Togo, 1981

I was wandering through the backwaters of my laptop and came across these pix from 1981 when I went on the UC Education Abroad Program to France & Togo. Somehow I lost my slides from that great experience, but had given some copies to my friend and cohort, John Thomason, who digitized them and eventually sent the ones from Togo to me. Sadly, John died of cancer in 2010, but there we were almost 35 years ago.

One black & white was a funny formal shot with a friend from Chad (he’s the one in the suit), the other is of our housing at the Université du Benin in Lomé. There are some of John (shopping, on our dig in Notse [ancient wall of Agokoli the first], and meetings with various tribal elders), and random shots with kids & old folks, at Voodoo ceremonies & the Université. Check out the wild elephants…


Study Questions:

  1. Research Togo and the history of West Africa, perhaps the sources of Haitian Voodoo. Write about it.
  2. Research educational exchange programs, and the international opportunities that are available to college students. Plan your year abroad.

Rome, Pt. 6

So another day walking around Rome might look like the last one, but I’m not sure how to feel about that?

Now that we have wandered into dozens of churches (easy to do in Rome), I’m starting to have some observations. While we neither walked through the Holy Doors of Saint Peter’s at the Vatican nor do the holy water thing when entering churches, we do go in with respect and reverence. Just being in the space is not only awe inspiring, but calming, meditative, and yes, I even occasionally pray. I’ve further observed that the myriad shrines & alters constitute a magnificent experience of art. Each one – and every church has several – is a synthesis of painting, sculpture, architecture, and more. Each one allows a person, often one at a time, to take in the art “in the light of reverence*” and merge one’s spiritual sense with an aesthetic sense. One honors the other.

Further, the sheer number of these places and spaces throughout the hundreds of chapels, churches, and cathedrals of Christendom represents an astounding output of artistic production. And while the parameters are quite defined, the variations are often surprising. Whatever the politics of religion, if one can surrender to the aesthetics of spirituality, one may feel transcendence. Perhaps the artists, in honoring all those saints, were the saints themselves…?

*”In the Light of Reverence” is a Sacred Lands Film Project produced by filmmaker Toby McLeod.


Related, here’s the Pantheon of Rome…


Speaking of religion, in our wanderings we can across “Family Day” in Circus Maximus (Jan. 30, 2016). From what I could tell this event was about Christianity and supporting the concept of a family being a man & a woman. (Not a lot of purple, or rainbows, or much fun, or many kids for that matter…)



A few more of Ancient Rome, and not so ancient…


The Tiber River, day & night…

Study Questions:

  1. Research other churches and features of ancient Rome in the modern city of Rome. Do you see any of them above?
  2. Research religion, spirituality, and Gnosticism. How might these ideas relate to houses of worship?
  3. What has been the role of the Tiber River in Roman history?


Rome, Pt. 5

During our stay in Rome we moved from an AirBnb near the Trevi Fountain to one in Trastevere, across the river. While the latter seems to be popular, we much preferred the former. It was a bigger & better apartment, had a convenient/adjacent metro stop, and I’m liking that neighbourhood better than Trastevere (Greenwich-Melrose-Mission that it may be). After visiting some of Rome’s classic sites (Colliseum, Vatican, etc.) we continued to wander the city meandering down streets, into churches, hither and thither.

Here are some church pix…


Miscellaneous views of the Tiber, Piazza Navona, Trastevere, etc…


Around town we encountered “street art,” some better than others, a few cars, window displays, amongst this and than…

Study Questions:

  1. What do you think of grafitti on ancient structures and in general?
  2. Do these photos teach anything? Do you have a favorite? Why?


Rome, Pt. 4

Vatican Video…


Here’s another version with strangely appropriate, albeit antitheotical (sic), music by the late, great David Bowie from the soundtrack to the movie “The Saint” (also strangely appropriate)…

Study Questions:

  1. Do you recognize any of the art work in the video? Which pieces by which artists?
  2. Which version is better? What music would be more appropriate? What text should be added?

Rome, Pt. 3

Of course we went to the Vatican, and spent the whole day. The first set is of Saint Peter’s Cathedral, and the second set in the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel!


