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Monday, May 26, 2014

For Memorial Day, 2014: The Fourth Verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner"

Old Glory, flying at Hotel New Hampshire, U.S.A.

O thus be it ever, 
When free men shall stand,
Between their loved homes,
And the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, 
May our Heav'n-rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made, 
And preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must,
When our cause it is just,
And this be our motto,
"In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner,
In triumph shall wave,
O'er the land of the free,
And the home of the brave.

By Francis Scott Key, written at the Battle of Fort McHenry, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1812.
Here is a link to all four verses.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Artist's Trip to Suceava & Noncoincidence of the Day

Charles on his Suzuki in India
I am staying currently in Caminul Economica at FSEGA, the Faculty of Economics at Babeș-Bolyai University is Cluj-Napoca, Romania.  The Caminul is a modern dormitory in which the Faculty reserves a few rooms for visitors, and I am fortunate to be allowed to stay here as I have another conference to attend early in June.

This morning, I ate a good cold breakfast of Müsli with milk, sliced Romanian salami, and smoked cheese.  But this time, as opposed to my previous stays here, I have not retrieved the large box from Horațius' warehouse containing my "kitchen," and thus I have no way to boil water for coffee.  Dying for a coffee, and not up for spending the time to go to Iulius Mall for an overpriced coffee at Starbucks, I asked the doorman, "Unde este o cafea mai apropre de Economica?"  That was my best attempt at "Where is the nearest coffee?"  He came outside the front door with me, and indicated that I should hang a left at the first street.  Sure enough, there was a cafe (and beer garden) only one city block from the dorm.

On the patio were a young man who looked like a student, and a Romanian fellow of 50 or so.  While I was inside meeting Andrea, the waitress, and ordering "o cafea lunga," a young woman arrived and joined the student, so I sat down at the table with the man, who had waved to welcome me to a chair. We had as much of a conversation as I am able to have in Romanian, but it didn't go far, and he got on his telephone.  Then, the young girl, whom I had heard speaking with the lad in English, got up and left to go do whatever she had to do this Sunday morning.

So, I asked the lad if he wanted another coffee, and he accepted, and I changed to his table.  "Yes, I am a student here," he told me, introducing himself as Charles J.  de B., from Liege, Belgium. But, it turned out that Charles is studying not at UBB, but at the local university of art, studying painting.

Further conversation led to my learning that Charles has been living in many countries, and has visited many more, as his father is a diplomat.  He lived for several years in Mamaroneck, New York.  He and his brother traveled to India once, where they spent several months, and bought two motorcycles, a small Suzuki (above), and a Royal Enfield 350.  He is a biker.

I inquired about Charles' interests in art, and learned that he is a realist, who uses that style interpretatively (if there is such a word).  I told him about my having met Mihai Moroșan, and showed him a couple of my blog posts on Mihai and his work.
Moroșan Fresco at Biserica Putna
A great friend here has offered me a car for the weekend, so on Friday, Charles and I will drive to Suceava to introduce this budding painter to a fresco master of Christian iconography. Along the way, we shall see Voroneț, and perhaps Putna monasteries.

Ever wonder why I love Cluj?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

ASECU International Conference in Cluj-Napoca

For the past three days my time in Cluj has been spent attending the events of the 10th International Conference of ASECU, the Association of Economic Universities of South and Eastern Europe and the Black Sea Region.

Academic conferences vary in their ability to hold my interest.  Some cause me to fall asleep.  At some I simply get bored and leave.  This conference, however, I truly enjoyed.

The president of the association is Prof. Dr. Yannis Tsekouras of the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, Greece.  His keynote address was inspiring to me, as it frankly and courageously challenged all the developing countries and formerly communist states of the region to recognize that foreign direct investment is a key to their economic growth, that entrepreneurship is another, and that both are dependent on the ability of business-people to trust their governments to be transparent, free of corruption, supportive of property rights, and faithful to the rule of law.

The papers and talks presented at this conference were widely varying, often focused on their authors' homelands, which included, possibly among a few others, Albania, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Turkey, and the U.S.A.

At the conference's Gala Dinner, held Friday evening at the Babeș-Bolyai University's downtown event center called "Pyramida," Prof. Tsekouras asked me privately if Plymouth State University might be interested in becoming an associate member of ASECU.  Though I am about to retire, and thus am unlikely to become a regular at the ASECU events, I consider that to be a very positive idea.

