Take Care of the Animals!

“Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals ‘love’ them.
But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.”
– Edwin Way Teale

I read this week that TripAdvisor will no longer sell tickets to many animal attractions. The top internet travel review site consulted with animal welfare groups over a six month period and decided not to implicitly endorse attractions “where travelers come into contact with wild animals or endangered species held in captivity.” The attractions include swimming-with-dolphin experiences, elephant rides and petting of endangered species like tigers.

TripAdvisor also will create an educational site to inform users of animal welfare issues, and encourage reviewers to include animal welfare concerns in their reviews.

Hopefully these actions will enable travelers to make better informed decisions about their choices – and in the long run – increase pressure on operators to treat animals more humanely. Not all human-animal interaction offerings will be dropped; many which include educational benefits and carefully controlled interactions will still be included on TripAdvisor’s site.

Wildebeest and zebra crossing the River Mara photo by Roman Murushkin

Seeing the migration of wildebeest and zebra crossing the River Mara is an experience of a lifetime.
Dreamstime | photo by Roman Murushkin

Many typical human-animal interactions can be retro-fitted with great benefit. One example of the shift from abuse to nurture and education came in Southeast Asia where elephant rides are widely available. Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park offers a different experience where visitors can help to feed and bathe rescued elephants and other animals.

What can the curious traveler do to know the better operators from the abusive ones? Remember that each operator is in business to make money. This offers the temptation to cut operating expenses (food, space, water, personnel training, scheduling) to a minimum. Making a barely living wage is not much incentive for trainers who must then push the animals to do more and more.

One piece of advice for the thoughtful traveler is “if it smells bad – literally – it probably is bad” for the animals. But booking attractions ahead of time does not allow the sniff test. Internet reviews (such as will become available on TripAdvisor in the coming year) can help travelers evaluate whether they want to support an operator with their attendance.

Wildlife tourism can be an immensely rewarding endeavor, putting people in touch with facets of the world which they never would have imagined.

Reputable operators such as those affiliated with Virtuoso take great care to provide ethical experiences which preserve and support the animal population and their environment.

Some governments (most notably Ecuador) have been quite pro-active developing regulations for how people can be allowed to interact with wildlife.  But many governments, preoccupied with more pressing concerns, have not worked to protect wild or semi-domesticated animals. We cannot assume that “surely someone is on top of this” when we see questionable treatment of animals. (Even in the US – see the movie “Blackfish” if you have doubts.)

The responsibility remains for consumers to keep questions of ethical treatment of animals, workers, and the environment in mind as they make their choices. TripAdvisor is taking a step in the right direction. I will be happy to help you plan for your experience in the wild, too!

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

13 October 2016

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Right Place at the Right Time

“Luck is being in the right place at the right time, but location and timing are to some extent under our control.”
–Natasha Josefowitz

There is no substitute for being in the right place at the right time. Going skiing in “mud season” just doesn’t work, even though there is plenty of room on the slopes and the rates are low. The cherry blossoms are not evident around the Tidal Pool in Washington in August and the heat and humidity will wilt any casual visitor. But visit these places at the right time and you will go home with iconic memories.

Where would you like to be, and when? If there is a best time to visit, you will be wise to plan ahead as that is likely to be a popular time. (See last week’s blog about planning things in the most effective order.)

Have you thought ahead to the seasonally special places you might want to visit in the coming year? Let’s consider the seasons in turn and expand the horizons of the possible!

Autumn – We know the special pleasures of autumn in New England. Have you considered starting your fall earlier, going further up the coast (‘down east’) or to the Maritimes to see an extended display of foliage? If you want to go further afield, try Bavaria. Neuschwanstein and Oktoberfest (which happens in September) are unforgettable. (Be prepared for crowds in Munich – but that’s the point.)

Winter – Do you seek warmth or a better cold? Skiing in Colorado or British Columbia gives you your own patch of perfect powder, with plenty of creature comforts après ski. If you seek deep warmth in sun and sand, there are plenty of Caribbean islands to visit. Or you could venture to Tahiti for a different culture experience.

What better place than Tahiti to get the chill out of your bones?

What better place than Tahiti to get the chill out of your bones?

