never really a historically important town. It has no strategic significance and has always been a farming community. It was never ruled over by dukes or princes for very long or very oppressively and was independent. The first place we stopped was the cemetery. In Germany as well as in most of Europe, space is so limited that what happens is that your bones are exhumed after about 25 years of burial and put into a general mausoleum. The markers for the grave are also removed. Here I saw some of the Zieglers buried here, my great-uncle Friderich (my mom’s doetle) buried alongside his wife Maria (my mom’s doetlesbaes). She died first and then he went almost exactly two months later! What is even more interesting is that, according to my uncle, Friderich is buried in the exact same spot as his father was! In 21 years, his and his wife’s bones will be exhumed. A great thing about this cemetery is that all the women have their maiden name listed on their grave marker which definitely makes genealogy easier. We saw only a couple of graves with Zieglers and Rothenbachers. There were a number of Reutters (whom we are related to by marriage), Schmauder, Schraede, Ebelhardt, etc. Most of these families still live here in Mershtetten in great numbers. There is a monument to soldiers whose bodies were not recovered from WWI and WWII. Several Zieglers were mentioned.

We moved on outside of town to see the reservoir where my mom and her friends used to play. It is located in a thicket of the woods and is one of the first reservoirs built in German supplied by the rivers in the tal. My mom also tells me that the parents of children would tell them that the reservoir is where the stork would get babies to deliver to parents. Interesting variation on the birds and bees. The field nearby was also the place where the French would practice their military maneuvers since they occupied this area after WWII. This current area is part of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg which was incorporated after WWII. A couple of years ago was the 60th anniversary of the incorporation, but the people of Baden and the people of Wuerttemberg aren’t known for exactly getting along. At the anniversary, the people responded with a giant yawn!

We then proceeded to several parts of the town. We went to the church where my mom was baptized and confirmed. The caretaker there happens to be a cousin of hers, a Ziegler, but more closely related on the Rothenbacher side. She let us in and let us walk around. It is a very simple and plain church. Churches in Germany are generally Evangelische (Lutheran) or Catholische (Catholic). One of the ways to tell is to look at the tower. If it is more pointed, chances are it is Evangelische; if the tower is domed, it is generally Catholische. This one is Evangelische. The tower itself dates to the 1300s as does the main structure of the building. There is only one stained glass which is of Christ located behind the altar. As typical with Lutheran architecture the baptismal font is at the front of the church and is made of stone (this is the same font where my mom was baptized) and the pulpit is at the right hand side elevated over the sanctuary. The altar is very simple with a crucifix and two candles. There are two levels. In my mom’s day, the women were expected to sit at the bottom and the men at the top. The organ has been replaced recently and we’ll see how well it sounds on Sunday when we go to church. My uncle even showed me the place where my great-grandfather Schaefer Christe sat—at the extreme right hand side of the first row. People had their seats marked out and got very upset if someone else was there. Doesn’t that happen still today? There are a number of memorials, including lists of all the pastors of the church. We saw the pastor who baptized by mom Fr. Bernecker. We also had the opportunity to go up into the Bell Tower. This was a treat. There are four bells which still ring every quarter hour. One of them is from the 1400s which I got a picture of. During WWII, these bells were removed to be melted down for artillery. Fortunately, this was not the case and though it took some doing, these bells were marked as Mehrstetten and returned. We got to go up to the very top where we had a nice view of the city. My uncle told me that one of his friends was a daredevil and decided to jump out the bell tower with only an umbrella. He chickened out until he got a second umbrella. He did it and, amazingly, did not break both of his legs, having gotten away with only scrapes! I wish I were that lucky.

We also got to meet the cousin’s parents, who are two of the few Zieglers left here. They speak not a word of English, but it didn’t matter. One of their nieces is Doris whom I really want to meet mainly because her husband is a Greek citizen, I’m hoping that I can get in good with her and him and thus have a place to stay when I go to visit Greece! It’s called networking!

We then moved throughout the rest of the town seeing places where my relatives lived (or used to live). Many of these places are no longer there having been torn down. As I mentioned earlier, if you find a patch of grass between houses, that area was a formerly a house. Most houses here were a combination of a living area and a barn. A lot of the houses are still used that way today, though many current owners have converted the barn to a garage or something else. I did see one house/barn on the street which was being used as milking area for cars. And this is 2008! There is one house which cannot be torn down by law because it is considered a historical monument. Emil was saying that the cost to maintain this historical monument amounts to 1000s of Euros a year and it is not subsidized by the government (one of the few things that isn’t!).

We saw the place where my mom was born and lived and then went down to the Backhaus (Bakery) which is actually still used today, though only one day a month. One of the neighbours let us in the small room where people would have to draw numbers for what order they can bake. You literally drew a number out of a bag. The oven is brick and you would bake about 20 loaves to last you for the week. It would take about an hour and a half. My mom recalls that while waiting for the bread to bake, she and her Aehne (grandfather) would talk on the bench outside. I need to ask her what those conversation were about. I have heard stories about how my great-grandmother (my mom’s ahne) was so upset that my great-grandfather was carried home from the local tavern in a wheelbarrow! Apparently, this happened more than on one occasion.

Going down the street, we came upon a gas station which is owned and operated by Horst, a classmate of my mom and her first “boyfriend.” Apparently, when she returned in 1968 (after having been gone for 12 years), he was still taken with her! She, my uncle and my mom talked for a long time but it was mainly about himself. My sister, my aunt Joyce and I were waiting across the street talking about other things.

We walked back and found a small monument to the soldiers of Mershtetten who died in WWI. Their names are inscribed on the monument and there are two Zieglers, Otto and Guslav. I can’t comment on how exactly I am related to them.

It was about dinner time so we headed up the street to the store to get a few things and where I got a chance to mail a postcard. We then went to the Lamm for dinner. This is the same place where I have my breakfast each morning. Dinner was very filling and very good. These Germans know how to cook, cook lots and cook well. I ordered zegeunerschnitzel mit salad und spaetzle. My mom used to make spaetzle a lot of times. It is a type of noodle and with gravy, it is excellent. I learned my lesson from the previous day and ordered a Riesling without the water! I also decided to try an authentic German beer, Zweifalter, which is made in the nearby town of Zweifalten by the monks of the local cloister. We may visit that on Saturday or Sunday and take some souvenirs! It was a great dinner with lots of good conversations. We then headed down to the local sportsplatz where we hoped to catch a soccer game, but we got there just as it ended. Maybe some other time; remember, soccer is everywhere. My parents took the car this time and my sister and I walked back to the Gasthaus where we both pretty much went immediately to sleep. Tomorrow’s journal will tell of my visit to Bavaria and the famous castle of King Ludwig II, Neuschwanstein. Good night.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Euro Trip Day 4: Rule Britanna to Deutschalnd uber alles!

Euro Trip Day 4—Depart for Germany

We got up at 4:30 on Monday to catch our flight over to Heathrow (or Heathslow as some of the natives call it). We called a taxi and made it over there and checked in with little problems. However, we were told that if you were flying via Terminal 5 to make sure you have a change of clothes with you. This terminal is new and like the new terminal at Denver a couple of years ago, was swamped with complaints of lost luggage and the like. Fortunately, such anxiety was not warranted for us. Flying out of Heathrow, you should know that on your boarding pass, you are not given a gate number. The gates are determined approximately 45 minutes prior to the flight so everyone waits in one general area until the flight gets a gate. We were wondering how far we would have to walk because when we first arrived in London, we had to walk over 2 miles to get from our flight to get to customs and then claim our luggage. My dad was still having some trouble walking so fortunately our gate was in the A wing which was not far. We boarded British Airways and took off for Stuttgart. British Airways is a great airline to fly. For a less than two hour flight, they even served us breakfast! I couldn’t believe that!

