Monday, June 17, 2019

BONAPARTE'S RETREAT, ST. HELENA AND OTHER ISLANDS

ST. HELENA ISLAND

We sailed from Namibia on a Northwesterly course to St. Helena, one of the most isolated islands in the world.  It is located in the South Atlantic Ocean 1200 miles west of the Namibia-Angola border in Africa, and 1800 miles east of the Brazilian coast.  The Saints, as the inhabitants are known, were very happy to see us, as few cruise ships come to the island.

St. Helena (pronounced Hel EENA, not HEL ena like the capital of Montana) was named after the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine.  In the 19th Century, the island was considered the ideal place to exile Napoleon.  Consider that he had already escaped from Elba to cause more commotion in Europe.  The lines of communication between Europe and St. Helena are measured in months and years rather than days.  Napoleon was dropped off in St. Helena in 1815 and died in 1821, probably from boredom.  There were other causes as I'll explain later.

This is a beautiful tropical island with lush vegetation.  The island is small--only 10 miles by 6 miles.  The population is about 4800, and everyone knows everyone else.  Unlike New York or London, these folks wave at you when you go by.  The island was uninhabited until 1653 when the British East India Company planted the Union Jack there.  The Saints are a melting pot of British, African and Chinese descent.  Chinese laborers were brought to the island after the British freed all the slaves.   

St. Helena is officially a British Overseas Territory, administered with 2 other islands in the South Atlantic--Ascension and Tristan di Cunha, and they aren't exactly neighbors.  In fact, Ascension is 800 miles north, and Tristan di Cunha is 1500 miles south.  Although the total area is almost as large as the United States, the total land area is only 156 square miles and home to 5600 people.  Jamestown, the capital of this huge territory has less than 1000 people.

Jamestown is the only city, if you can call it that, on the island.  It is located in a valley surrounded by high cliffs.  The British built a fort on top.  To bring in supplies, they built a staircase to the top--no escalators in those days.  They call it Jacob's Ladder.  We're talking 699 steps to the top.  If you climb it, and many tourists do, they give you a certificate.  There is an alternative.  You can drive up on a one lane mountain road.  If someone is driving the other way, there are few turnouts to allow motorists to pass.  We rode a rickety bus on narrow mountain roads all over the island with precipitous drops on the edge.

The most famous attractions of the island are Napoleon's house, Longwood, and his grave.  When Napoleon died in 1821, and we saw his deathbed, he was buried on the island.  The French insisted on recovering the body, and in 1840, they exhumed him and moved him to Les Invalides in Paris where he is buried today.

But the St. Helena grave is still there, surrounded by a metal picket fence, and a French flag waving nearby.  The gravestone is blank because of a diplomatic row with the British.  The French wanted the gravestone to say "Napoleon".  The British governor insisted on also inscribing "Bonaparte".  The French objected.  They never did come to an agreement. 

It is difficult to get to the grave.  You enter through a gate and archway and walk on a grassy path downhill for almost a mile.  When you get there, you view the grave from about 30 feet above.  Then you must walk that mile back to the bus, uphill this time.

When we visited Longwood, the house built for Napoleon, we learned many things about the Emperor.  For one thing, he wasn't that short.  He was between 5'2" and 5'7" which was about average height for the time.  When he joined the military, he was assigned to artillery.  Taller soldiers were assigned to the infantry, presumably to scare the enemy.  Napoleon was short compared to George Washington or Abe Lincoln who towered over their contemporaries--or even his wife Josephine who was slightly taller.  When surrounded by tall, strapping bodyguards, Napoleon looked even shorter by comparison.

Longwood is a comfortable house on a hill overlooking much of the island.  The British government built the house for Napoleon, but after a year or so, they felt Longwood was inadequate for a former emperor.  They decided to build a new house for him at nearby Rosemary Hall.    Napoleon never occupied it.  The British had second thoughts about it, and they determined it would be harder to escape from Longwood.

The site is administered by the French government, who purchased it in 1858 after considerable negotiations with Napoleon III.  The Tricolor flies there.  Napoleon had a regular bed and many pictures on the wall.  There is a polished wood dining room table and silverware.  For a prisoner, he was treated well, but he constantly complained about the location which was damp, windswept and unhealthy.  He amused himself playing chess.  He also tended the flower gardens next to the house.  By the 1940's, the house fell into disrepair because of termite infestation, and the French considered demolishing it.  Fortunately for us, the authorities decided to restore it to its present state as a museum.  Tourists can buy souvenir t-shirts, caps and books in the house.

Napoleon died there in 1821.  Originally they thought it was stomach cancer, but modern medical science has established that the cause of death was actually arsenic poisoning.  The wallpaper in the house contained high levels of arsenic.  The British may not have liked Napoleon but the poisoning was not deliberate--arsenic was commonly used at that time in many household furnishings.

Nearby are the ruins of Halley's Observatory, built  by Edmund Halley himself in 1677 to study the Southern constellations.  Halley, best known for his namesake comet, published a star map of the Southern Hemisphere.

WORLD'S OLDEST INHABITANT

St. Helena's other famous personality is Jonathan, a 186 year old Seychelles Giant Tortoise who weighs over 600 pounds.  He lives on the grounds of the Plantation House, the governor's mansion with 3 other giant tortoises, Fredrika, Emma and David.  The creatures eat bananas, cabbage and carrots, and probably Viagra also.  When we were there, Jonathan lumbered over to a female tortoise at top speed of 0.6 mph and climbed on top.  I looked away.  But I got pictures.  I'll put them on the Internet.

The story here is that Jonathan who was not named yet, was brought to St. Helena from the Seychelles Islands in 1882 when he was about 50.  Nobody is sure why.  His age was estimated based on the fact that it takes about 50 years for a tortoise to fully mature.  Over the years Jonathan tried unsuccessfully to mate with Fredrika.  The authorities would have approved.  However, they received some bad news several years ago--the vet discovered that Fredrika is actually a male.  He should actually be Fredrick.  The vet suggested that Jonathan is either sterile or gay.  We know that Jonathan is almost completely blind (from cataracts).  Well that explains things!

Jonathan was named by Governor Spencer Davis back in the 1930's but nobody is sure why he picked that name.  We do know that was the only significant accomplishment of Davis's 6 year reign.  We knew the songs "Gimme Some Lovin" and "I'm a Man", but that turned out to be a different Spencer Davis.

St. Helena is mountainous and tropical.  The scenery is spectacular.  There is little or no flat land.  That became a problem when the British government wanted to build an airport.  Ultimately they had to fill in a valley with hundreds of millions of tons of dirt and rock for the construction.  The only planes flying to St. Helena come from Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa a couple times a week. 

Despite its small size and population, the island is civilized.  We walked around Jamestown, visiting the supermarket, the bank, the St. Helena Distillery.  Most of the buildings are Georgian style, built in the 1700's by the East India Company.  Their home brew is called Tungi, fermented from prickly pear cactus which grows wild on the island.  I had a toothache when I arrived in town, so I sought out a dentist.  I found out there are 2 dentists on the island, but I couldn't get an appointment.  Fortunately, with a few doses of Tungi and some antibiotics from the ship's doctor, I recovered. 

DEVILS ISLAND, FRENCH GUIANA

We crossed the Equator which meant we were halfway home.  The Equator is a menagerie lion (darn spellcheck--imaginary line) going around the world.  There was no sign indicating we were there, no dotted lines, no anything, just endless water. 

On a long voyage across the ocean, we marveled at the seabirds and wildlife.  Lorraine, an Australian lady we knew, looked out the window and exclaimed, "Look at the boobies!"  "There's another booby."  My head was spinning around.  Where?  She was referring to brown boobies, a type of seabird.  I guess I've heard of blue footed boobies, but they are native to the Galapagos Islands. 

We had breakfast with Vanita, a proper Southern lady, who was on her fifth Around the World Cruise on Princess (she previously did three on the QEII).  She was telling us that on the QEII in 2006, the ship was attacked by pirates.  The passengers were unaware.   They saw the ship surrounded by small boats.  They couldn't be fishing boats because they weren't fishing.   Well that ship had a machine that directs sound waves at the pirates which essentially blows out their eardrums.   It made them jump overboard.  Later it was discovered that one shot had gone through a cabin on the ship.  Nobody was injured.   The cruise ships may not be armed, but they are prepared.   That story made us feel better.

The north coast of South America lies just north of the Equator.  The ship's crew made a big deal about going to the famous, or infamous Devils Island, home to the notorious French prison.  Fittingly, the cruise ship ran the Steve McQueen-Dustin Hoffman movie, Papillon, the story about the French prisoner who escaped from there on a raft made from coconuts.  Hollywood recently remade the movie, but I liked the McQueen version.

Devils Island achieved worldwide notoriety as the involuntary home of French artillery captain Alfred Dreyfus who in 1894 was framed for spying and spent 6 years there as a guest of the French government.  He was accused of passing military secrets to the Germans.  Before long, the new head of military intelligence discovered the real culprit, but the higher-ups in the French military wouldn't hear of it.  The brass secretly made a decision that Dreyfus, who was Jewish and successful, must pay the price.  The press fanned the flames of anti-Semitism.  After Dreyfus was convicted, the French, in a public ceremony, branded him as a "Jewish spy", as the crowd shouted "Death to the Jew."

