In Every Crisis, a Silver Lining…

After today I’ll be blogging from Vienna, part of a two week travel course to Vienna, Munich and Berlin.   In February 2009 I blogged from Italy, starting with the post “Vatican Voices.”   This time my meals, souvenirs, and melange will be relatively inexpensive, thanks to the financial crisis hitting Europe.   The Euro now costs $1.25, compared to the $1.60 it cost a couple years ago.   To be sure, back when I first took students to Italy in January 2001 it was 88 cents to buy a Euro.  In that trip students were buying leather jackets and feasting at fine restaurants.  Still, it’s been awhile since the dollar was that strong.

Update 3: We’re here, at Wombat’s in Wien.  A long trip, but we made it, and I enjoyed a great goulash with bread dumpling and Weissbier for dinner.  Now, a well earned night of sleep!

Co-instructors of this course are Dr. Steve Pane (Music history) and Dr. Sarah Maline (Art History).   Between us we plan to explore the art, music, and political history of these three cities, with consideration of the present crisis and what it means for the EU.   One thing about a travel course is that it takes one out of the mindset of thinking about the subject matter as independent, as if outside space and time.   The history of the cities we visit is part of what they are today, and current events can only be understood by seeing the present as reflecting aspects of the past.   Moreover, teaching about political science and political history becomes far more interesting when connections are made to the worlds of art and music.   In academia we treat such things unidimensionally, you take an art course or a poli-sci course.   In a course like this these blend together without disciplinary boundaries.   That’s the way the real world is.

The volcano is spewing more ash into British airspace, meaning we may have a “mini-crisis” of having our flight canceled or delayed.  I’m not sure how we’ll deal with that — presumably we won’t know until we’re at the airport and then I guess we’ll have to ‘wait and see’.   If that happens the key is to look for the silver lining of that experience, fate works in strange ways.

Also, though not reaching my goal weight of 186, I have gotten very close (189.8), losing thirty pounds since February 12.   The impetus for this disciplined and successful diet was illness.  I was unable to keep anything down for a day, and felt horrible, one of the worst bouts of flu I’ve had for a long time.   Yet that propelled me to a needed diet, and now my “in shape” clothes fit, and that feels good.

Still, I’d like a nice normal on schedule flight.   Last year we almost missed our connecting flight to Rome, and thanks to Delta airlines we barely made it.   On the way back the snow storm that hit the northeast had us delayed, and we waited hours before we found out we would make it back — and then it was touch and go if the van could come to Portland and get us.   On top of that, arriving home from Italy at midnight, our cars were buried under 30 inches of snow.   Last month a flight that was supposed to be Chicago-Portland became Chicago-Boston with a car rental to Portland.   And now volcanic ash?   Well, if it happens, we’ll deal with it.

Down in the Gulf of Mexico the BP undersea well is still belching oil into the ocean.  I’m not sure how to find a silver lining there.   It’s a reminder that no matter how safe our technology seems to be, something can go wrong.  There is always risk.   Perhaps it’s a reminder that while in most crises there is a silver lining, it may be wrong to say that’s the case about every crisis.  Sometimes, something comes along that just plain sucks, and there’s nothing good that comes of it.   On that happy note, it’s off to Europe…volcano gods permitting…

Update: We are now at Boston Logan.   We were about to board when the pilot and crew came out and said that due to the ash cloud, departure is delayed until at least 10:00 Boston time.   So students are playing cards, listening to I-pods and waiting, I’m reading A Nervous Splendor about Vienna in 1888-89, by Frederic Morton, and we wait…obviously we’re missing our connecting flight to Vienna, but if Heathrow is closed that wouldn’t take off anyway.   But I have a comfortable rocking chair here, and the airport is pleasant.

Update 2: We took off shortly after 10:00 on the 16th, but missed our flight to Vienna.   After a long wait in line to rebook, we had a very helpful British Airways Rep.  He scolded the rebooking folk, “you had a group of 24 and you didn’t think to rebook them?” and after giving us vouchers for a free lunch, managed to get a larger plane for the afternoon Vienna flight.  Last year Delta held a Rome flight and bused us across JFK to  catch it, this year British Airways provides a larger plane so we can make it.  UMF has clout!   Anyway, the ash cloud could still hamper us, but it looks like we should start boarding for Wien in a half hour!

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