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Where have all the flowers gone?

“The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind”

I listened to a fabulous segment on the radio the other day.  It was on a favorite show of mine called A Celtic Sojourn.  It’s hosted by Brian O’Donovan every Saturday, on station WGBH in Boston.  Brian is a Celtic music aficionado, among many things.  The other day, long after the show had finished, I paused to hold the show in my mind.

Question. What role does Art, music and poetry play during times of great upheaval and conflict on a global stage? The title of the piece Brian brought together was War, Peace and Empathy.  Brian played music and read poetry that had and has been significant in times of war and unrest or injustices. Specifically, and particularly, as we watch the slaughter of innocent people in Ukraine.  We look on as we have before like a bad show barely rescripted in different locations across the world.  And it is always the innocents that suffer.  As we seem to look on powerless with only our empathy and our economic sanctions facing up to another hideous genocide.  Nothing, but a slaughter amidst a game of global chess with children, mothers and fathers passed into the shadows of darkness.  “The pity of war, the pity war distilled.” As Wilfred Owen had written over a hundred years ago during the First World war.

How many of us have worn a poppy on Veterans Day, recited Flanders field, gazed at the horror captured in Picasso’s Guernica.  How many have listened to antiwar songs across the ages, some of them embedded into our minds forever, to remind us of the possibility that things can change if we sing and shout and paint and write louder than the people who drop the bombs?  Even though the whole world watches, we are nearly numbed into submission.  But still we sing, create art and play music. Nearly numbed but not quite. Taking in the nightly news, applauding the bravery of those who stayed and those who fight. And we think of the Cellist of Sarajevo and we write and paint and sing and one wonders who listens. Someone listens.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing. A Cossack song originally and rewritten by Pete Seeger.  In some ways, the power of art and protest is everywhere, in every generation.  Turn, Turn, Turn. And every generation ironically lets us down. A new war begins, an old one resurfaces. Peace remains elusive.

When will they ever learn; when will they ever learn? Our power is in the passing and preservation of hope and light and remembrances.  Never to fade. A vital glimmer and a necessary spark to reset our course.

Thanks to Brian for making a moment more significant and let us hope and pray for peace and justice for the innocents in Ukraine.

  • Brian O’Donavan
  • A Celtic Soujourn
  • Empathy
  • #celticsojourn

Observations: How Art Transports Us

I have a lot of art and photographs in my new office. I sort of like the clutter. There is the lampshade with the heron, the soccer poster from 1930, and the deco picture of a woman playing golf.

I love how my David Hockney’s remind my of my time in Santa Monica. There’s a beautiful picture of the Pantheon by an unknown artist, and my black and white photo of Joni Mitchell, given to me by an old friend because my day always starts with “Ladies of the Canyon.”

I have a poem from my daughter and a wild picture of me when I used to act, a large contact sheet of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing, and a corner palazzo in Venice along the Grand Canal. I feel like I am in Doctor Who’s tiny tardis. None of this art or photography is worth a fortune, but all of it is priceless to me.

During this pandemic period, I treasure a place that can transport me somewhere else. A place where I can travel and a place where my imagination can tap into some astroplane. Until we begin our journeys again, these places become important. Memories of walks through museums and cities, a river walk or a skyline.

Yep, my office does look a bit like Gertrude Stein’s living room now, sadly without the original Matisse and Picasso paintings! A little cluttered, but for the time being, a quick swivel of my chair and I have been to more places in 10 seconds than any person deserves. For the time being, that’s better than not.

Observations: How Cameras Capture Our Travel Memories

We just moved our offices and my new office has become a bit messy as I untangle some 20 years of old office life and reorganize it in our new and cool space. In between sorting out my artwork, I also find myself looking back at the photos I have collected over the years. They resonate with me more than ever during these strange times. I discovered a box of slides with a scrawl of countries written on the outside of the box – Africa, Egypt, Italy, Anguilla, The Soviet Union, Morocco – all stacked in dated boxes alongside an old projector and a few carousels. All of those memories stacked into these boxes. Strange. I promise myself every year that I will get these slides developed into a collection that I can store digitally. My kids bought me something one Christmas so that I could do that but it seemed so time consuming that I never got around to it.