Study Questions:

  1. Research the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church. Discuss the government of the Vatican.
  2. Research the art of the Vatican Museum. What are some of the famous pieces by whom?
  3. Relate your research to one or more of the photos above.


Rome, Pt. 2

On the way back from the colosseum we finally ran into some bad luck. Mary Lynn was pickpocketed (or at least lost her money belt) on the metro, or thereabouts. Kind of a bummer, but worked out OK as it was only credit cards and a drivers license. We reported it at the police station, then went to the American Embassy to call credit card companies. (Didn’t have to cancel mine, yay, and we still have access to our funds!)

Later that day we went to Borghese Park and rode electric motor assisted surreys and strolled around. Some pix…


A clip riding the surreys…


Here are some pix of Italian style (bike, shoes, street art), and municipal manifestations of SPQR (sigla del latino Senatus Populusque Romanus (Senatvs PopvlvsQve Romanvs), in italiano “Il Senato e il popolo romano”, racchiude in sé le figure che rappresentano il potere della Repubblica romana: il Senato e il popolo, cioè le due classi dei patrizi e dei plebei che erano a fondamento dello Stato romano. L’acronimo SPQR, nell’accezione fornita dal dizionario “IL” di Castiglioni-Mariotti, vuol dire “Senatus Populusque Quiritium Romanus“, cioè: “il Senato e il Popolo Romano dei Quiriti”; il quirite era infatti il cittadino dell’antica Roma che godeva dei pieni diritti civili, politici e anche militari.)

Study Questions:

  1. How were the laws and the government of ancient Rome similar to those of the US?
  2. How were the sports & entertainments of ancient Rome similar to or different from those of the US?
  3. Relate a photo to research you’ve done.


Rome, Pt. 1

After some trepidation about driving in Rome, we decided to bust the move we’d done before and drop our stuff off at the AirBnb, then I’d go return the rental car. Perhaps it was the Sunday afternoon when we arrived, perhaps it was an easy route, perhaps Roman traffic has improved, in any case it was easy, breezy, Lemon squeezy. Parking spot right out front, zilch congestion, and now I’m a pro at a seventh-floor-parking structure-at-the-train-station-rental-drop-off. (And the Ford mini-van automatic had the best luggage space so far!)

That, and the fact our apartment is well located near the Barberini Metro, has three large bedrooms, two bathrooms, and good wifi, made for a nice arrival in Rome. The next morning we walked by the Trevi Fountain, through the Forum area, to the Colosseum. Here are some pix…


Study Questions:

  1. Research Rome, Italy, and the Roman Empire.
  2. Relate what you learn to at least one photograph.

The Peripatetic School, Pt. 5


Just go. There may not be a better time, there may not be another time. Thoreau said, “time is but the stream I go a-fishin’ in.” So don’t cut bait. Of course you will also have to wait, at stops and stations across the nations. But stand and look, or bring a book, or turn a stranger to a friend. Do it now, for this will end.

Now however, should be during the off-season, when there aren’t so many tourists. We’ve benefited from shorter lines, fewer people, easier views, and cheaper tickets. Winter in Italy hasn’t been that cold. (Lots of baby Jesus, but no El Niño!). We’ve tried to follow the good weather, moving from north to south as summer turned to fall then winter, but avoiding the crowds is key. Another way to do that is find the places that are not tourist meccas.

I’m reminded of the flocks of people standing before the Mona Lisa raising their phones for a shot over the heads of the huddled masses looking for unquiet inspiration. What about the other paintings in that room, or in the darkened corners of the Louvre, or in some small museum in some distant village where some other smiling masterpiece has no beholder? It could be you. And there’s a discussion, a lesson for the kids: what makes that painting, that building, that person, that thing, so famous? What is the artistic merit? What is the canon? What is the difference?

