Lovely Cadiz

Lovely Cadiz
Cadiz - my favorite place so far in the trip to Southern Spain

Friday, February 28, 2014

Bloggo Su e Giù I: Ups and Downs of Dottore Gianni's Travels: Preamble & Prequel in Germany 1967-68

Preamble: The two excellent students, Kelsey Burston and Jennifer Shaw insisted that Dottore Gianni begin this blog back in spring 2011 (whew! how the years fly by). The good doctor traveled abroad frequently during his 20-plus years teaching at Ithaca College, using the travels to personalize his theatre history lectures in general and to regale his students with amusing stories in particular. Young Kelsey and Jen decided that they wanted those stories to continue and sat with him to help him to put together the format of this blog. 

In other words, it's supposed to be about travel. Unfortunately, thus far in il dottore's retirement Pluto, the god of wealth, has become a stranger to him and he has been able to travel abroad (to Spain - ah!) only once thus far in slightly less than two years.

Spain - ah! Plaza Mayor, Madrid, September 2013
He has kept up the blog nonetheless, writing on lesser travels, from short trips to Florida, Charleston SC, Washington DC and New York City as well as day trips mostly into the mountains he took in the interim. But more frequently in the past year or so he has taken to writing about his visits to the Greenville Symphony, which while not uninteresting, have little to do with travel.

Two Meeting Street Inn, Charleston, SC, May 2013
Then, finding himself with an excess of free time at the beginning of 2014, and resolving (as who does not when each new year begins?) to do more with the original subject matter of the blog, Dottore Gianni began to look back at his travel journals. He has written these from the time of his second trip abroad, to London and Stratford-Upon-Avon, a present to himself on the occasion of his fortieth birthday in January 1987, to the day he started posting blogs about his travels instead. The good doctor had at one point thought to simply copy the text from his sloppily handwritten journals into the blog, but as he began reading he decided against. First, he cannot always read his own writing. Second, he wrote the journals at the ends of long, exhausting days as a hyperactive tourist, and frankly the entries are often as dull as dishwater. 

So he reached a compromise. He will in this series of posts preserve the flavor of the original journals and will quote directly where possible, in those isolated spots where any flavor is still to be had. But this series of posts will focus mostly on the high- and low-lights, the "su e giù" of his trips abroad. He hopes that his readers will enjoy them, and so he plunges in.

BUT! Before he begins, he has determined that a Prequel is in order: the doctor's FIRST trip abroad was courtesy of the 
Airman Hrkach, 1967
United States Air Force (USAF), which sent him to a small town in Germany (ever read the John LeCarre novel? Dottore Gianni has) for what was to have been a three-year assignment from late 1967 until his four-year enlistment as a Russian linguist in USAF ended in 1970. The good doctor enlisted solely in order to avoid being drafted for two years into the army or marines in the middle of the Vietnam war. Alas, the three years to be spent in that small German town, called Hof, in northern Bavaria, turned abruptly into less than eighteen months. First he was threatened with being transferred to what was classified as a remote 
The view from my barracks room, Hof AFB, spring 1968
assignment, to Trabson in Northern Turkey, a godforsaken outpost on the Black Sea (aka nowheresville on the sea). That order was, thank God, rescinded. But shortly after the nightmarish scare he received his second notice of transfer and reassigned to the National Security Agency (NSA), located, as it still is today, midway between Baltimore MD and Washington DC (also a form of nowheresville). Thus was Dottore Gianni dragged, kicking and screaming, to the U.S. In leaving Germany he lost a woman who might have been the love of his life, as well a chance to tour Europe. The woman, Karin Fritz, is described in his brilliant recent post Bloggo Reminiscentivo/Surrealitivo, so he won't spend time on her here (except to stop writing for a second to shed a brief tear or ten thousand). But the chance to tour Europe DOES figure prominently in his earliest travels abroad. 

The su? (or "up")? He had finally accrued enough leave to take a month-long tour of the continent with three of his best buddies!

The giù (or "down")? Shortly before the grand tour was to occur he was robbed of the opportunity, unceremoniously yanked out of Europe and consigned to go back to the US of A (think the Beatles song "Back to the USSR" - you don't know how [un]lucky you are").

Two of the postcards my pals sent - the front
His friends did take the tour, however, and he is still in possession of the postcards they sent him from wonderful cities all over Europe. As he was searching through his journals recently he came across the their cards as well. He has never solved the issue of whether these postcards were sent in the spirit of missing their pal, or if they were sent to rub it in - WE're on the tour and you're not - nyaaah, nyaaah, nyaaah! A question to be asked, but probably never answered.

