Reunion 50 Years . . . and counting

You will have to pardon me if I wander completely away from our travels for another post.  If you are mostly interested in RV travel, stop reading now.

I had forgotten what it is like to be immersed in my class at Brown. It is wonderful to be surrounded by minds as sharp and focused and well informed in so many fields. These guys and gals rank among the brightest in the country and it is a bit daunting at times to be a part of this group. Then we meet those who graduated after us and see how the university has been able to choose from an even more highly skilled set of minds. Many of us feel that we barely made it out of Brown with average grades and we find that the average has risen so high that we wonder if we could succeed in this group.

The campus is vastly changed and in so many aspects totally unchanged. Around the edges the new buildings and the not so new building that were not there 50 years ago ring the Green.  But the Green and its buildings look unchanged from 50 years ago or even 100 years ago.  Much has been changed inside the academic building. Nothing has changed in the dorms. We stayed in a dorm where I had lived 51 years ago and the furniture is unchanged and other than some accommodations for the needs of women and handicapped they are unchanged except for a coat or two of paint. We wandered into my Freshman dorm and located my 2nd semester room on the 4th floor, indeed it is unchanged from 1960.

A feature of Reunion at Brown is the Fora offered by faculty and others returning for quinquennial reunions. We attended three. One was offered by classmate Lee Berk who was receiving an honorary degree for his role in creating Berklee School of Music. Another was a presentation about a lost museum and its recreation. The final one was moderated by an Editor/Author and it was panel of four author/editors with various kinds of work. They all contributed to a book of readings in commemoration of Brown’s 250th year which we were also celebrating. After all we graduated 50 years ago on Brown’s Bicentennial.

Commencement this morning was a treat and a trip into topology. We each passed or were passed by every member of the procession twice. As the leaders passed through the Van Wickle Gates which were opened outward, they stopped on either side of the route and the next group passed through and likewise split and stopped. We stopped in turn and watched the younger classes pass down the hill to line up at the side.  Everyone went passed us. When the last alumna from the class of 2013 passed the first group, that group, the Class of 2014, proceeded down the hill passing us and we joined in behind them passing all those who had passed us. As we passed the graduating class we knew we were at the end and we had high fived hundreds of fellow graduates of Brown. It is hard to guess how many participants there were, but the complete evolution took over two hours. The great planning of David London, our incoming class president, put us in a restaurant just two blocks from the end of the procession on the Providence River for refreshments and goodbyes.  It does not seem likely that 1964 will ever again bring together 209 members of the class – we were just over 800 when we graduated.

We Approach Van Wickle Gates Opened Outward

In Providence

We completed the crossing two days ago when we pulled into Meadowlark RV Park in the Newport area.  We had covered 3,186.4 miles (who’s counting) stayed in two BLM sites, two highway rest areas two Elks Lodge parking lots and two campgrounds, for three nights.  We were glad to get off the road and just sit for a bit.  We didn’t even go into Newport that first day.  We did go in on Wednesday and toured Chateau sur Mer. It is one of the earliest homes and one that was built, and rebuilt, for year round use.  It was lived in by members of the original family until 1966, that’s two years AFTER I graduated from Brown.

We have set up camp in West Warwick Elks Lodge 1697 for the weekend.  We will be dry camping, but since we don’t expect to spend a lot of time on the coach it should not be a problem. None of the people who thought they might find a way for us to stay nearer campus could get past the liability of our being “alone” in some parking lot.  Don’t tell the Elks, please.

It is hard to realize that it has been 50 years since I left the Brown Campus with my diploma and prepared to marry Carol. It feels like last week, until I look at our “children” and grandchildren. I doubt that if I had thought about this day back then I would have had any idea I would have been a life insurance salesman and then a financial planner for all those years.  I wonder if there even was such a thing as a financial planner when I graduated. I’m sure I would not have envisioned myself and Carol living for extended periods of time in a motorhome, again if there was such a thing.  Yet in so many ways Brown prepared me for all the changes I’ve been through. I learned self reliance, I learned how to acquire knowledge when needed and apply it to issues I wanted to resolve and I learned that I am capable of doing what it takes to accomplish my goals. I think I also learned that it is important to have joy in the process.