The world learned all about the French justice system when celebrated author Emile Zola wrote books and articles about the Dreyfus Affair.  Zola wrote a famous article, J'Accuse in which he accused the French military of a major cover-up.   This created a worldwide brouhaha in 1898 when the military sued Zola for libel and convicted him. 

Zola fled to England and spent his life trying to clear Dreyfus's name.  Zola was very famous but all the publicity he garnered was still not enough to free Captain Dreyfus.  Eventually, in 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and returned to the army with the rank of Major.  He served honorably in World War I. 

We always thought the French were nice guys, lovable losers, who lost every war since the Thirty Years' War in 1648, but it is evident that they weren't that nice.  At least the English sent their prisoners to Australia where they had some freedom. 

Devils Island is located 9 miles off the mainland of French Guiana which is mostly a malaria infested jungle, or as the P.C. crowd would say, rainforest.   Navigating from the island to the mainland is difficult because of treacherous currents and shark infested waters.  The capital of French Guiana is Cayenne, but we didn't go there.  Devils Island is one of three islands in the group called the Iles du Salut which means "islands of salvation", because priests went there from the mainland to escape the plague.  The islands are very close together,  and we sailed around them all.   We couldn't sail between them because the water is too shallow.

Ile St. Joseph was the administrative center of the colony.  Ile Royale, the largest island housed the most notorious prison with 99 percent of the prisoners, including the best known, Henri Charriere, aka Papillon who was one of the two prisoners ever to escape.   The other was Clement Duval in 1901, less publicized, who found his way to the U.S. where he lived out his life.  About 2000 prisoners were held at any one time.  That prison closed in 1946.

Then, of course was Ile du Diable, Devils Island, the smallest of the islands, the site of the infamous prison which finally closed in 1953.  Devils Island was mainly used for political prisoners like Captain Dreyfus.   This was no country club prison however.  The death rate at Devils Island was abysmally high, and the sharks never went hungry because the French would throw the bodies overboard.   That 9 mile sail is tough for a small boat, but for a raft or a swimmer, forget it.

The prisons were opened in 1853 by French president Louis Napoleon III.  Over the years, some 60,000 prisoners were shipped to the islands.  Only about 5% survived.   They were forced to do the labor that was previously done by African slaves.  The inhuman conditions the prisoners had to endure caused many to go insane or hope for death as a release.  When they were released, they were required to spend an equal time settling mainland French Guiana where they were given some land.

To our dismay, the ship wouldn't let us go ashore, probably because the islands have no infrastructure.  Today, they are a nature reserve.  There are buildings there, but no city or shops. The buildings have not been maintained, they are in decay and have largely been taken over by the jungle.

Back on the ship, in the trivia contest, the question asked was "What country is Paramaribo the capital of?"  I answered, "Dutch Guiana" which I thought was the correct answer, and it was correct until 1975 when it became Suriname.  They marked it wrong.  Nobody called me when it became independent.   It wasn't worth arguing about.  At least I knew where it was.

GUADELOUPE

Speaking of French islands, we visited the butterfly shaped island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies.  The island is best known for its 2 rum distilleries.  Rum is made from sugar cane, grown on large plantations on the island, and in fact all over the West Indies.   The sugar cane fields were worked by African slaves until slavery was abolished in the wake of the French Revolution.  However, Napoleon, who made a career of disrupting things, brought back slavery in 1802.  The story was Napoleon's wife, Josephine was the daughter of a plantation owner in nearby Martinique. She whispered in Napoleon's ear that you can't run a plantation without slaves.   Slavery was finally abolished in 1848.  To replace the slaves, the French brought in indentured servants from India.

On Guadeloupe they erected a statue of Josephine.  One night someone took a machete to Josephine's head.  The rest of the statue is still there.

Everyone speaks French in Guadeloupe, and their currency is  the Euro, worth about $1.25.  We hired a local taxi driver who, as it turned out, spoke little English.  He was driving a roomy Hyundai Santa Fe SUV in pristine condition.  He drove us around the island which has a fine expressway system, but driving through towns, we had to negotiate crowded surface streets.

The highlight of the island for me was the checkerboard cemetery in the town of Morne-a-L'eau.  The tombs are all above ground.    Each tomb is unique.  Virtually all are tiny houses with sloped roofs and porches, decorated with black and white checkerboard tiles.   The significance is not clear, but the prevailing thought is that black represents the European color of mourning and white represents the African color of mourning.   Every year on All Saints Day there is a big festival at the cemetery.  In the days leading up to the holiday, people repaint the tombs every year.

The other highlight is the modernistic slavery museum called the Memorial MACTe, built in 2015 on the site of a former sugar factory and rum distillery overlooking the ocean.   This building is over the top, spanning several acres.  It was encouraged by UNESCO as part of a UN Slave Route Project, and it is a cultural center dedicated to the memory and history of the slave trade.  This two story building is covered with a silvery mesh over a black granite box speckled with quartz.   We walked around it but did not go inside--maybe next time in Guadeloupe.  The tourist reviews are mostly positive regarding a depressing theme. 

BARBADOS

Barbados is the only non-volcanic island in the West Indies.  It is very British and has been since 1627.  No Indians occupied the island when the British came. 

The only thing I wanted to see in Barbados was George Washington's house, and they don't promote it.  Most Americans don't realize that the 19 year old Washington came here to visit his brother Larry who had tuberculosis and moved to Barbados for the healthful climate.  It was the only time George left the continental United States. 

George Washington really did sleep there, although as far as we know, Al Capone didn't.  Washington stayed there for several months, but it wasn't healthful for him.  He contracted smallpox, but fortunately for us, he survived.  That was significant because during the American Revolution, there was a smallpox epidemic among his troops.  George was immune.

To our dismay, the house and gates were closed because it was Easter Monday when we visited.  We looked around town for information about the Washington House, as it is called, but to no avail.  We visited several tourist gift shops, and if you didn't know about the Washington's visit, you would think he had no connection to the island.  No postcards, no nothing.  Not even an ashtray.  Maybe the British didn't like him, and so they don't promote it.

Beneath the house is an extensive network of narrow tunnels through the coral rock to the garrison, presumably to allow the troops to escape during an invasion.  They are not handicap accessible--there is apparently no Barbados with Disabilities Act.    The tunnels were discovered just a few years ago and are now a tourist attraction--if you know about it.  They were apparently built during the 1820's, long after the Washingtons were gone.    Next time in Barbados, I'll try not to go on a holiday.










Tuesday, May 21, 2019

SOUTHERN AFRICA ADVENTURE

It was a very long airplane journey from Chicago to Cape Town South Africa.  In fact, a very, very long journey.  Seven hours to London, twelve hours to Johannesburg, two more hours to Cape Town.  For two days and nights we slept on an airplane and were relieved to finally take a shower when we arrived at our hotel in Cape Town.

The purpose of the trip was to catch the World Cruise 2019 in Cape Town on Princess Cruise Line.
We had about 3 days in Cape Town to sightsee and prepare for the cruise.

BRIEF HISTORY OF SOUTH AFRICA

First,  a very brief history of South Africa.  Shortly after the British defeated the Dutch in the Boer War, in 1909 they united the 4 colonies Cape Colony, Natal Colony, Transvaal and Orange River (formerly the Orange Free State, an independent country).  They called it the Union of South Africa, the USA, but obviously that caused some confusion worldwide.  Years later they changed the name to the Republic of South Africa.  The Boer War was boring, but it was significant in that it made Winston Churchill a public figure--he was captured by the Boers but managed to escape and write a series of articles about the war.  His adventures were definitely not boring.

After World War II, the National Party took power, instituting the odious Apartheid laws in which people's rights were determined by the color of their skin.  The National Party ruled for about 50 years until 1997 when it was disbanded in the wake of internal unrest and international pressure.  During that time, South Africa was kicked out of the British Commonwealth, as well as being the subject of international sanctions.  Today, South Africa is a multi-cultural nation in which most people speak several languages--English, Afrikaans (similar to Dutch), Zulu, Xhosa and others.

A couple of years ago, on a previous cruise, we met our South African friends Ruth and Stewart who were looking forward to seeing us again.  After we booked the trip, we learned that Ruth had already scheduled an educational trip to the Silk Road in Asia.  So on the day we arrived in Africa, Ruth was landing in Azerbaijan.  A couple of days later she called us on Skype from Kazakhstan, the land of Borat.  Or maybe it was Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan--she visited all the Stans.  We could clearly see her on the phone. 

Stewart doesn't like to travel, and he was content to stay in Cape Town.  We spent a wonderful day with Stewart driving us around Cape Town.  In South Africa, they drive on the left side of the road, so I am afraid to drive there.  We took him to lunch in Simon Town which is an English village transplanted to South Africa.   This area was a former British naval base.  We ate delicious fish and chips at Bertha's Restaurant right on the harbor.  The prices are reasonable--the dollar is strong against the Rand.

