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Jim’s Presentation for Mr. Feckanin’s World Cultures Class

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Trying something a bit different, I recorded the audio from a presentation I gave last week.  There’s a bit of background noise, and you can’t see the pictures I’m talking about.  Maybe this is lame, but gosh darn it, I’m putting it up anyway.  It jumps in at the beginning just after I explain that I graduated from Park High in 2000 and went to St. John’s and St. Ben’s for four years.

It’s much shorter than the original presentation we gave as it had to fit in a class period and I had to deal with the attention span of high school students.  It should give those unable to make our presentation some idea of what it was like.  I’m afraid the end gets a little cut off.

Click here to play the presentation.

Jim Durfey’s last article for the Enterprise

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

As they conclude their epic global trip, bicyclists find that kindness accompanies them to the end.

    The drunk Austrian wobbled unsteadily in front of us, clutching his beer to his chest. “Good, gut!” he yelled as we strummed and sang. Behind him, on a park bench sat a long row of folks who occasionally peered at us as though through a thick haze. As I beat the drum, I watched as one of them fished a hypodermic needle out of his pocket and held the point in the dancing flame of his lighter. A man sitting groggily before me demanded our songbook so he could accompany us. Drew handed him the book and he sang with us, in between nips he took out of a small bottle and hiccups that racked his figure and suggested severe gastrointestinal insecurity.
    Despite the shady nature of our venue, we decided to continue playing.  A police station was nestled on the edge of the park.  In fact, the police had already seen fit to kick us out of the first spot we’d picked.  Almost as soon as we had started playing, a generous Moroccan migrant worker had enthusiastically distributed a beer to each of us.  We left the cans where he had set them, but the cops also requested we not display these beverages so publicly. We complied, though we wondered at the apparent lack of concern the lawmen demonstrated for all the other people drinking and indeed doing things less legal in the park.
    As we biked out of Vienna the next day, we felt relieved to be out of the big city and back into the simple, pastoral pleasantness of the countryside. With only a few hundred miles to go, we anticipated an easy trip to Paris where our journey would end. The weather, however, turned against us. The summer temperatures, of which we had sometimes complained since January, suddenly turned cool. Forty or fifty degrees may not seem too cold, but when we went for days at a time without benefiting from indoor shelter, we felt downright chilled. As we prepared for our two week trek across Germany, we reasoned that at least we weren’t wet.
     In Germany it rained every day. We might have seen the sun once or twice in during two weeks, but I wore my visor all day long to shield my eyes from the constant drops of precipitation. We forced ourselves to drink our frigid water. As we biked we swung our hands madly to encourage circulation. At night we huddled around a large campfire, trying to dry out our clothes in the smoke. Torrential onslaughts often interrupted our dinner and sent us scurrying for the tent. One night, we happily traded hygiene for dryness and camped under a bridge infested with pigeons.
    The weather, much to our chagrin followed us into France. Having studied French in many years ago at Park High, I became a back-up translator for Drew, who spoke fluent French he learned growing up in Africa. Anyone who remembers “Freedom Fries” must admit that relations between the U.S. and France are not untroubled. In fact the French as a people don’t have a stellar reputation for friendliness. I privately dreaded exposing myself to the wrath of a Frenchman sure to be incensed at my butchering his language.
