Wednesday


22
Jun 22

Pick up some books

And how was your summer solstice? The day was 14 hours, 55 minutes and 28 seconds here. And there’s always that guy who just can’t wait to point out that the days are doing nothing but getting shorter until December.

Around here? We hate that guy.

But we love the long days. If you stepped outside last night at 10:19 and looked west, moments before nautical twilight, it looked like this.

No camera tricks, no Photoshop treatments. That’s just the view after 10 p.m. in June.

If I ever say anything here is better than that, I am, in fact, making a secret, coded cry for help.

Since we talked about books last, I have recently finished you might be interested in. First was The Last of the Doughboys by Wall Street Journal reporter Richard Rubin.

In the earliest days of the 21st century Rubin started interviewing the surviving military veterans from World War I, all of them centenarians. He wraps his interviews around rich context about the Tin Pan Alley music of the era, and his own tours of France and a general historical overview.

Those stories are as uniques as the men and women’s experiences. Some of them colorful and sharp as they were in 1918. Some of the details had become foggy over the course of their long lives, as you might expect.

Some parts of the book are about some of the other parts of their lives. None of the people Rubin interviewed were a part of this experience, but that was up to chance and good fortune as much as anything.

I knew this particular story, but it is always surprising to think about it in the full context.

The crux of the book are those interviews, though, and memorializing those last veterans’ experiences. Rubin, in fact, had the chance to meet the last American survivor of the Great War. All of that is in the book. It’s a worthwhile read.

Now this one, Longitude by Dava Sobel. This book was a surprise hit, even for the author. She saw it go through 29 hardcover printings, translated into more than 20 languages and become a national and international bestseller. The 10th anniversary edition includes a pretty special foreword by Neil Armstrong.

Granted, the idea of a book about longitude seems like an important one. But it also seems like a daunting tome. How do you write an interesting book about invisible lines on a map? Sobel is about to show you. First, just enough of the technical to explain what she’s talking about, and why this is all so important.

And so now you know why this had been a problem for generations, and why the search for a solution was so important. As the book gets into that it quickly becomes obvious, even to land-lubbers, how most of the success of those pre-longitudinal sailors was about luck with skill. How anyone got to where they wanted to go before their supplies ran out is a mystery.

Then, we meet the people.

For whatever reason, when I opened the book I expected this to be a dense read, but, to Sobel’s great credit, it’s just about the most approachable text you can imagine. Give this a read, you’ll be pleased and surprised.


15
Jun 22

Riding the Glacier Express

We took the Glacier Express, the world’s slowest express train, and enjoyed an afternoon in the Swiss Alps. Trains have been running here since 1889, the Glacier Express started in 1930, but the first panoramic trains, like the ones we enjoyed, have only been on these rails since 1993. The modern cars came in between 2006 and 2009, and they have all recently received a facelift. These are comfortable rides, and they offer three- and four-course meals. (The food was quite tasty …)

Otherwise, you sit back and enjoy the scenery. There are headphones with music and, from time to time, a narration with local points of interest and historical notes. We started in Chur, Switzerland’s oldest town. We traveled through the landscapes brought on by the last Ice Age landslides, and the “Swiss Grand Canyon,” past the oldest Benedictine abbey in the country, through valleys with towns that date back to the 11th and 12th centuries, near UNSECO World Heritage sites and, finally, to Zermatt and the cloud-shrouded Matterhorn, which, on this day, was still able to hide despite topping out at well over 14,000 feet.

But why read about all that, when you can see a bit of video from the train window.

Here’s our train …

And a few photos for you to enjoy. There are a few words down below, so scroll slowly, or you might miss a pun.

Here was dessert. Locally grown berries. Fresh and tasty!

We paralleled this rive a great deal of the trip. The closer you get to it’s source, the richer and whiter the water becomes. It’s full of nutrients and minerals and, eventually, it is very drinkable. But too close to the source, and it’ll give you an upset tummy. No matter where you are in Switzerland, though, the water looks beautiful. And chilly.

Panoramic train windows.

And speaking of panoramas, here’s one now. As with every panorama, click to see the larger version in a new tab.

This is Oberalppass and, at 6,669 feet, the highest point of the train’s trip.

I get one good joke a day. And this is where I used it.

