Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The First Day Of Our Vacation: Munich

My parents and my brother and sister had a very good time on our trip, which pleased me immensely.

In the back of my mind were several fears: that my father would be unable to unwind and relax and allow himself truly to enjoy a vacation; that my mother would become fixated on an isolated detail (such as some minor hotel annoyance) and allow it to ruin her vacation; that my sister would become bored outside of the major cities and proceed to poke fun at everything relentlessly (which always gets on my father’s nerves); and that my brother would become bored in the major cities and tune out what he was seeing.

My fears were not realized.

Everyone behaved himself and herself. Everyone had a wonderful time.

Our connecting flights were NOT delayed, so we were all able to fly on the same plane from Chicago to Munich. This relieved my mother more than I can say.

Moreover, my mother’s luggage did NOT get misrouted, delayed or lost. This fact alone made the vacation a success in her eyes.

Once the above hurdles were surmounted, she was able to stop worrying and enjoy her vacation fully.


The first day of our vacation was perhaps the best day of all. I think we saw more interesting and new things on that first day than on any other day of the entire trip.

We arrived at Franz Josef Strauss very early Friday morning, and we immediately took the train from the airport into the center of Munich.

We took our luggage to our hotel first thing, intending only to deposit our bags. To our surprise, our rooms were ready for us, and we were able to check in. This was good, because it allowed my mother to inspect our rooms, and to see that the rooms were perfectly satisfactory. She was pleased with the rooms—and I was pleased, knowing that we would be able to explore Munich all day without my mother worrying about the quality of hotel rooms that lay ahead of us at the end of the day.

We deposited our bags in our rooms, and left within minutes. Our plan was to be out and about all day in the fresh air, walking and gawking, so as to ward off fatigue.

We had a walking itinerary prepared, an itinerary that would allow us to explore a good portion of Munich from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

Our plan was to conclude our walk in the late afternoon, at which point we intended to get a bite to eat and return to our hotel and turn in for the night. We hoped to be able to sleep for twelve hours and to wake up at 7:00 a.m. the next day, finding ourselves fully rested and operating on Central European Time.

From the hotel, our first stop was a café, where we each had a strong coffee and Linzer Torte, providing us with caffeine and sugar to fuel our walk.

Our first real stop was the massive Frauenkirche, Munich’s Roman Catholic Cathedral and most important church. We explored Frauenkirche inside and out, and we explored it in depth (but we did not attempt to visit the towers). We were surprised how plain was the interior of the Frauenkirche.

Out next stop was Marienplatz, home of Neues Rathaus and Altes Rathaus. We hung around Marienplatz until it was time for the display of the mechanical figures at Neues Rathaus.

Next came Peterskirche, whose interior and exterior we explored. The Bavarian Baroque interior of Peterskirche was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. At Peterskirche, we DID climb the tower. The views over the city were marvelous.

Nearby Heiliggeistkirche was the next item on our itinerary, and we examined the church’s exterior and interior.

We spent half an hour wandering around Viktualienmarkt, seeking out a place to have lunch. We settled upon an al fresco lunch of Munich sausages and rolls, which we ate while continuing to explore Viktualienmarkt. To my astonishment, my sister liked the sausages—and did not complain about grease.

After Viktualienmarkt, we walked to Hofbrauhaus.

Next we inspected the ancient buildings of the old Wittelsbach palace complex, known as Alter Hof and Munzhof, today occupied by various governmental and administrative agencies. We stepped inside to see the old courtyard, which was very beautiful and very impressive.

From Alter Hof and Munzhof we walked to Max-Joseph-Platz, on which is situated The National Theater, home of the Bavarian State Opera, and the Residenz, last home of the Wittelsbachs before the dynasty abdicated at the conclusion of World War I.

We inspected the nearby loggia, Feldherrnhalle, and we inspected the exterior and visited the interior of Theatinerkirche, a magnificent Baroque church with an all-white nave and chancel.

We walked around Hofgarten, the gardens at the rear of the Residenz, for an hour.

The final portion of our day of exploration was to stroll the length of Briennerstrasse from Odeonsplatz to Konigsplatz, along which are situated numerous plazas, monuments and historic buildings, several associated with (and even built by) the National Socialists.

This was a great walk, and a great way to spend our first day in Munich, but we were all spent by the time we arrived at Konigsplatz.

It was only 4:30 p.m., but we had walked more than five miles by our estimation and we were bushed—and we decided to end our day. We took the subway back to our hotel, where we freshened up and went out to have an early dinner.

We had dinner at a German restaurant. We all ordered schnitzels and hot, sour German potato salads, preceded by German garden salads with all sorts of vegetables soaked in different brines. We all enjoyed the dinner enormously.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and turned in for the night.