    Necessity, however, sometimes conjures bravery where there is none. I ran out of water and found myself knocking on the door of random house. A man opened it. “Good day, sir,” I began. “I travel by bike. I have no water. Help me you obtain?” I quiveringly queried. The ruddy complexion of the man turned curious. I soon found myself standing by his sink. He grabbed my bottle gave it a hard look. The container had traveled with me since Turkey. The clear plastic had become opaque and greenish algae had taken root in the bottom. He flung my bottle into the trash, muttering something incomprehensible, and ran downstairs. He returned with a brand new unopened bottle. Not knowing how to explain that the old one was fine, I thanked him and tried to make my exit, but he assaulted me with a rash of questions about the bike trip. I immediately failed to understand anything and told him as much, yet he persisted, rephrasing and speaking slowly until he penetrated the thick cloud of my incomprehension. It was not the last time we met with unexpected kindness in France.
    Near dusk one night, just two days outside of Paris, our map failed to reveal a crossroads at which we found ourselves. I approached a well-built man collecting walnuts.  I conversed with him in halting French for five minutes before he asked where I was from. Upon hearing the answer, he responded in English, “So you speak English?” From then on, we communicated much more easily. The man invited us back to his home to examine his map, but before we saw the map, he invited us in for a beer. Halfway through the beer, he offered us the use of his shower, and soon we found ourselves invited to stay the night.
    Laurent Dufour and his wife Christine proved well-equipped hosts.  Laurent, through his work as an accountant for farms and vineyards, had a well-stocked supply of champagne, to  which he generously treated us. The co-inhabitants of his home, twin toddlers, entertained us by, in the words of their mother “doing everything they are forbidden.”  Indeed, on the strength of their performance, I recommend twins only to the most energetic and capable of parents. Amidst the frolicking toddlers, we could hardly believe our luck.  We planned to eat a vegetable soup on the ground huddled around a fire, fighting over utensils.  Instead we found ourselves sipping champagne in a cozily-remodeled farmhouse, eagerly anticipating the cheese course.
    We began this trip knowing we would expose ourselves to uncertainty. But, as only death is certain, surely life is not without its own vicissitudes. By embarking on this trip, we threw out many of the controls of which most people lucky enough to have the option avail themselves: a set place to live, a reliable income, a sedentary life.  Thus, while maintaining responsibility for ourselves, we made ourselves available to the help and hospitality of strangers, but also to a lesser extent, to their whims and malevolence. Among the diversity of cultures, countries, and religions through which we traveled, one characteristic predominated: people’s proclivity towards kindness.
    Darkness, without doubt, exists. I saw it leering out at me through the eyes of the unfortunate addicts who gathered around us in the park in Vienna. They lived, it seemed, on the street, with no home and no one to turn to. Their slow progression towards destruction, self-imposed though it may have been, was a sorry sight.
Before we realized the nature of the place at which we played, we put out the guitar case, hoping to gather a crowd.  Once we realized the nature of the crowd we did gather, we played without hope of earning bread money. Surely, we reasoned, a bunch of homeless junkies would save what little money they had for chemical rather than musical entertainment. While packing up, however, we found to our astonishment that we had earned a few euros. Before we left, a few of the folks shook our hands warmly and smiled through their haze of dependence. Even here, appreciation and kindness to strangers had not died.
    Upon returning to Montana, I am mostly thankful. Thankful for the experiences I have had and the people who opened their homes and lives to me along the way. But I am also hopeful. Hopeful both for the world and myself; hopeful that despite whatever haze through which I may suffer, I too can cling to kindness.

