There are times in our lives when inevitability and expectation crash together and we’re forced to accept that it’s inevitability that has the best odds. In a fleeting moment, circumstances and life take a sharp curve at a bad angle and suddenly we’re not as surefooted as we may have believed we once were. People in our lives, no, important people in our lives die, and we’re left behind trying to figure out what it all means to us, what we’re supposed to do, and more importantly what are we still capable of doing without them.
In the outrageously short span of a couple weeks, someone in your life who is outwardly strong, weakens and dies. My mom’s husband of thirty-two years, Bill, died last week. He’d been a part of our family story far longer than our own deceased father. There were some good memories and some bad too but this is not really a story about Bill; its about me and you.
Emily is probably reading this right now and saying, “of course, its about you”, and she’d be right of course, but I’m still determined to move forward with the usual piles of babble and gibberish I normally produce anyway, ignoring all the subtle innuendo and eye-rolling. Without any benefit of having literary fans, I’m merely forced to live up to my own expectations which aren’t really all that high – so read this at your own risk.
So if Bill isn’t the subject of this blog, why are we all here; all three of us? Well, it’s complicated. The easiest way I can explain it is that I’m a person who normally lives in my head and right now I really need to be living inside my heart. I think a lot of people, like myself, go into our heads when we’re sad or wounded because we think we’re smart and we need answers, or we want to take prisoners and need to build places to put them.
But sometimes a person just needs to get out of their head and into their feelings. The problem is that my feelings have grown an entire pant size since I last wore them. Alas, at the age of 54 I’m suddenly realizing the true value of stretch pants. I should be thankful that hearts aren’t made to stretch like old-man-jeans or else I may be tempted to live more comfortably in my heart, defeating the purpose of being born with a Y chromosome.
The overriding and principle motivation for this blog being that I really just want my mom to be OK. This is her second husband to leave her behind and I can’t imagine the experience of uncertainty and grief that she must be experiencing right now. If your life is lived a certain way, perhaps very independently, and something like this happens, it turns your world upside down because you can’t help but to visualize your life exactly as it has thus far been lived – only without your partner in tow or pulling the plow.
Those are valid thoughts and for many people who don’t have children or family to step up and into new roles, these kinds of fears can become our realities. But losing a spouse at an advanced age doesn’t necessarily put you in some predetermined box, especially if you have important things you want to do or say or be. You’re only limited by your thoughts; its the same for 8 year old’s as it is 80 year old’s.
While the moment is emotionally overwhelming, yes, time itself is not necessarily definitive. Who better to reinvent or reinvigorate their lives than a mature person who could give a rat’s ass about what other people think of them? Sometimes, you don’t need a plan, you just need to breathe, let go, and see what happens.
Maturity is the great equalizer isn’t it – you can finally take advantage of it. If life isn’t or hasn’t been giving you things to look forward to, do things or say things or write things that frame what precious moments you have left of your life in a way that is truly worthy of how you want others to know you – and look forward to whatever new beginnings you choose to cultivate.
Crisis need not be the catalyst for growth or change, but it sure does bring things into perspective. The selfish side of my personality is excited about having my mom all to myself again but the nicer of my temperaments ache for her as she so obviously craves some higher level of acuity as to her near and distant futures. It’s a challenge to find the right words sometimes, when you know someone you love needs to hear something they can cling to – or most importantly, believes.
Did I mention that one of my best life-long friends passed away last week too? Yeah, that one was a real kick in the gut. I think he deserves his own blog so I don’t want to wallow around in the emotion of that in this story and I don’t want to diminish the importance of the message I’m trying to convey here either. Everything in its own time right?
So let’s sum this thing up so that Emily will actually read the whole thing. We’re all getting old. Time is ticking for the 5 year old and it’s ticking for the 50 year old’s. Although the damn clock continues to tick, it also tocks…, tock rhymes with rock so lets rock shall we? There are only so many summers left and I intend not to waste them being old.
I don’t want you to waste yours just being the old chic either. Don’t be old, be vast and brilliant and expressive. Or you can be one of those fake palm reader persons, OR, your could be an old lady prostitute if you want, just be and be happy being. Life is short, even on it’s longest days. It’s not about existing, it’s about living. You can do this; we can do this together.
As Emily and I continue our life stories, pursuing adventure and widening our perspectives through the blessings of travel, it becomes inevitable that we will occasionally experience the “down-side” of otherwise great experiences. It’s kinda like having a great big bowl of Southern pinto-beans with some good ole chow-chow and some hot buttered cornbread – Newton’s third law (every action has an equal-opposite reaction) will forever be relevant.
When you think of Amsterdam, your mind can’t help but to conjure up certain well-known images. Usually, it’s the canals lined by 17th century row houses or perhaps it’s the colorful tulip fields, big chunky windmills, unruly Vikings with tangled hair, or maybe its of famous artists such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Of late, we might be more interested in what they do or smoke in the “red light district”.
What about your first instincts of Amsterdam? Have warm and fuzzy thoughts of millions and millions of bicycles ever been your first instinct? If so, you’re an asshole and you really need to grow the hell up and buy a car. Uhm, just kidding…ok, well, no I’m not.
Do you remember being a kid and laughing your guts out when your very best friend wrecked his bicycle in the most insane way? I’m no longer ashamed to admit it because I now know that I’m not the only insensitive bastard out there who laughs out loud at other people’s crashes. The Germans, imagine this, actually invented a special word for the act of deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others – schadenfreude! The gal or guy who invented that word probably spent time vacationing in Amsterdam.
Pretty much everyone in the whole world hates bicyclists. If, however, you’re reading this blog from a distant planet who’s government already sterilized all of your fellow beings who were into bicycle riding a millennia ago, and you cannot comprehend the emotions shared by your sister planets, just imagine on Christmas Day giving your precocious 6 year old son a real police badge, an assault rifle, three loaded magazines, a police car and a full tank of gasoline. The child you once thought you loved would do some pretty awful things right? Well that same child, after leaving prison, now has exactly what it takes to be a great cyclist. Just sayin.
A typical daily conversation in Amsterdam:
Tourist in Amsterdam: “Jesus freakin Christ! This 25 foot wide sidewalk is super nice but these asshole bicycle sadists run me down every time I try to walk on it!“
Cyclist in Amsterdam: “Euupid Tseuurist! Stey uun yor tinee 2 feet svidevalk you dum dum, dis red painted zuper highvay is only for uun cyclists!”
Tourist in Amsterdam: “Screw you, Dutch asshole, I’m a f***ing American. We invented oxygen and you’re using way more of it than I’m comfortable with at the moment; plus, the word is actually TOURIST, not TSEUURIST! We probably invented that too.
Cyclist in Amsterdam: CRASH, OWW, OH F**K! “Euupid American, oh vell, more red paints for uun bicycle zuper highvay. Um de hur de hur de hur”.
It all makes complete sense when you factor in the enormous amount of marijuana being smoked in this city. Hell, even if you don’t smoke weed, you can get completely stoned just by walking around town…any part of the city, not just the red light district. And if you’re riding a bike at 15 mph, it’s like a continuous “shotgun”. But, trust me, those evil-doers on two wheels are definitely doing some shady stuff.
No shit, bicycles in Amsterdam are killing people and the world is asleep! Where’s Pol Pot when you really need him? Dutch sources report that in 2017, fatalities from bicycles exceeded those from cars. Yet the Dutch government seems to be doing everything they can to make things worse. They’ve built more than 500 kilometers of bike paths in the city – the most in the world.
