Sunday Natterings: strange foreign entanglements

George Washington warned us against foreign entanglements. Yet I have to say, sometimes they can be funny, scary, strange, crazy, or beautiful. Watching the Olympics, I thought of a few entanglements out of my past.

  • While hitchhiking from London to Harwich to catch the ferry to Holland, I was relieved when a man driving a spotless Jaguar sedan gave me a ride. I told him where I was headed and said I was worried about missing the boat. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m their chef. They won’t leave without me.”
  • The moment I stepped inside a French street urinal to use the facilities, a group of women walked into it chattering away as though I were invisible. Or maybe I was just another ugly American. I think they were trying to use the fully visible urinal on the other side, but “sacre bleu!” it seemed impolite to see how they were accomplishing that. I thought of humming a memorable song from “Casablaca” and saying, “We’ll always have Paris.”
  • Another American and I stopped in a London pub, found seats at the bar and ordered whatever was on tap. Presently, a working man came up and kept saying in a Cockney accent I couldn’t decypher, something like “Lor’ luv a duck! A John’s walle’ is cushy ‘o nick ou’ ov a back pocke’.” I had no clue. After the bartender translated that I was being warned that a man’s wallet is easy to steal if he keeps it in his back pocket, I bought the man a pint, we toasted goodness knows what, and I put my wallet in another pocket.
  • Our restoration project alongside a northern canal in the Netherlands

    After a crash course in Dutch, my volunteer group in the Netherlands followed the sailboat races selling lottery tickets to raise money for our project. I saw a couple of college girls and asked if they’d buy a lottery ticket. “Spreekt u Engels?” they asked hopefully. “Sure,” I said. Turned out they were tourists from Florida and were stunned to find out I was also from Florida. Small world. They didn’t buy a ticket. Later, our group worked at the ship yard to help restore a ship to be re-used as a school. Always wearing old clothes, I was amazed by the number of times tourists came up to me at railway stations, bus stops, and random street corners and said, “Spreekt u Engels?” because they wanted directions to some place or other. I’m sure looking like a local kept me out of more trouble than I’ll ever know.

  • While flying over Vietnam in 1969 between the aircraft carrier and Da Nang with nine other men in a small, unarmed Navy plane I was, like everyone else, curious about the view. As we approached the airport, the pilot said, “Gentlemen, there’s been a bit of mortar activity from those hills lately, so I’d advise backing away from the windows.” An ancient chief petty officer said, “If they shoot us down, the last thing I’m worrying about is a shower of broken glass.”
  • Not our hotel.

    After a long day of group sightseeing in Rome, Bob and I decided we weren’t ready to call it quits, so we walked around after dark, enjoying the sights and glasses of wine at various places along the way. When we got lost, Bob suggested we ask a couple of seductive women leaning against a lamp post (how trite!) if they could give us directions to our hotel. “Bad idea,” I said, but it was too late. They grabbed us as though we were old friends (with benefits) and offered to take us to their hotel for the night. After a lot of swearing, they finally agreed to lead us back to our pensione. When we were asked what happened to us, it was hard to live down Bob’s explanation to the group that we got so turned around we needed a couple of hookers to help us find our way in the dark.

  • When a snitty sales lady in a London shop told me “You Americans talk funny,” I said in the thickest Southern accent I could manage, “Bless your heart, Shug, y’all talk funny around here, too.” She didn’t think that was funny. Later, in one of those Berlin restaurants with long communal tables, a clueless American at our table from North Carolina with an accent so thick I had a hard time understanding him blurted out, “Ain’t it a kick, a few years back, all these people here would have been Nazis.” You could have heard a pin drop. I said, “Ich kenne diesen Mann nicht,” and got the hell out of there.
  • While riding a small steam locomotive train across East Germany to Berlin long before the wall came down, we were annoyed when guards boarded at almost every stop and demanded more “visa money.” I gave them what they wanted. When an angry American shouted at them in profanity filled English, informing them that they were a bunch of thieves, they hauled him off the train. When the guards looked at me, I said, “Ich kenne diesen bösen Mann [bad man] nicht,” and they actually smiled before they got the hell out of there.
  • Hong Kong was my favorite liberty port. Fortunately, a family friend who was a missionary and fluent in Cantonese gave me a tour of off-the-beaten-track sites. Every time kids passed on the street, they scowled at me and shouted, “Gweilo, gweilo.” “They’re calling you a foreign devil,” she said. I guess my Navy uniform gave me away.
  • During a memorable horseback ride in the Alberta mountains, we rode up toward the summit on a sunny day and were surprised to find falling snow. Better yet, we were within a snowbow, the first and last one I’ve ever seen. My horse’s name as “Flame,” and that seemed appropriate.
  • Not my ship, but I remember these docks.

    While walking back to the ship during liberty call in Yokosuka, Japan, I got caught in a late night rain storm. Much to my surprise, a bar girl stepped out of nowhere with a red umbrella that matched her sexy red dress and offered to escort me to the pier. When I said I was broke, she said, “No matter, slow night anyway.” She grabbed my arm and stayed so close she provoked catcalls from the flight deck when we reached the ship. She gave me a kiss and said, “Tell your friends we hot lovers.” I think that was a defining moment, but I’m not sure what it defined. It would have made an iconic photograph…the rain, the street lights, the sailor, the girl…

  • Most people who have been there, don’t believe me when I say that a bunch of us went swimming in the oily, heavily polluted Amsterdam harbor. That might have been the same day we enjoyed free samples at the Heineken Brewery. The local hosts on our motor barge who told us not to do it, jumped in, too, when they saw us pretending to drink the water. “If you end up in the hospital, Hank and Truus, we don’t know you anymore.”
  • Wikipedia Photo

    When my wife and I were driving our rental car in Waterton Park, Alberta, we stopped along the shoulder of the road where bighorn sheep were panhandling for food. One of them stuck his head in the driver’s side window and got his horns caught. It took both of us to twist his head enough to set him free.

