Off to Iceland

Hey, I Can’t Kick!

Hey, I Can’t Kick!

I’m off to Iceland early tomorrow morning. Because the medications I have to take with me outweigh even a fairly heavy laptop, I will not be blogging during my trip. I’ll be back around July 10.

Europe by the Threes

I Guess It Just Worked Out That Way ...

I Guess It Just Worked Out That Way …

When Peter III became Czar of All he Russias for a brief while in 1762, George III —who apparently was at that time in full possession of his faculties—made note of the fact that the rulers of Europe were:

  • George III, King of England
  • Charles III, King of Spain
  • Augustus III, King of Poland
  • Frederick III, Duke of Saxe-Gotha
  • Frederick III, King of Prussia
  • Charles Emanuel III, King of Sardinia
  • Mustapha III, Emperor of the Ottomans
  • Peter III, Czar of Russia
  • Francis III, Duke of Modena

Germany did not exist at that time as a single nation state, nor did Italy. But for so many of the monarchs at one time to be the third of their various names was unprecedented in history. (Of course, it didn’t last because Peter III was assassinated, probably at the behest of Catherine the Great, his wife, after six months as Czar.)

This interesting fact comes from one of my favorite sites, The Futility Closet.

Kierkegaard’s Wayfarer

“Winter Landscape” by Sesshu Toyo

“Winter Landscape” by Sesshu Toyo

Imagine a wayfarer. He has been brought to a standstill at the foot of a mountain, tremendous, impassable. It is this mountain ….. no, it is not his destiny to cross it, but he has set his heart upon the crossing; for his wishes, his longings, his desires, his very soul, which has an easier mode of conveyance, are already on the other side; it only remains for him to follow. Imagine him coming to be seventy years old; but the mountain still stands there, unchanged, impassable. Let him become twice seventy years; but the mountain stands there unalterably blocking his way, unchanged, impassable. Under all this he undergoes changes, perhaps; he dies away from his longings, his wishes, his desires; he now scarcely recognizes himself. And so a new generation finds him, altered, sitting at the foot of the mountain, which still stands there, unchanged, impassable. Suppose it to have happened a thousand years ago: the altered wayfarer is long since dead, and only a legend keeps his memory alive; it is the only thing that remains—aye, and also the mountain, unchanged, impassable. And now think of Him who is eternally unchangeable, for whom a thousand years are but as one day—ah, even that is too much to say, for they are for Him as an instant, as if they did not even exist….

Anyone not eternally sure of Himself could not keep so still, but would rise in His strength, Only one who is immutable can be in this manner so still.

He gives men time, and He can afford to give them time, since He has eternity and is eternally unchanging.—Søren Kierkegaard, Judge for Yourselves!

Packing for Iceland

The Lighter You Pack, the More Fun You’ll Have

The Lighter You Pack, the More Fun You’ll Have

I always shake my head when I see travelers with multiple large suitcases per person. Not only do they pay the airlines a small fortune in fees, but they are severely hampered as to where they can go. When I land at Keflavík Airport on Thursday morning around 6:30 am, the terminal will not be full of native bearers waiting to assume my heavy loads. If I am lucky, I will be able to grab a cart to go through customs. Then I will haul my bags to the Flybus to drive me across the desolate lunar landscape of the Reykjanes Peninsula to Reykjavík BSI Bus Terminal.

There, with my luggage still in tow, I’ll sit down at the travel agency there and obtain maps and bus tickets. Then I’ll take a cab to the Guesthouse Odinn at Óðinsgata 9, where my big bag will be held until check-in time at 1 pm.

I will carry two blue bags, a big one with my clothes, medications, and toiletries, and a small shoulder bag with my electronics, guidebook, and various reservation confirmations. The blue bag is always with me, containing what I need through the day. The big bag generally stays in my room.

For a good guide to packing light, I recommend you check out OneBag.Com, especially their annotated packing lists. They quote a timely lyric from Johnny Cash: “I ain’t takin’ nothin’ that’ll slow down my travelin’ …”

Since I’m on insulin, I’ll have to take particular care packing my medications, especially my insulin, glucose testing supplies, etc. I’ll cut back severely on the nutritional supplements I’ll be taking. I’ll be eating plenty of fish, so no Omega-3. In fact I’ll just take a once a day multi-vitamin plus an antioxidant I’ve been taking for years. Oh, and I’ll be taking a letter from my doctor pointing out to all and sundry that I am a needle medications user.