What else? The city charges cars 5 Euros per hour to park a car while bikes litter up every bridge, canal bank, tree row, and front porch at no cost. They’re not using fuel so who’s paying for those miles and miles of red colored bicycle super highways – yeup, you guessed it. The car drivers are paying almost $7 bucks a gallon for gas, I’m guessing the sole source of funding for yet more and more miles of those fancy paved red carpets for this entitled group of serial killers on wheels.
Who do they think is gonna keep up those systems when they finally exterminate the last car driver and frighten off the last pedestrian? Seriously, this place literally has these things called “parking flats” which are essentially parking garages for bicycles which can hold between 2500 and 6000 bicycles. Used by commuters who might take the train into the city for work then grab their two-wheeled death machine from the “bike flat” then ride the extra distance to work. Bikes are a big deal in this place.
If you run a traffic signal, by car, in Amsterdam, the ticket is $240 euros. That’s a lotta jack. Are there traffic signals for the dreaded bicycles? Nope! How much sense does it make to replace hundreds of thousands of law-abiding car owners with an equal number of outlaw bicycle villains whom, as a group, have no intention to share those fancy red carpets with anyone else and who’re not contributing a single red cent financially to the machine that makes the whole damn thing work?
This place is so crazy over bicycles, they actually created a “bicycle Mayor” specifically to liaise with cycle groups. Yes, they actually have professional “bicycling” groups. The Nazis were looking for something to do after the big war so it seemed a natural fit. They just changed their names to fit in – Hans Hess could become Venom Dingersloot and suddenly he can rule the entire world – only this time people are taking him seriously.
The “Mayor of Mayhem”, I call her, decided that Amsterdam needed even more bike lanes and paths and that they should all be covered with roofs so riders outfits don’t get wet while cycling in the rain. Blood is fine; it’s the rain that sucks. Yeup!
Also reported was the fact that cars get 44% of available public parking space while bikes, used for more than 60% of local journeys, get only 11% of the available parking space. Seems horrific doesn’t it? I wonder how much larger in size, percentage wise, a car is over a bicycle? Would it matter?
We’re told that bicycles outnumber people in Amsterdam by 1.2 million. Literally, you stand at the edge of the red bike-lane for 10 minutes waiting for a quick opportunity to cross; the bikes number in the dozens coming from both directions – never stopping, seamlessly never ending, and certainly never slowing down or attempting anything mimicking courteousness.
Last year the city of Amsterdam recovered over 5000 bicycles from one canal they were dredging. After cleaning them up and reconditioning them, the city of Amsterdam donated them to a 3rd world country. I’m trying to find out which country got them so I can avoid it in our future travels.
Amsterdam is often held up by public transport advocates as a modern, progressive city that accommodates cars, trams, canal boats, cyclists and pedestrians with ease but the image is at odds with reality. What is obvious from all this? When you allow one particular public interest group to dominate anything…anything at all, it will feed and grow itself at the expense of every other group. Schadenfreude…I’m really liking this word!
The whole world it seems has been impacted by the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic which has left many of us with a good bit less to do; we’re either working from home, laid off or furloughed from our jobs. And Lord knows we have all watched a great deal more television than normal, at least I know Emily and I have. Maybe the world will get lucky and we’ll all become a tad bit better informed as a result.
I guess that would depend on whether we’re spending our television time watching 90 Day Fiancé or the Discovery Channel. As far as I know, there has been no official announcements or directives as to which programs we’re supposed to be watching…at least not yet. Me being the chameleon I am, I generally watch all sorts of unrelated stuff, but always devouring lots of information TV along the way.
One thing that has been quite noticeable about my life from a distance is that I haven’t written much lately. You’d think a fella like me who gets off on writing silly stories about nothing would write more often when given the opportunity. I guess, like a lot of people who enjoy writing, I began to wonder why I do it and who really gives a damn. I just wasn’t really motivated to do it.
At the end of the day, I guess it really doesn’t matter who gives a damn as long as I do. And its not even like that really; writing is not something I feel called to do nor do I necessarily have a story I’m itching to tell. There are just times when I get an idea stuck in my head and it amuses me to tinker with the idea.
Writing for me is that exploration of thought. It is a silent journey I take alone then later translate into something entertaining or thought provoking for others to share along with me. When people respond or “like” what I’ve decided to share, it somehow makes me feel more centered with the universe. I instinctively know that other people out in the world are thinking about the same things or are at least get what I am saying.
Last week I was watching one of my favorite shows and I learned that our sun is almost 94 million miles away from Earth. That translates to about 150 million kilometers for my European readers. How many times do you think I saw that or heard that information while in school or in life over the last 55 years? I can’t say for sure but I’m confident I’ve come across it several times in my life and never really cared all that much. I mean, what does that have to do with me, really?
But, for some strange reason, the thought of our sun being that far away from Earth really struck a chord with me. I started to think about all the light and heat energy emanating from it and how powerful that energy must be in order for it to have such a strong impact on us, nearly 100 million miles away. Universally, my mind wandered around to what life would be like if Earth had just landed one million miles different than where it ended up. Would Earth have the ability to sustain life as we know it if we lived just a million miles closer or a million miles farther away in our solar system?
Nearly a hundred million miles from here, deep in outer space, is an enormous sphere of hot plasma and fire producing enough light and heat energy to vaporize pretty much everything, yet, by the time all that energy gets to us, it’s perfect… it is just right!
How many of you out there got married before you were mature enough to know how to be a good spouse? I count myself among you for sure. It’s an unfortunate statistic but we all want things we’re not ready to have. How many of you had a driver’s license before you were mature enough to be a safe driver? I could go on and on, right?
But when I think about how I got here to where I am today, the path I took with all of its crooked roads, potholes, dead ends and roundabouts, it seems quite unlikely that I would have landed right here in this exact place. And when I analyze Emily’s life under the same lens, and formulate all of the things that did happen, didn’t happen, were supposed to happen, etc., and how it all ended up with us together and happy for so long. It kinda blows my mind.
I’m not suggesting that either of us are perfect or “just right” for anyone else, I’m just acknowledging what we both know, that we’re just right for each other and probably wouldn’t have been if we’d met each other 10 years prior. Just like if our sun were a million miles closer, we might have crashed and burned.
I won’t pretend to understand or even analyze karma or fait or divine intervention. Maybe they are all the same thing, I don’t know. But there is an order about things in this world that defies our ability to know every answer or formulate every hypothesis. Some things just happen because they are supposed to happen. Consequently, some things are allowed to happen to us because we can’t grow if we’re allowed to self-insulate ourselves from the kinds of pain we must learn to endure if we’re going to be happy.
So, I know this is way too early for a birthday card, so I have made it a blog instead. But I’ve learned the hard way; when inspiration hits you, it is always the right time to say something that needs to be said. Writing is my only superpower. Its easy for me to express myself with the written word but I’m not a naturally expressive person in my daily life.
So, in my open life, I’ve learned to say nice things when I think nice things. Otherwise, I never say enough nice things. I’m an internal person, and not particularly expressive. I can write a personal card or email pretty much anytime I want.
Saying and expressing the type of kindness my loved ones deserve to know hasn’t always been something I’m great at doing. I’m analyzing my weaknesses by writing about them and doing my best to let others really know who I am by making an effort to do better. If you have things you really want to say, I encourage you to do the same thing. The people who count on you, psychologically, will be able to let things go and move forward when they have confidence in your support and understand your own acknowledged weaknesses.