We landed in Stuttgart at about 10:00 German local time. We got our luggage with no hassle and customs was a breeze. We then had to pick up our rental car. We had originally planned to go with a Volkswagen Golf but for four of us with luggage, that would not have worked. So we got a Mercedes C class instead. Oh man, that’s a nice car! We still had some trouble with our luggage. We must have spent 30 minutes trying to situate four large bags into something manageable. We still failed so what we did was get three bags into the trunk, folded down one of the back seats and put another suitcase there while my sister and mom huddled together in the back seat. I got to drive the Mercedes first. Of course, my German is not so good so I had a hard time reading road signs, but I finally got the hang of it. For instance alle Reitlung is “all directions” and umleitung is “detour.” We then proceeded to the Autobahn. Now contrary to common belief, you cannot go as fast as you want to on this road. Certain areas, yes, but we were nowhere near those “certain areas.” The speed limit was fixed at 120 kph which is about 70 mph, though at times, I got it up to 140 kph just to try it out. However, it was raining and I didn’t know where I was going necessarily so I slowed down to about 100-120 kph.

Driving through Germany is not like driving through the states. For instance we see lots of deciduous trees by the roadside whereas here you will see large and thin coniferous trees dominating the landscape. There are a lot of hills and much farmland, but you can tell that it just “feels” different. We got into Merstetten a little after 1:00. Immediately, we set out to find the house where my mom was born and where my mom grew up. It’s not there anymore but you can tell exactly where it is. The fact is that most homes in Germany don’t have lawns. So if you have a space of grass in between houses, the chances are that there was a house there which was torn down. Well, my mom’s house was torn down but you know exactly where it was. Right down the street from that is the town bakhaus, or bread baking house. Even the bench which my mom sat on while waiting for the bread to bake is still there. She recalled any number of moments where she and her aehne (grandfather; I call my grandfather opa) used to sit and talk for hours. (The feminine is ahne though I always used oma for my grandmother).

We proceeded to find my mom’s cousin’s house (Walter Rothenbacher and his wife Elizabeth) where my uncle (Emil Ziegler) and my aunt (Joyce) have a small condo. Walter and Elizabeth have two kids, Maximilian and Anna. The day we got there was their last day of school for 6 weeks, though Max was on a field trip to Munich. Elizabeth, I found out, was hired to help care for Walter’s mother (my mom’s doetlesbaes) when she was sick many years ago and she and Walter got on and married. Interesting story. It’s almost similar to how my brother met his wife! On the farm, they raise cattle, chickens, grow wheat, canola, corn and sugar beets. In Germany and the rest of Europe, your fields are not all together. You may have one by your home but another across town. This is a system that goes all the way back to the Middle Ages. Walter is lucky to have most of his fields (which he either owns or rents) close to his house. Their work day typically begins at about 5:00 am and involves a lot of physical and demanding labor. As typical with farms, they have a lot of cats and dogs. My sister has already grown fond of one orange cat. The dog is named Terence and though he is on a chain, he does not bite. He just likes to get some attention. Though I’m not a dog person by any stretch of the imagination, I have taken a liking to him.
I was worried about the communication issues since my German is absolutely confined to the written word and not the spoken, especially not informal conversation. Fortunately, Elizabeth speaks English fairly well despite having almost no one to practice with so communication is not a problem. Walter knows only a few words. They showed us the place where my mom and dad would be staying, the entire first floor of the house which, previously had been used by my mom’s uncle and aunt (Friderich Rothenbacher and Marie Rothenbacher). Friderich was my mom’s doetle or godfather and his wife is then called doetlesbaes (wife of the godfather). A godmother is a dote and the husband of a dote is then called a dotenveder.

I should point out at this time that the Zieglers are my mom’s dad’s side of the family and the Rothenbachers are my mom’s mom’s side of the family. However, just because one is a Ziegler doesn’t mean that they are more closely related. There are several Zieglers who are more closely related on the Rothenbacher side! The Zieglers and the Rothenbachers have been marrying into each other’s lines for generations. My uncle has a huge genealogy in which he has traced my mom’s (and his) side of the family back to the early 1500s pretty accurately! The Zieglers typically lived in Merstetten, though there are not many left here and the Rothenbachers come from Sondernach, a town 5 km south of here. I plan to go there on Saturday.

After dropping off my parents’ luggage and hanging out with my aunt Joyce and my uncle Emil (who is the clown of the family, but pretty close to genius; my mom has great stories and I’ve found out a lot more in the short time I’ve been here), we then went into town to get some groceries and for my sister and I to check into where we would be staying. We went to the butcher and got some good meat and cheese, especially leberkaese. That is excellent if you can ever find it. We then went over to the Gothaus (guesthouse) Lamm which is a local tavern and the owners have a house next door that is fully furnished (I do mean fully). We were greeted by Marie who owns and operates the place. She doesn’t speak a word of English but it doesn’t matter; a better host you will not find. She greeted all of us saying Gruess Gott which means “God be with you”. It’s an old expression used here in what is called the Schwaebischen Alb (Schwaebish wedge; I’ll talk more about the peculiarities the Swabish people in my next entry). She showed us around, got us the key and then brought out schnapps for everyone (powerful stuff). She said breakfast would be served at 8:00 the next morning. Marie’s father happened to be my opa’s best friend when he lived here and her son happened to be my uncle’s best friend. So we kind of know this family a little bit. My opa is never referred to around here as Christian Ziegler but simply as Schaefer Christe which means “the Shepherd Christian.” The Ziegler side of the family has been shepherds and farmers for generations, but, strangely enough, served in the military when called.

We went back to Walter’s and Elizabeth’s for a few minutes and then we went out to eat at the Hirsch (pronounced heesh; again Schwaebish) which specializes in deer meat. The owner of the place started talking to my mother as if she had been here the entire time. I guess this guy just likes to talk. I wasn’t sure what to get s I settled on rostbarten served with a salad and onions. What a good meal! The rostbarten is a pork dish but covered in a gravy with the onions that rivals steak, at least here. The salads are made with lettuce, radish, onions, carrots and a German potato salad (not like the stuff you find in the U.S.) and they are NOT mixed together. They are all kept separate. As far as a drink went, I made an error which has not ceased to be a joke. The owner of the restaurant asked my mom if I was 18. I know I look younger than my modest 32, but come on! I asked why he thought this and he said it was because I ordered a “Shirley.” When I first ordered my drink, I asked, in my best German for a glass of Riesling and water. What I should have done was ask for a glass of Riesling and a glass of water. What the waitress did was combine the two so I had a watered down wine. I’ve had German Rieslings many times over and I couldn’t figure out why this one was tasting so flat! Everyone else was having a good laugh at my expense. Ha, ha!

After dinner we went back to Elizabeth’s and Walter’s for a minor family reunion on the Rothenbacher side. Walter’s sisters, Inge with her husband Fritz, and Elizabeth with her husband, Friderich came. Igne and Fritz brought Silke who is the daughter of Walter’s twin sister, Rosie (she and her husband didn’t come). Eventually, Stephan, the son of Elizabeth and Friderich came out. Fortunately, Silke spoke fairly good English and she and my sister had a good conversation. She works as a florist in Sondernach and Stephan is a carpenter. I’ve met Igne and Fritz a while ago and they came also to my brother’s wedding back in 2001, but they don’t speak English much. It was very frustrating that I couldn’t really partake of the conversation since everyone was speaking Schwaebish. Even my mom was doing really well, despite having really no practice with this language for such a long time. The last time my mom visited this place was before I was born in 1976. I was starting to get bored and frustrated, and Elizabeth (Walter’s wife) came over and started talking to me and I got a second wind after that. We had some good champagne and some good cake and adjourned about 10:30. We said our good-byes which in Schwaebish is adaa rather than auf wiedersehen. Adaa is a corruption of the French adieu. You can get away with tschuss which is what more of the young people use, but I decided to stick with tradition.

