BITS and PIECES # 45

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April 20, 2014 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 45

Hello again from Luquillo,

I just finished reading the recently published English translation of Turkish author Ahmet Hamidi Tanpinar’s novel –  ‘The Time Regulation Institute’. Tanpinar, who is considered by many scholars to be the preeminent Turkish novelist and poet of the twentieth century, finished writing the novel in the 1960’s shortly before his death, but it has only recently been translated into English by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe…

The novel tracks the misadventures of its narrator, Havri Irdal, a troubled man, seeking financial success and ‘truth’ during the turbulence of Turkey’s often chaotic early twentieth century changeover from its former Ottoman empire authoritarian Islamic culture, that effectively ended with its defeat and surrender at the end of World War I, to the democratic, mostly secular regime of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which began with the final ouster of the Ottoman rulers in 1923 and featured, among other polarizing changes, an almost instantaneous national language change from the familiar Persian and Arabic tongues spoken and read by most ‘elite’ Turks (the rural peasantry was largely illiterate) to the simpler and more comprehensible modern Turkish language, an invented ‘European style’ written and spoken language. Over the span of a few  years, Ataturk personally brought (and sometimes taught) the new language to the country, often traveling hundreds of miles by automobile over unimproved roads to give ‘blackboard lectures’ introducing the new language to villagers in remote rural areas…

While the story describes this difficult cultural makeover as it affects the narrator and his associates, it also weaves a satirical allegory of government’s perennial burdensome stepchild, bureaucracy, and its inevitable tendency to expand exponentially (and mostly superfluously) in all emerging cultures…

I found it to be a compelling tale — it’s fanciful, quirky literary style put me in mind of the ‘Magic Realism’ of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ epic novel; One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Años de Soledad)…

(Full disclosure — I downloaded the digital version from amazon.com, the parent company of my publisher CreateSpace.com, to my Kindle Fire tablet/e-reader for a mere $9.99, and then devoured it avidly over the next few weeks)…

Not surprisingly, the book brought back strong memories of my family’s long-ago expatriate adventures in Turkey, where we lived for a very interesting year or so, while I worked as a consultant to CENTO and the Turkish Air Force…

Our odyssey began with a seven thousand mile journey from Los Angeles to Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, and included a transportational mélange of airplanes, the inauguration of a newly acquired Volkswagen automobile, an alpine tunnel-train and a tiny inter-island steamship, before our trip concluded. If you have read some of my previous Bits and Pieces essays about our Turkish adventure, you may recall my fondness for, and fascination with that intriguing mid-eastern nation…

Accordingly, I dug in my files for a three-part monograph I wrote about our travels that I had prepared last year for my geographically remote son Mike and daughter Lisa, and my precious grandchildren Nikki (in her first year at Colby-Sawyer College) and Jake (a lacrosse-playing high school freshman), all of whom have chosen to reside in the ‘frigid north’, Mike and spouse Lori in Minnesota and Lisa, spouse and brood in New Hampshire…

I offer part I (Los Angeles to Milano via Frankfurt, Heidelberg and Basel) below, in hopes you may find it an interesting account of ‘pre-GPS’ world travel as it was fifty-some years ago…

If you find Part I interesting and would like to travel further with us — please let me know and I’ll cheerfully provide you with Part II (Milano to Naples via Rome) and Part III (Rome to Istanbul via Naples, and Athens) in subsequent BITS and PIECES offerings…

THE TURKEY TROT CHRONICLES — PART I (Los Angeles/New York/Frankfurt/Heidelberg/Basel/Milano)

In November 1964, When I was transferred overseas for the second time by my employer, the System Development Corporation, our family began a journey that would take us more than 7,000 miles from our Los Angeles, California home to Ankara, the capital of Turkey — involving travel by airplane, automobile, train and ship, before our expedition was finished…

Not such a big deal by today’s standards, but when summed-up, its varied experiences wove the fabric of a delicious adventure, for our fledgling family…

Our odyssey began as we arrived with our extremely overstuffed suitcases at Los Angeles International airport to board a direct United Airlines flight to New York. All our household goods (including the children’s Christmas gifts) had been packed-up and sent away by ship the previous week — ‘guaranteed’ to arrive in the port of Istanbul within ‘a month or so’…

After an uneventful cross-country flight, we switched airlines and terminals upon our arrival at Idlewild International Airport (it would be renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport later that year) to board a Lufthansa flight that would take us over the Atlantic Ocean and across Ireland and France to Frankfurt, West Germany (Germany was still divided in 1964 – the ‘wall’ would remain in place until the collapse of the Soviet Union in December, 1991). The overwater flight was uneventful — at one point, an observant Teutonic flight attendant suggested “Why don’t you give the children a teaspoon of wine — it will help them to ‘schlaf’ (sleep)” — which we did (and they did)…

