A Big Muddy Meander With a Beat You Can Dance To

There’s an interview segment in The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s epic film of The Band’s farewell concert, when he asks Levon Helm to talk about how the rural Southland that raised him up shaped American music. Helm, the good old boy Arkansas polymath-singer-drummer extraordinaire, drawls: “That’s kind of the middle of the country, you know, back there…

Riding The Natchez Trace

The Nachez Trace Parkway is a miracle. So is finding it with your phone’s GPS. Since the Trace doesn’t have a route number, Siri sent me to and fro, to this side and that side of Nashville. Finally, after two hours of tracing and retracing interstates to the east, west and south, I got off the highway and asked an old farmer how to get there.

You Can’t Go Home Again (And Why Would You?)

With the exception of Pittsburgh, where inter-generational families cling to each other like refugees in a lifeboat, a preponderance of Americans, particularly the college-educated, eventually leave their hometowns behind. You can find no end of sociological studies (and lamentations) online about the decline of the geographically proximate extended family.

Big Data is watching you!

I grew up in a different era than my students, in a time when the adventures described by wanderers like Hemingway or Kerouac still seemed plausible; like, okay, the world has changed quite a bit since then, and there are more channels on television, but leaving the world of what you know and getting lost in the elsewhere is still possible.

Walking in Paris…with my father

France has seen many upheavals, defeats and resurrections since its bloody Revolution. World War II was likely the most severe test of its survival and its principles. My father played a role – a small role, a soldier’s role — in restoring to France its freedom and culture, which myself and my students now enjoy and marvel at in our wanderings through Paris.

In Zagreb, we live for today, for tomorrow the cannonball may strike us!

Long ago, the mayor of Zagreb was beside himself because the church bells that signaled noon and dinner rang at wildly different times. So, he installed a cannon high in a tower that overlooks the Old Town. Twice a day it would be fired and then the churches were to all ring their bells at once.

Music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air

Last night people thronged Zagreb’s central square, which is lined by cafes and clubs and is a gateway to winding streets with more cafes and clubs, and also to the “old town” which is home to ancient churches and the national parliament. On a raised stage, musicians sang passionately about Croatia while images of the country’s scenic wonders panned by on a plasma screen behind them.

The song remains the same

Centuries of misery have been visited upon the countries through which we are traveling. They have been invaded, sacked, bombed, absorbed, cast out, had their people driven into exile and their soldiers sent home blinded and humiliated. On occasion, their territory has simply been a convenient theatre for bigger empires to wage war against each other. Conflict and defeat have left scars on the land, the buildings, and the people.