Saturday, June 15, 2013


Lucerne's bustling train station.
Travel prompts so many questions. Sadly, most go unanswered. Still, they linger. More than a week after our return from short stays in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic I’m still pondering several.

Is Switzerland so wealthy because it is neutral? And how much of that has to do with its landlocked, mountainous geography? The US House Armed Services Committee recently approved $638.4 billion in defense spending for next year. Imagine how that money could be used here if we weren’t militarily engaged around the globe? (Syria is just our most recent adventure) What if we were small, land-locked and barricaded by mountains? I like the old bumper sticker that asks us to imagine what it would be like to adequately fund our schools and to be forced to have bake sales to pay for missiles (and tanks, guns, spooks and aircraft carriers etc.) I think they’ve answered that question in Switzerland.

After visiting more Catholic cathedrals than I can count, some dating back six or more centuries, I wonder how these astonishing, soaring structures have contributed to the survival of the hide-bound institutional church. How do they shape the spiritual life of the Catholic faithful? The energy that went into building these colossal structures is palpable. (For the moment, put aside the cost and the over-the-top glorification of revered, but none-the-less human religious leaders) These landmarks inspire outer faith and devotion, but do they invite unity with the inner spirit?

American pop culture is prominent and much celebrated in the countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain. Today’s commerce still pays tribute to Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Charlie Chaplin  There’s a retrospective of Marilyn Monroe photographs in Prague. Wynton Marsalis and Bobbie “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” McFerrin will perform this summer. What role did American pop stars play in the underground culture in Communist Hungary and Czechoslovakia? Why are these icons still being celebrated today?

It is hard to fathom the changes the Czechs have seen in the past 100 years. They began
Memorial to 1969 Czech martyrs.
the last century as part of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1918, after World War I, the Republic of Czechoslovakia was created but survived as a democracy a mere 20 years. Hitler and the Nazis overran and occupied the young nation. At the end of World War II Czechoslovakia became a restless Soviet satellite state. It was invaded by the Warsaw Pact in 1968. Finally, in 1989, when the Soviet bloc collapsed, it re-emerged as a democracy, and in 1993 the Czech Republic came into being, separate from the Slovak Republic. Whew! How might those changes influence the way the Czechs see the world today? Do they live for the moment? How do they see their futures? 

Finally, because I still have a lingering fascination with cars, I took photos of a few on this trip. Two vintage Jaguar sedans, a customized VW bug, a tricked out Morris Mini and what I think is a Soviet Lada. One of the Jaguars was being used to chauffeur a wedding couple. It was parked outside Prague’s Cathedral where it became a backdrop for the photographed smooching couple. I admired the Mini while Diane looked at scarves in a nearby store. The wondrous and pampered VW was parked near the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague. The drab little Lada was not far from one of Prague's baroque concert halls. Drab and forgotten — the boxy conveyance seemed abandoned by history.

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