The tale, Part I

“A year jammed full of adventure and misadventure,
strides forward and many steps backward, another year in my topsy-turvy,
Jekyll-and-Hyde existence.”

Anthony Kiedis


(the lone baggage carousel in the Pellston, MI airport / Julie Cook / 2017)

What do you notice about the picture up above?

Well, there seems to be a couple of stuffed animals…which might
give the impression that the location of this particular carousel is somewhere
in the wilds of nature.

Secondly you might notice it’s empty…as in no luggage is currently riding
the merry go round….

And that’s exactly what we saw late one afternoon last week when we flew into this
upper Michigan tiny little regional airport—

This is a long story that I want to keep brief so I’m cutting to the chase as
quickly as possible…
I’m going to be leaving out a good bit of detail so do
your best with your imagination as I offer you the basic facts…
But I will post it in two parts as it is, like I say, a long story.

I don’t fly often…maybe once, maybe twice a year if at all.
So the question is…why has Delta lost my luggage on 4 separate occasions
during the past few years?

Good question.

Second question, why was I surprised that it happened again on this
latest adventure.

Let’s back up.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that my past
three years of life have been trying at best.

From caring for elderly parents who didn’t live nearby and didn’t want caring—
both suffering from dementia and yet requiring help, lots of help….
One being a stepmother who ended up resenting everything and everyone…
so much so that she began claiming she was not married,
nor had she ever been married…to my dad…this after 20 years….
If she had those thoughts in the beginning, things might be easier now,
but I digress.

There was the commuting to and from the city for months upon months
Think Atlanta traffic….

We then had a year of successive loss.
We lost my father-n-law, my niece and then my dad…
and if you count my stepmother being moved out of state following dad’s death,
well that’s a quasi sort of loss.

We’ve suffered and are currently suffering again through the anguish of cancer.
My husband is still embroiled in a legal nightmare over his dad.
As we have grown weary of mind, body and soul.

Our son took a job at the onset of Dad’s illness and he and his wife had to
hurry to the city where they leased an apartment while their house here sat
sort of empty sort of not….for a year now.

Then there was the putting together of the pieces of Dad’s world
following his death…
a process that is proving monumental and still seemingly nightmarishly
unending….
Mourning got put on the way back burner as wrestling more with anger
and resentment pushed sorrow to the side.

Our son and his wife next moved into Dad’s old house, cause that’s what
Dad wanted….
Yet it is an old house needing much work.
As we are still wading through that.

Our son is changing jobs.
All of this as we now race, with everyone driving back and forth
to empty and clean the house here in order to put
it to market….
too many houses and apartments currently in our lives.

Throw in my husband’s retail business and those worries and hassles,
throw in our own home, our own lives and worries….
and you’ve got a toxic mix for a potential meltdown.

Enter the notion of getting the heck out of dodge…
aka taking a much needed vacation.

My husband has never shut down his business for any reason—
not even for death…not his mind you….
So when he announced that he was past tired and thought
he’d close the week of the 4th,
and please find somewhere cool we can go for a few days
(sadly he isn’t a fan as I am of the beach),
I wanted nothing more than to make him happy.

A time to get away,
to change the pace,
to forget the looming nightmares
and to clear both our minds and ours sights.

He was really excited.

We haven’t taken a trip like this in a long long time and getting far away,
seemed to be something most needed.

All seemed to fall neatly into place.
Someone to watch the cats.
Someone to watch the closed store.
A new roof going up at Dad’s.
Tickets all aligned.
Everything was good to go.

That was until we got to the final point of airport destinations
when Delta decided to keep my husband’s luggage in Detroit
while my luggage met us in Pellston.

I wearily approach the gal at the one small counter of this
regional airport’s only desk.
She assures me that its “no problem…”
Delta will bring the luggage to our hotel tomorrow morning.
“But we have to be on a wilderness train ride at 7 AM and my husband needs
his jacket and tennis shoes.”
“Well there’s a Wal-Mart about an hour from here…
and where is your hotel?”
“Salut Ste Marie”
“US side or Canada side?”
“Canada.”
“Oh.
“What do you mean oh?”
“We can’t take luggage across the border.”
“WHAT?”
“There’s a Wal-Mart about an hour from here.”
“What time is the next flight in from Detroit?”
“5 and 1/2 hours.”
“WHAT?”
“We have to drive the almost two hours to Canada this evening”
“There’s a Wal-Mart about an hour from here”

We had no choice but to wait on the flight.
While the hot tears formed in my eyes, I stewed over the lost
time of daylight and of the afternoon we’d planned to use
to explore the region before checking into the hotel in Canada…
as I forlornly lamented over our precious limited time being
needlessly eaten away…

This entire little airport shuts down in-between flights as flights are
so few and far between.
The car rental windows shut, the agents leave, the baggage handler leaves, the
TSA agents leave…
they all leave…
but us.

There was however a little restaurant / bar upstairs where we could sit
for a spell, having a bite of supper.

