Tag Archives: Travel

Snapshots from the Frankfurt Book Fair, Munich & Austria

It’s already been three weeks since a remarkable and, in some ways, magical trip to Germany for the Frankfurt Buchmesse. The journey morphed into an unforgettable few days of hiking and sightseeing in Austria, and then returning to my old home in Munich and seeing my dearest friends.

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Martha signs book cards at the Frankfurt Book Fair. She was a big hit with adults and kids alike.

I traveled to Frankfurt last-minute to  support my loving friend (and so much more) of 50 years, Martha Halda, there for the world release of her memoir, A Taste of Eternity, in its German-language version, Der Duft des Engels (The Wings of Angels). Watching Martha  sign autographs for thousands of festival attendees was truly divine, as we spent three years turning A Taste of Eternity from an idea into the life-affirming memoir it is. The same publisher that picked up Martha’s book, sorriso Verlag, also published Just Add Water in German translation — also launched at Frankfurt.2015-10-16 14.41.09

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A moment that warmed the teacher’s heart inside me: Kids hanging in the patio of the Frankfurt Book Fair, sitting in hammocks, reading … refreshing.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is an amazing conglomeration of publishing nations, their authors, and the hands that work the levers behind global publishing. I checked out books and publishers from dozens of countries, including wonderful exhibits at the Indonesia, Vietnam, Ireland, China, and Australia-New Zealand pavilions. (Also had to see When We Were The Boys and Just Add Water in two different booths in the English-language pavilion; that definitely fulfilled a life dream!)

Frankfurt also made a great effort to promote young adult and children’s reading through an outdoor reading area and a weekend nod to Comic-Con. Thousands of kids turned out. The way young reading has gone south in the U.S., I never thought I’d see thousands of teenagers in one place for the sake of books. I didn’t see anywhere near so many at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, whose overall crowd was comparable.

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A few of the earthly treasures at the Antiquarian Book Fair. Most of these titles are older than the U.S.

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One of the books that got Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei into hot water with the Catholic Church. The book was originally written in his hand.

The other highlight was the Antiquarian Book Fair, 48 exhibits and vendors. First of all, “antiquarian” in Europe carries a far different meaning than in the U.S.; jump on the timeline and go back several centuries. The fact that the inventor of the printing press, Johann Gutenberg, lived and worked not 10 miles away, added to the intrigue. Books dated back to the mid 15th century, but my favorite was De Systemate Mundi, a book on the planets by Galileo, likely among the volumes that got him booted from the Catholic Church for heresy and placed under house arrest. So much history in these 48 exhibits … I will be writing more on this.

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Mist, light, snow-covered mountains, and tight, steep roads in small mountain resorts… what’s not to love about this part of Europe?

Afterwards, Martha treated me to a huge “thank you” for helping her with her book — some hiking and sightseeing above the gorgeously rustic, small Austrian resort of St. Johann im Pongau, Austria. I’d driven though this town 30 miles south of Salzburg while living in Munich, but not like this: two days of long hikes, culminating with a random visit to Kreistenalm (Christ’s alms), a ski lodge in the Austrian Alps. While I got us around in my very broken German, Martha reveled. Ever seen a grown girl cry during lunch in a ski lodge? The reasons were clear: Her book concerns meeting angels and the Divine after she was pronounced clinically dead in October 1999, she’s coming off a Frankfurt launch (every global author’s dream) in October 2015, we’re in the Alps, and the lodge’s name is the center of her spiritual path. Wonderful, wonderful moment.

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A view of St. Johann im Pongau from the sky box seats (actually, beginning of the steep trail to Kreistenalm)

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The ski lodge that served up a magical moment: KreistenAlm: Hearty Welcome. And, it was.

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50 years to the month after we first saw ‘The Sound of Music’ in Carlsbad, we joined forces again in Salzburg, where most of the movie was filmed.

We had one more surprise, this belonging to our lifelong friendship. We spent a day in Salzburg, which I knew from having played tour guide to family and friends while living in Munich. Martha waxed nostalgic, and wanted to go on the Sound of Music bus tour. My idea of a tourist bus tour is to get to a destination, put on my pack, jump off at a random stop, and do my thing. Especially in a European city with a strong musical connection — outside America, Salzburg is revered not for Julie Andrews, but for Mozart, who grew up and began performing there. This time, I played nice. The reason? You’re going to accuse me of being a creative fiction writer, which I am, but follow this very true bouncing ball:

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Our ‘Sound of Music’ tour guide was brash, Austrian, and filled with the spirit of the tour. This is the gazebo where the love scene between Maria and Col. Von Trapp was shot.

