Back East for Adventure, Remembrance and a Lesson on White Privilege

Having lived in the Pacific Northwest for 27 years, I guess I’m entitled to call myself an Oregonian, and I’ve noticed that Oregonians who refer to the other coast almost always refer to it as “back east.”   I hadn’t visited since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but my trip to New York City in September, 2017 was the result of an invitation from Amy Goodman, the famous journalist, producer and host of “Democracy Now,” a daily tv/radio show featuring progressive and left wing perspectives on national and international topics.  Because of my support for Portland’s progressive radio station, KBOO-FM, Amy invited me to be her guest for dinner and to attend a live broadcast the following morning at the studio in lower Manhattan.  Being a serious Democracy Now fan, I jumped at the opportunity.

I lived in Brooklyn from 1973-75 while studying medicine at Long Island University. Not believing I could survive a year of chemistry, I didn’t really expect to graduate from the Physician Associate Program, but the day I received a B on an organic chemistry final, I knew I would graduate. And I’ve never forgotten where I was when I screamed “I’m really going to be a PA! ”    It was in the middle of the intersection of Flatbush and Dekalb Avenues in downtown Brooklyn._DSF5942

Having been raised in a secular Jewish home, delis have always held a special place in my heart. I never pass up an opportunity to eat at a first rate delicatessen.  At this very intersection (literally across the street from the University) is Juniors, a New York institution.  _DSF5943

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So my first day after arriving in New York, I had breakfast at Juniors, then headed uptown for 2 hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.    Then back to Washington Square to meet an old PA friend and his wife for lunch.

Amy asked me to meet her at New York University, where she was moderating a forum as part of a conference called “Global Citizen.”_DSF5966

Panelists included Muzoon Almellehan (on Amy’s left), a 19 year old Syrian refugee recently appointed UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador because of her relentless efforts for advocacy of the education of girls and young women in the middle east https://www.unicef.org/media/media_96488.html.  On Almellehan’s left is Terje Rod-Larsen, a Norwegian diplomat whose behind the scenes efforts led to the 1995 Oslo Accords — a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

At NYU I was joined by my PA friend and colleague Diane Bruessow, an activist and clinician whose work on behalf of the transgendered community led to a White House dinner with President Obama. _DSF5972

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Following the panel, Amy, Diane and I walked to a nearby restaurant for a relaxed dinner.  We were joined by Susan Buck-Morss, a professor of political philosophy at the City University of New York http://susanbuckmorss.info/.

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Amy’s request to each of us was to share our personal stories.  Considering our host’s identity, we recounted our political and activist credentials.  It made for a fascinating evening: a philosopher/scholar, a trans activist and clinician joining a world famous progressive journalist at a three hour private social event.  When I asked Amy how a 60 year old journalist continues to produce and host a one hour tv/radio show five days a week (something she’s done for twenty years), she answered with stories of her Jewish grandmother lying on a death bed, still retaining 100% control of her life (and much of her family’s) up to the day she died.

I expected Amy to excuse herself after an hour or so (she had a show to produce and host in about 12 hours), but she acted as if she hadn’t anything better to do than spend time with us.  She was utterly gracious and hospitable.

The following morning we headed for the studio and a live broadcast of Democracy Now. I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet Juan Gonzalez, DN co-host and award winning author and journalist.  Gonzalez had just completed the first leg of a book tour, launching his 4th book, called “Reclaiming Gotham,” concerning income inequality and the reign of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

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After the program, we had a tour of the studio (“the greenest television studio in the United States”) and opportunity for a few more photos.

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I took an hour to walk in Central Park, but found myself amidst dozens of police vehicles, and after inquiring why, learned that “45” was inside the Park Plaza Hotel, where he thanked the African diplomats for making several of his friends rich, then pointed to the non-existent country of “Nambia” as a model for health care delivery.

At 3:00 I boarded a train for D.C., where my college friend Maurice Dorsey picked me up at Union Station and hosted me for the next three nights at his home in downtown Washington.

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Maurice recently retired from an upper management position at the US Department of Agriculture, and his most important post retirement work has been as an author, writing “Businessman First,” a biography of Henry Parks, a pioneering African American entrepreneur from Baltimore.

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Since learning about the September, 2016 opening of the African-American History Museum, I knew I had to add Washington, D.C. to my next trip to the east coast.  Due to its enormous popularity (it’s the newest museum at the Smithsonian; 1 million visitors to date), admission is by ticket only.  I was disappointed to learn the first available tickets were for December, but planned to go online at the dot of 6:30 a.m. for a few tickets made available each day.  Unsuccessful, we arrived at the museum at 12:30 in order to be in line for a few timed entry tickets available each day at 1 p.m.   In luck, we were inside the museum at 1:10.

I wouldn’t call the exterior attractive.

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The lobby is large, nondescript and uninviting — devoid of art, history or color.  But on the way to the lowest level where history begins in the 15th century, there is a vast wall projection of uncaptioned black and white images of African-Americans  over the past 150 years.  Emotionally compelling, the slide show provides a hint of what the visitor is about to experience.

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Included in the exhibits were Unitarians and Universalists. We lost two of our own martyred at Selma:  the Rev. James Reeb (whom I met when he was at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C.) and Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit woman who marched with other Unitarians from Michigan.

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In two hours, I covered two out of the first three below ground floors.  It was Maurice’s 4th visit.  I told him I would like to visit for two hours a week, and perhaps in a month I could cover all the exhibits.

Having spent 1970-73 as a civil rights activist and community organizer, and considering myself relatively well read on African-American history, the most overwhelming impression I had from my brief visit was to learn how very little I really know and how much I have to learn.

Our first night in D.C., Maurice suggested we have dinner at Lupo Verde, a highly rated Italian restaurant which opened in 2015.  It wasn’t actually the food which attracted us, but rather the history of the place.  In 1931, my father moved with his family from the Bronx to Washington, D.C.  His father, a Vaudeville violinist, was out of a job in the depression, and a cousin encouraged him to open a mom and pop grocery in D.C. My grandparents rented a building constructed in the 1890s: the first floor became the grocery store and the second floor is where my grandparents, my uncle and my father lived.  When a Safeway opened across the street, my grandmother started buying produce from them, since she could buy it more cheaply retail than she could from their suppliers.  Needless to say, the grocery business didn’t last, and within a year  they converted their inventory to liquor — a commodity which remained in demand in the inner city neighborhood during the 27 years they stayed in business at 14th and T Streets, Northwest.  In the image below, my grandfather is on the right, with the canned goods behind him.Schuman's grocers (1)

There’s an interesting story about opening day at Schuman’s grocers.  A delivery truck brought a cage full of live chickens, and my grandmother asked, “What do you expect me to do with them?”  My grandfather told her she needed to kill the chickens, pluck their feathers and cut them up for sale.  To which she replied that he could either do it himself or hire a butcher.  So in the back of the store, you can see the butcher in the photo, probably from 1931.

There hasn’t been a trip I’ve taken to D.C. in which I haven’t stopped by 14th and T Streets to see what’s happened to the building.  My grandparents sold the store to an African-American businessman in 1957, and I think he spent at least 20 years at that location.  The building remained unoccupied for at least 10  years until Antonio Matarazzo purchased it and gutted the inside, converting it to use as an upscale Italian restaurant.

