Thursday, March 26, 2015

What Happened in Copenhagen

Hotel Nimb
Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen
Author: Sarah Ackerman
This week, let’s go back in time ... way back ... for some personal experience.
Back in the Middle Ages when I was a soldier serving in Europe, I was assigned to an infantry company at the Boelke Kaserne in Ulm, Germany. Well, actually we called it West Germany in those days. A short, skinny Japanese-American from Cleveland named Lloyd Morimoto and I made friends with the German national who ran the library on our base. Jürgen Brinn’s wife ran the library at Wiley Barracks, another American base in town. As our friendship grew, the Brinns urged us to take our first European leave in Copenhagen, Denmark with a stopover in Hamburg. Traute Hauptman, a friend of theirs, was conveniently engaged to a young man in Copenhagen. Thus, Morimoto and I would have locals to show us places of interest.
Obligingly, we scheduled our first continental trip according to their plan and arrived at the port city of Hamburg without event. Traute treated us to an enjoyable visit, giving over one of her bedrooms so that our costs fit our GI budgets. On the day we were to leave for Denmark, she gave us the name and phone number of her fiancé, also named Jürgen. We boarded a train which was promptly loaded onto a huge ferry, and we were soon underway to Denmark by sea.
A young man named Anders, whom I took to be an Englishman, was the only person sharing our railway compartment. At least he spoke British English. As we talked, however, he turned out to be a Dane … from Copenhagen, no less. Upon learning our arrangements, he volunteered to place the call to Jürgen, as in those days the telephone exchanges were staffed by operators, not all of whom spoke English.
Upon arrival at the bahnhoff in the Danish capital, our new friend made the call, held an animated conversation, and then delivered the bad news. Jürgen had broken his leg the day before playing tennis. Anders told us not to worry. His older brother had a spare bedroom in his house. Indeed, his brother, Hans, a school teacher with a pretty wife and a couple of lively children, welcomed us into their home, spent time taking us places, and helped make this a great vacation.
When our departure day arrived, Hans took us to the bahnhoff to catch our train. It was important to get into one of the first three cars because that was all the ferry could accommodate. Upon arrival, we found those specific cars packed to the brim. We managed to find seats, but could not take our duffel bags into the compartment with us.
Upon arrival at Hamburg, our bags were missing … stolen. Everything I had, including my address book, was in mine. We arrived back in Ulm after the most wonderful trip imaginable had ended on a sour note. We had no way to write and thank our host family and send coffee … something still relatively rare and pricey in Europe at the time.
A year later, I was sitting in the courtyard of the International Student Center in Rome, Italy drinking a Bluna (a German soft drink) when a young man wandered up and asked if he could join me. We introduced ourselves, and when I learned he was from Copenhagen, I told him my story.
After I finished, he asked the name of the family. I provided it, prompting a huge smile from my new acquaintance.
“You’re not going to believe this. But the man you rode into Copenhagen with is my next door neighbor. I don’t have his brother’s address, but I can give you his.”
So a year later, Morimoto and I were able to send a letter explaining what had happened and express our gratitude for their kind hospitality.
But that’s not the end of the story. A few years later, I was sitting in the library waiting for my wife to get off work, when I heard a familiar voice and saw a familiar figure talking to the reference librarian. Lo and behold, there stood Traute Hauptman. She was now a librarian on a tour of the United States.
Makes the world seem small, doesn’t it?
As always, thanks for reading.

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Return to the Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area

 After wandering around lost the last few weeks (including posting a poem, for crying out loud), I thought we’d return to one of the BJ Vinson books today.

What follows is the closing scene in Chapter 12 of THE BISTI BUSINESS. BJ and Aggie Alfano (one of the missing men’s older brother) have been drawn to the remote, usually deserted Bisti-De-Na-Zin Wilderness when they learn a Navajo teenager has found a cell phone owned by one of the missing duo. They have just ransomed the telephone when they are joined by Sgt. Dix Lee of the Farmington Police Department and Special Agent Larry Plainer of the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that is responsible for administration of the wilderness area.
By John Fowler from Placitas, NM, USA
(Natural Sculptures) 

I nodded in the direction of the retreating teens. “Where did they come from? They’re not headed for the parking lot—unless there’s another one I don’t know about.”
“No,” Dix answered. “There are two or three private Navajo holdings inside the Wilderness. They probably belong to one of those. They’re within walking distance.”
“And that’s why they stumbled on Dana’s phone?” I took another slug of water as she spoke and offered her some. She declined with a shake of her head. I wiped a sheen of sweat from my face with a sodden handkerchief.
“Probably.” She turned to the man with her. Blond and blue-eyed and handsome in a chiseled features way, he was J. Edgar Hoover’s ideal FBI agent—except that he was a Bureau of Land Management man. “BJ, this is Larry Plainer, a Special Agent for the BLM. As I told you, they administer the Bisti Wilderness.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said and introduced him to Aggie.
I knew t the BLM had its own law enforcement arm, but didn’t know exactly how they worked. Some rangers regularly carried firearms and handled criminal cases such as vandalism, theft, and the like. A special agent was new to me. Perhaps they handled the “heavier” crimes. Gainer’s fair features labeled him an inside man, not a working ranger. Despite the heat, he wore navy dress pants and a pale blue, long-sleeved shirt, although he had foregone a coat and tie. A black baseball cap with BLM stenciled on it was all that protected him from the sun. It made me wonder how he’d walked the same route I had without staining his clothing with sweat.
I brought Dix and Plainer up to date on the situation while Aggie wandered off somewhere on his own. A few minutes later, a shout attracted my attention.
“BJ, over here!” Aggie yelled.
I hurried over to a hoodoo, one of those sculpted toadstool formations that threatened to collapse momentarily. Aggie slowly walked the rocky ground around the base, as if searching for something.
“What is it?”
“You smell anything?” he asked.
And then I caught a whiff of it—the faint, cloying, unmistakable stink of death.
It feels good to be back on safe, familiar ground. I hope this and other posts featuring the wilderness area will prompt you to visit the Bisti Badlands country. If you’re into eerie, otherworldly landscapes, this is the place for it.