Stewart told us about the guy who purchased the top of a mountain on the coast with the intention of building his house there.   He paid serious money for the parcel with a spectacular view.  However, he forgot to do his due diligence.  He failed to consult with the natives who lived at the base of the mountain.  They objected for various reasons.  They proceeded to blockade the road, and the guy was never able to build the house.  Essentially he had no access except perhaps by helicopter.

South Africa is a very modern and civilized First World country, at least in the cities.  Cape Town is a cosmopolitan and cultured city.  We visited the Parliament Building.  The official capitol is Pretoria, but the government spends 6 months in Pretoria and 6 months in Cape Town.  Cape Town is mostly a Christian country and boasts two cathedrals.  It also has much open space with beaches, mountains and forests.  A significant part is Table Mountain National Park, located within the city limits.  Cape Town could be any big city in America except for the wild baboons. 

BABOONS

We have squirrels; they have baboons.  People and baboons have an uneasy truce.  We saw the ubiquitous "Don't Feed the Baboons" signs along the roads.  Baboons don't attack people unless they are cornered or if they think you have food for them.  They will boldly try to grab a backpack or sack containing food.  The baboons are smart.  They have figured how to open car doors.  To my knowledge, they haven't yet learned to program computers but give them time.

Driving along the coast we saw a family of baboons  walking along the cliffs.  The babies followed the parents.  There are approximately 500 baboons in the Cape Town area divided into 11 troops, each headed by an alpha male.

Far below where the two oceans meet,  many surfers brave the rough currents in one of the most popular surfing destinations in the world.  At Boulders Beach you can find a colony of penguins. We've seen penguins in South America and we chose not to visit them. 

THE GREAT MANDELA

The national hero in South Africa is Nelson Mandela.  Everywhere you go, you see Nelson Mandela statues.  We visited a bazaar selling statues of various sizes for people to install in their gardens.  Many depict African animals like elephants, lions and giraffes, but the most popular is the bust of Nelson Mandela.  We walked through the verdant Archbishop Tutu Arch and Gardens in the center of town. 

Unlike many, or even most African countries, South Africa under Mandela's leadership made a serious effort to forego revenge and Black Nationalism and promote good relations between the races.   When he ended Apartheid, there was no backlash and most Whites stayed in the country and helped promote prosperity for the country.  Nevertheless we still saw shantytowns which they call "townships".  There appears to be a significant gap between rich and poor  But a large percentage of Blacks and so-called "Coloreds" (mostly mixed race and Asians)  have shared in the prosperity.  As I indicated, goods and services are reasonably priced.

Our friends who are White and Jewish have lived in South Africa for many years now and feel no threat to their safety.   They live a happy life in a nice neighborhood at the foot of Table Mountain.  Most houses in affluent areas have walls around them topped with barbed wire.   Cape Town is considered to experience less crime than Johannesburg , but people take no chances.  Stewart was born in England and Ruth in the former Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).  Both grew up in Zimbabwe but were effectively chased out of that country when the regime changed.

TABLE MOUNTAIN

We visited Table Mountain and rode the cable car to the top with 63 other people.  The iconic Table Mountain is recognizable throughout the world.  From the ground it looks flat on top.  When you reach the top, it is anything but that.  It is covered with large rock outcroppings and trees.  Within the National Park we also visited Signal Hill overlooking the city and nearby Lion's Head, a huge rock face.  On both, we were treated to magnificent views of Cape Town. 

Large tailless rat like critters called rock hyraxes dart in and out of holes between the rocks.  These rodents are locally known as dassie rats, using the Dutch word for "badger".  They are unafraid of people.  These brown furry creatures resemble earless rabbits  Believe it or not, they are closely related to elephants and also sea cows. 

On the ground, the weather was warm about 75 degrees F., but at the summit, the weather was cold and blustery.  Many of the tourists wore shorts and t-shirts and regretted it.  We waited in line in the cold to take the cable car back down.  We struck up a conversation with two ladies in front of us,  Eileen and Charlene from Los Angeles.  Eileen and her husband started a ministry in Johannesburg to help criminals go straight.  Their business is booming.  Success is slow, measured one person at a time.

We stayed two nights at the Hilton City Center, not far from the trendy area of Cape Town.  Our hotel is located literally down the street from the Bo Kaap neighborhood of brightly painted houses of yellow, green and blue.  Bo Kaap is a popular tourist destination at the foot of Signal Hill.  Most of the inhabitants are of Malay descent (formerly called "Coloreds").  The Cape Malays, as they are called, were imported by the Dutch traders in the 16th and 17th Century from the East Indies, Malaysia and elsewhere in Africa and Asia.  Tourists flock to Bo Kaap for its fine restaurants serving Cape Malay cuisine, a delectable combination of Asian, Arab and European food.

Other than Nelson Mandela, I should mention some other important personalities who are celebrated in South Africa  Dr. Christaan Bernard performed the first heart transplant back in the 1960's.  The main hospital in Cape Town is named after him.

HELEN SUZMAN

The main road along the harbor is named after Helen Suzman (1917-2011).  Most Westerners don't know who she was but for many years, she was the only anti-Apartheid member of Parliament.  She was the lone voice in the wilderness.  Born in South Africa, she was a Jewish woman of Eastern European descent.  She founded the Progressive Party in 1959, and for 13 years was the only member of Parliament representing that party.

During her 36 year tenure in Parliament, she worked tirelessly to improve prison conditions for Nelson Mandela and his fellow ANC members whom she considered political prisoners.  She used her Parliamentary Privilege to get around government censorship and pass information to the media about Apartheid's worst abuses.  She was an eloquent and witty speaker.  For example, when she was confronted by an opposing member of parliament about embarrassing the country with her questions, her reply was "It's not my questions that embarrass South Africa, it's your answers!"  Mrs. Suzman was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and I'm curious to know who did win the prize in those years.  On the other hand, Mahatma Gandhi never won one either. 

To be fair, after the African National Congress came into power, she often criticized that government also because of rampant corruption.

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE

Many foreigners think Cape of Good Hope is the Southernmost point of Africa.  It is not.  The actual Southern point is 105 miles East at Cape Agulhas ("Cape of the Needles" in Portuguese).  That is officially the boundary between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean although you can't tell from looking at the water.

SAFARI AT AQUILA GAME RESERVE

On our last day in South Africa, we visited the Aquila Game Reserve, a luxury resort near the Stellenbosch wine country.  Tourists go to see the Big 5--African elephant, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros, lion, leopard.  We also saw hippopotami, zebras, ostriches, elands and others.  There are no tigers in Africa, but if there were, they would be in that park.  The guide drove us around in a 4 wheel drive truck seating about 12 people.  Fortunately it had a canvas top because it was raining  The animals don't go inside when it rains, so we saw them in their natural habitat.  In the old days, people, big game hunters, went on safaris to shoot big game.  Then they would have the dead animals stuffed and bring them home to display in their family rooms.   The  authorities don't allow that anymore.

The Aquila Game Reserve is huge,  covering 10,000 hectares (over 24,000 acres or 39 square miles).  The animals are protected from poachers, but they still have security people guarding the park.

Several years ago, the cheetah population was becoming endangered.    The authorities determined that farmers were shooting or trapping them because they were preying on sheep and livestock.  Someone came up with a brilliant idea--the farmers would breed large, fierce Anatolian Shepherd dogs to chase away the predators.  We're talking large and fast dogs--150 pounds or more who can run 50 mph.   The dogs were introduced to Southern Africa in 1994 and have done a terrific job protecting the livestock.  As puppies, the dogs are raised in a pen with the sheep.  After a whIle, the dog thinks it's a sheep.  When a cheetah or other predator would approach, the dog would chase it away.  Then the farmers didn't have to shoot the cheetahs.  Incredibly it worked, and the cheetah population came back. 

Our truck drove past a large pond and we saw a hippo poking his head out of the water.  A hippopotamus spends most of its days submerged in the water except for its nostrils and head.  When it surfaces, birds light on its back and feast on ticks.  The hippo eats grass when it comes out of the water at night.  It is very dangerous to humans because it kills them although it doesn't eat them.

We saw several elephants in the wild near a flock of ostriches.  Ostriches are dangerous also.  They run very fast but we were told that if one chases you, it is best to run in a zigzag pattern.  That confuses them.

We saw a pride of lions composed of two males and five females.  Lions lie around most of the time, at least until they get hungry.  Obviously you don't want to walk up to a lion, but you are safe on a truck.  The lions disregard the truck--they view it as an animal larger than themselves.  Apparently the lions feed on eland or springboks which are plentiful in the park. 

Later we saw 3 rhinoceres, a male, females and a calf.  Rhinos are vegetarians, but if you stand next to one, it will knock you down or kill you.  On a previous safari I actually fed a rhino an apple, sticking my hand into its mouth.  You can do that if you are on a truck.

NAMIBIA--LUDERITZ AND WALVIS BAY

Namibia used to be called South West Africa.  It was originally a German colony prior to World War I.  In the late 1800's, European powers were carving up Africa to exploit its mineral resources.  Lüderitz was founded in 1883 by a German guy named Adolf Lüderitz who purchased the land from an indigenous chief.  Lüderitz was an adventurer.  He died on an expedition on the Orange River in 1886, and they named the town after him.   A railroad was built  in 1907, but it was a sleepy town until 1909 when diamonds were discovered on the beach there, and it became a boomtown almost overnight.   They built a new train station in 1912 which is a major landmark in town although the railroad no longer uses it.