After landing at Frankfurt am Main International Airport, we collected our baggage and rented a small Opel sedan at the airport’s Hertz counter. We crammed luggage into the car’s tiny trunk, ourselves into the passenger compartment and headed for Frankfurt’s city center, a few miles away. Our attempts to find our way through the bustling city to the hotel where we would stay for a few days were soon thwarted by our inability to make sense of the road signs. We were soon hopelessly lost, so I pulled to the curb to look at a map we had picked-up at the Hertz counter. Still confused, I hailed a passing pedestrian, mentioned the name of the hotel, and asked him if he could please help us. He smiled broadly, and replied in perfect English “Of course, please follow me”, whereupon he motioned us to pull out, as he jogged along beside the car, holding firmly to the door handle. By bellowing directions and gesturing with his free hand, he swiftly guided us to our destination, only a few blocks away — charmed by his courtesy, we thanked him profusely. Touching the brim of his stylish brown-tweed Trilby, he replied “It was my extreme pleasure my friends, have a nice visit to our lovely city”…

Later that morning, when we had checked-in to our room, I left the family to unpack, get settled, and then to wander the intriguing shops on the streets near the hotel, while I drove a short distance to check-in with the company’s European region manager at his nearby office in the Schweizerplatz. When the meeting was over, I returned the rental car to the in-town Hertz office…

Before leaving Los Angeles, I had arranged to purchase a Volkswagen ‘Variant’ station wagon from an agency in Bad Soden, so I took a taxi to that nearby town to finalize the arrangement and pick-up our new automobile. When I had signed the necessary papers (and a hefty check) I drove the car back to the hotel and brimming with newfound ‘European chic’, we celebrated our new acquisition with a late dinner at a charming restaurant across the road from the hotel. That evening we all slept warmly under gloriously soft and fluffy, down-filled comforters, despite the rain that was turning to snow outside the window.  I awoke after midnight to the distinctive ‘boop-beep’ wail of a police siren — it was reminiscent of the sound that the Gestapo sirens made in the movie ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ which we had recently watched — it was a while before I sank back on my pillow and slept…

Early the next morning, Mike and Lisa (aged 6 and 5) clambered eagerly into the back of the station wagon (I had let the back seat down to make a sort of mini-playground for them), accompanied by lots of soft blankets, pillows and toys — back then, although seatbelts were available (our VW had them, but only for the two front bucket seats) regrettably, few people gave them much thought…

I strapped our suitcases to the car’s baggage rack atop the roof, protecting our precious belongings by lashing them down under a fitted vinyl cover I had purchased at the agency when I picked up our new car. And suddenly, with little fanfare, we were off on the first leg of our adventure — destination, Basel, Switzerland. Approximately 180 miles to the southwest…

Once on the autobahn, we got as far as the Frankfurter Kruez, an autobahn interchange just south of the city, where the A3 and A5 autobahns met, before becoming totally confused once more. The Baedeker European guide book my wife had thoughtfully purchased in a Frankfurt book store was helpful but mostly indecipherable despite its colorful maps — I only had a few words of German that I had learned from my grandmother – none of which helped us with highway signs or directions — so, when we spied an official-looking building labeled ‘Polizei’ near one of the autobahn’s cloverleaf ‘ausfahrts’ (off ramps) I quickly turned into the adjoining parking lot, got out and hurried inside to seek help. A uniformed attendant listened carefully to my plea, spoke briefly on her desk telephone, and then directed me to a small office at the rear of the building…

An impeccably groomed police officer was waiting for me, His dark blue uniform was accessorized with mirror-shined jackboots and a wide leather belt that spanned his trim waist and continued on to cross his broad chest ( a victim of too many late-night war movies on TV, I wondered idly where he had stashed his Luger parabellum pistol). Sitting stiffly behind his outsized highly-polished wooden desk, he motioned me to a chair while fixing a stern gaze on me, He cleared his throat and said “I am Hauptmann Fisher of the Autobahnpolizei – how may I be of assistance (he pronounced it ‘azziztanze’), When I had stated my problem, he abruptly shot to his feet, snatching a rubber-tipped wooden pointer from a tube attached to the side of his desk, he swiftly unrolled a wall mounted area map, and, standing at rigid attention, struck the map sharply with his pointer, he barked “You are here — and you wish to go here” — moving the pointer and smacking the tip sharply at another position on the map, he continued “To do so you must follow my instructions perfectly if you wish to reach Basel without further difficulties” (or else?  I wondered). I pulled the Baedeker guide from my jacket pocket and hurriedly wrote the directions he gave me in the space provided for notes next to the road map of southern Germany. When I had finished, Hauptmann Fisher shook my hand briskly, and barked “You will have a good trip, I expect!” It seemed more of a command than a bon voyage wish, so I quickly thanked him, came to attention, did an about face and marched back through the lobby to rejoin my family — still under the spell of Hauptmann Fisher, I climbed in, cranked the engine and we re-entered the autobahn without discussion or delay…

