Friday, March 8, 2019

Truly once in a lifetime - with wine!

Dragging Chris out of bed is a mammoth task, and we had an early bus to catch. I wanted to walk to our departure point, so I left lazy Chris at the hotel wondering if he'd be able to make the bus on time.

I crossed a walking bridge suspended beneath the road. The walking bridge had not been there when I was in school; it was pretty new judging from the looks of it. I enjoyed the walk and snapped some photos along the way.

One thing I neglected to mention yesterday was that I broke my finger the night before. It seems as if that is the thing I do in the Benelux countries, as two years earlier I broke a bone in my hand tripping over the medieval cobblestones of Antwerp, Belgium. Then, I was trying to save my camera as I fell. This time, I was just climbing into bed. Yes, climbing into bed. In both cases, I did not go to the doctor because I did not want to waste vacation time. I should have this time, however, because it would have cost me next to nothing in Luxembourg instead of the $600 I paid to a hand specialist in Washington to tell me it was mostly healed. That included a $150 "facility fee." They charged me $150 just for being in the damn hospital building. The American health care system is IMMORAL. It's high time to go to Medicare for All. STOP CATERING TO THE CORRUPT INSURANCE INDUSTRY.

Anyway...Chris DID make the bus on time, and we were off to the Mosel Valley. The grape harvest was finished; the leaves on the vines were golden and shined in the uncharacteristic sun over the rolling hills of wine country. Our whole trip was like this - sunshine and warm during a usually gray time of year. We remarked on it every day in appreciation and disbelief.

I don't think I had ever been to a winery. Caves St. Martin is built into a hillside - this helped keep temperatures cool before the advent of air conditioning, as the construction of the winery began in 1919 as World War I ended.

Two of these made it into our bags that day. They made it over the ocean, too.

 The winery is in a town called Remich. As every excursion was rushed, this was no exception. We saw none of the town except by bus window, but it was ok. I enjoyed the tour in the caves and the ample tasting afterwards. They laid out quite a food spread, too. Caves St. Martin is known for its cremant, which is champagne by another name. The Mosel Valley produces mostly white wine, but we did pick up a couple of bottles of red in addition to a bottle of cremant to take home. (Forgetting that we'd be in France next.)

Panorama from the bus

The Mosel River

This was the only afternoon we'd have free during our four days in Luxembourg, but instead of napping, we headed down to the Grund and sat outside by the river at Scott's, which is one of the few places I frequented in school that still exists. We were supposed to meet up with my classmates a little later in an area that had not existed when I was there. All of the nineties classes met up in one place.


Yeah, the MLB playoffs are on in the corner. Another thing that didn't happen when I was in school.

I was disappointed to discover how few of us there were on the trip. I realize we are at an age where people still have young children, but they could have brought the like my old MUDEC housemate did. The four of us from my class had all been year students, which speaks volumes about the value and impact spending a whole year abroad has on people.

On the idea of bringing children - there is not a child on the planet who would not benefit from foreign travel. Indeed, if more children were exposed to foreign cultures (if you consider Western Europe as "foreign"), the world would be less combative. Fear of the other is the main reason for conflict; all the wealthy and powerful do is use that as a weapon.

As far as cost is concerned, I doubt that is anything more than an excuse for some people. We had ample time to save enough money for the trip, and I know people take vacations elsewhere. A trip for four to Europe can cost less than a trip to Disneyworld if you get a good deal on flights like I did ($600 RT to Paris on Air France.)

Maybe some people waited too long and got shut out from registration. We had well over 700 people, and they had to change the venues for events to accommodate the overwhelming response. That's why we only went to the school once during the week. All I know is that I must have been one of the first people to register, because there was no way I would miss it. I saw so much regret on the MUDEC Facebook page when they saw what a fabulous time we were having.

Shoot, we'll be retired when the 75th comes around. The professors we loved will no longer be around. I'm trying not to think about Chris. Too often, people throw around "once in a lifetime experience" for things they can do whenever they want. A trip to Europe is not a once in a lifetime experience. Studying at MUDEC was a once in a lifetime experience. The 50th anniversary celebration was, too.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Lunch and Dinner

The Grund, with the modern buildings of Kirchberg in the distance.

After we visited the cemeteries, we returned to the city for a walking tour, which was not necessary for me but may have benefited Chris. Because the cemetery tours had gone long, the walking tour was abbreviated and some of it was covered by bus on the way to the drop off site. All I could think about was lunch and the amount of money laundering that must go on in Luxembourg's 130 different banks. (For reference, the population of the country is about 600,000, meaning there is a different bank for every 4600 people.) While Deutsche Bank in Germany keeps getting in trouble for money laundering (particularly for Russians), Lux gets a free pass from scrutiny. I just can't imagine 130 banks in a 999 square kilometer country being clean. But that's just me speculating.