Eventually DeBeers coordinated the diamond industry, and now it operates a logistic center in Lüderitz.  Other than that Lüderitz is once again a sleepy town in a time warp, but about 12,000 people live in the area.  The German colonial architecture looks like it did in 1915 when the Germans abandoned it.

Walking around the semi deserted streets, I stopped in the only tavern in town.  The most popular drink on the menu is Windhoek Beer, named after the capitol of Namibia which we didn't visit.   In terms of food,  Lüderitz is best known for its rock lobster which is barbecued.  Restaurants also serve up German dishes like wiener schnitzel.   Taxi drivers hang out at the tavern, and we hired a local man to drive us around in a beat up taxi for $10 U.S. 

He drove us up a steep hill to the historic Felsenkirsch which can be seen from all over town.   The Felsenkirsch, an Evangelical Lutheran church was built in 1911 and has been beautifully maintained.  The local Germans raised funds back home in Germany to build the church.  Kaiser Wilhelm donated the stained glass windows to the church.  The Kaiser, who was Queen Victoria's nephew, hadn't started World War I yet, so he was still a respected world leader.

We also visited the Goerke House which they built around the same time to accommodate the expected visits from German royalty who never showed up.    It couldn't go to waste, and railroad executives used the house as a headquarters.   Today the mansion is a tourist attraction.

Namibia is mostly desert, the Namib Desert from which the country gets its name.  Our ship sailed along the Skeleton Coast, so named because of the skeletons of whale bones and shipwrecks up and down the coast. 

The nearby sand dunes are legendary and hikers pride themselves on climbing them.  We live near the Indiana Dunes, so that's not a big deal to us.  However many people from our ship did so.  They were challenged to climb the highest one, Dune 7, hundreds of feet of soft sand.  It is very strenuous--a climber takes three steps and slides down two. 

Speaking of sand, the most popular sport in Namibia is dune bashing--riding dune buggies at high speeds up and down the dunes.  For traction, they have to let most of the air out of the tires.  The ride compares to a large roller coaster.  We did that a couple years ago in Abu Dhabi and it's lot of fun.

WALVIS BAY

We sailed a hundred miles or so up the Skeleton Coast to Walvis Bay which is the largest harbor in Namibia.  The main industries in this busy town are oil drilling, oyster beds and diamonds.  The areas we drove past appear prosperous.  We saw neat rows of stone, brick and stucco houses.  Each house has a 3-4 foot wall around the property.  Many homeowners run businesses from their homes, and the walls are adorned with signs promoting their businesses.   Some trappings of civilizations have not reached Namibia yet--there is no McDonalds in all of Namibia.  On the other hand, there are no McDonalds in North Korea, Bolivia, Iceland or Bermuda either. 

We decided to take a catamaran ride from the harbor, next to the Walvis Bay Yacht Club.  We had a nice time on the catamaran.  Our guide, Luni, an attractive blonde from Windhoek seemed to know all the wildlife by name.  Sea gulls swooped by and grabbed fish from her hand.  A large pelican with an 8 foot wingspan landed on the deck and schmoozed with the people.  Luni fed the bird mora moro fish, also known as ribaldo, from a barrel.  She would hold the fish by the tail, and the pelican would grab the fish in his beak and would have to turn it around in his large mouth to swallow it.   
  
Then several large seals plopped on deck and begged for fish.  We tourists are not supposed to touch the seals, but the animals are not shy about stepping on your feet.  The crew fed us freshly caught oysters which were delicious. 


















 
 

 
NEXT:  BONAPARTE'S RETREAT IN ST. HELENA

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

FROM NORTH KOREA TO THE AMERICAN DREAM--MY FRIEND'S JOURNEY

This is the text of a speech I gave recently.

North Korea is one of the most repressive regimes in the world.  Its citizens have no freedom of anything.  If someone commits a so-called crime against the state, his whole family will be imprisoned.  Thousands of people live in slave labor camps, scrounging for food because a relative once tried to escape.  Many spend their entire lives there, from birth.

Kim Ker Yung, an 11 year old boy made a choice early in life, and it had a profound lifelong positive effect on his future.  We all make choices in life, and hopefully they are the correct ones.  Because young Kim made a decision that day, he is alive today at 79. 

My Korean friend, whom I've known for about 40 years, did just that.  When he came to America, he became John Kim.  We met through the local synagogue in Vernon Hills where our kids went to Hebrew School together.   That is a strange story because Mr. Kim is not Jewish, and neither is his American born wife, Chrisanne.   John's step kids are Jewish, and John participated in their activities.

Like many Asians, John likes to gamble.  We play poker together in a bi-weekly game.  Some of the other guys call him "Rocket Man" to throw him off his game.  "I don't care what you call me,  just bring a lot of money for me to win."  He and I went to the Kentucky Derby together last year.

We eat lunch together about once a month.  We usually go to a Korean restaurant for kimchee.  Jokingly, I asked him one day if he was North Korean or South Korean.  To my surprise, he answered "North Korean."   He wasn't threatening to shoot me, so I asked him to explain.

The young boy Kim lived in the North Korean capitol, Pyongyang when the Korean War broke out in 1950.  His father was a carpenter who built homes.  Until the war, the boy's father, mother and 3 brothers lived a lower middle class existence in a modest home.  When the war started, they dug an underground shelter.  Their home was destroyed by a bomb, and they moved underground with other families.  Life was very difficult, and there was little food.

Kim was resourceful.  You do what you have to do to survive. On several occasions he swam across the river to a watermelon patch where he stole a melon for the family to eat.   Other times, he and other young boys would steal a dried fish from a pushcart and run away.  Usually their diet consisted of barley.  Barley for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  To this day John hates barley.

In late 1950, the American soldiers were able to repel the North Korean invasion of the South and occupy the North including the capitol where they established a military base.  The young boy befriended the American GI's and hung around the motor pool.  The Americans liked the boy and sometimes gave him food to bring home.  Kim told them he would like to visit the U.S. someday.  That was in his wildest dreams.   He was the unofficial mascot of the unit.

The fortunes of war quickly change, and before long the Americans were in full retreat.  In their haste, the American troops were ordered to leave everything behind.  Thousands of North Korean peasants, including Kim's family, begged the Americans to take them along.  General MacArthur gave an order that no Koreans be taken South.   In a hasty retreat, the GI's could not be bogged down with thousands of refugees.

The boy was heartbroken and cried his eyes out.  One of the soldiers told him "Come back tomorrow morning, and we'll see what we can do."  Kim went home and told his folks he was leaving.  He and his family knew they would probably never see each other again.  How would you feel if you could never see your family again?  That took courage.  He was only 11 years old.

Early the next morning, Kim, who was small for his age, climbed into a large duffel bag and the soldier threw him onto the back of a truck.    Kim was terrified, but the alternative was certainly worse.  Several hours later, he emerged in the DMZ in South Korea with the American unit, but certainly not safe.   He found himself with an American paratrooper squadron, sleeping in tents.  He was almost killed on more than one occasion, as bullets flew through the tent.

An Army chaplain, Father O'Boyle took the boy under his wing and protected him for the next few years.  After the Armistice in 1953, the priest guided the boy through the process to emigrate to the United States.  Admitting an enemy alien to the U.S. is not so simple.  Bureaucratic red tape created many obstacles.  For example, parental permission is required.   Kim's family could not be located.  He believes his folks were killed in the war.  The fate of his brothers is unknown.  After a year and a half, he got the green light to go to America.

Father O'Boyle brought the boy to San Francisco.  On reaching America, Kim became John Kim, as he is known today.  He was in effect, born again.  He vowed to himself, "I will never starve again!"  John was sponsored by a Houston fire captain, Frank Malek, of Bohemian descent.  John moved to Texas where he learned American customs and attended school.  His sponsor taught him how to fish.

As a foster child, John was eventually placed in Father Flanagan's Boy's Town in Nebraska where he was taught the printing trade.  He graduated in 1961, the oldest kid in Boy's Town.

Meanwhile, Father O'Boyle, now Colonel O'Boyle was transferred to Fort Sheridan, near Chicago.  He invited John to come live with him in Highwood, IL.  As a graduation present, he gave John a Volkswagen that he brought back from Germany.  In Highwood John met his first wife, and they had a son, John Jr. and a daughter Michelle.  Today, both are in their 50's and are pursuing successful careers.   The marriage broke up several years later, and John married his present wife.  They are married over 40 years. 

John started a printing business in Mundelein, IL. where I brought him business printing up flyers for the Jewish holidays.  Today, John is living the American dream.  He is not wealthy, but he owns a house, has a family that loves him, and he has the freedom to do what he wants to do--fish. shoot pool and gamble.  He made a decision at age 11, and it changed his life forever.   If you're going to dream, dream big! 
   

Sunday, March 3, 2019

ROAD TRIP TO BEAT THE POLAR VORTEX

It was New Year's Day, 2019.  We were rushing to catch a plane on January 5th in Orlando, Florida.  We were by the Illinois-Wisconsin border.  In January, you're never certain what kind of weather will be encountered on the road.  We were prepared for anything, and we gave ourselves 5 days to get there while eating our way through the Southeastern states.