Stephanie and I went back to the Gasthaus Lamm and went to bed. Germans sleep on very thin mattresses and do not use sheets. You essentially sleep under a bedspread or comforter and the pillows are not firm at all but very soft. Even two together won’t get you the support you really need or want. Also the bed was barely tall enough for me. I was later told to sleep in the foetal position to solve that problem. It was very cold that day and was very cold that night, but it was easily one of the best nights of sleep I had had in such a long time. There was total darkness and no sound save for the ringing of the church bells. Perfect.

Euro Trip--Day 3

Euro-Trip Day 3: London

I am writing this at 11:00 German Time on 23/07/2008 (note that I am using the European system for dating!). So this is a little behind and won’t be posted until later since I don’t have wireless internet. Sorry for the delay, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

This morning (Monday; 21/07/200) began with a blast. We travelled via the tubes to Parliament and Big Ben. Before I go further, I have to compliment London on having and maintaining an excellent public transportation system, both trains and busses. My sister got us “Oyster” cards which automatically deduct money from your card for your use. The best thing is that the “oyster” card can only be billed a certain amount of money per day regardless of how much you actually use the tubes or the busses. I think it comes to 7 pounds a day. So even if you ride the bus 10 times a day which would be 90 pence, the most you could be charged is 7 pounds. Not bad, although if you were aware of the rate of exchange between currencies 7 pounds is roughly equivalent to $14! Anyway, we saw Parliament and Big Ben along the Thames River. I got several good pictures in and then proceeded to Westminster Abbey which is right across from Parliament.

What a sight to behold! I have to say that Westminster Abbey was far more impressive than Notre Dame in Paris, way more impressive. First of all, the place was not dark and depressed like Notre Dame. Though you could not take pictures inside, it was well worth the admission price. I also got a recorded tour hosted by actor, Jeremy Irons, of all people which explained a number of the features of the abbey. The best thing, for me, at least, was how much I could discern from the inscriptions which were written in Latin. Go figure! I had a field day just going through all the side chapels and deciphering who was buried where, with whom, when the lived and what they did. And people think Latin is useless! Well, they are mostly right! But, at least in Westminster Abbey, I got to have the last laugh. I went around translating everything I could in sight. Unfortunately, Westminster does not allow photographs so I was not able to get any pictures of the inscriptions nor the tombs which bore them.

I saw coffins of great kings, queens and lords, some reputable, some not so. The abbey was actually begun as a monastery for Benedictines and was converted into a church for use by the crown by St. Edward the Confessor, whose tomb lies behind the main altar (more on this later). Following his death in 1066, a power struggle broke out for the throne of England which brought in William and his Normans to the throne. William was the first sovereign crowned in Westminster and every king and queen since then followed his lead. William’s descendant, Henry III lavishly paid for the expenses which made the church what it is today. And it is a magnificent achievement. The lattice work and the spandrel arches and buttresses are easily the rival of any on the continent. I also got to see some restoration work of the floor in front of the high altar called Coratic. This type of flooring is found nowhere else except south of the Alps! In fact, Henry III sent one of his abbots to Rome to find artisans to create this flooring. Over the past 100 years, various conservationists, not knowing any better, used cement to help preserve the floor, which, unfortunately, only hastened its demise. Now they are trying to restore it and should have it done in two years.

There are kings, queens and nobles buried in Westminster, but also great musicians, artists and other purveyors of culture. I was humbled and moved to see the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer, the great poet entombed there, though he was entombed there in the first place for his role in the government. Especially of note was the monument to Sir Georg Friderich Handel, the great English composer. Although corpulent and rather ugly, I cannot think of greater tribute than his likeness with a copy of “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” from his Messiah by his side. I bowed down and kissed the floor where his bones now reside. I was, however, upset that his predecessor, Henry Purcell, was not given as lavish a monument and that Thomas Tallis and William Byrd were not given stations of honour either. I saw tributes to Sir Laurence Olivier, W.H. Auden, William Pitt “the Elder” and even Charles Darwin. I even got up close and personal with Sir Isaac Newton himself.

I really wanted to go behind the altar where St. Edward the Confessor’s relics are kept (mainly for you, Maggie!). I was able to go on a special tour which cost only 3 pounds more. It was such a privilege to behind the altar, a place reserved usually for only kings and queens to see Edward’s final resting place, having fought the good fight on earth. I asked St. Edward for his intercessions and glorified God through him. It is a pity that more cannot see his final resting place.

I saw Elizabeth and “Bloody” Mary buried together. Mary has no likeness of her, but the inscription bears testimony that though they were different in their religious allegiances, they like together as consorts to the throne in the hope of resurrection (in spe resurrecionis). Very powerful! In the same chapel is buried the Holy Innocents, Edward V and his brother, Richard of York, who were both ahead of the later ‘Richard III, who had them murdered. This is the same Richard III who said, according to Shakespeare, “Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this son of York!” Richard III was the last of the Plantegenet dynasty (the ones who came after William the Conqueror in 1066) and thus ensured that the Tudors, which produced Henry VIII and Elizabeth would come to power. Also of note is the fact that Mary, Queen of Scots is buried exactly opposite of her cousin, Elizabeth I. Her tomb is quite magnificent and the Latin quite glorious.

Westminster Abbey, thus, was a treat for me. I wish I could have seen and studied more, but alas, such was not to be had. My parents, sister and I proceeded to Westminster pier where I bought us tickets to Greenwich. This is where the Prime Meridian is (hence, Greenwich mean time!). We got in the boat and travelled down the River Thames and saw a number of great sites including St. Paul’s in the distance, the new Globe theatre, the new performing arts theatre (rightly regarded as one of the most ugly buildings in London; even judged so by Prince Charles himself who knows a great deal about ugly!), the H.M.S. Belfast, a WWII ship anchored there for display and much more. We arrived at Greenwich at around 2:00. We then proceeded, via cab, to Trafalgar Tavern which is famous for its “fish and chips” which all of us ordered. This particular tavern was made famous by Dickens in his last novel and was actually a political club meeting place during the late 1800s and 1900s. I got to have my picture taken with Lord Nelson, easily one of the greatest military geniuses of his day. My parents and sister headed up to Greenwich park while there was a church I wanted to check out first so we went our separate ways. The church, St. Alfelges’, was closed to my disappointment so I walked up to Greenwich park where the prime meridian is. The park is great and gives you a nice panorama of the area, including the old Maritime University (now Greenwich University) designed by Sir Christopher Wren. In fact, the park will be used to host equestrian events during the 2012 Olympics when London hosts them. I got my picture taken on both sides of the meridian thus proving I was both in Eastern and Western Hemispheres for a time.

We then tried to leave. My father, as I have indicated before, is having some trouble walking. We tried hailing a cab to no avail; they just kept driving past us. By the time we got down from Greenwich Park, which took awhile, the ferry had already left back for London so we got us a cab (finally!) to take us to the tubes at Tower Bridge and took that back to our hotel. It didn’t cost nearly as much as we thought it would and then we rode the tube back to our hotel. My sister and I had to go back to Hendon to pick up a few things before we headed over to Germany the next day so we did that.

I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. We had scheduled a trip to the British Museum that day and that would have been a great treat for me with all of the material from Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquity that are housed there (like the famous Rosetta Stone). I would have rather gone to that by far than Greenwich but I know it would have been difficult, especially for my dad, who needed my help had I not gone. I know I didn’t conduct myself in a manner very befitting or very nice, but hopefully I’ll be back again to see the British Museum, the National Gallery and all of the other wonders which I missed.