The symphony hall, on of many modern buildings on Kirchberg
Kirchberg, a neighborhood in Lux City, is a monument to these banks. It's also home to the EU, which exists to intertwine Europe's economic policy to the point where it becomes impossible for a European country to ever fight another European country. It has worked. Europe has sustained its longest peace since, well, maybe ever. That's why Putin wants to rip the EU apart. Sowing discord in Europe makes him and his cronies stronger. They are spreading anti-EU propaganda across Europe, and like similar propaganda in America, it's working. They use the same tactics - blame immigrants, Muslims, and minorities; denounce leftwing opponents as "socialists;" and appeal to "traditional" "Christian" "values" that seek to put gays back in the closet, women back into the kitchen, and religious nonsense back into education.

Anyway...our walking tour briefly took us back to the Middle Ages, when people believed in witches and dragons and you died if you got a scratch or a cold. I snapped a few photos and marveled at how 21 years ago, I had to be discerning in what I photographed because my roll of $10 film only held 24 photos. At this point, I probably had 2400 photos on my card and could take at least double that. Here are some:

Just a building from 1687

We ate lunch outside at a Cuban restaurant that had a good special on the advice of another Miami alum sitting there. We did not want to pay $20 for lunch elsewhere, nor did we want to wander much longer. I had forgotten how expensive Luxembourg is! As we sat there, dozens of other Miami alumni passed by. We had invaded Luxembourg.

Our next event was in the evening - a traditional Luxembourgish dinner at the chateau in Differdange. It was the only time during the week that we'd get to visit the school. I say traditional because the food was traditional, but it was several courses long and cooked by a famous chef from Lux. We had a champagne - er, cremant - reception that was far too rushed. Brad and I were glad to see Dr. Mason, my favorite professor who was instrumental in starting MUDEC all those years ago. I was happy when his face lit up upon seeing me. I don't think he remembered Brad, though, despite us both being fairly inseparable during our 6 week 1999 Transatlantic Seminar with him. But he is in his eighties, Brad. LOL

The dinner was wonderful but also rushed. Some weird guy no one knew got up at one point and tried to get everyone to sing the fight song that we had either forgotten or never knew. He seemed drunk but was weird for everything else in the week so maybe that's just the way he is. I enjoyed talking with the people at our table and think it'd be nice if we saw them again sometime.

We went for a nightcap in the city before returning to our hotel. We had to get up early for a winery tour in the morning.

It occurred to me just now that Luxembourg is a lot like DC, where a lot of people from other states commute to work there. I feel like France is Virginia and Germany is Maryland. Belgium is West Virginia because it's a hike but some people do it anyway.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

No need for enemies

Our trip was three parts; the first part was over but we still had well over half of our vacation left. We were supposed to meet Brad for a drink that first Sunday night in Luxembourg, but I had to stop for gas in Baden-Constructionburg, and we could not find the entrance to get back on the highway. This resulted in a lengthy detour in the dark that was fruitless; I turned around after twenty minutes or so to head back to the gas station and ask how to get back onto the highway. But it was unnecessary to ask, because as we were pulling into the station, there it was, among a mess of reflective construction poles. We ended up getting to Luxembourg more than an hour after we had planned, which was par for the course on our trip. As we had a very busy week in Luxembourg ahead, we checked into our hotel and went to bed. I returned the car in the morning and was charged more than $600 extra dollars for the additional mileage over our limit. Oh well. It was worth it. Thus came the end to the driving portion of the trip.

American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg

We had an early (for us) bus to catch to go to both the American and German military cemeteries. It was one of the alumni excursions we had signed up for over the summer. Chris had wanted to visit General Patton's grave when we had been there two years earlier, but it is hard to get to without a car, so we bagged it. When the opportunity to take him there arose this time, I took it.

Patton wanted to be buried among his men but his wife made them put it in a separate place.
The irony of the beauty of these sites is not lost on most people. The day was sunny and warm for the time of year. Our group had a tour guide who pointed out things you'd miss if you didn't know to look for them. We probably had one the first time I had visited 21 years before, but I was a twenty year old know nothing being whisked through a foreign country for the first time. To fully appreciate the details was impossible.