COLUMBUS, INDIANA

Our first night, we reached Columbus, Indiana, between Indy and Louisville, KY.  Columbus turned out to be a rare treasure.  It's been called "Athens on the Prairie".  It is a small city of 44,000 but is the headquarters of Cummins Engine which makes engines for cars and trucks.  Although it was not mentioned, Columbus is the birthplace of Vice President Pence.  I didn't see any statues of Mr. Pence, and his house is not yet a museum. 

In the 1940's and 50's, the city fathers, led by the Cummins Foundation decided to commission works of public art and architecture.  The foundation agreed to pay the architects' fees provided that the client selected an architect on a list it compiled.  They invited in world famous architects like the Saarinens (the father, the son and the relatives), I. M. Pei, Harry Weese and Robert A.M. Stern.  There were others, but I mentioned the ones I had heard of. 

Most of the churches and schools in the town were designed by these famous architects.  Harry Weese designed the First Baptist Church in 1965.  Eliel Saarinen designed the First Christian Church with its 160 foot bell tower in 1942, across from the Visitors' Center.   Following the map provided to us, we proceeded on to the hexagonal shaped North Christian Church with its 192 foot spire designed by Eero Saarinen.  In all,  seven buildings constructed between 1942 and 1965 are National Historic Landmarks. 

On the main street in downtown Columbus, we visited the Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum where we saw large rooms filled with antique ice cream makers and soda fountains.  I peered out the window and saw two female cops mulling over our car which was parallel parked across the street.  There are no parking meters in town but there is a 2 hour limit.  I ran outside to confront them because I hadn't been in the store for more than a half hour. 

They pointed out to me that there were lines painted on the street to delineate the parking spaces, and our car was parked over the line.    I couldn't see the lines when I parked because I was straddling them.   I guess there is not much crime in Columbus.  The officers explained what I did wrong and didn't issue a ticket.  Not that I would have paid it anyway. 

TENNESSEE

The following day, we continued on through Louisville and Nashville, and by nightfall, we arrived in Chattanooga, TN.  Chattanooga has been a railroad center for probably 150 years.  Its biggest attraction is the Chattanooga Choo Choo, essentially a railroad museum and shopping mall where you can spend the night sleeping in a restored Pullman sleeper car.  We didn't visit.  We've passed through  Chattanooga many times and have never seen it.  

The attraction was made famous in the politically incorrect 1941 Glenn Miller song: "Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Track twenty nine, Boy you can gimme a shine" 

Chattanooga lies at the foot of Lookout Mountain, the site of a Civil War battle.  Inside Lookout Mountain is the spectacular Ruby Falls which is promoted on billboards for hundreds of miles around.  If you've never seen Ruby Falls, you should.  We're talking about a 150 foot waterfall inside a huge cavern underneath Lookout Mountain.  This thing is magnificent.\

Lookout Mountain has sentimental value for me.  My father often told the story about driving over it on U.S. 41 in the late 1940's on the way to Florida.  He was driving an old Packard without working windshield wipers in a snowstorm.  My uncle in the passenger seat had to lean out the window to keep wiping the windshield so they could see where they were going.  Today it is an easy ride on Interstate 24. 

We stayed in a Hampton Inn which we often do to accumulate Hilton Honors points.  When we get enough points, we can stay in a Waldorf for free.  Hampton Inns bake cookies at 5 o'clock each evening.  The desk clerk recommended a restaurant at the base of Lookout Mountain in an old industrial neighborhood on St. Elmo Street.  The 1885 Restaurant had a delicious fried chicken dish. It was a fried chicken breast with creole gravy on top of green beans on top of mashed potatoes.  The boneless breast was covered with herbs and spices.  It didn't list the calories on the menu, and I didn't ask. 

MAN VS. FOOD EXPERIENCE IN VALDOSTA, GA

We found another Hampton Inn in Southern Georgia and asked about local eateries.  The clerk gave us several choices, but Steel Magnolias sounded the most Southern.    We weren't disappointed.  You probably don't see too many Cordon Bleu chefs in Valdosta, but the menu was an experience in itself.  I ordered shrimp and grits with roasted red pepper gravy Andouille sausage and creamy Gayla grits. 

Dianne had braised beef short ribs with sweet potato brown butter risotto, sautéed spinach, blue cheese crumbles and mushroom demi glace.  The kitchen was in the front of the restaurant where you could watch the chef make the food. 

The dessert menu was so extraordinary that I'll list the desserts for you.  Rumchata rice pudding with fall fruit compote and pecan streussel.  Then there was pecan pie with bonbon caramel and cane syrup ice cream.  Don't forget Mexican hot chocolate fudge with cinnamon and chiles and toasted marshmallows.  How about pumpkin bread pudding with maple crème Anglaise and vanilla ice cream.

They also served traditional stuff like peanut butter pie and apple pie cheesecake.  When I hear cheesecake, I think of Betty Grable or Rita Hayworth.   Anyone younger than 50 probably doesn't understand that.  We passed on dessert because we over indulged on the main course.

The next day, January 4th, we continued on to Orlando where it finally got warm outside.  We stayed in a luxurious Hilton Hotel, using our Honors points.  The next morning, we drove to the Orlando airport in time to catch our one o'clock flight on BahamaAir, a 55 minute hop to Nassau.  The plane had engine trouble, fortunately not while we were aboard.  We had to sit around the Orlando airport for 3 1/2 hours waiting for the flight to takeoff.  But we arrived in one piece.  The Bahama airline was kind enough to give all the passengers $10 vouchers to use in the airport for lunch.  It was just enough for appetizers. 

ATLANTIS RESORT, PARADISE ISLAND

We vacationed for 3 nights on Paradise Island, Bahamas, at the Atlantis Resort.  The island used to be called Hog Island, but when Merv Griffin purchased it, he changed the name, presumably for marketing reasons.  The Atlantis Hotel is over the top in luxury.  We stayed there once, about 20 years ago, just after it opened.  I didn't remember too much about that trip because I was sick for 3 days out of 5.  This time, however, we savored all the attractions at the resort.  The hotel complex is enormous.  It takes about 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other.

I signed up for the dolphin experience in which you must reserve a time on the beach with a group.  We climbed into wet suits and then waded into the waist high water as the trainer summoned the fish. They have many dolphins which were rescued from Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Dolphins are very smart and perform tricks on cue.  They are not smart enough to play checkers or do calculus, but they are up there as animals go.   They get up close and personal.  One dolphin put his mouth next to my ear.  I didn't understand what he said, but it was translated as "your loan is underwater". 

The dolphins are trained to swim close to you so you can run your hand over its back.  It feels like a smooth rubber bicycle tire.   The trainers make their real money selling photos, so each person takes individual poses with the dolphin including kissing on the cheek.  The six picture package sells for about $94.  I bought the package. 

The other money maker for the hotel is the casino.  Similar to Las Vegas, the casino has the usual assortment of penny slot machines and quarter video poker.  The table games have high limits.  The minimums on the crap tables and blackjack tables are $25.   To play a session properly, you would need a $1000 bankroll.  There is no poker room although the World Series of Poker was sponsoring a million dollar tournament while we were there.  We talked to many of the participants. 

The casino has a sports book, and we spent Sunday afternoon watching the Bears-Eagles playoff game.  I don't normally bet on sports, but as a Chicago fan, I had to make some bets.  I bet $10 on the Bears winning the first half by 3 1/2 points.  They led 6-3 at the half, so I lost that bet.  I bet $10 more on the Bears willing the game by 6 1/2 points.  How could I lose that?   As we all know, the Bears' game winning field goal attempt clanked off the upright and then the crossbar and I lost that bet also.
I wouldn't have won the bet anyway because they had to win by 7 points.  The bookies are a lot smarter than I am. 

I made a bet that Bears' tight end Trey Burton would catch passes for more than 29 yards.  I got lucky on that one.  Burton must have gotten hurt because he didn't suit up for the game, and I got my money back.  The only bet I won was for the Eagles quarterback to pass for more than 245 yards, and he easily passed that when he marched them down the field in the 4th quarter.   The worst part of the loss was having to listen to the loud, obnoxious Eagles fans.  I slunk out past them to look for some dinner. 

NAPLES, FLORIDA

Returning to the States, we took a ride down to Naples on the Gulf Coast of Florida.  We went to the Visitor's Center where we signed up for a trolley tour around the town.   We were told that Naples was the 6th wealthiest (per capita) city in the U.S. in 2012 and had the 2nd highest proportion of millionaires per capita.  I'm not sure what we were doing there, but the weather was nice.  We told the guy we had reservations--but we would visit anyway.   The tour guide drove us past the capacious homes of prominent Neapolitans like Judge Judy.   I'd like to say she was outside mowing her lawn, but she wasn't.   Some of these homes sell for up to $60 million. 