The autobahn ushered us speedily southward. Around noon, as we began noticing signs for Heidelberg, We realized that we were famished from the morning’s hectic pace, and so, we decided to stop for lunch. Taking an ‘ausfahrt’ that led to the center of the city, we stumbled across a picturesque Brauerei a short distance from the venerable university grounds — it seemed inviting and seemed quaint enough to have been the inspiration for Sigmund Romberg’s light opera – ‘The Student Prince’. We entered, fully expecting to see Prince Karl Franz and his schoolmates singing while banging their beer steins together. Regrettably, no prince or other students were in attendance, but the buxom, blond-haired waitress, clad in traditional dirndl and leather apron kept the image alive as she led us to a heavy wooden trestle table, deeply scarred, presumably from years of ‘stein banging’, and returned with an equally well-used, cardboard menu. I read the list of options aloud — when I got to ‘Weiner Schnitzel’, Mike perked-up,  declaring firmly “I’d like to try that, Dad” — when Lisa swiftly nodded her agreement, we decided it would be Weiner Schnitzel all-round — with milk drinks for the children and a glass each of the local ‘brau’ for the adults. When our meals arrived, Mike looked dubiously at his plate and wondered aloud “Um – Dad, Mom – this stuff doesn’t look like hot dogs to me” as Lisa swiftly nodded her agreement. When I explained that ‘Schnitzel’ was actually breaded, deep fried veal – tender meat from a young calf, and that ‘Weiner’ in this case didn’t refer to ‘weenies’ but instead to the meal’s Viennese origins, they both, reluctantly at first, and then with increased gusto, devoured the tasty meal…

We left Heidelberg after driving around for some brief sight-seeing. We parked the car neat the Universitätsplatz and walked around the square take photos of the university and some other landmarks. And then, as the afternoon was slipping away, we got back onto the autobahn, heading south again toward the Swiss border…

By late that afternoon, as we were getting close to the border, I noticed that we were almost out of gas. We got off the autobahn near a tiny German village a few kilometers from the Swiss border and soon found a filling station. It had a single, old fashioned gasoline pump in front of a smallish garage with a tidy, thatch-roof house next to it. An old man came out of the house as we pulled-up to the pump and I turned-off the engine. As I asked him to fill the tank. It began to snow lightly, and the temperature dropped considerably — seeing the children bundled-up in their blankets, he said “Please come into my house — my wife has hot cocoa and freshly baked cookies to warm you”. We gratefully accepted his kind offer, and were soon seated around the old couple’s kitchen table, enjoying cocoa, cookies and especially the crackling fire in the grate. When it came time to leave, we thanked the old couple (their name was Kurt and Liesl) for their kindness, and trooped back to the car — only to find that I had locked the keys inside!  Whereupon, Liesl hustled my family back inside the house, while Kurt and I considered the problem of retrieving the ‘schlissels’ (keys)…

After some deep thought, Kurt suggested that he could carefully grind-off the head of the long rivet holding the hinge that worked the tiny ‘wind-wing’ frame on the driver’s side, remove the tiny window, and reach inside to retrieve the keys from the ignition. The process took the better part of an hour as he cautiously ground off the head of the rivet, removed the wind-wing, reached in and retrieved the keys, and then completed the job by fabricating a new rivet out of an old piece of brass stock he found in his garage, and then re-attaching the tiny window…

When the job was finished, and I reached for my wallet to pay Kurt for the gasoline and especially for his skilled work, he stopped me and said “For the Benzin (gasoline) only – there is no charge for the rest” — when I objected, he said “Please oblige me — during the last war I was seriously wounded and then captured by American soldiers. I was eventually sent by ship, along with other prisoners, to a POW camp near Milwaukee, in the American ‘province’ of Wisconsin — I was treated with compassion and respect — doctors healed my wounds and I spent a few months in your country before the war ended and I was repatriated — I always look for a chance to repay the kindness I was shown in some small way to the few Americans I chance to encounter”. I could not refuse his heartfelt plea, so I paid him for the gas and thanked him abundantly for his labor and especially for his hospitality. When Liesl brought my family out to the car, I noticed that Mike and Lisa each had small paper packages clutched in their hands. Sensing my curiosity, Liesl said “Some cookies and candies that will tide them over until supper time”. We thanked her for her kindness, and after we had all hugged, we jumped back into the car and waved goodbye as we drove away and found our way back to the autobahn heading for Basel…

I prized that tiny brass rivet — never giving a thought to replacing it because it served to remind me of Kurt and Liesl and their thoughtfulness…

