October 7, 2018 § Leave a comment
“The World’s Longest Staircase Is in Switzerland”
In 1910, a funicular railway was completed from the village of Mülenen up to the peak [of Mount Niesen in the Swiss Alps]. . . .
But more interesting than the funicular, in my opinion, is what runs up the mountain right alongside it: a two-mile staircase with a slope that gets up to a glute-grinding 65-percent gradient. There are a world record 11,674 steps up the mountainside—enough steps to climb the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai four times, and enough to climb the Statue of Liberty 33 times.
For safety reasons, the stairs are just used for maintenance and not open to the public. But once a year, 500 lucky participants get to tackle the world’s longest staircase climb, the Niesen Treppenlauf. . . . And the record for running up the equivalent of seven Empire State Buildings? A remarkable one hour and two minutes.
Ken Jennings, Condé Nast Traveler, June 14, 2018
September 27, 2018 § Leave a comment
When you go to a new culture and miss the signs . . . or don’t realize how you don’t quite fit in.
At first I thought I’d just let the above stand on its own . . . but I have more to say.
I’m fascinated by these clips of trucks getting stopped in their tracks, of them having their tops peeled back in shiny silver ribbons, of drivers second guessing themselves and hitting the overpass anyway. Yes, it makes me laugh, but it makes me cringe, too. I have empathy for these drivers, especially the ones in moving trucks, heading to a new place with all their worldly possessions packed up behind, having left the rental company after confidently telling the agent at the counter that they’d waive the insurance. “I won’t be needing that, thank you very much.”
When we moved overseas, we had our share of cultural miscues and language faux pas and just mistakes in general. Then after that, we had some more. And while we laughed at many, some were cringeworthy and some were painful to us or even hurtful to others. That’s what happens when you don’t see the signs or can’t understand what they say. That’s what happens when you think somebody needs to lower the road or raise the bridge, because “It’s not me. My truck is the right size!”
And then when we travelled back to our passport country, somehow the bridges were lower there than when we left. Or had our truck gotten taller? Either way, something didn’t fit anymore.
During one of our furloughs we borrowed a van from some friends for our visits to see supporters. It was a conversion van with a raised roof that the owners had just had repainted. (Spoiler: Yes, this is going where you think it’s going.)
Finish reading at A Life Overseas. . . .
August 23, 2018 § Leave a comment
“Loveland Woman Creates Insect Farms to Feed African Orphans”
Loveland resident Amy Franklin found a solution for the hunger and malnutrition besetting Congolese orphanages in a delicacy that thrives in the wild in the African country—the palm weevil.
With no land for traditional farming, she has created small “farms” inside plastic containers to raise larvae, which are a protein-rich food source that can be farmed inside small rooms within the orphanages themselves.
“These orphanages are blocked in on every side by concrete and buildings,” said Franklin, who established Farms for Orphans, a nonprofit, with her husband, Alan. “They don’t have any land. They can’t even grow a small garden or any type of livestock production.”
. . . . .
The palm weevil is a beetle native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The larvae, which thrive within readily available sugar cane, are packed with protein as well as other nutrients, said Franklin.
. . . . .
They taste like breakfast sausages, Franklin said, and 10-12 grubs can meet a child’s daily recommended nutritional needs.
Pamela Johnson, Loveland News, Reporter-Herald, July 29, 2018
August 13, 2018 § Leave a comment
Traveling to far-away places and coping with new surroundings brings about lots of adjustments—adjustments in thought patterns and in ways of doing even mundane tasks. Few know this as dramatically as those who have lived aboard the International Space Station. But you don’t need to venture into outer space to be able to relate to their stories of exploration and adaptation.
National Geographic’s One Strange Rock looks at our planet through the eyes of eight astronauts. The final episode of this, the first season, is titled “Home.” (Watch it here.)
In it, host Will Smith asks,
Where is home? Is it where you were born, where you were raised, or where you are now? Is it somewhere you lived, somewhere you left, somewhere that shaped you? If you really want to know you need to leave them all behind.
One of those who’s left it all behind is Peggy Whitson, who, over three missions, spent a total of 665 days in space—a record for NASA astronauts and more than any other woman in the world. She’s come a long way from where she she lived as a child, a farm near Beaconsfield, Iowa, current population “elevenish.”
As I’ve grown up and gone to college and gone to graduate school, home has expanded from Iowa to Texas to the United States, and since being in space, home is actually planet earth.