Spring – Washington DC and Virginia have blossoms and full-blown gardens weeks earlier than we have in the north. But for a maximum treat, visit the Netherlands to see where these blossoms are developed and cultivated.

Imagine the extravagance of this display at Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands. © Phbcz | Dreamstime.com

Imagine the extravagance of this display at Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands.
© Phbcz | Dreamstime.com

Summer – This is the perfect time for a road trip visiting national parks, especially in the west. 2016 has been a centennial year for the park system but you will be entirely welcome in the 101st year too! The solar eclipse will pass near some great parks and landscapes this summer. Seeing that would add an unforgettable centerpiece to the typical tour of Big Sky country. If you want to go farther from home and have a smaller scale experience, you could go rambling in the British Isles. Villages, sheep, hills and valleys will lure you onward at a very manageable pace.

Consider “doing it right” this year even if you usually skip the obvious choices. The obvious choices are obvious for good reasons. Try them out to understand what all the excitement is about!

The fresh air of England's Lake District will make a poet of anyone.

The fresh air of England’s Lake District will make a poet of anyone.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

6 October 2016

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Put the Big Rocks in First

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule,
but to schedule your priorities.
–Stephen Covey

Sometimes planning a trip can be quite a feat of juggling. Do we plan the flights first? Or book the resorts and activities and then look for flights? On some trips it seems you have to do everything first, but there are ways around that. In deciding how to arrange you travel plans, I rely on a maxim popularized by Stephen Covey: put the big rocks in first.

Imagine that you have a quart jar and a collection of sand, pebbles, and fist sized rocks. All of these will fit inside the jar, and doing that is your task. If you put the sand in the bottom, then the pebbles, you will probably have big rocks sticking out the top of the jar. But if you put the big rocks in first, surrounding them with pebbles, the sand will fill in the smallest gaps and everything will fit. (You could even pour in a few cups of water to make the jar truly full.) What looked impossible can be done, with room to spare. This is true of organizational and life goals as well, but I just want to look at travel planning today.

Put the big rocks in first then the rest is easier.

Putting the big rocks in first makes the rest easier.

What is the centerpiece of your trip? If you are going to see the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, or view the solar eclipse next August in Wyoming, that event is THE biggest “rock.” You need to enter it on your calendar in INK. Everything else has to fit around that. Once that is in place you can plan your accommodations, arrival and departure, and other activities you want to enjoy while you are in the area.

But perhaps your intent is to visit longtime friends who have no restrictions on their calendar. They want you to stay an indefinite amount of time, whatever works. But you want to take this opportunity to use up all those frequent flyer miles you have been accumulating for some grand excursion. The frequent flyer tickets will probably be your biggest “rock” as you compare space available to and from various airports for the optimum price and dates. Once that is scouted out, you can compare calendars with your friends and then purchase those tickets.

Once in a while it seems that you only have big rocks, no pebbles or sand. The flight availability is restricted, forcing choices between various inconvenient times and high prices. The ski slopes and beach resorts are almost completely booked for holiday stays, and your family all have slightly different schedules. At times like this we wish for elastic jars, magic, and miracles – or we make compromises. The best cure for this situation is to prevent it by starting your plans early. But that does not help much if you have begun late.

Sorting priorities is vital to good trip planning. Knowing which parts of the plan can be flexible and which are fixed helps to make the path clear. I will be happy to help you sort out where the wiggle room is in your planning. Call me!

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

29 September 2016

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Think Beyond Price

The best surprise is no surprise.
–Kemmons Wilson,
founder of Holiday Inn

Many factors go into the selection of the perfect hotel for each vacation. Most people start with the price point they feel comfortable with; what is the best room that can be had for that price? Others start with a hotel name they have heard about then ask what the optimum price might be for a room at that hotel. Paying $95 a night for a broom closet (complete with smelly mops) is not a bargain, even at the Ritz! There is much more to think about than price.

Many hotels offer "just like home" comfort.

Many hotels offer “just like home” comfort.

