Thursday, April 29, 2010

I iz old and nostalgic

Tonight I was invited to a celebration of the "Quarter Century Club" - those who have taught at my school for 25 years or more. I have been here 27 years. 27 years. Not many people can say they've been employed in the same place for 27 years. 27 years.

It seems like just the blink of an eye

It seems like forever.

When I took the job, I thought, hey, I'll do it for a year or two, then move on to something more lucrative, more challenging, more interesting.

Then that two year window passed. And nothing looked more lucrative, more challenging, more interesting.

Suddenly, the ten year window passed. And nothing looked more lucrative, more challenging, more interesting.

At the twenty year anniversary, something popped up that looked more lucrative, more challenging, more interesting. But they didn't want me.

So, now, at 27 years. Where do I stand? Where do I go?

At the celebration tonight, I sat next to a young man from the class of 1988. He had hung out in the library for all his high school years. He talked about how much I had mattered to him. How I had allowed him to display his Hank Aaron autographed baseball during Black History Month. How he'd gone on to graduate from Yale, has a great job, a wonderful wife who is an OB-GYN. He showed me pictures of his three beautiful children, the oldest of whom is almost old enough to come to our school. Now, he's on the Board of Trustees. And he promises me that they'll make sure we have the salaries we deserve, how they want us to have a great life in retirement. How they want to give back to us all that we gave them.

We look at the bricks and mortar every day. I look at how much more I could offer my students in a state of the art facility, with all the accompanying technological assets.

But it all comes down to the difference we make every day. When I introduce a boy to some fun fiction book, when I help that 9th grader find the perfect source for his world history paper, when I point out that burping in the library isn't quote appropriate - those are all building blocks in a boy's history, in a boy's development.

I hope I never lose sight of that huge responsibility. In the day to day busy-ness, of trying to maintain order and quiet, I hope I don't forget that one small remark can make such a difference.

Friday, April 09, 2010

An Outlander goes to Berlin

So, most people go someplace warm for Spring Break. Cancun, Florida, the Caribbean. My buddy Susan and I like to buck the trend and head east - way east. We've hit many of the great cities of Europe, and decided that this year we would visit Berlin. Former capital of the Prussian and Austria-Hungarian Empires, and now capital of the reunited Germany.

We spent 6 days there, and what a great time! Everything went so smoothly - easy plane connections, a terrific (if bare bones) hotel, great food, great beer!, and great sites. Some of the highlights:

Everyone agrees that one of the "must-sees" is the newly renovated Reichstag. It was famously burned in 1933 and occupied by Soviet troops in 1945. It was right next to the Berlin Wall for all those years. But when Berlin was made the new capital in 1999, Germans knew they had to return to the Reichstag. My big tip on visiting: the Dome is one of the most popular sites in Berlin: there were over 200 people waiting in line at 11 am on Sunday morning. I wrote ahead, and got spaces on a guided tour in English at 10:30. We went thru the whole building - I learned a lot about German government - and at the end, we were put on a special elevator to the Dome, bypassing the crowds. The view was spectacular - we wished we'd done in the first day we were in the city.

Museum Island is awesome! All of the major museums are on this small island in the middle of the city, and one museum pass gets you into all of them. The Pergamon Museum is incredible - some really large scale pieces scavenged from ancient Greece and Rome (which makes me slightly uneasy). One of the highlights in the Egyptian Museum is the famous bust of Nefertiti

No photo I've ever seen does her justice. The bust is truly beautiful - a fully mature woman captured in the prime of life. Wow.

The Germans do not downplay the Holocaust and their part in it. In fact, they seem to have gone out of their way to celebrate those cultures that Hitler tried to eradicate. The Jewish Museum is phenomenal! You enter below ground, where the halls are tilted and curved - as disorienting as life was in Germany in the 30s. The same feeling is found at the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gates. We also stumbled upon a memorial to the homosexuals murdered by Hitler. The irony is that Hitler tried so hard to eliminate all of these cultures - and now his city celebrates them.

We marveled at the seemingly old churches and palaces - all heavily damaged during the bombing of WWII and now reconstructed. Especially moving is the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, which the citizens elected to leave in its bombed state as a monument to WWII and to the hope for peace

Very moving.