Astronaut Chris Hadfield:
One of the biggest changes I noticed within myself as the result of flying in space was that the difference between us and them disappeared. Somehow going around the world in 92 minutes, not just once, but over and over and over again, turned the entire world into one shared place. I think it’s a perspective that seeps into astronauts. I think it’s a perspective that’s kind of good for everybody.
Astronaut Leland Melvin adds,
I truly believe that if more people could have the opportunity to see the planet from space, looking at the rich colors, looking at the fact that there are no borders separating us, we could see that we are truly all connected as human beings
Back to Smith, on reentry:
Ever been on a trip and seen something new, something incredibly beautiful, or something that changed the way you think about things? Now imagine that trip was to space. You’ve seen something that only a very few people have ever seen.
Astronauts need to tell someone, anyone, everyone. Soon they’re ready to go back down, but it’s actually bittersweet. They’re going back to the place that made them, but leaving the place that shaped them.
About her return, Whitson shares, “It was hard to leave because I knew I wouldn’t be coming back.” She starts to choke up and then blurts out, “Jeepers!” and laughs. “But I was all excited about being back home and being back on earth, having, you know, wind, and smelling the air and just being on earth.”
“But coming home isn’t easy,” says Smith. “Mother earth doesn’t exactly welcome you back with open arms.”
Repatriation from space, returning through the earth’s atmosphere, is actually the hardest part of the trip, and setting down on the solid ground of Kazakstan isn’t the softest of landings.
Whitson says, “Most people compare it to a car crash. I would compare it to maybe two car crashes.”
And then there’s the transition from weightlessness to . . . weight. “Wow, space was good,” Whitson says and adds with a smile, “Gravity sucks.”
Though he’s not part of the One Strange Rock crew, Scott Kelly has this to say about the reverse culture stress brought about by gravity:
Back to Melvin, in the National Geographic production:
When I got home from space after getting out of my suit, then to have a meal without the food floating away from you, and being able to pet your dog and talk to your parents fact to face, it made me feel so much more connected to the planet.
Another astronaut, Nicole Scott:
I couldn’t wait to feel what a breeze would be like again, you know, what the smell of grass was going to, you know, smell like again.
It’s the smells of earth, the smell of home, the smells of the natural world, it’s overpowering. It’s kind of overwhelming.
Just because you physically leave the surface of the earth does not mean you leave the earth, because the earth is part of you.
I’m not sure whether I feel more like an earthling or a space woman. I think being a space woman’s a lot more fun.
Blast off . . . G forces . . . wonder . . . homesickness . . . rootlessness . . . reentry . . . landing . . . longing—sounds like crossing cultures.
So what is day-to-day life really like in the culture of space? Here are a few glimpses into how the ordinary becomes anything but:
There’s learning to cook without the comforts of your kitchen or a microwave . . . or plates.
What happens when the food doesn’t want to stay down?
You thought squatty potties were a challenge.
Then you have no-shower showering.
And, oh yeah, when you look out the window, there’s the view.
Don’t forget the view.
(“Home,” One Strange Rock, National Geographic, May 28, 2018)
August 6, 2018 § Leave a comment
Somewhere, in one of the back rooms of the internet, sits a frazzle-haired, bespectacled gentleman thumbing through a box of yellowed index cards. On each card is typed out a well-known saying, often in multiple versions, and it’s the man’s job to assign to each one a source. He doesn’t track down the actual origin, but rather he writes down who it sounds as if might have come from. To do this, he refers to a wall chart over his desk that shows a spectrum of names, ranging from the profound—Confucius—to the nonsensical— Yogi Berra—with prominent figures filling in the space in between. His assignments go out to the many and sundry quotation sites around the world wide web. After he’s worked his way through all the cards, he refills the box and starts again. His is the Office of Misattribution.
Even with such an imprecise methodology, it seems odd that a single quotation could be assigned to both ends of the authorial range: Confucius and Yogi Berra. But at least one phrase has that distinction:
Wherever you go, there you are.
(also with the versions “No matter where you go . . .” and “Wheresoever you go . . .”)
First off, I’ll say that I’ve seen no real evidence for its origin. (As I’ve written before, it’s the kind of thing my father would attribute to Shakespeare, but he was just kidding.) Google searches most often show it belonging to Confucius, or, more specifically, coming from the The Analects of Confucius. But when I go to The Analects, I don’t find it, nor anything close. I’m thinking that those who claim Confucius as the source would lean toward explaining the meaning of the phrase as “You can’t escape yourself. No matter your new location, you will bring your past, your faults, your regrets with you.”