Jim Durfey’s article on Hungary for the Enterprise

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

In Eastern Europe, bikers sacrifice social status but gain historical inspiration

The two Slovakian policemen stamped through our crowd and confronted us in angry words we didn’t understand.  Once they established our native language, they adeptly switched to English.  ”Do you have a permit for this spectacle?” the larger of the officers spat down at us.  Despite the tension of the situation, I couldn’t help being impressed with his vocabulary.We were, in fact, playing music on the streets without a permit.  Ever since Istanbul, we had been playing on the streets for money.  At the beginning of the trip, we never anticipated living off our music.  However, even small European towns have old pedestrian zones.  These gentrified, tourist-filled areas prove lucrative as music venues.  From Turkey onward, we bought food using only money garnered from street performances.

Aside from breathing life into our ever-dwindling savings accounts, street performing provided a way to meet people in Europe, where strangers don’t often interact with each other.  As we play, some passersby linger for a bit, but others sit down on the sidewalk next to us and remain for our entire performance.  In this way, we met many people and even had an accidental home stay in Serbia.

Unfortunately, while street performing we sometimes found ourselves at odds not only with police, but with apartment dwellers, shopkeepers, and other street musicians.  In uber-regulated Western Europe, we found ourselves pandering to paperwork.  I once spent an entire afternoon in the ultra-organized city of Vienna, running from bureaucrat to bureaucrat, trying to determine where we could purchase a permit to play on the street.

Though we ate well with our earnings, we strictly budgeted our purchases and eschewed luxuries.  As we slid across Hungary, we ate veggies and enjoyed the sunshine.  The vast plains raced horizon-ward with wheat and corn.   We often glimpsed pheasants running through the fields.  As the evenings came sooner and sooner, I slowly realized I wouldn’t be able to make it back to Montana for the hunting season.  Drew and I ground our teeth as bouquets of plump pheasant exploded from the roadside.  Though the birds stayed out of range for rocks, we stumbled upon an excellent if somewhat unorthodox way of adding fowl to our diet.

One day, we found a completely intact hen in the road.  Drew and I stopped.  It looked perfectly fine.  A quick prod beneath its feathers revealed it was still warm.  It had been freshly hit!

Drew and I exchanged glances, and a certain song by the Ringling 5 started resounding in my head.  If it’s good enough for Shields Valley ranchers, it’s good enough for me, I reasoned.  Drew and I cleaned the pheasant in the bushes and stored it for dinner.

Our bike mates looked skeptical as we chopped the bird into our communal pot.  However, as the savory aroma of roasting pheasant engulfed our campsite, their taste buds brought them back to sensibility.

Eating roadkill wasn’t the only sign that our social status had declined.  My beard-faithful crumb-catcher and bug filter that it is-no longer associated me with piousness, as it did in India, but with disregard for hygiene and fashion.  Bathing in rivers and eating in parks didn’t win us any status points, either.

However, we still found ourselves at the receiving end of much kindness.  An Austrian woman let us camp on her farm.  A portrait painter in Bratislava insisted on drawing us for free.
An ancient little man flagged me down in Hungary.  He grilled Peter and I about our trip outside his yard.  His lawn, across which artillery pieces lay strewn, resembled a museum.  He ordered us to wait five minutes and retreated into his house.  The inquisitive stranger soon emerged.  He stumbled back to us and passed me a bag of sweets.  Though we were in a bit of a hurry, I was overcome with curiosity and posed my own question to the man: “Were you part of the revolution here?” I asked.  ”Wait ten minutes,” replied the man, his clear blue eyes flashing, and he led us into his home.  We realized the structure did indeed double as a museum.

Edmund Pongratz was not only part of the revolution-he helped lead it.  In 1956, Hungarians started a rebellion that expelled Soviet forces from Hungary in a matter of days.  “They wanted to make us Russian,” Edmund told me when I asked why he had fought the Soviets and their supporters.  “We wanted to be free,” he said, before demonstrating how he threw Molatav cocktails at Soviet tanks.

In the end, the Hungarian revolution was not successful.  The Russians had reinforcements.  They returned in force days after they had been expelled and subjected Hungary to an even harsher form of dictatorial governance.  Edmund’s museum didn’t focus on the aftermath of the revolution, however.  Instead, it focuses on the spirit of independence and heroism demonstrated by the rebels.  That is undoubtedly the most important part of their story.

Edmund proved that he can focus on the most important things in other areas, too.  “Some people might look at you and say ‘Who are those monks with big beards?’  But I look at you and know you’re good guys.”  We left with a bag full of sweets and confidence that not everyone will judge us based on our beards.

Later, as the Slovakian policemen chased us out of our venue, we felt unsettled.  The distaste of clashing with authority figures disinclined us from further playing.  However, I thought of the Hungarian revolutionaries.  They stood up to things much worse than harsh language.  Not playing meant a lower food budget and less opportunity to meet people.  We obtained the permit we didn’t know we had to have and played again on the streets of Bratislava.  The policemen returned, but this time we responded to their gruff language with the permit.  I hope I never have to face down a hostile tank.  In the meantime, however, there are many small ways in which we all can immolate the valor of the Hungarian revolutionaries like Edmund.