On our faculty are both a Croatian-born professor and a Romanian-born professor, either of whom might be an excellent representative from PSU to future ASECU International Conferences. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

United Airlines Does it Again

Our trip as a trio of McDougalls tracing Basil Kimball's career in WWII closed Wednesday in Fellbach, Germany.  We spent the final two nights at our beloved Alte Kelter, enjoyed a fine meal there with Dietmar and Ferdi Schmid, then on Wednesday morning, took two taxis to Flughafen Stuttgart (STR) for our flights, with my flight departing at 07:15 for Berlin, (and on to Bucharest, and Cluj), and Alex's and Shirl's flight departing at 11:00 for Newark, NJ (and on to Manchester, NH).

As it happened, flying with Air Berlin and then TAROM, I arrived safely and on time in Cluj, about 6:00 PM.  It was a long day of travel, but fun in terms of the people with whom I chatted, and called in Bucharest, once I was finally in my cell phone's home country.

Thankfully, I can report that Shirl and Alex also had a safe return, though their itinerary was changed by the notorious United Airlines, which cancelled their Newark-to-Manchester connecting flight, and rather flew them to Boston.  

I say "notorious," because United Airlines is in the habit of cancelling lightly-booked flights. They have an apparent policy of grabbing market share by scheduling many convenient flight times, but only flying those that fill to a profitable load factor.*  The ethics of this policy are lousy, but I'll bet there are others out there who will agree with my assessment of this situation.  In this case, it is obvious; when Shirl and Alex picked up their bags in Newark to go through customs, they discovered that they had been checked to BOS, not to Manchester.  Thus, over nine hours before, at their Stuttgart departure, United had known that their booked flight to Manchester was not going to be flown.  

I am sorry to say it, but this unethical business practice on the part of certain American trunk airlines is not new.  Back in the Sixties and Seventies, my father used to curse at both United Airlines and American Airlines for cancelling scheduled flights simply due to low load factors.  He was a trial lawyer who tried cases in federal courts, and has to fly frequently, all over the United States to see clients, or to appear in a Federal District Court.  He hated having his weekends shortened by having to take flights that came to Chicago through Dallas, or Minneapolis, rather than direct to O'Hare, because of a last minute cancellation.  

In fact, United and American helped Southwest to succeed and prosper, as even those flyers with expense accounts learned that the larger and better-known airlines could not be trusted to fly their own schedules.
*Load factor is measured in Revenue Passenger Miles/Available Seat Miles, or RPM/ASM.  It is the airlines' equivalent of a hotel's occupancy rate.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Prague: Our Czech Adventures (Concluded)

10 May 2014, Prague, Czech Republic

After our dinner at the restaurant adjacent to Hotel Rubicon, I went to the police stations (see last post), Shirl went to the room, and Alex again went out alone.  This night's adventure was to be his.

It seems that Prague is a popular city for stag parties, bachelor parties, and the like.  It is said to be frequented especially by groups from the British Isles.  As it happened, in one night club Alex fell in with a happy bunch of seven Scots dressed in kilts, whooping it up prior to one of the group's wedding.  The party lasted into the wee hours of the morning, and much liquor and beer flowed into the bunch, who had accepted my McDougall son as if he were himself in the wedding party.  All was jolly good fun until one fellow lost his dinner and drinks on the barroom floor.  It was after 4:00 A.M., and apparently, the bartender, too, was deeply into the booze.  He ordered the group out, then stood in the doorway, punching in the face any who tried to pass him.

I have always imagined a bar fight to be a healthy experience for a young man to have, provided no one gets seriously hurt, of course.  But, I have never heard of a bartender's being the instigator of the violence.  Alex says he reacted by trying to grab the bartender's arm, but got kicked in the stomach, then made his escape.  Once in the street, he found a phone booth, dialed 112, and reported the incident.

Alex returned to the hotel at about 5:00 A.M.  He looked as you might expect, and was upset that he still had the eyeglasses of one of the Scottish men, handed to him during the melee.  He does not know the fellows' real names, as they were wearing "Stag Names" on their backs.  He has posted notice of the glasses on his Facebook page, and hopes that their owner, or one of his friends, will look for him there.

At 9:00 the next morning I was at the same police station that I had visited 12 hours before.  This time, I found the doorbell, was rung in, and with the help of a fine officer named Janu, went through the formalities that would allow me legally to drive Klaus home to Fellbach, without his registration and insurance cards.

Prague Castle (Photo from Google Images)
Prague is gorgeous.  Its architectural variety and grace are indescribable.  The castle with its spires across the river from Old Town, seen at dusk silhouetted against a blue-gray glowing sky, as seen from a taxi on the way to a dark police station, is as fine a memory as I have from my visit. 

