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Potpourri

Ernest Cassara


Our Trip

It is reasonable to expect that I'll have some things to mention of my month away from the pages of this esteemed web journal.  We flew first to Frankfurt, where our Lufthansa flight landed at 5:30 in the morning.  Despite that outrageously early hour, one of my favorite students from my year as a Fulbright Professor of History at the University of Munich — he is now retired from teaching at the University of Frankfurt — picked us up and drove us to his home in the beautiful Taunus area north of Frankfurt. The few days with him, of course, allowed us to talk of academic matters and international relations, among other things.  And, as is always the case when we visit him, he introduced us to more of his beautiful area.

My old student is quite ecologically concerned, so that the roof of his house is covered with banks of solar panels.  He captures so much energy from the sun that he can pass it on to the electrical grid in the area.  He was concerned that I might consider the additions to the array of panels ugly.  But, I assured him that I think them beautiful, and am in favor of all roofs in the U.S. looking like his.  (A forlorn wish, needless to say.)

We, then, spent a few days in Siegen, in the hills of Westphalia, where, several years back, having impressed the faculty at the university there with her Fulbright study of the status of women in the universities of Berlin, my wife had been invited to teach for a semester. Desiring that her lectures in German not contain too many Americanisms, she had requested an adult educator from the town to check her lectures before she delivered them.  This was the beginning of a friendship with her and her professor husband that has been a sheer delight  over the years.

First our friends drove us to Mainz, to visit the Gutenberg Museum, with its exhibitions of the invention of printing from movable type, and later developments.  We were, naturally, appreciative that we could see the earliest Bible Johannes Gutenberg printed, and some later editions, appropriately enough displayed in cases in a thick vault!

It happened that Mainz was celebrating German-American friendship day, with bands (including an American military band), dancing, stalls of food, etc., etc. Very festive.  As one who is so critical of the actions of the present American administration, I realized in Mainz, and a few days later in Berlin, that Germans are so appreciative of American support during the "cold war" that they hesitate to criticize the U.S.  This is particularly true in Berlin, where there are several monuments to the Berlin airlift by the Americans, when the Soviets were being particularly cantankerous in the divided city deep in the heart of the Soviet-controlled East Germany.

Our friends from Siegen also drove us Marburg, the old university city, where we visited the castle of Philip of Hesse, who played such a prominent part in the Protestant Reformation.  The castle has been turned over to the university, which uses it as a museum featuring aspects of the history of the area.  Beautifully arranged.

Our few days in Berlin probably meant more to my wife than to me, since she had carried out her study there while I was teaching in Munich.  Still, I had seen enough of the grand city on long weekends there, and, over the years since, that it has grown in my affections.  Especially, when we revisit such places as the Pergamon Museum, with, among many of its wonders, the reconstructed Market Place of Miletus and the triumphal way from Babylon.  These are just two of the exhibitions that remind us of the great contribution that German archeologists have made to our understanding of antiquity.

Enough of this serious talk!


Cleavage, Fore and Aft

It is remarkable how clothing designers sucker women into buying perfectly ridiculous outfits.  I had noticed in London last year that there were many young females with bare midriffs, as in Harvard Square.  But, now the foolishness has traveled south on the female body, so that, when young ladies bend down, their rear cleavages become as visible as that of their busts.

Have been reading some of the books I picked up in London.  In one of the new Rumpole of the Bailey stories of John Mortimer, Rumpole discusses the make up of the jury: "a hair stylist from a unisex hairdressing salon whose jeans seem in constant danger of sliding off her harrow hips . . . . " (Rumpole and the Primrose Path, Penguin edition, 2003, p.138.)

By the way, denim has scored  amazing gains over other materials.  Both in Germany and in England, I could not help by notice that  many women are wearing jeans so tight that they appear to have been painted on!  Plenty of men are wearing denim, as well.  Their slacks tend to bagginess — I was happy to see!


My Favorite German Coffee

Years ago, when I was studying the German language in a summer course at the Goethe Institute in Mannheim, a fellow student, seeing me head yet again to the coffee machine, told me that soon there would be a "Mangel" of coffee in Germany. To my look of puzzlement, he explained what "Mangel" means "a shortage"!

I thought of him again in Berlin, as I announced to My Better Half that I was determined to bring back to Harvard Square some of my favorite German coffee: "Jacobs Kroenung."

Those two brick packages would cause a problem at customs, when we reentered the U.S. We were told that the suitcase with the bricks of coffee must go through a scanner again. Then, we had to open the case, to prove that it was, indeed, coffee.  I know that Jacobs Kroenung is powerful stuff, but still!



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