Our Nation’s Capital, Mayan Pyramids and Faneuil Hall!
Richard J. Garfunkel
January 12, 2007
After our weekend trip to Newport, where we lunched downtown at the Red Parrot, on Thames Street with our fellow travelers, the Habers, and our children: Dana and Jon we headed back to New York. We had seen the Touro Synagogue once again, walked through old Newport, visited a few Mansions, saw the Tennis Hall of Fame, enjoyed the company of our kids and had some laughs and a few good meals.
Of course the traveling had just started for us and we had planned to be in Washington DC for Thanksgiving. There was no reason to stay around New York, my parents were now gone and we were looking for an interesting place to visit with our children. We settled on our nation’s capital, and what better way to celebrate the fantastic Democratic victory than to go the center of our nation’s power. Of course we had decided on Washington months before, but I had predicted that the Democrats would take both Houses of Congress, despite the many naysayers about and around in the land. Of course the taking back of the Senate was always a “stretch” but I had even assumed that some of the so-called “safe” seats would fall over. But, the seats that were predicted to fall did, and if it weren’t for a slimy and almost racist ad in Tennessee, the Democrats would have probably picked up another seat. That was too bad because Harold Ford Jr. would have probably made a great Senator. Of course, the country hasn’t heard the last of him and he’ll be back sooner than later.
Of course the die was cast early on, and favorites for early retirement like Bob Ney, Mark Foley, Duke Cunningham and Tom Delay were already out, under indictment or in jail. But, like all contests, they are never over until the “fat lady” sings. Other House GOP stalwarts like Hayworth, Pombo, Leach, Sweeney, Sherwood, were beaten, and the Democrats were finally able to defeat 22 Republican incumbents and win nine “open” seats that the GOP had previously held. Even the Democrats were able to get rid of the obnoxious Cynthia McKinney and still hold that seat.
Of course I won’t miss two of my all-time “favorites” Senators Allen and Santorum. Because of the proximity of Pennsylvania to New York we were constantly exposed to the flat-earth mendacity of Rick Santorum. As a long-time observer and participant of politics and American history for forty plus years, he was one of the most distasteful. I could take even Al D’Amato or Jim Buckley over the pontificating and hypocritical Santorum. The other race that I enjoyed most was the defeat of George Allen. Now former Senator Allen, the son of the late NFL football coach with the same name, was a particularly offensive individual. With his faux drawl, cowboy boots and his airhead reasoning I was happy to see him defeated. The idea that George Allen, Jr. was being considered by the “talking heads” as a potential Presidential candidate and a “wannabe” infuriated me at the least. But Allen wound up hanging himself with the same noose that he displayed in his office. His stupid remarks and his denial of his real background exposed him to enough of the Virginia electorate to bring in Jim Webb by a bit over 9000 votes. I knew something about Webb from his days in the Navy Department. Meanwhile I loved him as a writer, and his book about the Philippines, the surrender of Japan and General McArthur, The Emperor’s General was sensational. Jim Webb was one of the youngest cabinet appointees at age 41 and he was decorated three times for “extraordinary heroism” in Vietnam. The “Swift-boaters” out there could not lay a finger on this guy. I predict that he will be a dynamic Senator and I look for big things to come out of his work in the Senate.
“Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won. The skies no longer rain death – the seas bear only commerce – men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world is quietly at peace. The holy mission has been completed. And in reporting this to you the people, I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles and the beaches and in the deep waters of the Pacific, which marked the way. I speak for the unnamed brave millions homeward bound to take up the challenge of that future which they did so much to salvage from the brink of disaster…” General Douglas MacArthur’s remarks at the surrender ceremonies on board the USS Missouri (BB62) on September 2, 1945 (VJ Day).
MacArthur’s poetic cadence sounded flat and hollow, echoing like ricochets off the sharp rocks and barren peaks of the central Cordillera Mountains. We were in Northern Luzon’s (Philippines) Asin Valley, a mile high and a world away from Tokyo Bay, where Japan’s formal surrender was taking place on the main deck of the USS Missouri. But the surrender ceremony was being broadcast live across the world, even reaching this last remote outpost through radio speakers mounted on a nearby truck.”
From: The Emperor’s General, page 115, by James Webb, Michael Joseph, pub. 1999
So with all that in mind, it was off to our nation’s capital. I had been there a number of times since my first trip, with Charles Columbus and his parents: George and Fritzi, in 1957. I had been living with the Columbus family while my parents took a sixteen-week trip to Europe on the trans-oceanic liner Queen Elizabeth. During the Easter break we took a long drive in George’s big Chrysler 300 to the Capital, Richmond and through the Shenandoah Valley. Even before I was married I had made a few other quick trips to Washington, and I even visited my sister Kaaren, who lived there during the first year of her married life to her husband Charles Hale. Charles ran a branch office of the Hirsch and Company brokerage firm before they moved to New York. Later on, Linda and I made a number of trips to Washington, and when she was on the staff of Congressman Richard L. Ottinger –Democrat, 24th CD, we went down to his office now and again.
But since George W. Bush had assumed the Presidency, we had basically avoided going to Washington. As a partisan Democrat and a political activist and junkie I have not been happy with Republican Presidents. I opposed with money and sweat equity Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush 41. But even with Nixon, I grudgingly had to respect him for having a brain. Ford was basically unqualified for the job and Reagan I could never take seriously. I didn’t dislike either Ford or Reagan but I had little respect, if any for either of them or their presidencies. Bush 41 was more qualified, it seemed than the other Republican incumbents since Hoover, but he was an ineffectual lightweight who was patently unattractive to the electorate. After having an incredibly high popularity after the Gulf War I, he wound up getting a lower percentage of the popular vote (37.7%), as an incumbent, than any President since William Howard Taft (23.2%). One could hardly blame Taft, in as much as his Republican vote was halved by the Bull Moose candidacy of the former, and very popular former President Theodore Roosevelt. To put it in context, Bush had a lower percentage of the popular vote than Hoover (39.6%), Carter (41%), John Quincy Adams (44%) and Martin Van Buren (46.9%), all defeated unpopular incumbent Presidents.
Therefore my “dissatisfaction” quotient with George 43 has exceeded all previous levels. The fact that this “individual” was re-elected is beyond comprehension. But of course Henry Louis (H.L.) Mencken, (1880-1956) The Sage of Baltimore, the first 3rd of the 20th Century’s preeminent literary and social observer and critic once said, … “No one in this world, so far as I know… has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” (September 19, 1926)
I don’t always agree with Mencken, but his famous reflection on the paucity of gray matter of the average American must be the excuse we all must except when analyzing the 2000 and 2004 elections. In 2000 we do have somewhat of an excuse, Al Gore at least won the popular vote by over 500,000 and if the electoral vote of Florida had not been stolen by some “hanging chads,” a phony recount and some silly voters in Dade County who mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan over Al Gore, our history would have been quite different.