First, do you want to repeat a predictable experience you have had before? Macon Leary, the change-phobic protagonist of The Accidental Tourist, preferred places which were so much like home he would never feel displaced. Most of us are not THAT set in our ways, but there is a time and place for having a room with no surprises – pleasant or unpleasant. If you are feeling like having a room which is the equivalent of nursery food (I don’t mean that as a put-down) then chain hotels are for you. If you travel a lot for business and can join that hotel’s benefits program, so much the better.

On the other hand, if you are traveling to have a new experience, seeking out unique hotels will pay off nicely. Independent hotels are much more likely to give you a better sense of the place you are visiting. They offer unique architecture and a local atmosphere which the cookie cutter hotels cannot. Often these hotels are older and can reward you with the best beach (because they were there first) or the prime location in the historic city center.

Many analysts might try to tell you which hotels are “the best.” I consult TripAdvisor.com occasionally and find their ranking system unique. Apparently they rank hotels in a city according to customer satisfaction. Sometimes the satisfaction rate for the folks who stayed at the Golden Canary Motel ($75 a night, 6 rooms, no air conditioning) is as high as for the people who lounged in the Posh Palace ($600 a night, 350 rooms, air conditioning and waterslides). Does that mean the two hotels are equal, or that you will have the same experience in both? No. More likely it means that these people all chose the hotel which offered what they wanted, and they were happy with their choice. It is important to read the comments about why each place enjoys those ratings.

Let me know if you would like a copy of the directory for yourself.

Let me know if you would like a paper copy of the directory for yourself.

Who says a hotel is “the best”? Virtuoso (the consortium I work with) publishes a catalog of their hotel collection, encouragingly titled “Best of the Best.” All hotels in the collection are excellent (and customers who book these hotels through me receive additional complimentary amenities!)  But we should not expect that the title means “all the world’s hotels were independently juried for excellence and these are the winners.” There are other excellent hotels which are not members of Virtuoso.

Sometimes you can find a unique hotel which has affiliated itself with a major chain. Hilton now has their Waldorf Astoria Collection (including my favorite, the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix). Marriott has the Autograph Collection, and Starwood has the Luxury Collection. These affiliations give you points, benefits, and the reliability of your preferred chain connection at a unique, often famous property.

The important thing in each hotel decision is to sort out which kind of hotel you are looking for in your travels. It might vary from trip to trip, or even within the same trip.  Think seriously about what you are looking for in your accommodation. I will be happy to help you sort out how it should accommodate YOU.

The Arizona Biltmore, from Frank Lloyd Wright's design team, is now affiliated with Hilton.

The Arizona Biltmore, from Frank Lloyd Wright’s design team, is now affiliated with Hilton.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

15 September 2016

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Evensong at St. Martin in the Fields

Corporate worship is a regular gracious reminder
that it’s not about you.
– Paul David Tripp

Every once in a while it is really enlightening to vary your spiritual practices. Stretching your usual habits to add new experiences lets in new light. This can give you insights to perspectives which familiarity and comfort have perhaps screened from your realization. That was my experience when we attended evensong at St. Martin in the Fields church in Trafalgar Square near the end of our latest London visit.

Evensong at five o’clock on Sunday afternoon is not a service which my husband and I know. I doubt it is used much in the US. There was plenty of music — singing of hymns for all and chanting of psalms by the choir. The rector read two passages of scripture (Old Testament and Epistle) but no Gospel (which is the centerpiece of Sunday morning worship). There were unison prayers and parish notices. It seemed to me to be a perfect service for people who want a little church, plenty of good music, and not too much heavy thinking.

I went to the service expecting excellent music; only later did I realize that the recordings I hear on classical radio are recorded at the Academy of St. Martin of the Fields. The chamber orchestra first performed at their “namesake church” which we were sitting in, but is not part of the church. (Still, I am proof that the name association provides some credit to the church.)

We arrived early enough to hear the choir practicing. The choir director was already in his close-fitting red robe. The singers were in comfortable weekend attire, polo shirts and tank tops, looking like everyday folks.  A few minutes before the service they left their seats and went to robe up. At the start of the service they processed in, transformed from casual to angelic in red robes with amazing collars. In both costumes they sounded very good. (My video below does not do justice to their sound.) The hard surface church furnishings helped to optimize the acoustics.