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The restoration has beautifully preserved the character of this historic building, while converting the interior to its contemporary function.  We dined at the table for two in the foreground.  As a child visiting my grandparents, I slept on a couch four feet to the right of our table.  My father’s childhood bed was against the left window at the far end of the room.  _DSF6020

Here’s the bar, which is in the same location where my grandfather was standing in the first photograph._DSF6022

And what it looked like in the daytime while it was being cleaned.

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My grandparents’ patio has become a place for alfresco dining._DSF6024

My grandfather at Schuman’s Liquors

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One summer there was a break-in to my grandparents’ apartment on the 2d floor while they were asleep.  When my grandmother realized the burglar had taken jewelry and cash from the bedroom dresser, she told my grandfather that the man must have seen her naked, to which my grandfather replied, “You want to put on your nightgown, and I’ll invite him back?”  Their bedroom window is on the left.

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I’m glad I researched the changes made to the building before I visited.  I felt nothing but positive emotions and happiness as we dined on  exquisite southern Italian cuisine offered at Lupo Verde. If my grandparents were alive, I’m sure they would be pleased.

Maurice offered to drive me to the Jewish cemetery in Adelphi, Maryland, where my grandparents are buried.  It was a lovely place, and I felt privileged to visit.

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On my last day in Washington, Maurice offered to take me anywhere I wanted to visit. He suggested we begin at the University of Maryland, where we had been classmates from 1968-70.  He drove us by the dormitories where we lived, but we argued about which one was mine.  I insisted it was Easton Hall, but he disagreed.  From there I asked to see the Skinner Building, where in April, 1970 I was arrested during a protest by 86 students and a chaplain. We objected to the dismissal of a member of the Department of Philosophy due to his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War.

 

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We were known as the “Skinner 87.”  Charges against me were dismissed (they couldn’t identify me in a police photograph), and they found the chaplain guilty and sentenced him to jail time “to set an example.”  Most of the students were found guilty and fined.

That same year, I was involved with two friends in a takeover of a Unitarian pulpit at Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Bethesda, Maryland — a church where I had been a member for five years and on the board of trustees.  We were protesting the church’s lack of support for empowerment of black Unitarian Universalists in what was known as the Black Affairs Council.  In addition, the church had refused to take a stand against the war in Vietnam and declined to house members of the Poor Peoples’ Campaign sponsored by Southern Christian Leadership Council, claiming it had insufficient bathroom facilities despite housing a religious education program which was home to 500 children.  Our takeover was widely publicized, including a front page story in the Washington Evening Star and an editorial in the Washington Post which referred to us as brownshirts and thugs.

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Here is the church sanctuary, virtually unchanged since the 1960s, and in the second photo, I’m standing in front of the same lectern we seized in 1970.

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The years at Cedar Lane played a significant role in my psychological, political and spiritual development, and I wanted to visit to see how it had changed in the 47 years since I had left.  I was 15 when I joined the church in 1963, and its associate minister, the Rev. William R. Moors, was an important mentor. (He had moved to the Unitarian Church of Rockville a few years before our takeover in 1970.)

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I was warmly welcomed by the staff member who greeted me, and I was shocked when she said there might be a record of my membership in a card file. _DSF6082

The typed name and address on this 3×5″ index card has been kept in a file drawer for 54 years!  You can see that I used to go by my first name (Steve), and in 1968 I began using my middle name.  Although I joined the church in 1963, apparently my name was read to the congregation as a new member in 1964.  After leaving Cedar Lane in the spring of 1970, I changed my membership to All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, D.C.  Something else I certainly didn’t expect to learn at Cedar Lane was that Maurice’s memory of my dorm at the University of Maryland was correct and mine was wrong:  I lived at Hagerstown Hall!  My telephone number at the university is preserved on the card, and it includes my address during the year I spent at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Then the helpful staff member pulled out two more index cards directly behind mine.

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In the bottom card, I learned that my mother’s sister (Unitarian since the 1940s) had apparently tried to proselytize my parents to Unitarianism in 1956!  In the upper card, you can see that my mother developed an interest in the church and was on the mailing list in 1967.  My parents became Unitarian Universalists a few years after I did and attended a church in Ft. Lauderdale for a few years after moving to Florida in 1984.

After all this traveling, Maurice and I were famished, so I suggested we visit my neighborhood delicatessen, which continues to serve as wonderful food as it did when I lived in Silver Spring.  I met the owner and grabbed a photo with him.  We had my traditional favorite meal:  corned beef, cole slaw and Russian dressing on rye bread, and cheesecake for dessert.

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We planned a visit to my childhood home, but had a couple of hours to kill, so I suggested we visit an obscure medical museum which was located about five minutes from the deli.

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Many exhibits were devoted to post-traumatic stress in veterans, but there were also some amazing historical objects, including these.

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Before heading to my childhood home, I suggested we visit Rosemary Hills Elementary School, where I attended 4th, 5th and 6th grades beginning in 1957. Maryland’s public schools had been strictly segregated, and black children who lived in Lyttonsville — a neighborhood of dirt roads and wooden shacks located only six blocks from my house, attended their own schools — underfunded and inferior to ours.  After the “Brown vs. Board of Education” supreme court decision in 1954, Montgomery County built a new elementary school, and I was in its first class. My teachers were all African American, having been transferred from the black segregated facilities when they closed. I thought the staff might enjoy hearing about the first class that had opened Rosemary Hills in 1957.

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Maurice followed behind me into the building (we were buzzed in) and I introduced myself to the secretary in the school office, explaining I had been in the first class and had attended three grades beginning in 1957.  She looked at me with what I read as fear or terror. I couldn’t understand her body language, but her words were clear. “You’ll have to leave. Visitors are not welcome at any time.  We can’t have people wandering around the building.”  And with that, she physically escorted me to the front door, as I exclaimed to Maurice, “We’re being thrown out.”

I was shaking with anger, and couldn’t believe what had just happened. Maurice has had two partners, both of them white men. He told me that when he became involved with them he warned them that they were going to be rudely shocked at how they would be treated when seen in public with him.  “You’re going to lose your privilege,” he explained, and said that he seriously doubted I would have been treated that way had I been alone.   “There isn’t a day I breathe that I haven’t been discriminated against by twelve o’clock.  If you’re with a black person, you’ll be treated the same.  In restaurants, they seat us in the far corner by the kitchen.  We’re often ignored while waiting to be served. I’m followed when I shop in a department store.  It doesn’t matter that I’m wearing $3000 worth of clothing and in a Brooks Brothers suit every workday — I’m treated the same way I would be if I were 20 years old in a hoodie. ”    Maurice has two masters’ degrees and a Ph.D.  His position in the Department of Agriculture had him evaluating multi-million dollar grants to rural southern farmers. He received telephone comments from applicants like this: “Be sure to approve my loan application in a hurry — I don’t want it going to some nigra in your department who’s slow as molasses.  Understand?”   When he chose to cab home from his job downtown at the Department of Agriculture, taxis would regularly pass him by.  When he finally got one to stop, he asked them why.  “Black agriculture employees always go to Anacostia (a black neighborhood).  We don’t want to drive you there.”