  • Wearing bright yellow wooden Dutch shoes on the Champs-Élysées attracts more attention than one might expect. The fact that the group had wine for lunch and dared me to do it might have been at fault because people who know me could testify that normally I would never do such a thing.
  • Back when people still took passenger ships from New York to England, I saw the Statue of Liberty from the ship as we left port. It’s a sight I’ll never forget and more memorable than everything else from Hong Kong to Paris to infinity and beyond.

Malcolm

Maymont Mansion: Richmond’s Gilded Age Treasure

Maymont is a Victorian estate and public park created by Richmond lawyer and philanthropist James H. Dooley and his wife Sallie between 1890 and 1893. Like Ashville, North Carolina’s larger Biltmore House, Maymony featured electricity, central heat, plumbing, indoor bathrooms, and expansive, well-kept grounds. Maymont also includes an indoor/outsoor nature center featuring wildlife associated with the James River. When the Dooleys died, the estate was left to the City of Richmond.

We enjoyed our visit to Maymond last week. It was an oasis of calm in a busy city. The main floor and upper floors of the mansion are seen via a guided tour. The basement, which contains kitchens, laundry, and servant’s quarters, has a self-guided tour. Our rental car didn’t have a GPS system. Without one, finding Maymont was a bit tricky. It was easy to get near the estate by driving west on Meadow. Signs directed one in Maymont’s general direction, but in following them we ended up in a labyrinth of neighborhood and public park roads, many of which had no street signs, with no additional Maymont signs suggesting when or where to turn.

“During the Gilded Age of the late 1880s through the 1910s—the era of Carnegie, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt —millionaires demonstrated their prosperity through their elaborate homes. Richmond-born financier James Dooley was among this new class in American society. His home, Maymont, stands today as a remarkably complete expression of Gilded Age luxury and opulence.” – Maymont website.

Once there, be prepared to walk from the front gate to the house and out buildings. From the lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets, it appears that many locals visit the estate as a place to get away from it all.

“Whether strolling through the gardens, touring the mansion, watching river otters play, petting a goat or picnicking on the lawn, Maymont is a gift of 100 acres given for all to enjoy.”

Japanese Garden – Wikipedia photo. The other photographs in this post are by Malcolm R. Campbell.

On TripAdvisor, Maymont has 1,458 reviews with an overal average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Comments on the site today include “Maymont is gorgeous and is situated on historic grounds. It is family friendly and its animal farm is terrific for kids and adults. The Japanese gardens are beautiful and the coy pond is always clean and spectacular. My children (now grown) have taken me to Maymont for the past 23 years for Fathers day and we’re still going” from John and “I’ve been visiting care since I was a little girl. And now we bring our kids here. The estate is sprawling and gorgeous. And one of my favorite parts is there’s no admission. That means that you can pay what you were able to. This makes it accessible for the whole community.  There are so many storybook picture-perfect views: looking down the cascade waterfall in the Italian garden, underneath the enormous trees near the carriage house, crossing the stepping stones in the Japanese gardens, the stream near the foxes… always something new to discover and so much room for the kids to really stretch their legs, play and explore. We hope to visit for generations to come!” from Orexi.

I agree with their assessments.

“Maymont is home to hundreds of animals including mighty black bears, iconic American bald eagles, playful river otters and friendly goats. Many animals can be seen at the Maymont Farm, Nature Center and wildlife exhibits, and others are important members of the environmental education team, participating in public and school programs.” Click here for more information about the nearby nature center.

 

 

One can spend hours enjoying the grounds and statuary.

After walking around Washington, D.C. for several days prior to heading down I-95 for Richmond and stopping by Civil War Battlefields en route, we were tired by the time we got to Maymont. In fact, we were exhausted. While the estate lifted our spirits, we were too wiped out to see everything. I hope we have time to go back.

–Malcolm

Selling Lottery Tickets in Holland

Aboard Rambler in Holland

Aboard Rambler in Holland

I came across an old photo (I’m the one on the right in the row of those standing) of an international group of people who worked together for one month during the summer of 1967.

The first phase of our work consisted of traveling from Amsterdam to Gronigen aboard the motor barge Rambler selling lottery tickets to those attending the annual sailboat races. The lottery tickets supported the second phase of our work: the restoration of an old German ship as a school ship for the children of Dutch shippers.

The men lived in one hold of the ship, the women in the other. Since the holds were not intended as places of habitation, we got up and down with a movable ladder. Even so, this was a very relaxing way to travel and also a somewhat unique view of the country.

We quickly learned enough Dutch to sell the tickets. We had cheat sheets with us with answers for typical questions such as how much the tickets cost and what they were for. They cost one Guilder each (about a quarter) and supported work on a very unique schoolroom for children who moved around a lot.

We sold a fair number of tickets and, hopefully, made a good impression. When we got to our destination, the small town of Hoogezand (in the north, near Gronigen) we became front page news in the local paper. Since we worked on the old ship in a canal along the main road, we were an ever-changing local attraction. People stopped en route to work and, truth be told, were very impressed at the sight of women clinging to the side of the ship removing years old old paint with blow torches and jack hammers.

The ship, known as the White Swan, still exists, I think, but served its intended purpose for a while with a new life. I never saw the final result of the restoration, but always hoped I might one day travel back to the Netherlands and find the ship while the shippers organization was using it as a school.

This old photo stirs up enough memories for a Saturday afternoon and a long evening. But, I have current promises to keep and many chores to finish before I sleep. So, I write a snapshot of them here as I think back some 40 years and wonder how many children used the White Swan and where all the others in this old photograph are today.