Our Stomachs Overfloweth

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

The gourmandizing began almost as soon as we landed in Chicago.  Andrew’s family met us at the airport.  We avoided the irksome task of putting our bikes together at the airport and the ride to our host-place in the dark streets.  Instead we loaded them into the back of the Spidahl’s truck and went straight to a Chicago deep-dish pizza restaurant.  I ate and ate until I was stuffed.  Yet, it was only by summoning a great amount of self control that I avoided snatching bits of uneaten crust off Dr. Spidahl’s otherwise polished plate.

 At the pizza place.

spidahl's and kate and fbr

                The pulchritudinous trio behind the couch: Kate and Drew’s sister and mom.

Kate Ritger, our host for the next couple of days, brought us back to our roots by preparing broccoli in a peanut sauce with rice.  We gobbled that down, only to be taken out to dinner a few hours later by my Uncle John and Aunt Jodi.  We tried to demonstrate our enjoyment of the food by consuming it all, but our efforts collided with our full stomachs, and a side of fries went almost untouched.  Later at the prayer dinner at De Paul University at which we fielded questions about the trip, we couldn’t even think about eating.  Later, at a presentation on the election, we managed to find room for complimentary brownies and chips.

Jim with Uncle and Aunt, post hamburger.

On our third day back in the U.S., Pete’s high school friend Molly and her husband Matt prepared a mountain of pasta for us.  The next day Nakia’s birthday feast, prepared by our second Chicago hosts Amanda and Woody, graced our stomachs.

molly and matt and fbr

FBR with Matt and Molly and Amanda

Before we knew it, we had left Chicago for Wisconsin.  We landed in Beloit, or almost in Beloit.  I was off on the distance estimate, and it seemed we wouldn’t be able to meet up with our friends the Klocke’s who reside in that prestigious town.  Luckily, however, Dan Klocke saw fit to drive out at dusk and rescue us, or at least some of us.  The rest of us, having passed on the burden of luggage to Dan’s car made it to the Klocke residence in no time, where Catie treated us to two pans of stuffed pasta.  She harbored no illusions about FBR’s capacity for caloric consumption.

Dan manhandles a grapefruit.

The next day found us in Madison, at Jen and Xavier’s, where we received more pasta and homemade cheese (for this we thank the Kutters).  The prestigious gardiners, Ryan and Jenny, also saw fit to buy everyone a Mediteranean lunch the following day.

In Madison, Pete’s cousin Todd biked with us on our first day out of town.  He helped us find a campsite in a dense line of trees and summoned his girlfriend, Erika.  She drove out to collect him, but brought with her a huge pot of beef stew and a salad.  We partook of this pabulum with our guests, sitting around our campfire and listening to fascinating tales of scientific outposts in Greenland .  It was the first time we’ve ever hosted anyone at our campsite-at least since Cambodia.

Now we’re in Western Wisconsin.  Andy and Karolanne hosted us at the former’s countryside home two nights ago.  Last night Karol Anne cooked for us again even though she had night class.

Drew diving into stew courtesy Karol Anne.

 Tonight we had the incredible fortune to be hosted by Jane Steingraeber at a potluck of veritable who’s who of the La Crosse CSBSJU community.  There was so much food I forgot to take a picture. 

We certainly don’t deserve any of this special treatment, but so long as people see fit to provide it, I’ll sure waste no time gulping it down.  Thanks everyone!

International Reaction to the Election Results

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

I was scanning some Chinese news sources after the election.  I began reading one and decided to translate it.   I offer it here without comment, though I will note that reading the Chinese perspective on American politics is interesting and perhaps a bit entertaining.  However, we would do well to keep in mind the extent to which this election has been followed around the world and the fact that often people in other countries are affected more strongly by our elections than we the electorate.

Original link (from the Xinhua news agency):

What is the meaning of Obama’s Victory?