I didn’t get much sleep that night since I was up at 5:00 the next meeting to get ready to depart for Germany. That will be Chapter 4. More later. Good night.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Euro-Trip Day 2

The first day was not what I had hoped for. We had originally planned to go see the British Museum, but I didn't anticipate being as tired as I was. Well, we got to our hotel room and I slept for only 6 hours and was up at 4:30. The sun comes up early here and goes down later. So the sun started coming through the curtains at about 4:15 and I also couldn't take any more of my dad's snoring (it's not his fault) so I got up, showered and went down to the lobby to continue reading Gore Vidal's Burr (what can I say? I'm on a Vidal kick right now). So I stayed down there until about 7:00 which was when we set the wake-up call for. My dad was now up so I started flipping channels to see what was on TV. I got caught up on English sports scores and was happy to find out that American sports were highlighted. All of us met downstairs at the lobby at 8:00 and found a bus to take us to Baker Street. It was cold. I mean cold. This is July and I was wearing jeans and a jacket. Not only cold but windy. Man, I could see myself living here (I hate heat). We stopped off at a place to get a "traditional" English breakfast, which, I admit is not what I really want. A traditional English breakfast is 2 eggs, 2 pieces of bacon (tastes more like ham), sausage (not like our sausage links or patties), toast, baked beans, black pudding, tomatoes and coffee or tea. I decided to pass and went with something a little more easy on my stomach.

We then started to head over to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the gaurds. We got there at about 10:40. The change starts at 11:30 and everyone recommends you be there by 11:00 to get a spot. We were situated opposite Buckingham and the main gate at the statue of Queen Victoria which has some very good classical influence. There were tons of people there, I mean tons. The bobbies were out in force and telling people who were climbing on the statue of Victoria to get down from their high vantage point. The Union Jack was flying over Buckingham so you knew that the Queen was in that day. As a a palace, Buckingham is not that impressive from the outside (I'm sure from the inside it is nothing short of magnificnet). Finally teh change starts to occur. It is standing room only. We already see a contingent of guards come from the side and their commander starts barking orders. We are too far away and the guards are still behind the gates to really see what is going on. Of course, I was impressed by how disciplined they were standing there rifles in hand for 25 minutes. Then we start hearing drumbeats and another contingent of guards entered the left gate. There were some maneuvers, but again, we couldn't see. Then later we heard some instruments play and another contingent of guards, both dressed in red and black and fully armed, with the Queen's band arrived. They marched right in front of us so we got some good pictures. Again, I was amazed by the discipline and their marching style was just really cool. They went in the right gate. There were some exchanges between the commanders of the respectiv guard units all the while the two color bearers were marching the premises in lock step. I'm not sure what the purpose is. A small group of guards departed and I'm not sure why. Then the band set up and started playing some music to keep the crowd entertained. They even played the Spy Hunter theme. Weird. After some more maneuvers, the guards split up in two and were about to come through the center gate. The first battalion came out marching to Mozart's Non piu andre from Le Nozze di Figaro (Brian, I know you'd appreciate that!) and the second battalion came out marching to the traditional tune of the the World Turn'd Upside Down (those of you who have seen Mel Gibson's The Patriot will have heard that tune throughout the movie). I was disappointed not to hear Rule Brittania nor god Save the Queen. We're in England, damnit! All in all, the changing of the guard was a really over-hyped affair. it's something to see, but really nothing to get worked into a frenzy over.

After that, we caught a taxi for Trafalgar Square. Here is where you have Lord Nelson's column, who was the victor over Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile and again at Trafalgar where he lost his life but won the battle (true military genius). You have other monuments to other kings such as George IV and Charles II and a nice archway with a Latin inscription dedicated to Queen Victoria. This is also where the National Gallery is located. It is free admission, but we were taking it easy prior to our going to the Tower of London, where we headed for next.

We got to the Tower of London at about 2;30. I first noticed what seemed to be an old Roman wall and it was. It was part of the original fortified outpost of London built around 200 A.D. The wall extended all the way to the Thames river and was used as a supporting wall (I would find out later) for the original design for the Tower of London. They had also unearthed there a bronze statue (believed to be the Emperor Trajan; I don't think so, it looks more like Augustus, but why would his image be there?) and an inscription from C. Iulius Classicanus, one of the imperial governors. We got into the tower. I had always believed that the Tower of London was just a tower. How good to be proven wrong. This was a fortification and a palace as well as a place for condemned prisoners. I went off on my own exploring while my parents and sister took a guided tour. I went into the apartment of Edward I and Henry III. It's not as ornate as you might expect but the building techniques for that day and age (originally started in 1077, but Henry III and his son Edward I made extensive changes to make it the tower we know today in the late 1200s) were nothing short of impressive. I went through the White Tower and saw the armory (which it became later on rather than a palace). The amount and kinds of weapons stored there in such intricate displays was cool. There was enough there to start a small war, even by today's standards! There were all sorts of suits of armor including the armor of Henry VIII which also had a giant cock plate where he was obviously displaying his own insecurities.

We saw the crown jewels most of which are replicas. The star of Africa is housed elsewhere as well as the large sapphire and ruby that are part of the collection. ANd we paid money, I thought, to see the real thing! Typical.

Following the Tower, we went to meet a friend of Stephanie, Francesca, who is in the same program. She is from Venice and is very nice. REgrettably, I was not able to practice my Italian with her, but I am so out of practice that I would have just made a fool out of myself. We went out for dinner and I must say that British cuisine is really not all that great! Fish and chips are famous but when you get down to it-it is almost disgusting! But hey, the Brits cannot be good at everything, can they?

We went home where I was still in much need of sleep and failed to get it. The next day was going to be a busy one with trips to Westminster Abbey and the British Museum as well as a boat cruise down the River Thames.

I hope you are all well. More later.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Euro Trip--Day 1

Sorry that this is a little bit late, but please remember that there is a 6 hour time difference and that I was up for nearly 40 hours straight. Today was the first time I had to actually recollect for you what has happened.

On Friday, I woke up around 8:00 am to make sure everything was situated, help my parents with the timers, get any loose ends tied up. We left for KC at 11:00 am and had lunch. We boarded an AirCanada flight for Toronto and left on time at 2:20 pm. We arrived at Toronto, but there was a miscommunication about customs. We were told that all passengers had to go through gate A, which was customs. I got separated from my parents because I had to take care of some other business (if you know what I mean). Anyway, assuming that they were ahead of me, I went through gate A and gave the immigration officer the customs form that I was given on the plane and indicated that I would only be staying in Canada for three hours and that I had nothing to declare. Well, that information proved wrong. I couldn't find my parents anywhere and I was starting to wonder what happend. Finally I heard my mom shouting at me. They both came down and asked me what I was doing. I just told them that I was following instructions. Well, my mom asked (while I wasn't around) and then she found out that we had to go through gate B (the flight attendant got the information wrong). Now we had to go through security again and then make our way back to the main gates. Fortunately, we had a three hour layover and we went through and got something to eat. Airport food is so unreasonably expensive, except I must say that the fries I had were some of the best I ever had.

We then went to our next gate from which we would depart for Heathrow. First, I was called over by the AirCanada people. I didn't know what the problem was except that they needed to see my passport. I thought I was in trouble, but apparently the information didn't transfer so no big deal. We eventually got on the plane. Then we were delayed for an hour and a half. Why? Well, apparently three passengers didn't show up on the plane, so the crew had to go through the cargo area and pull out their luggage (7 checked bags total). Then the 3 passengers showed up and said they wanted to board so the crew stopped checking for the bags. Then about 10 minutes later, the captain announced that those same 7 people were not going to get on the plane after all so the search for the lost baggage continued. They had to bring in a separate crew to find all of them. I couldn't believe the airline would be so accommodating for 3 people at the expense of over 400! I wrote AirCanada a pretty nasty note regarding that. However, in spite of that incident, this was easily one of the best international flights I ever had. Despite being in coach, I was reasonably comfortable, the meals were good (I mean good!) and we had access to so many TV programs, movies, music, etc. I watched two movies (Spiderwick Chronicles--decent; Vantage Point--blah!) and so made fair use of my time. I only managed to maybe get 45 minutes of sleep (I don't sleep well on planes)! We were originally due to land at Heaththrow at approximately 9:00 local time. We didn't get there until 10:15. We also had another 20 minutes added on because of the additional traffic landing at Heathrow at the time.