Henry Louis Mencken was born in Baltimore, Md., on September 12, 1880. He graduated the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute at age 16, became a reporter on the Baltimore Herald, and rose rapidly to become the city editor and editor. Mencken’s appreciation of the American speech as unique led him to produce The American Language in 1919, and subsequent supplements and revisions over the succeeding decades. On October 25, 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Baltimore during the last few weeks of the campaign. Roosevelt invoked the Republican “Four Horseman of Destruction, Delay, Deceit, and Despair.” H.L. Mencken, a conservative, was skeptical about FDR, but detested the Republicans. The Encyclopedia of World Biography
Mencken eventually became a vituperative critic of President Roosevelt. The iconoclastic social critic was recruited to roast Roosevelt at the Washington Press Corps, Gridiron Dinner in 1934. Because FDR was present at the dinner, Mencken moderated his usual scathing attacks, and began, “fellow subjects of the Third Reich,” and said, “Every day in this great country is April Food Day.” FDR would not be deterred by Mencken’s gentleness on this occasion from returning the fire in (and from) Mencken’s previous writings. Roosevelt referred to the comments of “my old friend Henry Mencken,” and then, in a room filled with journalists, began a bitter diatribe against the press, attacking “the stupidity, cowardice, and the Philistinism of working newspapermen.” He continued to smile beatifically and aroused the mirth of the audience with his versatile intonation as he went on about those “who do not know what a symphony is or a streptococcus.” And referring to American journalists as “pathetically feeble and vulgar, and so generally disreputable.” Only gradually did it become clear that the entire reflection was a lift from an editorial of Mencken’s in the American Mercury of more than ten years before. Roosevelt finally amusingly, identified it as such. Mencken fumed: “I’ll get the son of a bitch. I’ll dig the skeletons out of the closet.” Roosevelt was wheeled past him at the end of his remarks, which were received with great mirth when he revealed his source. The two shook hands, and Mencken gamely said, “fair shooting.” Harold Ickes wrote that FDR had “smeared Mencken all over.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Champion of Freedom, Conrad Black, page 340-1, Public Affairs. 2003
Putting that short history behind us, our children Dana and Jon drove down from their respective homes in Brighton and Arlington, Massachusetts on Wednesday, and on Thanksgiving Day we headed out early for the Capital. No matter when one leaves for Washington, the trip takes at least five hours.. One can make excellent time getting out of New York, but the traffic on the Jersey Turnpike will always eventually slow one down. Besides the problems of excess traffic on that inadequate road, Baltimore and Washington traffic is always a problem no matter when and where you reach it. Our trip down was uneventful until we hit the proverbial “wall” on the Jersey Pike. Thanks to our son’s quick analysis of the situation, and intrepid map-reading, we exited the road just south of his alma mater Princeton, detoured west until we reached I-295 and breezed southward until we encountered another disaster at the beginning of Route 50, the Baltimore and Washington Parkway, where a terrible accident closed the entrance ramp that led west to Washington. With another brilliant suggestion by Jon we headed south on I-295 towards Richmond, got off at the next exit, came back the other way, got off on the other side and flew around and past the police and ambulance blockages on Route 50. It never hurts to have smart children.
Once in Washington, and despite the rain, we headed over to the National Portrait Gallery and the newly renovated and re-opened old US Patent Office and had a great time romping around their barely occupied corridors. Those two places are rarely visited by the multitudes and they are quite enjoyable. The old Patent Office is now called the Reynolds Art Gallery and it is linked to the National Portrait gallery, which has representative art chronicling all of our national heroes from Presidents to poets. The whole effort took six years to complete and after $283 million in expenses, one can see 19,000 pieces of artwork and everything from a room-sized electronic video map of the United States to a bust of James Buchanan.
In the portrait gallery there are great oil paintings, as Gilbert Stuart’s famous 1796 rendition one of George Washington, busts, photographs and statues of many of our most prominent generals, baseball stars, jazz artists, theatre icons, and literary giants. All in all, it is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. So Thanksgiving Day was a bit damp and many people were at their local high school turkey bowls, shopping for last minute accoutrement for the feast or already at their grandmother’s and settling down for the great American culinary happening. We finished our ocular exercise and made our way out to the quiet damp streets, 8th and “F” that make up the Penn Quarter and Chinatown section. We headed past DuPont Circle to 2100 Massachusetts Avenue NW where the cozy Embassy Row Westin Hotel is nestled. Linda used her terrific planning skills to make sure that we had top-notch rooms, paid for by our Westin time-sharing points, and we all checked in, rested up, showered and dressed for our Thanksgiving dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill, located at 675 15th Street NW.
HISTORY OF OLD EBBITT GRILLThe Oldest Saloon in WashingtonThe Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington’s oldest, most historic saloon, was founded in 1856. According to legend, innkeeper William E. Ebbitt bought a boarding house at that time, but no one today can pinpoint its exact location. It was most likely on the edge of present-day Chinatown, somewhere near the MCI Center.
As a boarding house, the Ebbitt guest list read like a Who’s Who of American History. President McKinley is said to have lived there during his tenure in Congress. Presidents Grant, Andrew Johnson, Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and Harding supposedly refreshed themselves at its stand-around bar.
Each table in the Ebbitt was graced by a blue history card that read: “Many other famous statesmen, naval and military heroes, too numerous to mention here, have been guests of the house.”
Evolving to a higher form, Old Ebbitt became Washington’s first known saloon. And as the years passed, it moved to a number of new locations.
By the early 20th century, it had found its way to what is now the National Press Building at 14th and F Streets, N.W. Two saloons co-existed in the Press Building at the time, a Dutch room and an Old English room. During the 1920s, when the Ebbitt moved to a converted haberdashery at 1427 F Street, N.W., the legacies of these Dutch and English bars were combined into a single Old Ebbitt Grill.
The F Street location was just two doors away from the Rhodes Tavern, which occupied the northeast corner of F and 15th Streets. Having a considerable history of its own, its bar was reportedly the site where British generals toasted one another as they watched The White House burn during the War of 1812.
The Final Move
In 1983, the Old Ebbitt Grill was uprooted one last time. The building was razed, and Old Ebbitt moved around the corner to its current location at 675 15th Street, N.W., to the Beaux-Arts building that was once the old B. F. Keith's Theater. Bringing its rich history with it, the “new” Old Ebbitt remains a virtual saloon Smithsonian.
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It was a short drive from DuPont Circle to NW 15th Street and before long we were seated in a quiet rear table and the Perelman’s eventually arrived to join us from their home in Lake Ridge, Virginia. Frankly, I cannot remember what anybody else ordered, but I had the traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner, and it was great. The bill, with wine and beer for the six of us, was quite reasonable, and we did not have to wash dishes or go to the poor house.
We enjoyed the ambiance, and after a long interregnum, it was nice to see the Perelmans. Lewis and I grew up quite near each other in Mount Vernon, NY and we have stayed friendly for many, many years. He’s been all over the place, while I have not strayed far from my hometown for over 60 years.
The Perelman’s moved from Tecumseh Avenue, in the Graham School District, to 72 Sycamore Avenue in the late 1950’s, which was three houses north of my house, which was located at 500 East Prospect Avenue. I came in contact with Lewis through a veritable baptism of fire. While observing him, as he tried to relax on his deck, from Joel Grossman’s 2nd floor window, which overlooked his yard (my old grammar school buddy), we decided to bombard him with firecrackers. It was an inauspicious but enlivening introduction. Eventually I got to know him better, and I was able to “bum” rides to AB Davis High School, with his father, Mr. Leonard Perelman (1914-1987), and their Dalmatian Cindy in his sub-compact Rambler. Leonard was a great guy and he went by his nickname “Snip.” He was life-long Mount Vernonite, and we remained friendly with him and his wife Ruth, until his death. “Snip” once had a run-in, while in school, with a local hood named “Peanuts” Manfredonia. He never spoke well of “Peanuts” who became a renowned and notorious bookmaker in his later years. The Perelmans eventually moved to Florida, and we would see them whenever we were in the Sunshine State. One day old “Peanuts’ was gunned down, unceremoniously, on the streets of Mount Vernon, and I sent the newspaper clipping to “Snip.” I am sure he felt society had gotten even with his old adversary. Lew Perelman traveled around America and after earning a Phi Beta Kappa key at City College as physics major, he received a doctorate from Harvard University. He is currently living in Virginia with his wife Isabella and could be considered a “professional thinker.” Lewis even wrote a very good book on the downfall of education, called, School’s Out.
“The belief that education is a key factor of global competitiveness has been expressed in self-defeating strategies of reform aimed at closing imagined “gaps” between the reputed quality of American’s schools and those of other nations. Analysts of competitive strategy from David Ricardo to Michael Porter and from Sun Tzu to Douglas MacArthur have known for centuries that the least promising path to competitive advantage is that of catch-up or copycat.”
School’s Out, page 338, by Lewis J. Perelman, Morrow, 1992
Meanwhile, because it was a quiet weekend, we found parking right on the side streets off Massachusetts Avenue and our stay continued to be quite inexpensive. The next morning we were up and about early, had breakfast at a local eatery and made our way over to the Lincoln Memorial, the reflecting pool and all the outdoor monuments. We did much walking and were able to visit the Vietnam, Korea. World War II and FDR Memorials. Since the weather was beautiful and warm for late Thanksgiving, the sites became crowded as the morning wore on. I had forgotten about the World War II Memorial and was astounded when we reached its location, which is about halfway between the Lincoln Memorial and George Washington Monument. I later learned that the critics thought that it was a monstrosity and they were correct. It looked like something out of the King Victor Emmanuel (Rome) Memorial School of design. It said nothing, but seemed to emote the loud clanging sound of a very large cash register ringing up 10’s of millions of taxpayer dollars. We all thought it was a grotesque, out of proportion boondoggle that should never had been built. Wherein the Iwo Jima Memorial (built between 1951-4) that stands majestically in Arlington conveys strength, history and elegance and cost $850,000 (1954 dollars) this WWII colossus cost way over $200 million. The Boston Herald called it “vainglorious, demanding attention and full of trite imagery.” I would agree with the Philadelphia Inquirer that likened it to the “pompous style favored by Hitler and Mussolini.” It is massive, blocks the vista of the broad green and blue expanse of the lawn and the reflecting pool, and winds up saying virtually nothing. One thing we all noted was that there was no real recognition of our Allies in that titanic effort. Even the meaning placed in the 400 gold stars representing 10,000 American causalities each was quite arcane. One would be hard-pressed to learn any of the history or of the people that won World War II from visiting that concrete sink hole.
