Taking the Waters at Balneario de Mondariz

Balneario de MondarizI am in the midst of a brief work trip to Galicia…and if you don’t know where that is, well neither did I just a few weeks ago.

Galicia - the Switzerland of Spain – is the small portion of land that blocks Portugal’s northern border from touching the Atlantic Ocean. It is hilly (hence the Swiss reference), with a fascinating landscape that is matched by its unique history.

I am here, with colleagues from around the world, for an executive committee meeting of the International National Trusts Organisation (or INTO).  We are being hosted by one of our member Trusts – the Tesouros de Galcia – and several of my colleagues joined a contingent from Tesouros de Galicia in completing 140 kilometers of what may be Galicia’s most famous pilgrimage:  the Camino de Santiago that ends at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

After a much too complicated trip to arrive (never fly Ryan Air – for those of  you old enough, think a bad People’s Express experience), I joined my colleagues in Santiago de Compostela for our first meetings at the Facultad de Geografia e Historia, Praza da Universidade. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have any facilities in my college that looked like this – and especially not the History and Geography departments!

Santiago University

We left later on Saturday to go to Mondariz, a beautiful little town that along with Santiago and the nearby city of Vigo, made up a trio of must-see places for the Edwardian tourists of Britain in the early 20th century. Thanks to our hosts, we were able to stay in the beautiful and historic spa known as Balneario de Mondariz. The spa put us in a bubble in the middle of the troubled Spanish economy, but it didn’t take a long walk away from the town center to see the abandoned homes and poverty.

The spa features the waters that were once enjoyed by the King of Spain and Edwardian tourists from England.  The buildings are  beautiful and nestled in the countryside.  This view of a chapel in the mist was what I saw when I opened my window shades in the morning.

Mondariz Church in mist

Entrance to the Spa at Mondariz

There are several wonderful buildings once – or still – associated with the spa, including the old hotel, and the grounds.

Hotel at Mondariz

Garden at the Mondariz Spa

The springs themselves are highlighted within a publicly accessible building, seen at the top of the post and here (where the water bubbles beneath the sign).

Spa Waters at Mondariz

After our meetings wrapped up, we toured two local Galicia landmarks: a late Medieval castle, and a wonderful set of ruins – the Castro de Trona dating back more than 2,000 years.

Galician castle

Galacian ruins

Mount of Holy Name of Jesus Parish

Galician hills

And yes, when the meetings and tours were over, I was able to “take the waters” as they say, at Balneario de Mondariz. What a relaxing way to end the day and prepare for dinner with good friends and colleagues from St. Lucia, India, England, Scotland, and more.

The dome over the pool at Mondariza

Yes, I was floating around somewhere under that dome.  Ahhhhhhhhh.

Galicia Meal with INTO Ex Comm

Perhaps I’m now ready for three flights and all-day travel to get home tomorrow evening.

More to come…


Kansas City Stars

KC ChoraleKansas City is one of America’s hidden gems.

I had the good fortune to work last weekend in this heartland city that is thriving in the midst of an amazing renaissance. Over the course of three days, we saw the rich arts district, built on the foundation of a beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts  surrounded by artists living and working in older and historic buildings. Incredible historic homes – like the one at the top of the post – were opened to us so we could visit the treasures along the city’s famous boulevards. In this particular home, the retractable roof over the courtyard was opened for songs (by the Kansas City Chorale) and dinner.

There is a great deal to highlight, but because my time is limited I’m going to post a few pictures to give you a flavor of the weekend.  Do yourself a favor – find a long weekend to visit this thriving, alive city.

We began our visit focusing on J.C. Nichols’ landmark Country Club Plaza, the nation’s first shopping center designed to accommodate the automobile.  Our  overview included this panoramic view.

Country Club Plaza in KC

The relatively new home of the Kansas City Ballet – located in the re-purposed historic power house of Union Station – was a marvel to behold. The light that came into the studios highlighted the beautiful space and the wonderful architectural details.  We were able to sit for a bit and watch a rehearsal in the main studio.

Kansas City Ballet

Later that day we stopped in to hear a rehearsal of the Kansas City Symphony in the wonderful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. This Moshe Safdie-designed complex is stunning – inside and out.  The acoustics are amazing (the same acoustician who did Disney Hall in LA). And the views of the city cry out for a panorama.  My shots were all taken with my iPhone on a rather gray day.  Do yourself a favor and Google the Center and click through the images.  You’ll be as amazed as I was.  (And for those near KC, I noticed that Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer are playing on Thursday, September 25th!  How often do you get to hear two MacArthur Genius Grant winners play together on stage?)