East window at St. Martin in the Fields, by My Modern Met

East window at St. Martin in the Fields, by My Modern Met

The main east window of the church behind the choir let in lots of light through its almost colorless panes. This is a replacement for the window which was destroyed by a bomb blast in World War II. It is a striking contrast to the design and age of the rest of the church. What do you see in the design? I see a crucified Christ. My husband, the physicist, saw an egg in a wind tunnel. Modern art can be great that way! You can read more about the design and see more pictures here.

The entire experience was borne aloft by a wonderful organ, played beautifully. Altogether it was an uplifting experience, different in many ways from our usual venue, making notable impressions with its surprises.

The organ at St. Martin in the Fields Photo by J Emmons

The organ at St. Martin in the Fields Photo by J Emmons

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

8 September 2016

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In Search of Potato Peel Pie

“We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.”
— Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and
Potato Peel Pie Society

Guernsey coverEverything most people know about the British Channel Island of Guernsey is what they learned by reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Like many others I was enchanted by the book and I was happy to flesh out my knowledge of the island when our recent cruise stopped there.

For the uninitiated, the book tells the story of a group of islanders who experienced the German occupation of Guernsey in World War II. (The Channel Islands, just a few miles off the coast of France, were the only part of Britain to be occupied by Germany.) Guernsey was “very heavily fortified [by Germany] during World War II out of all proportion to the island’s strategic value” (Wikipedia) and many fortifications of that period remain. “Potato Peel Pie” is historical fiction, and provides a warmly personalized account of the years of hardship, a tale which might be grim as straight history.

Touring an island to see the sites important to a fictional story required careful phrasing on descriptions of some places. Well-known places like the Little Chapel and St. Peter Port are well known and require no verification. But for characters who didn’t really live here we were shown examples of what they might have inhabited. We saw a lovely and comfortable house typical of the one Amelia Maugery might have had — where the group enjoyed the contraband roast pig dinner which kept them out past curfew, thus requiring the on-the-spot invention of the “literary society.”

This cozy home was the sort of home where the Literary Society began. Photo by J. Emmons

This cozy home was the sort of home where the Literary Society began. Photo by J. Emmons

Right across the lane was the home of Dawsey Adams, the pig farmer, who was called in to butcher the beast which fell outside the German livestock census.  The farm home and barn presented as Dawsey’s home was a far cry from the 2 or 3 story Midwestern style white or red clapboard barn I had imagined!

"Dawsey's" farm, very unlike American farms, was being refurbished when we walked by. Photo by J. Emmons

“Dawsey’s” farm, very unlike American farms, was being refurbished when we walked by. Photo by J. Emmons

Most of the children and many adults were evacuated from Guernsey in anticipation of the German invasion. Our tour guide passed around the German-issued identity card used by one of her husband’s relatives during the occupation.  Aunt Amy had stayed on as resident housekeeper for her father and brother who opted to stay on the island, and carried the card at all times as required.

A Nazi-issued identification card from the years of occupation. Photo by J. Emmons

A Nazi-issued identification card from the years of occupation. Photo by J. Emmons

During the occupation residents were not allowed to use any motorized vehicles. They could get around by bicycle, horse-drawn cart or on foot. Guernsey is only 25 square miles, but ‘going into town’ could be much more of an outing than I had imagined while reading the book. Our guide reported that people outside the city centers had a slightly easier – and less hungry – life during the occupation as they could keep chickens or grow gardens. And yet, especially toward the end of the war, everyone was very hungry, both occupiers and occupied, and these meager sources were subject to raids and theft.

This post-war bus took us around the island. The driver said it runs well but his greatest challenge is getting parts. Photo by J. Emmons

This post-war bus took us around the island. The driver said it runs well but his greatest challenge is getting parts. Photo by J. Emmons

A movie version based on the book has been in the works for several years with many changes in director and cast. Along the way Kenneth Branagh, Kate Winslet (Titanic), and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) have been part of the plans but none of those are mentioned now. Stay tuned.

I always enjoy visiting places I have read about, trying to fit my imagined people into the streets, houses, and fields I see. Guernsey looked as attractive to me as it did to Juliet Ashton from London. I recommend a visit or at least a reading of the book to appreciate this little corner of Britain yourself.