The Japanese Garden

The Japanese Garden at Huntington Library and Gardens

The Japanese Garden at Huntington Library and Gardens

Closed for over a year for a $6.8 million overhaul, the Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, California, has recently marked its centenary. It had reopened in April looking as stunning as ever, with its koi ponds, ornamental trees, its moon bridge, traditional Japanese house, and scattered strategically-placed temple-like structures.

Now with the addition of the equally spectacular Chinese Garden, the Huntington remains one of the primo tourist attractions in Southern California. Sometimes, I wonder why people visiting here make the needless trek to Hollywood with its crumbling Walk of Fame and decaying footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. My vote for the best tourist attractions in the Southland are, along with the Huntington, Descanso Gardens in La Cañada-Flintridge and the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia.

Sometimes I think that people from out of town who dislike Southern California do so mainly because they have been badly informed.


The Boy Who Loved Maps

Somehow, I Had to Get Out of Cleveland...

Somehow, I Had to Get Out of Cleveland…

Ever since I learned how to speak and read English, I grew to love maps. We had an old atlas whose binding was falling apart. Whenever I had a few spare moments, I would sit down, page through it, and try to memorize the maps that interested me most. Not that I understood what I was looking at: I remember pointing to a Mercator projection map of the world and claiming that Napoleon cheated us in the Louisiana Purchase, as Alaska was so much bigger. And Greenland was gigantic! Was it not one of the world powers?

Even as a boy in Cleveland, I loved the whole idea of far places, of different cultures. In the 1950s, read such obscure books as the Rev. Harold W. Rigney’s Four Years in a Red Hell about the Catholic priest’s imprisonment in Red China, and another book, whose name I have forgotten, about Soviet concentration camps around Vorkuta. What interested me was not so much the attacks on Communism as the books’ exotic locales.

Baudelaire describes me to a tee in “Le Voyage”:

Pour l’enfant amoureux de cartes et d’estampes,
L’univers est égal à son vaste appétit.
Ah! que le monde est grand à la clarté des lampes!
Aux yeux de souvenir que le monde est petit!

Which can be translated as follows (though I prefer the French):

For a child in love with maps and engravings,
The universe is equal to his vast appetite.
Ah, how the world is great by lamplight!
Through the eyes of memory the world is small.

Here I was, simultaneously hooked on the idea of travel and, at the same time, stuck in Cleveland. We didn’t have much money to allow for travel. All I can remember are a few day trips in Ohio, a few days in lovely Detroit, Niagara Falls (but I was only five), and trips to Florida at the ages of five and fourteen. Why do you suppose I wanted to leave Cleveland to go to college? Not only was my parents’ marriage threatening to go on the rocks (it somehow held), but I felt stifled by Cleveland’s provincial ways. All those Hungarian-American homebodies!

But there was always that atlas. You know what? I’m still that way. My mind is a capacious geographic storehouse. I can sketch the outlines of many of the countries on earth and locate their capitals and major cities. And I can tell you what countries border them.

That knowledge has always stood me in good stead. When I go somewhere I have never been before, I make sure that I am prepped for it. Although my vacations only run about two or three weeks, I can s-t-r-e-t-c-h out the time so that the vacation and its preparation take half a year. I started in on Iceland in February, and it won’t be until July that I work it all out of my system.

The Man Who Created a Nation

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938)

Although the leaders of Turkey seem embattled now because of the protests taking place in Istanbul, one has to consider that, for the most part, the nation has been admirably stable. Especially when one considers the immediate neighborhood: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Cyprus, Greece, and Bulgaria. That was mostly due to the efforts of one man, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who almost single-handedly changed the course of Turkish history.

Born in Salonika (now Thessaloniki in Greece), Atatürk was not even Turkish. Although a Muslim, he always considered himself a Macedonian. Commissioned as an officer in 1907, he began his career at a time when the Ottoman Empire was in transition between the absolutism of the Sultan (and Caliph) and the rising Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), which has come to be known as the Young Turks.

Mustafa always preferred to stay at arm’s length from the CUP officers and their leader Enver Pasha, whom he felt to be a poseur. Knowing this, the CUP leadership essentially sent him to various places to keep him out of the way.

Until World War One. The Empire allied itself with the Kaiser and put German officers in charge of army units. At the Battle of Gallipoli, however, it was Mustafa Kemal who ignored the advice of Liman von Sanders of the German General Staff and destroyed an Allied army consisting mostly of Australian and New Zealand troops.

