Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Using ScribeFire Add-on for FireFox

Seems to be working well. Get it here:
ScribeFire Blog Editor :: Add-ons for Firefox

Trying Out ScribeFire

Well, I've been using FoxFire for quite a while, but have not been blogging here lately... so let's see how this service links up new pages.

Friday, September 29, 2006

"Off Into The World": Bremerhaven's Emigration Museum

On a recent business trip to Bremen, I made some personal time to visit the new German Emigration Center Museum - the "Deutsches Auswanderer Haus"- in Bremerhaven. The center opened just a year ago but already has drawn a quarter million visitors. The day I visited, two groups were evident: German senior citizens; and schoolkids carrying clipboards, scribbling answers to their assignments. One audience re-living history, another learning it.

The museum hosts an impressive exhibit that tells the stories of our ancestors who left their homes behind in search of better lives. More than 7 million emigrants boarded ships in Bremerhaven between 1830 and 1974 for destinations in the New World, making it the largest port of embarkment from Germany. These people came to Bremerhaven from Russia, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Germany, Scandinavia... all over Europe... and left for the United States, South America, Australia and other places. They traveled to escape war, famine, religious persecution, poverty... and some to escape prison, of course... but all of them hopeful that their fortunes would change.

The museum building is well designed and the exhibit is set up as a "tour" through a series of displays that document a typical emigrant's journey, with interpretative placards and audio recordings throughout. The center uses theme-park style crowd control: visitors gather first in a representative passenger waiting hall of a shipping line, outfitted with rough wooden benches and a single wood stove, with no other amenties. Then, a pair of double doors open and the group is allowed to enter the first hall, set up to look like a departure wharf, complete with mannequins dressed in period clothing, wagons full of luggage , harbor sounds, voices in dozens of national languages, and the side of a ship. Very Disney-like, but very touching as well... I couldn't help but be reminded of the "Titanic" movies.

After leaving the wharf, one enters the "Gallery of the 7 Million", a long passage with floor to ceiling drawers and shelving containing stories of individual travelers, thousands of artifacts (photos, money, books, clothing, passports, postcards, letters...) and historical summaries from different periods of emigration. To make things personal, each visitor is given a name to research... mine was "Manfred Schnittzer", a real person who came to the US in the 1950's, started a career and raised a family. His drawer held, among other things, his Boy Scout ID card, showing when he was signed-off on camping skills and other tasks and made his ranks. I looked into some other drawers, many were full of information, but some could offer only sketchy details about a person's life, his or her motivations and activities... I guess the point was to show that people really did start all over. Many changed names, lost touch with relatives in the old country, or just cut all connections and didn't record much about their previous lives. Others never forgot their roots, though, and those stories are also told.

After leaving the gallery, the tour continues with a look into shipboard life and the struggles of the "crossing" experience. There are mockups of three types of ships and information about meals, entertainment, sleeping arrangements (get to know your neighbor!), and sanitation (in the head, visitors have to sit on a toilet to activate a slideshow explaining how many emigrants had never seen one before!). Moving on, visitors immigrate through an Ellis Island display and enter a "New World". What challenges did immigrants face as they started over? Large maps answer: Where did the most Swedes settle? Which state has the most Russian immigrants? There is a "Room of the Descendants", photo essays updating the stories of the people we researched in the departure gallery. A short film visits some American families: Texans who celebrate German customs; a woman who returned to Bremerhaven in her 80's but who longs to return to New York, where she worked post-World War II; a multi-cultural family in Ohio (husband of Japanese-Italian descent, mother of German descent).

After the film, there are several halls describing how the world population moves around and intermingles, a UN display about cultural and religious tolerance, and a "Migration Forum". The forum is a room with computer terminals tied into several geneological databases (including the LDS website and ship's manifest from Bremerhaven). Visitors can research their own families and print out information to take with them. I tried to find some more information about my own great-grandfater, Oscar Habicht... but there wasn't much to find that I hadn't already learned. It's just possible he left through Hamburg, or perhaps the records were destroyed in a fire, or perhaps he changed his name to escape some terrible threat. We may never find the true story. Maybe we aren't meant to find out.

Finally, the tour exits through the compulsory gift shop (like I said, Disney-like traffic management!) and a restaurant.

After my visit, I walked out onto the dike between the harbor and the Weser River. It was a beautiful day, sunny but cool, with a blustering wind coming off the water. I looked back over the harbor area: a new hotel is being built right next to the seafaring and shipping museum, across from a major shopping center, just down from the emigration center. People strolled along the dike to a seaside zoo and to the museum ships, herring boats, schooners, tugs. In the distance, I could see the cruise ship dock and the derricks of container terminals. Despite Germany's current economic woes, there were signs everywhere of industry and progress. Would the emigrants who passed through here in the last century be able to recognize the place?