Liu Huidang

1st: This year the American economy has begun to decline, which was not beneficial for the republican candidate McCain.  In September of this month, the American financial crisis became an economic depression, consumerism shrunk and unemployment expanded.  Therefore the American government adopted measures to prevent the crisis.  However, the effects of these measures have yet to be felt.  The trust of the American people is difficult to obtain.  The financial crisis may continue for two or three years.

2nd: Since 9-11, the war against terror has emerged.  The Bush administration used an antagonistic strategy as their starting point.  The serious mistake of invading Iraq made the administration lose much of the confidence of the people.

History has shown that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and consequently that the Bush administration’s excuse for the invasion was preposterous.  Furthermore, after the invasion, American forces found themselves in a serious quagmire.  The invasion has cost billions of tax dollars and the lives of more than three thousand American soldiers.  The American anti-terror policies have not only not been realized, but to the contrary have led to increased terror, and have failed to obtain peace for the whole world.
3rd: American voters are fickle; eight years of Republican rule seems too long.  They wish to change the flavor, they want the democratic party to take over and turn over a new leaf.  They want America to be able to extricate itself from its financial and diplomatic difficulties.

4th: Another reason for the Democratic victory is opposition to the Bush administration by the American public.  Bush has ruled for eight years, and whether in domestic or international affairs, has demonstrated sub-par performance.  The American people had their patience tested too far and thus used their ballots to pass judgment on the last eight years.

5th: This election demonstrates that American voters were not discriminatory. At one time, racial discrimination was a serious problem in the U.S., especially for African Americans.  The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 is just one example of this.  Recently, the U.S. has made considerable progress with regard to racial discrimination. Both Powell and Rice, ethnically black Americans of diverse backgrounds, have assumed positions of international importance.  American voters, by choosing an man of African heritage to run the country, have made a miracle of historical nature.

6th: Obama’s youth is of consequence.  He appears handsome, which helped him obtain the support of women and youth.  He was born in August of 1961 and at 47 is full of vigorous energy.  McCain is 72, and seems a bit old.

Obama will begin governance on January 1st.  He will face no few problems.  He must adopt measures to moderate the financial crisis and stop the degrading economic situation.  He must resolve the military situation in Iraq.  In the election, Obama’s attitude regarding Iraq was perfectly clear: he means to withdraw American forces as quickly as possible.

Obama’s policy regarding China will almost certainly follow Bush’s lead of encouraging friendship between the two countries.

Another French Homestay

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Two days out of Paris we biked under blue skies to a small village where we dined on pasts soup.  A curious carpet layer enjoying his day off joined us onthe grass across from the church  After hearing our story he saw fit to buy us beer, which we eagerly gulped down.  We biked out of the vineyards that surrounded town, considering ourselves lucky to have met such nice people.  Soon the light grew soft.  The sun fled westwards.  I thought forward to the night, when I would be crouched around my campstove, chopping veggies into my pot before sleeping on the ground.  I savored the rough nature  our lives had assumed in the past few months.

Laurent pours champagne

 You can imagine my surprise when one hour later I found myself sipping champagne while seated at an exquisitely set table in a wonderfully remodeled farmhouse.  We had asked Laurent for directions as he  collected walnuts from a lawn in his village.  I spoke with him in halting, ungrammatical French until he established we were English speakers.  He invited us back to his house to look at a map.  Soon we found ourselves sitting around his table, sipping yet another free beer.  He then extended the use of his shower to us, and in a shockingly wonderful escalation of offers, he invited us to stay for the night.

fBR and Laurent and Christine

 Perhaps it was only natural then, that the evening led to champagne.  What surprised us about Laurent’s offer is that he and his wife, Christine, are attempting to raise sixteen month old twin boys.  At first, they regarded us shyly through wide eyes. Upon release from the living room, they abandoned shyness and they tore into the kitchen, bent on raising hell.  As Able attacked the lower cabinets and their contents, Hugo assaulted the steep stairway leading to the guest room.  Managing the twins took the best efforts of both parents.

