Reisen mit Studenten – Gestern im Wien . . . Heute im Kraków

Guten Morgen aus meinem kleinen Zimmer in der Jugendherberge.

Wir kamen in Wien um 10:00 Uhr am letzten Abend und haben sich in der Herberge. Es ist ein wunderbar komfortables Hotel und sehr sauber und effizient. Ich bin begeistert, nach Wien zu kommen, da wir zum ersten Mal von der Möglichkeit gesprochen haben, vor einem Jahr während der letzten Reise. Wir waren in Europa ein bisschen weniger als zwei volle Tage und gestern Nachmittag, bei knapp 24 Stunden Studenten glaubten, sie waren schon seit Tagen verschwunden. Es ist interessant zu sehen, wie der zeitliche Wandel, sowie Fragen der Kultur, vor allem Lebensmittel und Sprache, ihren Tribut an den menschlichen Körper und Geist. Ich erinnere mich an meine Reise nach Ostdeutschland im Jahre 1985 und in einer Ostblock-Nation zu dieser Zeit. Wir durften nicht wandern, wohin wir wollten. Wir wurden beherrscht in Bewegung, Zeit und sogar wo wir essen konnten. Was mich über diese Erfahrung erstaunte, ist, wie schnell ich mich an den Verlust der Freiheiten angepasst habe.

Als wir zum Frühstück am Morgen gesammelt, war es amüsant, die Studenten, die amerikanische Frühstück mit Pfannkuchen, Französisch Toast, Eier verschiedener Arten, Müsli und große Saftklassen verwendet werden. Die Herberge Frühstück war Brötchen, Fleisch, Käse, Brotaufstrich und etwas Gemüse. Es waren keine Eier zu sehen. Die letzten zwei Tage war es interessant zuzuhören. Doch alles in allem sind sie gut und sie lernen, dass Reisen interessant und anstrengend ist. Natürlich haben sie mehr Ausdauer als ich, aber ich möchte glauben, ich mache Dinge ein bisschen klüger und effizienter als sie. Heute Morgen sprachen wir beim Frühstück über Wien und die Musikgeschichte in Wien, die natürlich eine reiche und abwechslungsreiche klassische Musikszene hat. Das ist etwas, was die meisten Studenten heute nicht verstehen und manchmal leider nicht schätzen. Meine Geisteswissenschaften Klasse und die Vorlesungen der Kunst, Musik, Literatur, Politik und Religion kommen harkening zurück.

Here is a translation of the beginning of my blog, but I felt the need to work on my German, which is both important and a bit rusty. Wish I was here to practice a bit longer.

Good morning from my little room in the hostel.

We arrived in Vienna around 10:00 p.m. last evening and got settled into the hostel. It is a wonderfully comfortable place and very clean and efficient. I have been excited to come to Vienna since we first spoke of the possibility a year ago during the last trip. We have been in Europe a bit less than two full days and yesterday afternoon, at barely 24 hours students felt they had already been gone for days. It is interesting to see how the time change, as well as issues of culture, particularly food and language, take their toll on the human body and spirit. I am reminded of my journey to East Germany in 1985 and being in an Eastern Bloc nation at that time. We were not allowed to wander wherever we wanted. We were controlled both in movement, time, and even where we could eat. What amazed me about that experience is how quickly I adapted to the loss of freedoms.

As we gathered for breakfast this morning, it was amusing to watch students who are used to American breakfast with pancakes, French toast, eggs of various types, cereal, and large juice classes. The hostel breakfast was rolls, meat, cheese, spreads and some vegetables. There were no eggs in sight. During the last two days it has been interesting as I have listened to the sort of cultural overload of the senses for so many who are traveling outside the country for their first time. However, all in all they are doing well and they are learning that traveling is both interesting and exhausting. Of course, they have more stamina than I, but I would like to believe I do things a bit more wisely and efficiently than they do. This morning we were speaking at breakfast about Vienna and the history of music in Vienna, which, of course, has a rich and varied classical music scene. That is something that most students today do not understand and sometimes, unfortunately, do not appreciate. My humanities class and the lectures of art, music, literature, politics and religion come harkening back. . . . it is interesting how quickly time moves. It is actually Saturday morning and the last day of the year. We had our orientation and our first classes at Jagiellonian University yesterday. The first class, presented by Professor Annamaria Orla-Bukowska on the History of the Jews in Central Europe was as stunningly impressive the second time as it was this time last year. Her command of this complex ethnographic history is unparalleled and her ability to connect all the pieces without a single note in front of her impressed students in our group beyond words. After a quick lunch, it was back for the afternoon class on Eastern European Film, Art, and Cultural Studies with Dr. Maciej Stroiński. His rather avant garde style belies his brilliance and the depth of his expertise in this area. Students are literally sitting in the presence of internationally renown scholarship each day as they listen and participate in classes at Jagiellonian. This is the same university where Pope John Paul II attended classes as a student and where students have been learning since 1364.