It was not even 7:00 p.m. when we fell asleep.


The first day of our vacation was a great day because my parents very much liked the city of Munich and because my brother and sister very much liked the city of Munich.

I liked the city of Munich, too.

For my mother and for my sister, the highlights of their day were the interiors of Peterskirche and Theatinerkirche, both of which were stupendous in completely different ways.

Peterskirche is Munich’s finest example of Bavarian Baroque design.

Theatinerkirche is Munich’s finest example of Italian Baroque design.

My father most enjoyed seeing Feldherrnhalle (famously the scene of Hitler’s unsuccessful 1923 Putsch).

My father also enjoyed seeing Hofbrauhaus (much-associated with the early years of the Hitler movement) as well as the many buildings along Briennerstrasse affiliated with the period of National Socialism.

Ironically, the 1930’s Briennerstrasse edifice built as headquarters for the Munich Nazi Party was to become headquarters of the American occupation force after the war. The structure now serves as home to Munich’s high school for musicians. One may still observe where Nazi emblems were formerly attached to the building.

My brother enjoyed everything.

It was his first day on foreign soil.

Everything was an adventure for him.

He had the best time of all.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Someone Had To Say It

August 21, 2009

The Honorable Kenny MacAskill, MSP
Cabinet Secretary for Justice
Scottish Government
St. Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Over the years I have been a prosecutor, and recently as the Director of the FBI, I have made it a practice not to comment on the actions of other prosecutors, since only the prosecutor handling the case has all the facts and the law before him in reaching the appropriate decision.

Your decision to release Megrahi causes me to abandon that practice in this case. I do so because I am familiar with the facts, and the law, having been the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the investigation and indictment of Megrahi in 1991. And I do so because I am outraged at your decision, blithely defended on the grounds of "compassion."

Your action in releasing Megrahi is as inexplicable as it is detrimental to the cause of justice. Indeed your action makes a mockery of the rule of law. Your action gives comfort to terrorists around the world who now believe that regardless of the quality of the investigation, the conviction by jury after the defendant is given all due process, and sentence appropriate to the crime, the terrorist will be freed by one man's exercise of "compassion." Your action rewards a terrorist even though he never admitted to his role in this act of mass murder and even though neither he nor the government of Libya ever disclosed the names and roles of others who were responsible.

Your action makes a mockery of the emotions, passions and pathos of all those affected by the Lockerbie tragedy: the medical personnel who first faced the horror of 270 bodies strewn in the fields around Lockerbie, and in the town of Lockerbie itself; the hundreds of volunteers who walked the fields of Lockerbie to retrieve any piece of debris related to the breakup of the plane; the hundreds of FBI agents and Scottish police who undertook an unprecedented global investigation to identify those responsible; the prosecutors who worked for years--in some cases a full career--to see justice done.

But most importantly, your action makes a mockery of the grief of the families who lost their own on December 21, 1988. You could not have spent much time with the families, certainly not as much time as others involved in the investigation and prosecution. You could not have visited the small wooden warehouse where the personal items of those who perished were gathered for identification--the single sneaker belonging to a teenager; the Syracuse sweatshirt never again to be worn by a college student returning home for the holidays; the toys in a suitcase of a businessman looking forward to spending Christmas with his wife and children.

You apparently made this decision without regard to the views of your partners in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the Lockerbie tragedy. Although the FBI and Scottish police, and prosecutors in both countries, worked exceptionally closely to hold those responsible accountable, you never once sought our opinion, preferring to keep your own counsel and hiding behind opaque references to "the need for compassion."

You have given the family members of those who died continued grief and frustration. You have given those who sought to assure that the persons responsible would be held accountable the back of your hand. You have given Megrahi a "jubilant welcome" in Tripoli, according to the reporting. Where, I ask, is the justice?

Sincerely yours,

Robert S. Mueller, III
Federal Bureau Of Investigation

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I Don't Know What To Do

Andrew and I have been back in Boston only since Sunday night, and already Andrew’s depression has hit.

I could see it in his eyes when he got home from work Tuesday night, and it has only worsened since.

He has not slept for the past two nights—and neither have I.

I don’t know what to do.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back In Bistin, Missichisitts

Andrew and I enjoyed our final week in Minnesota.

There was a full table at dinner last Monday night, as everyone gathered to celebrate our return and to hear about our trip.

Lizbeth’s parents were present, too. They have been visiting for the last two weeks. They have one more week to enjoy Minnesota before they must return to London.