On the plane home from Washington, I was seated next to a pharmacist who is an executive consultant to the American Pharmaceutical Association. She had been the only black woman in pharmacy school at the University of Illinois, and received a failing grade on a final exam.  She didn’t believe the grade was legitimate and asked the professor to show her the exam. When  he refused, she appealed to the dean, who explained that professors had the right to show or not show graded papers to students. She was expelled.  School had been difficult, and her high school teachers and counselors had discouraged her from applying to a university, encouraging her to attend a trade school instead.  Maurice told me he was given the same advice at his all white high school in Ellicott City, Maryland.

The pharmacy student was eventually readmitted to the University, but was repeatedly told by professors she should not seek any position other than that of a retail pharmacist and should not seek further academic degrees.  She didn’t believe them.  Despite becoming a mother at 19, being abandoned by her husband and  supporting three children, she got a doctorate of pharmacy degree and became a top level pharmacy administrator, overseeing pharmacy programs for the federal government and administering multi-million dollar grants.

I admitted to my seat mate and to Maurice that I hadn’t known that having financial security, expensive clothes and a Ph.D. wouldn’t immunize an African American from regularly becoming the victim of racial discrimination.  This was an epiphany I hadn’t expected.  It took a trip to Washington, D.C. for me to learn this at the age of 69.

We drove four more blocks to my former home on Milford Avenue.  We were warmly greeted by Elaine and Phil, who had purchased the house from my parents in 1984 and were just one year short of living in the house as long as my parents had.  I learned about all our former neighbors (most had died), and we were invited to see my bedroom. Like Antonio, Elaine and Phil had been good to their house, and it remained a warm and nurturing environment.

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Two days of air travel and 2 cities in four days.  It was a whirlwind trip, but worth every penny, if only for what I had learned.

Eric Schuman, September, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Invited to a Death

Two years have passed, and I’m still not at peace about my friend “Rachel’s” death. She’d been sick with chronic lung disease for years. Attached to oxygen, she was a dinner guest at our home a few weeks before her planned “Death With Dignity,” the law permitting terminally ill Oregonians to take their own lives with poison prescribed by their personal physicians.  She continued to accompany friends to lunch and managed for herself a few days of the week.  She could prepare simple meals, but also relied on a housekeeper and a loyal and loving partner who traveled from a neighboring city to spend Thursday-Sunday.

Why am I thinking of her today?  I was reading a 1988 issue of “Life” magazine which Rachel gave me shortly before her death. Called “150 Years of Photography,” she knew I would treasure it.

Rachel was always interesting; always fun to be with. She had been a rebellious teen who was raised in Seattle and San Francisco.  She owned a bar, and later an art gallery.  Poisoned by her patrons’ cigarette smoke, she lived until her mid 80s.  One of her husbands threatened her with a rifle, pilfered her savings account and stole her coin collection.  She never saw him again.

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Rachel’s greatest joys in life were music, poetry and art. There wasn’t a bare spot on her wall — it was all filled with beautiful art.  She was proud of her decades of sobriety.  In her first six months at AA, she didn’t speak a word.  When her turn came to talk, she said “I pass. ”

She finally found the courage to say, “My name is Rachel, and I’m an alcoholic.”  She told me that she listened very carefully to other people’s words,  found a nucleus of supporters and “the most wonderful sponsor — a glorious creature who became my mentor and a lifelong friend.”

Rachel loved the out of doors and she always had a soft spot in her heart for animals.  She was a member of an activist church in Los Angeles in the 60s — explaining that she and her fellow Unitarians had eggs thrown at them while marching for  environmental justice and civil rights for African Americans.

She shared her plans to end her suffering with me about 4 months before her death.  I offered to be present, and she asked me to attend.  I joined two of her friends, her daughter, granddaughter and Rachel’s partner of 11 years on that summer day in 2013 when she took her own life.  Just before leaving for her house, I thought of bringing my camera. I asked her if it was ok to take photographs, and she agreed, as did all who were present.

She made a short speech of farewell, then we accompanied her to the bedroom, where she swallowed the bitter medicine, then said, “It wasn’t that awful:  I thought it would taste like cat shit.” She laid down on the bed, and in a few short minutes closed her eyes, and she was gone.   I guess Rachel couldn’t resist making us laugh at the very end — what a brilliant closing, especially considering it had to have been spontaneous.

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I wanted to give her a meaningful gift, so I offered Rachel my talent.  I asked if she would like me to help her write a memoir she could share with a few friends and family after she was gone.  We spent a couple of evenings together while I interviewed her, and I sent her the final draft so that she could correct anything I’d gotten wrong. A few weeks later she called to tell me she had shown it to her daughter, who forbade her from sharing the memoir.  I didn’t fully understand the reason, but I respected her right to make the decision, and I didn’t try to persuade her to change her mind.

Because I loved Rachel and because I still think of her often, I decided to share my memories.

Why Kaiser Permanente Never Fired Me

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To date, “Adventures and Images” has been a travel blog, but in this installment, the nature of the adventure changes.  Instead of a travel adventure, I’m taking readers on a walk through a hellacious episode from my past — one that happened in my professional capacity as a physician assistant and as a writer for a medical journal.

Like me, many people have recurring nightmares based on a fear (rational or irrational) or lack of self worth, whether conscious or not.  My nightmare is always the same:  I’m in college, enrolled in a class I loathe.  I haven’t studied for the final exam, and I’m at the venue for the test, completely unprepared.   Since 1970, the dreaded dream has occurred as often as several times a month.

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It was a complete surprise when at the age of 80, my father told me he had been having the identical nightmare since he was 20!  Could nightmares have a genetic pathway, or were we both such screw-ups in college that our youthful failings resulted in psychic trauma that plagued us for decades?

Fortunately, in the past year I can’t recall awakening with the dreaded apparition, but that doesn’t mean I no longer experience unpleasant dreams.  On a recent summer’s eve, I awoke from another nightmare, and in this one I was told that in two weeks my 24 years at Kaiser Permanente would be over — I was being fired.   My partner Lorn was speaking to a Kaiser R.N. I’d never met, and he told me about their conversation.

 

“It’s true,” he said.  “In two weeks, you’ll be history.  Clear your desk and get out.”  I had hoped it was just a nasty rumor — that I’d be able to continue to work there until I retired.  What would I do?  I was terrified.

Of course, it was then that I woke up.  It took me a few minutes to realize that what I had dreamt wasn’t real; that I had retired two and a half years ago; that I still worked a few days each month at Kaiser and that as far as I knew, no one planned to tell me to pack my bags.

Many will relate to this dream, but in my case, there was a time that this scenario came very close to reality.  Kaiser Permanente is the largest health maintenance organization in the United States, with beginnings in the 1940s when Henry Kaiser searched for a way to provide medical care for thousands of workers building aqueducts in California.   In 1997 the Northwest Region of Kaiser (Oregon and Washington) became the first Kaiser region to roll out an electronic medical record system, and its EMR called EpicCare was later leased to  hundreds of health care corporations all over the United States.

Because of our excitement in the Northwest Kaiser Region over what we knew was likely to revolutionize the way health care is structured and delivered, in 1997 I decided to write a two part article for a national medical journal on the development and realization of our EMR — one of the first in the nation.  The journal’s publisher, Medical Economics, was then probably the largest publisher of medical periodicals in North America. I wrote a regular column in one of their journals called “Notes from the Northwest,” where I told stories of interesting patient encounters and provided a behind the scenes look at the political and social world which clinicians called home.