According to James Bradley, in his great book, Flag of Our Fathers, Iwo Jima took a great and savage toll on the American marines who fought there. “Of the original eighteen men photographed around the second flag raising fourteen were casualties. Of Colonel Johnson’s 2nd Battalion: 1400 boys landed on D-Day; 288 replacements were provided as the battle went on, a total of 1688. Of these, 1511 had been killed or wounded. Only 177 walked off the island. And of the 177, 91 had been wounded at least once and returned to battle.” One of the stark facts is that it took 22 crowded transports to bring the 5th Division to Iwo and the survivors fit easily into 8 as they left. The Battle of Iwo Jima incurred, for the first time in the Pacific War, more casualties on the attacking American force than on the defending Japanese. The Americans lost approximately 6800 men along with over 20,000 wounded. The Japanese lost over 20,000 men with only a few hundred captured.
From Wikipedia and Flag of our Fathers, by James Bradley and Ron Powers, Bantam Books, 2000.
But Washington is still a great place to visit. We got over to the Iwo Jima Memorial on our way to Alexandria, where we strolled around that historic town, and we had lunch with the Perelmans. We walked up hill and dale in Arlington Cemetery, saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched the changing of the guard. We visited a new wing there that commemorated women’s efforts throughout our military history. Later on we visited Mount Vernon, our first President’s home. After Congress refused to save the property, thankfully the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association purchased the home and gardens in 1858 from the estate of John Augustine Washington, a great grand nephew of George and Martha Washington. Without the efforts of Ann Pamela Cunningham of South Carolina, the founder of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association the home of our first President may have disappeared forever. The home today can be found in absolutely pristine condition and the grounds are immaculate. Because of the efforts and fund-raising of the Ford Motors Company and the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, George Washington’s home and grounds received an infusion of $110 million and created an incredible museum and learning center. We all loved walking around the home, the grounds and the wonderful interactive learning center.
“No estate in America is more pleasantly situated than this. It lies on a high, dry, and healthy country, 300 mile by water from the sea…. on one of the finest rivers in the world. It is situated in a latitude between the extremes of heat and cold, and is the same distance by land and water, with good roads and the best navigation (to and) from the Federal City, Alexandria, and George town…” George Washington
“Time and circumstance have wrought no changes to qualify or invalidate the foregoing description of Mount Vernon from a letter written by George Washington to an English correspondent in 1793. Mount Vernon stands as a monument to its builder.”
From the official Mount Vernon Guide, published by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
Eventually we made ourselves back to the city and Jon and I went to the US Postal Museum, which is located near the Union Station. We dropped Dana and Linda off at the Mall where they went into the Smithsonian to see the American History Museum. With the weather cooperating and the crowds flowing into Washington, the Smithsonian was packed. We finally met up a little later in the afternoon and got back on the road to New York. Again, the traffic was impossible, and with two strategic course corrections and hours of playing “geography” in the car we finally made it home.
Within a short week of our arrival home we were once again packing for a new trip. We had planned to celebrate Linda’s 60th birthday, December 5th with a Caribbean cruise. With the usual disruptions regarding flying these days, we were able to get into Fort Lauderdale International Airport about four hours later than we originally planned for and expected. We rented a car, and were lucky to upgrade without cost, to a sporty convertible after our reserved mid-sized model was unavailable. We checked into the Yankee Clipper Hotel, which is located on AIA in Fort Lauderdale, just south of Las Olas Boulevard. Our cruise was due to leave Monday afternoon so we had a few days to see some friends and family. We were able to visit Linda’s cousins; Bernice Adler, her younger sister Myrna and her husband Jerry in Delray Beach. Coincidently Bernice’s younger son Joel, and his wife Terre, happened to be at a hotel on A1A not far from the Yankee Clippe,r and they were attending their daughter’s dance recital. We met them and were taken to lunch on Los Olas Boulevard. It was fun catching up on old stories. After our goodbyes, we made connections with some of my old friends from Mount Vernon; Bill and Joan Bernstein, Barry and Jill Reed and Roland and Barbara Tucci Parent.
I met Bill Bernstein around 1952 when we were in the lowest level of grammar school. It may have been 2nd grade. He was a friend of Joel Grossman and he had a sister and brother and they lived on Darwood, which paralleled Magnolia Avenue, where Joel lived. One could cut through some one’s backyard and get to Billy’s house. Bill and I had similar interests in American military history and even though we disagree on some aspects of political philosophy most of our thoughts and interests dovetail. His older bother Phil still lives in White Plains and had a wonderful collection of Playboy Magazines. He married a Mount Vernon girl, named Joan Brenner, who I casually was aware of through my contact with her brother. Bill and Joan have one son who is a graduate of Georgia Tech.
Barry Reed, who also grew up in Mount Vernon with his three other brothers, came from an intellectually talented family and all of them were high academic achievers. Barry was a cloe friend of Lewis Perelman, and also had been raised in the Graham School district. He was the youngest of the four brothers, and I actually met him when I was in college. His family had moved to New City, in Rockland County, and only spent one year in AB Davis High School, and our paths had never crossed. Barry had a strong academic career, at Harpur College (now SUNY-Binghamton), MIT and Downstate Medical School. He met his wife Jill, a native Floridian, who was graduate of Stern College. He practices medicine in Florida. The Reeds have three very smart children.
Barbara Tucci was a vivacious cheerleader in Mount Vernon, and was the belle of everyone’s ball. She was incredibly popular, a friend to many and a terrific cheerleader. She grew up on the other side of town, and I became aware of her while playing basketball. She married Roland Parent, a naval officer, who had roots in Newport, RI, and they have been living in Fort Lauderdale for decades. The Parents have four children, two grown married sons, who live in New York, and two daughters, one of which is a sailor and the other a student.
Bill has a great home in Manalapan that is located on the Inter Coastal. He has a marvelous collection of rare books and even has a couple of FDR pieces that I do not possess. We had a spectacular lunch and it was nice to touch base after a number of years. Barry and Jill Reed have been living in an area of unincorporated Dade County called Pinecrest, which is located quite near Kendall, for many years. Roland Parent had a long career that started with the Merchant Marine and ended by being a partner in a consortium of harbor pilots that steered ships in to Port Everglades. We have been visiting with, and enjoying the hospitality of Barbara and Roland, for many years now. Roland’s hobby for many years was making scale models of merchant ships, and now in retirement, he has taken up that interesting and demanding work in earnest. While we were there I photographed some of his great pieces. We also made a trade. He had a spare miniature of an ocean liner that I liked and I promised to send him one of my FDR- Man at the Helm clock frames. While in Fort Lauderdale, we went out with them to dinner at the Wilton Manor’s Old Florida Seafood House.
FDR Clocks come in few varieties. The usually picture FDR, either standing on the left or the right of a ship’s steering wheel or helm. Usually the figure has a clock in its center and it is painted gold. The lettering under the steering wheel could say “Man of the Hours” or “Man at the Helm.” There are other statuettes without clocks, but have lamps attached.
After the weekend ended we headed off to the Enchantment of the Seas. It’s a big ship by any standard, 81,045 tons. The famous ocean liners of the late 1930’s and 40’s, the Normandie, the Queens Mary and Elizabeth were all in that range of tonnage, but much sleeker and built for speed and the North Atlantic transoceanic trade. Today’s monsters are much more vertical and are being made larger and larger. The current Cunard star Queen Mary II, which just happened to be docked at the harbor when we returned from Belize, is over 1132 feet long and weighs in at 151,400 tons. Its smaller and older sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth II is a mere 70,327 tons and 963 feet long. Cunard will soon launch a third ship, the Queen Victoria, which will be approximately the same length 964 feet but more luxurious and 90,000 tons. But the real behemoths of the industry are the new Freedom Class generation of ships from Royal Caribbean. The 18-deck Liberty of the Seas, due in the spring of 2007 will carry 4,370 passengers and a crew of 1360 on 160,000+ tons stretched over 1,112 feet. In comparison the Enchantment, which is registered in the Bahamas, is 989 feet long, carries 2,730 passengers with a crew of 840 and its 68, 500 horse power engines has the use of its 432,000 gallon capacity.