I never worked for the sake of work. I liked my clients, even the difficult ones. And I found pleasure in helping them see a way to their goals, even if they had to modify their goals to fit within their means (always the hardest part of the work). I worked as hard as I needed to have the time I needed to be with family, community and friends. Those were always a higher priority for me than building my practice. It wasn’t until I retired and sold my practice that I realized how much the responsibility for the plans of others had sat on my shoulders. I did not worry about the ones who had enough to live comfortably, I did worry about Florence and others like her who had found their way onto my “book” with minimal assets and little income. These were the clients we were advised to get rid of as there was no way to make any money and they demanded as much or more time as well paying clients.  I never was able to do that. I still wonder about a few of them from time to time although it seems unlikely that they are alive anymore.

Now I have time to spend time with family and they are spread across the country.  Our friends spend time in places as far spread as Nova Scotia, Florida (of course), Arizona and California. the only way to stay in contact beyond these blog posts and phone calls is to visit them as we move around the country. I have mostly left community behind. That does not always feel good. Taking an active, leading role in the life of our Federation and our Temple was very fulfilling and gave added meaning to my life. I still care, but there is wonderful younger leadership doing what I have done and they really don’t need the hand of the past trying to tell them how we did it.  I tried being active in the RV community, but somehow the needs did not seem as pressing and there are plenty of others who really get in to it.

Well, I have rambled way off my usual kind of post. We met the Londons, for dinner last night as a sort of appetizer to the coming three days.  Looking forward to meeting the others in attendance and renewing or creating new friendships before we part on Sunday. This post is reflective of the mood I am in.

Five Days 1,835 Miles

For people who think 250 miles in a day is enough and two days in a row of that this is insane.  Our first two nights on the road were courtesy BLM (Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior), thank you federal taxpayers.  The next two nights were Elks Lodges in Denver CO and Russell KS (you could look at map and maybe find it along I 70 somewhere near the middle of KS). We are taking two nights in Independence MO visiting our friends the Lustigs who moved here from Rochester 31 years ago. Somehow we manage to pass through every so often and renew the friendship.

When we leave here Saturday morning, we will double time, that is we need to cover over 700 miles to reach Akron OH by late afternoon on Sunday so we can have dinner with the Slepians Sunday evening.  That leaves us 4 days to cover 600 miles to Providence RI, easy!

Oh the plans they do change. Carol and I were looking at the map and realized we are passing right through Columbus OH.  My college roommate and a friend of CArols and mine from our days in Sunday School lives in Columbus.  How could we just drive through without saying hello, especially since Lee reads the Blog and would know what we had done 🙂 To make that happen and still keep some sort of schedule we drove 500 miles from Independence MO to someplace East of Indianapolis where we are stopped in an Interstate Rest Area for the night.  In the morning we will drive two hours and forty five minutes to visit the Cherney’s in Columbus and then continue on another 2 hours or so to Akron.

I think I need to rename this trip “The Reunion Race Across the US” Not only are racing to my Brown Reunion, but we are having mini reunions as we go.  I remember an early cross country trip, 2002 I think, where we visited people in three or four cities and thought it was a big deal.

Oh yes, before we drive to Rochester after the Reunion we will be stopping to see former RVers and still friends the Topfs on Block Island and then we are planning to stop in New London CT to visit with people we just traveled with in Japan.  I expect we will cap off this Reunion thing with a stop in Syracuse to visit my Aunt and Uncle, but they haven’t been told about that yet.

Back in the US and Moving Fast

The return to the US was essentially uneventful. We made the three transfers without and drama and settled in to a long (9 1/2 hour scheduled flight to LA. The only aggravation was being held on the ground for more than an hour waiting for a gate after arriving almost an hour early.  Cleared immigration and customs at a walk,  thank you Global Entry. We even picked up the car and traversed LA to get the coach and then to Malibu Beach RV to collapse and wait out jet lag.

After 5 days we set out for a record setting (for us) cross country trip.  As I write we have come 790 miles in two days stopping first in Nevada on top of a mesa outside of Overton, more of a speck on the map with a museum of the Lost Community.  It is also near Valley of Fire SP. It is a great camping place with raw desert and cliffs and buttes in every direction.

