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  • History Friday: Byzantine

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on October 19th, 2012 (All posts by )

    We bumptious Americans are always being reminded by everyone from Henry James on, that things in Europe are old, historic, and ancient. We are told that some places are piled thick in layers of events, famous people and great art, like some sort of historical sachertorte -  and to a student of history, certain places in Europe are exactly that sort of treat. What they hardly ever mention is that most usually, the most ancient bits of it are pretty sadly battered by the time we come trotting around with our Blue Guide, and what there is left is just the merest small remnant of what there once was. The sanctuary at Delphi once was adorned with statues of gold, silver, bronze - and they were the first to be looted and melted down (all but one, the great bronze Charioteer) leaving us with the least and cheapest stone, sadly chipped, battered and scarred. (My daughter at the age of three and a bit, looking at a pair of archaic nudes in the Delphi museum asked loudly, “Mommy, why are their wieners all broken off?”) The great Athenian Akropolis itself was half-ruined, many of the blocks of which it was constructed scattered across the hillside like gargantuan marble Lego blocks. In Rome, most of the ancient buildings had been stripped long ago of the marble and stone facings, leaving only the battered concrete and tile core to hint at what splendor had once been - and again, only the smallest portion left to us to admire, the smallest, cheapest portion, or that hidden away by chance.

    But there was one place, just one place where the last few artistic relics of the classical world looked as fresh, as unmarred as if they had just been installed the day before, in the little provincial town of Ravenna, where the VEV (the Very Elderly Volvo) needed a new air hose and some other essential innards, and fortuitously mushed to a halt right in front of the very garage capable of providing it, although the junior mechanic had to rush off on his Vespa to fetch the essential parts from another source. I was driving to Spain from Greece, having taken the car ferry from Patras to Brindisi three weeks before, in a bright orange Volvo sedan with AFG plates and all of my daughters’ and my luggage crammed into the trunk and the back seat.

    We had just come from the grand artistic buffet that was Florence, crowded with tourists and tour guides, and touts, enormous motor-coaches everywhere, and everywhere the grasping hand, wanting a substantial payment to see this or that. It was actually a relief to get to Ravenna, which in contrast seemed like a graciously hospitable place, proud in a casual sort of way about the monuments and churches with their splendid late classical mosaics, imbedded into their pretty little town like raisins in a loaf of raisin bread. The Arian Baptistery was, if I remember correctly, down a little side street in back of a large chain drug store. Most of the other places that drew tourists were in similarly modest locations; no crowds, no touts, no being nickeled and lire’d to death. Local residents just seemed enormously pleased that people came all the way to Ravenna to marvel at their lovely, historical chapels and churches, and some smaller sites asked nothing more of the tourists than to feed some coins into a meter that would turn on the spotlights in the Mausoleum of Galla Placida, so we could better admire the mosaics in the ceiling.

    There was no need for the meters and lights in the New Church of St. Appollinaire, with its splendid procession of saints and martyrs along the nave. Windows allowed the autumn sunlight to spill into the church, and outside when the winds rippled the tree leaves, the whole wall seemed to shimmer, in a blaze of gold and rich colors. Much of the mosaic was made of glass, tiny squares and slips of jewel-colored glass, or clear glass backed with gold-leaf. In San Vitale, Justinian and Theodora looked down from amidst their courtiers, generals, priests and ladies, and in the old sanctuary of St. Appollinaire-in-Classe (Classe, which had once Ravenna’s port on the Adriatic) the Savior was enthroned in a lush green garden, amid a flock of sheep under a golden sky full of angels -  all of it as jewel-bright, new, and unchipped by time, as if the artists, and tile-cutters and plasterers had just finished the work last week, not twelve hundred years ago, a last splendid blaze at the end of the Roman Empire in western Europe. For a very brief time, this out of the way little provincial town had been the capital of the Western Roman Empire, the last flickering light of civilization in a darkening western world, rent by war and barbarian invasion, and the memory of times when things had been much, much better.