The French and the British Cunard Lines were the great rivals of the Golden Age of transoceanic travel that started in the mid 1890’s and ended in 1960’s. My grandfather John Kivo loved to travel to Europe and he managed to sail on the maiden voyages of great ships like the Ile De France (completed in 1926, broken up in 1959, 44,356 gross tonnage), Normandie (completed in 1935, capsized in New York harbor 1942, 83,423 gross tonnage), United States, (completed 1952 discontinued service 1969, 50,924 gross tonnage), Queen Mary (completed 1936 discontinued service 1967, after 1,000 trips, 81,237 gross tonnage), Queen Elizabeth (completed 1940, destroyed by fire during renovation in Hong Kong, 82,998 gross tonnage), Mauretania II (completed 1939 withdrawn from service 1965, 35,655 gross tonnage) and the Aquitania (completed 1914, discontinued service 1949, 45,647 gross tonnage). Of all those great ships, he loved best the Normandie of the French Line.
The Normandie won the Blue Riband (for speed) from the Italian Line’s Rex on her maiden voyage by making the run from Bishop Rock to Ambrose Light Ship in 4 days, 3 hours and 14 minutes at a speed of 29.94 knots. She was a beautiful three-funneled ship with majestic lines. Her dining room was three decks high and could seat 1000. Her interior décor was second to none. Her exquisite cuisine was also the best afloat and her service was unrivaled. Unfortunately she was laid up in New York Harbor in August 1939, right before the outbreak of the 2nd World War. She was seized by the United States on December 16, 1941. While she was being converted to the troopship Lafayette, she caught fire by an errant acetylene torch. The fireboats brought alongside, flooded the ship until it capsized. It was re-floated in 1943 at the huge cost of $4 million, but never really was used and it was sold for scrap in 1946. The luxury transoceanic business continued to grow and succeed in the decade after the war. But the development of long-range jet air traffic doomed those uneconomical though magnificent ships.
From: Passenger Liners of the World, by Nicholas T. Cairis, Bonanza Book, 1979
We brought back our sleek Chrysler Sebring convertible to the Thrifty Car Rental, which is located right on the Terminal Drive, that leads directly to the port. We had put over 240 miles in just two and a half days! In a short time we were on the jitney to the embarkation spot and before long it was our turn to check in. As usual Linda had all our papers, passports, and contracts ready for processing. We were on board without too much of a wait and we were upgraded to deck seven (room 7016) with an outside cabin and balcony. Like all cruises, once the ship is underway there is a mandatory “muster” drill where everyone, young and old, must be at their stations with a life vest just in case of an emergency! The whole procedure took no more than a half an hour, and before long, we were back in our cabins as the ship made headway into the Straits of Florida.
The cruise ships of today are wonderful floating hotels with just about any accommodation one could want or afford. All of them are remarkable pieces of engineering and they are capable of traveling at 40+ knots. The Enchantment of the Sea used only half of its power and basically cruised at 20-23 knots per hour. It didn’t take long to advance out into the ocean and to leave the protected Port of Everglades swiftly behind. The water was smooth, most people had gotten their luggage by that time and the floating hotel was on its way. The first night is always a bit exciting. Every one is anxious to find their way to the dining room, find their table, meet their dinner companions, see the menu and meet their servers. We always choose the second sitting. It has fewer children, we have more time during the day, and after the meal we can go to a show or head back to our cabin. Meanwhile it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize right away that eating is a big a big event on board these ships. Each section has its own maitre d’ or area coordinator. It’s these individuals who make sure everyone is happy. The waiter and his assistant fawn over everyone, and after a day or so he/she knows the culinary habits of each person under his/her care. If you like rolls, water, butter, tea or coffee, or anything else, they know to make sure you don’t have to ask twice. These food servers are from all over the world. Our head guy was from Turkey, our waiter was from Spain and his assistant was from India. The experience is very reminiscent of being in the Catskill Mountain, or as we used to refer them as the “Jewish Alps.” One thing I love is bread, and at the first sitting I always start off with the first obligatory roll and before long I have four or five. The bus boy (he’s a man) knows that right away, and he is always replenishing my roll supply. The food is very good, the variety is above adequate and each night there are different choices. One must learn to push away. I made sure that I had dieted for almost two months before this gastronomic orgy and after it was over I had gained nine pounds!
The evening was uneventful. Though we had been on cruises before, we explored the ship, found out where we wished to eat breakfast, found the pools and become decently comfortable with the layout of the ship. The most frequented place on this ship is the Windjammer Room, where almost every one eats from 10am to 5pm.
Eventually we finished our first evening’s dinner, made friends with an English couple from Essex who were assigned to our same table, and met our second couple from Baltimore, who wound up eating in the ultra high priced Chops Grille a few times. After a long day we retired to our outside cabin on the 7th deck. We found new towels, are bed ready for sleep and chocolates on the pillow. It was a comfortable evening with smooth seas rocking us gently to sleep as we drifted off watching one of the 6 language versions of the Da Vinci Code. That was being offered on television. In actuality, there was a lot offered and we had a decent selection of old movies to enjoy when we saw fit.
Our first port of call was Key West, and the ship was able to dock and we disembarked, found our tour group that was assembling outside the ship and marched off into town. By the way, everyone has a photo ID credit card issued by the ship and one cannot get off the ship without one’s card and to get back on ship’s security compares a picture of you and your face! G-d forbid they do not match up. Once ashore in Key West we made our way to along Front Street where the President Harry S Truman’s Little White House was located. This rambling white mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is where the late President spent his winter holidays. It is a beautiful area, with leafy palm trees, quiet non-trafficked avenues and ritzy residences.
The Little White House was originally built in 1890 and the first officer’s quarters. Over the years it served as a guesthouse for many famous people. Even, Thomas Edison while working o depth charge research, stayed there during World War I. President Truman, who loved to fish, first visited Key West in 1946 and wound up staying there for 175 days during his Presidency. Other presidents also used the quarters over the years. President Eisenhower recuperated therein 1956 after his heart attack. Jack Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan also huddled there during the Cuban Missile Crisis and it is now one of Key West’s most visited attractions.
The property there is incredibly expensive and even virtual shacks go for $600K and up. It became sort of a joke to me because every time we passed a home, our guide would throw out another incredible dollar figure. Eventually every time we passed a rundown ramshackle abandoned lean to, Linda and I would look at each other and say $660K if a dime. Curiously Key West has a thing about chickens and roosters, and for the life of me I can’t remember why. But they are a “protected” and honored lot and are allowed to walk all over Key West with the protection of endangered specie.
With that in mind we continued to trek towards our destination, the Ernest Hemingway residence. Hemingway (1899-1961) lived there from 1931 to 1940 with his second wife Pauline Pfeiffer. His house is truly a local landmark and one of the main attractions for most visitors who make their way to Key West. It is two-story, stucco home that was built in 1851 by one Isaac Tiff. It is incredibly solid with 18” walls of stone. It is also built on one of the highest points on the Key. The building is impervious to the elements and though many building were damaged by the recent hurricanes, the Hemingway-Tiff house was not. It has a wonderful wrought iron wrap around deck around the second floor and a iron walkway from the second floor to his two story working office that is located 30 or so feet next store. Unfortunately the last hurricane, which destroyed a great deal of their foliage, also knocked down a tree that fell and destroyed the walkway. Hemingway would go from his bedroom and walk across to his office.
Hemingway had originally moved there on the advice of his friend the author John Dos Passos and bought this house in 1931 for $8000 when he was 32 years old. In 1927 Hemingway had divorced his first wife, Hadley Richardson and married Pauline Pfeiffer, a devout Roman Catholic from Pigott, Arkansas. She was fashion writer, who worked at times for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Eventually Hemingway converted to Catholicism and he moved to Key West in 1928, with Pauline and his first son Patrick. It was in Key West where his second son Gregory was born. I was an avid fan of Hemingway and read his wonderful book, The Sun Also Rises (1926) when I was about fifteen. I was really impressed with his description of expatriate-Paris in the 1920’s and his heroine Lady Ashley Brett. She was one of the first fictional characters that I ever “fell” in love with.