This journey of life never ends, no matter how short yours may end up. Think about it. I often think about what my great grandfathers were like. I have sat in a restaurant in Wales that was once my 12th great grandfathers’ home. Thousands of ancestors grace the pages of my family tree. These people, long since dead, are still part of my life and their energy continues to radiate in my own story.
If we’re going to live forever, we may as well be known for saying kind things. It’s a very long road to travel but seemingly shorter and shorter with every year that passes. I’m comforted to know that no matter how far away you go, no matter how lost you seem to be, there’s a good chance you end up in exactly the right place.
That is exactly what happened to me. I started off so far away from where I am today. I’ve been happy, sad, emotionally drained and on top of the world. I have failed and succeeded; I’ve contemplated life elsewhere; and, I’ve overstayed my welcome when I should have moved on. But through every experience and around every curve, I have managed to survive long enough to land right here in this exact place.
Likewise, the energy from the sun is immense; it’s far too untamed and powerful to experience close up. While it is almost hundred million miles away, it only takes 8 seconds to get from there to here. The gap between the lives Emily and I lived were, it seemed, impossibly distant and incompatible. But here we are, a hundred million miles traveled, scarred, bruised, broken, duct-taped and put back together.
And yet, finally…just like the sunlight, everything is just right.
One of my many interests in life is the field of genealogy. I’ve been delving into the woodpiles of my family story for over three decades now and I’m still just as excited about the journey as I was when I first began. I find it incredibly fascinating that modern technology has given us the tools to collate vast amounts of historical and ancestral data that we’re now able to trace our direct ancestors back hundreds or even thousands of years with relative ease. On top of all that and with the addition of DNA analysis, we can find distant cousins in obscure places across the globe, then assemble individual family records to sort of reverse engineer our family trees.
My favorite of all our vacations has thus far been our trip to Wales. During that trip, we were fortunate on one day to have our lunch in a 16th century pub named the “Old Swan Inn” in a tiny southern Welsh village called Llantwit Major. The significance; that pub once was the ancestral home of my 12th Great Grandfather Sir Robert Ragland (b. 1510 d. 1565). Just the ability to know that is super cool; visiting and dining there among the broken plaster walls, hand-hewn beams and squeaky wooden floors that my distant ancestors also experienced cannot be described.
There were, of course, lots of other interesting and genealogically important places we visited on that trip, but I don’t want to bore you with the history of my maternal ancestry. I just wanted to share the one part of it that I think supports the overall gist of this story and get you thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead of you should you begin pursuing your own family story.
Not all the things I think about in my quiet moments are appropriate for every audience but there are a few thoughts I often have that I don’t mind sharing. One is this idea of how incredibly miraculous it is that any of us are actually here today. When you really sit back and delve into the odds, its unfathomable that we could be here by mistake. When I talk of odds, I mean the obstacles our forefathers and mothers endured to be able to pass on their DNA to us. You and I are the children of the sturdiest, smartest, luckiest, healthiest, strongest, fastest, surefooted’est group of men and women ever born. If they weren’t all these things, we surely would not be here today.
I guess, what brought about all these ideas is my insatiable appetite for history. I love to read. Lately, I’ve gotten interested in the history and evolution of Celtic and proto-Celtic peoples as they spread themselves through early Belgium (Gaul) and Germany (Germania), through the beginnings of a country we now call France (Frankia), then onto the island of Britain (Britannia) and across and up into Wales (Cambria), Scotland (Alba) and Ireland (Hibernia). That is, of course, not the only way humans made it to the islands and areas well-known today for their Celtic inhabitants; just their most prolific path.
This journey, as is the case for every tribe of humanity, was and is affected by a plethora of circumstances and decisions that shaped the future of these people. Some of which they had no control over and some of which they did. Either way, hundreds of millions of people gave their lives along the way, learning and evolving and becoming more disease resistant then passing down that new knowledge and those priceless immunities to their children and grandchildren.
That seams easy to say and read doesn’t it…hundreds of millions of people. Unfortunately, it does even for me. If I were not the author of this story, I might myself roll my eyes at someone talking about hundreds of millions of people. But, when I’m done here, I hope that you think twice or three times about the scope of what it really means to you and me.
Just think for a minute about the many things our humanity has survived: famines, plagues, natural disasters, religious inquisitions, and wars. Let’s look at plagues for a second.
Plagues: When you add the deaths brought on by Malaria, the Black Death, Measles, Smallpox, the Spanish Flu, the Plague of Justinian, Tuberculosis, the Bubonic Plague, the Antonine Plague and AIDS, you’re talking about nearly 7 Billion deaths. That’s close to the current (2019) population of the entire planet and about 22 times the population of the United States. There were literally villages in the middle ages that were completely wiped out by plagues. The bloodlines of entire families were wiped out in some cases.
If your family happened to have been one of the victims of any of those plagues, you literally would not be here today. There would have been about a 50/50 chance that you wouldn’t. But your family was made of good stuff…the best stuff; so here you are today playing video games and getting your news from blogs, all so very thankful and mindful of the sacrifices made before you that allow you to simultaneously hold the high score in Donkey Kong AND Super Mario Odyssey for 2 years straight.
But seriously, what would our planet look like today had all those deaths not occurred? The human experience is complex. From massive amounts of death and destruction have arisen new antibodies and disease resistance that helped to carry our ancestors, the ones with the strongest immune systems of their day, on to reproduce and evolve further.
War: If we examine the aftermath of war, which by the way is incalculable, and break it down from Ancient Wars (549 BC to 450 AD), Medieval Wars (534 AD to 1487 AD) and Modern Wars (1494 AD to 2018), it is a scary picture indeed. Ancient Wars took about 60,000,000 people from us. That is not including the spouses and children who died from starvation as a result of the death of their soldier husband/father or the death of civilians when villages were pillaged. Medieval Wars took another 90,000,000 people. Modern Wars, however, have taken more than 465,000,000 people out of our gene pool.
By combining just the known casualties of recorded war acts, the numbers are staggering – more than 600 million people. But the reality is that there has always been war, much of it unrecorded. Entire peoples, languages and cultures have been eliminated by war.
Religion: Religious persecutions, insurrections and inquisitions have been quite the DNA altering influences as well. More than 10,000,000 documented people have been intentionally and quite gruesomely murdered at the hands of various religious sects, orders, church’s, etc., in the absolute belief that God instructed them to do it.
It’s amazing to me that even an evolved and otherwise healthy human mind can be influenced to believe and to justify the complete intolerance of another’s beliefs and ideals. We see militant religious intolerance to this very day from every nook, cranny and political sphere known. There are some human conditions for which no cure could ever be invented – because perhaps we don’t want them.
Famine: Famine is not something to sneeze at in our world history either. Just in China alone, widespread famines have taken the lives of over 80,000,000 Chinese family descendants. Russia too has a long and painful history of famines; the cumulative effect of which numbers close to 21,000,000 people.
Just think for a minute what it would have been like to live in either China or Russia during any of the dozens of separate national famines of those era’s. I remember news reports from my teens showing thousands of Russians standing in bread lines to get rationed food. These are not just historical era problems from a more barbaric past. Famines are current events.