Over our cooperatively-cooked meal, Laurent explained that he had worked on a farm in Canada for half a year.  He and Christine enjoyed several travels overseas.  Perhaps this explains both their eagerness to host us and their adeptness with English.

Whatever caused our hosts’ invitation, we passed an enjoyable evening, punctuated though it was by wails from the baby monitor that sent Christine scurrying upstairs to try to restore order in the nursery.  Laurent communicated his fears about the fate of a world addicted to petroleum.  We agreed we all must do whatever we can to avoid use ourselves while trying to educate others.

After dinner I realized I would have to add ice cream to champagne and other things I would have to offer cyclists in the U.S. if I intend to repay some of the hospitality extended to me on this trip.  Guys like me probably don’t need any more excuses to keep ice cream, but oh well.

Nakia wtih able and hugo

Laurent left early the next morning and Christine prepared breakfast.  We loaded up the bikes while the twins stumbled around the road.  Able often fell down and used the opportunity to stuff his mouth with small stones.  Christine extracted them, and after a photo we biked down the road, warmed from the extension of kindness and gleeful to be able to present slightly cleaner versions of ourselves to Paris.

FBR to Present at St. John’s and St. Ben’s Nov. 18th

Monday, October 20th, 2008

We are scheduled to give a presentation in the Alum Lounge on the campus of St. John’s University Tuesday, November 18th at 8:15pm. The Presentation is open to the general public.

We will also appear at the Festival of Cultures on the College of St. Benedicts on Saturday, November 15th in the Hahen Campus Center Field House from 5:00pm - 8:00pm.

At Pete’s church, Holy Name of Jesus, we will present in the evening on Wednesday November 19th.

Don’t forget about other important FBR events coming to a zip code near you:

Nov. 8th: We begin biking from Rochester to the cities. Everyone is welcome to join us.

Nov. 9th: We arrive in the Twin Cities and have a huge Chili Feed with friends and family, sometime in the afternoon at an as of yet undisclosed location.

Where are we again?

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

September 25th was a long day.  We biked over mountains, along streams, down huge hills, broke the trailer, fixed the trailer, broke Pete’s spoke, fixed Pete’s spoke.  And that was all before lunch.  We had spent six days on the road since Regensburg zithout a shower or shelter from the blowing wind, the often driving rain, or the cool to cold temperatures to which Germany seemed determined to subject us.  We eagerly anticipated the end of the day, for we were supposed to arrive at the home of Tommy and Juliet, my friends from college, and thus escape the weather.  By 3:00pm, however, we had only gone 20km.  We had another 60 to go, but often we barely do that with a full day.  We resigned ourselves to staying another night in the open air, and putting off the paradise of Tommy’s to the next day.

However, we kept plugging away.  We biked down a river valley, and the kilometers ticked away faster than expected.  Darkness fell.  We turned on our lights and clung to the protected bike lane, hoping against hope we would muster the fortitude for the final few kilometers. 

tommy and juliet

Tommy and Juliet.  Yaaayy!

Finally it was clear we had made it.  I called ahead to let Tommy know we were coming, after all.  He apparently set out immediately in his car in an attempt to do what Juliet later described sardonically as “find you”.  But he actually managed to find us, and good thing too as we had passed his house and were headed back out of Heidelberg.

 He reeled us in to his and Juliet’s apartment.  We found cupboards full of American food (Jiffy, CEREAL!, maple syrup) and a table set to the T.  Even though it was nearly 9:30 and we had told them we weren’t coming, they had waited.  We gobbled up the meat they offered us with extra zeal.  At bed time, we found that we each had a bed made for us with matching sets of towels and wash-clothes on top of which rested a packet of gummy worms. 