“She stood holding the glass and I saw Robert Cohn looking at her. He looked a great deal as his compatriot must have looked when he looked at the promised land. Cohn, of course, was much younger. But he had that look of eager, deserving expectation.
Brett was damned good-looking, She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none it with that wool jersey”. – The Sun Also Rises- Ernest Hemingway, Charles Scribner and Sons, 1926.
Hemingway was always controversial, and remains so to this day. He had problems with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Maddox Ford, who called him impotent. As a result of his contretemps with other writers, one of his publishers called him a “fag and wife-beater.” It was also claimed that Pauline was a lesbian, and she was alleged to have lesbian affairs after their divorce. Along with those literary catfights, his old Parisian contemporary Gertrude Stein accused him of borrowing her writing style in her book, the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, published in 1933, is Gertrude Stein’s best-selling work and her most accessible. Consisting of seven chapters covering the first three decades of the twentieth century, the book is only incidentally about Toklas’s life. Its real subject, and narrator, is Stein herself, who reportedly had asked Toklas, her lifelong companion, for years to write her autobiography. When Toklas did not, Stein did. Stein published excerpts of the work in the Atlantic, which occasioned a response from behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner whose essay, ‘‘Has Gertrude Stein a Secret?’’ connected the style Stein employed in the book with her work on automatic writing in Harvard’s psychology laboratories a few decades before. Automatic writing, popularized by the surrealists in the 1920s, was writing that follows unconscious as well as conscious thought of the author. Stein’s writing certainly has some of that element in the Autobiography but on the whole she sticks to telling a story of her life and times in more or less chronological order. That life includes details of her relationships with artists and writers who would become some of the most famous of the twentieth century, including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Max Jacob, and Sherwood Anderson
In Paris in the 1920’s this group of expatriates, which included Ezra Pound, the Fitzgerald’s Stein and Hemingway, got together to break bread, drink and discuss the literary news on and about the rialto. In a conversation between Stein and Hemingway she said, “You are all a lost generation.” It wasn’t lost on Hemingway, and in the beginning of the Sun Also Rises, he gives her credit for that famous line.
“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever…The sun also riseth and the sun goeth down.” Ecclesiastes.
The house itself is not an overly impressive edifice. It is a center hall dwelling with a living room on the left and a dining room on the right as one entered the center hall. It has one of the first full bathrooms to the left of the living room and a small kitchen in the rear. The upstairs has a large airy master bedroom with two smaller rooms for his boys.
In the master bedroom the queen-sized bed is roped off and its only occupant is a large yellow cat that frequently naps in the center. The house and property are maintained by a private group, which gives very laid-back tours and is also the home to about 46 cats. It seems that his wife Pauline liked feline companionship.
While Hemingway was off in a safari in 1933 that led him to Mombassa and Nairobi, he did the research for the Green Hills of Africa and the Snows of Kilimanjaro. Pauline built a large pool for the astronomical cost of $25,000. When he returned in he found that the “pool cost” had thrust him into debt. He took a 1934-penny out of his pocket and had it placed in the cement near the pool where it can be still seen. It was said, that Hemingway claimed that this was his last cent. We were told that he had been away covering the Spanish Civil War, but that was impossible. The Spanish Civil War started in 1936 and he left for Spain in 1937. It was there, while he was reporting for the North American Newspaper Alliance that he became disenchanted with the Roman Catholic Church of Spain, who backed the fascist-backed Franco led Nationalists. This unhappiness with the Church caused strain in his marriage with Pauline, who was a devout Catholic and a supporter of the fascist regime of Francisco Franco. Eventually Spain was lost to Franco in 1939 and he lost his house to divorce in 1940. A few weeks after his final decrees came though he married his companion of four years in Spain, the reporter Martha Gellhorn.
The tour continued down Whitehead Street into town. There is a wonderful old building ton Front Street that houses the Key West Museum of Art and History. One could not miss it if they wanted. Its bright red terra cotta roof and red brick exterior stands out like a huge angular corniced tangerine, it that is possible. As we walked down to the main streets of Key West, which contain bars, restaurants and souvenir joints one gets the impression that Key West is a tale of maybe three cities. On one hand there are the super wealthy, who are mostly absentee landlords and owners who live in and around the Truman compound. These people come in for short periods of time, go fishing, have their Margaritas downtown and escape back to where they came from.
There are the residents of Old Town who are black, Hispanics, and lower middle class whites who do the physical work, and they are the “blue-collar” backbone of the key. They are being forced out of Key West as its limited space becomes more and more gentrified by the skyrocketing cost of real estate. Of course the last group are the retailers and the people who run the eating and drinking establishments that dominate the streets that intersect the business district of the Key. These businesses cater to the flocks of tourists who disembark from the numerous cruise liners that anchor off Front Street and the Hilton Sunset Celebration and the Clinton Square Mall. In, and around Greene, Caroline and Duval Streets one could buy tee shirts, shorts, sweaters, message-embossed underwear, shot glasses, caps, and collectibles. Generally speaking there is little meaningful or indigenous art or antiques sold in Key West. There is always jewelry available and we were amazed by the incredible amount of Israelis who dominate many of the retail businesses. Ironically we found Israelis in Ottawa and eventually in Cozumel and Belize that also were well represented in the retail and souvenir shop commercial areas. As we headed down Whitehead Street towards the port area we came to Fleming Street where the famous “0” mile marker of Route 1 is located. Everyone wants to pose in front of that sign, and we were told that it has been stolen and replace much more than once. The Key West merchants are well aware of the fame of that sign, and every store has it share of shot glasses and shirts embossed with the “0” mile marker. As one strolls along Whitehead Street, we passed another landmark, the Cornish Memorial AME Baptist Church. It’s a big white church that has been undergoing rehabilitation for years. Obviously there are some who still go to church on the Key.
After the hard work of touring starts to wear on the body, we entered into the Key’s famous row of bars. The feature one is called Captain Tony’s, which is not only the oldest bar in Florida, but located on the original site of Sloppy Joe’s Bar (that was opened there between 1933 and 1937) where Hemingway and his buddies tossed many a brew. In those days life was simpler and boilermakers were the drink de jour of many of the naval personnel. Today white wine spritzers, chardonnays and flavored martinis seem, along with designer beers, the new thirst quenching favorites of the tourist and beautiful people.
Eventually Key West wore out its welcome and lunch was about to serve to be served on the Enchantment of the Seas. So we headed back I sort of regretted that I didn’t buy a G-string with a clever ribald message, but my inner self told me that I didn’t want to be embarrassed by some frisky, zealous and inquisitive customs official that profiled me because of my grey goatee.
Once we entered the ship, passed security, and washed our hands. That’s mandatory for all who re-board the ship. Everyone on board is concerned about the spread of germs. Too many ships come back to their homeports with hundreds of passengers retching their innards out. Our cruise was lucky; we had little or nothing of that! When we reached our room, we quickly hustled down, without even changing, to the wine tasting event in the My Fair Lady dining room. We arrived just in time, and had the pleasure of quaffing a number of varieties of the fruit of the vine. After a number of large sips of zinfandel, rose, merlot, chardonnay and a finishing glass of champagne we were quite lubricated. As the ship started to pull away from US territory, we headed off to our stateroom for a well-needed rest. After a few hours of horizontal inactivity we got up, showered and headed off the Captain’s cocktail party. We weren’t in the mood for more bubbly, but it was fun to shake hands and be photographed with the diminutive Norwegian, Captain Gunnar Oien. All this was done on Linda’s 60th birthday, and from there we headed into the dining room for more food and a eventually a cheesecake with a birthday candle. Linda had salmon and I had roast beef, and we headed from dinner to the Internet Room and and then on to the Orpheum Theatre, where their “song and dance” group put on an excellent review called From Hollywood to Broadway,” which featured routines from “West Side Story,” “Hairspray,” “Chicago,” “Sweet Charity,” and “Little Shop of Horrors. We both loved the show! In a few hours we were out into Atlantic Ocean on our way to the Caribbean and Cozumel, and the Mexican Riviera.