I believe their visit has been a splendid one thus far. They have been playing with their grandchildren, mostly, but they also have had an opportunity to explore the Twin Cities. They visited The Minneapolis Institute Of Arts and The Walker Museum. They attended a Twins game solely out of curiosity.

Lizbeth’s parents wanted to attend a performance at The Guthrie while they were in town, but the only current Guthrie offering that even remotely interested them was J.B. Priestley’s “When We Are Married”. We had already seen the staging, and we gave them our impressions of the play and the production. After hearing what we had to say about “When We Are Married”, they decided to wait until next summer to catch a performance at the famed Guthrie.

They say they are amazed that Minneapolis is such a clean city. They also have been impressed with how friendly and civilized is the local populace.

After our return to Minnesota, it took Andrew and me a full day to adjust our body clocks to local time. On Tuesday, we napped on and off when not unpacking and washing and storing our travel clothes.

On Wednesday, we went over to spend the day with the kids.

On Thursday, we stayed home and helped Andrew’s mother with a few things.

On Friday, we had lunch with Andrew’s grandmother at the care facility.

On Saturday, everyone came over to spend the day. We played with the kids all day, and enjoyed a grand Saturday night family dinner.

Today was sad, because it was our last day in Minnesota. We went to church this morning. After a light lunch, Andrew and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting our things together.

Andrew’s parents took us to the airport late this afternoon, and we are now back in Boston—or Bistin, Missichisitts, as Andrew calls it.

Summer for Andrew and me is now over.

We’re back in our tiny apartment—it seemed smaller than ever tonight when we walked in the door—and ready to take care of business for another year.

At least there are a few interesting things in the works.

I think Andrew and I might spend Labor Day Weekend in Niagara-On-The Lake, attending a few performances at The Shaw Festival. We will never be any closer to Niagara-On-The-Lake than we are right now, and we might as well take advantage of the situation.

I think Alex may come visit us the first weekend in October. He likes college football, and he likes visiting different college football venues, and a Boston College-Florida State game that particular weekend provides him with a good excuse for a trip East.

The following weekend, Columbus Day Weekend, Andrew’s parents may make a visit. There is an interesting Boston Symphony program that weekend, and an interesting Handel And Haydn Society program that weekend. The Boston Ballet will conclude a run of performances of “Giselle” that weekend, and one of the local repertory theater companies will be in the midst of a run of performances of “Kiss Me, Kate”. There will be more than enough of interest in Boston that weekend to warrant a visit.

Andrew and I will have to worry about Thanksgiving and Christmas plans later in the semester.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"The Doge Leonardo Loredan"

In 1506, Albrecht Durer made a return trip to Venice, taking with him “Self-Portrait At 28”.

The Italian masters were dazzled by Durer’s painting, especially Giovanni Bellini, greatest of the Venetian masters and teacher of Giorgione and Titian.

Bellini thought Durer’s painting was the greatest portrait he had ever encountered—and, in response, Bellini showed to Durer his own most compelling portrait, which he believed to be markedly inferior to Durer’s masterpiece.

The painting Bellini showed to Durer was “The Doge Leonardo Loredan”, the greatest Bellini portrait that has survived to modern times (many Bellini paintings were destroyed in a 1577 fire at The Doge’s Palace).

Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516)
The Doge Leonardo Loredan
The National Gallery, London

Oil On Panel
24 5/16 Inches By 17 13/16 Inches

In the summer of 2007, when we visited London, we spent an entire evening in the Sainsbury Wing of London’s National Gallery (the building in which paintings up to 1500 are housed), and we made a particular point of examining this great Bellini masterwork.

The sitter was 65 years old at the time Bellini painted this portrait. The sitter had recently been installed as Doge, a position he was to hold until his death twenty years later. As was typical of Doge portraits, Loredan was painted in his Doge vestments, including the odd hat that today looks so peculiar.

“The Doge Leonardo Loredan” is a very great portrait. Bellini’s handling of the Doge’s elaborate garment is breathtaking—but Bellini’s handling of the old man’s skin is perhaps more breathtaking still.

Bellini’s portrait shows that Loredan was not a warrior Doge. Loredan’s selection as Doge had been based not upon his military skill but upon his intellect and wisdom, qualities readily apparent in Bellini’s painting. There is both cool calculation and human empathy revealed in the Doge’s face and eyes. He exudes power and authority—but frailty and wariness, too, in equal measure.

“The Doge Leonardo Loredan” is probably the most complex portrait of the Italian High Renaissance.

Bellini was an old man when he painted “The Doge Leonardo Loredan”—he was in his early seventies at the time—and he had witnessed astonishing developments in painting over the previous seven decades of his life. Born during the Early Renaissance, Bellini lived until the end of the High Renaissance. He was a living link between the Quattrocento and Mannerism.