Prague also has a famous zoo.  We spent several hours there before departing westward to Bavaria, where we spent two recuperative nights at the excellent Wolfringmühle Hotel and Gästhof.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Prague: Our Czech Adventures!

9 May 2014 - Saboteurs catch us in Prague

Back in 2010, Shirl and I stayed in a fine hotel in Lukovit, Bulgaria.  There we found this sign on our room's window:
Please do not open windows.  The air conditioning system is automatic, and opening the window will cause it to turn off to save energy.  We ask that you keep the windows closed to prevent entry into the hotel of insects and saboteurs.
At the time, we laughed at this sign.  But this time, in Prague, Czech Republic, the saboteurs caught up with us.

The latest stop on our tour was Prague.  Having spent two cheap nights in a hostel in Krakow, Poland, I decided to splurge on a four-star hotel in Prague's famous Old Town.  We found what seemed to be an ideal parking spot on the street, just around the corner from the entrance to the 1.Republic [First Republic] Hotel, where I had made our reservation online (and thus was not aware that the hotel had a parking garage).  The hotel met all our expectations, and the restaurant some two hundred meters down the street provided a fine Czech-cusine meal.  Following a glass of wine for Shirl, and for me, a couple of beers, Shirl and I bedded down for a restful sleep after the 400-mile (600 Km) drive from Poland.  Alex, 29, went back out to try the world-famous Prague night-life. Returning at about 2:00 AM, he had stopped at the car to retrieve some items, and all was well with Klaus.

The next morning, we checked out, and went to our car, expecting to depart westward, toward Germany.  Alex went first, carrying the heaviest bags, and I followed with more luggage, half a minute later.  As I rounded the corner, I saw Alex's face drop, and heard him say, "Oh, oh!"  Not good signals.

Klaus had been broken into.  His right-rear window was shattered, with small shards all over the car's interior.  Missing were my electric cooler, which had kept my insulin cool, our GPS, and my business suit, which had been in a hanging bag behind the driver's seat.  Of less value, but of greater importance, the thieves had taken Klaus' registration and insurance cards. Without these, driving Klaus home to Germany would represent an unacceptable risk.

We went back to the hotel, where the excellent receptionist named Jasmine called the police.  The local police did not answer their phone, so she used her cell phone, and dialed 112, the emergency number. The operator at 112 took the car's type, location, country (D) and plate number, and told her he would contact the local police.  Then, I asked Jasmine to see if she could find an auto-glass repair specialist in the city, who might be able to repair Klaus that afternoon.  I also asked if our room would be available again that night, and learned that the hotel was fully booked, as the Prague Marathon would be run on Sunday.  We would have to move for the night.

I booted my computer and booked us into another Prague hotel, of lesser stature, but fully acceptable, called the Rubicon.

The police told us they might be there in 40 minutes.  We waited on the curb across the street from the unlockable Klaus.  An hour passed, and I returned to see Jasmine.  She had located a company named "Autosklo Servis," had determined that they had the glass for the right-rear window of a 1993 BMW 520i, and would fix Klaus that afternoon, if we could get him there by 3:00 PM.

The police arrived after about 80 minutes, at 1:20 P.M.  The two uniformed officers, a man and a higher-ranked woman of uncommonly feminine appearance (for a cop), worked through Jasmine, as interpreter, to gather full details of the event, what was stolen, the car's ownership (nico-Norbert Schmid, GmbH), my passport number and home address, etc.  They also needed the car's VIN code, so I went looking for it in the glove box.  No luck there.  I looked on the dashboard, inside the door, and finally, we found it under the hood.  I returned the car's manuals to the glovebox, and closed it.  We went back into the hotel, where the police woman, aided by Jasmine as translator, asked me to come to her police station at nine that evening to deal with the registration issue.  So, it was well after 2:00 before we hired a taxi to lead us to the repair shop.  There was traffic.  Shirl and I rode in the taxi, and Alex followed in Klaus.  In traffic, Klaus has been known to overheat.  He started to show increasing water temperature, just as we began again to move.  Before 3:00, we made it to the repair shop.  
At Autosklo, I learned that the car would be ready by 5:00.  We transferred the most-needed luggage to the taxi, so that Shirl and Alex could go to Hotel Rubicon, and check-in.  I waited for Klaus.  