The history of Cozumel is linked to the Mayan civilization. Cozumel was a sacred Mayan shrine referred to as Ah-Cuzamil_Peten, or Island of the Swallows. The Mayan culture began to decline in the 10th century with the arrival of the more aggressive Toltecs. By the 12th century, the Toltec cult of the god Quetzalcoatl, meaning, “plumed serpent,” dominated the Mayan culture. The Spanish first arrived on Cozumel in 1518, many of the Mayan temples lie in ruins, but the real damage was done by smallpox. From 1519, when Hernan Cortes reported that there were 40,000 inhabitants until 1570 the population was reduced to only 300. Thirty years later the island was abandoned. The island served as a base for pirates for decades, and finally in 1848 it was re-settled when Mexicans fled the mainland from the ravages of the “War of the Castes.” By 1979 the population ad grown to 10,000 and today some 175,000 inhabit the island.
On Wednesday morning at 10 am, Central time, we lost an hour as we moved west, and docked off Cozumel. The docks had not been rebuilt since the last hurricane damage and we sat outside awaiting our tender. We could see the Constellation of the Celebrity Line and the Holiday of the Carnival Line from the deck of the Enchantment. The tender came alongside the 2nd deck opening and these tenders hold at least 300 passengers. Within five minutes the tender was filled and within a few minutes we were docked along side the International Duty Free Zone and awaited out but tour of the Island. While we waited for our group to assemble we wandered through the duty free shops looking at mostly silver. On my own, I found (secretly) a lovely piece of Amber that was mounted on silver, and put it away to surprise Linda for her day old birthday. The zone was a mad house and it took forever for the tour to assemble. As we waited, more and more ships spewed forth their human cargo, and the Zone became more and more jammed with shoppers.
We finally found our way to our air-conditioned bus, though we were a bit delayed by a gravity-challenged individual, who fell on his head. Cozumel rarely gets below 65 degrees and in the summer the heat ranges from 98 to 110 degrees. We took a long bus ride to a small unimpressive Mayan village with a tiny temple. We eventually headed out to the ocean, took some marvelous pictures of the incredible surf and headed back into the downtown of San Miguel. In San Miguel the shopping was incredible, but we were worn out. Linda sat down in a café with two of our English friends that we met on the ship. I walked up to the post office, mailed some postcards; the cost of a stamp is one US dollar! I walked back towards where I left the three gals, and we all met halfway down the long shopping street. The International Duty Free Port was three miles away. We would not walk, hailed one of the numerous cabs parked on the street, paid the $6 and headed back to the Zone, the tender and the ship.
Once back on board we hustled our way up top to the Windjammer room and arrived just in time to get the last morsels left (4:50pm) before they cleaned up and closed the doors for the dinner hour. It was an overly long day, but Cozumel’s ocean vistas were first rate and I was able to take some great pictures. Cozumel is basically a magnet for people who like underwater activity, and if one snorkels, snubas, or scubas they have reached a diver’s paradise. So after caloric replenishment we made our way back to our stateroom, rested a bit, cleaned up and made ready for the next show in the Orpheum Theatre. We went to see a comic/magician named “Levant” who put on an entertaining act. We enjoyed his effort and he was well received by the audience. After we departed we were off to the Crown and Anchor Society’s party that was held for frequent voyagers. It was informative and the ship’s perky British hostess was quite charming and enjoyable. She knew her job and handled it exceptionally. The hors d’oerves and the champagne went down well, and we were still able to move under our own steam, so we headed down to dinner. The weather had started to affect the current and even on an 81,000-ton ship one could start to feel the ship starting to gently rock. Our dinner was excellent as usual, the service was great and our political and social conversation with our dinner mates was quite stimulating. At the end of the meal, which was over past 10:15 pm, we made our way back to our stateroom, watched some television, felt the surge of the higher seas as it buffeted against the ship, and fell quickly to sleep. There is nothing as dark as a moonless night at sea.
The next morning, December 7th (Pearl Harbor Day) we awoke to a rainy morning, as the ship entered into the Gulf of Honduras and past Ranguana Caye headed towards anchorage off the port of Belize City. These cruise ships are too big for the shallow waters that splash along the low-level coastline of Belize, so we anchored in the middle of the channel miles from the shoreline. In fact, we could hardly see Belize from the ship. We had an early tour schedule so we ate breakfast early and by 7:30 am we had gathered in the theatre and awaited our turn on the tender. Before long we were given our tour labels, and we were sent downstairs to a double-hulled catamaran. We loaded quickly and tender literally flew across the bay. It still took twenty minutes, but the trip was generally smooth across the choppy bay and before too long we pulled into the International Duty Free Zone at Belize City. This shopping was not in Cozumel’s league, but it didn’t matter too much, because our tour was quickly organized. Fortunately the skies cleared and we were on our way with the “Tale of Two Cities” tour.
For those who know nothing of Belize, it was formerly known as British Honduras, and it is a tiny country of approximately 8060 square miles and is 84 miles at its widest and 184 miles at its longest, on the eastern coast of Central America. It is bordered on the northwest by Mexico and Guatemala to the south and west. It is a parliamentary democracy and still recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as its sovereign. Because of its former status as a British colony, it is the only English-speaking country in Central America. It had been a colony for more than a century and became independent in 1981. Its historical legacy is linked to the Mayan civilization, which enveloped its land from between 1400 BCE and 300 CE. No one knows where the name Belize comes from and some attribute to a mispronouncing of the last name of the pirate Wallace who founded a settlement there in 1638. It could also come from the Maya word belix, meaning “muddy water” a name for the Belize River. Because Belize City was so vulnerable to hurricanes and it lies below sea level, a new capital, named Belmopan has been created in the geographical center of the country. From 1970 onward the country started to slowly transfer it government offices to the new capital. There are a number of rivers that run through Belize and it is country divided into six different districts with a capital city in each district. One great asset it has is its incredible 200-mile long barrier reef flanking Belize. Our ocean liner had to sail through this channel bordered by the reef to reach Belize City. This reef is second only in size to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and makes its “cayes” pronounced “keys” a marvelous area to indulge in snorkeling and scuba diving.
Belize is an incredibly poor country from my observation. Its birth rate is amongst the highest in the world and the population is relatively young. Over 40% of the population is under the age of fifteen. It’s a racially mixed multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society with approximately 300,000 residents that enjoy little racial problems or tensions. It is predominantly Christian with Roman Catholicism representing half the population, and Protestant sects representing another 25%. The rest of the people are comprised of Taoists, Buddhists, Hindus and even some Islamists.
Once our bus started out on its journey, we hugged the coastline making our way along Princess Margaret Road, which was named for the Queen’s sister who had visited there in the 1960’s. As we veer northwest, we merge onto the Northern Highway into the interior of Belize. We enter into a dense jungle area dominated by Mangrove trees that line the banks of the Belize River. It is a long slow journey because the roads are narrow. There are numerous ruts and potholes in the roadbed, and there are “built in” speed bumps called “sleeping policemen” that slow the bus down every 50 yards. Our guide, a charming smart young fellow named Robert Johnson, tells us that these so-called “sleeping policemen” or “speed bumps” are put in to slow the traffic down. Well the “speed bumps,” the general narrowness of the roads and their horrible condition extended the 34-mile trip into hours. Eventually we finally reached our destination: the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha (Water of the Rock) located near the Rockstone Pond Village, in the Chiquibul Rain Forest of the Cayo District (Carocal). Upon disembarking from the bus, everyone made the biologically important and necessary stop at the bathrooms and we then proceeded to a central square of pyramids. Within a few hundred yards of the rest and refreshment area, the valley of the Mayan Gods opened up for all of us to see.
This Mayan center that encompasses 840 major and minor sites along with eight pyramids (only five have been worked on) was thought to be a religious center of their classic period, from 250 CE to 900 CE, where over 8000 people lived and worked. The surrounding jungle area was actually identified as a Mayan city in the late 1950’s and the pyramids were explored, exposed and excavated by the Canadian archeologist David Pendergast and his wife Professor Elizabeth Graham in the period 1961 through 1974. All these rock structures were cut mostly by flint and are composed basically of limestone. Here are located the famous 140 foot tall Caana (Sky Palace) Pyramid and the giant Jade Head, the largest carved jade object in the whole Mayan region. It represents Kenich Ahau, the Sun God. In fact, when one stands as I did, on the top of the Temple of the Rain God, I could see into both Mexico and Guatemala.