It is the last day of the year and tonight the New Year’s celebration in the market square here in Kraków will see 150,000 visitors. To say it is quite a celebrationmight be a bit of an understatement, but people will surely be happy. This will be my third year here and plans are to go to the same little pub where I have ushered in the last two years. Two years ago, however, I began the trip on my own, visiting the father and fiancé of a former Bloomsburg student. It was during that trip I got acquainted with the program I am here with now. Yesterday as I met Drs. Orla-Bukowska and Stroiński again, it was like returning home. Their graciousness and hospitality are indicative of the Polish people. One of the students on last year’s trip came back in the summer to take Polish language classes and on this coming Monday, I will begin my own language classes. As I have listened to the Bloomsburg students, a common conversational thread has been present. I wish I knew another language better. For me, it was certainly the case that learning another language improved my understanding of my own language. It was definitely in learning another lanaguge that I found my first genuine appreciation for another person’s culture. Perhaps that is the biggest lesson over the last 4 days as students are settling into their Krakówian experience. During the first four days, it was four languages and three countries. It is easy as we are in Bloomsburg to be caught up in the bubble, forgetting there is a complex world going on all around us. The imersion of this class, and any study abroad program, is unavoidable, but it is also what creates the life-long memories that are being formed throughout each day.

As I return to Kraków the third time, the memories of my earlier visits come flooding back. It was on this date two years ago that I found myself lighting a candle for Lydia in the Basilica. I prayed that she might be convinced it was okay to leave this life for the next. It was profound to be in her husband’s native land and praying that he might reach across time and space to greet her. Before the next 24 hours had occurred, that prayer was answered. As I move toward that anniversary of sorts, I am reminded that we are given opportunities to teach and to be taught. That is what I know as I complete another year. The learning never ceases; there is no discontinuing, there is no avoidance if one takes the time to imerse oneself in the process of life. I am certainly not the same person I was the first time I came here. The conversation with students last evening about their first day of classes was gratifying and reminded me of the opportunities and gifts we are given on a daily basis as professors. We are provided with the experiences of learning from those we teach. When you travel with 40 students, those lessons are varied and continuous. The students here in Poland give me hope. They are ready to be sponges soaking up so much of what is happening around them. The classes, the people, the food, and the culture are creating a new fabric and a covering, one that can create yet another layer to their still burgeoning globalized comprehension. While there is an undeniable populism, both in the United States and here in Europe, 40 students are learning about our interdependency and shared history. It is Saturday and the last day of the year, but will be in classes later this morning and until early evening.

In the meanwhile, szczęśliwego nowego roku z Krakowa. Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin



Memories of Days and Years Past


Hello from the Fog and Flame,

It has been a morning of mishaps, but I guess that is to be expected as I am attentively, and somewhat in intensely, trying to make sure I have covered all my bases before the day is out. However, I need to relax and is often the case, my way to do that is to turn to my inner-self and write about it. However, before you read my blog this time, I am going to ask that you do what I am doing. If you have a pair of ear-buds or some other private listening device, please put them on or in and turn on your favorite Christmas or Hanukah music. As I write this, it is both Christmas Eve day and the beginning of Hanukah. The heavens and the calendars have united this year. Perhaps it is the harbinger of good things to come and unity can somehow find its way into other elements of our country and our world.