We put the things we did have in the rental car,
a car that reeked like a giant ash tray,
and came back into the airport in order to camp out for the near 6 hour wait.

We opted to make our way upstairs, and ordered a typical
Michigan whitefish dinner…which was actually quite tasty.
There was a nice family sitting next to us who couldn’t help
but hear our accents.
Southern accents oddly stick out like a sore thumb everywhere
but in the South.

When this family had finished with their meal,
as this is about the only restaurant / bar available in this small town,
they made their way to our table to ask where we were from and what had
brought us to their neck of the woods.

We explained about our trip and then about our luggage.
They offered suggestions for our various destinations and were most
kind and welcoming.

Once we said our goodbyes, we went back to our whitefish.

Just a few minutes later the wife came back into the restaurant
making a beeline for our table….
excusing herself for appearing to be stalking us but that she had a sense
from God that she was to pray for us and asked for our names.

“Wow!!” I thought as now happy tears entered my eyes.

Long story…we finally got to the hotel in Canada at almost 1 AM.
No sleep as we were up and going at 5AM readying to get to the train station
for the 7AM departure.

12 hours of riding a train through the rocks and woods with nary a view
or vista.

Once to the canyon, everyone clambered out to enjoy the hour and a half of
exploring and picnicking.

The one glitch being that the passengers were not informed that the
mosquitoes and gants would be swarming horrendously,
so much so that folks practically trampled over one another getting back on
the train in order to wait until beginning the 6 hour descent back to town
through the same rocks and trees.
Did I mention the tons of goose poop?

There was much itching, scratching and silence…
most folks slept all the way back to town.

We eventually reached what was to be the best part of the trip,
Mackinac Island.

A marvelous place of a life without motors…
a place of only bicycles, 600 resident work horses and lots of feet.

The only issue is that this small island is inundated with tourists from the
mainland throughout the entire summer season.
My husband quipped that from all the arriving ferries and tourists,
it was a wonder the island didn’t sink.

The staff at the hotel we were to spend our time were all young,
foreign and kept reminding me of the youthful staff at Disney–
a strange sea of constantly smiling international faces whose english was
halting and who were a little hard to understand.

I proceeded to check us in.

“Mam we have you arriving today and checking out in two days.”
“Well no, we’re actually checking out in three days.”
“Okay mam, whatever you say,
but it is on the 7th that we have you checking out.”
“No, we’re checking out on the 8th, see….”

And that’s when I saw my mistake.

Panic gripped my entire being.
“Do you have another night’s room available? I asked as I tried to
contain the rising hysteria.
“I will put you on the waiting list Mam but we are very full” this all said
with a great big smile to a woman who was about to reach critical mass.

In all my years of plotting and planning trips, adventures, outings…
From all my years of teaching and making certain that every last detail
was on schedule and secure…
how, of all times, had I failed to cross check these dates???!

I felt the hot tears building in my eyes.
This while my very hard of hearing husband kept asking me what the girl,
he couldn’t understand, was saying…back and forth I went from the smiling
hard to understand girl to my hard of hearing not smiling husband.

The tears in my eyes and my very red cheeks tipped him off that the
conversation was not good.

I turned to my husband, as I thought I would now throw up, and practically
shrieked that the island was so crowded, we’d never find a room…
panicking and practically wailing I announced we should just go home…
as in now…..

My poor husband calmed me down as best he could…
this from a man who is not known for calm or patience…
He suggested we wander back down to town to find a bite of lunch,
as we wait for the room to be readied allowing us time to regroup.

I had tried so hard to make things perfect for him, for us,
as this was one of those a big deals that I tend to take way too seriously.
We had worked so very hard and had gotten through so very much
just to be able to actually now try and get away and forget life’s worries
for just a few days—
only to have it turn into one misadventure right after another…
as I was now just about overwhelmed by every misadventure.

All of this was now making it very difficult for me to breathe
let alone concentrate.

So here is where we’ll break off until tomorrow…
Hang on cause there’s more to come and the best part will be worth the wait….

Farewell to Sir Nicholas Winton

***Sir Nicholas Winton, the young British stockbroker, who in 1938 changed forever the course of his life as well as the course of the lives of 669 children, passed away peacefully yesterday at Wexham Hospital, Slough.

He was 106 years old.

Sir Winton has been the featured topic of several of my posts after I was privileged having caught Bob Simon’s 60 Minutes interview with Sir Winton which aired last April.
(sadly we have since lost Bob Simon in a tragic car accident earlier this year)
I thought it a fitting tribute that I should repost my original posting about this wonderful unassuming hero and most humble human being. . .the world was all the better for Nicholas Winton

(see yesterday’s BBC story about his death– http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-33350880 )

When does 669 equal 15,000?

“The soul is healed by being with children.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“I work on the motto that if something’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”
Nicholas Winton

young_nicholas_winton_with_rescued_child
(Nicholas Winton in 1938 with a young Jewish boy in Prague)

The year is 1938.
You’re 28 years old, a young British stock broker—successful and living the good life.
You’ve been keeping up with the current events throughout Europe, with a particularly keen interest in Czechoslovakia.
Hitler is on the march.
The Czechs, particularly the Jews, are trying to get out while they still can.
The war drums are beginning to echo from across the English Channel.
You’ve got two weeks vacation saved up.
Seems like a perfect time for a trip to Prague. . .

