Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Venice of the North

[Cruise Day 6, Monday, July 9, 2018]

This is my second visit to St. Petersburg, Russia.  I’m thinking tonight that I may need to come a third time in order to see all that I would like to see in this fabulous city.  The first visit (nearly ten years ago) was a riverboat  cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  It was an unforgettable experience.  I’d love to do it again.  But I have other places yet to wander in this world while it is day.  I must make the best of this present moment—to see all that I can see—now—for I suspect in Stephen Grellet’s words, “I shall not pass this way again.”

Today we took a boat ride on the Neva River.  It enabled us see many parts of the city we have not yet seen and to see them from a different perspective.  Most cities are built beside rivers and many are built by the sea, but St. Petersburg is built “on the water” like the cities of Amsterdam and Venice.  Indeed, Goethe called St. Petersburg the “Venice of the North.” Built across the marshlands of the Neva River delta, the city interlaces with a hundred or more tributaries and canals.  Some 800-plus bridges cross these rivers and canals giving the city the nickname “City of 101 Islands.”

Our little cruise on the Neva today took us by the Peter and Paul Fortress (where we visited afoot yesterday), by the Admiralty building, the Summer Gardens, the Winter Palace and so much more.  We visited the Winter Palace (Hermitage) ten years ago.  There we beheld Rembrandt’s famous painting, “The Prodigal Son,” which Henri J.M. Nouwen memorialized in his book, “The Prodigal.”   During that visit to St.Petersburg, we also enjoyed the St. Petersburg “Russian Ballet” presentation of P. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in The Palace Theater.  The memories of our first visit to St. Petersburg and the experiences of this second visit fill us with a sense of wonder.  How grateful we are for the opportunity to see St. Petersburg, to delve into her history, and to be among her people!

Misnegation or Syntactically Challenged?

George F. Will has always been consistent. He is an author and conservative political columnist who has voiced conservative issues and values for decades.  When Donald Trump came along, Will left the Republican Party, saying that Trump and the party members had abandoned the GOP’s commitment to conservatism.  Though I’ve always been on a different wave length politically, I’ve always admired  and respected George Will’s rationality and writing.  When Will renounced the GOP, Trump did what he always does.  He demeaned, belittled, and ridiculed the person, George Will—tweeting that the columnist, “one of the most overrated political pundits (who lost his way long ago), has left the Republican Party.  He’s made many bad calls.”  Will did not respond to Trump’s tweet.  Instead, Will said on Fox News Sunday, “He (Trump) has an advantage on me.  He can say everything he knows about any subject in 140 characters, and I can’t.”

George Will has consistently spoken and written of what he views as Donald Trump’s inability (disability)  to think and speak clearly.  He writes, “It is not merely the result of intellectual sloth but of an untrained mind bereft of information and married to stratospheric self-confidence.”  He writes that Trump is “syntactically challenged” consistently having “verbal fender benders.”  Trump once said, “People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why?  People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?  Why could that one not have been worked out.”  If this isn’t evidence of a syntactically challenged person, I don’t know what is.  He thinks the question has only occurred to him, when library shelves of full of books that suggest otherwise.  George Will summed it all up with this, “The problem isn’t that he (Trump) does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that.  Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.” 

Misnegation, according to Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, happens when people say the opposite of what they mean.  Did Mr. Trump mean “wouldn’t” instead of “would?”  I don’t think so.  The question:  Did Russia interfere with the election of 2016?  “My people came to me.  They said they think its Russia.  I have President Putin.  He just said it’s not Russia.  I will say this:  I don’t see any reason why it would be.”  Yesterday, Mr. Trump said, “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’  Sort of a double negative.”  Trump’s words in Helsinki, “I will say this” are a kind of pre-announcement—those words serve a function:  in effect, “Listen up.”  He is saying his next words are important—he prepares his listeners, announcing the importance of his next words:  “I don’t see any reason why it would be.”  It is possible Mr. Trump misspoke, but I don’t think so.

A democracy does not center on one bully....or one party...

Democracy includes all of us--thinking and speaking clearly--
a government "of the people, by the people and for the people." 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Russian Versailles: Peterhof

[Cruise Day 5:  Sunday, July 8, 2018]

We arrived this morning at 7 a.m. in the Russian port city of St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea. We’ll remain in port for two days. Marsha, our tour guide for the day, says that she has lived in two cities without moving:  first, Leningrad, and now St. Petersburg.  St. Petersburg is named after the Apostle Peter and not its founder, Peter the Great.  He didn’t quite achieve sainthood, but he did achieve a great deal for Russia.  Peter is known best for his extensive reforms in an attempt to make Russia a great nation.  He created a strong navy, reorganized the army based on Western standards, secularized schools, and focused on the development of science, commerce and industry.  He founded St. Petersburg in 1712 and moved the capital there from its former location in Moscow.  St. Petersburg became known as Russia’s “window to Europe.”  