The people at Autosklo do not speak much English, and I speak no Czech.  Still, they were fully professional, and most kind to me.  They have a customer waiting room with a TV, wherein I watched a geographic documentary on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, in Arizona.  It was dubbed in Czech, but pretty easy to follow.  When I learned they had Wifi, I asked permission, went to the car for my computer bag, and tried to log on.  I could not get their password right.  I think it contained a special character - a sort of cupped underscore, that is not on my keyboard.  So I gave up on the Internet from there.

Next, I checked for my passport, normally kept near my computer.  Not there.  Well, I told myself, I know I had it to show the police, so the thieves did not get it.  But, I knew I would not feel secure until I had it in hand.  I asked again to go to my car.  I rummaged through the broken glass and maps strewn around the car, and found it finally beneath the owner's books in the glove box.  Whew!  One major stress, relieved.

Klaus was ready early, at a fair price of under $200.  The glass had all been vacuumed out of him, and all his windows had been cleaned, as well.  Thoroughly professional service.  A second stress element was relieved.  I asked the woman at the Autosklo office where to buy a new GPS.  She drew me a map to Europark, a shopping mall, and on her Internet connection, determined that they had an electronic store selling GPS navigation devices.

I drove to Europark, and bought a TomTom.  Then I went looking for a simple picnic cooler for my insulin.  Both a cooler and plastic ice blocks were available at the grocery and variety store at the far end of the mall.  Now, I was hungry.  No time had been allotted for lunch.  Also, I needed some ice immediately, as my insulin was still in my un-chilled backpack in the back of Klaus.  I stopped at McDonald's ate a cheeseburger, drank a Coke Light, and asked for a second cup full of ice, and covered.  That did the job until the hotel's adjacent restaurant, where we ate dinner that night, froze my new ice blocks for me.

That evening, I found that in the hassle and confusion of the day, I had lost the address of the police station to which I was to report at nine.  Jasmine was no longer on duty at the 1.Republic, so I asked our receptionist for the location of the nearest police station, and walked there at about 8:15.  There, a very kind and helpful officer asked me the location of the incident, and looked up the address of the appropriate station for me to go to.  I was there at 9:00 sharp.  There was one squad car parked there, but the door was locked.  I knocked on the front door.  No answer.  I knocked on the rear door.  No answer.  I flagged a taxi, and started back to the hotel.  We had gone less that 100 meters when a police car, lights flashing, came up behind us.  The taxi driver stopped, said, "this is my problem," and got out to go back and talk with the cops.  I noted he had left the meter running.  I was to be paying for his problem.  They opened the back of this Passat wagon, then closed it.  The driver stuck his head in, the door, and I mentioned the meter.  He paused it.  I would be paying for only most of the delay.  Finally, we got to the Rubicon.

There is more to our adventures in Prague... next post.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

On to Krakow (or was it Cracow), Poland!

As you faithful readers know, your humble blogger is presently enjoying an extended trip in Europe. Our travel on the path trod in World War II by Shirl's father, Basil Kimball of Westborough, Massachusetts, ended yesterday in Merseburg, Germany, where Basil was on VE Day, 9 May 1945.

What took Basil and his unit in the U.S. Army's VII Corps eleven months to travel has taken us three weeks.  We have seen only a few sites still bearing the scars of bombs and shells, but nevertheless, the trip has been an emotional one.  The scale of the effort necessary to defeat Nazi Germany becomes clear as one visits the battlegrounds, the museums in France and Belgium, and the cemeteries that hold the bodies of the fallen.

But now, the mission accomplished, we have chosen to spend our last week as a threesome (Shirl, son Alex, and I) in exploration of some historic countries and cities in Central Europe.

From Merseburg, we drove here to Krakow, Poland, a 600+ Km sprint across the fertile hills and plains of eastern Germany and western Poland.  The perfect highway and beautiful new bridges of the Polish part of the trip impressed us, as did the number of semi-trailers (TIRs) that we saw in transit.  It is said that the state of an economy can be judged  by its truck traffic.  If that is true, Poland is booming, and all of Western Europe is doing okay.

Last night, Danny Rusu, PSU MBA, who is now working full time in Krakow, met us for a late supper, at which he insisted on being our host.  Gratefully, we have responded by inviting Danny and two of his colleagues to join us for dinner, tonight.

Tomorrow, we plan to visit Prague, Czech Republic, and on Friday, Bratislava, Slovakia.  Then, it will be time to head back to Germany, where I am hoping to see the BMW Museum in Munich, before our return to Fellbach on the 12th.

Klaus has been a faithful workhorse for us all.  When we get him home to Fellbach, I shall give him some attention in the form of an oil change, a radiator flush, and an inspection of the electric fan's sensor and switch.