Everywhere we went, everyone spoke English - or at least could understand us! Luckily, beer is the same in both languages. And I had some awesome beer. I love a wheat beer, not hoppy - and that seems to be a Berlin speciality. We also sampled the famous "currywurst" - which is basically chopped up wieners doused in a ketchup and curry sauce. Not as spicy as I would have guessed. There was a curry stand close to our hotel - they were at least 10 deep from the time it opened at 11ish until late into the night.

We loved out hotel, the Hotel Transit. Okay, I admit, I was a little scared when we arrived. It's in a dingy neighborhood in Kreuzberg (we later discovered that pretty much ALL of the neighborhoods are dingy in Berlin!) - and on the top two floors of a former factory. The rooms were tiny - picture a very small college dorm room - with no tv and no telephone. But the staff was incredible! So nice, helpful, fun. We ended most nights sitting in the lobby and enjoying a beer or tea, and chatting with them while we checked email. I celebrated my birthday while we were there - on my birthday, we returned to the room to find a bottle of champagne and a card wishing me a happy birthday from the hotel staff! Nice! And a terrific breakfast every morning. It was perfect for the traveler who isn't interested in spending much time in their hotel!

The only negative: I hate the Charles de Gaulle airport!! We had to change planes there on both legs of our trip. On the return, the wheels of our flight from Berlin touched down on the tarmac at 8:45am. We had a 10:40 flight to Atlanta. By the time we taxied in the plane, took a bus to the terminal, took another bus to the other terminal, went thru passport control 3 times as well as a full security check - we got to the gate area at 10:30! Then we had to stand in a chaotic mess (I can't call it a line) to have our boarding passes checked and to be given our immigration forms (which they could easily distribute on the plane)....We weren't on the plane until 10:45! (Luckily, they didn't dare close the door early or I would have hurt somebody). Needless to say, I took advantage of that drink cart when it passed by. I will make every effort to NOT fly thru de Gaulle again!

Two things I purchased for the trip more than paid for themselves. This Travel Rest pillow is fantastic - it was really comfortable to sleep on. And the Sennheiser Noise Canceling Headphones are AWESOME! I will never travel on an airplane without them. The emit a white noise that totally erases any sound - including the engine. When I took them off to hit the loo, I was assaulted by the noise. I slept so soundly on the trip over!! (And I did NOT pay this much for them - surf around the net for a better price)

So, loved Berlin! Where to next??

And here's an album of photos:

If you click on the logo in the lower right, it'll lead you to the full-sized album

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Loss of a tradition

Although I'm pretty fanatical about the Red Sox these days, there was a time when my sports obsession focused on golf. During the 80s, I was a total golf geek. Every weekend, I'd spend my afternoon plunked in front of the television, enjoying the ups and downs of all the players.. My favorites were Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Fred Couples, and, of course, my hometown "buddy" Brad Faxon. But I knew most of the Tour members by name, and most by sight.

Over time,I remained a casual fan, until the coming of Tiger. Although I thought he was a good player, I hated the way the golf press fawned over him. They took all the fun out of the game for me - you rarely saw those other favorites and the other competitors on the course faded from the public eye. I found no joy in watching Tiger, and slowly, I stopped watching.

Still, I was looking forward to catching some of the Masters Tournament this weekend. It's a much-loved rite of spring - seeing the azaleas blooming in Amen Corner, enjoying the pageantry, admiring the golfing prowess of the players. But, but, but. This is the time that Tiger has decided to return, hoping to overcome his problems of the past six months and triumph in Augusta.


I really can't muster any enthusiasm for the Tournament. Barely a glance at the leaderboard this morning, only to note that Fred Couples is in the lead. But you wouldn't know who was leading unless you looked at the scores. All of the news articles are focused on Tiger. Tiger humbled, Tiger excited about the response of the fans (who he has ignored his entire career), no one booing Tiger, blah blah blah.

So, PGA Tour and CBS, you've lost this once faithful viewer. I'll be watching baseball this weekend, or a movie, or enjoying the beautiful spring. Anything except watching you fawn over Mr. Woods.

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