DON CESAR RESORT HOTEL, ST. PETE BEACH

The Don CeSar (yes, with a capital "S" in the middle) is the most famous hotel in the Tampa Bay area. This art deco hotel dates back to 1928 and has a long checkered history.  It went broke a couple times over the years.  The military used it for a hospital during World War II, and the current owner bought it for peanuts, but spent a boatload of money restoring it. 

It was and is a first class hotel, catering to the elite.  Al Capone stayed there, or at least they say he did--for marketing purposes.  Other prominent guests included F.D. Roosevelt, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cary Grant.  The New York Yankees stayed there during Spring Training in the 1940's. 

The hotel was built in 1928 by Thomas Rowe.  In a Romeo & Juliet story, Rowe toured Europe as a young man, and while in London became smitten with an opera singer named Lucinda who played the lead in a production of Maritana.  He was an early version of the Deadheads.   He saw the opera about 100 times, and after the performances, he and Lucinda would meet secretly by a certain fountain.  After the final performance, the couple planned to elope.  Her folks had other plans, however.  They learned of the planned marriage and whisked the girl off to Spain, and Rowe never saw her again.

Rowe returned to the U.S. and licked his wounds in remote St. Petersburg Beach.  Apparently he had some bucks and decided to built a tribute to his lost love.  He named it for Don CeSar, the chivalrous hero in the opera Maritana

The P.R. people claim the Elvis song Heartbreak Hotel is about this hotel.   The tragic Lucinda died young from an illness, but on her deathbed she wrote a note to Rowe:  "Time is infinite.  I wait for you by our fountain to share our timeless love!"  Fortunately they didn't have texting in those days. That is much more romantic than a text message.

We ate lunch at the hotel, and the seafood bisque is to die for.

SEARCH FOR THE ELUSIVE IVORY BILLED WOODPECKER

Driving through the Southern pine forests, we watched for the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker, the "Holy Grail of Ornithology", hoping to claim the reward for seeing one.  This bird may or may not be extinct.  The American Birding Association has, in effect, issued an all points bulletin  looking for the bird.  Every birdwatcher knows what it looks like.  The beautiful black, white and red ivory-billed woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in the world, with a wingspan of 30 inches. 

These birds were fairly common in the 1800's.  The great naturalist John James Audubon, who was noted for his portraits of American birds, shot and collected ivory-billed woodpeckers in order to paint them.  If he did that today, he would be arrested.  The birds began disappearing when logging companies clear cut their habitats in the Southern forests. 

The woodpeckers were common in Cuba also, but after the Spanish American War ended in 1898, much of the forest lands, where the birds lived, were cleared to plant sugar cane.

Nobody had seen one since the 1940's when a veteran bird watcher spotted one in 2004 while kayaking in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas.  This was later confirmed by two experts from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who traveled to the same bayou and saw what was apparently the same bird which they described as a "close-up unmistakable sighting" of the woodpecker. 

Then this thing went viral.  The director of the Cornell Lab, the director and a board member of the Arkansas Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and a professor from the University of Arkansas organized a team of over 50 people to slog through the swamps for 14 hours a day looking for one bird.  Four different people saw the bird on 4 different days, and others heard the distinct knocking and other sounds associated with the woodpecker. 

Then in 2006, ornithologists from Windsor University and Auburn University claimed they saw an Ivory Billed Woodpecker along the Chotawhatchee River in Florida.  Other birders flocked to the area for the next three years but didn't see any of the birds. 

Then the serious money came in.  A $10,000 reward was offered for information that would lead to a nest, roost or feeding spot of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology increased the reward to $50,000  in 2008 to anyone who could lead them to a living woodpecker.  Now, more than $10 million has been raised for the project.  So far, nobody has collected. 

SEX IN THE PHONE BOOTH

There, I got your attention!

We were sitting around the cruise ship having a drink when an octogenarian lady walking with a cane and a Filipino couple sat down with us.   We didn't know them, but we started talking.  Somehow the conversation drifted to the subject of phone booths.   They still have them in England, but in the U.S., they are few and far between.  The last one I saw was in Metropolis, Illinois, outside the Superman Museum. 

The lady confessed to having sex in a phone booth.  My jaw dropped.  Most people would think that is too much information.  However, without missing a beat, I asked if that happened on the cruise ship.  "No, there are no phone booths on the ship."  My curiosity got the best of me, and I asked her if she enjoyed it.  "Of course", she said, "and a phone booth has more room than a lavatory on an airplane."  I didn't ask any more questions.

THE ST. CLOUD LADIES AND DICK PUTZ

On the cruise ship to Cozumel, our dinner partners were 4 ladies from Minnesota traveling without their husbands.  I asked them where in Minnesota they lived.  "Oh, a small town near the Twin Cities."  "Which one?"  "St. Cloud." My response was, "We've visited St. Cloud twice in the last 2 years."  "Why?"  "To see Dick Putz Field and take a picture of it." 

They gave me the look.  "Maybe we should have him committed."  Then Jody, the spokesperson for the group told me that her father is in the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, located at Dick Putz Field.  Dick Putz was the director.  He actually knew Dick Putz.  Dick Putz was a legend in St. Cloud.  " I knew Dick Putz,  Dick Putz was a friend of mine, and you're no Dick Putz."   In New York or Chicago, people would laugh when they hear the name.  In Minnesota, Putz is a normal name like Carlson, Hanson,  Larson, etc.

HATTIESBURG, MISSISSIPPI

Upon disembarking the cruise ship, we drove from Tampa to Hattiesburg, a distance of about 600 miles, in one day.   Once again, we stayed at the Hampton Inn.  Hattiesburg is a college town, the home of Southern Mississippi University, known for football, among other things.  Its best known former player is Brett Favre the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.   I half expected to find a statue of Favre there, but no!  We ate at the restaurant in the hotel.  The walls were adorned with sports memorabilia.  I asked about the framed jersey with number 31, a halfback's number.  Was that Favre's jersey?  The bartender had no idea.

Our waitress was a sweet young girl about 19 who told us she was getting married in 2 days.  Her fiancé was in the Air Force and getting transferred to Wichita Falls, Texas.  Apparently her folks were not happy with the situation and refused to attend the wedding.  Her father would not be walking her down the aisle. 

We made some suggestions, and she called over the bartender, a young man in his 20's, and asked him if he would walk her down the aisle.   He agreed to do so, and she hugged him.  He explained that they were friends for a long time, but not romantic friends.  He just hadn't found the right girl yet.  I gave the waitress a generous tip. 




NEW MADRID FAULT

North of Memphis, our trip took us through one of the poorest areas of the country, the heel of Missouri, through towns like Hayti, Caruthersville and New Madrid.  New Madrid is world famous for its fault.  In New Madrid, they say it's not our fault--the crack in the Earth runs for 150 miles, south from Cairo, Illinois.  No matter.  The name stuck.

The New Madrid earthquake fault was the nexus of about 3 of America's most destructive earthquakes, plus an aftershock, all between magnitude 7 and 8 on the Richter Scale which probably wasn't invented yet.  They occurred within a few months of each other in 1811 and 1812.  Fortunately, the area was thinly populated at that time.  The shock was strong enough to cause damage in Boston, about 1000 miles away.  In Richmond, VA., it caused church bells to ring.  It knocked plaster off of houses in South Carolina.  The Mississippi River actually ran backwards for several hours, according to boatmen on flatboats who survived the quake.  The tremors created Reelfoot Lake, the largest lake in Kentucky. 

There have been other quakes since then, but not of the same intensity.  The 1968 quake had an impact on me.  I was in college, and I hadn't set foot in the library for a long time.  No sooner than I walked into the library than everything began to shake.  I thought the heating system was going to crash down on me.  I didn't know it was an earthquake because, living in the Midwest, I had never experienced one.  I thought it was a sign from God.  I ran out of the library, never to return.  That quake was felt in 23 states, all the way to Boston.

Scientists warn that a major earthquake on the New Madrid Fault would cause perhaps thousands of deaths and billions of dollars of damage in nearby cities like St. Louis and Memphis as well as cities hundreds of miles away.  Archaeologists have determined that major earthquakes struck the area in circa 900 and 1450, and a series of large earthquakes around 2350 B.C.  They based these estimates on artifacts and Carbon 14 dating, as they found no newspapers or coins dated 2350 B.C.  French traders described an earthquake in the area in 1699.  Another big one is not out of the question.   

Two days later, we drove through the snow in Illinois and arrived home just in time for the Polar Vortex.  Maybe I'm crazy, but when it's 27 below zero, I didn't want to miss a historic weather event.
  





Tuesday, September 11, 2018

ROAD TRIP TO CANADA & THE BOMBING OF SASKATCHEWAN

This summer, we took our semi-annual road trip.  We booked a tour to the Canadian Rockies, starting in Calgary, Alberta.  But first we had to get there.  About 35 people were on the tour, and they all flew to Calgary, either from Chicago or the Twin Cities, except us.  We could save $1000 on the tour if we didn't fly.  Of course, it cost more than the $1000 for gas and hotel rooms for 8 days and 6 nights.  Be we did it for the adventure.  Here is what we learned.