When the widespread push of Communism was spreading through Western Europe after WWII, the U.S. and its Allies were just as concerned about famine and hunger as they were about totalitarianism. People were dying by the millions. The U.S. alone spend more than 13 Billions dollars on foreign aid to western Europe from 1948 to 1951 in order to save lives.
Ethnic Indians too have lost nearly 60,000,000 people to famine over their recorded history and Africa has lost 20,000,000 just in the 20th century alone. When you look at famine deaths worldwide, it’s not difficult to figure out that we’re pretty darn lucky that our particular ancestors were somehow able to survive to leave us this healthier legacy – the importance of which we may or may not have figured out for ourselves.
Natural Disaster: Along with all the other drama and dysfunction happening before we existed, our poor forefathers also dealt with other issues you may not have thought about. Our planet has endured 5 separate ice ages, thousands of earthquakes, volcano eruptions, banana peel falls, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, asteroid collisions, pterodactyl attacks, mud slides and who knows what all else. I have no way of calculating the total deaths and migrations associated with the ice ages and it would be impossible to account for the historic numbers of people affected by the other events I mentioned.
I think though it would be more than fair to assume that millions and millions of our ancestors have been eliminated from our genetic heritage as a result of natural disasters. If you’ve ever been fortunate to visit the ancient city of Pompeii on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, you’ve probably met what’s left of some of these unfortunate ancestors in person.
So, for those of you who’ve not been keeping up with the score, we’ve passed the current worldwide population (7 Billion) by over 8 hundred million people. This unfortunate fraternity of humanity, I’ll call the Friends Without Benefits Club, are an anomaly for sure. Many of them never had the chance to pass on their DNA, but we know they made enormous contributions to our survival that will never be fully appreciated as we mostly have no names, books, statues or poems from which to memorialize them.
These were not just heroes of their villages and cultures who sacrificed themselves as soldiers in order to keep their family’s DNA safe, they were also the guinea pigs of early humanity who donated their existence to a science that was not yet knowable.
When you are at your lowest moments and you question why you are here or whether anyone would care if your gone, think about all the good karma that saw to it your existence was even possible. Even my dog has a reason to be here. None of us are accidental. None of us are incidental.
And when you begin to feel the pains of intolerance to anyone for anything. Step back a second and remember how radical intolerance begins. It begins with justified intolerance. Sometimes a justified intolerance for people who have intolerance toward you and your ideals. Try instead to cultivate the grace within you and recognize that everything in this world has its own time, but time is temporary. Be patient and it will change.
This is 2019; we still don’t have jet packs and I still can’t find an answer as to why I was born without pinky toe nails. When I was a child, I accepted my mom’s perfectly sound explanation, “You’re the youngest of four Chris; I just ran out of those things by the time you were born.” Now being middle aged, I’m beginning to struggle with my mom’s explanation. I’m also pissed off that the National Institute of Health has yet to fund any ground-breaking research into the matter.
Clearly, I am not the only person on the planet that is afflicted with the absence of a proper claw for my nethermost nubins. In fact, just last week Emily asked the lady who does our pedicures if it was a common thing. Her reply gave me some shaky confidence, “Oh yes, very very common, many good customers have feet like you.” But then she turned to a Vietnamese co-worker and said something that sounded kinda like…, “Nguoi dan ong nay coi giay va khac.” Which I later learned could be interpreted loosely as, “This man take off shoe and is real different.”
No one seems to know! Even Wikipedia is silent on the matter. The closest thing I can find on the internet is a podiatrist in Iowa saying that some people don’t have toe nails on certain toes…duh! This doesn’t help me.
I feel like a freak show every time I strip my shoes off in public. My pinky toes are shaped perfect, they just don’t wear any underwear. It’s embarrassing. I don’t even get a discount for my pedicures which is actually insane to me.
I should, at minimum, get one of those blue handicapped thingee’s that you hang on your rear view mirror because walking a long distance from a parking space gives one way too much time to think about the lack of appropriately formed appendages.
“You’re the youngest of four; I just ran out of those things by the time you were born.”
But now, thanks to ground-breaking scientific studies, we know with certainty how long it takes the average mammal to pee – 21 seconds, give or take 13 seconds. The world was also recently informed of a much anticipated scientific study to determine where on the body a bee sting hurts the most. The nostril, the upper lip and the penis shaft. That’s good news for the ladies out there and a good trade-off for the burden of childbirth. Lastly, we now know without any doubt, thanks to recent scientific studies, that a chicken walks funny when you attach a weighted stick to its ass. I really needed to know these things.
I’m still waiting on one of these chicken-stick scientists to have a child who’s lacking a little bit, you know, down there, and summon the courage to beg the question…why no toe nail? Perhaps if the birth rate of no-nailers could be shown to increase or decrease during years of climate change, we may get the answers we all need.
I’ve decided to make up a kind of Big Lebowski-esque kidnapping story and tell everyone that I sacrificed my baby toe nails to save the planet. Then maybe I can begin to look people square in the face again. “You want a toe nail? I can get you a toe nail, believe me; I’ll get you two!”
My brain has been rattling around quite a bit this week over the subject of parenting so I thought I might help myself understand the subject better if I put my thoughts down in writing. I can at times be a tad bit introverted so I have a tendency, when left to my own devices, to wonder around aimlessly inside my own head thinking about various things like this; ya’ll already know that about me.
Of course, it’s a bit absurd that I of all people would attempt to explain what a perfect parent is to anyone else being that I only did it once and I don’t think I was particularly great at it. That said, this is not necessarily a blog about how to be a perfect parent, it’s more of a letter to myself about the complexities of parenthood and perhaps an elaborate excuse for me sucking at it. You’re more than welcome to follow along and make fun of me if you want.
I hate to summarize my entire blog in the third paragraph for obvious reasons. So to better ensure that you will want to continue reading to the end, I will spice up my summary with what may be considered a controversial idea for the times in which we’re now living – the crazy idea that no one person could ever be the perfect parent.
This late-in-life recognition comes from multiple realizations. First of which radiates from my own personal experiences; second, from outside observations; and third, from the school of life. It’s the worst kind of school to go to, it has no monkey bars nor a recess.
I am an individual person with my own set of natural abilities, inclinations, habits, beliefs, deficiencies, and proclivities. There are certain aspects of parenting that my specific skill sets and personality are great at. There are others that I completely suck at. But that’s just me. What about my child? Wouldn’t it make sense that he would also have that same sort of complexities and individuality that I have? What if his personality learns in a different way than I naturally teach? What if his personality feels and expresses differently than I’m capable of emoting or comprehending?
Of course, two people can meet, be attracted to each other, fall in love, get married, sit on the same toilet, get pregnant and produce a child together without any idea of how to be parents. Both people could theoretically have the same personality quirks, strengths, weaknesses, etc., and possibly be completely incapable of supporting the other parent in any way. It could happen.
But, it is far more likely that each parent will have a different and separate set of skills and faults, each somewhat supporting the deficiencies of the other parent. Logic says that at least one parent will have some innate ability to jive with their child but that two will have at least some parental synergy and thus help the child benefit from what each parent has to offer.
Can any one individual parent be both a stern and strict enforcer of rules, standards, and family traditions and also provide an unstructured environment that provides for freedom of thought and creativity? Can one individual parent be so well-rounded as to share in their child’s perspectives and allow them to indulge themselves in a creative world without bounds but also exemplify the importance of politeness or respect of others/elders – with an intolerance of public unruliness? I’ve never known one person who can be all those things.