Then we went through immigration. I went on ahead to get the baggage because my parents were a little slow (my dad has sore knees from surgery last year so it takes him a little time). Well, I got to the immigration office and the guy asked if I was travelling alone to which I answered no. He asked where my travelling companions were and I told him I don't know and then he changed the tone of his voice to become nearly hostile, questioning every little plan I had in Britatin, where I was staying, with whom. It was not pleasant. Finally, he just said that, in the future, British Customs would not be so lenient as he was with me today. Fine, whatever!

We finally met my sister who had been waiting quite awhile due to the delay. My parents caught up and we finally found our bags, then we took the tubes to our hotel. Unfortunately, we couldn't check in (it was 12:00 London time) because our rooms weren't clean yet. Come on. If businesses were this lax in America as far as customer service went, they'd be out of business in no time. We then headed over to my sister's place and met her housemates, Rene and his wife Hazel. both were very pleasant though I didn't know because I had managed to doze off for about 2 hours!

We weren't able to go to the British Museum so we opted instead to see something else. So we went to Regents Park which is an absolutely beautiful place. I got to see people play soccer and cricket (we were definintely in the UK). I still don't get the game of cricket. I must have watched those guys for 20 minutes and I still don't get the game. Still, it was a great place and I wish we had something like that in Omaha. The flowers, the fountains, the landscape--all of it was wonderful almost a botanical garden. We then decided to go back and see my sister's friends, Hazel and Rene and took them out to eat at a Thai place near where they live. I've always wondered if Thai food (or any other ethnic cuisine) would be different in another country. And the answer is--not really.

I was still very tired and I wanted to get home. My parents were brought home by Rene and Hazel and Steph and I took the bus back. London has a great public transportation system and I'm so thankful that Stephanie was there to be our guide. It takes a little time to pick up the schedule of the busses and the tubes. And it really makes you thankful that you didn't rent a car. The people of London not only drive on the wrong side of the road, which are as narrow as can be, but they are crazy about it. They drive like New Yorkers, with one hand on the horn and their foot always on the gas. I know I would have been in an accident in two minutes had we decided to rent a car.

We got back to our hotel room and I was out like a light, but I got up at 4:30 London time and was ready to start the day. For day two, you will read about my trip to Buckinhgam, the changing of the guard, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery and St. Paul's Cathedral. Day 3 will highlight a trip to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, a trip down the Thames River, the British Museum, maybe Hyde Park. I'll try to update this as much and as quickly as I can.

I leave for Germany on Tuesday and that will definitely be the highlight. Keep reading and I will keep posting. Take care and good night (it's almost midnight here!).

Thursday, July 17, 2008


My sister, Stephanie, is studying in London where she is writing her thesis to earn an M.A. in International Business and Marketing. If you have the time to take this survey and help her with her research both she and I would be grateful to you. Thanks for doing this. My sister sends her thanks as well. Here is the link: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.aspx?sm=xptsWpBX26N7dxiOLAB7vw_3d_3d


Hi, everyone. As you may already know, I'm departin for England and Germany tomorrow for a couple of weeks. As you can tell, I'm very excited and looking forward to returning home to my roots (at least on my mom's side). On this blog, I hope to post a journal of my (mis)adventures. I will not be doing so to brag although I may do that just to irritate a few of you, but I won't (yet). So check back every now and then and see what trouble I'm getting into. (I don't plan on causing an international incident but you know how stubborn Germans can be!). Also, if you have any souvenir requests, put them in the comments section. Please, no requests for Mercedes, BMWs or Porsches. You think if I had that money I would blow it on you?! I mean REASONABLE souvenir requests like a flag or a hat or liederhausen. Alcohol, maybe. We'll see. OK, I'll see you in a few weeks. Take care everybody.

Monday, July 14, 2008

More and more scare tactics

I love to get up in the morning and read the paper. I have this thing set up via google where certain articles are dropped in my inbox. One of the things that I want to read about is medical issues. It shouldn't come as a surprise as I spent the first three years of my college career as a double major in biology and chemistry (I have minors in both) and was planning on medical school. Boy, did my life change!

Well, I can't sleep so I went to my inbox and saw this particular headline:

Global warming may increase kidney stones: researchers

Now there are two possible responses I will have when I read something like this. It is laughable or just stupid. In this case, it wins both. OK, I will admit that I am a global warming skeptic. Just because every politician talks about and even some religious leaders do (even his All-Holiness, Patriarch Vartholomaios I of Constantinople has made this an issue hence why he is called the "Green Patriarch'), does not mean that I am going to subscribe to it. And I won't. Further research is clearly needed that man plays any part in the natural warming and cooling trends of this planet.

However, this issue has just been so overyhyped by the media and I am tired of it. In fact, in my first hour class this past year, it was the running joke that Rome fell because of global warming. I still get a chuckle out of that. Now, everything has to be reserached under the hermeneutic of global warming. It causes this; it causes that. Now, I'm being told that global warming is now going to affect my insurance rates because I'm going to need to see a urologist to remove kidney stones.

The researchers' rationale: Temperatures go up because of global warming thus increasing the chances of dehydration. Kidney stones are formed from dissolved minerals and the inability to maintain the equilibrium of the body from normal means of hydration will not suffice.

This is complete bunk. The researchers at the University of Texas have got to be smarter than this. I applied to go to grad school at UT. They didn't provide me any funding though so I blew them off. Maybe I'm glad that I did. Don't get me wrong--UT is a very reputable school. But if these researchers are going off of trends let's educate them with some basic facts.

1) Most Americans are dehydrated. This is a fact. Americans don't drink nearly the amount of water that they need and this trend has only increased over the last 20 years with new soft drinks and such which dehydrate you all the more.

2) Americans have confused hunger pangs for dehydration pangs. We all get that feeling in our stomach which we, most often, thinks that we are hungry. Most of the time it is telling us that we are THIRSTY. But we eat to cure it instead and don't drink water to go with the meal. Are you wondering also why there are so many overweight and obese people in the United States? Maybe global warming causes that, too! We don't drink enough water; that's why Americans are dehydrated. And that does cause kidney stones to form.

Global warming is the buzz word now in almost every aspect of life. We can't drive SUVS. Why? Global warming. We can't have our home temperature at 75 degrees in the summer. Why? GLobal warming. We have to go to the urologist to remove our kidney stones. Why? Global warming. Where will it end? Can it end? Again, we must realize that the whole issue of global warming is not settled science. It has become a dogma, a religious doctrine for many like Algore. And as much as many people are tired of Christians and Muslims threatening hell on those who don't believe the way they do, I'm equally sick and tired of these global warming panderers saying that terrible things will befall me if I don't think the way they do. Convince me; don't try to scare me. I teach kids for a living--that's scary enough!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Then the fight started...

And now for the less serious side of my blog. But first, let me say that ne of my big pet peeves is when I get forwarded messages in my email from friends of mine. Most of them are the kind of lovey-dovey, sappy mesages which are nice, but I really just don't want to read (by the way, I know you mean well, but just don't send it to me, OK?). But, every now and then, I am forwarded something hilarious. Such is what I will share with you today. My sister, Stephanie, who is England right now (Steph, I'll see you in a few days!) sent these to me. I hope you enjoy them.

When I got home last night, my wife demanded that I take her someplaceexpensive....so, I took her to a gas station.....And then the fight started...