Those were the days of my Nikon Nikkormat, my first foray into real photography. I pretty much stayed with Nikon over the course of my SLR career. Lugging the camera wherever I went and loading in ektachrome, kodachrome, or tri-x for black and white. In those days, you couldn’t see what you just shot and you didn’t want to waste too much of your 36 exposures so you became incredibly disciplined when taking photographs.

It’s difficult to recall when the camera got left behind (metaphorically I mean). Although I can still remember losing my Nikon in Morocco in a marketplace. At least I only lost 36 exposures and the camera itself. Then one day, I moved to a tiny, point-and-shoot camera that stored photos digitally. I never really liked it, and I remember it was so slow when you needed it to be fast, but it was easier to travel with. Then in between my Blackberry and the IOS revolution we have today, I got my first iPhone. And that changed my world.

How peculiar to think we no longer travel with a giant camera and a couple of huge lenses. Somehow I miss those days. The precision of changing the ASA or the aperture, loading in a new roll of film, and storing the old. The excitement of developing the images. Some good, some to be tossed, some become framed and hang on the wall in the house. Memories of a holiday and a place in time. A sphinx, a camel, a faraway place captured forever and hanging on the wall by the kitchen.

I was thinking about this because in my office, amidst the rubble and confusion, I have a collection of photos by Robert Doisneau – a French photographer who took more than 325,000 negatives over a career that spanned 60 years. He was based in Paris and most of his photos were of Paris life and its personalities which he often observed as a result of spending hours on a street corner.

His photography hung around a phrase in French: “un pêcheur d’images.” A fisherman of images. He felt this best described what he did. In order to get what he needed, he had to immerse himself in the life of that moment. As he said, “Il fallait que je me mouille.” He had to get wet to feel the moment. It’s the essence of “being there” versus not. If it’s raining, walk out and feel it. It’s the power of travel. Getting wet when it rains.

In these days, it is what I miss the most…Ironically for a Brit, getting wet when it rains! The curiosity that takes me on mysterious journeys, leads me to observations, and like a fly on a wall, enables me to see things differently without getting in the way of the moment. Looking through Doisneau’s collection, I felt like I was almost there. Sort of traveling and sort of time traveling. All from my office in the Fort Point area of Boston.

Thoughts on the Douglas High School Shooting

I came over to the USA in the late 70’s. I am an American citizen and I love this country.

I love Boston and I love travel. We have had our fair share of hiccups during our company’s journey. We have seen terrorism, war, a major financial crisis, and still, people travel overseas because it is important, it teaches tolerance and cultural understanding, and it makes our young people better citizens. I am proud of all of the things that we have accomplished in partnership with our incredible educators across the USA. So how disheartening is it to watch an event like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting take place this week. A place where children should feel safe, where teachers teach to make better citizens, how can this be?

Forgive me for thinking that the events in Parkland, Florida seem to remind me of a film called ‘Groundhog Day.’ A perfectly serene day, a school where we have conducted business, a teacher that we know, and absolute mayhem and horror takes place.

We’ve seen it all before.

It is probably because I live in Massachusetts where there are strict gun laws, it is probably because I am English where we don’t have guns and where even the cops don’t carry guns, and it is probably because I do not believe in the Second Amendment. But I am sick and tired of listening to people talk about the need to provide guns for people to defend themselves against people who have guns! I am sick and tired of seeing headlines where young lives are taken; wonderful lives that have not even begun. I am sick and tired of all of those people who actually believe that having a gun in the house is a secure and safe investment for their children and for their families.

