The Marks Chronicles: FIRST TIME IN EUROPE.
Lenore, Connie, Marilee and I went to Europe in June
of 1988. It was the first time off of the North American continent for
three of us. What a delightful time! We arrived in Dusseldorf and rented
a car. I upgraded one step from the subcompact that my grant would cover
to the next largest car. Hertz didn't have what we ordered and let us have
an incredible Mercedes for the same price. We drove to Duisburg on the
autobahn at times over 110 mph.
In Duisburg we got a hotel. Because of the exhaustion
of travel, we immediately went to bed. Mom, as usual, was the first up.
She dressed and toured the hotel to let the rest of us sleep. Connie and
I were wakened with her return and her enthusiasm for the new day. We got
up and began to dress when we noticed that the twilight of morning, contrary
to what we were anticipating, began to darken. The reason was that it was
the twilight of evening.
The monetary exchange in foreign countries can be confusing
and, when the American dollar is weak, frustrating. Connie and Mom were
shopping and excitedly bought a trinket. About 50 yards (or should I say
50 meters) from the vendor, Mom examined her change and muttered "I
think that man cheated me". Sound must travel better in German air.
The man yelled "I DID NOT! I NEVER CHEATED ANYONE IN MY LIFE!!".
He was enraged and red faced. Must be all of that bratwurst diminishing
the blood flow in his capillaries.
The most beautiful part of our trip was the drive down
the Rhine river. The way they were able to plant crops on the slopes of
hills was fascinating. The rows went from the top of the hill to the bottom
instead of horizontally. It seems that horizontal rows would be more immune
to erosion. We thought maybe vertical rows got more sun. We related this
curiosity to Gene Marks during a visit to Cleveland. He maintained the
same practice of planting rows of potatoes from the hill top to the bottom
was practiced widely in the hills in West Virginia. When the potatoes are
ripe, you just dig a little hole at the bottom of the hill and the whole
row roles down the hill and into your basket.
The most memorable sites along the Rhine were the castles.
I expected Dracula to walk out of some of the ones that were half in ruins.
These castles were ancient. One was named Marksburg. "Aha!" I
thought. "I have found my roots!" No such luck. The castle was
named for St. Mark who wrote the gospel bearing his name. But then again,
we may be also.
At the end of our trip down the Rhine was Weisboden,
the city of Connie's birth. We found the U.S. military hospital in which
she was born. The drawl of the uniformed sentry was out of place in Germany.
We explained our circumstances and showed him our passports. He let us
in under the condition that we not trespass on any of the areas marked
RESTRICTED. We found the building in which Connie was probably born. Connie
and Marilee posed and I took a picture. We thought it would be great to
take another picture at the entrance gate with The Weisboden Military Air
Force Hospital sign in the background. Connie was posing when the guy with
the drawl came rushing out of his little building by the entrance gate.
"You all can't take pictures in here!". I smiled pleasantly.
"Could we just take one of the sign at the entrance". He responded
unpleasantly. "If you take another picture, I'll have to call the
Weisboden police." We weighed the alternatives, got in our car and
left. Two days later when we were leaving Weisboden, however, we drove
past the installation and Connie took a picture of the sign out of our
car window. I guess it was the challenge of getting in the last word.
Marilee learned to walk in Germany. It took us three
months to get her to quit doing the goose step. (Just kidding). We had
a fascinating time with European elevators. They require a much higher
intelligence for operation than our American counterparts. Connie and Mom
got on one in the Helsinki airport. The volume of our luggage prohibited
my joining them. The door closed and when the elevator left, I pushed the
down button so I could be in on the next trip. In about a minute and a
half, the elevator door opened and there were Connie and Mom just as I
remembered them. Almost synchronously, they looked at me, covered their
mouths with an open hand and bent over at the waist in laughter. The door
closed again and, I am happy to report, when it opened a few moments later
, the elevator was empty.
Because of a weak U.S. dollar, Helsinki was expensive
. I met a man at the conference who was booked into the same hotel in which
Reagan had stayed a few weeks earlier before going to a summit meeting
at Moscow. The poor guy went down to dinner and they sent him back to his
room for a tie. He returned, opened the menu and noticed that an apple
cost 28 Finnish marks ($7). He closed his menu, walked to his room and
decided that prudency was the best policy that night. In Europe, however,
buffet breakfasts were included in room rates. We therefore typically porked
out in the morning and even stooped so low as to swipe a few sweet rolls
for our evening meal. I met a man from Switzerland at the conference who
had purchased a house for over one million dollars at 5% over one hundred
years. His kids would probably end up paying it off. The low tax rates
and beauty of Switzerland had really driven up the cost of living. He smiled
when he explained how it was built out of bricks rather than wood.
Helsinki's hotels are booked solid during May and June.
We ended up downtown and I had to take a bus daily to and from the conference.
The first day I got on the bus marked 192 and asked the driver "English?"
He lifted his right hand, palm down and rotated it slightly back and forth
at the wrist. "A little". I showed him a picture of the institute
where the conference was being held. "I want to go here". He
motioned for me to sit down. "I tell you" he said. And he did.