It’s far more reasonable to believe that one parent will always naturally fall into one role and the other parent will fall into the opposite or somewhat different role. Having two parents with two distinctly different personalities better ensures that children grow up with a broader perspective and wider range of skills, abilities, comprehensions and emotions.
I’ve characterized the following parent types into Little Rascal characters. Maybe you fall into one of these and maybe you don’t. I’m in no way attempting to describe all parent types, just enough to make my points.
Spanky parents are naturally playful and warm and love to see their children excited, playing in and experimenting with the world around them. Encouraging this playfulness and growth by always suggesting activities and lessons can really leverage the super powers that very young children have when it comes to the speed at which they can learn. These parental types will embrace and encourage their child’s productive interests as they arise, sweeping away dolls and dinosaurs when interests shift to the oceans, and eliminating the plastic fish when tastes change again, to the stars.
All that wonderfulness aside, this Spanky type of parent may be unlikely to have the heart to establish normal limitations themselves. They don’t always recognize the value of structure and predictability. Their entire façade is built on the premise of infinite and limitless possibility.
Do you remember the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy where Sandler (Sonny Koufax) was a law school grad – too lazy to take the Bar exam but who adopted a boy to impress his girlfriend? My most prominent memories are the kid pissing in the living room corner and how Koufax never made the kid take a bath. The kid became the stinky kid at school because Sonny Koufax was a Spanky dad.
Froggy parents are more analytical. Parenting, like so many other person-to-person relationships can be quite difficult for analytical people as you can imagine. If you’re a person who’s heavily invested in rational thought, logic, and analyzing causes and effects, you can be woefully unprepared for dealing with a little person who hasn’t quite yet developed these same abilities. Froggy struggles with simple communication because he’s incapable of coddling or light/insignificant conversation.
Froggy may be the most rational person in the world but utterly fail in overt displays of physical affection or emotional sensitivity. He certainly has important skillsets that children need to be exposed to but on a personal level Froggy has an inability to convey those skills without the assistance of another parent who is much more emotionally available.
Froggy is otherwise a man of many talents. He has glasses so we know he’s smart and if given an opportunity, he genuinely wants to pass on his many talents to his offspring. It’s not for a lack of want, it’s a lack of self-awareness and instinct that keeps Froggy from being the parent he really wants to be.
Stymie has a mantra of “hard work, tradition, and respect”. In many ways, Stymie is the classic 50’s era father figure although Stymie could just as easily be a mother – it is a classic genderless name and perfect for a 21st century blog character. The problem with Stymie’s are that they are often standup, perfectionist type folks and they expect their children to continue the examples they’ve already set. It’s difficult for kids to live up to these exceptionally high expectations but of course the ones that do live up to it sort of prove that it’s a good parenting style, right? Maybe.
The sort of parental inflexibility that Stymie parents are known to have, if left to their own devices, can become quite a challenge for a kid who is growing into their more naturally rebellious adolescent years. The challenge is almost greater for Stymie, not the kid.
Stymie parents enjoy creating secure, structured, stable environments, and consider it an affront to have those considerations rejected which is what adolescents are famous for doing. Insubordination is not particularly well-tolerated by a Stymie and I sort of get that. It is a very difficult thing to raise a child these days and it never hurts to feel some appreciation for all the efforts you’re undertaking.
We all understand that accountable parenting is a responsibility, not an option, but (always a but) not everyone does, or wants to, or feels the need to, or is willing to do the right thing and it feels damn good to hear your child express some understanding and gratitude for those efforts.
Buckwheat is artistic and adventurous and fun-loving. Buckwheat loves hands-on activities and hobbies that further develop an artistic talent or boost a child’s social awareness. But, when it comes to things like saving for their child’s college education, our Buckwheat would turn straight to oatmeal without a partner whom is much better at taking care of those sort of things.
Buckwheat’s are, however, full of empathy and awareness: a bedrock of emotional support. Buckwheat’s will never bullheadedly tell a child what it ought to do, but instead, will help them to explore all options and encourage them to follow their hearts and instincts. Those are awesome qualities and any child would be fortunate to have a Buckwheat parent. Naturally lacking structure, focus, rules and stability, Buckwheat parents also fall short of perfection.
We all know Butch. He’d occasionally steal Darla away from Alfalfa with his obvious swagger but if Butch and Darla were to have children, I think Butch would do well to put a ring on Darla and keep her around. Parenting is difficult for Butch. Not a naturally sensitive guy, he struggles to identify the raw emotions and irrationality that are often the standard with young children, who have yet to develop the sort of self-control and logical thinking that someone like Butch takes for granted.
Butch has no interest in raising children or managing anything other than his work or his golf game. Butch parents are likely to allow their children to enjoy lots of freedom to essentially raise themselves, allowing them to form their own principles. Butch is rational, intelligent and is engaged once the children are older but there is hardly a clumsier example of a provider of emotional support for children and pre-teens than Butch.
Lots of little boys grow up trying to emulate their Butch dads. The control and confidence Butch naturally exudes can be a powerful magnet for a child to emulate and confidence is a great attribute. But a lack of emotional connection with daddy Butch can leave some children feeling like they don’t measure up.
Oh-Tay; Porky is the quintessential yes man. But all that ass-kissing has made Porky want better for his kids. Porky wants to teach his children how to be effective in business, impartial and logical. Porky believes that his kids should understand the difference in what is most effective versus what makes you feel good.
Porky is passionate about raising his kids with business skills and leadership ability but his approach leaves him emotionally inaccessible. He’s all about teaching strong values but he believes these values come from deep understanding, not blind trust. Discipline doesn’t necessarily come naturally for anyone but it’s a particularly challenging subject for Porky.
Porky’s standards are so high for himself and his kids that when confrontations do happen, Porky wants to frame the life lessons as archetypes of morality. If his kid rebels against it, it’s seen as a rebellion of morality because that’s how he framed it – thus Porky wants to dig in his heels and refuse to bend.
Porky is a complicated person. He can be a great parent but can smother his kids with ridiculous expectations and leave them searching for acceptance. I’m thinking George Von Trapp meets Maria. George (Porky), bullied by the Nazi’s feels emasculated. He wants better for his kids so he’s disciplined and direct. Maria swoops in with her nun outfit, teaches his kids to sing, and they live happily ever after.
If you’re an Alfalfa like me, you’re probably struggling to manage your own emotions in a healthy way, let alone trying to manage a childs’ emotions. I’m analytical for sure but not super analytical, such as a Froggy. I would definitely define myself as a true hybrid type – one quarter analytical, one quarter emotional, one quarter artistic and one quarter zombie (Spanky/Froggy/Buckwheat/Stymie/Butch/Porky).
I would say that my analytical side is usually what wins out. As a result, I tend to mostly avoid “unproductive” strictly emotional conversations, and instead take a solutions-based but slightly emotional approach to resolving most problems. Example: I never once spanked my child without first having an intellectual discussion over why it was necessary. Then, once the matter was resolved intellectually, I teared up and did the dreadful deed.
Words and ideas though, are my strongest assets – assessing a dilemma to find the underlying cause and developing a plan to solve the problem at its source. That said, I can at times be highly emotional. You just may not know it – that’s the zombie part of my personality.
A disconnect is found between what I’m able to feel and what I’m able to express. Although I think my emotional side is highly developed – there are no visual cues as to what I’m feeling. You’re laughing right now that I’m calling myself emotional, I know it.