I spent six months writing the two articles.  I interviewed clinicians, patients and Kaiser administrators. Illustrations included “screen shots” from patients’ electronic charts. I took  photographs of the medical record and sent them electronically to Medical Economics headquarters in New Jersey, with explicit instructions for the publisher to redact any personal information — names, addresses, phone numbers and medical record numbers.

At the end of the project, I excitedly waited for the hard copy journal to reach my desk at my office in Salem, Oregon. I was thrilled with anticipation of the prestige the article would bring Kaiser for its pioneering work, and I was proud to have participated in its creation.

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The day finally arrived.  There was the story on the cover, and as I turned the pages to the article’s beginning, I gasped when I saw the first illustration: a page from a patient’s chart with her name, medical record number, and 10 or more test results. I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Although it had happened at least 4 months before, I explicitly remembered telling the journal’s editor to have his graphics department remove all personal information, but had I asked him verbally or was it in an e-mail? I frantically looked through six months of e-mails to the editor, and I came up completely blank.

To understand the depth and scope of this violation of patient confidentiality, I  offer this perspective.  I have seen physicians whose negligence results in a patient’s death who were defended in a courtroom by Kaiser attorneys, as well as provided counseling for the grief they must have suffered.  Every clinician makes mistakes; some worse than others.

But to violate a patient’s confidentiality is a heinous and inexcusable error; it is well known by all employees that the offender is subject to immediate dismissal.  I called the editor at Medical Economics to tell him about the gaff and asked if he remembered a conversation with me or an e-mail instructing him to redact all personal information before publication.  He didn’t, but he promised to search his files  and let me know if he came up with anything. He also assured me that if they had agreed to remove the information, they would take complete responsibility for any consequences, but I wasn’t really sure what that meant.

The next step was to phone my boss, a Kaiser Vice President who oversaw our development of the EMR.  I was employed by his department as a trainer in advanced efficiencies for clinicians who used the system. After hearing the story, he instructed me to phone Kaiser’s legal department and explain what had happened.

I had a sense of disbelief that I was experiencing this scenario from hell — a nightmare I never thought I would face in my career. At that point, I was resigned to be fired and felt the punishment would be completely justified.  I had made an extremely serious error by allowing a patient’s medical information out of the clinic without taking personal responsibility for removing all identifying data before sending it.  That I trusted the largest medical publisher in the world to do so with its vast technical resources was naive and just plain wrong.

Later that day, I received a phone call from Kaiser’s medical director, Allan Weiland, M.D.  I had met Dr. Weiland at social functions, but I doubt he knew me and we weren’t friends.After he identified himself, I was certain he was calling to fire me.  I wasn’t angry; I was completely prepared for the outcome. The conversation went something like this.  “Eric, this is Al Weiland.  I’ve heard about the patient’s personal information in the magazine article you wrote. We need to do the right thing,  and I want you to call her and tell her what happened. Show her the journal.  Then call and report back to me.”

The next problem was that she wasn’t my patient; she was the patient of another physician who worked on my team. Dr. Weiland told me to have that doctor contact the patient, then get back to him by the end of the day.  I told the physician and he seemed annoyed — not so much at me, but because he felt Dr. Weiland was making a big deal out of very little. I couldn’t have disagreed more.  I told him to contact me as soon as he met with the patient so I could call Dr. Weiland as I had agreed.

At 4:30 I hadn’t heard from the physician, so I went to his office and asked him if he had done as Dr. Weiland asked.  Still looking annoyed, he said he had — that the patient had no questions and didn’t want to see the article. I called Dr. Weiland and gave him the news. He said, “Eric, we’ve done the right thing and the matter is over.”  I honestly can’t remember what I felt at that moment.  Perhaps I cried.  Perhaps I didn’t really believe it was over.  It was much too long ago.

A few days later, I received a call from the magazine’s editor at Medical Economics. “Eric, I found the e-mail you sent, and your instructions to me were exactly as you said. I’ve already sent an overnight letter to you at Kaiser with our agreement to assume full responsibility for any legal or economic damages Kaiser or you might suffer as a result of the breach and error on our part. Please accept my heartfelt apologies.  I know you must have been through hell in the past few days.”

I sent the letter to our attorneys and Dr. Weiland, but no one ever raised the matter with me again.  Nevertheless, their silence failed to erase the shame I felt. Six months later, I was at a Christmas party sponsored by the department charged with clinician EMR training, and I cringed when I saw Dr. Weiland walk in.  I made a point to move to the other side of the room.  After a few minutes, I felt so uncomfortable that I started down the stairs to leave, but I heard someone call my name.  The voice sounded uncannily familiar: it was Dr. Weiland’s.  What could he possibly want?

After shaking my hand and smiling, he said there was a Kaiser physician who had recently retired on medical disability due to severe, chronic headaches. He knew my clinical expertise was as a headache specialist, and he asked me to offer her a second opinion.  He knew how much she had been suffering.

It wasn’t until that evening that I felt I had been forgiven for my transgression, and I will forever be grateful that Dr. Weiland treated me with such kindness and had the integrity to handle a potential legal and publicity disaster with as much wisdom and grace.

Al Weiland
Al Weiland, M.D., former medical director, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, at the author’s retirement party, December, 2012
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The author with 2 other good friends and guests

 

 

Au revoir, Paris!

Like romance, marriage is a recurring theme on the streets of Paris. Many couples pick familiar Paris icons for wedding photo shoots.  This couple chose the facade of Notre Dame Cathedral, a short walk from our apartment.

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The groom is checking the photographer’s image.
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Maybe he liked my street photography

This couple was showing off on the pedestrian bridge between Ile St Louis and Notre Dame, around the corner from  our apartment.  Should we have invited them in for a drink?

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A pick up game of soccer at Pompidou Center

 

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Being a tourist at the Louvre is exhausting
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A modern sculpture plaza where adults and kids can play

 

Montmartre and Sacre Coeur Basilica– a neighborhood for street artists (and thousands of tourists).

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Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart)

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Don’t you love the hair?

 

 

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Having fun; a little self conscious

 

 

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Artist with a smile

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Can you guess the function of the steel box to the left of the basket? It’s an old method of raising and lowering shop awnings

 

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In a past life, Valerie worked as a food photographer.  I persuaded her to give us a lesson at a bakery in Montmartre.

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Citron: lemon
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Jack Russell puppy, mugging for my classmate’s camera

 

Au revoir, Paris, and thank you for reading my summer travel blog from Europe!

Next week I’m going to surprise you with a terrifying tale of professional misery.  Stay tuned…

Street Photography in Paris

Our first day in Paris, Valerie led us on a short walk from the Pantheon to Luxembourg Gardens, a beautiful and expansive island of tranquility in the middle of the city.

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You can see the Pantheon from almost anywhere in Paris. It’s where each of our excursions began
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Luxembourg Gardens
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Luxembourg Gardens

For over 100 years, it has been a tradition for children to launch miniature sailboats in the pools, something I did with my grandfather in the reflecting pool at the Washington (D.C.) Monument in the early 1950s. DSC_0029 DSC_0033

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Chillin’

I never came up with a consistent theme for the images I produced in Paris, but if I could have chosen just one, it would have been “lovers.”   They were everywhere. DSC_0087

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age is of no matter, especially in Paris

 

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They’re married — but doubtfully to one another

My next theme would be “character.”  The people you see in Paris are full of character.   Take this delightful gentleman, a bracelet vendor at the Pompidou Center plaza.  He didn’t want his photograph taken, but after chatting him up for a few minutes, he said, “Oh, go ahead — I don’t mind.”