Today we resumed driving across Nevada and Utah. We had to stop several times just to gape at the scenery.  We thought after Japan’s incredible volcanic scenery we would be hard pressed to be awed.  Utah, along I 70 is incredible.  We were “oh look at that” and omg so often we had to laugh. I remembered some wonderful Riverside sites near Moab and we headed there guided by Days End,  an incredible resource of free and cheap places to stop over night. I got the wrong road,  but spotted some rvs atop a ridge line and turned into Willow Springs Road where we found a home for the night up a dirt road next to another Phaeton. Getting back to the highway may be interesting,  a disaster if it should rain.

Tomorrow we will stop for lunch in Grand Junction,  CO to vist Malena’s sister and brother-in-law then on to Denver for the night.  I’ll post this now without the pictures,  will add them later.

Contradictions

When we added Hiroshima to our itinerary I thought of so many war memorials and killing fields we have seen recently and over the years.  These have been somber places and there had been no joy in the remembrance.  Hiroshima in my mind is a reminder of the cruelty of the Japanese in their prosecution of the war,  their mistreatment of pows and finally the crushing, merciless blow we inflicted with the only two wartime nuclear explosions ever,  Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought an end to the fighting.

I did not envision getting off the Bullet Train into a crowd of baseball fanatics headed to the stadium next to the train station to see their team  the Hiroshima Carps play ball.  I did not envision a train station packed with more people coming to town for a festival. I most certainly did not expect to find the Peace Memorial Park, right next to “hyper zero” overflowing with marching bands,  dance groups,  singing groups and countless celebratory gatherings.  To get to the Peace Park we walked along a covered shopping street and stopped at Anderson’s Bakery for lunch.  This very special bakery is named for Hans Christian Anderson.  It is located in the only building left standing within 360 meters of hyper zero. Well 3 walls and part of a fourth were left and the building was restored. You can read elsewhere about the devastation caused by the one bomb.  Hiroshima had been spared the fire bombing so much of Japan experienced because it was on the target list and the military wanted to evaluate the damage from the bomb. Much of the Peace Memorial is devoted to the prevention of nuclear testing,  a goal that is still not quite achieved in their immediate neighborhood.

The Carp lost 9-4 to Yokahama. They play again tonight.

We went to Miyajima island and to Itsukushima Shinto Shrine founded CE 593 there.  As you approach the Island by ferry you see the Otorii vermillion gate rising 43 feet above the sea bed. This may be one of the most famous sights in Japan. Another contradiction arises.  Over the centuries shoguns,  kings, Emperor’s and would bes have built shrines on this island which is said to bring them victory in combat.  Today the only victory sought there is passing entrance exams.  The shrines are devoted to peace and although the entire Island is a shrine,  it is also a shrine to consumerism.  Approaching the holy precincts is a trip through throngs of shoppers buying everything from food to shoes.  We too shopped. As we left we saw a sign at the exit from shrine area “It was prayed well today. Please return carefully.” Another sign just after that reads “May Peace Prevail on Earth”

Tomorrow,  Monday,  is a full day of touring followed by the beginning of our journey to Los Angeles. We take a bullet train to Kyoto and stay over.  Get up early to catch a flight to Haneda domestic airport,  transfer to Narita by bus,  50 miles,  to catch our flight to LAX. I do expect to write about tomorrow,  or post in any event until we are back on Gwhiz.

Where was I?

Departure time for return to US must be getting close.  I’m counting clean socks to make sure I’m done with hand laundry for this trip.  People are getting just a bit cranky as they are reaching their limit for one more shrine or shop or even restaurant. 

Yesterday we traveled by bus to Arashiyama, well we traveled by bus then boat polled up river and then a long climb.  The climb was advertised as 20 steps and then 20 steps then times 5. I didn’t count the steps but the climb was on a par with Potala Palace (without the altitude) or the Great Wall.  At the top was a small Buddhist temple where we had a tea ceremony,  abbreviated,  a reading of a sutra,  with Dvar Torah (in Hebrew Words of the Law-in this case an exegesis of the meaning of the words), and a meditation session.  Upon descending we returned to the boat and the bus took us to a farm where we picked Japanese spinach before heading to a lovelySamurai House where we were taught how to make a vegetarian sushi roll (sushi means vinegar rice and does not refer to the filling) using the spinach. The rest of the meal was delicious,  even our sushi rolls were very tasty.  We returned to the bus for the return to the hotel.