Alfalfa’s like me try really hard to always do or say the right thing but our emotional logic doesn’t always translate. Think of children like tribes of indigenous peoples of undiscovered islands. They speak their own language and have their own unique culture – Heathens and savages if you will. Children won’t always cooperate and allow you to use all your best dance moves. Emotion and Logic, when combined, can sometimes make a profound difference.
What happens when you logic is ignored and you’re also an emotional person? Well, I can say that it is usually one of two scenarios: I either have a great conversation and things seem to work fine, or, the shit hits the fan and I use a barrage of unintelligible curse words strapped together with other curse words that I use as adjectives to connect a multitude of curse words. Then I play my Black Sabbath record backwards.
In an attempt to call upon my finely tuned emotional assets, I try to engage the emotional gears and the clutch suddenly won’t work. Frustration comes into play because it’s obvious that my brain is failing me. As long as there is no stress, my emotions seem to work just fine. But when Cortisol is released into my zombie veins, the emotions quit working and all that’s left is either logic or pathologic.
My typical style has never really been to just to tell my child what to do, but to instead to prompt him with logic to use his own mind so he arrives at some well thought out conclusion. I learned a long time ago that my child is far more independent than I, and that’s saying a lot. It makes no sense for me to tell him anything. He’s going to listen to what I’m saying and form his own opinions regardless of what I say. If that doesn’t work, I write a stupid blog and hope he reads it.
The Problem with Perfection
As you can now plainly see, there are a lot of parent personalities out there in the real world. Way more in fact than I could ever dream to know, much less understand. Some parenting styles seem more positive on the surface while other styles have a slightly uglier exterior. All that aside, when you really look beneath the thin façade of parenting styles, all knowledge and input has its place, and all systems – no matter how involved or logical, will eventually fail on their own weight if given enough time – because children mature and change and we typically do not change along with them.
Empathic and open-minded parents really are awesome for any child to have. But there’s a downside of the empathic and nurturing parents; our children eventually become adolescents. When children approach their teenage years, all this free-flowing emotion and attention can start to feel cloying and excessive to them. At a time when they are wanting more privacy and independence, you’re still smothering them with lipstick kisses and tickets to Disney On Ice.
This is a time when the most nurturing of parents are challenged the greatest I think. They have strong emotions and invest those emotions heavily in their children. As adolescent children begin to withdraw, parents sometimes have a difficult time even recognizing themselves. They’ve spent so much energy and focus on being a good parent, it leaves them wondering if all that energy even worked. Will my child have benefitted from all my affection and attention or will the kid I hate down the road have more influence on him than me?
I think life is often the best teacher. As a parent, I think I was fairly liberal, allowing my son to have his own adventures and make his own decisions, to further develop his critical thinking skills. This isn’t to say that I was necessarily lenient – rather, I expected him to use his freedom responsibly, and I theorized that the weight of this expectation alone was enough to lay out some understood ground rules.
When needed though, I was fully capable of communicating openly, sternly and honestly. I just preferred not to replicate the belt-whooping thing my dad made famous. Did my seemingly more rational approach work? I guess the answer depends of if you’re asking me if he felt the weight of my expectations and made good decisions OR if he/we learned something from the experience. I think he mostly didn’t always make great choices but I’m certain he benefitted from the experiences.
And, to be fair, there were times when all that freedom left me blindsided. Not that my parenting style was necessarily bad, it was just insufficient by itself. It took other people to point out behaviors and events that otherwise I may not have noticed. Most of the time, I would be in complete denial as to what was happening. My son had a pierced ear for weeks before I learned about it. Hint: If your child is wearing a stocking cap over his ears in the hot summer, there might be a clue inside the cap Colonel Mustard.
Sometimes, people/parents like me overthink things a bit. When you rationalize my parenting style with pure logic, it all makes sense. The problem is that there’s no logic to raising children. Each child is different and each parent’s ability to communicate is different. No book or blog can teach a person how to be a great parent. To be a great parent, you just have to want to be a great parent. Then later in life, when you get old like me, your children let you know whether you were or weren’t.
The most important thing I think I’ve learned from this exercise is just how limited we all are individually. We’re only good at a few things and we always suck at something. It only makes sense that our children are going to grow up so much well-rounded when they have two parents mentoring them daily. That doesn’t make it fool-proof, it just means that they will have a much more solid footing if they know, spend time with, and are parented by two people.
That said, four parents are better and six parents are even better than four. Typical families no longer make the effort to maintain close distances and bonds with extended members, grandparents and such. When I was a kid, we spend a tremendous amount of time with our grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles. There was this thing that families used to do annually called “family reunions”. I know it sounds odd today but people really did use to have fun spending time with dozens of extended family members eating from covered-dish dinner menus.
If you want your kids to witness the incarnation of culture, take them to a family reunion where there are 15 different versions of mac-n-cheese. Literally every family matriarch has her own recipe. Every single time you bite into a new mystery meat or crazy potato recipe, your first thought is either, “I love it”, or “Believe it or not, there’s someone in this building who is literally jonesing for this nasty ass stuff”.
I realize that it took me more than 3,500 words to tell this tale and I’m not so sure anyone learned anything, including me. But the gist of where I was going with this is that far too many people believe that children do just fine with one parent. And, maybe some do. But don’t you think that they’d do much better with two?
Spanky believed in his He-Man Woman Haters Club and was quite upset with Alfalfa when, after skipping the HMWHC meeting, he caught Alfalfa and Darla macking behind closed doors. But, Spanky would go on to find out that he was being a little short-sided on the subject of woman hating. We all mature in our thoughts eventually.
If you want kids and you want to do your best to provide them with all the tools they need to succeed in life, do your very best to find a partner that wants the same thing and whom will be a reliable, active and present member of your dream team. Sometimes things just won’t work out, divorce is a fact of life. But think twice before selfishly attempting parenthood alone when you have the option of doing it as a part of a team. No one can ever be a perfect parent alone.
What exactly is a RhineFahrt anyway? Well, Rhine refers to the name of a river in Europe and the German word/conjunction Fahrt is used in that language predominantly to refer to travel or traveling. If you’ve ever driven the autobahn then you’ve surely noticed the signage at the exit ramps – Ausfahrt. Emily and I recently visited Europe once again for a Rhine River cruise and my juvenile mind couldn’t resist but to pay more attention to the silly-looking words than the castles.
Despite all of the translation incompatibilities, it’s still lots of fun to make up humorous new phrases using the most vulnerable German words. This one was lowing hanging fruit as they say, and it’s healthy to keep people to snickering just a lil’ bit. I can’t help it; new languages always bring out the 9th grader in me.
I have to throw out a few kudos to Gate One Travel who arranged and guided us to safely fahrt along the Rhine from Amsterdam to Boppar then by coach to Lucerne. I’m always surprised and delighted to trust them with our travel itinerary as their attention to detail, accommodations, and problem solving efforts have repeatedly convinced me that they’re absolutely the best deal in international travel.
We had a rather surprising event on our trip this year. Mother Nature and her annoying friend Murphy called upon us and suddenly our wet fahrt up the Rhine River suddenly turned to shit. The Rhine had record low water levels due to a summer drought and we were eventually forced to abandon our comfortable river barge in exchange for a series of motor coach rides and hotel stays. Thankfully, we were at least able to fahrt more than half-way up river before holding our noses and abandoning our comfortable ship.