The view into the green plains of the central Mayan religious square is remarkable. Today it is a verdant paradise surrounded on four sides by magnificent rock edifices. Each structure has its own character and architectural personality. One can only imagine how it looked, over 1000 years earlier, when it thousands of pilgrims entered into its quadrangle. As part of the whole center square there is a pyramid that is still covered mostly by vegetation. When one looks at that still uncovered massive mountain of rock, one can just imagine what this whole place looked in period before its uncovering and excavation. All these incredible mounds were covered by jungle, the large, wide, manicured, grassy plain was also forest and in most cases modern life had not intruded into this massive over grown area since shortly after its abandonment. These structures are virtually indestructible and one can only imagine, in one’s mind’s eye, the effort made in their construction. One could spend many hours looking at these incredible monuments to man’s ingenuity and wonderment about this unknown lost world, but the tour schedule had its demands. We regrettably said our mental goodbyes, and moved back to the departure area. Along the way we were able to buy some teak objects that were hand made by the indigenous residents of the region.
The bus ride back to our next stop, Belize City was even longer. The roads are incredibly bad, as I had written earlier and along with their man-made “speed bumps” we weren’t terribly happy about our lack of speed. Finally we entered into the outskirts of their major city. Belize City, which is over 300 years old, is a horrible place. Its slums are shocking. Never did I imagine that I would see such poverty, especially in a former British possession. No matter where one turned, the houses were in terrible and the side streets were decrepit condition. Many were wrecked beyond belief. There was not one house that I saw that was in decent shape. Not one house was painted, and many of these tin-roofed shanties were propped up by two by fours, or cut down trees. There was no such a thing as a yard. The fronts of many of the houses were strewn with garbage, old tires and junk. Many of the houses had old “junker” automobiles sitting next door with their windows broken, their trunks open and their rusting hulks corroding in the sun. It was as if a hurricane had passed through, and I am sure it did. Much of the degradation was probably due, in part to the recent storms, but still much of the housing stock looked terribly old and worn.
Finally we entered into the commercial heart of Belize City where the banks, stores and other public building were located. That part of their inner city was drab, squalid and rundown. I certainly would never think about walking around that area to satiate my curiosity. I did not see a store that was attractive, modern or worthwhile. We were all quite happy when the bus eventually reached the International Free Port Zone. We had arrived back at 2:22 pm Central Time and we only waited five minutes for our high-powered tender, and it was off quickly to our sea hotel.
We again made our way to the Windjammer Room for a late lunch, met our English friends Valerie and Amorel from Yorkshire, compared notes about Belize and headed back to our stateroom for showers, rest, and recovery. We were up and about at 6:00 PM, and made our way to the shops. Linda had complained about our trip to Cozumel and, lo and behold, they gave her a full credit for the cost of the excursion. We had also benefited by an earlier complaint to Royal Caribbean and they had given us each a $100 credit to spend as we wished. Quite often it pays to speak up and voice objections about conditions and unfulfilled promises. We went back to the Orpheum Theatre, we saw a great show based on “rock and roll” numbers from the movies, went from there to the Bolero Room where there was a Big Band trivia contest, and eventually made our way to dinner.
The seas started to turn rough as we headed into the Caribbean and our long trip back to Fort Lauderdale. We made our way back to our room as the shipped rolled from side to side. We weren’t in the mood to go anywhere. It was an early evening for us and probably everyone else. The next morning we awakened to a rough day on the open seas and we found our way to the indoor, Solarium pool deck, where we read and basically stayed in one place. It was pretty rocky and almost impossible to walk across the open pool deck. So, no one was on the open decks, and I can only guess that they were eating, in their rooms, or somewhere else in the middle of the ship, where the rocking was physically less evident.
So it was now the “end game” of our trip. We enjoyed the last day on board, took care of our tip money, had a great dinner, were entertained by the “serving” staff, and went back to our room, packed our bags and relaxed for the evening. The ship pulled into Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades, we were up early for breakfast, and we joined some of our fellow passengers in our assigned “waiting” section of the ship. We had some fun playing cards and sitting next to some young and good-looking Mormon gals and guys, who had just graduated college and were waiting to hear where their “mission” assignments would send them.
When our group was announced, we disembarked easily, found our luggage and had the pleasure of seeing the massive Queen Mary II, which was berthed right next to our ship. It was really hard to believe that she was almost twice as large our ship. So it was on to the port, off to the airport and back to New York.
It was nice to be back home and it was most gratifying to see friends and family in Florida and Washington. We didn’t have long to rest because Linda had her annual Charlesbank Capital Partners holiday party in Boston. We left for Boston early in the morning on Friday the 15th of December. It was one of our most uneventful rides. We always drive up the Merritt Parkway (named in 1938 after Schuyler Merritt, 1853-1953, who was a long-time Republican Congressman). It is 37 miles from King Street in Port Chester to the Sikorsky Bridge where it merges into the Wilbur Cross Parkway (Named after Wilbur Lucius Cross, 1862-1948, who was the Democratic Governor from 1931-9). From the Wilbur Cross Parkway it is another 30 miles to Meriden and the Berlin Turnpike or I-91 to Sturbridge and than on to the Massachusetts Turnpike. Many years ago when I used to drive home from Boston University, we had to take this four-lane, eleven-mile stretch, which was like Central Avenue, from Wethersfield to Meriden. It was a slow, congested road that featured an incredible amount of traffic lights, and was known as the “Christmas Tree.” Eventually I-91 was built, which went directly to and around Hartford. From Hartford it was straight on I-84 to Sturbridge where we picked up the Mass Pike that leads directly into Boston. Its about 49 miles on the Mass Pike and we were in downtown Boston in less than two hours and fifty minutes.
I dropped Linda off at her office and I found my way over to Commonwealth Avenue and Jon’s apartment, which is located right on the border of Brighton and Brookline. We had pastrami sandwiches for lunch on Harvard Street and then made our way down to Quincy Market and the famous and historical Faneuil Hall.
Faneuil Hall Boston, the Cradle of Liberty, has a greater historical interest than any other building in the United States, save Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It was built at the expense of Peter Faneuil, a wealthy merchant of French descent, and given by him to the town. The building was completed in September 1742, with the people voting that it be called 'Faneuil Hall' forever. On March 3, 1748, Faneuil died, and the first public gathering in the new hall was on the occasion of the eulogy of him on March 14th 1748. Faneuil was buried in the Granary Burying Ground.
The building was almost destroyed by fire on January 18, 1761. It was re-built, with the funds being in part raised by a lottery authorized by the state. The lottery tickets bore the ample signature of John Hancock. When re-opened on March 14, 1763, James Otis Jr. delivered an address dedicating the hall in the cause of liberty, and so it has been ever called the Cradle of Liberty. In 1805, the building was considerably enlarged.
In the tumultuous times before the Revolution, the hall was the scene of the most excited public meetings, and the great patriot orators of that day sounded from its platform. On the morning of March 6th 1770, following the Boston Massacre, the first public meeting was held in Faneuil Hall, packed from entrance to platform. Witnesses of the Massacre described the events, and Samuel Adams gave an impassioned speech. Adams was appointed to lead a committee to strongly urge the lieutenant governor to remove all British troops, or the safety of the citizens and soldiers would be compromised.
In 1772, the first Committee of Correspondence was established here by a motion by Samuel Adams, and contained the premises of the Revolution, which Loyalists of that time state to be the origin of the rebellion. On November 29, 1773, the first meeting in protest of the imposed tea tax took place at Faneuil Hall. A vote was taken, and it was resolved that ‘as the town of Boston, in a full legal meeting, has resolved to do the utmost in its power to prevent the landing of the tea.’ Because of limited space for the crowds, meetings were often moved to the Old South Meeting House. During the occupation of Boston in 1774, the hall was used as a theatre for British officers.
From the Celebrate Boston website.
Faneuil Hall has been a meeting place for Bostonians for more than 200 years. Downstairs there are many shops and a post office, but upstairs there is the meeting hall that is still mostly unchanged from its expansion in 1805. The Quincy Market was decently busy, but maybe because it was Friday the upstairs was virtually empty except for Jon, a visitor from England, myself and the National Park’s guide, who gave us our own private tour and lecture.
After re-learning some long-forgotten vignettes of American history we made our way downstairs and sauntered over to the Union Oyster House, which is right around the corner from the two bronze statues of former Mayor James Michael Curley (1874-1958) and across the street from the Holocaust Memorial.