Then, after the war, Greece under Eleftherios Venizelos attacked Turkey. Many of the coastal areas of Turkey were at this time under control of Britain, Italy, and France; so Mustafa Kemal based himself in Angora (now called Ankara) where he would be free of the Greek-loving Allies. Once again, he proved his mettle by destroying the Greek army and driving them into the sea. In connection with this, he is usually blamed for atrocities at Smyrna (now Izmir). Although casualties were in the low thousands, most of the damage was done by fires set by the fleeing Greeks.

This military victory, combined with equally important diplomatic victories at European peace conferences, led to the Allied occupations coming to an end and Atatürk’s government in Angora becoming the de facto power.  In short order, Atatürk abolished the Sultanate, allowing the last Sultan to go into exile in Europe, and choosing one of the ex-Sultan’s family to be the Caliph. Within a year, he also abolished the Caliphate and put Turkey on the road to becoming a secular Muslim republic. (Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?)

Within the first few years of his rule, Mustafa Kemal abolished Arabic script in favor of the European alphabet, abolished the fez and turban as required headgear for Turks, and secularized the Turkish Army. He stayed in Angora, partly because Istanbul was crawling with elements of the discredited CUP faction.

Curiously, the old Ottoman Empire was only partly Turkish. Toward the end, the Sultans had drawn their heirs from a harem of Albanian, Greek, Circassian, and other women, mostly from far-flung parts of the Empire. Nominally, they were still descendants of Osman, after whom the Empire was named, but did not give any special privileges to the Turks of Asia Minor. It was Atatürk who made Turkey a Turkish nation, with relatively small minorities of Armenians and Kurds. (In case you’re wondering, the Armenian genocide took place before he came into power.)

Mustafa Kemal could have become another Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin, but instead he wanted to empower his people. Admittedly, he kept his fingers on the scales and would intervene personally when he felt that his successors were going in the wrong direction. He was something of a dictator, and something of a founding father. But he created a nation.

There is an interesting biography by Lord Kinross entitled Atatürk: A Biography of Mustafa Kemal, Father of Modern Turkey.

The Elemental Voices



The three elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of the three elemental voices, that of ocean is the most awesome, beautiful, and varied. For it is a mistake to talk of the monotone of ocean or of the monotonous nature of its sound. The sea has many voices. Listen to the surf, really lend it your ears, and you will hear a world of sounds: hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea.—Henry Beeson, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod

There Is No Bully Pulpit

It’s a Different World Now

It’s a Different World Now

I remember when H. Ross Perot was running for President on an independent ticket in 1992 and 1996, he used a phrase that was new to me: He said the Presidency was a “Bully Pulpit,” meaning it was a superior platform for advocating a political agenda. Perhaps, as late as the 1990s, that might have been true. But it is, alas, true no longer.

What has happened since then is the creation of the Great Republican Noise Machine, with its Faux News adjunct. The President can now be shouted down. He has been called a liar in a session of Congress—by a Congressman from South Carolina, no less; and he has been heckled at a press conference by a gay marriage advocate. Perhaps the podium at which the President stands is more useful these days for ducking brickbats than as a symbol of presidential power.

There is one slight problem with all this disrespect. It is not merely Barack Obama who is being treated contemptuously, but also the office of the President of the United States. Whoever inherits his mantle—be it Republican or Democrat—will now have to face the same barrage. What’s next? Will U.S. Senators start throwing shoes?

Just remember: What goes around, comes around. In spades!

By the Lily Ponds

Watchful Heron

Watchful Heron

While we were spending some four hours at the Huntington Gardens on Saturday, we spent an inordinate amount of time at the two large lily ponds. Not only did we see a heron (above), but also Canada geese with two ungainly, very adolescent-looking goslings, and a mother duck with seven little ducklings. Then, too, there was a supersized turtle and a whole lot of koi.

Below are the goslings, both of which have their heads tucked away in “You can’t see us” mode:

Two Goslings

Two Goslings

For the better part of an hour, the goslings sat at our feet while we occupied front-row seats at a strategically located bench. Sure, Martine tired herself out; but we both had a good time.

If you’re interested in seeing all the pictures I uploaded to Yahoo! Flickr, click here and scroll about 80% of the way down to photo DSCN3853, where Saturday’s pictures begin. As yet, there are no captions.