    When these mosaics were being installed, the dark ages were already falling, the Legions gone from Britain, the roads and forts and harbors in Western Europe falling derelict without the skill and direction to keep such massive works functioning. There was no one left to see to the waterworks, to protect the essential trade and communication which was the lifeblood of the Empire. Science and literacy were useless luxuries in the face of the brute barbarian tide, and the stifling hand of religious orthodoxy. The eastern remnant of the Empire remained for another millennium in Byzantium – renamed Constantinople, the city of Constantine, which stood bravely – but after a certain point, all its battles were defensive; static and schlerotic looking to the past, to the way things had always been done. There is a sadness and resignation to the mosaics of Ravenna, as if those who were pictured, and those who did the work already knew their world, where Rome had ruled so long was in twilight, and not much could be done to hold back the night, but it didn’t matter, because the next world would be a better one.

    There was no confidence left in their society, no belief in their ability to make things better; all they had was a determination to hold on to what they had, to put off acceptance of the inevitable as long as possible. In the end, Constantinople would fall as well, and the last of the Roman Empire would be gone forever, but the mosaics of Ravenna remain. For now, anyway.

     

     

    24 Responses to “History Friday: Byzantine”

    1. Jonathan Says:

      You’re on a roll!

    2. Ginny Says:

      This is lovely, thank you.
      This election may tell us if we are capable of re-invigorating our own confidence in a less artistic but quite beautiful tradition – two years ago, it seemed we were.

    3. SpotCash Says:

      Bad

      Now I absolutely have to go there. Definitely on the bucket list
      and that date keeps getting closer

    4. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Thanks, Jonathan and Ginny! And Spot – you do have to go and see them! Pictures of them just don’t show how splendid they are – especially the New Church. Even close-up pictures of various sections don’t put across how visually splendid they are. Just about all of them but Apollinaire in Classe are within walking distance of each other. And Ravenna was a sweet, low-key and rather restful little town – not at all like Florence. (Which was splended in it’s own way, but very nervewracking.)

    5. Bill Brandt Says:

      I never will forget my first day in Landstuhl Germany during my Army days.

      Landstuhl – - in the Saar region, was bypassed by WW2 – just a little picturesque village with a central movie theater (you haven’t really lived until you see Gone With The Wind in German with Rhett saying, Auf Wiedersehn Scarlett!

      Anyway thinking I would be in my element having German in school (and realizing that I could hardly understand a word they were saying) I ask one homeowner how old his stone house with the TV antenna was – He shrugged his shoulders saying :”around 500 years”

      Then when I went to Greece, seeing lots of statues with broken weiners (I LOLed at that comment Sgt) – 2500 years became the norm.

      Egypt – 5,000 years. Those great pyramids at Giza originally had white alabaster covering, long since looted.

      I think – other than that little town you found yourself at – succeeding generations have no appreciation for what was done and like the Visigoths just loot it.

      Even at Berthtesgaden – the last surviving building of the Hitler Complex, (since torn down by the Bavarian govt I’m told to discourage neo-Nazis) – I took a tour of the General Walker Hotel – if you asked the people at the desk nicely, you could go into the basement and see the underground air raid tunnel complex.

      All just bare concrete I was told it used to be marble, but shortly after the war the townspeople stripped it.

      Of course among “wonders of the world” Nazi architechture isn’t in the list.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Walker_Hotel

    6. Michael Kennedy Says:

      The destruction is not ancient. The Parthenon was demolished in the war between the Turks and Venice. The Turks stored gunpowder in the temple which still had it’s roof after 2000 years. In 1687, a Venetian shell ignited the powder and blew up the temple. The Greeks have been restoring it but that will probably come to an end now. I’m just as happy that Lord Elgin took the marbles from the frieze to England.

      Of course, who knows if England will be safe from the Philistines much longer. I’m reading Theodore Dalrymple’s most recent book and he has a chapter on the sad fate of the architecture of Liverpool. There is even a note on a hideous building put up in Paris near some of the Hausmann buildings that are so beautiful. I haven’t seen that one but the Pompidou Center is bad enough. He asks why, in the midst of all that beauty, modern buildings are so ugly.

