NOTE: For more than three years, I’ve been sending an email to several hundred friends and readers to summarize the posts on More to Come. These usually go out on the last day of the month and as I craft these messages I work to pull these posts together into a story. It struck me after sending out the October update that I could easily post this to the blog as well, in case someone who isn’t on the email list comes by for a visit and wants to check out what’s going on. So I’m trying it out to see how it goes. If you receive the email, you can skip this. Nothing’s changed. If absolutely no one opens it after a month or two, I’ll probably drop the experiment. But perhaps someone will find it of use.
Between trips to Scotland, California, Vietnam, and Cambodia, I spent a grand total of five days at home during October. * Taking advantage of the privilege of travel, I posted observations from around the world on More to Come… As I’ve been challenged by travel to, in Pico Iyer’s words, “think about moods or intimations or places inside yourself that you never ordinarily see,” I’ve come to better understand the wisdom in the Richard Rohr quote that “life is about discovering the right questions more than having the right answers.” Seeing different perspectives helps us discover those questions.
In praise of the local walking tour ― the favorite October post in terms of reader views ― is typical of many from this month. While focusing on a specific place, it uses what I’m seeing as a jumping off point to make observations around a variety of subjects that I hope you’ll find interesting. The architectural walking tour in question is for one of the historic neighborhoods of Alameda, a veritable gold mine of architectural styles. The homes are gems that point to the creativity of the architects in California in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The tour itself is also first rate, which points to the care for community of those residents who have become stewards of the past for the benefit of future generations.
This month the blog showcases the breadth of my tag line: Observations, recollections, and occasional bursts of radical common sense about places that matter, books worth reading, roots music to nourish the soul, the times we live in, and whatever else tickles my fancy. You’ll find some of each this month. In a break from my regular monthly update, I’m grouping these posts by location, providing a bit of a travelogue feel. I’ll catch up on all the “whatever else tickles my fancy” posts at the end. This update is longer than most, but I hope you’ll find several things to tickle your fancy as well.
So let’s go to the place that may not have invented orange marmalade, but certainly made it commercially available
I traveled to Scotland the first week of the month in order to attend INTO Dundee 2022, the conference of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO). I’ve been attending INTO conferences for two decades, first as a representative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and an INTO board member, and more recently as a consultant for INTO. It was my second trip to Scotland this year, but the first to Dundee, which is northeast of Edinburgh. Dundee was a revelation on so many fronts, including the inventiveness of the local residents that came up with the formulas for making commercially-available orange marmalade and the adhesive postage stamp, among other things.
- Working for a better future is a recap of the week, with notes about the city, some highlights of the conference, thoughts on seeing dear friends again for the first time since before the pandemic, and a tasty morsal of Scottish music from the Battlefield Band. The panel I moderated ― to highlight the work of colleagues from China, Spain, Scotland, and Jamacia ― gives a sense of the diversity of participants and perspectives.
- While on this trip, I also made stops in Edinburgh, where I attended my first INTO conference in 2003. The city is a marvel that was teeming with residents and visitors alike, a fact I discovered as I walked the neighborhoods around my hotel. On one of these walks I saw a good example of how Scotland has chosen to recognize the difficult history behind one of its early leaders. This caught my eye as I am often asked in my work to comment on the issue of disputed history and how we recognize and honor those who are often marginalized. History and heritage is a post I wrote after visiting St. Andrew’s Square and seeing the new plaque being prepared for the massive Melville monument. This is a plaque to 1) explain Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount, Lord Melville’s history; 2) acknowledge his significant role in delaying the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade; and 3) rededicate the square to the memory of more than 500,000 Africans who were enslaved as a direct result of Henry Dundas’s actions. Photos from around Edinburgh are included here as well, as I came to realize I was running out of time to prepare another post before moving along to my next trip.
- Finally, the world did not stop during my time in Scotland, so I included a short piece about Ukraine, Russia, and the threat of nuclear war entitled Observations from abroad: It’s not all about us. Timothy Snyder is one of the top historians of authoritarianism and the Holocaust, and while I was in Dundee he posted a piece on his Thinking About newsletter on how the Russo-Ukrainian war might plausibly end. He also made the strong point that those of us in the US need to get past the notion that the war, and the threat of nuclear weapons, is all about us. As I worked my way around the world this month, I came to see time and time again that we would benefit in the U.S. by getting over the notion that it is all about us. Travel and getting out of the country can do that for you.
Go west, young man!
Coming home just long enough so I could wash clothes and repack, we then headed out to Alameda, California, for a visit with our daughter Claire. A bit of family bragging is in order: successfully completing her work and exams, Claire was recently certified as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in California. We are so proud of her and the important work she does, and we celebrated Claire’s licensure together over dinner and drinks. We also took the time to see some of the wonders of the Bay Area before heading to Southeast Asia. As you saw above, our Saturday afternoon was spent on a walking tour of Claire’s neighborhood. But there were a few other things we took in as well.
- Alameda has a great independent bookstore downtown that was within walking distance of our Vrbo rental, so we visited on Friday morning. Naturally, I bought a couple of books. One was a short crime novel Lemon, the first translated into English by the Korean writer Kwon Yeo-sun, and I had finished it before dinner that evening. Living with life’s wrongs is my short review of a book where the whodunnit style is merely a device to have the reader consider issues of fear, guilt, and grief. It is, in the end, a work to consider how we cope and eventually go on after trauma. It is a good read.