How many more times do we have to see these tragedies unfold? It almost deadens the spirits and numbs the mind when I see these incidents come through on my alerts. How can that be? How can 17 people being killed in a school be just another event on my alerts? How many times do we hear the cry for gun reform gradually quieten and disappear as the weeks go by until the next tragic incident takes place?

If this horrible tragedy is the start of real reform, then maybe I would start to believe that our country is moving towards sanity. But I fear not. Even though when we look at the statistics for gun deaths in the USA versus every other country in the civilized world, it is staggering, frightening, and embarrassing. Let this be a call to arm people with a voice that says that any organization that supports laws that protect and nurture the carrying of guns should be ashamed of themselves. Look at the statistics, look at the facts, this is not about mental illness, it is just simply about guns. Guns are bad and nothing good ever comes out of them.

Ipads killed the Newsstand Star

It might be hard to believe, but before the digital newsstand that you click on through venues like the Apple Itunes store, there existed actual physical newsstands.  You don’t see them as much now when you’re traveling. In England they’ve practically died out, and in the US, even though I pass one at South Station every day in Boston, they’re more novelty than practicality. Even at airports they are combined with so many other things that it’s sometimes difficult to separate the news from the junk.

So what a wonder it is to wander through Paris, or Rome or Madrid and still see these delightful, wooden mini-houses full of newspapers, magazines, and lottery tickets.  Anytime I see one, I buy something from them.  I’m fascinated by the people that run these, these hand-me -downs from previous generations when news to spread on Twitter before it had a chance to get into print.

It must be a labor of love. Or is it possible that there is a cadre of like-minded travelers, bent on nostalgia that keep these guys in business? There are those of us still, who like the touch and feel of a newspaper. It’s tangible. It goes well with a cappuccino in a café, sitting under the shadow of the Pantheon in the Piazza de la Rotunda. It’s the simple pleasures.  I like to read the news from home, to check the baseball scores, and even though it would be faster on a device, faster isn’t always better. I prefer the navigation in print, the way your eye can dart across the page to different stories – even the layout is part of the news reading experience that an iPad just can’t duplicate.

Eiffel Tower of Problems

Take a perfectly big monument designed by engineers Maurice Koechlin, Emile Nouguier and architect Stephen Sauvestre before the patented design was bought by Gustave Eiffel, whose company than constructed the tower and imagine that there are more and more tourists that want to visit this thing because it is so perfectly placed in the middle of this beautiful city called Paris.  It has views for miles – two restaurants (58 Tour Eiffel and Le Jules Verne) and is the most visited paid monument in the world, and certainly the most recognizable. If they could charge people to look at it, they would. They can’t so they do the next most obvious thing, make everyone who’s trying to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, truly hate the experience. Well, the French have done it.

Now you have to book reservations online with a specific time slot.  That sounds OK, no problem. Except there are hardly any time slots available! You can only book 3 months out – and at 3 months out, until zero days in, there are precisely zero time slots of available. So with no time slots available, I wonder who they’re going to. You have to resort to standing online for 2-3 hours, if you’re lucky. And this new system, if they have put in place, is called progress or avancé.  Well there is absolutely nothing avancé about this ridiculous state of affairs. If you do manage to get tickets it’s 15.5 Euros ($17) for adults, 13.5 Euros ($14.50) for ages 12 – 23, and 11Euros ($12) for ages 4-11 as well as for handicapped and those assisting them.

We’ve written to the people who run the Eiffel tower and they agree with us (which is even more frustrating and simply incredulous). Here we have yet another government agency trying to deter tourism of an iconic site that people have saved up all their lives to see. Right now all I’m looking at is a long line of kids desperate to see the world from way up on high and romance in this marvelous story of Paris, waiting and waiting and waiting. It can’t help but be anti-climactic and frustrating.  Guess what, we’ve got one in Vegas – you can’t scale it, but at this rate you can’t scale the one in Paris either. At least in Vegas, the canals of Venice are just a short walk away!  So here goes, in case you’re listening.