Fifty years ago, in 1965, The Sound of Music opened and toured select theaters nationwide, among the last blockbuster movies to be roadhoused before chains and massive screen openings took over. A month after first grade began, in October 1965, Martha and I joined a class field trip to see the movie at San Diego’s Loma Theatre. Now, exactly 50 years later, we were touring the movie’s sets, both inside and outside Salzburg, after watching the film again to reacquaint. Let’s just say more than a few people were blown away when they heard this.

Afterwards, we did see a Mozart chamber concert, in one of the chamber rooms in which Mozart performed fairly often at the Festung Hohensalzburg, the 1,300-year-old white fortress atop Salzburg. The Sound of Music is awesome, but there is nothing like hearing a maestro’s music where he performed and conducted. The walls really do start talking…

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A quick return to my old Munich home on Oberlanderstrasse (yellow section, bottom 2 floors of windows).

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The Rathaus in Munich, one of the world’s most amazing buildings.

Finally, my friend Tobias Groeber, the director of the massive ispo trade fair (which I served as U.S. communications liaison for six years), and my closest friend in Germany, magazine publisher Wolfgang Greiner, threw a barbecue in Munich never to be forgotten. We feasted on fishes and meats from Spain, Turkey, and Germany, cuisine from a few other countries, first class all the way.

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How to keep a 6-foot-tall blonde with German blood happy: Bier und obatzda mit brez’l!

What amazed me, though, was talking about Just Add Water with 13-year-old surfing twins. Nothing unusual, except this: they were German surfers, locals who rode those frigid (but sometimes good) northwest swells in the North Sea. Chilling. Impressive. These hearty souls had no trouble connecting tall, blonde, California girl Martha with a place to stay on the Southern California coast. Smart kids!

Enjoy the photos and pictures … and get ready for an incredible next blog, an interview with British author and novelist Ann Morgan. Her book, The World Between Two Covers, may well change the way you read and regard world literature. Her novel, Beside Myself, is equally amazing. We’ll let her take it from there, in this special preview of a longer interview we will be publishing in The Hummingbird Review next summer.

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The Intersection of Literature & Free Expression  

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

Whenever I travel to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the world, I make sure to pay homage to the roots of my craft near the intersection of Columbus & Grant, where North Beach and Chinatown intersect.

It is a simple little tour, really: just three places. The first, City Lights Books, is a wonderful patchwork of angles, stories, perches, step-ups, cellars and basements loaded with books you may not find anywhere else. It is also home base to celebrated poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who spent the 1950s writing poetry collections, turning a half-dozen unknown writers into the famed San Francisco Renaissance crew (or West Coast Beats), and taking on the U.S. Supreme Court when they censored his publication of Henry Miller.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Now 95, Ferlinghetti is a hawk of a man, tall, imposing and imperious when crossed. He and my old friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, still read together once every October. Every time we write a page, article or book with anything we want to say, and then publish it, we’re reminded of who won that landmark censorship battle that culminated in 1961. It wasn’t the Supreme Court.

City Lights is my favorite bookstore, the bookstore that City Lightssparks me every time I walk through its doors. Now 60 years old, it is what an independent bookstore is all about — distinct character and personality, books carefully chosen by a well-read staff, a sanctuary of the written word, and the hub of a great writing community and movement. It is the best store to buy Beat literature in the world. Its selection of poetry, novels and literature reflects an open-minded, story-crafting, intelligence-promoting approach that is, well, the only approach that should ever matter in a society.

My favorite City Lights moment came in 2001. I walked into the store with Marty Balin, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame lead singer (and founder) of Jefferson Airplane, as well as Jefferson Starship. During their San Francisco concerts in the wild 1960s, bands used to ask poets to open their shows — celebrations of light, spoken word, dancing and music. Ferlinghetti was the Airplane’s designated poet on several occasions. As we walked inside, there was Ferlinghetti, perched in the checkout area. Marty and Ferlinghetti hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. Immediately, I felt like the luckiest fly on the wall as they caught up and discussed music, literature, and reminisced about those early concerts at Longshoreman’s Hall, the Matrix and The (original) Fillmore.

If the walls of Vesuvio's could talk, who would ever leave?