What are your first memories of Christmas? What made the season magical as is often the word used to describe this season, which is actually the season of Advent until tomorrow for the Christian? What made your Hanukah Celebrations memorable and how does Hanukah with differing dates change the anticipation for those who celebrate this Festival of Lights? My earliest memories of Christmas do not really begin until I was in elementary school. While I lived at the place by fondest memories of Christmas occurred, in spite of the fact I lived in that house until I was almost five, I do not remember Christmases there as a toddler. I do remember living there,  but I do not the holidays. I do remember all the amazing things that were created in the bakery as a small child and I know that the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas were tremendously busy. The pies and pastries, the amazing breads and various things that I somehow never tired of eating were setting out in every direction. What I remember about the Christmas holiday was spending a week at my Grandmother’s house beginning with Christmas, and usually until the end of the school vacation. Mornings of poached eggs, amazing toasted breads, and a fresh grapefruit were, and are, still my comfort food. Christmas Eve was always spent at church with multiple services and singing in choirs and we would open family presents between services. My mother was the most phenomenal Christmas cookie and candy maker and she would spend pretty much every waking moment from Thanksgiving to Christmas making more candy, cookies, peanut brittle, divinity, as she called it, Norwegian Christmas cookies, and anything you might imagine. Seriously, no one could touch her when it came to all of these Christmas treats. Christmas Eve meant getting to bed late, but not too late,  because Santa still needed to come and late nights jeopardized the visit. Christmas morning meant making oatmeal for breakfast and then packing the car to drive to Grandma’s house for a day of amazing food, a Christmas program of carols and music (me playing my trumpet, by older brother playing his trombone, and my sister, Kris, leading the singing of carols. This was our yearly gift to our relatives. Sometimes I must admit I did not want to do it, but at the end I was always glad I did. The Christmas dinner guests were my family of five, my Great-aunt Helen and her husband, Melvin, my Great-aunt Martha, who could still speak Norwegian, my Aunt Martha, my Uncle Claire, and sometimes, a few cousins. What I remember about the Christmas was my grandmother pulled out all the stops and was so happy that we came back to her house every year. She had an acreage and hills and tobogganing was a staple as well as games of hearts after dishes were done and somehow coming back to eat more, usually turkey sandwiches and more pie before everyone would leave, but that really began the holiday for my sister and me as we stayed at Grandma’s house for at least another week. I loved that house. It was not a rich or large house, but it was filled with love. From the old fashioned kitchen to the warm and toasty den, it was the place I felt safe; the place I knew I was loved. I was fortunate to have that through my high school years. I am not sure Christmas has ever been the same. That is not to say that there have not been additional memories that mean a lot to me.

When I was first married, Susan and I were pretty poor, but somehow I began to collect Dickens Houses for Christmas. Somehow they were all lost in a divorce. To this day, I am not sure what happened to them. I have always loved sitting in front of the Christmas tree in the dark with only the lights of the tree and music playing softly in the background. To this day, that has not changed. What has changed is that the holidays are special, but when I get to see the smiles and the excitement on face of others. A second important realization of Christmas for me was when I was in East Germany and Germany before Christmas in 1985. The German Christmas Markets and the fact that they celebrated Advent for Advent really impressed me, but merely as an issue of beauty, but as an issue of piety and appropriateness. Another significant Christmas memory for me was my second Christmas as a pastor in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, not far from where I live now. We did a special service for families called “The Animals’ Christmas” and everyone brought a stuffed animal to put in the chancel area. I did a monologue to my teddy bear and used the first Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas music. It turned out well and when the lights came back up, parishioners actually had tears in their eyes. It was one of those times I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit at Christmas in ways I seldom have. I remember some Christmases in the Southern Black Hills of South Dakota with Susan’s family. Her parents were always terrifically kind to me and they are very good people. Christmas when I was a pastor was very different because of the amount of work that goes into Christmas services. Christmas Day when I was in the parish was a time to finally relax and decompress. If I was to consider the most important thing I have received from the Christmas holiday is finally a time when people seem a bit kinder, a bit more gentle and a time where perhaps they step back and realize what matters. While the giving and receiving of gifts is always amazing, it is the giving and receiving of care that really makes this time magnificent to me.

Two years ago today I was sitting vigil at the bedside of one of the most amazing people I have ever been blessed to know. She was actually somewhat Scrooge-ish when it came to Christmas and I think there a number of reasons for that, and not all of them are clear to me, but at this point I had sat by her bedside for about 5 days when it was expected she might live for 3. Instead on this day she laid there and pointed into the corner, speaking in Polish. I asked her George was there for her and she said, yes. I asked her if she was really to go, and she shook her head, rather empathically, I might add, no. During those days, I learned how important another family was, the Menomonie family that had supported me while I cared for her over the years. Then there was her COH family, the amazing workers, cooks, nurses, and administrators, many who had watched her battle with the terrible disease of dementia as this brilliant and forceful little tornado slowly lost her battle to know who and where she was. The one thing she never lost was her forcefulness, her amazing eyes and infectious smile. The vigil I held for that 8 days before I had to leave to fly to Poland taught me as much about myself as it did about others. To allow someone to leave when you desperately want to hang on to them is a difficult thing. I remember thinking she was waiting yet again to do things on her terms. During those days I merely worked on the computer in her room and played John Rutter’s Pandora station. To this day, it is my favorite Christmas station. For me, Christmas is the music; the profound way in which it is able to reach into the core of my being and remind me of the emotions and pull images from Christmases past unto the internal video screen that runs through my mind provides a sense of comfort that is unequalled by any other experience. . . . much like two years ago (and it is now late on the evening of the 27th if you are in Pennsylvania, but early morning on the 28th if you are with me in Budapest), I had to leave to travel. That traveling was to Poland and I would be walking around Krakow (as I will be in a day or two once again) and praying in St. Mary’s that George might convince Lydia that leaving this world for the next was both reasonable and preferable. In the past week I read an article about the increased mortality for ourselves during the Christmas holidays. Why is it we find leaving this world for the next during this sacred time of year? It is for that very reason, its sacredness? Is it because we know that the memories of this time are so significant for many of us? As I write this, it is about 5:40 a.m. and I awoke to the news that Carrie Fisher has left this world at 60. It is interesting how there is this sense of immortality among the famous, and I do not think I realized that she was a contemporary (at least chronologically) for me.

I know that remaining in touch with some of the beautiful people from COH is one of the ways I think we all continue to grieve and celebrate Lydia’s memory and the profound influence she had. I still do not believe she would hold herself in such esteem. She was always stunned that people would still (after 20 years) come up to her and introduced themselves to Professor Rutkowski. “Michael,” she would say, “I do not know why they still recognize me.” I still wonder if she did or not, but she was a force and I told her, always smiling, that I had no problem determining why she was recognizable. Aging is a cruel and uncompromising reality, but she fought it and beat it for most of her 90 years. It was not until those last three years or so (and I will blame it on the dementia) not on her aging. I remember how elegant she was, even after the first year she was in COH. She worried and was, in many ways, both cognizant and petrified of what was to come. She knew and yet she fought it gallantly. Even in her last days she wanted control of what was happening. She was only willing to go when she decided. I believe that is her most lasting legacy to me. She was a do-er and she decided what she was willing or not willing to do. This is not to say she did not have her fears (and some of them were abject or acute), like storms. I think she also worried more about others because of her size and her accent, which I found to be one of her most endearing qualities.

As I sit and compose at my computer again this morning, I am wondering what it was like for Dr. Nielsen when he had all the students with him year in and out. What students learn as they are on this trip is also somewhat fathomless, or should be. I remember the sense of walking through a history book. As Americans our understanding of “old” in terms of buildings, history, or time is so nascent. While those who know me, and my Marine Corps background, should be aware, I have a deep-seated patriotism for the what America does and stands for; however, I am also rather recondite when it comes to how long we have been a country and how dependent we are on the history of those before us. That is where I come back to the idea of memory and our own heritage, be it nationally or personally. Be it in the grand scheme or when it comes simply to my distinctive or particularized experiences of this time of year, I know that I am the cumulative product of the heritage and experiences which came before me. As I often say, none of us gets where we are without the help of another. As I consider once again the heritage of the little tornado  or the national identity of her town when later today and tomorrow I will be in Wien, her adopted home, I hope I might view and experience it with a sense of her elegance. I hope I might feel her walking beside me with her little Austrian accent and that purposeful walk. Lydia, even now, two years later, I am much of what I am and I am able to do much of what I do because you loved me.

Ich kann mich noch an den ersten Tag erinnern, als ich dich fragte, ob du Deutsch sprechen würdest und du sagtest kurz: ‘Natürlich bin ich ein Österreicher.’ Wenig wusste ich, dass meine erste Reise nach Polen und jetzt Wien ein Teil von wem ich werden würde. Wenig wusste ich, dass ich in der Lage war, Ihre Stimme immer noch zu hören. Heute, während ich durch deine Stadt gehe, hoffe ich, dass ich dich in meiner Nähe spüren und mich anleiten werde. Ich sagte dir vor zwei Jahren warst du jetzt mein Schutzengel, und es ist wahr. Du bist. Ich hoffe, dass das Sie lächelt und immer noch bereit ist, mich zu informieren, dass ich Ihr elendes Geschöpf bin. Ich liebe dich immer noch.

For a translation of the last part, I have written: Today as I walk through your town I hope I will feel you near me and directing me. I told you two years ago you were now my guardian angel, and it is true. You are. I hope this finds you smiling and still willing to let me know that I am your miserable creature. I love you still.

To the rest of you, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin (aka: the wanderer)