When we examined this particular Bellini painting in London in 2007, Andrew told me that there was a High Renaissance portrait of equal if not greater stature in Munich painted at precisely the same time, that both artists had enormously admired the work of the other, and that one day I must see this other great High Renaissance portrait.

Two years later, I have now seen that other great portrait.

I am doubly privileged.

Were it possible, the Durer and Bellini portraits should one day be displayed side-by-side.

They would provide an overwhelming experience.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Albrecht Durer's "Self-Portrait At 28"

While we were in Munich, we visited the Alte Pinakothek, one of the world’s very greatest painting galleries.

The Wittelsbachs, rulers of Bavaria for more than 700 years, were supreme connoisseurs and collectors of art. Practically every painting in the Alte Pinakothek—which is more or less the Wittelsbach family collection—is a top-tier masterpiece by a top-tier artist.

The Alte Pinakothek owns 10,000 paintings, of which no more than 900 are on display at a given time. Its collection may be the world’s single finest painting collection.

The first painting I encountered at the Alte Pinakothek that totally seized my attention, positively riveting me to the floor in front of the painting, was in Gallery Two. The painting was Albrecht Durer’s “Self-Portrait At 28”, the fifth and final of Durer’s self-portraits.

I could not tear myself away from the painting—and neither could my father, who is not an art-lover. My father said it was the first painting he had ever seen that moved him deeply.

Albrecht Durer (1471-1528)
Self-Portrait At 28
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Oil On Panel
26 1/4 Inches By 19 1/4 Inches

Durer lived and worked in Nuremberg, the largest and most important city in Germany at the time of the Early and High Renaissance. Not only was Nuremberg Germany’s commercial center during the Early and High Renaissance, it was also Germany’s cultural center. Numerous important painters worked in Renaissance-era Nuremberg, but Durer, clearly, was the greatest of them all. In fact, Durer was the greatest painter Germany has ever produced.

In the years immediately prior to painting “Self-Portrait At 28”, Durer traveled to Venice several times, on one trip spending two years in the city on the lagoon. Durer befriended several Italian painters, most notably Giovanni Bellini, whom Durer believed to be the greatest of all Italian masters.

Bellini reciprocated the sentiment: Bellini believed Durer, although only in his twenties, to be a greater painter than any of the Italian masters, including Bellini himself.

Durer blended the finest aspects of Netherlandish painting and Italian painting, the two leading schools of the time. From the Dutch, Durer learned his astonishing command of detail. From the Italians, Durer learned his extraordinary subtlety of color and line.

“Self-Portrait At 28” is universally acknowledged to be Durer’s finest painting. Moreover, it is generally regarded to be the finest German painting ever created.

The work was painted in 1500, a Centennial Year. Almost all of the great Renaissance artists made a point of creating special religious works in honor of the Centennial Year. Durer was unique in that his great Centennial Year project was not a religious painting but a self-portrait.

Nonetheless, the religious undertones in the painting are self-evident: Durer paints himself to resemble a Christ-like figure.

Durer in no way intended this painting to be blasphemous, and it has never been taken to be blasphemous. Durer wished to remind the viewer that God created both Christ and man in God’s own image, and that artistic beauty is, perforce, a tribute to the glory of God.

In the painting, the different textures of Durer’s clothing are amazing to behold, as are the textures of his skin and hair. The photograph above cannot begin to suggest how finely-detailed—and subtle—Durer’s technique was.

Further, in person, the painting positively glows. The canvas possesses a sheen and a magnetism that are unforgettable.

It is the gaze of the artist, however, that most rivets the viewer. A single glance at Durer’s eyes, and the viewer cannot help but stare into this man’s eyes and search this man’s face, trying to ascertain what special qualities reside within the heart and soul of this most compelling and civilized figure.

The painting’s inscription: Thus I, Albrecht Durer, from Nuremberg, painted myself, with indelible colors, at the age of 28 years.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Successful Trip

Andrew and I returned safely from Bavaria and Austria this afternoon.

The trip was a success. My parents had a good time, my brother and sister had a good time, Andrew and I had a good time.

Most important of all, my mother’s luggage did not get lost, misrouted or delayed. This fact alone made the trip a success in her eyes.

Andrew and I have one more week to enjoy Minnesota.

This coming Sunday night, we must return to Boston, as Andrew must be at work first thing Monday morning. Andrew’s boss embarks for three weeks in France on Friday night, and Andrew will have his hands full at the office while his boss is away.

Myself, I shall have two weeks of free time once we return to Boston, and I intend to use some of that time to report on our trip next week.