      The Muslim Brotherhood has been discussing the destruction of the pyramids. As Europe becomes a Muslim continent, I wonder if the Muslims will destroy the beautiful structures, many of which are churches.

      I did most of my traveling when my kids were younger so they could go. Now, my health is a bit shaky and my travels may be over but I am not too sad about it as I worry that places like Venice will not be treated well by its new owners. A new dark age might be around the corner unless Europeans get more interested in having babies, for example. Mark Steyn’s books are getting even more pessimistic.

    7. Sgt. Mom Says:

      I knew that, about the Parthenon – and about it being restored. It did look pretty ruinous, still…
      I worry about all those marvelous buildings too … as well as all that art in museums. What will happen to it? Who does it really belong to. In Mali, the local Taliban are enthusiastically destroying ancient tombs of early Islamic saints. In Kosovo – the Former Yougoslavia – I had read that many of the lovely old Ottoman-era mosques which were destroyed during the war were being rebuilt, but the Saudis were paying the tab, and insisted on unadorned Brutal Modern style for the reconstruction.

    8. Bill Brandt Says:

      Sgt – looking back on my Army time I think I was very lucky to have seen the Parthenon when I did

    9. grey eagle Says:

      Thanks to Lord Elgin and some others the various missing bits and pieces from the ancient world can be found at the British museum. Napolean grabbed off some ancient pieces for the Louvre (mostly Egytian) and there is a nice collection in a New York City museum. Also some ancient art is in Moscow.

      The idea was to save irreplaceable art – because the locals were not seen to be good caretakers.

      Now the ungrateful louts want their history back.

    10. Robert Schwartz Says:

      The idea of a “Dark Ages” is one that came out of a mentality focused on the latitude of London, Paris, and Berlin circa 50 north. South of the Alps the period between Islamic Eruption and the Reformation looks very different. Civic life and intellectual life did not decline nearly as precipitously as they did in the north. American’s tend to follow ideas of the English who have that northern orientation.

      I have always been interested in Byzantine history because of our family connection to Russia, which, because of the orthodox Church, looked more to Byzantium than to Rome. In more recent years, English historians like Stephen Runciman and John Julius Norwich have written insightful histories of Byzantium and Italy. I would highly recommend Norwich’s books on Byzantium and on Venice.

    11. ErisGuy Says:

      Looted.

      I believe there a brisk trade in America in recycled building materials, looted from houses and businesses torn down. Who knows what treasures have been lost to obtain an American standard toilet?

      Is a building looted when its materials are repurposed long after

      * the artisans who made it are dead;
      * the governments who protected it have vanished;
      * the society which created it has been destroyed;
      * the languages of its inhabitants are gone?

      Must a tomb (the Egyptian pyramids), a wall (frescos and mosaics), a stadium (the Coliseum), a human abattoir and monument to cruel and capricious rulers and their bloody gods (the Mexican pyramids) remain standing and in good repair in perpetuity?

      Who now cries when the King Dome (Seattle’s coliseum), the Astrodome (Houston’s) or Texas Stadium (Dallas’) are imploded? Aren’t America’s stadia as deserving as Rome’s? Won’t the UN please preserve them for future generations?

    12. Michael Kennedy Says:

      I hardly think the Kingdome is worthy of preservation. Chicago has grafted a modern monstrosity onto Soldier Field, which was a beautiful memorial to World War I soldiers. There is some pretty architecture in the US. Boston and New York City contain some, as does Chicago and San Francisco. All of the good examples seem to predate 1900.

      Some Frank Lloyd Wright structures are pretty but “Falling Water”, for example, has required a fortune to keep it from falling into the falling water. Imagine the roof of the Parthenon lasting 2000 years. There is a sort of nihilistic tendency in modern architecture and music, as well, that leads to ugliness. If Obama and his allies should gain control for a generation, the US cities would look like Moscow.

    13. Sejo Says:

      I’d write in Italian as some things have to be said in the mother tongue but, as no one of you could follow, I’ll try my best in English. It won’t be the same, although.