Finally, for those who are interested, here is a recipe for Potato Peel Pie, from a postcard I purchased in St. Peter Port.

Potato Peel Pie

1 lb. potatoes
1 onion
½ cup of milk
2 Tbsp. breadcrumbs
¼ oz. butter
1 little flour
Salt and pepper
Peel the potatoes thinly, retaining the peel, and slice them. Place a layer of potatoes in a pie dish followed by a layer of thinly sliced onions and repeat until pit dish is full. Mix together the peel, flour and seasoning and sprinkle on top of the mixture. Pour over the mile and finish with the breadcrumbs. Dot the butter over the surface and back in a moderate oven* for about 2 hours.
* 350 degrees
from A Flavour of Guernsey by Alpha Wearing

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

1 September 2016

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Self-taught Scholar Who Changed the World

Math is hard. Life is hard. Get over it.
– a favorite tee shirt

I follow mathematical principles pretty well for a non-math major, and particularly enjoyed one undergraduate class titled “Physics for Poets.” But I cannot imagine how someone could come up with a new way of understanding and explaining mathematical and logical principles. But George Boole did just that, creating a new scheme which paved the way for an entirely new system of thinking.

A bust of George Boole at University College Cork Photo by J. Emmons

A bust of George Boole at University College Cork Photo by J. Emmons

A shore excursion on our recent cruise took us to University College Cork in Ireland. In the 1800s this was Queen’s College, and George Boole was the first professor of mathematics there. In 1854 Boole published The Laws of Thought and secured his place among the foremost mathematicians, philosophers and logicians of the century. The Boolean algebra incorporated in this treatise is credited as laying the foundations for the information age. Without Boole we would not have easily understood the fundamental importance of electronic switches and the world of ones and zeros governing everything that any computer does. I wonder if Boole had any idea what could grow from this new formulation!

Boole was born in Lincoln, England, the son of a shoemaker. He had a primary school education but very little academic training after that. A local bookseller may have helped him learn Latin but he taught himself modern languages. At sixteen he became the family breadwinner and became a teacher. He picked up additional mathematics books including a calculus text. “Without a teacher, it took him many years to master calculus.” (Wikipedia) Boole taught at a variety of schools and made contacts with mathematicians as he studied further on his own.

At the age of 34 he went to Ireland to become the first professor of mathematics at Queen’s College (Cork) and continued his studies and writings. In addition to his work in math and logic, he invested his interest in a variety of humanitarian causes, including early closings and measures to reduce prostitution. . He died of a fever at 49, leaving a wife and five daughters.

The university commemorates his importance to mathematics and the digital age which has followed.

A green in the older section of UCC, formerly Queen's College in Cork Photo by Je. Emmons

A green in the older section of UCC, formerly Queen’s College in Cork   Photo by J. Emmons

One thing which struck me repeatedly as we toured Ireland, however, was the frequent mention of restrictions on the Irish educational opportunities and religious practices during England’s domination. Irish Catholics were not admitted to universities there, and catholic churches could not be located on main streets. Such a flexing of colonial muscle surely reinforced bad feelings on the Irish side at least, and shored up the attitude of superiority of the privileged Anglo-Irish. I had thought that perhaps Boole managed to beat the system of Irish suppression – but he was English. However he did beat the English class system for succeeding without having an Oxford or Cambridge education.

How much Irish brain power or poetic wisdom was torched or left to die unheeded in those decades? 2016 is the centennial of the 1916 Easter uprising which began the successful battle for Irish independence. You don’t need to dig very deep to uncover residual hard feelings on the Emerald Isle.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

18 August 2016

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The ‘Three Weird Sisters’ of Macbeth – Temptation, Ambition, and Guilt

“And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles, to betray us
In deepest consequence.”
— Banquo,
Macbeth, I,3

“Wow” is not all I have to say about the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Macbeth, but it is a start! Two years ago we were wowed by King Lear in this theater. In July we were back to see “the Scottish play,” and loved it!

This was my view from the top balcony. Afternoon sun was hard on people directly across for a short time.

This was my view from the top balcony. Afternoon sun was hard on people directly across for a short time.