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Happy bracelet vendor

Where but Paris would you stumble upon a poetry fair in a tiny city park?  “Doily woman” (that’s what I call her) was promoting something to the fair goers, but I have no idea what it was.

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The Poetry Fair

 

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Listening to poetry
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Valerie said this was the quintessential French woman

 

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Danger! (actually my partner Lorn, clowning)
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Valerie claimed these two were boyfriend and girlfriend, but how could she know?

Taking a field class in photography is a fabulous way to learn and to push your boundaries. While in a class, you’ll be better motivated to try new techniques than if you’re on your own.  (Ok, I’m speaking just for me.)   Another example of this is the decision street photographers make regarding how and whether to approach strangers when we shoot them.  Do we ask permission?  Just shoot, smile and keep walking? Plant ourselves in one place and shoot what appeals to us?  Or use a 200 mm telephoto lens and become the inconspicuous photographer?   I’ve used all of these techniques and almost never had a problem with any of them.  None is right or wrong. Let’s look at some examples.

The classy guy in formal attire was being photographed simultaneously on a busy street by 8 people from about 20 feet away.  I doubt he even saw us.   I wasn’t more than ten feet from “the quintessential French woman” or the seated woman wearing the seaman’s hat.  I chatted up the bracelet vendor and he eventually gave me permission.  I wanted to get to know him a bit first.   None of the lovers, the sleepers or the child sailors had a clue they were being photographed, and I doubt any of them cared.

Teacher Valerie Jardin seldom raises her camera to her eye to photograph on the street.  She leaves the camera strap around her neck, looks down at the LCD screen and shoots people from her waist, leaving them unaware.  Sometimes she pretends to be looking at her cell phone, which is also at her waist. International street photographer Eric Kim calls that method (and the use of long lenses) “sneaky.” He approaches his subject, and less than 10 feet from them, raises the camera to his eye, snaps the photo, smiles and says “thank you.”

The point of street photography is that people choose to be in a public space, and street photography is both legal and ethical.  When people are at public attractions or events, they expect to see photographers.  It’s part of our culture.  Although most professional street photography teachers discourage shooting with long lenses from afar, my favorite street photo ever was taken in Arles, France in a public square amidst hundreds of people from 100 feet away. (You saw it in my first post, “It was Paris.”)

Here’s another for you to consider.  On our way to the plaza in front of the Louvre, our class was crossing one of Paris’ many bridges over the River Seine. I saw the most striking woman in black — tall, wearing leather pants and a leather shoulder bag.  I knew I had to photograph her.  I snapped a quick profile, but she was walking so quickly, I didn’t think I would catch her for a portrait.

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Bridge with “lovers’ locks” on the railing

I was really disappointed to lose that opportunity, but when we arrived at the Louvre, lo and behold, there she was!  I started speaking to her in French, then learned that despite being born in Haiti, she only spoke English.   (She lived in Brooklyn.) I explained I was in a photography class and that I found her to be a striking subject, and I asked if she would give me five minutes of her time.  She was such a fabulous and beautiful subject, after the shoot it was difficult for me to find a photograph of her I didn’t like.  (Usually, if you get 2-3 good shots out of 100, you’re thrilled.) dsc_0737 - Copy

 

Speaking of characters, this guy occupied the same table in the artists’ colony of Montmartre for hours.  Can’t say how many drinks he downed in that time. Technically it’s not the best photograph, but another face with character. (Reminds me of Hemingway.)

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Cafe, Montmartre

The subjects in Paris are limitless.  If you’re into architecture, there’s hardly a block without interest.  One morning Valerie took us to the Marais — the Jewish Quarter, and told us that the best falaffel to be had in Europe was at this little luncheonette.

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And here’s the waiter taking orders outside and transmitting them by text to the cook a few yards behind him.

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See the couple eating falaffel to the waiter’s left?

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I know they loved it — I did, too.  We ate at a table inside, and the communal water for our group was in an old wine bottle.  Although street photographs usually include people, Valerie said that sometimes inanimate objects can help tell a story, and story telling is what street photography is all about.  Photographers call the soft impressions behind a subject “bokeh.”

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In the next installment, we’ll conclude our visit to Paris and the fabulous week of street photography.

 

 

Paris, at last

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It’s all about Paris, but where to start?  Perhaps it sounds trite, but I’ve always loved Paris.  I was bitten by the bug in 1960 when I first studied French in junior high school.   I speak the language well enough to be understood, but I suspect a 4 year old has three times my vocabulary.  No matter — I find the French no different than other Europeans.  Many speak English and most everyone is patient and helpful if like me, you smile and seem a bit helpless.  We had no difficulty navigating the Metro, finding our way on the streets or getting where we wanted to go.  Lorn spent most of the days alone while I was in class with fellow students from Chicago, Ottawa, San Francisco, Indianapolis and Tel Aviv.
We were fortunate to find an apartment through a friend who visits Paris often.  I couldn’t believe our good luck — a stunning two level apartment on Ile St. Louis, just across a pedestrian bridge from Notre Dame!  We couldn’t have discovered a more perfect location, and the place was immaculate.
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Rue Le Grattier, Ile St. Louis

 

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Our class at the Pantheon, June, 2014
As I reflect on the experience of studying photography in France, my week long class could best be described as having a very competent and personable street photographer (Valerie Jardin) facilitate great opportunities for walking, shooting and socializing on the streets of one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in the world.  We didn’t experience much formal teaching — I guess we were expected to pick up skills from our experience and from what we shared with our classmates.  There was only one formal critique session where we sat down with other students to review the week’s images, and that was on the last day.  My only regret was that those sessions didn’t happen more often.
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Valerie Jardin, Street Photographer
Nevertheless, we had interesting places to visit every stunningly beautiful day, as well as challenges which resulted in growth I hadn’t expected.  Perhaps the best example of this was the day we took the metro to our destination and were told, “You’ll be at the most photographed icon in the world.  Your assignment is to photograph the Eiffel Tower in a way it has never been captured before.”
I was not happy. Street photography is almost always about people — not monuments.  Most of the class went off in pairs or groups of three.  I had no desire to socialize, or even to share my feelings about a waste of two perfectly good hours we could spend anywhere but at a place with thousands of other tourists.  Yuck.
So off I went, searching for an original way to capture the tower.  Valerie provided a couple of hints, including a suggestion that we photograph from behind a carousel.  I worked at it, finally figuring out that if you wanted to illuminate a black horse in the foreground and have the tower appear softly in the background, you had to think of the horse as you would a black Labrador retriever — use your flash!  It worked.
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Thirty minutes gone by; where to next? I just started walking — the plaza surrounding the tower is immense and must cover the area of several football fields.  About 1/4 mile from the tower, I saw 5 young women taking selfies.  They were so self absorbed, I’m sure they never noticed me framing them in the tower’s arch.
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One of the joys of travel is the excitement of discovery, and what better place to discover art and music than Paris.  Imagine my delight when I discovered this virtuoso classical musician playing in the Paris Metro, hardly noticed by Parisians on their way to work.  We were at the Metro stop for the Orangerie, an impressionist gallery we visited on a morning off.  Watch this 1 minute clip of her performance, and you’ll see what I mean.
Back to the assignment.  I saw dozens of French kids on field trips, doing what kids do — running, playing, doing somersaults.  How do capture a kid with the Tower behind him, while unobstrusive enough to avoid the “creep factor” of paparazzi shooting children?
Be unobstrusive, I thought, just part of the landscape.  So I positioned myself sitting on the ground, shooting up at the tower, with the kids between me and the icon.  Here’s what I saw.
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Making rounds some more, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw an older woman (by that I mean someone close to my age) in a dress with lines that complemented and partially mirrored the lines of the Tower.  She was busily engaged in a family portrait with about 8 people — none of whom could quite figure out where the shutter was located on their point and shoot camera.  When she finished, I approached her and said I was in a photography class and would love to take a picture of her with the Tower in the background, but what I most wanted was her back!  She agreed.
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So I believe I fulfilled the assignment — I don’t think anyone has ever taken this photograph of the Eiffel Tower before.  Agreed?
In the next segment of “Adventures and Images,” I’ll share more photographs of the people of Paris and the places we captured them.