After a 30 minutes rest, most of us reboarded the bus for an optional evening experience.  Our first stop was at the home of two Japanese musicians.  The wife plays Koto and Shamisan, the husband plays bamboo flute.  They explained their instruments and the music and performed both solo and duet.  We each had an opportunity to try the instruments.  Only one of us could get any sound from the flute and Marcie plays flute and still it took her several long minutes to get any sound from it.  I tried a couple of times,  it is much harder than blowing over a coke bottle. I made lots of wind noise but no musical sound.  Our next stop was in the Geisha quarter where we walked through the quartet before arriving at the restaurant.  Out 10 filled the place. The owner/chef is 4th generation.  The restaurant was founded 100 years ago and has been in its current location 70 years,  if I understood him correctly.  It was another meal that cannot be topped.

Today,  May 2, was listed as a free day.  We took the optional tour to Arashiyama, to take a walking tour of two very beautiful gardens and a famous bamboo grove. We traveled by train rather than bus. First we stopped at Tenryuji Temple,  the primary temple of the Renzai School of Zen. It had been destroyed and rebuilt 5 times since it’s original construction in 1339, most of it dates to the 19th century.  However the gardens date back many centuries. I fear our pictures will not do it justice. There is no way to experience the peace and ambience of the place without being there. After the walk through the bamboo grove and the neighborhood we split up.  Four of us went to the Daitoku-ji Temple area where we toured three sub temples and their magnificent gardens.  The gardens are dry stone gardens with gravel representing water and stones of appropriate shape representing mountains, Islands,  turtles,  etc. There are even some trees,  shrubs and mosses incorporated.  Finally,  exhausted,  we caught a cab back to the hotel to put our feet up for a bit. Tonight is the Farewell Dinner for the bulk of the group who leave tomorrow as we go on to Hiroshima with 3 others for three days.

Kyoto, shrines, temples, cultural sites and more

Every place we turn there is a shrine, a temple, a world cultural heritage treasure.  For a nation that is generally not religious,  to hear them tell it,  they certainly have more than enough gods and places to worship them.  The most common religion is Shintoism which seems like animism as there are places of worship for many different gods and objects of worship.  Another major characteristic is syncretism, the blending of worship from more than one religion.  Shinto and Buddaism seem to get along just fine.  We had a lovely home visit,  four of us went to the home of Akiko and Kane (as in Citizen Kane, he said). We were warmly welcomed with tea and sweets after a tour of the magnificent garden.  The house tour began with a stop in front of the Shinto shrine set up in a corner of the living room.  Kane said they pray at this shrine daily for what they want in their daily lives.  In the formal living room we were introduced to the Buddhist shrine set up to honor their ancestors.  Kane said “Shinto is for the living and Buddah is for the dead.” Kane made his living in commercial and residential real estate and was very active in Rotary,  even ascending to District Governor.  Along the Rotary flags he has on display is one from Buffalo NY.

Shinto prayer as we have witnessed seems to consist of making an offering to the local God,  ringing a bell, bowing,  clapping twice,  praying for what you want and bowing again. People buy papers and symbols carved of wood and write their prayers on them and hang them in the shrine.  The major things people seem to pray for are safe delivery of a healthy child,  wealth and good grades. I’m sure this is not the sum as I know we participated in praying for world peace. We have no experience of Buddhist prayer yet.  There are no prayer wheels like in Tibet.

Cherry blossoms!  We missed the massive cherry blossom festival in Tokyo. We have seen thousands of trees in bloom in the mountains.  By the time we leave in less than a week there will be no more cherry blossoms,  but this is a country of gardens and no matter where we turn we see more beauty. This is also a nation of people devoted to design.  Presentation of food in stores and restaurants seems always be beautifully designed to please the eye as much as the palate.  Houses are very simple and design is focused on simplicity while displaying one or two selected objects of beauty. Kane’ s house was a bit more cluttered with display of his carvings and paintings of horses.

More soon!