Here’s another, the shelf life on a tweeners attention span is short, and museums wear thin – as do cathedrals, castles, and myriad historical landmarks. The solution: playgrounds! Speaking of Paris, there are some good ones. Luxembourg Gardens has a big one, packed, traditional, but fun. Try La Villette, and spend the whole day. Not only is there a huge kid-friendly museum, there’s a supercool playground with a great slide. The slide alone is worth the trip. Even better, in Spain rent bikes along the Rio Madrid. Not only is it a great and fun ride, but every couple hundred yards is another playground, and crazy ones. There are multiple zip lines, tilted merry-go-rounds, par-cours/ninja-warrior structures, an all-tunnel-slide mountain, and these two/three person swinging rope things that are awesome. Once you’ve got playground awareness, they appear all over the place. That, and a few fun bike rides, boat trips, staircases (yes, spiral as in castles or viewish as in Eiffel Tower), and mysterious exploratory missions, and your kids will go to bed quickly and happily – always a plus!

Here’s another one. We did this in Venice, but any medieval city will do. Play “let’s get lost” and let kids take turns taking turn after turn after turn. When lost, who can find the way back? Back where? In fact, random walkabouts, subway trips, bus rides, or whatever can lead to serendipitous wonderfulness (or not, be careful). Or, let the kids take turns choosing what to do and give ‘em a bunch of options. They may not pick the museum you would, but they’ll have enough buy-in to pay attention. And whatever it is, take breaks, sit down and have a cuppa, recharge the batteries, watch the people – what are they thinking?

Then, onward and sideways. My wife does not approve, but I bribe ‘em with sweet treats all the time, “one more museum floor, one more hidden masterpiece, one more scenic vista, one more look around the next bend in the long and winding road.” Further, Ever Further!

The Peripatetic School, Pt. 4

Travel Tips

Traveling today is far different and much improved from the past, in ways other than technology. This post is about lodging, food, and transportation.

AirBnb accommodations have been wonderful. We had stayed in one in Ketcham Idaho during the summer of 2014 and it was great (bikes, zip line in backyard, cozy fireplace, etc.). There are others like VRBO, and we used the British service Home Away. By the time we leave for India on February 1st, we will have stayed in 16 different homes in Europe and only 3 hotels. Not only has this saved a ton of money on lodging, it saves on food. Beyond the economics, meeting locals and learning about the neighborhoods and cities where we’ve stayed has been outstanding. Advice from our hosts has taken us to places we would not have normally visited, and while many of these are rented continuously, they still give more of an authentic feel of living in the community. Of course, some have been better than others. Paris was rough, super small, kinda dirty, not easy to relax in. The second Cadiz place, our longest stay, was great, modern, equipped, great wifi, even better location. Both countryside stays, Montjouan in France (Burgandy) and Certaldo in Italy (Tuscany) have been charming, comfortable, and homey. Being able to cook food and do laundry has been great, and with a few exceptions we’ve averaged almost a week in each place which is usually enough to get a feel of the area.

Speaking of food, with a few exceptions going out a lot will eat up your money. So we’ve had many fun grocery store adventures and it helps that we like to cook. Another good option in Europe are sandwiches which can be found in lots of cafes and pastry shops. They’re usually pretty cheap and good. Of course there’s pizza in Italy, tapas in Spain, all kinds of wonderfulness in France, and we’ve tried to have a few nice culinary experiences. However, I gotta say, I’m likin’ the USA for victuals. Not only do we have every kind of ethnic restaurant, but some of those folks do it better there than the homeland. And I’m sorry, but the food in Spain was disappointing. I didn’t really care for paella to begin with, often the olives had this expired flavour, some of the tapas were gross, and bland was not banned. Further, except for an occasional Italian or American restaurant, there wasn’t anything ethnic. The poor Chinese people we met there must have it really rough. As Dad & CFO, I’m a human garbage disposal anyway and can’t afford to be picky. Take away: eat at home – wherever that is.

Getting around is another tricky topic. Not only are there trains, planes, and automobiles, there are boats, bikes, and really funiculars. And walking, walking, walking, but let’s go back to the first step. On day one, the Lord created frequent flyer mile credit cards and we had enough for all of us to fly from Oakland to Boston (notice: not SF to NYC). It seemed almost free, except that we had use a shuttle and rent a car – it was three hops all night long and left us exhausted.