Peter “the Great” however was not a saint.  He was a cruel and tyrannical ruler.  He was a handsome man, a daunting 6 1/2 feet tall, and an excessive drinker who apparently harbored violent tendencies.  He married twice, had 11 children, most of whom died in infancy.  He convicted his eldest son of treason  and had him secretly executed in 1718.  Nice fellow, Peter!

This is my second trip to Russia and I wanted to see Peterhof (Peter’s Court) this time around.  I scheduled the Peterhof excursion before leaving home so as not to miss the opportunity.  The Palace and Grand Cascade with its system of fountains is one of the most famous and popular attractions in St. Petersburg.  It is often called “the Russian Versailles.”  I was not disappointed!

Peterhof, like many estates in suburban St. Petersburg, was ravaged by German troops during WW II.  Fortunately, some of the valuable pieces were removed and taken to Siberia for safe storage beforehand.  The gardens and parks were resurrected and the Grand Palace restored with amazing authenticity.  What a sight to see!  

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Travel Highlight

There were many travel highlights over the past several weeks as we traveled in England and cruised the Baltic Sea.  One of these highlights was meeting a Facebook Friend “face-to-face.”  

We visited our granddaughter Katie in Wales three years ago.  While there we also traveled to Yorkshire to visit some of Liam’s family and friends.  Liam’s mother became a Facebook friend at that time.  This made it possible for some of her Facebook friends to read my posts which appeared on her Timeline.  The result of this was that one of her friends became my Facebook friend.  

Over these past three years I’ve come to know this Facebook friend through her various posts as she has come to know me.  It was one of the highlights of this trip to Yorkshire to finally meet Amanda “face-to-face.”

We often criticize social media and talk of the potential dangers, but we ought also to lift the positive side.  What a joy it is to be able to “literally” visit with Katie and Liam “across the pond” via FaceTime.  What a miracle it is to be able to come to know someone you have never met.  Social media does have a positive side.

It's A Small, Small World

[Cruise Day 4:  Saturday, July 7, 2018]

We arrived in the Old City Harbor of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia this morning.  The four of us (Cher, my brother, John and his wife, Reola) had scheduled shore excursions here in Tallinn, and in St Petersburg, and Helsinki.  Unfortunately Cher (already troubled by one arthritic knee) had stumbled on a doorsill at the Copenhagen airport.  That stumble triggered a new issue with her so-called “good knee.”  She could not walk any distance without experiencing significant pain and this, we knew, would prevent her from doing any of the excursions—all of which included a good deal of walking.  In fact, just getting off the ship included a good deal of walking!

That is why only three of us left the ship today to do the HopOn/Hop Off Bus tour of Tallinn, Estonia—hopping off and hopping back on the bus as we pleased.  When one has only a limited time to visit a place, the HopOn/HopOff is a good way to get an overview.   It also allows you to hop off after choosing those places that are of interest.  It worked well for us in Tallinn.

Tallinn is the largest city of Estonia with a population of around 450,000 people.  From the 13th century until 1918 the city was called Reval.  Earliest human settlement dates back 5000 years, but the city itself is first mentioned in 1219.  Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In 1991, Estonia became an independent democratic state and quickly developed into a modern European center.   It is the major political, financial, cultural and educational center of Estonia and is often dubbed the “Silicon Valley” of Europe. It is the birthplace of many international companies including Skype.  Tallinn is ranked as a global city and is listed among the top 10 digital (smart) cities in the world.  I wish we could have spent more time walking the cobblestoned streets of Old Town and getting to know its people. 

