Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Ten Things I've Learned by Traveling Europe

This is a blog which has been on my mind for a couple of years.  Traveling is an educational experience.  You sit and pause by a cafe....sipping strong espresso....watching Dutch people cycle over a bridge.  You sit on a bench in Berlin and note radical choices of clothing.  You ponder upon the rules of subway riding in Rome.

1.  There are a thousand ways of serving some cake or dessert in Europe, which relate to less sugar, but better taste.  Dunkin Donuts would not survive to any safe margin in Europe.

2.  High speed driving is acceptable, and deadly.  You can open any newspaper in Germany and note some crash of a guy going 120 mph when impact occurred.  For some reason, there just isn't any cause to control things and limit speeds.

3.  Art means something, to some folks.  You can't go around any city of 50,000 people in any country....without noticing a dozen-odd statues.  Some are historic.  Some are artsy.  Some are just a round piece of granite with no meaning at all.  Art sells, for some odd reason.

4.  For some reason, you just don't see much food poisoning in most European countries.  More inspections?  More rigid conditions?  More professional standards?  I simply don't know.

5.  No matter where you go....a discussion could erupt in a pub or cafe....over wine, beer, or distilled spirits.  There could be a thousand different expressions used to note taste, flavor or texture.  Everyone.....even the village drunk....has an opinion.

6.  Educational status in Europe means an awful lot....even more than what some American guy would get by six years and a master's degree from Ball State.  Doc-so-V-so, with his doctorate degree in textiles, is always respected in his neighborhood and town.

7.  Politics....generally runs along the same lines as in the US....except folks are most hospitable about the comments and accusations.  You can only be half-as-bad in Germany.....as you might be in Bama.  Folks tend to wake up the day after an election....then forget everything....going back to some norm mode (like we used to do in the 1970s).

8.  A four-hour train ride in Europe brings everything up close.  You come to appreciate rolling hillsides, old churches in the distance, and crossing rivers in the midst of a forest.  It's a trance-like experience.  You'd like to ride for weeks across Europe.

9.  Some guys in Europe spend an awful lot of time thinking about things.  Then they go to building structures, bridges, roads, buildings and infrastructure....that goes way beyond anything that a US designer would come up with.  Cooks go developing beyond your imagination.  Brewers make a beer beyond your expectations.  A bridge in France....just isn't a plain old bridge.  A piece of cheesecake in Mainz....just isn't a plain piece of cheesecake.  A shot of some Italian cherry brandy....just isn't a plain shot of brandy.

10.  After a while, an American traveling around Europe....has this funny feeling that as marvelous as he sees everything....the locals are just missing it.  A thousand great sights within an hour's drive, and most of the locals might admit they've seen forty or fifty of the sights by age forty.  Sadly, we Americans on the run.....might have a better view....than locals of age sixty, who've been there for an entire generation.  In a way, that's kinda sad.

Stars and Stripes, Not Forever?

After I joined the Air Force....around January of 1978, I was sent off to Rhein Main Air Base, Germany.  There, I discovered Stars and Stripes.....the military's daily newspaper.

You had two choices of newspaper there.  The Stars and Stripes was the cheaper of the two, and had military-related gossip in it.  The Herald Tribune out of Paris?  It was expensive, and a quick read (in six minutes, you were done).

There were three things that attracted me to the Stars and Stripes.

First, it gathered up articles from across the US.  You read stuff that rarely made it into your hometown newspaper.

Second, letters were allowed.  The editors were careful, but over the years I came to realize that lots of folks really criticized the BX, the commissary, generals, bad Germans, and a thousand other things.  Some lady jumped all over the BP gas station in Ramstein village for selling hot lusty magazines at the counter, and she felt her son didn't need to see that kind of stuff in public.  Some guy complained about military guys laying around drunk on some public area in Darmstadt.

Third, some stories were laid out about things that occurred in Germany, Italy and England....that you'd never hear about in the US.  There was the Army guy who got home late, telling his wife that he'd been falsely kidnapped by German terrorists.....then got her all peppy and calling the cops.  It didn't end well for him. One Army guy had a British-made car that he'd paid big-money for, but continually put hundreds into repairs, and at some point.....upon the next breakdown on the autobahn.....he set fire to the car and watched it burn while the German cops arrested him.  The New Year's eve party at a Kapaun Air Force barracks, that ended up with German hookers as part of the party......reported on page three of the Stars and Stripes.

Over the years.....the brilliant leadership of the military made the decision to take the bookstore operations away from Stars and Stripes.  Every post and base in Europe had a four-star bookstore, which the Stripes operated.  From the profits, they subsidized the newspaper.  Few grasped that, or understood that relationship.  Once the deal was decided.....the BX folks got the bookshops.  Congress got to bigger subsidized checks to keep Stripes afloat.  The 50-cents for each issue?  Not enough.  You'd have to charge a dollar for the paper to really survive on it's own.

So the time has come.  Congress is now talking of dumping Stars and Stripes.  Some senators say no way.  The Pentagon budget guys don't see much reason to continue supporting it when the internet exist.

My humble guess is that the paper edition will disappear in the spring of 2014 entirely.  For two or three years.....a digital edition will survive to some degree.  It won't have a European slant or a Pacific slant....just a generic DC slant.

Personally, it was a great education tool for me.  I came to appreciate little stories that demonstrated the naive nature of people, lousy conditions that we accept as normal, and the strange results of putting Americans three thousand miles away from Texas.

The Stars and Stripes did a decent job, and probably served to make life a little less miserable.  It was a diversion from your job, or the two years you were going to pull in Germany.  It was....for better or worse....your hometown newspaper.