After retiring, I went to the Social Security office to apply forSocialSecurity. The woman behind the counter asked me for my driver'slicenseto verify my age. I looked in my pockets and realized I had left mywallet at home.I told the woman that I was very sorry, but I would have to go homeandcome back later.The woman said, 'Unbutton your shirt'.So I opened my shirt revealing my curly silver hair.She said, 'That silver hair on your chest is proof enough for me'and she processed my Social Security application.When I got home, I excitedly told my wife about my experience at theSocial Security office.She said, 'You should have dropped your pants. You might have gottendisability, too'And then the fight started.....

My wife and I were sitting at a table at my high school reunion, and Ikept staring at a drunken lady swigging her drink as she sat alone atanearby table.My wife asked,' Do you know her?''Yes,' I sighed, 'She's my old girlfriend. I understand she took todrinking right after we split up those many years ago, and I hear shehasn't been sober since.''My God!' says my wife, 'Who would think a person could go oncelebrating that long?'And then the fight started...

I rear-ended a car this morning.So, there we were alongside the road ! and slowly the other drivergotoutof his car.You know how sometimes you just get soooo stressed and little thingsjust seem funny?Yeah, well I couldn't believe it.... he was a DWARF!!!He stormed over to my car, looked up at me while I was laughing, andshouted, 'I AM NOTHAPPY!!!'So, I looked down at him and said, 'Well, then which one are you?'And then the fight started.....

I hope you had a good laugh!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Where are the voters?

Hi! You know people I have a poll on the side of the page with an important question. I would very much like to have more than 11 votes which my last poll received. Come on, people. I know that this isn't a vote for president (like that matters!) but this will help to direct future posts. Help me! Please! Don't force me to beg.

A Book Report

I don't think anyone can read too much. I'm fortunate that I finally got around to reading this particular gem, Gore Vidal's Julian. I must confess that I have read nothing by this particular author. I remember once that I saw an interview with him (he's now in his 80s) and my impression that he was a bit odd, though not flamboyantly so like Truman Capote or Tennesse Williams. I learned that he frequently tackled taboo topics and I thought that made him acceptable for literary elites but not for me. I was glad to be proven wrong.
I've always wanted to read this book because my area of study is Late Antiquity, the time period from the death of Commodus in the Roman West in 193 A.D. to the rise of Charlemagne in 780 A.D. My focus has neglected the East during this same period which I am trying to rectify. Julian, called the Apostate, because he had forsaken his Christian upbringning to the gods and religion of Homer and Hellenism. Nevertheless, he was one of the bright stars of this period of twilight for the Roman Empire which would fall in the West some 100 years later but would be maintained in the East until the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Julian was the last pagan emperor of Rome, though he was the nephew of Constantine the Great, the first "Christian" emperor of Rome (there is still debate as to how Christian or whether Constantine was a Christian). He also tried to fight a (losing) battle against the establishment of Christianity as the state religion, trying to reassert the old dormant religion of Hellenism and Homer.
Vidal's portrait of Julian is multi-faceted. Vidal clearly sympathizes with him and his struggles to restore the reason and religion of Hellenism in the face of a Christian empire (Vidal's virulent anti-Christianity is very apparent throughout the book. Some of it is deserved as Christianity was still divided into factions of Arians vs. Orthodox. Encounters with the other faction did often turn violent, unforntately. Many of those responsible were clerics and monks). As much as he admires Julian for his restraint, his reason and even subterfuge to keep himself alive, especially when he was young as most of his relatives had been assassinated by Constantius, the son of Constantine and newly crowned Augustus who fearedrivals, Vidal also adequately portrays Julian as a man who becomes as corrupted by power as his cousin, Constantius, eager to remove plots and ideas that are incompatible or opposed to his own. Julian becomes almost mad with power. Though an unlikely soldier, Julian had managed to win major battles in Gaul which preserved the Western half of the Empire before he was elevated to Augustus. His victories then put him in the perfect position to take on his cousin, Constantius, who was in the East battling the proverbial thorn of Rome, Sapor the Great, Great King of the Parthians. Julian moves against him and becomes Augustus since Constantius dies before battle is met. Julian then becomes exactly like Constantius and moves against Sapor and the Persians, envisioning himself as a reincarnation of Alexander the Great who would finish what the young Macedonian started over 600 years prior to his reign.
The novel is written in the form of a memoir of Julian Augustus while he is on campaign against Sapor. The memoir is now in the hands of Libanius, one of Julian's teachers and one of the world's greatest minds at the time, who desires to publish an entire work dedicated to the late emperor, though his and Julian's paganism is not in favor with the resurrection of Christian emperors, including Theodosius the Great. Libanius acquired the memoir from one of Julian's teachers and friends, Priscus. The memoir is added to by both Libanius and Priscus with their own observations. So, you get three perspectives.
Though this is a historical novel, it should not be regarded as history. There is much that is historically correct in this work and Vidal should be commended for his excellent command of the many sources which detail Julian's reign and the late Roman Empire of the time. But with such a work comes poetic license and I understand that. If you wish to read a more biographical and historical appraisal of Julian and his reign, then I would suggest Dr. G.W. Bowersock's Julian. I have read that in conjunction with Vidal and it provided much insight.
Julian has been demonized by the Christians of his time (notably St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Basil the Great who are characters in the book and were actual acquaintances, if not friends, with Julian) and is still called the apostate by the Christians of this day. The man is sympathetic but he is nowhere near the ideal ruler. Vidal chronicles the many problems which Julian either failed to deal with or ignored while he was on his campagin in the East against the Parthians. Julian is portrayed as the ultimate idealist whose ideals get the better of him, which propels him to megalomania, the price idealism usually carries. Perhaps Julian died a broken-hearted idealist, a description which I often give to myself.
In a world where pragmatism and practicality are elevated to the highest of virtues, where the Machiavellian principle of the end justifies the means, perhaps another Julian is exactly what we need. Our society may return to the status quo afterwards, but there is always some hope to be found in that one, brief, shinging moment. Camelot should not always be unattainable.
Go read this book. It's a fairly long read (500 pages) and it doesn't go that quickly especially if you are not as acquainted with Roman history. It has a rich cast of characters. I plan to read more of Vidal and I would definitely count this man to be one of America's great authors of all time, up there easily with Twain, Hawthorne, Steinbeck and Poe.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Things I want to do before I die

I think most people come up with a list like this, perhaps not consciously. But I've been thinking about this for a long time. For those of you who know me, you know that I do have a morbid side to my personality. Death makes me very contemplative, even if the person who has died has no real relationship to me. It just reminds me of the Medieval saying which can be found in inscriptions on tombs or in the churches, "Memento mori" meaning "Remember you will die." In fact, if you go to most of the great cathedrals in Western Europe, looking down at the floor you will see a skull looking back at you as if saying "memento mori." Even the triumphators of ancient Rome, parading themselves and their conquered spoils from foreign wars would always be accompanied by a slave holding a laurel wreath (the sign of Victory) over the conqueror's head and always whispered in his ear, "Memento, mortalis es" meaning "Remember, you're just a man." So when I contemplate my existence and the fact that I am dust (Memento quia pulvis est et in pulverem reverteris--remember man, thou art dust and unto dust shalt thou return), I have come up with a few things I wish to do that will make me immortal, if only for a limited time. Gene Hackman's character in Hoosiers was right when he said that most people would kill to be a god, if only for five minutes. So, sparing you any more delay, here are the things I want to do before I die.

1) Go skydiving solo

2) Go cliffjumping

3) Go to the running of the bulls in Pampalona

4) Play Madison Square Garden

5) Drive my car down a busy and twisty freeway at at least 120 mph

6) Visit and perhaps live on Mt. Athos for a time

7) Climb the stairs of the via dolorosa on my knees (there's only like 500 of those stairs)

8) Run a marathon

9) Compose a requiem mass for myself

10) Go dogsledding in the arctic
This is by no means a prioritized list or even comprehensive. There are, I'm sure other things I'll add as time goes on, but right now this will suffice.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Poll Results

OK, my first poll has just closed. The question was: What grinds your gears more? Although I had only 11 votes (I really would have liked more), the clear winner was:

Drivers who drive at least 5mph under the speed limit in the passing lanes!