“It’s a small world…it’s a world of laughter and a world of tears…it’s a world of hopes and a world of fears…there’s so much that we share, that it’s time we’re aware,  it’s a small world after all”

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Day At Sea

[Cruise Day 3:  July 6, 2018]

We are at sea today, all day and all night, traveling toward Tallinn, Estonia—690 nautical miles away.  All passengers are onboard  today and every deck is teeming with people, especially  Deck 6 and Deck 15.  The casino is open and doing a big business.  All kinds of activities are being offered onboard today.  Bingo and other games are happening all around.  There is Yoga, Mini Golf, Shuffleboard, and Rock Climbing opportunities, along with indoor cycling, a ping pong tournament, the pools, hot tubs, and even basketball in the gym, the jogging path and the giant water slide,  are all available.  There are seminars, too, such as “How to Run a Floating Hotel Q&A” and various arts and crafts classes. The dining rooms were filled at breakfast and lunch and I suspect it will be the same for dinner.  The dining hours have been extended to allow for this.  All kinds of entertainment is scheduled for the evening hours, too,  from Broadway plays in the several theaters to various musical programs and dancing opportunities in the various bars and clubs.  What a life!

But it is not my life!  I am not a gambler, or a rock climber.  I’m not interested in water sports.  I do not jog, not at home and not on a ship,  even though I ought to do so.  I’m not into ping pong (though I was, once upon a time)  card playing or bingo, and I’m not the “artsy-crafty” type.  I get up early and go to bed early.  I’m not much of a party-animal after 9 p.m.—and truth be told, I’m not much of a party-animal before that hour.  I’m sure you are wondering then why on earth I am on a cruise ship.  I’m here because I want to visit Estonia, Germany and Russia (even though I have visited these two countries before), Finland, Sweden and Denmark. I want to experience the people and the cultures of these countries.  I want to step foot on their sacred soil.  I want to know what they feel and think and wonder about.  I want to be part of a larger world.

It dawns on me just now that I have what I want on this particular cruise ship.  Unlike other cruise ships on which I’ve sailed from U.S. ports (to Alaska, Hawaii, the Caribbean and Mexico) the passengers on this ship come from all over the world!  Wherever I go onboard ship I hear different languages being spoken.  There is a woman from India sitting across from me and I think the fellow that just passed by me was from Australia, given his accent.  I met a couple on the elevator just a while ago from Dubai. When an announcement is made on ship it is often announced in English, Spanish, German, French, Italian and/or Russian.  The ship’s crew is an international one.  They come from China, Yugoslavia, the Philippines, Indonesia, St. Lucia, and so many other places.  The passengers and the crew represent the world—the world  Jesus told us God loved and continues to love.  I wanna be…Part of that world!

The newest and the highest skyscraper in
St. Petersburg, Russia.

Riled Up!

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were greeted in Helsinki with a large billboard advertisement purchased by Helsingin Sanomat, the nation’s largest newspaper.  The billboard message  bashed Trump and Putin as being enemies of journalism and a free press.  The paper’s editor-in-chief said, “As we welcome the presidents to the summit in Finland, we want to remind them of the importance of the free press"….later adding, “The media shouldn’t be the lap dog of any president or regime.”

Putin is alleged to have had dissident members of the press killed in Russia.  Donald Trump has repeatedly called much of the American press “fake news” and the free press as “the enemy of the people.”  He has said this again and again and every time he says it, I get riled, and I expect you and every other U.S. citizen and every World citizen to rise up and take issue with it—just as Finland has done with their billboard (and protests).  Everybody gets hot under the collar about people not standing up for the national anthem—but seem not to get hot under the collar when our very Constitution is ignored.  What a farcical thing!

When the media (the free press) becomes Putin’s or Trump’s lap dog, we are in deep trouble—because here in this country the First Amendment is in jeopardy.  Many get all riled up about the Second Amendment and yet seem undisturbed when the First is ridiculed. There is a reason the “free press,” “freedom of religious expression,” and the “right to air grievances” is the FIRST!

Donald Trump criticized Theresa May in England.  That criticism was reported by a British tabloid which Trump called “fake news,” because it said he had criticized May. The paper, however, released an audio of the interview proving Mr. Trump wrong.  Still Mr. Trump continues to suggest that his meetings in Brussels and with Theresa May in England were all “inaccurately covered by much of the media.”  He refused, for example, in a press conference to take questions from a CNN reporter because Trump believes CNN is “fake news.”  He did take a question from Fox News (his lap dog?) immediately following his rebuke of the CNN reporter.  

Today, as Donald Trump prepared to meet with Vladimir Putin, he tweeted that the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference is a  “Rigged Witch Hunt.”  He echoed Moscow’s view saying the United States—not Russia—is to blame for hostilities between our two countries.  He tweeted this morning that the special counsel investigation and the  “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity” are why the United States’ relationship with Russia “has NEVER been worse.”  Donald Trump is his own fake news!
The Star-Gazer Lilly keeps me sane
 in the midst of our present irrationality!