      It’s always nice to hear barbarians – I’m saying this with a friendly smile and arms open, showing empty palms, NO offence meant – talking of what has been the Empire. The first true attempt – if the religious one in Israel is not to be counted – to have the rule of law governing the social life of humans.

      Yes, Ravenna is a beautiful little town and, yes, it’s very different from Firenze. That’s the beauty and the curse of Italy: we do not exist as such, as every “comune” is a world in itself. The Romagnoli are a lovely people, while I’d say that Toscani still have in themselves the pride and arrogance of what has once been the Medici’s and Lorena’s granducato. Think of a Shire’s festival and the entrance in Gondor, for those of you familiar with JRR Tolkien’s works.
      Being in Firenze is a pleasure the locals offer to you, not your right to be there; and sure you’re bound to pay for that privilege. In Romagna, as well as other places here, it is actually a pleasure to see turisti roaming around, barely knowing where to go, what to see, how to ask for a hearty lunch and a fair price. And with t-shirts under the shirts – o Signore mio! – or short socks between their feet and Birkenstocks.

      When Sgt. Mom talks about the ruins in Rome, well, yes, few has remained. Few, very few, but à cause de The Church and the families of its Curia Romana. Everything has been used, and it is visible, in the palaces and basilicas: from columns to statues, from marbles to the buildings themselves. It was easier, in an era with no Empire anymore but war and disorder, to collect and transform what already existed. And no, no, definitely no, how could a Christian believe in the historical importance of a pagan temple?
      Preservation is a modern, contemporary concept. And still not one so well spread: just think of our friends the Talibans and the giant Buddahs – but I’ve read they were Greeks kings, perhaps Alexander the Great and some other of his Central Asians generals – destroyed in favour of tv cameras.

      As for Europe’s new masters. We’re not there yet, Mr. Kennedy. Ok, we’ll probably fall – by sword or bank accounts – but we’ve not fallen yet. I enjoy – if that’s the verb – Steyn’s works but thre’s still time to visit, and fight.

      What I strongly believe it’s that if there’s a war – conventional and unconventional – Europe, along with Israel, is the first pawn to fall. Fine and dandy, geostrategicaly speaking. But these lands are not the main target. It’s the West as a concept, the very idea of the European civilization of which, I’m afraid to tell, like it or not, you’re one of the offspring. What will fall, if something will actually fall, will be the idea of an open world. Of peoples, cultures, religions and habits living together under the rule of law. The Roman idea.

      And, well, if Costantinopolis has been lost to the Turkic tribes and their cannons it may not be fault of the melancholy of my Eastern brothers. They were strong in a new, renewed faith as well as in swords; still they’ve been betrayed by Rome and the barbaric kings of what was once the province of Gallia. A place where, when my ancestors were already enjoying gay disco parties in the public baths, the locals wore wool trousers, itching and scratching.
      Holding grudge is a silly thing after all these centuries. Not understanding the lesson for which united we stand divided we fall would actually be a crime.

      However, and whatever the future will bring, let’s get back to joyful notes. Come, see, taste. We’re not an emirate yet and the people – however stressed by the recession – are still welcoming turisti. Just avoid the places that have photographs of the dishes on the menu: that’s the first and most important rule of traveling through Italy. On a budget? Ask for an alimentari (ah-lee-man-tah-ry) and get a freshly baked panino with prosciutto, pomodoro, formaggio or whatever. Enjoy your stay and, while still thinking of you as somewhat weird barbarians, we love you.

    14. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

      I am a lover of things ancient, but Erisguy makes a solid point. It is only our knowledge of these things (or, if you prefer, our potential knowledge) that give them value. Mere oldness is cool mostly because we marvel at something having lasted that long. The Parthenon has meaning because we can make a narrative, real or pretended, which connects it to important things in our own day. If all of our culture were destroyed and only the remnants of the Kingdome remained, people living then might consider those remains valuable.

      If this seems like liberal-arts heresy, consider the thoughts of CS Lewis considering the stars: mere age and distance would not impress were it not for our ability to make such things romantic.