If the walls of Vesuvio’s could talk, who would ever leave?

Across the street from City Lights is Vesuvio’s, the colorful two-story pub that served as Jack Kerouac’s watering hole during his trips to San Francisco. Hemingway had Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Henry James had the White House Tavern in New York City, and Kerouac had Vesuvio’s. He percolated large parts of On The Road, The Dharma Bums and other novels while sitting inside. Now, the place is lined with classic photos from the Beat generation, along with posters of Mae West, Janis Joplin, and other adornments that were part of the bar Kerouac knew. It looked like a few patrons and bottles of ancient booze on the shelves had never left, too.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio's and leads to Chinatown.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio’s and leads to Chinatown.

After that, we took our haul of books a hundred yards to Vital Tea Leaf, located in the middle of Chinatown. (Gotta love the way ethnic neighborhoods run into each other in San Francisco, so effortlessly, without fences or borders.) Our old friend, the 83-year-old proprietor with a sailor’s tongue and a sage’s wisdom, greeted us with hugs at the door. We then spent the next 90 minutes tasting teas made of nectar and gold (so it seemed), and listening to him mix insightful history and preparation tips with playful poking at customers as they walked inside. I find Chinese tea opens up the creative pores in a way that makes verse and prose pour from mind, body and soul; it is always my chosen drink when writing. So, I loaded up with pu’erh, milk oolong, cloud mist and lapsang souchong (the smoky tea), heard our host’s stories about each (cloud mist grows at 8,000 feet, for example), and headed off to write a few of my own.

To me, Columbus & Grant is not only the junction of ancient and modern literature, or the crossroads of shih and Beat writing and poetry. It is also the shining beacon that reminds me of two endangered species — the independent bookstore and freedom of written expression. As we move into National Poetry Month, we’re reminded of the treasures men and women have written for thousands of years. And the inalienable right and freedom to do so. That’s worth honoring in the best way possible — by writing.Kerouac sign

 

 

 

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When Life Requires a Change in Longitude: Interview with Authors Larissa and Michael Milne

Sometimes, life throws wicked curve balls at inopportune times – such as, middle age. A lifetime of plans fly out the window, and you’re left facing … what?

A couple of years ago, Larissa and Michael Milne experienced this scenario. To put it more bluntly, they encountered a personal apocalypse of sorts. Faced with a Milnes-Proposal covernumber of very difficult options, they chose to rekindle their love for each other – and to do it away from their Philadelphia home. So they sold everything, got on a plane – and spent the next year experiencing the world in what has grown into a most amazing story. Imagine taking in North Korea, Vietnam and Namibia while dealing with major family issues back home …

The Milnes are writing about their 31-country, 6-continent journey in Changes In Longitude, a book that couples travel narrative and poignant memoir, with the Milnes’ journalistic skill and catchy humor present throughout. The book is now beginning to make its rounds in the publishing world, where it is certain to find a home that puts copies in countless readers’ hands in the near future.  One thing for sure: the book is bolstered by one of the best and most brand-conscious websites out there, www.changesinlongitude.com.

Recently, I had the chance to interview the Milnes, to whom I was introduced through my work for another travel narrative author and client, Lynne Martin, author of the forthcoming Home Free. As you’ll see, the Milnes’ experience is distinctive, unique – and well worth turning the pages to follow, for both its travel and emotional richness.

Bob Yehling: In this busy publishing cycle of travel memoirs and narratives, you have a truly unique personal story that prompted your decision to travel for a year? Could you elaborate?

Larissa and Michael Milne: On the surface, our decision seems like a lark or reaction to a mid-life crisis. In reality, it sprang from much deeper roots. We were reeling from the physical and emotional strain of years of dealing with a destructive family situation related to our daughter, whom we had adopted from Russia. By the time she became an adult, our relationship with her was broken and we became reluctant empty nesters. We needed time to heal so we turned to our love of travel.

Larissa and Michael Milne pose with their Rocky statue in Philadelphia. The statue made the journey with them.

Larissa and Michael Milne pose with their Rocky statue in Philadelphia. The statue made the journey with them.

BY: You combined truly exotic or hard-to-reach destinations with some world favorites – North Korea, Namibia, Vietnam, etc. Could you describe how that added to your experience – and to the narrative of Changes in Longitude?