I looked across the harbor to a statue of Christopher Columbus that gazes out towards the North Sea. I couldn't begin to imagine the feelings these people must have had, most of them being forced to leave their homes because they would starve, or be killed, or be imprisoned for their beliefs. When we think of our brothers and sisters in Darfur, Iraq, North Korea, Tibet, Mexico and elsewhere in the world, it seems that things have not changed all that much. By nature, people seek peace and security, even if that means facing danger and uncertainty to find a better place to live. If we are better off, we should always be ready to help. But emigration isn't the only solution, we also should find ways to bring prosperity to the homelands, so that people don't have to run away from forces of destruction, so that they can build up their own families and keep their cultural heritage.

All in all, the museum offered a worthy way to spend several hours and left me with plenty to think about on the train ride back to Bremen.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dom's Pizza: A Great Place to Lunch in Orlando

Well, I'm not going to start reviewing restaurants here as a regular practice, but all week long I've been taking a training class a few doors down from Dom's Pizza. This little lunch spot is in Northgate Plaza, which is at the corner of Lee Road and Edgewater Drive. The shopping center itself is classic nondescript Florida strip-sprawl and has seen better days: there is a gravel lot on the south side that serves as tractor trailer parking; to the north is a large building that once housed an infomercial hustler's telemarketing operation, but is now home to a revivalist church; and other tenants including a "dollar" store, a laundromat, and an Asian video outlet. There are some signs of hope, however, such as a post office and a branch library, and of course, Dom's. A banner hanging over the storefront thanks our local newspaper's food critic, who gave Dom's a great review. My dad always advised me to "eat where the truckers eat" if I wanted to eat well, and grandpop's corollary to that was "you can't eat atmosphere", so despite the dubious surroundings, I decided to give the place a try. As I entered the shop, the first thing I noticed is that - like most small eateries - Dom's bonds with the community. There are colored-in-by-kids cartoons tacked along the walls (the pizza-flipping guy is their image, so I hope the owner doesn't mind me posting it here) and several plaques from the Fraternal Order of Police and other groups thanking Dom's for helping out with various causes. The TV in the corner showed David Brenner doing standup (David Brenner?! that must have been a tape). Handwritten signs on the wall noted "first refill of soda free, additional refills 50 cents" and the specials: ""meat-filled pizza, $2.95". Dom's sells pizza by the slice and offers a unique treasure, "hippie rolls" (rolled up pizza-sandwiches), so-called because they were popular with hippies in the '60s, cheap and tasty. There was a line, but no truckers, mostly just students from my class. The restaurant had posted a sign in our classroom lobby offering to take pre-orders so customers could save time. Sure enough, a couple of hungry guys bypassed the line and walked up to the counter. The cook handed them meals that had been warming on top of the pizza oven. I didn't have to wait long, though, and when my turn came, I chose a meatball sub. The girl at the register took my name and gave me a styrofoam cup for a drink. When the guy behind the counter called out my order, I grabbed my sandwich and took a seat at a window table. I had a great view of the vast asphalt parking lot. Not much happening out there, so I looked down at my sub and sucked in some wonderful aroma. I sprinkled some red pepper and parmesan cheese over the sandwich, blew off a little steam, and then bit in. OUTSTANDING! !The bread was fresh and toasty, the sauce just spicy enough, and the meatballs were plump. I wish I had a picture to post here, it was that good!! In summary, there is nothing fancy at Dom's, just quick, friendly service, a clean table, and delicious food. I'll definitely be back.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Burawa Publishes The Small Mystery of Lapses

I caught up with my old friend Christopher Burawa after many years. He translates Icelandic poetry, is a poet is in own right, and just published a new volume called The Small Mystery of Lapses. Check it out, this is bound to be a refreshing read!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Charity Navigator Chief Comments on Buffet Gift

Well, go here to read Trent Stamp's Take on the Warren Buffet gift to the Gates Foundation. He gives a fair assessment and echoes the prevailing wisdom that Mr. Buffet did the common sense thing by funding an existing charity, rather than starting his own.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Rest Stop Warning

Rest Stop Warning
Originally uploaded by Pole Bean.
Saw this on my way to Tampa... bet the tourists love this!

Paul is Home from Kazahkstan

Paul is back home in Florida after spending two years in K-Stan with the Peace Corps. He brought lots of pictures of smiling kids, pretty girls, drunken Russians... and some really funny hats!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Octogenarian: An academic absurdity

Came across an intersting blog run by a retired journalist, here is a sample article: Octogenarian: An academic absurdity . I'll comment later...

Yummy snack!!

These things are really, really tasty (really!!!). No trans fat and low sodium to boot.