Dear Gustave,

You’ve no idea what they are doing to your tower. I know you just built it for the World’s Fair and thought it would be torn down. And lots of people at the time said it’s horrid. But it turns out it’s become the most iconic site in the world. More than the pyramids, even. And I know you probably can’t hear this, but if there is any way you could bring sanity to the bureaucracy that prevents us from seeing your beautiful piece of art, than I would appreciate it.

Faithfully yours,

Peter Jones


Michelin Star Dining – I prefer their tires

Michelin Star Dining. That a tire manufacturer would define THE rating system for fine dining is suspect – until you hear the definition of the ratings.  1-star means that it’s a very good restaurant.  2-stars means the restaurant is worth a detour and 3-stars means it’s worth a special trip.

Out of 690 restaurants listed – there are only 2 Michelin 3-starred restaurants in all of Greater London! I’ve eaten at 1-star, 2-star, but never 3-star restaurants over the course of my travel career. I’ve always found these places to be uptight and the dining experience to be about as relaxing as sleeping on a bed of nails (if you don’t happen to be a trained yogi).  But of course, never able to resist the temptation of an almost impossible to obtain reservation, I found myself trying once more.

I got lured in with a friend to a 2-star restaurant in the English countryside. He had heard that it was difficult to get into, and that always drags me in. So my two cents on 2-star places – it’s a lot of fluffing around. It’s all about foam and froth and portions that are so complicated that you hate to put them in your mouth. It’s not that I like a starter and a main course and a dessert; I actually enjoy several appetizers and sometimes skip the main course. And I like presentation but it almost feels that I’m intruding on somebody else’s domain.  They call it “plating” and it’s not so much about eating as it is about art. Much like the haute couture that makes its way down Parisian runways, this food is inedible by the commoners.  It’s about savoring tiny tastes, complementing wines to courses, and I realize that I’m just not up for that kind of eating. I get that the chef took a lot of time to prepare this stuff. And most of it was delicious. But all the pomp, it just seemed to get in the way of the circumstance, if you know what I mean!


Food in the end should be inviting – it should be enjoyed. I guess the whole Michelin star experience is too formal for me, too much about the chemical, and not so much about the chemistry of a restaurant. The ambience and the waiters are too uptight, the sommelier is too disapproving. Yah I’m glad I returned to the high class star experience just one more time to remind myself that it’s just too good for me. I’m just too much of a common guy to truly appreciate the complexity of the stuff that’s placed in front of me. I would’ve been just as happy with a pork pie or a bacon sandwich.  Or a very lovely piece of Dover Sole.  Oh well, I know my place.

If you can’t resist the idea of Michelin Star dining – here are Ten Michelin Star Restaurants an Hour from London. 


The Acela Train That Couldn’t

Not to rag on the ACELA train that services the Boston – New York – Washington corridor, but it is a particularly painful experience, costly and inefficient. Compare the Limoliner at $89 where the wireless works, the seats are like first class on an airplane and you get movies to boot vs. the ACELA at anywhere between $130 – $275 where the wireless rarely works, the service on board in first class is a joke and in business class non-existent and there are no movies. Not to mention that you leave from a beat up station like South Station in Boston and arrive at one of the most horrendous in the world, Penn Station in NY. It’s grimy, it’s confusing, it’s full of people who seem to not be catching trains.

And you wonder why America runs on Dunkin’ or buses rather than trains. The journey time is more or less the same, except you have a far greater chance of being delayed on the train, than on the bus. But it’s the service that really stands out. The Limoliner wants you to come back. Amtrak doesn’t care and what’s more, given that the price is half the price of a one-way ticket by air, you would think that the appeal of the train would inspire Amtrak to try and make me want to come back.