This production was arty rather than classic, but by adding music, lighting, and other special effects, they heightened the surreal implications of the prophecies and characters’ responses. The stage was altered to provide some special effects. Metal staging with trap doors was extended forward and additional grating and lighting were added around the columns.


The stretchy black fabric was used in the first scene and later with Banquo's ghost. The metal stage extension and grating around the pillars also aided special effects.

The stretchy black fabric was used in the first scene and later with Banquo’s ghost. The metal stage extension and grating around the pillars also aided special effects.

The witches’ lines were cut back. We had no “Eye of newt and toe of frog” cooking scene over a cauldron, and they did not come across as typical Halloween witches at all. Instead they were sleek, dark seers and tempters whose beguiling predictions were enough to turn Macbeth’s world upside down.

When the ghost of Banquo (recently murdered at Macbeth’s command) appears at Macbeth’s celebratory banquet, he usually is sitting in Macbeth’s chair – though no one but Macbeth sees him. In the Globe’s production the ghost rose up under a stretchy black cloth in the center of the stage. The figure was completely masked this way, making it clear that only guilty Macbeth could see and recognize who it really was.

Waiting for the play to begin

Waiting for the play to begin

A constant theme in the play is moral confusion. The witches say “Fair is foul and foul is fair” in the opening scene. One minute later, just before meeting the weird sisters Macbeth says, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” (Then it does get muddled!) Throughout the play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth intermingle treason and murder to make them into reasonable deeds because the ‘good’ result has been prophesied. Listening to later prophecies with a critical ear, and knowing how the story will turn out, we can hear the gaps in those predictions. Macbeth A) should fear Macduff, but also B) need not fear any man of woman born. Macbeth takes B to mean he is home free and immediately discounts A. But when C happens (Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane) he knows the jig is up. All predictions have come true and he is doomed.

Are the witches predicting things that will happen regardless, or just devilishly planting seeds to tempt ambition and see what might happen? Macbeth and Lady Macbeth take the bait and brings about their own destruction.

As often happens with a good story of any age, connections between Macbeth’s situation and ours today kept bubbling up. Seeing this play in the weekend between our national party conventions left me wondering how much of what politicians say is entirely – or even partly true. Which claims and predictions are hoped to be self-fulfilling prophecies? How many of us will fall for half-truths we want to hear? Will we confuse an evil for apparent good, or be convinced a good thing is actually very bad?

Temptation and ambition abound in the political arena these days. And guilt can inspire many further missteps once those two have been put in motion. There is real danger lurking in the too quick acceptance of any prediction.

The three evils of Macbeth are still very much with us!

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

11 August 2016

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Genius Lived on Brook Street

“Whether I was in my body or out of my body I know not.
God knows it!” – George Frideric Handel

“My goal is to be one with the music. I just dedicate my whole life to this art.” –Jimi Hendrix

One of the biggest surprises we uncovered in our recent visit to London was the Handel Hendrix House. This is a combination of George Frideric Handel’s townhouse and the top floor apartment next door where Jimi Hendrix lived more than two hundred years later. Who knew??

Handel, one of the greatest composers of the Baroque era, came to London at age 27 and soon became established as a successful composer of opera, oratorio and organ concertos. He lived alone but used his home for composing and rehearsing with various singers and musicians. He would invite potential patrons to attend rehearsals as previews for works not yet published. He rented the house on Brook Street for many years and died there in 1759 at age 74.

Handel's bedroom at 25 Brook Street, London. Photo by J. Emmons

Handel’s bedroom at 25 Brook Street, London. Photo by J. Emmons

One comment about the bed on display in his room was that the bed might look short to modern eyes. In Handel’s day it was believed that sleeping sitting up aided digestion. Handel loved good food and probably needed help overcoming acid reflux while digesting the morsels which made him such a large man.

As they say on Monty Python, “now for something completely different”!

In an entirely different age and society, Jimi Hendrix spent part of two years of his short life living in an apartment in the building adjacent to Handel’s home. The Handel Hendrix Museum provides a good overview of Hendrix’ life and career.