The next morning, we slept in as they rushed off to work.  We awoke late and consumed embarrassingly large quantities of CEREAL! and milk and toast toasted in a real toaster.  Every day, Juliet and Tommy insisted on cooking for us, though we occasionally managed to help with this or that.  Juliet and I engaged in a sort of bake-off.  Her crusts were better than mine, but I tried to pursue victory through prolificness.  In this I was aided by long days with nothing to do, whereas she had to work all day, and prepare dinner.

fbr with tommy and juliet

We enjoyed our time with Tommy and Juliet immensely, and not only because of the food, the warmth, the hot showers or even CEREAL!  We traded stories around the dinner table and played games like telephopictionary late into the night.  It was bitter sweet indeed when we left several days later and biked into the rain.  Tommy and Juliet provided warm company and what was undoubtedly the most organized barrage of hospitality I’ve perhaps ever enjoyed. 

An uncommonly comfortable lunch

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

We biked into a soccer field east of Heidelberg around 2:00pm to eat lunch.  A man in thick clothes and clad in a motorcycle helmet greeted me with curiosity, but without a smile.  I prepared to be told that we ought to find some place else to eat.  Instead he said something ambiguous in German.  “Essen,” I said, miming the action fashion models disdain.  ”Nicht hier,” said the man.  My heart sank.  FBR was again being banished on account of looking too homeless. 

Luckily, Drew came over and cleared up our misunderstanding.  The helmeted man thought I meant to buy food.  Of course there wasn’t much food to be had in the soccer field.  Once Drew explained the purpose of our peculiar stop, and that we had already purchased food, the man retreated from his motorcycle and searched for a key.  ”Don’t you want to sit down?” he asked as he opened up the food and drink stand usually opened only during games.   Our legs, used to being cramped and pinned into unnatural angles as we squat or sprawl on the ground, quivered at the site of the table and chairs inside the stand. 

Werner Winterscieid, as we later discovered our lunch sponsor’s name to be, hastily swung open the shutters, instructed us to not drink the water from the faucet, and scribbled down his name and phone number in case anyone came by and wondered who authorized us to use the concession stand for a picnic area.  The lights for the field didn’t work, so he scrambled about trying to get them on for a game that night.  He kept saying he was going to leave, but instead just wandered around.  He finally did leave, but came back right away.  He offered us each a lemonade beer from a crate we’d been eyeing since we gained entrance into the shed.

He left again, and this time didn’t come back till we had almost finished cooking the soup.  Pete used his German to chat with Werner, who not only acted as caretaker for the field, but also coached children’s and adult soccer.  He said he enjoyed working with younger kids though he is currently coaching the adult village team.  Once the kids got older things became too serious.  “If the team wins, the players are good,” Werner explained the philosophy many coaches have to deal with, “but if the team loses the coach is bad.”  He said he didn’t like the way Germany has changed in the last few decades.  He’s seen people become more and more private and self’-interested, less trusting, and caring less about the community.  ”Things are too easy here,” he claimed as he shook his head of greying locks, ”so people have to manufacture problems.”  “In Poland people are poor but happy,” he claimed through a rueful smile.  “Here they are rich and unhappy.”  He left again, but not before giving us a basket-full of heart-shaped waffles. 

fbr with coach

He returned with a car and distributed coffee.  The warm brew revitalized us on a cold day.  We cleaned up the concessions stand and wished him good luck with his games.  We traded addresses and he walked off into the field wheeling a chalk line-painter.  I added heart-shaped waffles to the list of things I owe random travelers in the U.S.

Jim Durfey’s article on Bulgaria for the Enterprise

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Published in the Livingston Enterprise the week of September 22nd, 2008.

Bulgaria Spans Spectrum of Benevolence

With Netzy in tow, my bike group raced across Bulgaria.  Our style is
usually more relaxed.  We like to take our time to absorb the sights
and sounds of places through which we bike.  However, our visa
situation permitted no lolly-gagging.

Americans don’t need a visa for Bulgaria.  Nakia, our lead vocalist
and only female when Netzy isn’t there, is from the Bahamas.  As we
quickly learned, carrying a passport from a small country isn’t
helpful while traveling through Europe.  Nakia’s disturbing odyssey
began at the Bulgarian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  She spent days
in front of the consulate with other frustrated Bulgarian visa
seekers, but couldn’t even gain entrance to apply for a visa.
Finally, she got in line at 1:00 AM, nine hours before it opened and
spent the night on the pavement.  Even then, she only entered after
threatening to request a refund of money she’d already submitted to
the consulate.