    15. Michael Kennedy Says:

      Sejo, I’ve been there many times and enjoyed what is to be seen. In Bologna, I have visited the apothecary shop that is a thousand years old. The walls of the inner room are decorated with the monks who ruled, until the secular relatives took over 100 years ago. I saw the Sistine Chapel both before and after restoration. My family and I attended Mass in St Peters conducted by John Paul II. During that Mass, a man behind us groped my wife and daughter, but oh well.

      I have stayed in the Hotel Lord Byron which is surrounded by villas that no American could afford, unless his name is Warren Buffet. I wonder how many of the owners pay income tax.

      I love Venice and have been there many times. My children have also been there several times. I hope it survives the new owners.

      Too much of Europe has decided to live off the bounty of past generations. I understand about the terrible civil wars from 1870 to 1945 but hope the people will decide to perpetuate themselves. I didn’t see many Italians in Venice.

    16. Sejo Says:

      That’s funny. Let’s say that a person very close to me owns one of those villas and that a member of GW Bush administration was a guest in one of its apartments some time ago. A couple of years, maybe.
      The only man in the house, my friend’s father, didn’t speak English nor smoke, and the yankee gentleman actually enjoyed a cigar and a drink – a Port, if I recall well – after dinner in the garden. His wife wouldn’t let him smoke in house nor the owners would appreciate it. They’re both doctors, just as you.
      We then had a few chats, and he was marveling as you do. I explained that the villa was built just after 1900 by my friend’s grand-grandparents. The economist was incredulous: how can a family stay in the same place for four generations? We value – he said – mobility, both social and geographical. It is not uncommon to be born somewhere, raised somewhere else, study elsewhere and then get a job wherever it is to be found in the USA. I translated to the Italian doctor and he smiled, replying that we value the opposite.
      A generation builds, thanks to the extreme polarization of richness of long gone days, and generation after generation everyone commits her/himself to work, earn as much as possible and pay for it. I read in one of the comments in another discussion that the Americans have their flag as a symbol of the ideas that gave birth to their country and flying it in front of houses is a normal sign of allegiance to those ideals. Extremely romantic. For us, generally speaking, there’s land – which means the land where you were born, raised and live, be it an apartment or a villa – and family. It is somewhat strange to move in another town or, in a large city, neighbourhood. I did many times in my life, both as a kid and adult, and I’m seen as the «wandering Jew». My whole family is seen like that: my only brother is in Milan, my mother in Paris, my father somewhere east of Venice. Even as many, the most of them actually, Northeners have parents from Southern Italy they claim themselves to be Torinese, Milanese or whatever. I can’t explain it better.
      Perhaps in your Old South is the same, if rural life hasn’t succumbed to modernity. Right, I suppose it’s an attitude of the scarce-mobility era in which people were bound to their lot of rural land: it’s about roots, although I was taught that humans are not vegetables. I could be wrong, though. The Italian kids are usually said they were born under cabbages.

      Most of the villas are property of banks, however, in that area and are used as offices. Very few families remain. Some other villas, a couple at least, have been gifted to the local or national administration to be used as museums and such; others have been renovated as apartments and sold/rented.
      As I’m very close to that family, I can tell that even being hard working people, and successful ones, it’s hard to pay for taxes and especially continuous renovation. But never ever the idea to sell, and live off the money, would cross their minds. Where they are born they live and will die. And they will be buried in the family cappella in one of the historical areas of the old cemetery, where they go regularly to clean tombs and say a prayer.
      That’s being conservative in our language and that’s why I smile when I hear/read you talking about liberals or conservatives, as I can’t think of a people less conservative than yours. Which is fine by me, eh.

      I suppose that the Italians in Venice are invisible, in that hell of mass tourism that the city has been turned into. Such a small place, so many visitors. Of course, there are a lot of them although a minority have sold their homes to foreigners and moved inland; be it Mestre or the beautiful countryside. It’s a common feature in the historic districts everywhere in Italy: old money goes, new money is found.
      Just think of Portofino: sure, it’s a wonderful tiny village but before the 1950s it was a desperate village of fishermen as thousands others along our coasts. Nowadays, the locals live on the hills, having – wisely – sold their homes to wealthy Milanese and foreigners. The area where I lived in Rome for 25 years, the one surrounding St. Peter’s, has had the same story – and I’m one of those who chose to sell rather than live in grand-tourisme-coaches-land.