Kauffman Center Panorama

Kauffman Center Window Detail

Kauffman Center Theaters

Kauffman Center exterior

This city is filled to the brim with arts and cultural center, one of the best known being the Nelson Atkins Museum, with its famous shuttlecocks.


Rodin's The Thinker

The Thinker always makes me think of Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs!

We saw so much more during the weekend, but I hope this whets the appetite. I hadn’t been to KC in about five years, and I was astonished at the vibrancy one sees throughout downtown. Well worth the visit.

More to come…


Doesn’t Syracuse Need a Closer?

Nats vs Phillies Sept 5 2014No more discussions (or articles) about the Nats being a World Series team. Not after tonight.

And it all started with such promise.

I showed up to our regular seats in Section 313 with my work colleague Paul to find the new sign the Lerners had posted over the recent road trip.

N-A-T-S Nats, Nats, Nats, Woo!

Our section’s cheer!  Emblazoned on the ballpark!  How cool is that?!  Thank you, Kim (a 313 regular who suggested it to a Nats marketing staffer).

With two runs in the first (thanks to Adam LaRoche’s home run), we had the chance to use it early and often.

Woo indeed!

Section 313 Cheer

Stephen Strasburg is cruising.  My new score book is getting a work out due to the great offense. Strasburg leaves after six terrific innings with a 5-1 lead. One inning later, it is 7-2.  Atlanta gets battered tonight, cutting our magic number by one more.  We had a chance to gain a game in the standings. What could go wrong?

Rafael Soriano could go wrong, even though he wasn’t alone.  Three errors weren’t helpful.  Bryce Harper and Denard Span decide to run into each other on a fly ball that either one could have caught.  But two of those errors occurred after the game should have been over.

Soriano should be the closer for the AAA Syracuse Chiefs after this evening.  (Oh, the Chiefs’ season ended when they lost a 4-0 lead in the playoffs?  Well, there goes that plan.) The Nats struggling (to put it mildly) closer gave up two home runs (to two players who never hit home runs) and three runs in a meltdown of a ninth inning. It was so damn painful, because you could see it coming.

So, I’m sitting here wondering what jinxed it.  Boswell’s World Series article this morning? Our new Section 313 sign? My new score book?  Something must have caused this meltdown. As I wrote earlier this week, we’re into a whole new level of anxiety this month.

It is a good thing the Nats play again in less than 24 hours.  This would really hurt if we had to wait a week like they do in football. Perhaps it is also appropriate that Saturday’s game is billed as “Faith Night.”  We’re going to need some prayers after this loss.

More to come…


Twelve Influential Books (And a Few More Thrown In for Fun)

What if Everybody Squeezed the Cat?Since  I left Facebook about 18 months ago, I miss 99.5% of the silly contests, lists, and challenges that clog the social media world.  And even when I was on FB, I would occasionally take one of their lists – such as the five albums I’d most want on a desert island – and expand that into blog posts (as in album #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5).

But the other day, my sister Debbie put up a list of ten influential books in her life, and asked Candice to do the same.  The challenge was to come up with the list quickly.  Both Debbie and Candice had great lists, and that made me think about what my list would look like.

So…here is my off the cuff list of twelve books that I’ve read (and usually re-read, and re-read).  Since this is my blog, I’m not going to be bound by the FB convention of ten.  And, in fact, you’ll see I’ve thrown in a bonus book or two along the way. Through the years these works have influenced me to  various degrees.  And I present them in no particular order.

1.  If Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover – This 1960 book is the first I really remember reading as a child, and it has stuck with me now for some 55 years.  The premise is very easy to understand, and the illustration at the top shows it perfectly.  On the left page is a cute drawing of one kid doing something that probably – to him or her – looks perfectly harmless.  Such as squeezing the cat. Or making a splash in the sink. Or dropping tacks on the floor (one of my favorites).  Then, on the opposite page is an illustration that shows what would happen if everybody did that particular thing.  This book is still the reason I pick up garbage as I walk along the sidewalk and then invariably think, “This miscreant needs to read If Everybody Did.”