Yet to grasp the abstract bigger picture was profound. I understood, as a naive 20 year old, what had happened, and I understood why they had taken us to both cemeteries. I understood how life had been fundamentally altered forever, especially in Europe. Walking into that German cemetery was a defining moment in my life.

We had been taught that Hitler was the worst person to have ever lived, not only in school, but also in popular culture and Hollywood films. With this was the implication that all Germans were evil Nazis. Never was it suggested that Germans were victims, too.

But they were, and here was the proof. On that day I stopped looking at the world as friends and enemies. Only individual people can be bad, not entire groups.

There are up to four names on each tombstone, both sides.

But what caused groups to follow individuals?  I always wondered how ordinary Germans let their country fall into fascism. I studied the history of the rise of Hitler, from a failed artist to rising to be one of the most evil villains in history. I can tell you the events that made it happen, names and dates and battles. That year, I visited three concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and went to museum after museum erected so Europeans would never forget how they almost destroyed Western civilization.

But I could never understand how Germans did not respond to these events and prevent it from happening, why there weren't protests when democracy was willfully dissolved in Germany, why there weren't more Oskar Schindlers or Johan van Hulst, people risking their own lives to do the right thing when it was finally too late. How did it even get to that point?

I am devastated to say that I am learning.

11,000 buried in a mass grave.
I still don't understand it, why it is so easy for people to be duped by propaganda, why people wave their flags without thought and repeat slogans that they've heard from political leaders, why they believe in the lies told, and the fake enemies and threats created by wannabe dictators and their staffs.

The propaganda we are seeing now in the United States is textbook authoritarian. You always need enemies if you want to be a dictator. For Nazis, it was Jews, Communists, and Gays.

For Republicans, it is all minorities. Immigrants are called rapists and animals. Socialists and Democrats are called "the violent left." (Republicans use the term socialist and communist interchangeably because they know most Americans don't understand the difference.) Gays are, well, still gays who should have no rights (some Republicans have even called for them to be imprisoned or put to death.)

They use various groups that really existed and then greatly exaggerate their presence. How many Americans had ever HEARD of Antifa before Trump made them a thing? It was a small group of misfits that showed up during protests in major US cities wearing balaclavas and generally just shouting a lot. It isn't some organized violent gang that Trump and his cult believe. Some brats burned a limousine during the Trump inauguration and suddenly it's a well-organized violent gang? No, it's propaganda, people. Because wannabe dictators always need an enemy. They had to demonize "socialists" as a violent gang, so they picked one small group of anarchists, labeled them as leftists, and elevated them to this kind of widespread problem. The Trump people knew they would be called fascists (rightly so) and found this group that claims to fight fascism so they could label all people who said the Trumpers are fascist as Antifa.

And then there's that damn wall and putting latinos in concentration camps and stealing children from their parents. At first, they said it was needed to combat MS-13, a latino gang that actually exists, but which most latinos despise, as MS-13 affects latino communities. Then it was the "caravan." It's all propaganda. Latino immigrants actually commit fewer crimes than white people in this country per capita. Most are coming here to escape drug cartel terrorism or governmental corruption that is so bad people are left in poverty. It's not different than Irish or Italian immigrants at the beginning of the last century. So why all the talk about an immigration "problem?" Because of the need for an enemy.

Most Americans barely get out of their hometowns, let alone see anything that would make them think about and understand the world. Our schools are worker factories. Our universities have become mostly trade schools, where few actually learn anything about the world. People attend college to get jobs rather than to gain knowledge.

The G.I. Bill gave the opportunity for those white men who survived World War II to attend college, and it helped set off flight to suburban isolation. In the suburbs, you encounter people who look like you, talk like you, make similar incomes. They are bubbles. They are propaganda heaven.

Fear is a product of isolation. Leaders with authoritarian impulses use fear as a weapon. That's what the Nazis did then. That's what Republicans are doing now. They want you to be afraid of everything so they can help make themselves and their friends even richer than they already are. You do the work, yet you see little return on the profits. Any increase in profit goes to executives and shareholders, not the workers who do the work. Wages haven't increased in thirty years.

They told you climate change is a hoax so the wealthy could get richer with fewer regulations.
They told you unions were bad so the wealthy could give fewer benefits and lower wages to employees.
They told you that socialism is bad so the wealthy could get richer by owning more.

This. Is. Propaganda. Stop falling for it!

This is what happens when you fall for it:

Visiting the cemetery again brought it all back, but it was especially poignant given the domestic danger we face in the United States right now. The question I had as a twenty year old remains on my mind today: why do we never learn?