I haven’t given up, but I find it incredibly frustrating that in this day and age, when trains are flying along in Asia and Europe at speeds of 200mph or more with friendly service and efficiency, that we seem still to be tied up with a ragged antiquated system along the Eastern seaboard, which is a prime artery for train travel. Boston to Washington, DC (about the same mileage) takes roughly 7 hours and that’s on the fast train. We could learn a thing or two from the Italians: Rome to Milan – about 362 miles in just under 3 hours.


A Season to forget

The clocks moved forward, the snow is gradually disappearing and warmer days in the Northeast are coming. But what a winter this has been – and what havoc it has wreaked on the airline industry and the poor passengers who fly on their planes. Flights have been cancelled for mechanical and weather-related issues, you name it and it’s happened. It all added up to a very un-pretty scene of disgruntled passengers and airline employees desperately trying to be nice. There are always those un-nice ones that secretly do this for a living, because they hate you so much. But during the dreaded storms of February, they were often left without options to be nice with. It’s helpful to know why the flight got cancelled: a mechanical problem means that the airline will cover your accommodations. A snowstorm?….hope you brought your sleeping bag because that means you’re sleeping at the airport. Bottom line is to stay calm and try to figure out what’s going on as fast as possible.

So what is the real cost factor for the airlines on a cancelled flight, and what are the driving forces that cause one flight to cancel and another to fly? There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal by Scott McCartney. Here’s the lowdown: To cancel a 50-passenger regional jet can cost as little as $1,000. But cancelling a journey over the Atlantic can cost as much as $43,000. And a typical domestic narrow-bodied jet costs around $15,000 to cancel. If cancellations are caused by uncontrollable events like weather disruptions, the costs go down – it’s an act of God and you have to sleep at the airport.  No hotel vouchers for you!

And the food can cost as much as $13,000 for a wide-bodied international trip. That’s $40 on average, per meal. Are you kidding me?! Despite the high average I can tell you – what they serve in business and first class sure doesn’t balance out the cost of the lousy meals served in economy. To be sure, business class passengers get all the perks – they might even get your plane if there is something wrong with yours. They’ll take an airplane that you might be on, with a whole bunch of “less important people” and switch out your plane, just so these guys can get to where they’re going!  Airlines don’t like to cancel these business travelers – they’re frequent travelers and they will complain. I know. Hey, that’s life in the fast lane.

Skiing is Believing

Skiing is Believing (especially when you get old)

When you can’t see a thing
in front of you, visibility is zero,
and your confidence
is becoming increasingly
shattered – skiing is believing.

When the possibility of being plowed
over by a 16 year-old going 100mph
or dropping into the crevasse
never to be found again is increasing
and you have to anticipate the mogul
around the corner.

Somehow you have to believe
the skis will guide you home.
As improbable as it seems
at 10,000 feet in a blizzard.

Man against nature,
the will to survive,
will carry you through.

And this is on piste,
on an intermediate slope.



North Korea

North Korea

To tell you the truth I was getting quite excited about visiting North Korea. A friend of mine had been there quite recently on a package tour from China; fully inclusive activities with not much room to breathe, but you do get to see a little bit of what it’s like on the other side. Not that we haven’t all been on the other side of midnight before.

I remember well walking from the incredibly lively and developed Kurfürstendamm in West Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie to the stark reality of East Berlin. I can remember walking through the Gum department store in Moscow and all I could buy was a pair of wooly gloves and a balaclava. Now it’s Gucci and all high-end shops. So I have been to the other side and crossed the line between capitalism and communism. I’ve even been to Cuba and saw what communism and years of blockades have done to that place.

But North Korea…now that’s a place I’d really like to go. Almost certainly, it’s grim. But there’s something amazing about grimness, when you know you can leave it after a few days. And who wouldn’t want to go to a country where one of my favorite films of all time, Team America, gives high profile to the leader and where another film gets self-censored by a bunch of wimps at Sony for fear of recrimination from the warlord! What’s this Darth Vader phobia? Let’s see the film – these are the same guys that were in Pineapple Express for goodness sake. You can’t be serious. I still fancy a few days in North Korea, it sure looks like fun from the outside…Not!

peers menu

Holidays In London

I love what the Brits do for the Holidays. They light the streets with elaborate displays, the shops are full of angels, snowmen and Father Christmases. London is home to Hamleys, the world’s oldest toy shop. Every holiday season Hamleys is alive with elaborate Christmas displays and the pubs are full of festive decorations and early afternoon revelers. This place takes Christmas seriously.