 

Calamity

If you’re reading “Adventures and Images” for the first time, welcome!  Because the first 4 installments tell a chronological story, you may want to read the other three posts first. There is a link to each prior post at the bottom left.  Most of the posts I’ve written so far tell the story of our 3 week journey this summer to Budapest, Prague and Paris. Most are generously populated with my photography.  The brief story that follows is an exception.

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You’ll recall in the first post from Budapest that the European trip was built around a week long class in street photography where I would study and shoot with Valerie Jardin in Paris. I packed a nearly new camera my dad had given me as a present, which would be the camera I would use for the course.  (A mirrorless Fujifilm X-Pro 1.)  I brought a new camera bag my instructor recommended, and a fabulous lens I had just purchased for the class. In addition, I brought along a small Canon S95 “point and shoot” for times outside of class where I wanted the smallest camera hanging from my belt.

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Fujifilm X Pro 1

The night before leaving Budapest for Prague, I packed the camera and camera bag into a roll aboard suitcase for the train trip the next morning. A taxi took us to the train station, and we waited with the bags until a porter helped us onto the train.  All the bags went directly over our seats.  We never left the seats at the same time, and the bags were never out of sight — not for a second.  I did take the roll aboard down briefly to retrieve an article, then put it right back overhead.

When we arrived in Prague, Lorn was napping while I was unpacking.  I opened the roll aboard, and the camera case, the camera and lens were all gone.  In disbelief, I searched the apartment dozens of times.  I contacted the manager at our apartment in Budapest, convinced I must have taken out the camera bag sometime before we left.  No one had been in the apartment after our departure.  I offered to wire him money to ship my belongings overnight, and another 50 euros for his trouble. He agreed.

The following day he e-mailed me and asked if I’d hidden the bag somewhere.  It wasn’t in the apartment.   Lorn and I verbally retraced every step from Budapest to Prague.  The bags never left our sight!  I vacillated from hysteria to neurotic anxiety.  There was an element of denial for the first day or so.  I still believed I had somehow unpacked the camera and absent mindedly put it somewhere in the Prague apartment, but that turned out to be wishful thinking.

What would I do? I couldn’t possibly do street photography with a point and shoot camera — it isn’t fast enough: you’d miss half the shots. I returned to the train station and was told,   “That train went to Berlin.  If you left something on that train, you’ll never see it again.”

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Train Station, Budapest

I searched trusted photography  sites and considered buying a camera in Prague.  Too little selection; nothing I really wanted.  I researched camera stores in Paris.  There were 7 camera stores in  two blocks located twenty minutes walking distance from our apartment.  Maybe some would have a rental department.  It was the best option — rent a camera for a week and the problem is solved.

Our plane from Prague was scheduled to arrive at 11:30 on Saturday morning. Stores would undoubtedly close at 5:00.  How long would the taxi take from the airport to the apartment? I purposely didn’t look at my watch once during the hour long bumper to bumper crawl into Paris. When we finally arrived, we walked as fast as we could. Arriving at the right place at 2:00, I was thrilled to learn they were open till 7:00.  My class began the following day, Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

Two  of the stores had rental departments, but both were closed on Saturday. Damn. Next option: buy a used camera — lots of stores sold them.  They weren’t much less expensive than buying new, so I finally settled on buying a Nikon D3300 — a new model which had very  favorable reviews, but would be easy to learn because I own a similar Nikon I use for canine photography.

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Nikon D 3300

 

I explained my dilemma to Stephane, the store owner, who was quite sympathetic.  He warned me that the Nikon wouldn’t have a valid warranty in North America (only in Europe) and that the VAT (value added tax) was $135, but he would give me a self addressed envelope I could mail from the airport after the forms were validated, and he would refund the tax to my credit card the very next day.   So I would spend a hefty sum for a new camera I only needed for a week, and I couldn’t expect to sell it because there was no valid warranty in North America.  Well, at least I would get the VAT back.

You may be thinking, “How did Eric post all those pictures from Budapest and Prague without a camera?”  I took all of them with my little Canon point and shoot, which does a pretty decent job.I’ll let you be the judge of the quality of the images I took with the Nikon in Paris, which will be the subject of the next installment of “Adventures and Images.”

Jumping ahead to our return to Oregon, I waited a week for the refund to post to my VISA card, but none appeared. I e-mailed Stephane to ask why I hadn’t been credited with the VAT refund, but in spite of the fact that I knew 3 people in the store had read my e-mail, there was no reply to my inquiry.  I contested $135 of the sale with VISA, and they credited the amount to my card, explaining the merchant had 45 days to dispute my claim.

Stephane later wrote to apologize, explaining he had missed the message in the midst of a change in store location. I still have the Nikon (I really like it), and replaced the Fujifilm Camera with its successor model XT 1.

Oh,  about the Prague police.  I decided I should make a police report of the theft, in case insurance would cover some of the loss.  Despite there being no other “customer” (or criminal) in the police station at 6:15 a.m., it took three hours for them to write a report and issue a case number. The policeman at the station accused me of fabricating the entire story.  (Homeowners’ insurance did not cover the loss — the deductible was too high.)

I’m pleased that although I was certainly anxious and upset about the turn of events, it never came close to ruining the trip, and I never lost a night’s sleep.  The camera was replaceable.  It was a “thing.”  We had our health. We weren’t hurt.  And we loved our travels in Europe.

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Letter from Czech Police: Your case is closed.

“Paying it forward.” One last thought from Prague.

Before I jump into the story of the trauma in Europe…and before we land at Charles DeGaulle airport, I want to tell you a story about a woman named Carol.  She’s a very nice lady with “very big hair” whom I see frequently at breakfast at a fine pancake house in Salem Oregon, where I eat regularly with my 94 year old dad.  About a year ago we had completed our breakfast and the bill wasn’t on the table, so I asked our server for it. “Oh, it’s taken care of,” she said.  Puzzled, I wondered about Governor Kitzhaber, who was the only person I recognized in the restaurant that morning.   But how could he have known that dad and I both voted for him?