By the way, the spectacular image is a Creative Common photo taken by John Fowler of Placitas, a village north of Albuquerque -- a very interesting place on its own.

As always, thanks for reading.

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Musings on a Penitente Cross

Last week it was a poem. Today, I’ll continue to trod unfamiliar ground with musings (some will say ramblings) about a symbol often seen here in New Mexico.

A small cross stands at the apex of a stubby, barren hill. Local legend maintains it is a Penitente Cross from which once hung the body of a man. One of the Secret Brotherhood, presumably. A martyr who chose to be crucified like his Eternal Master, Jesus of Nazareth.
Somehow, I doubt that. The last time I climbed the hill – when I was but eleven – the cross was five feet at its tallest point. Heck, even I could have stood on solid ground if my arms were nailed to the cross bar. Of course, the people back then were smaller, they say. Nonetheless, the story is likely nothing but myth.
So what is the meaning of the cross? Why did someone go to the trouble of cutting heavy six-by-six timbers into shape, slotting them just so to make the cross piece fit perfectly? Some unknown individual then had to fight the weighty wood up the stubby hill and dig a pit so that the cross has stood against gravity and nature for as long as anyone can remember.
I long ago ceased to puzzle over the origin of the cross – Penitente or not. I recognize it as a religious symbol, but somehow it doesn’t seem grand enough to be either cherished or a down payment on a crown. Only once in my life have I seen someone praying before it. A startling sight, I must admit, upon spotting a lone man kneeling at its base, head bowed, hands poised in supplication. Was he was praying in gratitude or from desperation? On the other hand, local boys and young men use it for target practice with pellet guns and twenty-two rifles. It serves as a convenient roost for birds who leave droppings to smear the wood until rain squalls wash them away.
Even though I have passed this spot for years and observed the cross in all its incarnations, I have only recently come to consider what it means to me.
·       On the way to work in the morning, it stands tall as if greeting a new day and all who populate it.
·       At high noon, with the sun beating down to expose tortured, peeling cracks in the weathered wood, it is a symbol of suffering and endurance.
·       On the way home in the afternoon, it is remote and says little to me. Perhaps it seems a bit worn down – as do I – by the events of the day just ending.
·       With the coming of sunset, it stands tall on the skyline as if in awe of God’s glorious abstract painting of the western sky.
·       In the darkest night with a waning gibbous moon hazed by ghostly clouds, it looms ominous … threatening. At times like this, I can almost imagine a Penitente hanging forgotten and forlorn from its timbers.
So what does this mute sentinel convey to me? Permanence, steadfastness. A mysterious force with the ability to stand against gales, blistering heat, freezing cold, lashing winds, abuse by unthinking humans … against time itself. A symbol of enduring all life can throw at you and remaining on your feet.
Nonsense, many would say. The unknown creators of the cross clearly intended it as a symbol of worship of the Crucified Christ who died for all of our sins.
Think about it. Is not the message I discerned an extension of that very meaning?
As I said, this is unusual ground for me. Let me know what you think. As always, thanks for reading.

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I’m Not a Tums Kind of Guy

Let’s try something I’ve not done before. A poem. A bit of whimsy, but perhaps it reveals a bit of insight into me. WARNING: I am not a poet, so don’t expect too much. Here goes.


I’m not a Tums kind of guy.
The belly may be round
And oft overstuffed,
But I’ve never been a Tums kind of guy.

Yet as the years go by
And the hair turns gray
(please, no snickers now),
Maybe I’m not the same kind of guy.

The knees start to go
And the first thing you know,
The joints say click and clack.
Definitely not the same kind of guy.

As things begin to sag,
My clothes become a bag
And worse … I don’t even care.
More changes to my kind of guy.

A shock sets me back
As the mirror reveals
How profound the changes have been.
What kind of a guy am I now?

Wind has gone chasing after stamina,
Which took off in search of energy.
Ambition has vanished, but I cannot say where.
Am I even a guy at all?

With gurgles and groans my stomach
Confirms what I crave no longer craves me.
What was tripe to my tongue is now daily fare.
Maybe I am a Tums kind of guy.


Hope that wasn’t too painful. Thanks for sticking with it. Well, that’s out of my system now. Next week we can return to something more in my line. I usually solicit comments at this point … but this time, I’m not so sure.

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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