Before I got off the bus, I asked :"To get back downtown, do I take
this same bus?" He nodded yes. After the conference, I returned to
the bus stop. The first bus was 192. I waved at the driver in an exaggerated
manner as I had seen other Europeans do. I got on and queried the new bus
driver "English?'. He looked at me disgustedly, shook his head no
and motioned for me to sit down. I offered to pay. He again shook his head
and motioned for me to sit down. I sat in the front most seat of the bus.
The bus moved on to the next stop and about half of the people got off.
It went to the next stop the rest of the people got off. Before the last
passenger got off, he looked at me and then at the bus driver. The driver
placed both palms up and shrugged his shoulders. The passenger again looked
at me and said with a thick Finnish accent "This is the last stop".
I explained to him that I was told that this bus would return me to downtown
Helsinki. He conversed briefly with the bus driver in Finnish and turned
back to me. "You were suppose to cross the street". I could feel
them both thinking 'Dumb foreigners'. "You can get off here and cross
the street" he continued. "There's a bus stop right over there".
When I got off of the bus, it pulled into a turn off about 100 feet away
and parked, probably to wait until the time of the next scheduled run.
The bus and I waited patiently on opposite sides of the street for about
ten minutes. At the appointed time, the bus did a U-turn and stopped for
me. I got on and we drove to downtown Helsinki.
We got the hell out of that city. Now they call it
THE ENLIGHTENED MONA LISA
The Lourve in Paris is the largest museum in the world.
It contains innumerable sculptures and paintings of priceless value. Included
are the statue of David that is void of the arms and the Mona Lisa. The
six of us worked our way through a multitude of rooms containing delightful
renaissance paintings and sculptures of half clothed muscular men and fat
women. Arrows pointing the way to the display of the original Mona Lisa
were our guide. We walked into a dimly lit room, and there, on the wall,
in a large glass case, was the original Mona Lisa. A small crowd of people
were gathered about admiring the original of probably the most recognized
painting in the world. I elbowed my way to the front. The beauty of the
original, although marred by age, was indisputable. Small cracks had appeared
in the paint. The museum had determined that even light had a degrading
effect on the longevity of the masterpiece and had decreed that no flash
pictures of the painting were to be taken. About the glass enclosure were
three signs picturing a camera flash encircled in red with a diagonal red
slash: an announcement in all languages that there were to be no flash
pictures. A number of camcorders hummed and a few flashless shutter clicks
were heard. Then - there was a flash of light. All heads turned to the
source. The lady whose job in was to sit and guard the Mona Lisa shot from
her seat and yelled a phrase in French that probably contained a few expletives.
I turned to see who had taken the picture. It was Mom. She had forgotten
that her camera adjusted for the light level and used a flash if needed.
I was certain that we would by arrested and deported from the country by
the French Ministry of Culture. The verbal reprimand, however, was apparently
felt sufficient. We left the room with our tails tucked between our legs,
our encounter with the immortal Mona Lisa forever etched on our memories.
We later got a copy of the picture. It is delightful. The `no flashbulb'
signs, in particular, came out well.
THE KEY TO THE SITUATION (invited submission by Lenore
It was a beautiful March day in France. The plans for
a trip to visit the "Brittany of the Standing Stones" were complete,
three adults and three children dressed and excited ,ready for hour long
drive on Sunday. Suddenly Bob announced,
"I've lost my office key. I won't go until we
The GREAT SEARCH began. Every suitcase, coat pocket,
drawer, each nook and cranny searched. Emotions ran high. The children's
patience and expectations squashed, Bob's ego suffering defeat as he faced
the realization of reporting it to the powers that be, Connie and I accepting
the fact he would not find it when, just as suddenly as before, Bob announced,
We went to Cathedrales of Nantes nearby. We felt near
to God as we witnessed the beauty of this mammoth cathedral, having its
origin in 1434. We each worshipped silently in our own way. Our trip back
to the apartment at Ireste university was somber. almost conversationless.
We got out of the van and started walking to the apartment. Bob, walking
ahead of Connie and I turned, crooked his finger at us and said, "Come
see." This key could have been in Chateaubriant, miles away, or in
one of many shops in Nantes Centre, but there it lay in the grass, only
few steps from the entrance. Was this coincidence or had God answered prayer?
We all hugged Bob, holding back tears.
I traveled to Madrid, Spain in September 1992 to teach
a short course for Decisions Systems International.
Madrid reminded me of Mexico city. While walking in
downtown Madrid at night, the auto fumes were so powerful that I became
light headed. Also, instead of blowing out the gas generated by sewage,
the Spanish prefer to vent their sewers. Thus, in addition to the auto
fumes, we were treated every hundred feet or so to the aroma of vented
gas from raw sewage.
The Spanish, though, are great people. Very friendly.
Mohamed El-Sharkawi, with whom I taught the course, was particularly enthusiastic
after a walk.
`The locals are very friendly! Many natives came to
me and acted quite friendly. These people are much more friendly than they
are in America.'
A native Spanish participant in the course asked Mohamed
if the friendly natives were male. Yes. What was the street? Mohamed told
him. Turns out it was the district in Madrid frequented by promiscuous
Spanish people are extremely laid back. They rise at
nine, work until noon, and have a siesta-lunch for three hours. They work
some more and eat dinner at ten PM. Then they stay up all night. We saw
children with their parents on the street in the wee hours.