2.  The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs – Another book from the early 60s (1961 to be exact) where writer and activist Jacobs turns her fire on modernist city planning and architecture that turned its back on what made cities great. This is a terrific book for preservationists and those who love urban communities.  One of my great joys in life was when our son Andrew wrote his college essay on how Jane Jacobs changed his life.

Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark3.  All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – This classic 1946 novel about corrupt Southern populist Willie Stark is as fresh today as when Warren first put pen to paper. I re-read this about once a decade and am reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  It was also turned into a great movie, starring Broderick Crawford as Willie Stark.  When told there is no political dirt on an opponent, Stark replies with the classic line, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption, and he passeth from the stink of the dydie to the stench of the shroud.  There’s always something.” Read Nixonland or Invisible Bridge by Rick Perlstein and you’ll see what Warren means.  Heck – and you just got two more great recommendations wrapped up in one selection!

4.  How Life Imitates the World Series by Thomas Boswell – You just knew there would be a baseball book. The Bos’ first book of baseball essays, published in 1982, is still his best.  How can you not love a book where the first chapter is entitled, This Ain’t a Football Game. We Do This Every Day.

5.  Truman by David McCullough – David McCullough has many excellent histories and biographies, and I have read them all.  His John Adams ranks right up there, but I still give the edge to McCullough’s 1992 biography of a president who – until this massive work came out – was seen as an accident between the two titans of FDR and Dwight Eisenhower. That historians no longer view Truman in this light is due to McCullough’s scholarship and storytelling abilities.

6.  Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L’Engle – This is the one book that is on Candice’s list and mine.  Perhaps when you read the subtitle – The Story of a Marriage – you’ll understand why.  The jacket blurb describes it well:  “The story of a marriage of true minds and spirits–a brilliant writer’s tribute to lasting love.”  While I don’t always hit the mark personally, I am always blessed when I read L’Engle’s short but lovely book. L’Engle’s book Glimpses of Grace is also a favorite.  As one reviewer says, “she affirms the virtues of imagination, intuition, and intelligence.” No small feat these days.

7.  The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor – The eccentric yet incredibly talented Southern writer Flannery O’Connor wrote best in the short story format. O’Connor’s stories are spiritual in a very unique way, and this work captures them all.  I’ll still pull it down on occasion and read A Good Man is Hard to Find or some other wonderful tale.  For those who want to delve deeper, check out The Habit of Being, a collection of O’Connor’s letters, and the hilarious Living With a Peacock from the 1961 Holiday magazine.  This latter article is the only one I’ll quote from extensively, because it ends on such an exquisite line:

Some people are genuinely affected by the sight of a peacock, even with his tail lowered, but do not care to admit it; others appear to be incensed by it. Perhaps they have the suspicion that the bird has formed some unfavorable opinion of them. The peacock himself is a careful and dignified investigator. Visitors to our place, instead of being barked at by dogs rushing from under the porch, are squalled at by peacocks whose blue necks and crested heads pop up from behind tufts of grass, peer out of bushes and crane downward from the roof of the house, where the bird has flown, perhaps for the view. One of mine stepped from under the shrubbery one day and came forward to inspect a carful of people who had driven up to buy a calf. An old man and five or six white-haired, barefooted children were piling out the back of the automobile as the bird approached. Catching sight of him, the children stopped in their tracks and stared, plainly hacked to find this superior figure blocking their path. There was silence as the bird re­garded them, his head drawn back at its most majestic angle, his folded train glittering behind him in the sunlight.

“Whut is thet thang?” one of the small boys asked finally in a sullen voice.

The old man had got out of the car and was gazing at the peacock with an astounded look of recognition. “I ain’t seen one of them since my grand­daddy’s day,” he said, respectfully re­moving his hat. “Folks used to have ‘em, but they don’t no more.”

“Whut is it?” the child asked again in the same tone he had used before.

“Churren,” the old man said, “that’s the king of the birds!”

The children received this informa­tion in silence. After a minute they climbed back into the car and con­tinued from there to stare at the pea­cock, their expressions annoyed, as if they disliked catching the old man in the truth.

8.  Good to Great by James C. Collins – I usually have a management handbook somewhere in my reading pile, but the one I return to year after year is Jim Collins’ 2001 classic Good to Great:  Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t. When you hear me talk about confronting the brutal facts or the flywheel effect, you’ll know I’m quoting Collins.