It turned out Carol had paid for our breakfast — a woman I’d never spoken with.  The next time I saw her I thanked her for the breakfast, I learned she has been a hairdresser in the same nursing home for THIRTY YEARS.  “There’s so much bad news in the world,” she explained, “I feel like I need to do something good every week. So I buy someone’s coffee behind me in the line at Starbucks, or someone’s breakfast.  Your dad seemed like a neat guy, so that week it was you two.”  She said she believed deeply in the philosophy of “paying it forward.”    Since Carol taught me that valuable lesson, I’ve occasionally participated in the same soul serving exercise.

While on a crowded tram in Prague last month, I saw a teen age boy with a cast on his leg board the trolley, with nowhere to sit. He appeared physically uncomfortable  A very sophisticated and well dressed middle aged woman saw him, and motioned him to take her seat.  I had some tram tickets I knew I couldn’t use, so just before I got off the tram I walked up to her, handing her the tickets.  She appeared startled and confused.  I pointed to the boy’s leg, then to my heart, smiled and said “thank you” in English.  I quickly disembarked from the trolley.  I hope she will remember the day.   I know I will.

 

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Adventures in Prague

We took a lovely 7 hour train ride from Budapest to Praha (Prague), a city many folks on previous European travels insisted we visit.   The most famous spot in town is the Charles Bridge.  It’s peaceful at 8 a.m., but bustling with artists, musicians and tourists for the rest of the day.

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Charles Bridge
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Musicians on Charles Bridge

In my last blog from Budapest, I mentioned we had accidentally discovered a gallery of fantasy art by a single artist which included a bust which Lorn really liked.  I purchased it for his birthday, and he toted this heavy sculpture around Europe in his carry-on bag.

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Art from Budapest

What is referred to as the Jewish Museum is actually a complex of synagogues, museums and a one square block cemetery with 100,000 people buried ten layers deep.  Located in the heart of the ghetto, the grave sites date to the 1300s. Jews couldn’t live or die outside its boundaries.

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Jewish Cemetery

 

 

One of the highlights of the Jewish museum was the Spanish Synagogue. Built in 1868, not only was it the most beautiful of the structures we visited, but a place where we were treated to an evening  concert by a chamber orchestra, featuring music of Gershwin, Bernstein and Vivaldi!

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Spanish Synagogue

 

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Ceiling, Spanish Synagogue
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Jerusalem Synagogue, around the corner from our apartment. Art Nouveau style.

No visit to Prague would be complete without a visit to the Prague Castle, the official residence and office of the President of the Czech Republic.  Dating back to the ninth century, the castle has been a seat of power for kings of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Emperor.  Guinness  lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world.  Overlooking Prague on a high hill, it’s a must see for tourists.

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the City, as seen from Prague Castle

St. Vitus Cathedral is the dominant structure at the top of the Castle complex. Construction began in 1344.

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St. Vitus exterior
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Nave

To me, the most impressive room in the Cathedral was the Chapel of St. Wenceslas, where the relics of the saint are kept. The room was built by Peter Parler between 1344 and 1364 and has a ribbed vault. The lower part of the walls are wonderfully decorated with over 1300 semi-precious stones and paintings about the Passion of Christ dating from the original decoration of the chapel in 1372–1373. The upper part of the walls have paintings about the life of St Wenceslas, created  between 1506 and 1509. In the middle of the wall there is a Gothic statue of St. Wenceslas created by Jindrich Parler (Peter’s nephew) in 1373. The Chapel is not open to the public, but it can be easily viewed from the doorways.

I followed Rick Steves’ advice and went in the mid afternoon, and had all the time I wanted to view this unbelievably beautiful room unobstructed. A small door with seven locks in the south-western corner of the chapel leads to the Crown Chamber containing the Czech crown jewels, which are displayed to the public only once every  eight years.  This was in contrast to the heavily guarded but accessible crown jewels of Hungary, which we saw during a tour of the parliament the previous week.

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St Wenceslas Chapel

Our first day in Prague we toured the city with Marcus, proprietor of “The Naked Tour Guide” (he was clothed).   Other than a night time walk on the hill overlooking the city, his only recommendation at the Castle was a museum called Lobkowicz Palace  https://www.facebook.com/TheLobkowiczCollections

A 1 hour audio guide is narrated by William Lobkowicz, a nobleman raised in Boston during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, who returned to Prague in 1990 to claim his family’s vast holdings of land, 10 palaces and art dating back nearly 1000 years. His ancestors were patrons to both Beethoven and Mozart, and the castle palace houses the original manuscript for Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony, which is dedicated to Prince Joseph Franz Maximilian Lobkowicz, who is also recognized in Joseph Haydn’s “Lobkowicz Quartets.”  Lorn and I both agreed it was the finest and most enjoyable museum we have ever visited.  If you’re ever in Prague, don’t miss it!

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Dogs belonging to William Lobkowicz’ mother, who was an avid lover of animals

As I was leaving the Castle on my second day’s visit, I noticed a crowd of people around a surprising statue of a naked adolescent boy.  I thought it remarkable that people would gather under the boy’s crotch and stroke it, but when I looked online, I saw it was a Prague tradition which allegedly brings good luck!  The statue was built in the early 1900s, which I found remarkable for the time.

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“Lucky” boy statue

Rick Steves and our apartment manager both recommended a venue called “Le Louvre,” a restaurant over 100 years old on the second floor of a downtown building.  It was a delightful and inexpensive place for breakfast or lunch.  Below are my photo and one taken of the same room in about 1910.

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Le Louvre, June, 2014
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Le Louvre, 100 years ago
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Lunch at Le Louvre

Like Budapest, Prague is a very walkable city.  Thanks to “Airbnb,” we were able to find relatively inexpensive apartments in the heart of town — perfect for our needs.  The Prague apartment was an elegant place with high ceilings and beautiful furniture.  Although it was 90 degrees on our last 3 days in the city, the un-air conditioned apartment retained the night’s coolness when we closed it up each morning before venturing out.   We were never uncomfortable inside.

Last year we made a return trip to Vienna, and who wouldn’t want to spend a night at the Vienna Opera?  I’ll tell you the answer:  people who don’t want to spend $300 for a ticket!  Before leaving for Prague, we decided to snag much more affordable tickets to the opera there, and we sure weren’t disappointed.  Rigoletto was my first opera, and I loved every minute.  The opera house was just a five minute walk from our apartment, even closer than the historic downtown area.

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Czech National Opera

It was difficult to decide which was more breathtaking — the performance or the venue!  Before we left for the performance, I read that the opera house is a “coats and tails” kind of place during the Christmas holidays, but the online posts said they never kick anyone out — I was lucky.

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Box seats to our right, but our 6th row center seats were better!
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Wow!
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It’s us — really!
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Mural /graffiti honoring John Lennon

As we ponder the death of a single man whose impact on our world remains, I think the time is appropriate for some serious reflection at what we saw on an excursion to Terezin, a small village one hour from Prague.  You may know it as “Theresienstadt,” which is the German spelling of the infamous Nazi ghetto. We expected a dreary, somber place, but that isn’t what we found.   Much of the city is preserved as a museum to honor the tens of thousands who were murdered there, but it is most well known as a place the Germans used to propagandize their treatment of Jews as humane.  They turned it into an alleged “model city” for Jews and actually fooled a delegation of the international Red Cross into believing them, despite the fact that the delegation didn’t privately interview a single Jew.