Jimi Hendrix bedroom redolent of 1969 Photo by J. Emmons

Jimi Hendrix bedroom redolent of 1969 Photo by J. Emmons

There is a video summarizing his musical progress. Because his father was superstitious of anything left-handed, Jimi turned the guitar upside-down and used his right hand for fingering the frets. A bedroom is decorated as it was in Jimi’s day, using ‘artifacts’ from the era; only the mirror was actually his. Widely regarded now as one of pop music’s greatest guitarists, Jimi burned brightly before his untimely death in another London flat just months shy of his 28th birthday, just the age Handel was when he arrived in London.

In the video below things get really interesting at about 2:45.

How many cities have time-warp juxtapositions like this? Given enough years, unexpected combinations are bound to occur. But having two extraordinarily gifted musicians separated by a wall and 210 years makes me wonder if something else was going on.

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

4 August 2016

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The Titanic Sails On

Seize the moment. Remember all those women
on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.”
– Erma Bombeck

Google “Titanic Museum” and you will be surprised by how many sites are revealed. Las Vegas, Branson, Pigeon Forge, and Halifax all advertise amazing exhibits. Add to that the short term traveling exhibits at museums with greater callings (such as the Portland Science Center in ME) and it is easy to see that, more than 100 years after its sinking, the Titanic still fascinates us. The Titanic Experience in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is a very good museum and I recommend it if you are curious about this blockbuster event from the early 20th century.

Belfast is where the Titanic was built. (They love to add “It was just fine when it left here.”) The two year old museum is located in the Harland and Wolff dockyards where the hull was created (easily visible from our cruise pier but a cab ride away by land). The museum incorporates excellent multisensory presentations and displays to engage visitors about much more than just the sinking of the behemoth. Beginning with the setting in Belfast, visitors learn about the city’s two main industries at the turn of the century – linen mills and ship building. Other sections of the museum depict the construction methods, the furnishings, the sailing and the sinking.


The outside of the Titanic Experience looks like ship's prows.

The outside of the Titanic Experience looks like ship’s prows.

The construction work was physically demanding and dangerous. (OSHA would not know where to begin.) For example, the rivets used to connect the steel plates were heated white-hot on the ground. Young boys would pick up a rivet with tongs and toss it up to the riveting site many feet above. There another youngster would catch the rivet in a bucket (or maybe not). He would transfer it to the men applying the rivets. One man would put the rivet in place through two aligned holes (with tongs? hot pads?) and hold it in place with a small sledge hammer. Two men on the other side of the plates would immediately pound the exposed end of the rivet with alternating blows while it was still very hot and malleable to flatten and secure it. Hearing loss was a frequent health hazard for riveters.

One other interesting tidbit I remember is this: since there were no laundry facilities on board the ship sailed with 45,000 clean, pressed napkins!

The first class cabins are what usually feature in film treatments of the ship’s story, but bits of the second and third class accommodations appear in the 1997 James Cameron film. The intent of the décor for first and second class space was to look like a classy hotel rather than a ship. But the lowest category cabins, emigrant class, were not posh at all. Four single men would share one bunk room. Single women traveling could share a twin bunk room. The single women would share dining and lounge space with emigrant families, only slightly segregated from the single men.

Comparing this largest ship of its time against current ships, the Titanic had dimensions close to our mid-size ships (such as Celebrity’s Infinity). The space-to-passenger ratio by tonnage looks much larger than current ships but that is misleading. Modernization has freed up a great deal of space usable for passengers (space no longer required for furnaces and boilers) to make a voyage more comfortable for everyone. She had a capacity for 2453 passengers but was only about half full on the maiden voyage. Even with that there were not enough lifeboats for the people on board. The assumption in those days was that lifeboats would be used to transfer people to an assisting ship in multiple trips rather than evacuate the entire population at once.

The iceberg collision and sinking are truly tragic. In the final section of the museum visitors hear the actual voices of survivors describing their experience.

Why are we so fascinated with this ship? Is it the pride (the Unsinkable Ship) that went before the fall (nature’s iceberg beats human steel) that draws us? Is it the loss of life which could have been avoided? (Lifeboat requirements were changed after this incident.) What draws you back to the Titanic?

Titanic poster

Boundaries divide. Travel unites.

28 July 2016

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