On my first trip to Italy, I learned the word retardo. On my second trip, I learned how to make vinaigrette.
These memories came to mind as I made my dinner last night. I wanted to write that I learned to make vinaigrette on my first trip, but careful consideration proved that to be false.
My first trip was by military aircraft to Vicenza Airbase. Because neither Switzerland nor Austria permitted US military aircraft to pass through their airspace, a roughly one hour flight took three hours. We were forced to fly around the Alps, but at least the French let us in. Vicenza offered no appeal, so we decided to take a train to Venice. I learned that all Italian trains run late, but at least the country has passenger trains.
My second trip was also by airplane, but it was with Lufthansa. This was my daughter’s first trip, first time in an airplane, and first time in Italy. (It must have made a lasting impression, because she married an Italian.) I recall watching the waiter at the small hotel beside Lago Maggiore whip up a vinaigrette in a shallow plate with a fork. He dissolved salt and pepper in white wine vinegar and then drizzled in olive oil while constantly whisking. Fantastic. I follow the same method, but have yet to equal the taste. Still, this is far superior to any bottled variety.
The photo shows the view from the hotel where I learned to make vinaigrette. Of course, it was taken at breakfast on our terrace, one floor above the dining room.
Today, I did something unusual: I rode public transportation. I have not done that in Germany for years…decades, even.
I had to leave our car at the Audi centre in Frankfurt and needed to return home. Usually, some family member picks me up, but I did not want to burden anyone at that time of day. Some were sick, which was an adequate excuse. Besides, I decided that a bit of mingling with the masses might provide some enlightenment.
It did not. I do not miss mingling with the masses. Those are not the kind of people whose company I might enjoy. Not that I would ever get to know any. None seemed like the kind I would want to meet. That sounds snobbish, but it is not. I have always been choosy about the ones I choose to spend my time with. Mostly, I prefer my own company.
By the time I left the train for the short walk home, color had drained from the western sky and the moon had taken up duty in the southeastern quadrant. I had missed the best part of the sunset, because the train had been traveling eastwards. The photo misses the colors needed to be raised into the pantheon of Sunset of the Day. Fortunately, mild temperature defied the calendar, so the walk was pleasant. Of course, I did not need a train trip to talk a walk, but I this gave me no choice.
This is a long weekend in Germany, because Monday is a holiday (which will be explained in another exciting and informative German Word of the Day). We decided to get away for a few days and chose Amsterdam. Our first choice was Interlaken (Switzerland, for the geographically challenged), but hotels were full and the weather was less favorable.
We rode the train, which was a pleasant to travel. German Intercity trains are comfortable and fast. For some cities, the time difference to flying is minimal...and can be quicker, if one adds up all the waiting. Besides, train travel includes less indignities. One shows up and plops oneself into a nice, wide leather seat and enjoys the ride. No one rifles through your bags or violates you person.
I like Amsterdam. The city is unique and offer many sights, museums, and unique shops, cafes, and restaurants. One finds the usual suspects of brand names, but they seem so ordinary compared to the eclectic offer of boutiques. It’s fun to window shop and browse, discovering interesting items and designs. People are friendly, and life is relaxed.
I prefer boutique hotels (usually the Ambassade, if the have a room), because this provides a welcome change to standard hotel ambience (although I have no complaints about Raffles or the Grand Hyatt, but avoid chains in Amsterdam). One stumbles out of the hotel onto (not into, hopefully) a canal and starts wandering the cobble stone streets, hoping to avoid being run down by a bicycle.
The first train ride that I can remember was on an old steam train in Carver, Massachusetts, at what was considered at the time to be an amusement park. Train tracks divided the town in which I grew up outside of Boston (wealthy folks were evenly distributed on each side), but I do not recall ever riding a train into Boston. I did use the MTA a few times from the next town, once it was built. My last trip on a train in the United States (other than Disneyland) was from Boston to New York in the ’90’s. The wagon was dilapidated and the tracks were is such bad condition, that walking could have been faster. It was a bad choice.
I have been a frequent user of trains in Europe. The German trains have always been good and keep getting better. For trips up to five hundred miles, I prefer them to air travel. They are more comfortable, less hassle, and fast. The high-speed trains get you to your destination much faster. Besides Switzerland and France, other trains in Europe are less good, but still a decent means of transportation.
A recent article in Vanity Fair outlines the state of the art of train travel, as it is practiced in China. Once again, the United States is put to shame, and even Europe is gawking.
The Chinese have done something unthinkable in the United States: provided a modern means of transportation in a few short years. The ethics that won World War II, build the interstate system (now badly in need of revitalizing), and put men on the moon is not possible with current form of government and public attitudes. Even if the government wanted to build and/or improve railroads, states are able to block any program. Nothing gets done, with political parties trying to block all progress and no one willing to spend money on anything that might benefit someone else.
Of course, China is blatantly criticized for being “communist”, which is like Chris Griffin’s Evil Monkey in the closet. But, that country has shown the way to the Beacon of....(fill in the blank with your favorite moniker) on how to get things done for the good of society. It should be enough to give the biggest egomaniac an inferiority complex, especially when one realizes that the only counter is politician’s posturing. Unfortunately, US schools teach that there are no losers. I feel sorry for the children too late that they indeed can lose and that their country has lost out in the world.
NB. Criticisms are meant to point to a better way. Unfortunately, with the current greed-driven system, there is little chance of “better”....except in China.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.