Monday, January 15, 2007

A Potpourri of European Reflections – Heading Home to Boston

As I sit at Heathrow Airport, ready to board my flight home to Boston, I thought I would take a few minutes to share some random thoughts and impressions from the last segments of my sojourn in Europe. In no particular order of priority, here they are:

  • Whoever is responsible for designing London’s Airports must have a strong sadistic streak, or is a major proponent of vigorous walking to promote health. On this trip, I have become even more intimately acquainted with three of London’s five commercial airports – Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. On no occasion was I able to arrive at a departure gate or passport control/baggage claim area without walking - at the bare minimum - one kilometer.

  • The London Underground, with all of its marvelous features, is in serious need of an infrastructure overhaul. Over the course of a week, I used virtually every one of the lines, and there was never a day when there were not major delays – often caused by signal failures. The Central Line seems to be particularly susceptible to these misadventures. On one day, I experienced a perfect storm of problems on the District Line. At first, we were informed that because of a fire at the Mansion House station, service would be delayed. Then, further announcements updated us as to a medical emergency at another station. Finally, serious delays and system shutdown on the entire line were the result of signal failures at Earls’ Court.

  • There is nothing quite like a good Fish & Chips shop. My favorite in London – because of the quality of the food and the clever name of the place – is The Eating Plaice. It serves up a delicious array of choices of cod, haddock and, of course, the eponymous plaice!

  • Grenoble, in the heart of the Vallee de le l'Isere in the French Alps, is a fascinating place. Boasting about a half million inhabitants, this city is an important university and scientific research center, hosting the world’s largest reactor for neutron generation, as well as a particle accelerator. My friend, Benoit, is involved in sophisticated research pinpointing distant points of gamma ray generation in he far reaches of the cosmos.

  • High above Grenoble sits the remarkable Bastille, overlooking a strategic mountain pass. On one of the clearest day I can recall, my friend led me on a trek up the mountainside to the pinnacles of the Bastille. The panorama that unfolded at our feet was well worth the two hour climb. 70 kilometers to the north, Mt. Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, was on display in all of its snow-capped glory.

  • Grenoble’s neighborhoods are linked together by a fleet of beautiful and efficient tram cars that would be the envy of any major metropolitan area.

  • French cooking is not over-rated. My friend, Benoit, cooked up some astonishing dishes – one of them (the name of which escapes me this morning) boasting three different cheeses baked into a turnover. The dessert, a Charlotte,” amazed me at what can be done with raspberry mousse and raspberry sauce. Vive la France!

  • I will never forget the experience of watching Robert Altman’s final film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” in a French art film theater, with French subtitles. I am not sure which was the more amusing – the original dialogue or the creative French translations!

  • The movie, Babel,” which I also saw while in France, became even more poignant when listening to the dialogue dubbed in French and reading the subtitles in English. Since one of the film's many themes is the chaos that results from miscommunication, this added dynamic made the viewing if the film that much more poignant for me.

Time to board my flight.

We’ll talk soon.



1 comment:

Tony said...

Thank you for your generous and genuine ramblings. While they are terrific to read, I want to hear them in person. We must break bread soon.