James Michael Curley was a unique Boston character, who had an incredible political career. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1911 and served part of two terms He later was elected to two-terms in 1943. In between he was elected Mayor in 1914-18, and twice more he was elected and served, 1922-26, 1930-34, until elected Governor in 1935. He served for two years, was defeated, returned to the House in 1943 for two terms and became Mayor again in 1947 and served until 1950. He was convicted twice of felonies and served time in jail while Governor. In 1932, FDR’s presidential aspirations were almost derailed by Curley’s ambition. Curley convinced FDR and his advisors to enter into the Massachusetts Presidential Primary. Curley thought by linking his name to Roosevelt’s rising star it would help his statewide ambitions. The Curley machine handled almost all of the literature, and campaign material, and his picture was paired with FDR’s all over the state. It was a terrible miscalculation. Al Smith, a Catholic with Irish blood in his veins, beat FDR three to one in the heavily Irish-Catholic dominated Democratic Primary.
See Conrad Black’s FDR, the Champion of Freedom, page 229, Public Affairs, 2003 and Wikipedia for more information on Mayor Curley.
The Union Oyster house is the oldest restaurant in Boston and the oldest restaurant in the United States that is in continuous service. Union Street was laid out in 1636, and even though there are no existing land records from those days, the current building there is known to be at least 250 years old. Eventually, in 1826, new owners installed a semi-circular oyster bar.
1826 marked the end of Capen's Dry Goods Store and the beginning of Atwood and Bacon's establishment. The new owners installed the fabled semi-circular Oyster Bar — where the greats of Boston paused for refreshment.
It was at the Oyster Bar that Daniel Webster, a constant customer; daily drank his tall tumbler of brandy and water with each half-dozen oysters, seldom having less than six plates.
The toothpick was first used in the United States at the Union Oyster House. Enterprising Charles Forster of Maine first imported the picks from South America. To promote his new business he hired Harvard boys to dine at the Union Oyster House and ask for toothpicks
From the Union Oyster Website!
From my first visit to Boston with my grandfather John Kivo, in 1960, I still try to get over to the Union Oyster House and have a draft beer, now usually Sam Adams and eat at least a half-dozen Cherrystone clams. I feel I am always at good company at the Oyster Bar. One can always hear great talk about politics, Boston sports: the Red Sox, the Pats, the Celts and Bruins and the general state of the world. John F. Kennedy loved to eat upstairs in a private dining room and there is plaque honoring his presence. Upstairs, long before there was a bar and a restaurant, in 1771, the stirrings of the American Revolution were stimulated by one Isaiah Thomas, who published The Massachusetts Spy, long known as the oldest published newspaper in the United States.
After our adventure, in and around, Quincy Market we made our way eventually back to Brookline and Jon’s synagogue, Kehillath Israel on 384 Harvard Street. Linda took a cab from her office party and met us just in time for the Friday night service. At the end of the service, we went out to eat nearby at Vinny Testa’s, a large, local, Italian cuisine, eatery on Beacon Street. After our meal, we took Jon home to Brighton and made our way over to Dana’s apartment on Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington where we stayed for the evening. The next day, we got up early, picked up Jon and took a tour through downtown Brighton, (Brighton Center) a place that I had never visited in all my years living and coming to Boston. We had breakfast in a place called Athan’s Restaurant and headed over to the Boston Fine Arts Museum on Huntington Avenue.
Brighton was settled in the late 17th century and was known as “Little Cambridge” in its early years. Before the Revolution, Little Cambridge was a prosperous farming community of fewer than 300 residents. Its habitants included such distinguished figures as Nathaniel Cunningham, Benjamin Faneuil and Charles Apthorp. Cunningham and Faneuil were wealthy Boston merchants. Apthorp was paymaster of British land forces in North America. All three maintained country estates here in the 1740 to '75 period.
Today Brighton is home to St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, and part of the campus of Boston College is located within its borders. The university recently purchased the 43-acre campus that formerly housed the chancery of the Archdiocese of Boston, located at the corner of Lake Street and Commonwealth Avenue. That campus still houses St. John's Seminary.
The neighborhood, which is primarily populated by undergraduate and graduate students, young professionals working class families, and townies. Brighton consists of an intricate network of streets lined with multi-family houses, three deckers, and apartment buildings. Local family businesses mix with national chains of pharmacies and banks along Brighton's main street, Washington Street, which runs straight through Brighton Center to Oak Square.
From: Wikipedia, and the Brighton website
The Fine Art Museum is a fabulous asset of Boston’s cultural legacy. We always try to get over there when we have the time or are in the neighborhood. It is located on Huntington Avenue, which has gone through a remarkable renaissance over the past decades. Because of the MBTA tracks that run down the center of the street, that area of Boston was always a bit run-down. We became more familiar with it because Harvard’s Graduate School of Dentistry is located off of Huntington Avenue, and Dana worked there for a few years. Huntington Avenue runs into Massachusetts Avenue where Boston’s Symphony Hall, the home of the Boston Pops, is located. Another factor in the resurgence of Huntington Avenue is the growth of the Northeastern University campus that straddles Huntington Avenue.
The Museum was founded in 1870 and opened in 1876, with a large portion of its collection taken from the Boston Athenaeum Art Gallery. Originally located in a red Gothic Revival building on Copley Square in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, it moved to its current location on Huntington Avenue, Boston's “Avenue of the Arts,” in 1909.
The museum's present building was commenced in 1907, when museum trustees hired architect Guy Lowell to create a master plan for a museum that could be built in stages as funding was obtained for each phase. The first section of Lowell’s neoclassical design was completed in 1909, and featured a 500-foot façade of cut granite along Huntington Avenue, the grand rotunda, and the associated exhibition galleries. Mrs. Robert Dawson Evans then funded the entire cost of building the next section of the museum’s master plan. This wing along the Back Bay Fens, opened in 1915 and houses painting galleries. From 1916 through 1925, John Singer Sargent created the art that lines the rotunda and the associated colonnade. Numerous additions enlarged the building throughout the years including the Decorative Arts Wing in 1968 and the Norman Jean Calderwood Garden Court and Terrace in 1997. This wing now houses the museum's cafe, restaurant, and gift shop as well as exhibition space.
From- Wikepedia- The Boston Fine Art Museum, website
After being enraptured once again by their magnificent collection of Greco-Roman and Etruscan pottery, along with their remarkable classical era statuary, we said goodbye to culture and made our way over to Beacon Hill, the Boston Commons and Charles Street. Charles Street is at the base of Beacon Hill and has some wonderful shops squeezed into its 100 to 150 year old buildings. This section, that surrounds the State House, is of course, the home to many of Boston’s wealthiest and most influential citizens. It is a great place to stroll about, especially during the holiday season, when all of the street lamps and windows are festooned with seasonal greenery. The Boston Commons is a fantastic city park with beautiful vistas, inspiring statuary and a wonderful outdoor skating rink, which we observed was quite busy children and adults of all ages.
On Charles Street there are great antique stores, an old print and map shop, and plenty of places to grab a bite or have a slice of pizza. In years past we have bought Wedgwood, holiday ornaments and a terrific leather vest from the street’s various purveyors.
Well it was a long day with much seen and a lot accomplished. As the sun set on the short December afternoon, we called it a day and headed over to Beacon Street and back to Jon’s home in Brighton. He had plans for the evening and we were going to dinner with our old friend and customer from Peabody, Richard Straus and his wife Debbie. We all met in Arlington at Prose, a little restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue. We had not seen them in many years, but we’ve kept in contact through the mail. We spent the eclectic meal catching up with our recent histories, their business in Gloucester, and their two boys. We had fun re-living times past and the restaurant let us stay for a few hours, so we were able cover everything that needed to be said. Finally we had to say goodbye, we parted, they headed back to the north shore and we made our short way back to Dana’s apartment. The next day, it was up early again, and off to New York and our home in Tarrytown. It was over a month of traveling from Newport to Washington to Florida, the Caribbean and to Boston. It was good to get home.
One always should learn something whenever one strays away from the comfort and confines of home. For sure I have always learned that there is vibrant life outside of New York. One thing I constantly see is that the American Spirit is still alive and well. Even thought the “media” is enamored with the fascination of material and celebrity, the average citizen is still very much involved with their families, their hobbies, their curiosities and their interest in travel. Americans like to go places and almost every social stratum seems to be well represented when it comes to touring. The American people are still an idealistic lot, who love life. That virtue should never be lost.