Archive for the ‘Understanding Museums’ Category

Here I sit in a hotel in Goeteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden, having turned in Das the car to Volvo.  Tomorrow, unless I’m arrested for not having a Schengen visa, I fly home.

What have I learned in more than 5 months in Europe?  First, that the kind of place I fear the most is a French parking garage.  2, that coffee people in Europe are just as great as in America or Latin America.  3, that Europe is not so very green.  4, that drinking by young Americans is bad, but that the worst are the Brits.  Americans drink too much in Europe, and they should figure out the drinking culture here before they come, but the worst drinking by our students occurs at home (search for Miami U. Ohio sororities and damage at their spring “proms.”)  I think that most Americans grow out of their college drinking, which doesn’t make it any less dangerous at the time.  5, I can still go many places and survive with no great problems.  I was sick one day here, not a bad record.  6, things don’t necessarily get better any time, any place.  If things are bad for you now, some great change many come along and improve your life, but that’s unlikely.  So have fun where you are.  7, Europe has come a long way since 1945, but individual countries are still extremely important, and progress in my view will depend on reducing that individuality even more.  Right now a citizen of the EU can work in theory in any EU country–except that the taxes, prices, and so forth are quite different.  And English is the lingua franca, but knowing it hardly solves the issue of talking to people.  8, I do like the food here better than in the US in general, and it’s certain that on the road you can get edible stuff in every country.  But easy on the butter, please!  9,  the coffee is almost always bad or mediocre, and they basically only serve espresso.  Don’t drink coffee in France.  10, don’t try to drive into most Italian cities.  11, Volvo is cool to deal with–very easy.

I spent the days from May 27 until June 8 partly at a conference on lynching around the world in Heidelberg.  Talk about mixed feelings–the issues are so emotional and political.  A valuable conference, and kudos to the German organizers for putting together a truly international cast that occasionally moved off the epicenter of lynching in everyone’s mind, the American South.  As for me, no more mass murder.  Once my book on lynching is out, I hope never to think about it again.  Fat chance.

But except for those 3 days at the conference, I was back in the world of coffee.  Have I said that the people are great?  I went to see wonderful cafes in Trieste, Venice, Padua, and Heidelberg (having seen some fine ones earlier in Prague).  Better yet, I went from coffee museum to coffee museum, in Forlimpopoli and Modena, Italy; Zuoz and Lugano, Switzerland; and Hamburg.  In Zuoz they simply unlocked the door for me and let me wander around.  In each place I was given books and other gifts–wine, coffee, shirts, e.g.  I saw gorgeous machines dating back as far as the mid-18th century.  People took me to lunch.  I took many pictures.  Why did I get such generous treatment?  Is my mug?  My manner?  Maybe–but people could simply tell that I was really interested.

I’ll put in a few pictures.  If you see this before the morning of June 10 arrives in Europe, say a prayer or cast a spell for me, so that I get home with no great trouble.

Home!  I will be so glad to get there!  There is no place like it, dontcha know!  An excellent sojourn in Europe, for the most part, but now I want to see my house, my dog, my bike, my yard, my wife, not necessarily in that order.  I don’t want to be a tourist for a long time.  Dealing with coffee at the end of the trip was not tourism, thank goodness, and I have sold some profiles of cafes to one mag, Specialty Coffee Retailer (catchy name, eh?) and hope to do more for them and a serious article on the museums.  But home is where I want to be.

A Vercelli steam coffee maker, early 20th c

Cagliari Coffee museum

The Burg Museum, Hamburg


Florian Cafe, Venice

Cafe Pedrocchi, Padua

And so ciao for now, Euro buffs!


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Went to Veckring, France, today, about 45 minutes away, to see the biggest fort on the Maginot Line.  I had always thought that it was a totally stupid project that cost billions and accomplished nothing.  Why did the French build a fortified line from the Lux border to the Swiss one in the 1920s and ’30s, with the idea of keeping the Germans out, when in WWI the Germans had not come that way, but through Belgium?  Well, it seems that nobody but Hitler and a few others could imagine crashing through the hilly part of Belgium, the Ardennes, in 1940; so the Line wasn’t all that stupid.  Plus the French hoped it would hold up the Huns until the Fr. could completely mobilize, which would have taken weeks.  Finally, the French population was much smaller than the German pop. post WWI, roughly 41 million to 66 m in Germany in the early 1930s.  And the German pop. was growing much faster.  Therefore the French tried to rely more on fortifications than on men.  Well, it didn’t work.  The Germans smashed through the Ardennes in May 1940 and simply bypassed the Maginot Line.  The only military function it did have was in late 1944, when the Germans held it and fired shells at American troops, until more artillery could be brought up on the weak side of the line, i.e. from the rear, to silence the German guns.

Anyway, a lot of equipment in the fortress at Hackenberg, the largest on the Line, still works.  The gun turrets rise out of the ground, rotate, and do everything but fire.  The diesel generators (not the originals, which the Germans took out after 1940 to use at submarine bases in occupied France) and a small electric-powered train work.  You get two long rides on the train, which was intended to haul ammunition and supplies around.  The tunnels have held up well–and of course there has been a lot of restoration.  And now it looks like the most peaceful place on earth.

uniforms of French colonial troops

The French colonial troops fought well, but in both wars in

Europe they learned that white people could be poor and

could be killed.  Not good for the future of colonialism.

watch the turret turn

Give me fields without guns, please.

Happy Easter.

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