Those who would claim the saying belongs to Yogi Berra would probably think it’s simply stating the obvious: “You are where you are.” But I’m pretty sure Berra, who subtitled a book “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!” didn’t create it either. He was, though, in the same ballpark, so to speak, when he came up with
If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
In another perspective on the theme, the popular spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle talks about intentionally being present in the moment, when in his book The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, he says:
Ordinary unconsciousness is always linked in some way with denial of the Now. The Now, of course, also implies the here. Are you resisting your here and now? Some people would always rather be somewhere else. Their “here” is never good enough. Through self-observation, find out if that is the case in your life. Wherever you are, be there totally.
The Christian missionary and martyr Jim Elliot wrote something similar 47 years earlier in his journal:
Wherever you are, be all there.
To this, he added, “Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
The idea behind these last two selections reminds me of the phrase
Bloom where you are planted.
Who originally said that? According to the internet, it might be Mary Engelbreit, Paul Harvey, Mother Teresa, Cory Booker (with blossom instead of bloom), Nardi Reeder Campion’s Aunt Grace, Nancy Reader Campion’s Aunt Grace, St. Francis of Sales, an Afghan proverbist, or someone in the Bible. The Office of Misattribution certainly has been busy on that one.
(Yogi Berra, When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!: Inspiration and Wisdom from One of Baseball’s Greatest Heroes, 2001; Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Namaste, 1997; Elisabeth Elliot, ed., The Journals of Jim Elliot, Revell, 1978)
July 29, 2018 § Leave a comment
When Arnold Neuhaus was a small lad growing up in Amsterdam, he entered a contest sponsored by KLM, and won. The prize was a flight over Amsterdam, but he wasn’t able to collect because of his sister’s illness. Eighty three years later, with the help of his seven-year-old great-grandson, KLM delivered with a surprise for “Grandpa Nol’s” ninetieth birthday.
How’s that for a caring company?
Each year, AirHelp rates airlines by looking at their on-time performance, quality of service, and claim processing. I’m going to call that a “care” index (work with me here). Back in 2016, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines came in second. Since then, though, they’ve seen a bit of a dip in their ranking. Last year they came in at 11, and this year, it’s 11 again.
But KLM cares about caring, and maybe they’ll soon regain their number-2 spot. (Good look trying to be number 1. Qatar Airways seems to have a lock on that.) Take, for instance, their special-assistance program. It’s called KLM CARES.
And this summer, they’re introducing Care-E, a luggage-carrying robot that can scan your boarding pass and take you where you need to be, even if the gate changes. KLM tells CNN Travel that Care-E is currently in testing, with plans to debut it in New York’s JFK airport and San Francisco International later this year.
Care-E looks like another step toward airport robot domination, and it’s an upgrade of KLM’s Spencer, who, alas, couldn’t carry your bags.
Last year, the airline introduced the KLM Care Tag, a smart luggage tag that uses GPS and a speaker to provide helpful “tips and tricks” as you travel around Amsterdam. It’s another technology that’s in beta mode, as it was available only during September of 2017.
The Care Tag. Yeah, it’s kind of like having a stewardess riding on the back of your bike or on top of your roller bag. Of course, that’s not going to happen (though the images are kind of seared into my brain). But don’t be surprised if a member of the KLM cabin crew sneaks up behind you on the street to zip up your backpack or adjust your child’s shoulder strap. “It’s not the blue uniform that make us stand out,” they say, “It’s because we care.”
And if you still don’t believe me about KLM’s karing kulture, here’s a video in honor of Mother’s Day, for those who live far away from Mom. It’s actually my favorite of this whole bunch.
By the way (#1), do you know what KLM actually stands for? It’s Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij, which translates to Royal Aviation Company.
By the way (#2), in case you’ve never heard of AirHelp before . . . besides rating airlines (and airports), they want to help you get compensation for any flight delays, cancellations, or overbookings that have affected you in the last three years. Just let them know the details, then “sit back and relax while [they] jump into action.”
(Lilit Marcus, “KLM’s New Airport Robot Care-E Will Guide You to the Gate,” CCN Travel, July 11, 2018;
[photo from KLM, used with permission]