Pretty much the entire continent of Europe closes for two weeks and the traditional English Christmas food fare is plastered on every restaurant menu you could find. There are Christmas markets in the middle of Hyde Park and the fabulous Borough market at London Bridge steps up a notch over this period. Not to be outdone I had a rather lordly lunch at the House of Lords, eating off of their Christmas lunch menu with my friend, the Baroness!

I took the London cured smoked salmon as a starter, but having just taken the turkey at Thanksgiving I elected for an off-the- menu decision and went a la carte with the Fish Pie. Fish Pie, for those of us with a love of England will know that this is one of the great delicacies of the world. White fish in a béchamel sauce with mashed potatoes and melted cheese on top, served piping hot in its own little earthenware pot. It’s almost as good as a bacon sandwich! Yes, life at the House is good when you’re on the inside.

Marshall Street Pool

Tiny Pools

I like to swim when I travel. It means I don’t bring lots of bulky gym clothes – all you need is a speedo and a pair of goggles. Well, that’s all you need. You also need a decent pool. I travel to London a lot and always use the Marshall Street Baths in Soho, cost of entry $6 and the pool is a respectable 30 metres long. But so many hotels advertise pools and when you get down to it, they are hopelessly inadequate (tiny pools); or if they’re outdoor pools they have some fancy shape that is unswimmable.

sheratonpool (5)

Case in point, the swimming pool at the #Sheraton Towers in Chicago. It should be called a floating pool because that’s about the only thing it’s good for; that and a great view of Chicago. One flip turn and you’re at the other end. I adapted by jogging around it, which is a great form of exercise, especially if there is no deep end.

But I really think that hotels miss the boat here, if you’ll pardon the nautical expression. When I walked through the gym to get to the pool, there must have been 35 machines. Yet here was this pool and they sunk all this money into it – and they made it too short. How much more money would it cost to increase the length of this pool, using Sheraton dollars?

And it’s the same as the other pools I’ve been to in these hotels. They don’t get it – a pool has to be between 20 and 25 meters, otherwise it’s just a ploy to come up in a search. And as a swimmer I feel that we are being duped. Swimmers unite! Beware of trick photography – if there is only one photo, from an odd angle, note that it’s probably no bigger than a Jacuzzi!

Christmas Cracker Celebration

Christmas Crackers are such a part of an English holiday celebration, I couldn’t imagine not pulling a cracker and putting a really silly paper crown on my head while eating Christmas dinner.

So, where does this Christmas Cracker Celebration and Tradition come from? Its particular to the UK and the commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand. The Irish have a cracker celebration too. It all started as a candy wrapper idea. A chap called Tom Smith originated the concept in 1847 with fancy wrappers for his bon bon candies or sweets as the English call them. When his candy market fell flat, he resorted to a different concept.

Tom thought of making his sweet wrapper much bigger and stuffing the wrapper with fun stuff and more importantly inserting a thin tape that would explode into a crack when pulled . He filled his cracker with ornaments and silly riddles and hats . And hey presto, Christmas was never the same . One is supposed to cross hands around the table and pull the crackers at exactly the same time. Then the hat ceremony which is facilitated by the vast quantities of alcohol that have been drunk around the dinner table.

When you play the fool, it’s better to not be completely aware! There is even a memorial water fountain to Tom Smith and his family in Finsbury Square in the center of London near the Barbican area. My mum used to make crackers in a factory just after the war. Never a shortage of paper crowns around our house when growing up. It was the closest I ever got to the aristocracy!