Fast forward to Sunday evening, April 27, 2014—time for 60 Minutes.
Correspondent Bob Simon hosts the story “Saving The Children”
He introduces us to 104 year old Nicholas Winton.

winton_prazsky_hrad
(Sir Nicholas Winton today)

I was just in the process of finishing up the dishes when the story started. Intrigued with the story’s intro, I immediately stopped what I was doing in order to give the story my full attention.

By the time the 60 Minute story ends, tears are streaming down my cheeks.
A tale of heroic action by one who simply thought he had to make a difference.
He had no corporate financial backing.
He had no Governmental backing.
He was not a member of the military.
He was merely a young man with a big heart.
A young man who simply knew that there were people, in particular families with young children, who were now in trouble. Never mind that these people were on the continent proper, hundreds of miles from his own home.
He had no clue as to what he would find.
He had no idea as to how to he could “fix” the current “bleeding”
He simply knew in his heart that he had to go and he had to try to help.
Hitler and his dreaded Nazis were coming, as was now Nicholas Winton.
The two were on a collision course with destiny.
One to save lives, the other to take lives.

I’m providing a link for anyone who would like to view the original story here:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/saving-the-children-during-world-war-11-60-minutes/

Mr. Winton, who is actually Sir Winton, is a most unassuming 104 year old British gentleman. He has a gentle, soft spoken demeanor, with an ever so sly smile. For nearly 50 years, Sir Winton never actually spoke of the life changing events which took place during a trip to Prague in 1938. Had his wife not found an old faded yellow and long forgotten scrape book in their attic, filled with the grainy black and white photographs of hundreds of young children, the world may never have known of the difference one young Englishman had made so very long ago.

When asked by Bob Simon as to why he never told any one of his most heroic feat which spanned 1938-1939, Sir Winton replied that it wasn’t that he kept it secret, he just didn’t find it important to go on about it.
That was then.
This is now.
And he currently has other irons in the fire.

At 104 Sir Winton is currently involved in working with the elderly mentally handicapped of London as well as for building homes for senior citizens. Interesting that a man of 104 feels a deep need to take care of those who are a bit younger than himself when it seems as if he would be the one in need of care.

I will briefly delve into only the general specifics of Sir Winton’s heroic act of 1938, as you may certainly visit the 60 Minute link or peruse the Web for a more in-depth story of this remarkable man— I will however whet your appetite with a few of the highlights.

As the Nazis rolled into then Czechoslovakia, wanting to literally take the Sudetenland, which they felt was rightfully their own, just as they had rolled into Austria and soon Poland and Hungary, the citizens of Czechoslovakia began to panic, especially the Jews. Nicholas Winton was reading about these disturbing unfolding events in the daily news with keen interest. He decided to use his time saved for holiday for a trip to Prague to see what, if anything, he could do to help.

The short end of story is that Sir Winton decided to get out as many children as possible from the impending falling death ridden curtain which was quickly descending not only over Czechoslovakia but over most of Europe. He had no particular resources except for his own ingenuity and creativity laced with a bit of deception. He orchestrated the deportation of eventually 669 children. He had even written to President Franklin Roosevelt asking if the United States would help by taking in some of the children.

When explaining all of this to Bob Simon, Sir Winton rather nonchalantly recalls that the United States refused to be of assistance and what a pity that was as he suspects they may have been able to save many more children.

The truly sad part of the story was the interview of Mr. Hugo Meisl. Mr Meisl was 10 years old in 1939. He vividly recalls the day Adolph Hitler rode through the streets of Prague. He along with the other children of Prague were lined up along the street route and were all told that as soon as the Führer rode past, they were to give the obligatory raised arm salute of Heil Hitler.

He was one of the 669 children that was saved during Nicholas Winton’s deportation scheme. Bob Simon asks if he remembers his parents taking him to the train station to send him to what was to be a journey to the safety of a new life in England. Mr Meisl recalls as if it was yesterday his parents taking him to the station that fateful day. They were not emotional but had told him that he was to go to England on a 2 month holiday, at which time they would then come join him.

Bob Simon presses Mr. Meisl asking if he had believed his parents. “Of course” Mr Meisl answers “We had every reason to believe our parents.”
As the interview continues, we all painfully realize that Mr. Meisl never saw his parents again. Bob Simon interjects “After the war you went back to Czechoslovakia… Was there one instant where you accepted the fact that your parents were dead?”

At this point, Mr. Meisl becomes quite emotional (as do I) explaining that for the next three years following the War, as the trains returned from Siberia, Russia, returning back to Czechoslovakia those who had fled or who had been taken prisoner, he searched for his parents.