We rolled-up to Switzerland’s border with West Germany around 8 o’clock that evening, proffered our passports to the immigration officer, who stamped them and waved us through for customs inspection. Although the Swiss customs official required me to remove our suitcases from the Volkswagen’s baggage rack and open each bag for a cursory inspection, we were quickly cleared and were soon driving in the center of Basel. In what had unfortunately become a habit lately, we drove in aimless circles, searching fruitlessly for our hotel, the Euler, where the company had reserved accommodations for us. Exasperated, I pulled into the first filling station we came across. I got out of the car and approached the young attendant with my Baedeker guide in hand — sensing that I required directions; he looked me over for a moment, and then enquired “Parlais Français?” “No”, I replied. “Sprechen sie Deutsh” he tried next and when I replied “No” once again, he tried “Habla Español”, and when I sadly shook my head, he smiled, broadly and cried out triumphantly “Aha – you must be an American, how may I help you?” – When I told him that we were searching for the Euler hotel (I mispronounced it ‘Yule -er’) he looked mystified — my wife handed me our hotel reservation and when I showed it to him, he laughed and said “Ah, of course, the Euler (only he pronounced it ‘Oil-er’) — it’s over there, just across the square!” And so, of course, it was…

Bemused, I reflected upon theunexpected sophistication of this teenage gas station attendant who spoke at least four languages in addition to his own — unquestionably ‘we weren’t in Kansas anymore’…

Our accommodations at the Euler were splendidly old-fashioned – it was like stepping back into an earlier time and place. The staff couldn’t have been more pleasant and accommodating and our room was elegant. The next morning after a sumptuous breakfast, augmented by delicious Swiss pastries and more cocoa for the children, we stepped outside for a quick shopping trip around the square — and yes, of course we bought a cuckoo clock — how could we not do so in Switzerland?

The next day, we reluctantly left Basel taking the A2 motorway and were soon ascending the foothills of the Lepontine Alps, passing through tiny alpine villages and farmland as we ascended to our next destination, the St. Gotthard railway tunnel which would take us swiftly (and safely) through the snow-capped tops of the alps to connect with the road to Chiasso on the Italian border…

Despite the cold, we bundled-up and rolled the sunroof back, so we could hear the bells clinking softly on the necks of the many cows we passed in pristine meadows — a pleasant bucolic serenade. Soon we were climbing at a steep angle into the Alps, rising higher and higher, driving around tight curves and dizzying switchbacks, until we arrived at the entrance to the rail tunnel. We joined a line of vehicles waiting to be guided onto the platform and then shunted onto train flatcars. When it was our turn, I paid the agent for our passage, and then drove our station wagon across a ramp onto the rail car, behind a tank truck. Another large truck followed behind, sandwiching us in. The train crew secured all the vehicles with chocks and straps, and soon we were on our way. Afar an hour or so of rocketing at high speed through the dark tunnel, we were plunged into daylight once more as the train screeched nosily to a halt, and we waited to be shunted off the flatcar to the roadway. By taking the train through the tunnel we had avoided countless miles of dangerous, icy switchback rood — well worth the $30 fare!

As soon as we were back on the A2, we headed downhill at a rapid clip and were at Chiappo and the Italian border by late afternoon. After clearing Italian border customs and immigration, we stopped to eat dinner at a pleasant restaurant on the outskirts of Chiappo — Spaghetti of course — after all, we were now in Italy!

After dinner, we decided to press-on, driving through the night to Milano, arriving at the Principe e Savoia hotel around midnight…

The Principe, a famously elegant five star hotel, lived-up to its gracious pedigree — over the years it had become a favorite haunt of such notable people as the Duke of Windsor, Charlie Chaplain, Evita Peron, Maria Callas, Elizabeth Taylor and Aristotle Onassis, among many others. Our ‘suite’ (two bedrooms, a sitting room and a huge bath – so sumptuous that we were equally delighted and embarrassed by its opulence) was in the Principe’s Rosso wing — one of two so-called ‘new’ wings (they had been constructed in 1939). When the bellman had delivered our family and our luggage to the elegant suite, Lisa quickly scampered off to explore our new surroundings — soon we heard a blissful squeal from the bathroom — hurrying there, we found her sitting enraptured on the floor next to the bidet — she looked-up at us and crooned softly “look mommy and daddy, there’s a special bathtub just the right size for my dolly, Isn’t that nice?” Of course we didn’t dissuade her…

We stayed for two more nights at the Principe, enjoying dinners in the hotel’s two excellent restaurants in the evenings and wandering the sights of Milano during the day — we saw the famous La Scaly opera, a short walk from the hotel, and did some window shopping at some of the exclusive shops in the nearby plaza. Then we bid a fond goodbye to the Principe, and got back in the station wagon and on to the autostrada to begin our trek to Rome, about, 300 miles to the southeast…

© 2013 – Alan Mowbray Jr.

 

     

           

 

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One thought on “BITS and PIECES # 45

  1. mkhulu says:

    God bless Kurt!

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