Having experienced the sticker shock of flights to Europe, we considered cruises and serendipitously the Queen Mary 2 was leaving NYC a couple days after we arrived. Perfect, except that we’d planned to stay longer then go to DC, buy hey, we’ll be back. When we booked it we didn’t even realise that the musical guests for that cruise were Crosby, Stills, Nash – awesome. We didn’t actually get to chat with them while strolling on deck, but they gave a great show and since then we’ve been to Winchester Cathedral, the Marrakech Express, and hopefully are Teaching our Children Well.

Which leads us to cars, and the fact no one wanted me to be driving in England on the left hand side of the road. I’d looked into buying a car then selling it later, and that still might be the best way to go. However, I ran into some problems with registration and insurance, and it was exceeding bandwidth to figure out. So it was trains, taxis, and tubes in England. On the continent we’ve now rented five cars (two Citroens, a VW, an Opel, and a Ford). I’ve used both AutoEurope and EconomyCarRentals as online brokers, and it’s been mostly good. Finding the Paris drop off at Gare du Nord was a nightmare, squeezing our copious luggage into a couple has been a challenge, and Europcar at first threatened to charge us for scratches on the VW, but realised their error. While it may have cost a bit more than owning, we’ve saved in not paying for parking in big cities (which can be ridiculous) and in Cadiz we had no car for almost two months, just walking, with an occasional taxi, bus, or ferry boat.

I do a lot of comparison shopping and occasionally four train tickets (esp. in Italy) have been better than a car rental. Another trick is staying within the country you rent in. You’ll still have to pay to return to a different location (sometimes the brokers cover that), but it’s crazy expensive if you return in a different country. So, we first rented in Calais, drove through Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, but returned in Paris. After a week there, we rented in Paris, drove to San Sebastian, Spain, but popped back into France the next day to return in Biarritz. Renting again in Spain, we spent a day in Portugal. There’s probably more advice about European driving, but go slow, research your route ahead of time, and inspect the car before taking the keys (take pix of scratches!). Hey, there’s more. Route research can take you to cool spots, parking research is also valuable, organising drop offs can save taxi fare, and yes Ron, roundabouts rock (except in parts of Spain where they have signals on the roundabout).

Train routes, times, and fares can be found on the internet, and usually even in English. There are also online ferry brokers with lots of good options. But here is a mistake we made in coordinating things. I thought we’d ferry from Spain to Italy and there was one from Barcelona to Genoa. We decided Genoa seemed cool, so we booked an AirBnb for five nights. Then found out the ferry didn’t leave every day – ooops. Wound up flying to Milan, then having to take train to Genoa. It was cool, but we could have stayed in Milan, or maybe flown to Vienna if we hadn’t already booked the AirBnb. This goes back to deciding where you go and where you don’t. Lesson: less is more.

More on less: luggage! Not only are suitcases hard to fit in rental cars, heavy ones can be expensive on flights when you have to check ‘em, and they are a nightmare on the cobblestones of Venice after getting off the train, wheeling ‘em to the water bus to the Rialto bridge, then over five canals on a long and circuitous route getting to the hotel (then three flights of stairs with no elevator)! More on these particulars later.

One more transportation story. I spent a lot of time research Morocco, and finally decided on a tour for reasons of ease and safety. But rather than starting in Tangier which is right across from Spain, we had to fly from Sevilla to Marrakech where the tour would start and end. Sure enough the flight was cancelled, and while we spent a night in a nice hotel, we missed the first night in Marrakech. However, our tour guid Aziz came to the rescue and booked a car to pick us at the airport and catch us up to the tour. It worked swimmingly and we didn’t miss much. Tip: email everyone when disaster strikes (the tour company didn’t help, but the Marrakech hotel did!). Aziz also came through in getting our Morocco SIMs and booking our train to Casablanca when the tour was over.

In conclusion, smooth logistics takes good R&D, enjoy it. Read reviews, give yourself extra time, be kind & polite to clerks, conductors, and all your fellow travelers. Another pointer I got from Nassim Nicholas Taleb who valued this incidental advice from a colleague’s remark, “I never run for trains,” which to me means don’t just be on time, be early, but if you’re late, “keep calm and carry on,” “wherever you go there you are,” and enjoy the ride or the lack thereof. Be in this moment (not that other one).