- Blue Gold at Filoli is the post I wrote after spending Sunday afternoon with Claire and Candice at the National Trust Historic Site Filoli in Woodside, California. Filoli’s new interpretive exhibit looking at the power and privilege of water helps set the context for the site, and I applaud my friend and colleague Kara Newport’s leadership in working with staff, board, and stakeholders in putting this exhibit together.
- A collaboration for the ages is a quick Saturday Soundtrack post I wrote while in Alameda featuring the musical collaboration of two beloved area musicians: David Grisman and the late Jerry Garcia. A little peace, love, and bluegrass from the Bay Area.
- Finally, Alameda REALLY likes to decorate for Halloween. So while we were there, I filled up my camera with pictures and posted some of the best of the decorations last Saturday as Celebrating ghosts, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night. Check out the skeleton doing the cannonball dive into the swimming pool, the Haunted Broadway extravaganza, and the clever 2022 Baseball Playoffs graveyard. That last one was clearly the work of a displaced Phillies fan.
Cruising the Mekong River
When I return home and allow my brain and body to catch up with the time zone there will be more to come from the terrific National Trust Tours trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. But here’s what I was able to post in October:
- Body and soul was the title of my first lecture on the tour. In addition to some excerpts from that talk, I include images from the first few days in Vietnam on our Mekong River tour. Scenes along the Mekong is a post primarily of pictures from rural Vietnam and the first day in Phnom Penh.
- Understanding and honoring difficult history was written after our group had visited the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam as well as the infamous S-21 torture center and the nearby Killing Fields in Phnom Penh. In my second lecture, I spoke about how history is always under construction and why seeking to confront difficult history is important in building just and ethical memories. This post delves into those questions and includes a review of a book by a survivor of S-21, who we were privileged to meet at the prison site. These were very emotional days which I expect to take a lifetime to fully process.
- Exploring the traditions of Angkor Ban is a look at a small, traditional Khmer village that was one of the few not destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Our visit was full of surprises, including a tour of a traditional Mekong River home set high on stilts and time with a group of children at the village’s English language school.
- Sunrise over Greater Angkor shows the photographs I took on a beautiful Cambodian morning as the sun rose over the landscape surrounding the famous Angkor Wat temple. It was awe inspiring. In a similar vein, The appealing mysteries of Ta Prohm captures the atmospheric look of Ta Prohm, among the most famous of Angkor temples due to the intertwined large trees and temple ruins. Very compelling.
- Many of you know that I’ve been reading Vietnamese-American writers in preparation for the trip. One of the most celebrated is Ocean Vuong, and I reviewed two of his most recent works in Listening to new voices. The always popular The books I read in September 2022 looked at the five books I read and reviewed that month, which included the Vuong books, two others by Vietnamese-American writers, and one on debunking myths around history.
Everything else that tickled my fancy
I did keep up my reading habits this month, and two of the books I read that were not about Southeast Asia were, in a word, terrific.
- Knowing that I was going to miss most of the baseball playoffs due to travel, I took along Joe Posnanski‘s magnum opus, The Baseball 100. It is “an audacious, singular, and masterly book that took a lifetime to write” and my fawning review (**) can be found in An intimate tour of baseball history.
- My former National Trust colleague, Christine Madrid French, has written a new book on the built world in the films of Alfred Hitchcock that is spooky good! Just in time for Halloween helps the reader understand why the lairs of villains switched from haunted castles to sleek modernist masterpieces under Hitchcock’s eye. The reader also learns why our minds immediately go to a famous bathtub murder scene in the movies when a picture of an old Victorian mansion with a 1930s motel in the front yard is shown. Chris explains how this setting came to carry such a potent and disturbing message for a mid-century movie-going audience. Hitchcock understood the moment and set up the scene so that moviegoers just knew that Janet Leigh was making the wrong decision when she pulled into that motel parking lot. Hey, it’s a horror movie. Making poor decisions is what you do. (***)
As noted above, the world did not stop spinning just because I was out of town. So two posts were focused on the times we live in.
- In case you needed a reminder, I provided this helpful Monday morning rant entitled Capitalism is not democracy. Wall Street is not the economy. Care for the common good is not socialism. If you can remember those three things while watching the horrible commercials during this election season, you’ll be better informed than 45% of the American public. This post begins with a story told by the late John Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, to the MBA graduates at Georgetown one year. “At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island,” Bogle noted, “the late Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, the author Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch 22 over its whole history. Heller responds, ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have . . . Enough.’” You can probably guess where this is going.
- In a world like this, the cartoonists should be getting overtime pay is the latest of my little mini-series on political cartoons during this election season. I do love political cartoonists because they say truth to power in ways we can all understand.
Finally, I did not forget the music!
- Most of my Saturday Soundtracks this month are included in various parts of the notes above. But the good folks at the Tenement Museum (a National Trust Historic Site) in New York City hosted a live-streamed wake for Irish musician Mick Moloney that I was delighted to include. You’ll find it at Mind Yourself: A musical wake for Mick Moloney.
In these especially difficult and unsettling times, remember to treat others with kindness, undertake some mindful walking every day, and recognize the incredible privilege that most of us have and think about how to put that to use for good. Women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, and others can feel especially vulnerable…because they are. Finally, work hard for justice and democracy by voting this month as if your life depends on it…because it does.
More to come…
*What’s the best song to use for this type of travelogue? Why Johnny Cash singing I’ve Been Everywhere, of course!
**At least I’m self-aware.
***In case you want to watch that Geico commercial.
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