There was a place near Oberalppass where they let us off the train for a few moments. Some of the scenic shots in this part of the post are from there. The Yankee got back on the train before I did, and so I took pictures of the train, too.

Here’s our river again. Notice how the water is getting white? We’re getting closer to the runoff source.

And here we are in Zermatt, a car-free village you can walk through in a few minutes. It’s a charming place. And at the other end of the valley, behind these clouds, you would find the Matterhorn.

We didn’t get to see it. Oh no! We’ll have to come back! Shoot!

Shutter error. Looked cool. I’ve added it here.

We had dinner at a little Italian joint, Casa Mia, next to the train station while waiting for our return train. We ordered pizza. This is the Pugliese, featuring tomatoes, mozzarella, coppa ham, burrata, dried tomatoes. So very tasty. That burrata was amazing …

And here are a few photos from our train out of Zermatt. Just a regular-old train, no panoramic windows, but amazing views. And here I’m able to share a bit more of the gorge-style landscapes.

Also, we had our own train car, which was a great way to travel.

We had to make a connection, but our second train was late in arriving, which shifted our schedule back by about an hour. It was the only train problem we had in Switzerland, an event I noted with this extra photo from our stop between here and there.

And we have two more days of Switzerland adventures to get through. As great as this one was, the one I’ll show you tomorrow might have been even better. So make sure you come back for that. Until then, “Hopp Schwiiz.”


15
Jun 22

Zurich to Chur trainride

This Wednesday post is a simple photo dump. These are the picturesque things we saw, two weeks ago, before our big event of the day. It was the train ride before the train ride. Sit back, enjoy these photos of a few of the beautiful views between Zurich and Chur.

Up next, the slowest express train in the world and the Swiss Alps.


8
Jun 22

Can you guess where we were?

This was written for a Wednesday, but it is about the Wednesday from two weeks ago. That’s going to be the way of it around here for the next few weeks as we cover two weeks of amazing travels to, hopefully, makes up for the two-week break I took on the site. So cast your mind back two weeks …

We caught our flight out of Indianapolis with no problem, though the security line was as long as I believe I’ve ever seen at that fine airport. Everyone has stopped wearing masks. (Except me.)

I’m overgeneralizing there. A few people were wearing masks, but not wearing them correctly. I don’t understand this at all. You’ve had time to figure out the nuances of the respiratory system’s two exit and entry points. No one is making you do it anymore, so it isn’t a protest. You’re just bad at this. (And cover your nose.)

The first flight was on a small plane to New York and that was easy. We spent some time in a crowded Delta lounge, where we had dinner. It’s a serve yourself cafeteria-style arrangement. I had mild jerk chicken and rice. It hit the spot. We stayed in the lounge perhaps too long. At the door we asked a Delta employee some question or another about our flight and the terminal it was in and he looked startled. “You need to leave, now!

And so we did. We strolled over to the JFK terminal train and somehow went through security again. Got on the next plane with no problem.

You’re supposed to sleep when you’re traveling east great distances (that’s a clue), but sleeping on a plane isn’t always easy. I decided to put on a movie because the screen is right there in the back of the next seat. I watched Contact, thinking Jodie Foster would be good company to nod off. I wound up watching the whole movie. Two-and-a-half hours I could have been asleep.

But I did get about three hours. Maybe four? We landed, breezed through border control, or customs, which seemed surprisingly easy. So cursory was the exchange I’m not sure if we were even legally there. We have one stamp each, though, and the Uber driver came to pick us up. No one at the airport tried to keep us from leaving, it must be official.

So we arrived at the hotel in the middle of the day. Perhaps a bit too early for check-in. There was a long line of people at the many minimalist check-in desks learning they, too, were too ambitious. When we made it to the desk the cheery person said, I’m sure for the 73rd time in a row, that our room wasn’t ready, and would we mind waiting an hour or so?

We waited in the lobby for an hour or so, watching other guests’ create these shared experiences. We got a room upgrade out of the deal, though. Small room, perfectly functional. Reasonable bed. Outstanding view.

Can you guess where we were? (Here’s another clue!)

If you know what you’re looking at there’s an important site (Another clue!) far off into the distance. And if you leaned onto your tiptoes and craned your neck into an uncomfortable position and looked as far as you could to your right you’d see an iconic giveaway. (Not pictured here.)