When we disembarked from the bus from Prague, we entered a museum in which I saw this inscription and photograph, which made me cry.

 

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And here is the poem Frantisek Bass wrote at Terezin.

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The women’s barracks.

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Just as it looked in 1941.

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In the women’s barracks, a museum was dedicated to the art created by prisoners, much of it hidden, and discovered after the war.  Few of the artists survived.  I was especially impressed by this depiction of life in the ghetto.

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A hidden ghetto synagogue, preserved to this day.  A single room under an apartment.

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A wonderful serendipity coincidence.  The night before our trip to Terezin, we watched a documentary on the Jewish Theater in Terezin during the ghetto years.  A significant portion was conducted in an interview with a lovely gentleman who survived, and upon our entry to the museum, Lorn saw him leading a group of 4 tourists through the town.  I stopped him and told him I had just seen him in a movie.  It was great to meet him!

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Terezin survivor and movie star!

 

 

To lighten things a bit — three current colorful residents of Terezin.  I didn’t understand their response (in Czech) to my request for a portrait, but I left pretty fast…

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In my first blog (our week in Budapest), I concluded there had been some mishap and significant trials between Budapest and Prague.  I told you I would discuss the problem in this post.  For now, suffice it to say that I had to secure the services of the police, and it started with this fellow, who directed me to the police station, only a block from where he stood.  Then why did it take me 45 minutes to find it?  And why did I have to spend 3 hours there beginning at 6:15 the following morning?

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the friendly policeman, but the beginning of a minor nightmare.

To be continued……..

 

It was Paris

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June 1-21, 2014.   Our first trip to Europe alone…without someone else taking responsibility for everything — meals, travel from point to point, baggage, airport transfers, local guides — you name it.  I’ve been a fan of street photography for several years, and 2014 presented just the opportunity I’d been looking for — a professionally led class in a beautiful, exciting city — Paris!

Our teacher was to be Valerie Jardin, a Parisian living in Minnesota who has become a familiar name in the world of street photography.  Eight other students hailed from places like Chicago, Ottawa, Indianapolis, San Francisco and Tel Aviv.

My father (now 94), introduced me to photography when I was 10.  An accomplished black and white photographer, he developed images in his own darkroom. I remember taking my first class when I was 13, and I’ve always been an avid amateur who loves sharing vacation and travel photos with friends.

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Most amateurs shoot landscapes, flowers, and the occasional portrait.  But my interest in beautiful scenery was overshadowed by an experience I had in 2011 while my partner Lorn and I were cruising the Saone River in southern France.  We were in the town of Arles, coincidentally at a time when Roma (“gypsy”) people were converging on the town from all over Europe and western Asia — a regular spring ritual/festival.  The day we arrived in the town square, we were privileged to observe the pagentry, colors and festive costumes of celebrants from a dozen countries.   Every sense I had was alive, and I shot hundreds of pictures, none more memorable than this portrait of Romas at a wedding. (click on the image to enlarge)

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I follow several street photographers’ blogs and Facebook pages, and for the past three years I’ve been looking for just the right street photography class in a perfect location.  On our previous trips to Europe, fellow travelers would often ask whether we’d visited Prague, and when we said we hadn’t, expressed surprise, telling us “You must visit Prague.”  So we decided that our next trip to Europe we’d return to Budapest (a city we’d previously visited only briefly) and spend time in Prague.  And so it was, we decided to spend a week each in 3 cities: Budapest, Prague and Paris.

BUDAPEST

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A dear Hungarian friend in Nelson, New Zealand piqued our interest in the two cities straddling the Danube (formerly known as Buda and Pest) many years ago, and we regretted she wasn’t with us.  We engaged a guide whom we first met on our 2011 trip.  Gabor Bur (pictured with his partner at  dinner) is a professor of history at the university, and an expert on the history of Jews in Hungary, so he was a wonderful guide to the city.

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You might think it odd to spend hours trekking to and through a cemetery on the city’s outskirts, but Gabor thought it important enough for us to visit the burial place of 300,000  Jews, many reburied  following the Holocaust.  550,000 of Hungary’s 825,000 Jews were murdered.  For reasons I’ll discuss later, the only cemetery image I can share is that of an art nouveau mausoleum in a place where poets, artists and intellectuals’ remains are everywhere.

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Hungary was one of the last countries in Europe to have its Jewish population moved east to the crematoria.  One of the most well publicized atrocities occurred on the banks of the Danube, where Hungarian members of the Arrow Cross (a pro Nazi faction) lined men, women and children up on the edge of the Danube, tied them together with rope or shoelace and shot every third one, avoiding waste of precious ammunition so that 2 would drown and one die from gunshot.  80,000 died during the 1944 siege of the Arrow Cross. A memorial was erected to the victims on the Pest bank of the river, where the murders were committed.

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We rented apartments in each of our destinations, and all were located right in the heart of the city — walking distance from most all the desirable attractions.  When a destination was too far to walk, we took a tram or a subway, and we found them easy to navigate and pay for.  Of the 3 countries we visited, only France uses the Euro for currency, so we came prepared with Euros, Hungarian forints and Czech korunas (crowns).

On our first trip to Budapest I was disappointed not to be able to visit the Parliament, which I consider one of the most beautiful buildings in the western world.  So we purchased tickets online before leaving the States, and it was a delightful tour of a magnificent structure.

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On our first full day in Budapest we walked through the Great Market, marveling at the  wide variety of fresh foods, especially European cheeses. Lorn made arrangements for us to visit a maze called Claustrophilia, where you are locked in 2 rooms, presented with difficult clues and challenged to find your way out in an hour.  He persuaded me to come along, and it turned out not to be as frightening as I’d feared.  (I didn’t take him up on his generous offer to repeat the experience in Prague.)

We visited a magnificent exhibition of Toulouse Lautrec posters at  an art museum.  Lorn discovered a delicious eastern European Jewish dessert called flodni — a pastry with walnuts, apples and poppy seeds.  On an expedition to find more flodni on a subsequent evening, he discovered a gallery of fantasy art and purchased a rather heavy sculpted head of an African woman, which he successfully toted through Europe and plans to hang on our living room wall.  It was the only time we had to visit an ATM for unplanned extra cash.

One morning we took the tram to Margaret Island, a tranquil place filled with parks and sports arenas in the middle of the Danube.  It was the only place in Budapest where I can say I don’t think I saw another tourist.  It was a place for fun, relaxation and glee.  We rented bicycles and enjoyed the place like we were locals.

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The Unitarian Universalist Church, where I’ve belonged since I was 15, has important historical roots in Hungary.  Rural Transylvania (now in Romania) has dozens of Unitarian Churches, and their members are ethnic Hungarians.  Early this year I made contact with the minister of the Unitarian Church in Budapest, the Rev. Joseph Kazouni.  We had the good fortune to spend an evening with Joseph, the church president Katrina and her husband Zoltan.

 

 

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img_0107img_0118After six fun and relaxing days in Budapest, we packed our bags and called a taxi to take us to the train station for the 7 hour trip to Prague, which would be our home for the second week of our adventure.  On the day we left, a minor calamity ensued, and I will begin at that point in the second installment of our June adventure.