Paris–August 7

December 13th, 2023

On a walk around the neighborhood, before our scheduled train departure for Paris, we happened upon a building fronting a large square where booths, stages and grandstands left from previous days’ Pride celebrations were being dismantled.  It  was the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, originally built as a City Hall in 1655, later converted to a Royal Palace by the conqueror Napoleon’s brother Louis Napoleon in 1806 and eventually appropriated by the Dutch Royal Family who retain control of it today.

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We arrived at the grandiose Paris Gare du Nord in the early afternoon Read the rest of this entry »

Amsterdam–August 6

December 10th, 2023

Next morning was rainy, and we decided to return to the Hermitage complex to explore some of the galleries we’d noticed the day before, none requiring reservations or as crowded the Rijksmuseum.  The City Museum provided a graphic history of the town which helped make sense of the  technological achievement of reclamation of swamp and seawater that started in the thirteenth century.  It provided a system of defensive moats, a transportation grid allowing easy movement of goods and people and access to river and ocean trade routes that led to the 17th century Dutch Golden Age. It also made the city, like Venice, an attraction for tourists.

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Rather than glorifying the Dutch cultural heritage, most of the exhibits emphasized the brutality and injustice suffered by the victims of empire and their efforts to survive, witness and protest. Read the rest of this entry »

Amsterdam–August 5

November 21st, 2023

After breakfast we set out for another major museum, the Hermitage.  Located on the bank of the Amstel River, one of the city’s natural major arteries, the morning fog obscured the building’s name and nature, which only partially revealed itself in the course our visit.

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Through a basement stairway we entered the old industrial brick compound into a sleek new interior occupied by independent galleries surrounding  courtyards and gardens and found the Rembrandt and Contemporaries exhibition visiting from New York. Read the rest of this entry »

Amsterdam-August 4

November 13th, 2023

Amsterdam is known as a city of museums, containing 75 of varying scope and size.  We were interested enough to purchase IAmsterdam cards in advance providing free entry and reservations, remembering the summer’s tourist invasion.  Our conservative preference for Rembrandt and other early modern Dutch and Flemish masters led us to the Rijksmuseum during the first morning.  It wasn’t surprising to see the rainbow flag displayed over the entrance as it was everywhere else celebrating the upcoming climax of this year’s Pride Week (or month).

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The building itself, another late nineteenth century combination of Gothic and Renaissance Revival style, opened onto a grand plaza and park, unlike the other compressed spaces of the city, where only the waterways offered open vistas.

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On the way to the Rembrandt galleries, I relished the raunchy canvases celebrating peasant delights in drinking and sex Read the rest of this entry »

Amsterdam–August 3

November 12th, 2023

August 2 turned out to be a welcome transition day after the intensity of the two previous ones.  We had planned to spend it in nearby Metz with a person whom we’d last seen 37 years ago, the best friend of our son in grade 4 while we lived in Claremont CA.  After reading a recent autobiography by his mom, we’d connected by email and learned that he’d moved to France and lived on an off-grid organic farm with his wife and two children.  We were eager to see each other, but shortly before the planned visit an unfortunate circumstance required its cancellation.

After a slow morning we arrived  by train in Metz stayed in the least expensive hotel near the railroad station we could find, and next day continued on  getting a taste of local transport by switching trains in Luxemborg and Brussels.

We arrived late in the afternoon at our destination, another vast nineteenth century monument to the railroad, Amsterdam Central Station.

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Crossing the bridge over the wide canal crowded with boat traffic that fronted it, we found the hotel that Jan had selected online, a small-scale tribute to the rail transportation system that continued to thrill me. Read the rest of this entry »

El Dia de Muertos 2023

November 6th, 2023

Jan and I received invitations to two parties celebrating this holiday, both asking us to bring an ancestor’s picture and favorite dish to share.  That morning I felt an irresistible impulse to try to cook spaetzele, a favorite of my grandmother’s. I found several Youtube instructions for doing that, one featuring an Oma who spoke the same low Swabian dialect I remembered.

We attended the party at the home of our neighbors across the street, a beautiful young family the father of prominently Mexican descent.  The house was packed with people of several generations and ethnicities and the ofrenda–traditional memorial altar–overflowed with pictures and mementos, to which I happily contributed my own.

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This is a South German dumpling noodle that I loved to eat as a child and even more to watch my grandmother, Elise Wertheimer Marx (1878-1970), prepare over her stove.

I was reminded of it this past July when Jan and I visited Bodersweier, the village where she was born and where her family lived back to the 1700’s.  They were either driven out or murdered by the Nazis.

We were invited there by a German couple our age who’ve worked tirelessly on German Jewish reconciliation, in particular on recording the history of the local Jewish community.  Their son, the mayor of the nearby small city, Kehl, invited us to lunch where Spaetzle was served.

This was yet another layer of awakening  in a chain extending from last year’s post linking memories of the dead to the account of my father’s passing during his nursing home’s Halloween party in 1995.

What made the festivity on our street staggeringly poignant was learning that the couple had recently miscarried their second baby, conceived when their first severely autistic love-lavished child turned three years old.

And also that their next door neighbors were pregnant again after having lost their first at six months:

Prefumo Creek Restoration and Enhancement Project

November 2nd, 2023

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11:2Prefumo Creek Restoration and Enhancement Project copy

Strasbourg–August 1

October 28th, 2023

Facing the next day meant a shift of role back to tourist from that of honored guest and time traveler. Nevertheless Jan and I both had earlier associations with this City that added dimension to the brief visit we’d planned.  My father’s birth in 1907 was registered there–perhaps because Kehl had no hospital at the time. After the Franco Prussian war in 1870, it was annexed to Germany, along with the rest of Alsace-Lorraine, before being returned to France at the end of the World War I, then reconquered by the Germans in 1939, then again becoming French in 1945.

Jan remembered hitchhiking with a friend from Stuttgart to visit the Cathedral and medieval art masterpieces in the surrounding area during her 1965 year abroad.  I recalled roaming its docks until I found work on a boat that would take me down the Rhine to Brussels without being able to pay passage near the end of my three months’ summer adventure in 1962. Read the rest of this entry »

Kehl and Bodersweier July 31

October 25th, 2023

The Hotel Regent Contades seemed like an appropriate staging area for the most anticipated event of our trip, a visit to the ancestral home of my paternal ancestors to which we had been ceremoniously invited by Karl and Hannah Britz, as reported in the background introduction to this chronology.

Our hosts had sent instructions for travel by tram to Kehl, the small city opposite Strassbourg on the German side of the Rhine.

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On the bridge, I recalled my grandmother’s tale of her husband Rudolph’s swim across the river to Strassbourg with my father on his back, much to her dismay. Read the rest of this entry »

London to Strasbourg July 30

October 24th, 2023

Similar to the mix of feelings yesterday at Trafalgar Square, upon descending to the underground at Gloucester Road heading for France, I felt the sweet sorrow of parting from the City which had caught my heart and the excitement of wonder about what lay ahead.

The departure point was an appropriate transition.  Saint Pancras was the only railroad station for “Eurostar” trains going through the Chunnel to the Continent.  At the metro station called “Kings Cross, St Pancras,” I was impressed with another yellow brick shrine to the industrial revolution, assuming it was also the terminal.

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But turning left, my mistake was evident.  There was an edifice that dwarfed even the monuments of Albertopolis in scale and decoration. Read the rest of this entry »