And the rear of the two above cards
Of course if the good doctor had lost much of his first time abroad, the luxury of a year and a half in Germany is not to be sneezed at, particularly as he was paid to be there. He was severely restricted in his travel, but the nature of his work (shifts of four periods in one cycle: four evenings, from approximately 5 pm until 12 am; four "mids" - the midnight shift from that godawful hour until 7:30 or 8 am; four days, from approximately 8 am until 5 pm; and finally (hallelujah!) four days off. Then the cycle repeated itself, and so on and so forth. So instead of the usual two-day weekends the good doctor had four days away from work and was left to his own devices after twelve days on the job

Expressionist-style sculpture at Dachau concentration camp, near Munich, 1968
So he WAS able to travel short distances, and did so whenever possible. There was a trip to Munich with a friend named Lew, who Dottore Gianni remembers as bright and a fine companion. The su ? The good doctor and his friend 
were introduced to a great German city! The giù?  They spent one day of their four at Dachau, the WWII concentration camp. Some of you may not think of a visit there as a "downer" and it was not in the sense that the history of the place was a powerful and moving learning experience, but it was in the sense that it thoroughly depressed both young airmen.

The Rhine, 1968
He went with one of the few airmen who owned a car and two others on a trip to the Nürbergring, where the German Grand Prix was held, to see the famous race. The su? They drove along the amazing river Rhine, and spent a night at a tiny gasthaus, where Dottore Gianni ate one of the best meals he has ever experienced and had one of the best night's sleeps ever, in a featherbed. The giù? The meal did not agree with one of the airmen along on the trip, who became violently ill and the journey had to be cut short, as they hightailed it back to Hof  to get the fellow to the infirmary. They had seen the Rhine, but not the grand prix.

The German Alps, 1968
Another great trip away from shift work at the base was to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, deep in the German Alps, at an R&R area (unfamiliar with the term? stands for rest and 
The Zugspitze
recuperation) for U.S. troops, created post-WWII. There, in the shadow of the highest peak in the German Alps, the Zugspitze, was the opportunity for skiing, which activity was far too active for Dottore Gianni, who is a devout coward; drinking, much more the good doctor's speed, and gorging on great German food. The highlight was a day trip to two of 
Neuschwanstein - no, Dottore Gianni
did NOT take this photo
Ludwig II's (aka Mad Ludwig) wretched excesses, one a castle built in the late nineteenth century to look as if it had been constructed in the Middle Ages, called Neuschwanstein, and a Rococo-style palace called Linderhof, built at about the same time also to emulate an earlier era this time the eighteenth century. Also on that trip there was a stop at the beautiful Ettal Monastery and another at the charming town of Oberammergau (where every ten years a famous Medieval passion play is performed).

Linderhof - another bought slide
Come to think of it that trip was pretty much all su. At least Dottore Gianni does not remember much if any giù.

Shorter trips were embarked upon, day-trips, one to the nearby Kulmbach, which brewed some of the finest bier (beer) the good doctor has ever tasted - no giù there either!

Airman Hrkach at the Kulmbach Brewery, Germany
During the summer and early autumn in Germany there are fests everywhere! Of course the mother of all fests is the 
Herr Doktor-Professor Hrkach (yes, he used to call
himself that in those days) engaged in "research" at
the Hofbrauhaus, Munich much later, in 1999
Oktoberfest (much of which interestingly enough is held in September) in Munich - "in München steht ein Hofbrauhaus" - but almost all the small towns featured smaller fests of  their own. Even tiny Hof had one, and we attended night after night, drinking bier from huge steins, feasting on wurst, sauerkraut and potatoes, singing German drinking songs - in short, having the time of our lives. We also ran off to a few fests in nearby towns as well - aaaahhh!

Su? Eat, drink and be merry! G? The crawl up the hill to our little Air Force Base afterwards, completely potted!

Even though his time in Germany was cut short, simply being there should have been more than a pleasurable travel experience, and for the most part it was. But alas, Dottore Gianni never kept a journal back in those days. Actually, no - he lies - or forgot for a time. He somehow managed to write down the events of those four years - three years and nine months, actually, as he got an early "out" (discharge) for education (if you could prove you were accepted by a college they would allow you to be discharged a few months early) all on one side of a piece of paper. And he is very glad he did. He had little to say for the first year, approximately, then became more and more verbose! In fact he has kept that bedraggled piece of paper all this time - here's what it looks like - not sure you'll be able to read it, and that might be just as well!

Laughable, right? That he still remembers as much as he does, nearly 50 years later, goes a long way to proving that, even with its ups and downs, his time in Germany was much more su than giù.

Preamble and Prequel complete, next time Dottore Gianni will begin the blog proper, taking a look at the first trip AFTER his year and a half Germany - jump nearly 20 years to  December, 1986. If you're interested, stay tuned!

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