9. The Edmund Morris trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt – These are three books, but since it is my blog post I’m counting them as one.  This massive work, beginning with The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, followed by Theodore Rex, and ending with Colonel Roosevelt is a biographical tour de force. The middle volume, when Roosevelt sat astride the world as president, is probably my favorite, but that is only at the margins.  You should read them all.

10.  Lincoln’s Greatest Speech by Ronald C. White, Jr. – I’m going to end with my own Civil War trilogy, beginning with a little known book on Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.  This is a book that historian David Herbert Donald has called both “learned and accessible,” and I agree.

11.  Lincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills – This winner of the Pulitzer Prize is better known that White’s book, and the speech it covers is more famous.  This is such a  great book that speaks to the power of words.  Highly recommended.

12.  Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson – Still the best single volume history of the Civil War, now more than 25 years after it was published, Battle Cry of Freedom is still incredibly popular.  A recent interview with the author explains why:

The book’s popularity is not hard to explain. McPherson miraculously manages between to recount the origins of the war and its progress in virtually every theater of fighting through its entire four years, explain the political maelstrom that engulfed both the North and South, touch on heartbreaking stories of individual warriors, follow the machinations of government officials, and describe the military, cultural, and social consequences of the greatest cataclysm in American history, all while carrying the reader along within a brisk and vivid narrative.

Last Best League13.  SUMMER READING LIST BONUS:  The Last Best League by Jim Collins – No, this is not the same Jim Collins of Good to Great.  This Collins is the former editor of Yankee magazine.  His Last Best League is a wonderful, loving tribute to the Cape Cod Baseball League – with its small towns and wooden bats – and the book is a delight to read on a summer night…or as you prepare for the playoffs.  I recommend reading this book and watching the movie Bull Durham (Best baseball movie ever. Period.) during the same month.  You’ll never want to talk about football again.

So there you have it.  A (rather) quick grab-bag of reads.  I hope you find something to enjoy.

More to come…


You Know You’re in a Pennant Race…

BaseballYou know you’re in a pennant race when…

…you are passing the peace during a Sunday service, and all of a sudden you find that two other parishioners around you also check the west coast baseball scores when they get up in the middle of a night for a bio break.  (And no, I was not the person who started this conversation.)

…you curse the schedule makers who put so many of your team’s games on the west coast during a period when you’re trying to catch up on sleep.

…you turn to the sports pages (on your iPad, of course) to find the latest Tom Boswell column about – what else – pennant races.

magic numbers seem to grow instead of shrink.

…you want to call everyone you know to ask them if they saw Bryce Harper barely miss the “Hit it Here Cafe” target at Safeco Field on Sunday – a monster blast off the cafe windows.

…you curse the schedule makers who obviously gave the other team you are battling in your division (I’m looking at you, Atlanta) an easier September schedule just to make it tough on you.

…you are thrilled that because of extensive travel in the early part of the year, you have three home games in September in your season ticket group.

…you begin to wonder if you scheduled too much travel in October, not thinking about the consequences of your getting playoff game tickets as part of your season ticket group.

…the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report becomes your most visited website.

…what?  There’s an election coming up?

…you hope that the St. Louis Cardinals don’t make the playoffs.  Then you wonder if the Nats have to go through St. Louis to exorcise their 2012 demons.  Then you stop thinking.

…you fret about whether Ryan Zimmerman can return in time to get his timing back, and whether his insertion into the lineup will disrupt what has become a pretty efficient team.

…you actually begin to think you’d like the DH in the National League, so the Nats could put Zimmerman there most nights.  (NO!  Banish the thought!  It isn’t real baseball.)

…you wonder if Gio is ever going to win again.

…you are glad that you have something to watch the first part of the season when you’ve sworn off NFL football.

…you wake up thinking about which pitcher you would drop to get to a four-man rotation for the playoffs.  (See previous note about Gio and you go back to sleep pretty quickly.)

…you worry that you’ll jinx your team by thinking about a four-man rotation for the playoffs, the St. Louis Cardinals, and other teams this early in  September.

…basically, you worry about everything.  As Boswell says today of the Nationals and Orioles:

…losing your mind, screaming and booing, sacrificing sleep to watch West Coast games, second-guessing managers and consulting oracles — all the manifestations of late-season baseball insanity as the Sept. 1 bell-lap arrives — that’s not a player’s task.  That’s our job. So let’s get started.

I love it!  Let’s go Nats!!