Thanks to all who voted. My personal preference was kids who scream in the theatres and their parents do absolutely nothing to stop them. Anyway, be sure to vote in my next poll which will tally which ancient civilization was better.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Great Doxology in Plagal of Tone 2 (in English)

This hymn is sung at the end of Matins (Orthros) prior to the start of the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and Feast Days when there is a vigil. The western churches have a similar and more condensed version of this hymn.

This is in Plagal of Tone 2 (also called Tone 6) and is the most middle eastern sounding of all of the tones in Byzantine chant. It is one of the most fun, most difficult and most foreign sounding especially to western ears. Enjoy.

By the way, the picture in the corner is that of my godfather, Fr. Aaron (David) Warwick, a priest of the Holy Orthodox Church serving the Liturgy on the day he was ordained. Standing beside him is our master, Bishop BASIL and to the right is my confessor, Fr. Don (Nektarios) Hock. Evlogison, pater!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Rulers vs. Leaders

One of the things that inspired the American Revolution was the idea that men were not created to be ruled over by other men by some "appointed" God-given right. Even the English had some sense of that although its full realization did not occur in the United Kingdom until later. In this country, the establishment of the Republic was to guarantee leaders, that is men and women who could inspire (key word) others to go in a direction for the benefit of the country. They were not in office to tell their lowly minions and servants what to do and how to do it. How far we have come.
Our current president and our two candidates for President envisage themselves not as leaders (though they will not acutally say such) but as rulers. None of them (not even Barack) have the charisma or inspiration or speaking ability of a JFK, an FDR or a Ronald Reagan. They treat the people of this country as stupid (and many, if not, most are), but that in of itself does not entitle the President to become a transcendent entity with a sacred ordination which gives supreme authority over everyone else to correct their supposed stupidity. Such is antithetical to the nature of the Republic which was founded upon the principle of "all men are created equal." (Yes, I know that's from the Declaration of Independence and not the Constitution, but the same idea is present in both documents so don't bother trying to correct me on a petty nuance which I thought of way in advance of you, genius.)
We have Barack telling us how to live, what kind of car to drive, how low or high we can keep our thermostats. John McCain may not be saying exactly the same thing in so many words, but his agenda is filled with just as many freedom-restricting items.
So our choices: ruler 1 vs. ruler 2. And I guess we have to vote for one; it's a two-party system. Such makes a great case for an actual third party. As for me, I'm voting Libertarian, the bastion of lost causes.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Great Denial

I saw Hancock today. It was an entertaining movie, but nothing you should necessarily jump out of your seat and rush to the movie theater for. There are others that you should go see intead like...well, maybe not. There will be no spoilers here so reading this won't ruin your fun if you choose to see it.
John Hancock is a man with extraordinary powers who is out for his own good. So much for the magnanimous superhero that we are so used to seeing in comic books, movies and on TV. He only is motivated to do good as long as the doing is on his terms with no care given to collateral damage. He causes millions of dollars in damage to stop a couple of criminals who have done wrong, in his eyes, by calling him names never mind the fact that they are jeopardizing lives by shooting at cars on the California highways.
Hancock is a reluctant superhero. He wants to deny what he has and who he is and that's why he is so prone to drinking even while he is "saving the day." It's an interesting premise, but one which the movie fails to really exploit to a logical conclusion. But I wonder, what would happen if other great ones would deny the use of their power?
In Dante's Inferno, we meet Celestine V, who was elected Pope, but decided that he would rather be a monk and a hermit so he denied his election and went into the wilderness. In the meantime, the papacy came under the control of a French cardinal who moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon, France where it remained for 70 years. This is called the Babylonian Captivity of the Roman Church. For his denial, Celestine is neither in Hell nor out of it. He walks with the 1/3 of the angels who declared for neither God nor Lucifer. He is a pariah.
What if Christ had denied taking up the cross and running away when the guards came to take him at Gethsemane? This was explored in the movie, The Last Temptation of Christ. In this movie, Christ is allowed to come down from the cross by Satan where he ends up living a "normal" life with marriage and kids. However, it is only a dream and Christ ends up back on the cross to fulfill what he was sent to do.
You can apply this to all the great heroes of mythology, ancient and modern. What if they had denied their powers, their gifts to the rest of the world? I think it is safe to say that the world would only be a bad place, not a super screwed up place. But just because we have such gifts and talents, are we required to use them and, what's more, are we required to use them for the greater good?
Christian thought would say unequivocally yes, invoking as its guide the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30). Talents are given by God and thus are meant to be multiplied and the return given back to the master. Nothing there about greater good, but you can infer that from other parts of the Gospel.
But why not simply let the talents remain idle especially if all it causes us is self-sacrifice and pain and even loneliness? Such was the case with Superman and that is why he became mortal, but look at what happened during his absence?
Too many of us want to be anonymous. The rest want their 15 minutes of fame to show how they can belch the national anthem or do some other crazy and inherently worthless feat. Has our society devolved to such a point that great talent must be shelved away and mediocrity favored? Are we so loathe not to stand out with what makes us special? Unfortunately, yes.
Ours is an interesting society--we want people to use their talents especially in the sports industry but in other fields, we denounce so-called "experts" because why should their opinion be greater than ours? No wonder why we fear intellectualism in this country!
The premise of Hancock is not so strange then because we are doing this each and every day. We are denying what we have been given to use because we don't want to risk standing out and being perceived as different or even dangerous unless it's for reasons that can get us a lot of laughs at the expense of our own self-respect. Too many of us want to avoid responsibility so we deny what we are given so someone else can do it. If we do decide to take up the task what is in front of us, then we do it for our own gain and we insist we do it our way. Hancock is not a movie about a superhero. It's a movie about each of us. It is the same with the Greco-Roman heroes of mythology. The stories aren't so much about Achilles or Ajax or Oedipus or Antigone or Electra or Hector, but about each and every one of us.
I don't know if the world will be a better place if we continued to deny ourselves (and I'm not talking in the Christ-like way here, mind you), but it would at least be a lot more interesting not so full of daily tedium