I must say, however, that although this wasn’t necessarily the vacation we were hoping for, Gate One Travel did an amazing job of catering to our every whim and desire. They worked very hard to help turn a bad situation into a positive experience. Now, if we could only talk them into booking future vacations without Chinese guests, life while abroad would be especially nice.
“There are only two things I hate in this world: People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.” – GoldMember
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no bigoted, belittling, bastard traveler. It’s just that my experiences with foreign travel and the accompaniment of Chinese tourists has made me realize the Chinese people have no real sense of personal space – at least not like the typical rural residing American. It could be likely due to many of them living in extremely densely populated cities. Pushing and shoving their way through crowds and jockeying to always be first in line. It could be that their seemingly general disregard for group decorum may be a sort of Nuevo-Confucianism – it gets the job done in a very efficient way. Heck, what do I know – I’m just a dumb redneck.
I guess I’m probably being way too judgmental; Big city folks in every country are probably just like that…uhhh, nope I take that back. My New York and Boston traveling companions are nothing like that. That cements it, it’s just the Chinese.
To the guy like me who has a two-hundred acre back yard – the pushing and posturing just seems plain ole rude. If I happen to make it to a door first, all I’m going to do is to hold it open for a lady or two anyway. Trust me, I’m no threat to you going in the door first. Other than their fahrting style, Chinese people are great in every other way. We’ve met some terrific Chinese people in our travels and on an individual level they’ve been especially great conversationalists and overall decent people; I just think their way of fahrting really stinks.
Now, who fahrted anyway? Oh yea, it was me. And boy did I! Actually, Emily and I were fahrting together but who cares about the semantics of a blog? No one reads blogs anyway and I just lost all 5 of my Chinese subscribers. Now I’m down to my mom, my two sisters, and the 3 Dutch bicyclists who are planning my death after the last blog I wrote.
Who’s counting anyway? Despite the travel challenges we sometimes face, Emily and I have grown to really love all this tag-team fahrting we’ve been doing lately. To be honest, her profession has made her quite the expert on the subject. No one fahrts quite like my wife and I’m so fortunate to be able to relax and trust that her frequent fahrting will always put us miles ahead. Hmm, maybe that’s why the Chinese don’t like being behind us … haven’t thought of it that way before.
Oh well, our vacation actually began in Amsterdam which was beautiful in its own unique way but quite different than I expected. If you love 17th century residential architecture and smoking weed in public then it’s a must see. The feel of this city is very much enhanced by all the canals and arch bridges in a quasi-Venice sort of way. Don’t be mistaken, however, it’s not Venice. Think about it, they did invent the Dutch Oven here.
I think what makes the city fun is the overall feeling of acceptable debauchery. The red-light district contributes to that “anything goes” expectation. But in reality, people suck down their mini-bong fumes all about town like it’s the newest bestest oxygen out there. No one ever quite feels like they’re not in some sort of red light district anyway – which is fun in its own way I guess. It’s a bit like a college panty-raid. It ain’t exactly illegal but it makes you feel dirty and excited all at the same time. The biggest difference being, you can’t take the bong home as a souvenir.
I can’t help but to mention, because I’ve seen this time after time, the McDonalds restaurants in Europe are nothing like we know in America. They are actually extremely nice, well-appointed with beautiful Chandelier lighting, super clean restrooms, and warm, friendly, professional employees. I don’t know what they pay McDonalds employees in Europe but it must be pretty good. Sometimes you pay to use the super awesome restrooms and sometimes you just get a code on your receipt and use the code to enter the vault like door. Either way, when you’re fahrting like crazy, and need a good place to rest your legs, you can never go wrong with a European McDonalds.
The first leg of the Rhine River from Amsterdam, Holland to Cologne, Germany is quite industrial, flat and featureless. It leaves you ample opportunity to unwind a while to enjoy a good long relaxing fahrt. You’ll need to blow off some steam for Cologne as it is a busy place indeed.
As Emily and I fahrted along the quaint and ancient streets, hand-in-hand, experiencing the quaint old town of Cologne, we noticed several decent antique shops – a passion we both share. Maybe even equal to that of a great fahrt. As with most other European cities which were originally Roman outposts, there are unique sites both old and new to discover around every corner.
Cologne has a fantastic museum in the center of their old town. The story told to us was that Hitler was building a museum there and discovered a fantastic Roman villa about 30 feet below ground during the excavation. He decided to construct the museum entirely around the ancient site. Gee, and here I was thinking Hitler was an asshole.
The museum is located adjacent to the cathedral, a magnificent Gothic styled cathedral having as its architectural triumph, some of the tallest spires of any other Gothic cathedral in the world. The inside of the magnificent building is perhaps not as elaborate as many we’ve visited but it is said to hold the remains of the Three Wise Men inside its sequestered catacombs.
We were not able to access or figure out where the Wise Men may have been located as none of the signage offered an English translation, a rare thing in Europe and also ironic due to having the most famous wise men in the history of our world being in a place that denies its wisdom to non-German speakers.
Afterward, I noticed that Germany is pretty much like that everywhere. Few English translations anywhere. They have English signage in Slovenia and Croatia and Hungary and Czechia and Slovakia and Montenegro and Austria and Italy and France and Turkey and Ecuador and Spain and Greece and Bosnia and Japan and Colombia but not in Germany. This particular fahrt doesn’t pass the smell test.
Enough of my rant; aside from all that stuff, Cologne is amazingly home to what Emily and I would describe as some of the best pizza in the entire world. Forget Naples Italy, visit Cologne. Rob and Rachel would also agree. In fact, the four of us fahrted happily all the way back to the ship afterward – talking about the fantastic German pizza we enjoyed together.
Leaving Cologne, we sailed to Koblenz. The Rhine was becoming more scenic after leaving the big city of Cologne so the fahrting was much more intensified. Koblenz is a small city which was once a very important place. It has both Roman and later royal German ancestry with an amazing Romanesque cathedral. It is also an important wine region of Alsace so if you are a wine connoisseur, Koblenz is a great place to visit for their annual wine festival. It’s also important to mention that the drought was very serious in this region (2018) so the wine produced here (Alsatian Riesling’s) are expected to be fantastic for this year.
Next, we traveled to the village cities of Spay and Boppar, then took a tour of the 12th century castle called Marksburg. It is the only hilltop castle along the Rhine that is completely original, never damaged by war or time. All of the other 40’ish or so hilltop castles along the Rhine have been destroyed and rebuilt over time. The castle is an amazing time-capsule of the medieval life of sovereigns.
Boppar was as far as our ship could travel before being forced to dock. As a result, the travel company decided to book a smaller boat to take us a couple hours further upstream to see another dozen or so hilltop castles along the Rhine – knowing we’d entirely miss them otherwise. Later we dined in the town and slept aboard our ship for the last time then in the morning boarded our new coach – the SMY Zardine Kan, and took a lengthy fahrt to the city of Koblenz, Germany.
The most memorable thing that happened in Boppar was our dinner conversation at a fine Italian restaurant. The tables were topped with fine white linens, the flatware was decent and the ambiance was sophisticated German/Italian with its dozen or so sophisticated patrons conversing quietly among themselves. Suddenly, when our group conversation inadvertently steered in the direction of Adolph Hitler, albeit humorous (to us), Rachel blurted out in an absurdly loud manner, “Did ya’ll know that Hitler is a very common name…blah, blah, blah……” (Rob silenced Rachel just quick enough that it triggered one of those “it would be really rude to laugh out loud right now so I can’t help but to laugh out loud for ten minutes” kind of situation).