More to come…


If You Have Loved Then You Have Cried

John GorkaToday I spent about two hours on an errand.  In a car.  After driving 4,590 miles in August, I’m not looking for more time behind the wheel. Plus, it was an errand that should not have been required. The fact that I had to take the time to do it was affecting my blood pressure.

Then, out of the blue, I found out why I was in that car today.

In driving down into Virginia by myself, I put my trusty playlist on the car system to become immersed in the music.  Soon came a voice that I could listen to sing the phone book. But today his song was much more profound than the yellow pages.

Time is a river with no riverside
Space a sea that has no tide
I can’t get across, no it’s too wide
If you have loved then you have cried

And then the second verse:

We are dust that was made in stars
Now we roll off to work in cars
When we were young we spilled our dreams in bars
Now we clean up the mess

There I was…cleaning up the mess.

John Gorka is a wonderful writer with a beautiful and soulful baritone voice. He’s been on the folk circuit forever, it seems, but his following is still small (when you consider that Lady Gaga gets 79 million views on a video).

His tune Riverside is on the 2003 album Old Futures Gone, and by the time the song ended, my attitude had significantly adjusted.

A little bit of thought can make a lot of sense
And every little day can make a difference
Yes I’m speaking in the present tense
Where my faults and seams wear through

And yes, sometimes it does take a lot to get through to me.

I can be more than, than a little dense
You’re gonna get splinters if you ride that fence
I do like the way the river bends
When it flows back to you

We called it gravy, never called it sauce
Better learn something if love gets lost
How hard the hurt, how high the cost
How all the smooth goes to rough

Time is a river with no riverside
Space a sea that has no tide
I can’t get across, no it’s too wide
If you have loved then you have cried

We all make mistakes.  We all have loved ones who have made mistakes. And while we may think we know what’s best, everyone has to make their personal choices. And yes, some of those will cause us to cry. I appreciate Gorka’s help in pointing that out to me today.

So that you can hear the voice as well as read the lyrics, I’ve embedded a video of Riverside. Enjoy the tune and enjoy the ride.

More to come…


The Streaks Continue!

Ian Desmond BobbleheadWhat a month for baseball!

During August, I’ve seen four major league games in four different cities and was able to cheer four home teams to wins.

For the Nationals, they are on a ten game winning streak. Five of the last six have been by walk-offs.

Last evening those two streaks converged.

Candice and I had tickets for Thursday’s late-afternoon game between the Nationals and  Arizona. The Nats came into the contest having won 9 in a row, including a terrific walk-off win the night before. We arrived early enough to pick up our Ian Desmond bobble-heads (Desmond is the one to the right of catcher Wilson Ramos in the photo at the top of the post) and with great anticipation for another magical evening.

But while picking up the Desmond bobble-head was easy enough, the Nats needed someone to pick up their offense.  They hit well enough – until a runner touched second base.  Then the Diamondback pitchers all turned into Cy Young. Twice the Nats left the bases loaded, for crying out loud.

But in the bottom of the 9th of a scoreless game, the magic began.

With one out, Denard Span – who is finally playing like the complete baseball player we all hoped he would be after we sent Michael Morse to Seattle – got a solid single, keeping that .300 batting average on the rise.  With Anthony Rendon at the plate – the guy who won the previous night’s game with a walk-off hit – Span stole second to get into scoring position. It was absolutely the right move at the right time, keeping the pressure on the Diamondbacks.  And they crumbled under the pressure.

Rendon hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Jordan Pacheco, who threw the ball past first baseman Mark Trumbo, allowing Span to score the winning run.

As usual, Tom Boswell has the best advice for Nats fans:

Pay attention. This doesn’t happen every decade, even every generation. Wherever you sit during Washington Nationals games, on your favorite couch in front of the TV or in the bleachers on South Capitol Street, don’t change seats. Eat the same pregame meal. Lucky charms — don’t lose ’em. How far can this thing go?

Nothing in baseball is more pure summer fun, mixed with just enough tension to be deliciously fretful, than a long winning streak.

Nothing, indeed – unless it is mixing that streak with a bucket list road trip and seeing baseball in four wonderful stadiums (Cleveland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Washington) with your daughter and wife.

Signs at AT&T Park

As the signs at AT&T Park in San Francisco demonstrate, baseball is a game for memories.  And this has been a great month for making more baseball memories.

Let’s keep it going, Nats!

More to come…



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers