Finally! After 82 days, more than 10, 000 miles of driving, and 27 destinations we’re glad to be home in Istanbul. It’s hot now, and in a few other ways life isn’t perfect, but it is comfortably familiar. Walking again – to the neighborhood stores and restaurants – feels natural here, whereas where we’ve been for the last three months, outside of a shopping mall or a recreational area, it felt strange to walk, and we walked very little.
William Ronald Gurdjian passed away the night of June 17, 2018 at his home in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. He was 78 years old. It is an understatement to simply say he was a friend of mine because ours was one of the longest and deepest friendships of my life, dating back to my early days in Detroit. Kay and Ron loved each other, too, but that came later.
O the miles we’ve traveled and the sights we’ve seen since I last wrote about the April leg of our American journey!
I write to you today from Chicago where Kay and I are resting a few days while visiting my family. Soon, we’ll be on the road again to complete the journey.
As you probably know, but may have forgotten, Kay and I are no strangers to long road trips. Our last in the U.S. was in 2012 in a motorhome that we nicknamed The Beast. That experience taught us a lesson; we won’t do it that way again. This time we are traveling in a brand new Grand Caravan by Dodge, so loaded with features that we don’t even have to open the two side doors or the hatchback manually. Just give them a nudge and they open automatically. For us old-timers, technology has changed our world in unrecognizable ways, hasn’t it?
Sure, we knew it would be cold in Berlin, but having passed so many mild winters in Istanbul, our memories of what real winter can be like were dulled. So it was that recently, we landed after dark at Tegel Airport and stepped out into several days of the kind of face-biting, bone-chilling cold that we remembered from our younger days and that Berliners claimed was abnormal for the middle of March. More shocking was that we had left home only hours before from a sunny, mild spring-like day in Istanbul.
So we had to adapt. Our transition was eased on that first evening by beer and the comfort of a large room in our favorite hotel, the Hackescher Markt. It was there we would spend our remaining nights in the city.
“So if you’ve got no job and runnin’ out of dough
And they moved the factory down to Mexico
Just pack your bags and don’t forget your Kimono
And you can follow me, honey, all the way to Yokohama”
From “Move to Japan” by The Band 1993
Do you remember the late 1980s with America’s manufacturing sector at a crossroads and Japan’s rising mightily? “How do the Japanese do it?” was the question of the day. Studies were done; books written. My memory of it all is pretty vague, but I do recall the so-called “Japanese miracle.” And now I’ve learned that before it, there were other periods of extraordinary Japanese growth and accomplishment.
“War is the work of man.
War is the destruction of human life.
War is death.
To remember the past is to commit oneself to the future.
To remember Hiroshima is to abhor nuclear war.
To remember Hiroshima is to commit oneself to peace.”
His Holiness Pope John Paul II on February 25, 1981
Traveling from Hakone to Hiroshima, we had to change trains at Shin-Osaka. As our second train sat on the platform with its door open, I made the mistake of starting to board too early. Smiling Japanese passengers called me back. We had to wait for a cleaning team to go through the cars before we could take our seats. We’d never seen a team of train-car cleaners work before. All were dressed in white jumpsuits. One woman carried a battery-operated vacuum cleaner. Like nearly everyone else we observed in Japan, they worked quickly and efficiently
“Wearing kimono and walking in Kyoto”
Sign for a kimono rental service
From the window of a speeding Shinkansen on a sunny day, the impressions pile up quickly. There nearly always seem to be mountains in the distance. In the foreground, every bit of land seems precious. All the arable fields are under cultivation, and in settlements, the two-and-three-storey residential buildings are grouped so close together that it seems it would be difficult to drive a car among them. As for passenger cars in Japan, many are smaller and boxier that the larger, aerodynamic styling we associate with the Toyotas and Nissans in North America.
It is after 7 a.m. in Tashkent where I had arrived with others only four hours before in the middle of the night. I go into the hotel’s currency exchange office and lay a hundred-dollar bill on the counter. The woman in charge goes to a cabinet in the rear of the room and returns with a brick-size bundle of local currency. There are eight packets of one thousand Uzbek som notes, one hundred notes to a packet. With eight thousand som to the dollar, I now have eight hundred thousand som, which, other than for a few major purchases, will see me through the next eight days. “Salem Alaykom.” Welcome to Uzbekistan!
Kay and I passed through Gdansk for the first time about ten years ago on our way north through the Baltic States in an attempt to beat the summer heat further south. On that occasion, we stayed only a couple days to admire the old city and ogle the amber jewelry in the shop windows.
This visit was more comprehensive. During scheduled excursions from our annual two-week literary conference held at a nearby resort on the Baltic Sea, we revisited the beautiful old town’s center, overflowing with summer tourists, and spent some choice hours in two museums that hadn’t existed at the time of our first visit.