All the time in Istanbul proved in vain, however; her visa application
was rejected.  In Edirne, a Turkish town on the Bulgarian border,
Netzy and I tried to do some groundwork at the Bulgarian consulate
there to assist Nakia in her second effort at getting a visa.  With
her gift for nagging pursuasiveness, Netzy talked her way past the
surly guard and all the way in to the consul himself.  She grilled him
on Nakia’s situation in between friendly inquiries about his family.
She left with a guarantee of Nakia’s speedy visa delivery.

However, when Nakia arrived later that week, the consul proved much
worse than his word.  Only after repeated visits, phone calls, and
paying another exhorbitant fee, did he agree to process her visa.  She
got it back to find he had given her a ten day transit visa.

We had never crossed a country in less than two weeks.  When we biked
into Bulgaria, we were resolved to travel as far as possible together
and then send Nakia ahead on a bus.  Given our experience with the
Bulgarian consular system and our impending deadline, you must fogive
us if our attitude towards Bulgaria were less than positive.

At first, Bulgarians did seem stand-offish.  They gave directions
helpfuly enough, but I thought I detected a dirth of happy faces.
Just as we began to suspect Bulgarian consular officials represented
the whole of Bulgaria, we met Dmitri in the small mountain town of
Gabrovica.  Dmitri works on he railroad.  When we paused near the
station to buy groceries, he offered to let us sleep in the break
house for railroad employees.  Delighted to have shelter, we readily

We unpacked and started to prepare a vegetable soup for dinner, when
Dmitri communicated that he would bring some beer.  Even better, we
thought.  Soon a young man lugged in an entire case of Bulgarian beer.
 Dmitri pointed to his junior collegue.  “Room service,” he explained.

We sat down at the table and offered our soup, the simple fare of
travelers on a budget, to Dmitri.  He turned up his nose, yelled out
the door, and smiled, saying “Room service,” again.  Soon the young
man was back, with a prodigious amount of sausage, cheese, and a raw
leg of lamb.  Dmitri gestured to himself, “meat, cheese, beer, no
vegetables,” he explained.

Before we had begun to drink the beer, another bulky Bulgarian man
showed up with a plastic bottle full of a clear substance.  Dmitri
took it and held it up with a proudly.  “Grappa!” he announced.  The
grappa was, as I had feared, homemade distilled liquor.  It’s as
strong as rubbing alcohol but doesn’t taste as good.  We all did a
shot in between soup and sausage.  Dmitri even convinced Netzy,
usually a staunch prohibitionist, to have a sip.

A woman arrived with a bowl of honey.  A man who looked seventy, but
claimed to be forty, joined us.  He had apparently enjoyed a bit of
grappa before his arrival, and demonstrated a much greater fondness
for Nakia than had the Bulgarian consular officials.  I delicately
placed myself between them.

Another woman carried a puppy into the dining room.  My mother cooed
over it.  Dmitri rolled his eyes.  “Puppy, soupa,” he said, suggesting
we spice up the soup by the addition of puppy meat.  Netzy and the
puppy owner joined forces to chide Dmitri.

We stayed up late, feasting on honey, mutton, sausage, soup and beer
and suffering through shot after shot of grappa.  Occassionally,
Dmitri would stumble outside, signals in hand, at the sound of an
approaching train.  We finally escaped to an unoccupied room of the
break house.  Long after we retired, we could hear our hosts carousing
into the night.

We woke up the next morning, a bit groggier than usual, perhaps, but
with our opinion of Bulgarians changed irreversibly for the better.
I’ve met many people a long the way who were angry at the U.S. for one
reason or another.  However, none of them ever held my nationality
against me.  Thanks to Dmitri, I won’t make the mistake of judging the
people of an entire country based on the actions of their goverment or
their consular officials.