PASSENGER PIGEONS

Driving in Northwest Wisconsin, we stopped at a rest area containing an exhibit remembering the passenger pigeon, an extinct bird which filled the sky by the billions back in the 19th Century.  The famed ornithologist and painter John James Audubon described the experience, writing that an enormous flock of pigeons would darken the sky and could take hours to pass over.  Of course you didn't want to stand underneath while they were passing over.  The birds were noisy also.  Their cacophony would cause horses to bolt.  In the forest where they would perch and eat acorns and beechnuts, the dung on the forest floor could be a foot thick.  That left large bare areas on the ground.

In the 1800's people would shoot them for sport and sometimes eat them.  The birds often flew low enough that they could be brought down with a stick.  A single shotgun blast could being down 10 birds.   The birds did have natural predators, hawks, weasels and the like.  But the sheer number of the birds protected their population from decimation--until the European settlers came along.  After the Civil War, the extension of the telegraph and the railroad brought hunters out to bag the birds commercially.  They didn't just shoot down the flocks.  They disrupted the nesting grounds.  By 1890, the birds were pretty much gone in the wild.  The last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

The bird got its name from the French word passager which means passing by.   The birds' habitat comprised all of North America east of the Rockies.  The nesting grounds in Wisconsin where we visited covered 850 square miles, larger than the Chicagoland area.   The nesting grounds!   According to one naturalist, this area had 136 million breeding adult birds. 

WISCONSIN CHEESE CURDS

Nearby Ellsworth is the Cheese Curd Capitol of Wisconsin.  That is saying something!   Ellsworth is a town of 3000, about 40 miles from St. Paul, MN.  Every year in June, they celebrate the Cheese Curd Festival where you can try cheese curds prepared 20 different ways.  They are usually served beer-battered with dipping sauce. 

The cheese curds are made at the Ellsworth Co-op Creamery.  We stopped in Ellsworth for lunch at a local bar and grill.  It was a friendly place.  Several people were playing pool.  Everyone seemed to know each other.  There are not many restaurants in Ellsworth.  We had sandwiches and breaded deep fried cheddar cheese curds with a touch of garlic.  They were delicious.  At a nearby A & W, they put the curds on the menu and they quickly proved  to be more popular than the French fries. 

CHARLES LINDBERGH'S HOUSE, LITTLE FALLS, MN.

Little Falls is in fact little, compared to Minneapolis for example.  But it is a prosperous town and attracts many tourists for camping and fishing at nearby Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.  Surprisingly, the state park was not named after the famed aviator.  It was named after his father who was a Minnesota congressman.

The restored 1906 house was the boyhood home of the more famous son.  The house is on high wooded ground next to the Mississippi River.  The falls on the river give the town its name. 

Lindbergh (the son), of course became a hero as a young man, being the first pilot to fly solo nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927.  He won a cash prize for that.  But he was not the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.  Actually 81 people did that before Lindbergh.  

The first was Lt. Commander Albert C. Read who also won a prize when he flew from New York to Lisbon in a Navy Curtiss NC-4 flying boat in 1919.  The plane developed engine trouble on the way, and Read had to spend 10 days in the Azores. But he completed the trip.

A few weeks later, a pair of Brits, Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Brown took off from St. Johns, Newfoundland in a Vickers Night Bomber.  They crash landed in a peat bog in Ireland and walked away unscathed.  They were knighted by the King.  Their average speed was 118 mph.   In 1924, two Americans, Lt. Lowell H. Smith and Lt. Eric H. Nelson flew around the world from Seattle to Seattle, covering over 26,000 miles.   The point I'm making is that the Lindbergh flight was closely covered by the media and the others weren't.  Lindbergh became the world's first mass media hero.

Several years later, Lindbergh lent his name and fame to some questionable causes, enough that President F. Roosevelt called him "the most dangerous man in America."   Many people still idolized Lindbergh, so he had influence with a lot of followers.  Lindbergh became enamored with Nazi Germany because of their wacky racial theories, and even accepted an award from Hitler.   While married to the author Anne Morrow, Lindbergh fathered children with two European mistresses, one German.  Recently two German men claimed they were Lindbergh's children and DNA tests proved them correct.

In the late 1930's, Lindbergh became a leader in the America First movement because he was concerned that America was being overrun by "brown, yellow, black and Jewish people".  In that regard, his view was that the U.S. and Nazi Germany had much in common.  He supported an accommodation with Nazi Germany, even after it overran Europe in 1940.  That movement eventually fizzled in late 1941 when Germany declared war on the U.S.  Lindbergh faded into well deserved obscurity. 

LAKE ITASCA, MN.

Our road trip continued up the center of Minnesota to Lake Itasca State Park which is the source of the Mississippi River.  We first visited it about 20 years ago, and it looks pretty much the same today except they have added the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center, built in 2005 with a shelter, bathrooms and a gift shop.  It also features a small scale mock up of the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans.  They charge 7 bucks a carload to enter the park.  It was worth it.

Mary Gibbs was an early environmentalist.  She became Park Commissioner (succeeding her father) in 1903 when she was 24.  At the time, a logging company was constructing a dam a quarter mile downstream which would create a lake and also destroy old growth trees.  In her main accomplishment as commissioner, she confronted the loggers and had her life threatened.  She ultimately prevailed, survived, and live to age 104. 

The lake itself is only about 2 square miles in area and is 1475 feet above sea level.  In other words, the water flows downhill 1475 feet over the next 2552 miles down to the Gulf of Mexico.  It was "discovered" by Henry Schoolcraft, an early explorer who, in 1832, correctly identified the lake as the primary source of the river.  Actually, two other streams empty into the lake from the other side.  One originates in nearby Elk Lake, about 7 miles upstream and 100 feet higher in elevation.  This was controversial, and finally in 1891, Jacob Brower, a surveyor and President of the Minnesota Historical Society, decreed that the lakes and streams further south of Lake Itasca were not the true source because they were "too small".  He successfully lobbied the state legislature to make Lake Itasca a state park to protect it from logging.  The bill passed by one vote. As the "Father of Lake Itasca", Jacob Brower was honored when the 1905 Visitor's Center was named after him.

Schoolcraft got to name the lake.  He disregarded the local Indian name which was translated to "Elk Lake".  Instead he chose a combination of the Latin words "verITAS" and "CAput" (truth and head).

The lake flows out over large stone rapids which most visitors step over to walk across the river.  It is approximately 15 feet across.  The first 30 feet or so of the river is a pond in which many visitors jump in the water and swim on warm days.   I was dismayed to learn from Wikipedia that the channel in that area was bulldozed by the government to create a more "pleasant experience" for visitors.  The Civilian Conservation Corps drained the swamp, dug a new channel and installed the stone rapids and the pond.  Above the rapids, the lake today is covered by lily pads.  A few hundred yards downstream is a small stone and wood truss pedestrian bridge crossing the Mississippi River.  Wooden steps lead down to the water, and we watched many people and their dogs wade across, just for the experience.

THE ROAD TO MOOSE JAW

We crossed into Canada in Saskatchewan at the Port of Entry on U.S. 52 in western North Dakota.  Gas is expensive in Canada.  It is measured by the liter rather than the gallon. A gallon is about 3.8 liters.  At $1.54 per liter, gas is about $5.82 per gallon (Canadian).  Discount that by about 25% to get American money, and it is still well over $4,30 per gallon.  On our return trip from Calgary, we drove south from Lethbridge, Alberta with just about enough gas to get to the border.  Our fuel gauge was down to 9 miles left in the tank when we got to the U.S. border and filled up the car.

BOMBING SASKATCHEWAN and THE CHICAGO CONNECTION IN MOOSE JAW

Several years ago, the Canadian satirist Bruce McCall did a 2001 TV special "Talking to Americans" to expose the ignorance of most Americans toward Canada.   Comedian Rick Mercer asked New Yorkers on the street, "Should American be bombing Saskatchewan?'  The responses were "Absolutely" and "If that's what they're going to have to do, that's what they're going to have to do." and "Bomb those Commie bastards." 

Actually Saskatchewan was bombed--by the Japanese toward the end of World War II.  Japan launched 10,000 balloon bombs intended to reach North America and cause panic.  A few forest fires broke out and a few people were even killed, but by and large, the bombs caused little damage.  News of this was censored until after the war ended. 

Driving Saskatchewan is a long and sometimes monotonous drive through endless canola and wheat fields.  Saskatchewan is the size of Texas and is the only province to not have any natural boundaries (i.e. rivers, mountains, etc.).  It is just a large rectangle.  The canola fields have beautiful yellow flowers stretched as far as you can see.  Canola is used to make low cholesterol cooking oil.  The name is a contraction from "Canada" and "oil". 

Eventually we drove into Moose Jaw where we spent the night at a Comfort Inn down the street from the giant moose statue.  Moose Jaw, a city of 33,000 people, is one of only 3 or 4 significant cities in Saskatchewan.  The others are Regina and Saskatoon.  Moose Jaw is often called "Little Chicago" and there's a story behind that.  To attract tourists, it declared itself as the Chicago of Western Canada, and probably not in a good way.

the most popular attraction is Tunnels of Moose Jaw, where history comes alive underground.  Apparently, during Prohibition, the Capone Mob set up an operation there to supply liquor to thirsty Americans.  Pictures of old newspapers with screaming headlines like "CHICAGO MOBSTERS SPOTTED IN MOOSE JAW"  as it appeared in the Moose Jaw Examiner.   The police were shocked, SHOCKED to find gambling and liquor abounding.   The whiskey was hidden beneath the train station.  "CITY POLICE DENY BEING ON THE TAKE".   Where have I heard that before?  The article has a mugshot of Al Capone who is like George Washington--everyone wants to claim he slept there.   We once visited Al Capone's HAT exhibited in St. Pierre and Miquelon. 