Milnes: This journey was about discovering new places as we rediscovered ourselves. We indulged our natural curiosity for far-flung destinations, seeking to understand the people behind the places. Since journalists are not permitted to enter North Korea, we provide rare perspectives of this isolated country. We met people there who were warm and welcoming, so unlike the vitriol spewed towards the world by their government.

In Vietnam, we toured the My Lai Massacre site (from the Vietnam War). Locals, once they found out we were Americans, embraced us and said “U.S.-Vietnam friends now.” We realized that no matter how much governments are in conflict, people are the same all over the world and respect each other.

BY: One of my favorite scenes is when you find yourself mired in a Scottish meadow, ankle deep in mud – with a bull getting ready to charge you. Why do you feel readers gravitate so readily to funny, even mindless moments within the larger scope of the journey?

 Milnes: Those I Love Lucy moments are entertaining. They remind us that travel is all about creating memories, experiences that you can’t predict. In 400 days of travel, we had our fair share. Wait until you read about Larissa’s encounter with a toilet on a Malaysian train.

BY: You’ve been writing a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as pieces for National Geographic Traveler and other magazines. You were also featured in Smithsonian Magazine. What age groups have you heard responses from? And how did this writing prepare you or aid your decision to write Changes in Longitude?

 Milnes: Chucking it all to travel is a dream of many, regardless of age. The phrase “you’re living the dream” is one we heard consistently from people all over the world. Travel stories in newspapers and magazines typically place the reader “in the moment” by telling them the who, what, where and why of the story. We spread our wings more in the book by taking the reader beyond what happened in the moment; delving deeper into the situations we encountered and people we met.

BY: What were the advantages and challenges of writing this book together?

Milnes: We each have slightly different perspectives of our experiences, which adds dimension to our narrative. It can be a challenge writing in a collective voice.

BY: You’ve obviously read several travel memoirs and narratives. What in your reading moved you the most about these works? And what devices did you find most advantageous to your book (though obviously tweaking to distinguish your voice and journey)?

 Milnes: Normally we enjoy reading narratives that make us want to visit a place. But there are also books like J. Marten Troost’s The Sex Lives of Cannibals. After reading it, we have absolutely no desire to visit Kiribati, but love the way he wrote about the country and its people with candor and affection. We both relish Bill Bryson; the way he writes with humor, but also delves into the local history, which places his observations in context.

BY: Why do you feel travel is such a great way to work through traumatic emotional or structural changes in our lives?

 Milnes: Travel takes a person completely out of the routines of daily life, giving them the space and time to heal while gaining a self-awareness they wouldn’t achieve at home. Living in a foreign land where nothing is familiar also avoids stepping on many of the emotional trip wires that are pervasive at home.

BY: The best single moment of your trip?

 Milnes: There was no one “best” moment, but there was a pivotal one when we realized how the journey was affecting us. This occurred on a beach in Perth, Australia as we were watching the sun melt into the Indian Ocean. It was the first time we realized that rather than taking a break, we were making a break; we would not return to our prior lives.  Every step forward would help us shape our new life.

That first step occurred sooner than expected. As more folks flocked to our isolated spot, we found out that we sat smack in the middle of a nude beach. To remain clothed would make us the odd man and woman out. So we shed our clothes as easily as we were shedding the vestiges of our former life. But one of the nice things about travel is that no one knows who you are. You can be anyone you want and even reinvent yourself along the way.

BY: The most challenging moment?

 Milnes: In North Korea, we were fed a steady diet of propaganda related to the Korean War and U.S.-North Korea relations.  We were warned ahead of time not to counter the guides with our version of these historic events. It wouldn’t reflect well on our hosts, and we wouldn’t their change minds, anyway. But when we were touring the War Museum in Pyongyang, Michael had enough of the alternative history – and apparently, it showed. He was pulled away from the group by an Army guide who questioned where he was from and why he was being so “callous.”

BY: Now that you’re shopping Changes in Longitude, what do you feel are the central themes, or even experiences, that readers may find most engrossing?

 Milnes: No matter how down your life might be, travel can provide uplifting moments. String enough of those moments together and you can find a path forward to true happiness, a happiness that is newly defined.

We embraced a much simpler lifestyle. (Living out of a 22” suitcase for a year will do that to you.) As the world became our home, our need for personal space has shrunk, and we no longer need the stuff we used to own. We learned to adapt to new environments and situations quickly; instead of acquiring possessions, we’re more interested in acquiring a wealth of experiences. None of this would have happened if we had continued with the same routine of our prior life. If you want to change your life, then change your life.

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