I was personally so taken by the raw emotions of this man, who is now nearing 90, as he recalls the day he said good-bye to his parents and then of the 3 year search and wait for a return and reunion that never took place.

As a parent myself, I am hard pressed to imagine having to send my young child away to what I hoped was safety, knowing I most likely would never have seen him again. The total lack of control over my very life and that of my child’s life is something I simply cannot wrap my brain around. I find it a tragedy that so many free Americans and Europeans today have no true cognizant or emotional concept of the price paid by so many of our parents and grandparents during a time the majority of us have no understanding of—

We think that we would not tolerate such action taken against us or our family, and yet, the citizens of much of Europe in 1938 most likely felt the same as we do today.

In 1939 War was declared and the trains, with their cars full of young hopeful futures were all stopped, no longer being permitted to leave for the promise of safety and a future. A train was actually loaded up and was ready to depart the station just as the War was declared. It was in just a few short months that those same trains, now full of more children along with their parents, did indeed again depart Prague, but this time it was for a one way trip destined for what was to be Hitler’s final solution.

That 669 number of saved children, who were given the chance of freedom and life, went on to grow exponentially. The 669 married, having children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren. 669 saved young lives grew to 15,000 lives–all full of hope, dreams, love and thanks to Nicholas Winton, life.

Humility and a hero

Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.
William Temple

_78589435_aad6b298-4b31-48a5-889d-553a24d6c0c4
( Sir Nicholas Winton, seated in wheelchair, being honored by the Czech President, Milos Zeman)

A few months back I wrote a post about Sir Nicholas Winton entitled “When does 669 equal 15,000”
His is a remarkable story of bravery, ingenuity, compassion, hope, intrigue, longevity, but especially noted, his is a story of humility.

I encourage you to read the previous post as it gives the story of Sir Nicholas as based on a report taken from the news magazine, 60 Minutes as well as the BBC.

( https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/when-does-669-equal-15000/ )

At the age of 29, in 1938, a young Jewish London stockbroker made a trip to Prague where he witnessed first hand the perilous situation taking place as Hitler was methodically beginning his annexation of Europe. At the time, most of Europe, Great Britain and the United States had turned a blind eye to Hitler and was taking a stance of Appeasement—an attitude I liken to the mindset of “if I don’t see it or acknowledge it, it is not actually happening.” Sir Winton knew better and he knew that time was of the essence. His mission became clear. He had to get as many children out of harms way before the eventual annexation of the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia as quickly as possible.

With little to no resources, no government or military assistance, Sir Winton arranged passage, as well as the eventual housing and “foster care” back in England, for 669 children all before the Nazis sealed the borders making travel or escape impossible. He organized the running of 8 trains from Prague to London. The last train scheduled to leave Prague was stopped due to the closing of the borders and it is believed that none of the 250 children abroad that train survived as the majority of the children were Jewish.

It was 50 years, long after the war, before anyone became aware of Nicholas Winton and of the heroic act he took upon himself in order to save hundreds of children from a fate of certain death. It was not until his wife discovered an old faded musty scrapbook in a trunk in the attic of their home which contained photographs of a much younger man holding child after child that the story was finally acknowledged. He had not even told his wife.

There are those stories that one hears over the course of a lifetime which make a deep lasting impression—the story of Nicholas Winton, for me, is just such a story.

Earlier this morning, while reading over the BBC’s web news postings, I noticed a story regarding Sir Nicholas being honored earlier this week in The Czech Republic. Sir Nicholas was awarded that country’s highest honor, The Order of the White Lion. Sir Nicholas is now 105 years young. Happily his humor, wit and humility are still very much intact and are most quick and keen. Upon receiving the award, surrounded by many of the now grown children, many of whom are well into their 80’s, Sir Nicholas humbly commented “that I shouldn’t have lived so long as to give everyone the opportunity to exaggerate everything in the way they are doing today.” He went on to thank the British people who helped by taking in the children, the majority of whom, after the war, had not homes nor family to return to.

When asked about life in today’s world, Sir Nicholas replied:
“I don’t think we’ve ever learnt from the mistakes of the past…”
“The world today is now in a more dangerous situation than it has ever been and so long as you’ve got weapons of mass destruction which can finish off any conflict, nothing is safe any more.”

For the video clip and full story from the BBC I’ve provided the following links

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-29809556

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-29798434

Merriam Webster define Hero as:
a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
a person who is greatly admired

Humility is defined as: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people

May we be mindful that heroes are not born from the scripts of Hollywood nor of athletic prowess on the playing field. Heroes are born from the hearts and minds of humble men and woman who simply see a situation and know that things must change and then go about to create that change with no regard to themselves or of their own wellbeing. They require no thanks, no recognition, no accolades. They merely do what needs doing then quietly and simply move on.

669 children, who grew exponentially to 15,000, are the better for a man named Nicholas Winton.
You and I are better for knowing his story.

When does 669 equal 15,000?

“The soul is healed by being with children.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“I work on the motto that if something’s not impossible, there must be a way of doing it.”
Nicholas Winton

young_nicholas_winton_with_rescued_child
(Nicholas Winton in 1938 with a young Jewish boy in Prague)

The year is 1938.
You’re 28 years old, a young British stock broker—successful and living the good life.
You’ve been keeping up with the current events throughout Europe, with a particularly keen interest in Czechoslovakia.
Hitler is on the march.
The Czechs, particularly the Jews, are trying to get out while they still can.
The war drums are beginning to echo from across the English Channel.
You’ve got two weeks vacation saved up.
Seems like a perfect time for a trip to Prague. . .

Fast forward to Sunday evening, April 27, 2014—time for 60 Minutes.
Correspondent Bob Simon hosts the story “Saving The Children”
He introduces us to 104 year old Nicholas Winton.

winton_prazsky_hrad
(Sir Nicholas Winton today)

I was just in the process of finishing up the dishes when the story started. Intrigued with the story’s intro, I immediately stopped what I was doing in order to give the story my full attention.

By the time the 60 Minute story ends, tears are streaming down my cheeks.
A tale of heroic action by one who simply thought he had to make a difference.
He had no corporate financial backing.
He had no Governmental backing.
He was not a member of the military.
He was merely a young man with a big heart.
A young man who simply knew that there were people, in particular families with young children, who were now in trouble. Never mind that these people were on the continent proper, hundreds of miles from his own home.
He had no clue as to what he would find.
He had no idea as to how to he could “fix” the current “bleeding”
He simply knew in his heart that he had to go and he had to try to help.
Hitler and his dreaded Nazis were coming, as was now Nicholas Winton.
The two were on a collision course with destiny.
One to save lives, the other to take lives.

I’m providing a link for anyone who would like to view the original story here:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/saving-the-children-during-world-war-11-60-minutes/

Mr. Winton, who is actually Sir Winton, is a most unassuming 104 year old British gentleman. He has a gentle, soft spoken demeanor, with an ever so sly smile. For nearly 50 years, Sir Winton never actually spoke of the life changing events which took place during a trip to Prague in 1938. Had his wife not found an old faded yellow and long forgotten scrape book in their attic, filled with the grainy black and white photographs of hundreds of young children, the world may never have known of the difference one young Englishman had made so very long ago.

When asked by Bob Simon as to why he never told any one of his most heroic feat which spanned 1938-1939, Sir Winton replied that it wasn’t that he kept it secret, he just didn’t find it important to go on about it.
That was then.
This is now.
And he currently has other irons in the fire.

At 104 Sir Winton is currently involved in working with the elderly mentally handicapped of London as well as for building homes for senior citizens. Interesting that a man of 104 feels a deep need to take care of those who are a bit younger than himself when it seems as if he would be the one in need of care.

I will briefly delve into only the general specifics of Sir Winton’s heroic act of 1938, as you may certainly visit the 60 Minute link or peruse the Web for a more in-depth story of this remarkable man— I will however whet your appetite with a few of the highlights.

As the Nazis rolled into then Czechoslovakia, wanting to literally take the Sudetenland, which they felt was rightfully their own, just as they had rolled into Austria and soon Poland and Hungary, the citizens of Czechoslovakia began to panic, especially the Jews. Nicholas Winton was reading about these disturbing unfolding events in the daily news with keen interest. He decided to use his time saved for holiday for a trip to Prague to see what, if anything, he could do to help.

The short end of story is that Sir Winton decided to get out as many children as possible from the impending falling death ridden curtain which was quickly descending not only over Czechoslovakia but over most of Europe. He had no particular resources except for his own ingenuity and creativity laced with a bit of deception. He orchestrated the deportation of eventually 669 children. He had even written to President Franklin Roosevelt asking if the United States would help by taking in some of the children.

When explaining all of this to Bob Simon, Sir Winton rather nonchalantly recalls that the United States refused to be of assistance and what a pity that was as he suspects they may have been able to save many more children.

The truly sad part of the story was the interview of Mr. Hugo Meisl. Mr Meisl was 10 years old in 1939. He vividly recalls the day Adolph Hitler rode through the streets of Prague. He along with the other children of Prague were lined up along the street route and were all told that as soon as the Führer rode past, they were to give the obligatory raised arm salute of Heil Hitler.

He was one of the 669 children that was saved during Nicholas Winton’s deportation scheme. Bob Simon asks if he remembers his parents taking him to the train station to send him to what was to be a journey to the safety of a new life in England. Mr Meisl recalls as if it was yesterday his parents taking him to the station that fateful day. They were not emotional but had told him that he was to go to England on a 2 month holiday, at which time they would then come join him.

Bob Simon presses Mr. Meisl asking if he had believed his parents. “Of course” Mr Meisl answers “We had every reason to believe our parents.”
As the interview continues, we all painfully realize that Mr. Meisl never saw his parents again. Bob Simon interjects “After the war you went back to Czechoslovakia… Was there one instant where you accepted the fact that your parents were dead?”

At this point, Mr. Meisl becomes quite emotional (as do I) explaining that for the next three years following the War, as the trains returned from Siberia, Russia, returning back to Czechoslovakia those who had fled or who had been taken prisoner, he searched for his parents.

I was personally so taken by the raw emotions of this man, who is now nearing 90, as he recalls the day he said good-bye to his parents and then of the 3 year search and wait for a return and reunion that never took place.

As a parent myself, I am hard pressed to imagine having to send my young child away to what I hoped was safety, knowing I most likely would never have seen him again. The total lack of control over my very life and that of my child’s life is something I simply cannot wrap my brain around. I find it a tragedy that so many free Americans and Europeans today have no true cognizant or emotional concept of the price paid by so many of our parents and grandparents during a time the majority of us have no understanding of—

We think that we would not tolerate such action taken against us or our family, and yet, the citizens of much of Europe in 1938 most likely felt the same as we do today.

In 1939 War was declared and the trains, with their cars full of young hopeful futures were all stopped, no longer being permitted to leave for the promise of safety and a future. A train was actually loaded up and was ready to depart the station just as the War was declared. It was in just a few short months that those same trains, now full of more children along with their parents, did indeed again depart Prague, but this time it was for a one way trip destined for what was to be Hitler’s final solution.

That 669 number of saved children, who were given the chance of freedom and life, went on to grow exponentially. The 669 married, having children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren. 669 saved young lives grew to 15,000 lives–all full of hope, dreams, love and thanks to Nicholas Winton, life.

The Twilight Zone, Cortona and Luca Signorelli

As we continue forward with the events of Holy Week, culminating on Easter Sunday with the celebration and rejoicing of the Resurrection—Jesus’ victory over death, which, in turn is our victory as well, I wish to continue looking at this week through the lens of art.

In yesterday’s post I explained my fascination with Medieval art, as well as my love for the art of the Italian Renaissance. I shared with you a visit to the small museum of San Marco located in Florence, Italy. I recalled the beauty of the museum for both the fact that it has retained its charm as a once active Dominican convent dating back to the 14th century, as well as for the historic and yet simplistic beauty of the frescos that adorn the monastery and the cell walls of the monks who once called San Marco “home.”

Today I would like to share another visit to another small church turned museum. This time we travel a short distance south of Florence to Cortona, Italy—a small medieval hill-town in southern Tuscany.

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I will not recount the wonders of Cortona that I have previously noted in my post Feast and Fellowship. There I recall the good food found in this quaint town, as well as some wonderful local merchants, the tie to author Frances Mayes, as well as for the small Italian village hailing as the adopted home of the University of Georgia’s visual art students. I will however recount a bit of my visit to Cortona, as well as to the Museum of the Diocese of Cortona, featuring the works of hometown boy made good, Luca Singorelli.

When traveling I usually depend on trains as my main means of transport, whisking me from city to city, country to country. This is certainly where Europe has travel perfected to an art. The US can learn a thing or two about the efficient use of train travel but I digress…as usual…

On this particular trip, my aunt and I had taken the train, from Florence, south to Cortona. With the one glitch being that Cortona is a hill town, the train station is down in the valley—this makes access a bit tricky. For towns such as Assisi, Cortona, Montepluciano, etc. the train stations are usually down in the “valley” in a separate small town or municipality. Buses run from the station up to the main town.

This trip was to be no different—station, bus, town. The problem was that the conductor was not calling out Cortona as a place to disembark. He was calling out the town location of the station, of which was not on my map. Panic began setting in. Not speaking Italian made listening to the intercom a little troublesome. As the train nears Cortona, or what I think to be Cortona, I suddenly panic telling my aunt to grab her stuff and lets make our way to the door. The train doors open, we throw our bags off, hopping off ourselves, when I quickly tell my aunt to grab her bag and get back on—NOW! Seems this was the stop before Cortona’s stop.

We now came to the stop for Cortona.
A name I still didn’t recognize but hoped for the best. The train pulls into the station. The station however is so small that our train car stops well short of the buildng. The door opens and we find ourselves looking down at gravel. Not having much time at these small stops we hustle getting our luggage off the train, dumping it down out of our train car onto the gravel all before clamoring down the steps.

Here are now two women dragging their rolling luggage over gravel up to a now deserted tiny train station. I love Italians very much, but if you need some sort of help or assistance and it is the lunchtime hour, you can just forget it. . .as well as for the “siesta” hour following lunch.
The Italians do know how to live—but I digress, again.

The tiny station is closed up with nary a soul to offer directions or assistance. Panic sets in again as my aunt does have a tendency to panic a wee bit when things are not flowing smoothly as they should, especially in a country in which we do not speak the language. At least it was a sunny day.

We roll our luggage around to the front of the station to what appears to be a bus stop bench. I wander around a bit looking for some sort of sign. There are no taxis, no buses, no people—I’m starting to think of the Twilight Zone. I hated those wickedly twisted tales that I use to watch when I was young. They gave me the creeps and disturbed me. That’s why to this day I hate crap like that on TV—a good reason as to why children are not meant to see certain programs, but there I go digressing.
I was beginning to have those same uncomfortable feelings at this deserted train station…

Suddenly out of nowhere a young lady appears (see, Twilight Zone) and obviously notices two “out of towners” that must be lost, as we obviously look like two deer in headlights.
In quasi English/Italian, she lets me know that a bus will be by shortly.
I tell her we are going to Cortona, pointing upward.
She nods, telling us to wait.
A car pulls up out of no where, she gets in and departs.
We are alone, again (I’m telling you, Twilight zone).
A few more minutes pass and low n behold, a bus, more like a travel bus, like a greyhound, pulls up.
The door swings open and the driver looks at me announcing “Cortona.”

We pull (jerk) our luggage up the steps.
The air conditioning is a most welcomed relief, as we were really getting hot.
This was mid June— Italy + summer = misery.

We are the only riders on the bus…
are you now hearing the Twilight Zone theme playing in your head?
I am.
The bus wends its way up a narrow road of switchbacks eventually making its way to a “parking” lot area outside a massive and ancient stonewalled like fortress.
This is the old wall surrounding the town of Cortona.

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We practically throw our luggage off the bus, down on to the paved parking area.
The bus pulls off leaving us standing on a cobbled road leading into an arched entrance perched
between the large stonewall.
As we stare straight ahead at the archway, I muse how the bus is going to turn around in order to make its way back down to Twilightville.
Stepping forward, we our way into town on the cobbled stone road with our luggage loudly bumping behind us, announcing our arrival to all.
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There are groups of outdoor tables lining the sidewalks on either side of us full of patrons eating and drinking… making us feel a bit conspicuous with our clumping luggage.
As we begin seeking our hotel with our luggage trailing behind, we are grateful that Cortona’s main “strip” is as small as the town itself.
I have a map, the name of the street for our hotel…when bingo—our hotel…

The hotel, Hotel San Michele, is perched on a very steep side street. It is an actual old grand
palace / home converted into a hotel.
Our room was actually once the kitchen, complete with old large farm sink and ornate cooking hearth. It is a large and spacious room, well appointed and is truly one of the nicest and largest rooms we have ever had when traveling throughout Italy.

After getting checked in and situated, I decide I need to go to the Pharmacia I had noticed when we were bumping our way through town. If you’ve never been to a pharmacy in Italy, as well as throughout much of Europe, they are a treat in decorum and civility. The sales people wear white medical jackets. Much of the items you come to a pharmacy to purchase are behind the counter or in drawers that the sales people will help you with—none of the familiar shelves crammed full of “stuff” that we take for granted and grab like it’s going out of style. The sales folks/ pharmacy assistants are helpful and knowledgeable and can usually be most helpful to even the English speaker.

As we enter the store, we are warmly greeted. This particular Pharmacia is very nice and large. They even had a display of Dr. Scholl’s flip-flops—Ooooo. I’m always looking for shoes, especially when traveling, because the ones I would currently have on would most likely be giving me fits. Trust me, I do give much thought to what shoes I take on a trip, but with all of the walking, even tempurepedic shoes would hurt—but I digress….

As we look around the store, the sales lady makes for the door. She shuts the door and turns out the lights, putting her finger to her lips as to quiet all inside the store. We don’t know if the store is closing or if something bad is happening. She crosses herself and I start worrying that this “is it, the end.”
When I finally see what has her attention, I am most relived.
A hearse is driving past the store.
I think that is the only time I ever saw a car driving through Cortona, as it is primarily a pedestrian town.

As Cortona is a Medieval walled town the local cemetery is found well outside the city walls. I suppose the funeral is held in a local church, and then much like home, there is a procession to the graveside. It just happens that here the hearse is often the only vehicle; the mourners are often walking behind the hearse. As soon as the hearse and mourners pass, the sales assistant turns the lights back on and re-opens the door and it’s business as usual.
Interesting.

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There were many reasons I wanted to visit Cortona but one of the primary reasons was to catch a glimpse of one of Cortona’s homegrown stellar artists—it’s just that this particular hometown boy had been dead almost 500 years. He was a draftsman as well as a painter.

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Luca Signorelli was born in 1445 in Cortona. I first “met” Signorelli while I was studying art history at the University of Georgia. I was drawn immediately to his style and use of color. It is obvious that Michelangelo was influenced by the work of Signorelli. Both artists have a strong command of the human form. Signorelli also has a keen use of color. His paintings and frescos are just as vibrant today as they were the day he painted them. Thirty years after Signorelli’s Judgment, Michelangelo would go on to do the same themed painting for the Vatican.

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Signorelli executed works in the Vatican but is best known for his frescos, particularly those in the series of the Final/ Last Judgment located in Orvieto. I think it was the studying of these frescoes that had a tremendous effect on me. I don’t know why Signorelli’s Last Judgment would effect me more so than Michelangelo’s, which is on the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel, but it is Signorelli’s work that has stayed with me these many years and I wanted to see him up close and personal.