      As for having children: I have not seen the results of our last census but I can tell that a lot of prémaman and babies’ shops are opening, and you have to have money to buy in those shops. Not H&M and such.
      Maybe the tide is turning, I don’t know. I actually fear our politicians more than denatalization and immigration. Sure, some are Muslims and could be extremists but the ones going hand in hand with Gheddafi and Hezbollah leaders were our foreign affairs ministers: left or right, left and right. Then, it’s up to us to get rid of them in future elections. But I wouldn’t bet a cent on it: it’s more likely I’ll be in Australia in three years than having a pro-Western majority in Italy and Europe. Can’t say why, can’t see why not.

      Have a nice Sunday, all of you.

    17. Kirk Parker Says:

      Who now cries when the King Dome …. [is] imploded?

      The taxpayers of King County, that’s who–since the d*mned monstrosity wasn’t even done being paid for when it was taken down.

    18. Mike Says:

      “I think – other than that little town you found yourself at – succeeding generations have no appreciation for what was done and like the Visigoths just loot it.”

      I think that describes California perfectly.

    19. Mike Says:

      “But these lands are not the main target. It’s the West as a concept, the very idea of the European civilization of which, I’m afraid to tell, like it or not, you’re one of the offspring. What will fall, if something will actually fall, will be the idea of an open world. Of peoples, cultures, religions and habits living together under the rule of law. The Roman idea.”

      Beautifully written. Let’s hope it does not pass.

      (And we well aware we are the offspring of Greco-Roman, as well European Enlightenment, culture. We’ve not forgotten that. The barbarians we are fighting are the Leftists in our midsts. It’s a civil war.)

      Sgt. Mom: Gorgeously written article. Thank you for this.

    20. Robert Schwartz Says:

      “Mausoleum of Galla Placida” I didn’t know that there was a monument to her. Wikipedia says that she is not buried there.

      She was a fascinating character. She was the daughter of the Emperor Theodosius I, who reigned at the end of the 4th century and who suppressed paganism. Her brother Honorius was the Western Emperor during the first quarter of the 5th Century. She was a hostage to the Visigoths as a teenager, and at 22 she was married to the Visigoth King. He was assassinated a couple of years later and she was returned to her brother’s court. He married her to his generalissimo and imperial colleague, Constantius, and their son Valentinian became the emperor on Honorious’ death. At that time Valentinian was 4 yro. Galla was his regent during his minority.

      I am reading Peter Heather’s excellent history of the time, “The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians”. He does an excellent job of sorting through the strategic and military issues that lead to the dismemberment of the Western Empire, in a way that the readers of this blog would find most congenial.

      http://www.amazon.com/Fall-Roman-Empire-History-Barbarians/dp/0195325419/

    21. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Yes – there is a Mausoleum of Galla Placida – lovely pictures here although none of them give anything like the full effect –
      mausoleum of galla placidia ravenna italy
      I am certain that there is probably a romance novel written about her …
      (quick google search here) Apparently not – so there is room for an indy-writer to do a perfectly fascinating one! Politics, and sex and the fracturing of an empire, oh my!

    22. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Sgt. Mom: Sadly, the link did not work.

      I am not surprised that there are few novels about the late Roman Empire. The Principate (Augustus to Marcus Aurelius) has drawn a lot of attention, e.g. I, Claudius, Gladiator.

      There are some wild stories begging to be told. Galla Placida is one of them. The Empress Theodora would be better. She was the original “Pretty Woman” and there is a contemporary history about her: Procopius “Secret History”, which tells some pretty salacious stories.