We ventured out to take care of the travel logistics for the next several days. Oh boy. First we had to figure out where we were, in relation to everything else, and how to get to where the logistics could be resolved. The online “experience” hasn’t been very helpful. And the language barriers (A clue!) in person were a bit challenging, as well. There was some aimless wandering, some “Could you speak more slowly, please?” and some waiting in lines. We have a day trip planned for Friday, which was only resolved satisfactorily after we were lied to a few times in a most haughty way. (Another clue!) But everything for was finally resolved. We also had to work out transportation for the second half of our trip to work out, which meant more wandering, for another office. Also resolved, but we will ultimately add a day here and reschedule a thing there. One of those frustrating-in-the-moment-but-won’t-matter-next-week experiences. Resolved to our satisfaction is the key.

After we had all of that taken care of, we had dinner with Thomas, a friend from Germany, and his colleague and his student, at a little sidewalk cafe. The food was filling and flavorless, and, most importantly, helped pass a little extra time until darkness so we can go to sleep. So we can defeat jet lag. This never happens.

But the question remains, where were we? If you are stumped, come back tomorrow, when the question is answered, and the fun begins.


18
May 22

The year was 1961; do not enter business with Willie’s wife

We haven’t read any old newspapers recently. Let’s go back 61 years, to northwest Alabama. This is The Florence Herald, which we have examined here from time-to-time in the past. Some of my family would have read this paper. Indeed, there’s a brief mention of my great-great grandfather here in a legal notice. And some of the family names appear in some of the local correspondence. But let’s look at the really fun stuff from the weekly, which was published on Thursday, May 18, 1961.

There’s a fair amount to get through over your second coffee. Let’s dive in. This is the lead local story, in a paper that was helping its community celebrate the centennial of the Civil War.

The Reynolds Metals Company, founded in Kentucky in 1919, was a big, big deal. They originally supplied the wrappers for cigarette and candy companies and in the 1920s took over Eskimo Pies because of the foil. They were growing quickly, and in a few more years a few more acquisitions the original U.S. Foil Company became Reynolds. They moved HQ to New York, and then to Richmond. Soon they were mining bauxite, and they opened the plant mentioned here in 1941.

Just before the United States entered the war, R.S. Reynolds ramped up production. He was in aluminum, after all, and he saw a need. Now the second largest producer of basic aluminum in the U.S., Reynolds was key in aircraft production, among other things. A lot of that was rolled out right there. They kept growing after the war, indeed they snatched up six government defense plants that were up for disposal. Reynolds later expanded into non aluminum products such as plastics and precious metals, introducing Reynolds Plastic Wrap in 1982. Odds are you’ve got some of their product in your kitchen cabinets.

The company took out a full page ad in this same issue of The Florence Herald thanking their employees and the community. “Surely the only thing which can surpass our first 20 years at Listerhill will be our next 20 years,” was the last line over R.S. Reynolds’ name. Indeed, they put 37 more years into the area.

When they sold to Wise Metals in 1998-99, there were 1,600 people working at the plant. A global concern picked up Wise in 2015, it was an eight-figure deal. The company is still in operation there, still employing more than 1,200. They recycle and make aluminum cans.

I don’t know if you noticed that story about “Viet Nam” that was set just below the Reynolds piece, and the English standalone photo It’s 1961, and there’s so much patriotic optimism in that story.

Below the fold on the front page …

So it is an interesting time in local and national politics. I shared with you one of the bullet points from Harold S. May’s front page column.

Dude.

May wrote in this same format every week. I looked ahead. “What has Mr. Average Citizen done to deserve it? All of us will suffer alike,” wrote the columnist in the next issue. The columnist — who had served on the Florence Housing Authority and was the chairman of the local board of education — made another, terrible convoluted mention two weeks out, until, finally, he moved back to his local observations and recycled bon mots.

“The wife with plenty of hose sense never becomes a nag,” was one of the lines just above the condemnation above.

It’s a fascinating column in its own way, if you can overlook the regrettable parts.

Finally, according to the search function, he ran this same ad the next three weeks. And then, apparently, never again. There’s a story behind this.

Sadly, we’ll never know it.