Don't celebrate the fourth of July

You read it right. There is to be no celebration of the fourth this year. That means no barbecues, no fireworks, no get togethers, no beer, no alcohol, no taking off work (get back there if you're off) and certainly absolutely no reenactments of moments like in the picture you see. America, today, is so fraught with sin and decay that to celebrate the fourth is tantamount to the ultimate hypocrisy! Such, however, is not my opinion. But Chris Satullo, of the Philadelphia Inquirer believes this very premise. You can read the article here. http//www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/20080701_Chris_Satullo__A_not-so-glorious_Fourth.html
Mr. Satullo is so disgusted by this country's foreign policies, particularly with regards to the war on terror, that he will not celebrate the fourth this year and neither should you. He says that the founding fathers, essentially, would be rolling over in their graves if they were here. Such behavior, he argues, is not consistent with the principles of the Republic, but with the tyrants of Europe from whom we broke away. He puts the ultimate blame on the regular citizen saying we are too wrapped up in American Idol and soccer practice for our kids that we dare not or just simply don't speak out against what is wrong.
I believe that Mr. Satullo does have a point about complacency and apathy in this country especially when it comes to politics. But he overlooks the fact, yes, the fact, that we can spend so much time dealing with our kids, soccer practice, our credit card debts and even American Idol because we have the freedom to do so. This is not a totolitarian regime. Does that mean we should ignore the excesses and questionable acts of our government? No, we shouldn't. In fact, some would argue that the freedeom we have to enjoy the above things is only given to allow for a slower and more unnoticed transition to totalitarianism, which, I believe can come.
But Mr. Satullo commits the cardinal fallacy in his whole argument. He is equating our country with its current leader(s). Our leaders come and go. In fact, to borrow from Robert Wuhl, horrible presidents are as American as apple pie. We've had so many bad presidents! And you know what? We'll get through it. History has yet to make its final judgment on this current time and who knows what it will be?
Perfection is hard. Just ask me and I'm a perfectionist! The Constitution (which I know was not signed on this day, but in 1789) says in its preamble "...in order to form a more perfect union... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." First of all, never mind that more perfect is a non sequitur. You're either perfect or you're not. I fail to see how one person is more perfect or less perfect than another. But even the Founding Fathers, whom Mr. Satullo invokes as his patron saints of decency, even knew and understood that this country was going to be subject to the passions of man. That's why they went out of their way to establish checks and balances, which, unfortunately, have been blurred and skewed at this point (that's another post for another day).
I'm not trying to dismiss atrocities against anyone. The war on terror has certainly caused many arguments and discussions as to what is right and wrong in wartime and peacetime. But, we endured four years of bloody civil war and the fourth was still celebrated (both in the North and the South!). John Adams passed the sedition acts to jail people who spoke up against his presidency and we still celebrated the fourth. We celebratd the fourth even while FDR locked up men and women and children of Japanese descent. We celebrated in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. In other words, this country has always been and always will be (God willing) more than its current administration.
I suspect that Mr. Satullo's angst is not so much about what is right and wrong, but more due to his absolute vitriolic hatred of the president. You can disagree with the president, call him wrong, call him a bad president, even a horrible president, but, many members of the traditional media are so blinded by their bloodlust against him. Why? Probably because it shows that their influence is dwindling and they failed to deliver the presidency to Al Gore in 2000 and to John Kerry in 2004. I think it's a self-hatred that they then pass on to someone else. I believe the psychological term is transference (Katie correct me on that one, please).
So this year, celebrate the fourth and do take some time to realize that the dream of "more perfect" has yet to be realized, but it still can!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bugs Bunny and Opera

This is, without doubt, one of the funniest cartoons I have ever seen. Not only does it pay homage to the great opera composer, Rossini, but also to one of the finest conductors of all time. If anyone can name who Bugs is impersonating, I'll give you a prize of some kind. Lee, I know you know the answer so you're automatically disqualified. So sue me or something. :)

By the way, you have to remember that the man who is singing actually has to hold out that particular note for that long of time. This was before the time of feedback loops and such. I doubt if such could be reduplicated today.

We all know that this is funny, but if this were created today, would people be able to understand it? Would people just assume opera is silly because of ridiculous stereotypes? Just the other day, I saw a TV ad for a lawyer who will change your annuity settlement to one lump sum payment. And he uses opera to convey that message? Is it effective? Or will people only pay attention because it is different? Is opera a truly lost art form that has no appeal except for some comic factor? Two months ago, I went to see Aida which is a masterpiece, written by Giuseepe Verdi. I doubt the Orpheum Theater was filled to half capacity. How sad.

Aside from that depressing note, have fun with this and prepare to laugh!

The Polyeleos in plagal of first tone

This is a recording of Psalm 135 (136) called the polyeleos (much mercy) because the refrain is "for his mercy endureth forever". It is chanted as the third kathisma of the psalter at Orthros (Matins) on Sundays in Lent and on major feast days that are third class or higher. The language is (koine) Greek. The images in the background are various icons from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. This is an example of Byzantine chant, which is the traditional music of the Byzantine (Eastern) Rites. It is used by the Greeks and the Arabs. The Slavs developed their own tradition. It does sound foreign to western music, but that is one of the reasons why it is so great!


We all know that the traditional media, mainly newspapers and the three big TV stations (ABC, CBS, NBC) have been diminishing in their influence on the typical American. With the rise of cable news shows which run 24 hours, the internet and blogging, these former powerhouses which monopolized (that is the correct word, right? No competition) the industry are now withering away because of the intense competition. Since they can't compete, what do they resort to? Polls. DAy after day, it's poll after poll. These polls are absolutely worthless. All they serve to do is to CREATE news, not REPORT news. Big difference. When you can't win by honesty, win by subterfuge and deception.
Consider this recent poll that came out from the AP:

Poll: Obama beats McCain as barbecue guest
WASHINGTON (AP) — People would rather barbecue burgers with Barack Obama than with John McCain.
While many are still deciding who should be president, by 52 percent to 45 percent they would prefer having Obama than McCain to their summer cookout, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll released Wednesday.
Men are about evenly divided between the two while women prefer Obama by 11 percentage points. Whites prefer McCain, minorities Obama. And Obama is a more popular guest with younger voters while McCain does best with the oldest.
Having Obama to a barbecue would be like a relaxed family gathering, while inviting McCain "would be more like a retirement party than something fun," said Wesley Welbourne, 38, a systems engineer from Washington, D.C.
Party label means a lot, with three-quarters of Democrats picking the Democrat Obama and the same number of Republicans picking McCain, a Republican. Independents are about evenly split.
"John and I would probably have a lot to talk about," said Republican Michael Mullen, 53, of Merrimac, Mass., like McCain a Navy veteran.
One in six people saying they'd vote for McCain prefer Obama as their barbecue guest; just one in 20 Obama backers would invite McCain.
The AP-Yahoo News survey of 1,759 adults was conducted online by Knowledge Networks from June 13-23 and had an overall margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. The margin of sampling error for subgroups was larger.
On the Net:
Polling site:

Come on! Rather than try to report on the issues which should help people decide whom to vote for, the media comes out with ridiculous polls which have no bearing whatsoever on the election. Then again, considering how inept and how uninformed most Americans are with regards to the government and Constitution of this country, maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Other polls try to decide who is more qualified based on the likability of the presidential nominees' spouses!
Everything now is a popularity contest and it has filtered into everything. What's a jury? A group of 12 who decide who has the better lawyer! Popularity--it's running and ruining everything. Maybe we should call the election today based on one random poll.

If I may suggest another poll for the election: Which candidate would you prefer to judge Miss America. And then call the election on that!

The overall point is that the traditional media is upset (vehemently upset) that they are no longer the ones to name the heir apparent to the throne of the presidency. Their influence has waned considerably. Earlier this week, there are so many newspaper outlets which are cutting jobs and slashing salaries because they can no longer sustain profitability (which is a mark of hypocrisy to be dealt with later). They are so desperate to regain influence over the voters that they have resorted to invent news, invent opinions and invent outcomes. I know the founding fathers were very concerned with the freedom of the press, but I doubt that this is what they had in mind.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


OK, at the insistence of a friend of mine (she knows who she is) I have decided to start my own blogsphere. Why? Nothing what you will read here will necessarily be revolutionary, inspiring, elating, depressing, etc. What you will read here are random musings and thoughts of someone who spends his days and his nights in almost perpetual thought. And let me tell you something--it hurts! If you're one of those people who gets headaches because you spend more than five hours reading a book or balancing your checkbook, then you know where I'm coming from.

I would like to presume that I think with a purpose, but let's be honest: Not everything has to have purpose or practical application. Education, by its very derivation from the Latin verb educere, which means "to draw or lead out [of oneself]" indicates that we are drawing from within ourselves a spark of the divine. Does that mean we do such to become like God? Not exclusively, but it can. However you may regard education, knowledge, wisdom (all of which may be presented here or may not) what you will read here, I hope, will at least stimulate conversation from the mundane and ephemeral to the celestial and empyrean.

Topics on this blog will range from diverse fields. You will see postings on art, music, sports, movies, TV, history, politics, religion, philosophy, life in general. Feel free to comment on what you like (please be civil and limit your profanities if you ardently disagree) and I hope to have some good conversations as a result.