    23. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

      }}} and the last of the Roman Empire would be gone forever

      Only the trappings. Thanks to both Rome and Byzantium, a good part of Greek culture lives on, with its legacy of thought and reason and, at least as important, its notion of Truth. These are non-trivial. The rest of the world failed to come to them, and only the descendants of Greece, Rome, Byzantium have had their use for the last 2000 and more years, in greater and lesser proportions.

      And it is these notions, so well developed, which have made humans the masters of this world.

    24. Mike K Says:

      “The man in the house, my friend’s father, didn’t speak English nor smoke, and the yankee gentleman actually enjoyed a cigar and a drink – a Port, if I recall well – after dinner in the garden. His wife wouldn’t let him smoke in house nor the owners would appreciate it. They’re both doctors, just as you.”

      The attachment to land is universal but uncommonly exercised here. My great grandfather had a farm about 60 miles south of Chicago. He lived there and raised 12 children, nine sons, and died in 1905. His house in the town was a large white house with Victorian style. I wanted to buy it but it was torn down after being ruined by renters. The Catholic church in the town, St Pauls in Odell, IL, is there and the first stained glass window on the left as you enter has a section that says, “Donated by Mr and Mrs Michael Kennedy. To the right, the first window says, “Donated by Mr and Mrs John Ferguson.” Those are my great grandparents. They did well for people who, at least in my great grandfather’s case, were illiterate.

      It is a small town but the town high school had at least two National Merit scholars before it was closed to send all the children to a mediocre unified high school several miles away. We do not value tradition here.

      I lived for a while in Boston and the street I lived on in 1965 was a slum. The house across the street was bought from the city by a young couple for one dollar. They gutted the house and completely redid it. Twenty years later, that house was probably worth a half million dollars.

      When I lived there, there was an Italian bakery next to the Old North Church in the “north end.” That was an Italian neighborhood. The Massachusetts General Hospital had an Italian interpreter, as the LA County Hospital has Spanish interpreters. The bakery was run by a woman with one arm. We used to go in there and buy a loaf of bread for 25 cents. My wife and I would take it back to our apartment on West Cedar Street and eat the whole thing with butter.

      In 1977, I took my children, still small ages 12 to 7, on a long trip to the East. When we stopped in Boston, I took them to see where the bakery had been and it was still there ! The one armed woman was there, a bit gray but still running the bakery. She told us she had gone back to Italy after 1965 but had returned to Boston and was in the same store.

      We drove to Maine and saw the old ships stranded there. They are gone now. In one small town, the wooden boat building shop had a program for apprentices under age 18 for the summer only. I tried to interest my oldest son in signing up for the next summer but he was not interested. I would have given a lot to have the same opportunity. He is now a lawyer in the Bay Area. He is an excellent sailor but missed a wonderful chance.

      A few years later, I took my kids to England for two weeks. We spent one week at a bed and breakfast in the Isle of Wight. The kids had great fun. My younger son, then 15, was asked if he would be interested in coming back the following summer to be a bus boy. Another great opportunity for a kid. The B&B was owned by an interesting couple who were related to the owners of the Bonham auction gallery in London. The guests were mostly London art scene and music scene people. One music producer took the kids to see rock groups, one of which was Duran Duran just starting out. My son didn’t show much interest and I was disappointed. Years later, he told me that Toby Bonham had been busted for growing marijuana in the back yard. It was probably just as well. He is now 41 with three children, a great wife and a nice home.

      In 1987, I was able to arrange for my older son, then 22, to join one of the America’s Cup teams in Freemantle, Australia. At first he would be a gopher and bottom sander but could get on the crew if he did well. He wasn’t interested. I was disappointed. My wife and I went to Australia to watch the races.

      Maybe I was more adventurous than my children. I never had those chances. Maybe they were right to be cautious. The younger ones have had the chance to travel all over the world with me and on their own. My youngest wants to live in France. My middle daughter speaks Arabic and has been in Morocco. She has lived in Spain and visited China several times. My oldest son now visits Spain and Portugal and will probably be as adventurous as I would like to have been. It’s hard to have traditions here when change is so common but we do visit other places and appreciate them.

      I could live in France or Australia easily.