Like most people, I don’t like thinking about Hell. That whole fire and brimstone business, going south where the sun don’t shine, a place where there is no ice water… yet with all humor aside, I know that Hell is indeed a real place that I do not ever want to find myself. Hell is the total separation from God my father—–I can think of no worse fate.

Signorelli depicts demons and devils, taking those who are cast aside by Jesus and the Archangels at the final Day of Judgment, with vivid clarity. There is despondency and despair on the faces of the souls cast aside. There is an equal counter of an evil resonance of delight and glee from the demons. I am reminded of the verse in Matthew where Jesus separates the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. These were the haunting images that have stayed in my mind from the time I had first studied Signorelli’s works.

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Cortona is a small stop on the path form Florence to the more popular destination of Assisi and eventually Rome. From a tourist’s perspective there is not a great deal of draw to this small hill town.

There is not the haute couture shopping that is found in Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome. There are not the stellar Michelin chefs entertaining guests in their lavish restaurants.
However there is the tomb of St Margaret of Cortona.

A fortress is perched atop the pinnacle of land that makes Cortona known as a “hill” town.
There is The University of Georgia’s Visual Arts Study Abroad campus. There is author Frances Mayes renovated Italian home (not a tourist destination as this is her private residence). There are stunning views of the surrounding valley and Lake Trasimeno.
There is peace and serenity.
And there are chimney swifts out the wahzoo.

The main piazza, Piazza dell Republica, is not as grand as one may find within, say, Florence.
It is a central gathering place nonetheless for both tourists and locals alike.
It is from here that one may find their way to the tiny Piazza del Duomo where The Museum of the Diocese of Cortona is located.
It sits besides the Church of Jesus—-an ancient medieval place of worship

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The Church leaders, having amassed, through donation and gift giving, a great deal of treasured artifacts, objects of religious veneration, and beautiful works of art throughout the centuries of church history, decided that a separate structure should be erected in order to house and allow the public the opportunity of viewing these hometown treasures. In 1945 the museum was officially dedicated and Cortona now proudly boasts a modern facility worthy of its rich Etruscan and Christian heritage.

If you are not careful, it may be difficult to spot the church, as well as the museum, as its exterior is very unassuming. My aunt and I wandered around a bit, almost in circles, certain we were in the correct location but without anything letting us know otherwise…
When we figured simply trying one of the many doors…and bingo!

As I’ve stated before, being able to see the actual works of an artist verses just pictures in a book makes a tremendous difference. An emotional connection is now allowed to take place as one stands before a huge painting, statue, fountain, or other piece of “art”…
There is a sense of being dwarfed by the mere size, or surprised by the smallness..
There is a feeling of being overtaken—overtaken by the sheer magnitude of what is commanding the attention of the viewer—be it large or small.
There is a physical presence to the artwork.
It comes to life so to speak.

I am always humbled by the obvious history behind a piece of art.
The distance of time which separates me, the current viewer, from the time of the works’ inception—
not to mention the myriad of viewers who also have stood before the very pieces of art that I now stand before.
From princes and popes, to queens and saints, to now, just me.
There is an intimate sharing that is taking place with all those who have gone before me, myself and those who are yet to come.
There is a tangible connection that is almost palpable.
There is a sense of the Divine.

Those who see art in a museum and just walk past, piece per piece, without giving thought or refection to what separates art and viewer is missing so very much.
There is living history, celebration and a serious story taking place.
It is there, free, for all to partake.

And so it was, when I saw the works of Signorelli, in this most intimate of settings.

Obviously the Orvieto frescos of the Final Judgment are not here.
As it so happens, it was here in Cortona that Signorelli suffered the grievous loss to two children on two separate occasions…
I often think that artists lose themselves, hiding from pain or sorrow within their art—–as the art provides an escape or an outlet for tremendous emotion.
This is most likely no different for Signorelli and his loss.
What then is there about his work, the emotion within each piece, that most likely hides his own torment and suffering?

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I will not attempt to play art critic, as that is not my job. My job, or rather my hope, is that by reading my recollections, you may be stirred within and moved by some unknown force prompting you to dig deeper and go further.
I hope you will want to look at the work yourself, either up close and personal, or through investigation in the world of art history. My dream is that we could all travel to see such treasures—but unfortunately that is not possible. It is therefore the responsibility of those of us who have seen various treasures throughout the world to share them with others.
As that is what art is about—sharing.

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Signorelli’s work is moving. Moving because of the subject matter, but equally moving because I also know of his sorrows. He is sharing his pain with me and countless other viewers.
Michelangelo shared…
Leonardo shared…
Caravaggio shared…
Not all share sorrow or pain…
For some it is frustration, for others, perhaps even joy…
Yet it must be known that all share a touch of genius.

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It is because of having read the accounts of others viewers and travelers that prompt me to often want to go myself, in person, to see and view such—whatever it may be. When that is not possible, which is much of the time, I find other means in which to glean a little bit more. I attempt digging deeper. Seeking to unearth my own piece of treasured information and emotion. May this be your little bit more, your little bit extra.

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