The otherwise quiet room turned cold and sterile almost immediately. Then, after a long laugh, we had to gently explain to Rachel that German people don’t really like for people to talk openly about that terribly convincing and manipulative Austrian. It really makes them Fuhrer-ious (sorry).
On to the city of Darmstadt, Germany and our hotel the Maritim – not the greatest in the world but very good considering they had to find a decent place for 150 guests on extremely short notice. Oh well, what’s to complain about – I’m in Germany touring castles and wineries instead of reviewing subdivision plats and writing zoning ordinances.
We left Darmstadt in the morning enroute to the city of Speyer which is one of the oldest cities in Germany with a Roman military camp established in 10 BC. In 150 AD the town first appears on the world map by Greek geographer Ptolemy as the city of Noviomagus. In the 7th century AD, a Frankish tribe called the Nemetes settled here and named it Spira. The impressive Speyer Cathedral, drenched in history itself, holds the tombs of eight (8) Holy Roman Emperors and German Kings. Leaving Speyer, we fahrted the entire way to Strasbourg, France.
Strasbourg is an absolutely gorgeous city. The combination of French and German culture/language/architecture/cuisine is a very fun thing to experience. We took a long group-fahrt through the old town until reaching the impressive Notre Dame cathedral. She is absolutely fantastic – the most impressive thing inside (to me) being the 16th century astronomical clock – reminiscent of the Prague astronomical clock (Prague Orloj). Also of note, the American monument men (see movie) were able to discover and rescue the original medieval stained glass windows of this cathedral after WWII, returning them back to their original positions. It’s definitely a must-see city along the Rhine.
While there, we enjoyed this typical Alsatian pizza thingee (not really a pizza) called “tarte flambée” or flammekueche in Alsatian. It’s an Alsatian flatbread topped with a layer of cheese (fromage blanc), onions and bacon and maybe some sour crème, baked in a brick oven. It looks like pizza so we were all jonesing for another Cologne type pizza experience and just ordered it like pros. We all ate it, and…liked it for the most part. But, it is definitely an unusual taste for our redneck palates. Oh well.
We crossed back over into Germany to the beautiful city of Baden-Baden to spend the night at the Radison Blue hotel. Baden-Baden is a quaint but elegant German village with a very ritzy casino. The name basically translates to Spa-town, named by the Roman’s, but it really must have been a crazy terrific spa town because someone named it twice. I theorized that perhaps the Roman Governor spoke with a stutter and his subordinates were too afraid to correct him. It’s a good story anyway. We were pretty tired so fortunately there was no fahrting in the spa. Just some sushi for dinner and on to bed.
It was at this point of our trip where everyone was beginning to show signs of exhaustion. Two-week trips are great because you’re not turning around and flying home a few days after arrival but it can also be stressful if you load your itinerary up with excursions and side trips like we’re accustomed to do. The theory being, “I’m only here once in my life – maybe, so why not see as much as I can in one trip?”
First by ship, then by bus, we continued on our course by parting whatever waves and breaking glorious wind to take us to lands we’d scarcely, if at all, heard about. And just like that, we were in just such a place, Colmar, France by way of Brisach, Germany. Brisach is a 4000 year old city that is pronounced in English as Brysa. It’s very quaint, only having a couple thousand people. The ancient part of the once walled city sits atop a tall round hill with a large cathedral sitting atop – reminiscent of our visit to the Croatian city of Rovinj.
It was lunch time and we were not going to stop again until 3 PM so it was important that we grabbed some lunch in Brisach. We found a cutsie café on the old town called the Café Conditorei Bachtel and ordered some sandwiches. We discovered that the place is run by people who hate life, hurt babies and horde food. I say this because a few minutes after we sat and ordered sandwiches, Rachel returns red-faced from the inside of the café, mad as a wet hen, claiming the café staff were extremely rude to her. She had to walk it off while we awaited our orders – food that never arrived.
We think the staff were ticked off at Rachel so they stitched us on having lunch that day. Certainly not wanting to be impolite to the French, we left enough money on our table to pay for our full lunch, demonstrating to them an example of sophistication and class, and just left hungry. The waitress confronted me for leaving, saying “you should have told us you were in a hurry”. My response, 45 minutes after having ordered a sandwich, “if you had ever returned to our table, even once, perhaps I could have.” It was great timing to just fahrt along, not wanting to make a stink of things – so we did.
Crossing back into France to the picturesque city of Colmar was a pleasant retreat from the stench of tour-bus fahrting. It is a mostly medieval city with cobblestone streets lined by half-timbered early Renaissance homes and buildings with a Gothic 13th century church. Great shopping was to be had in this place, along with lots of interesting little food vendors and shops. Emily loaded up on her favorite French cooking salt Flour de Sel at the local grocer and I found a hot dog stand. After a quick snack, we loaded up the bus and fahrted all the way to Switzerland.
Basel, Switzerland is yet another medieval city on the borders of Swizerland, France and Germany. In fact, the International airport there, although extremely poorly rated by its frequent flyers, offers the ability to exit the airport facility in either France or Switzerland. We again stayed at the Radisson Blu hotel, great in every one we’ve stayed in thus far, which was just around the corner from the 12th century Gothic cathedral that dominates the marketplatz and old town.
We didn’t really have an opportunity to spend any real time in Basel as we arrived late and left early the next morning headed for Lucerne, Switzerland. The hotel, however, was terrific. I may add that the fahrting toward Lucerne was extraordinary, in that it was beautiful. As one can imagine, the alpine vista’s and mostly agricultural scenery was quite picturesque.
Lucerne itself is amazing. The crown jewel, my opinion, of this entire flatulent affair. I asked Emily to pull-my-finger just to see if I might be dreaming. The significant old town is mostly intact with 16th century half-timbered homes and buildings and the Chapel Bridge, built in 1333, still spans the Reuss River as it flows from the gorgeous Lucerne Lake.
The Rosengart Art Museum was located across the street from our fantastic hotel, the Astoria Hotel, which boasts the largest private collection of Picasso artwork in the world. Emily and I were stunned by Mrs. Rosengart’s art collection which consisted of dozens of the famous Masters we all know as well as more than 150 pieces from Picasso. Our hotel boasted a Michelin Star Italian restaurant on premises, in which we indulged ourselves quite wonderfully.
To completely sum up two weeks’ worth of fahrting in one paragraph, I would say that we spent considerably more money on this trip than any other European trip we’d thus far taken yet we enjoyed it less. The places were cool and quaint and charming but by-and-large not worthy of entire days of travel. The Danube River was our favorite river cruise so far and second to the Danube would be the Rhone, both of which were picturesque the entire way and took us to far more interesting cities and villages. Switzerland was the most amazing place we visited by far.
Overall, France rarely disappoints, when it comes to clean, well-planned and preserved old towns but during this trip France fell short in Brisach with the not-so-nice waitress. Germany, however, disappointed me from a town planner’s point of view. Historic sections of old villages are latticed with patchwork railway infrastructure and hilltop vistas are absolutely littered by gigantic steel windmills that ironically were designed to preserve nature. I guess if one gigantic mass of metal that captures clean, renewable wind-energy is good then 500 more must be great! Maybe we should put a few on the lawn of the Eifel Tower to help us light up all those flashing lights?
Aside from all my juvenile remarks, I love visiting Europe but I’m ready to go back home; all this fahrting is hurting my legs anyway.