In Moose Jaw, you can see performers in The Chicago Connection, and they charge money for that.
I grew up in Chicago, and I could see that for free.   The other attraction performance in the Tunnels of Moose Jaw is Passage to Fortune which describes the history of Chinese immigrants to Canada who were recruited to work for the railroad.     They lived underground, in deplorable conditions, but ultimately overcame their hardships and now send their kids to Harvard. 

MEDICINE HAT, ALBERTA

Another city, known mostly to hockey fans, is Medicine Hat, a city of 63,000.  It is also known as "the Gas City".  With some trepidation, we ate lunch there.  I'm not sure if the locals are proud of that name or not, but it got that moniker when a large natural gas field was discovered nearby in 1883.  The Gas City Rollers is the local roller derby team.  The City of Medicine Hat got its name from the native Blackfoot Indian word "saamis", loosely translated as "medicine man's hat". 

According to the Medicine Hat Tourism Board, the deal was that one winter the tribe was suffering from famine and hardship.  They chose a young brave to save the tribe from starvation.  He walked for days and made camp by an opening in the ice on the South Saskatchewan River.  There he summoned the spirits who appeared in the form of a talking snake which told him where to find a bag containing medicines and a saamis (holy bonnet).   He could wear the hat only in war but it would insure victory.   In the Canadian version of the Kerward Derby, with the magic of the saamis, the young brave found plentiful game to save the tribe from hunger.  He became a great Medicine Man.  The first Medicine Hat was a symbol of leadership, prowess and mysticism.

The ultimate symbol of Medicine Hat is the Saamis Tepee, a 215 foot metal tepee towering over the Queen Elizabeth Highway.  It was hard to miss, so we visited the tepee.  On the outside are ten hand painted storyboards interpreting and retelling the history of the various First Nations (Indians) of the area up until the present.  The tepee was originally built for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and later moved to Medicine hat. 

EATING IN GREAT FALLS, MONTANA

We spent a nice evening in Great Falls, Montana which, until the 1970's was the largest city in the state.  Then it was surpassed by Billings and Missoula.  Great Falls was notable for the dinner we ate there.  The manager at our hotel recommended Jakers Bar & Grill, several blocks down the street.  The restaurant promotes itself as the Best Happy Hour in Great Falls.  It was moderately priced, and we had a feast.

The first thing we saw was the huge salad and soup bar.  To limit our intake of food, we elected not to use it.  Instead we ordered off the menu.  They started off with scones and honey butter.  They served several choices of soup, but the lobster bisque caught my eye.  It turned out to be the best I've ever tasted, and I've had it at many expensive restaurants.    The bisque didn't skimp on the lobster--it was  chock full. I've never seen that before. 

The menu had half pound burgers with many varieties of toppings.   Even with salad on top, the burger is probably fattening.  Also on the menu was prime rib and salmon, prepared the right way.
I elected to have parmesan encrusted walleye.  Instead of fries, they serve Jakers Bakers which are baked potatoes with everything, and I mean everything on them.   But if you want fries, you can try gorgonzola waffle fries.  This was unbelievable!  As it turns out, Jakers had 6 locations in Idaho and Montana.  If they're not coming to Chicago, we'll have to go back to Montana.

CROOK COUNTY

Crook County, Wyoming,  perhaps illustrates the truth in advertising concept.  It is reputed that early settlers were politicians from Washington.  Despite popular belief, Chicago is in Cook County, not Crook County.    Crook County is located in rural Wyoming.  There is also a Crook County in Oregon, but we didn't visit.   The main attraction, other than their politicians is the imposing Devils Tower National Monument, made famous by the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was filmed there.  We visited it before, and they encourage you to get out as quickly as possible with the 80 mph speed limit.  We sailed through Crook County at close to 100 mph.

GEOGRAPHIC CENTER OF NORTH AMERICA

I basked in front of a 15 foot obelisk in Rugby, North Dakota which claims to be the geographic center of North America.  I had some questions about that.  Wikipedia points out that North America includes Central America, the West Indies, the Aleutian Islands, and even Bermuda.   It wasn't clear if all of those were factored into the Rugby location.  Also, it is not clear why that would even be important except to allow a small town to promote tourism.

By all accounts, that obelisk isn't really at the center of North America.  The U.S. Geographical Survey, established in 1931 that the geographic center is actually about 15 miles south of Rugby.   That was close enough for the town of Rugby to seize the day.  The USGS further stated that "No marked or monumented point has been established by any government agency as the geographic center of either the 50 states, the coterminous United States, or the North American continent."

Recently it was reported that the actual geographic center of North America is in another (appropriately named) town, Center, North Dakota, located about 145 miles southwest of Rugby.. A professor at the University of Buffalo named Peter Rogerson decided to precisely calculate the center using a computer program called an azimuthal equidistant projection which considered the curvature of the Earth.  Before the computer age, the USGS had calculated it using cardboard cutouts--they cut out the shape of the continent from a sheet of cardboard and then balanced it on a small point.   In most cases of measuring the center of anything, the difference in distances is small, usually less than 2 miles. 

The U.S. has two geographic centers.  The center of the continental U.S. is near Lebanon, Kansas, but if you include Alaska and Hawaii, the center moves up to near Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  We drove through there, unaware of its geographical significance.

STURGIS

Passing the signs pointing to Mount Rushmore, we rolled into Sturgis, South Dakota which is the foremost biker town in the country.  Especially during the Sturgis Rally.  Sturgis is not very big, only 6600 people, but during the 10 day Rally, they claim that 1 million people attend this extravaganza. 
That 1 million was the "official" count in 2015, when they celebrated the 75th Rally, although others say it was only 740,000.  Be that as it may, even in an off year, they get 500,000 visitors.  The first Rally was in 1938 and has been held every year except during World War II (gas rationing).

We showed up a week early, but the merchants were already gearing up for the 2018 Rally.  I bought a t-shirt promoting the Rally.  Huge banners were already strung over the streets.  Hundreds of motorcycles of early arrivals were parked in the middle of the wide streets.  According to the Chamber of Commerce, over 1000 vendors set up displays, selling accessories, food, tattoos and body piercings, and t-shirts.  The town obviously can't accommodate the throngs of people, and over 60 nearby campgrounds serve the bikers. 

The schedule listed 197 concerts at the various venues.  Most of the music was County and Western and Southern Rock.  Some of the bigger names in town included Foreigner, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Trace Adkins, the Marshall Tucker Band, Eric Church and Kid Rock.  Based on a casual observation, there were probably very few Progressives in attendance.   President Trump is popular in Sturgis, and his picture adorns t-shirts all over town. 

We visited the Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame located in an old post office building on the main street in Sturgis.  It was founded in 2001 to honor those who had a long term positive effect on the motorcycle community and lifestyle.  The Hall of Fame has plaques honoring approximately 180 inductees including some well known people as well as others known only to those in the biker culture.  There is William S. Harley, as well as Arthur Davidson and several other Davidsons.  Politicians include former Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.   Other familiar names ware Peter Fonda and Jay Leno, as well as Evel Knievel and his son Robbie, and even Malcolm Forbes, the magazine guy who once ran for President. 

The museum displays over 100 classic motorcycles dating back to 1905, such as vintage Indians (motorcycles, not people) which they haven't made since 1953, Harleys, Triumphs and other makes.  The guy who founded the museum, Pappy Hoel, was in the ice business in town until the widespread use of refrigerators put him out of business.  He liked to ride, and in 1936, he applied for and became the local dealer for the Indian Motorcycle Company.  With fellow bikers, Hoel started a group called the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club.  Hoel and his buddies promoted the initial Rally in 1938, partly to increase his business.  It was held in his backyard, and his wife Pearl provided sandwiches and coffee for about 200 attendees.    Today he would need a really, really big backyard.

WALL DRUG

The little town of Wall is a monument to self promotion in rural South Dakota, 60 miles from Mount Rushmore.  Years ago, it decided to re-invent itself as a tourist trap.  A Nebraska pharmacist named Ted Hustead purchased the small drugstore in 1931.  The town had 231 people but had a Catholic church which sealed the deal for Hustead.    Business was slow until Mrs. Hustead decided to advertise free ice water to weary travelers headed to Mount Rushmore.  The rest is history.

Today Wall attracts 2 million tourists annually.  It is a Western themed shopping mall with restaurants, gift shops, and of course, the drug store, all owned by the same owner. If that isn't enough, it has a Western art museum with original oils by world class artists.  But wait, there's more--an 80 foot brontosaurus and a mini Mount Rushmore.

Driving down Interstate 90 from Minneapolis to Billings, Montana one can see hundreds of billboards promoting Wall Drug.  For further promotion, they hand out free bumper stickers.  We didn't take one.