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Breaking Story: McAllister Chief of Staff Threatens GOP Chair over Resignation Request
April 12, 2014 09:08 AM PDT
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Villere’ Calls for McAllister to Resign
Rep's.Chief of Staff Threatens GOP Chairman

By Christopher Tidmore, ctidmore@louisianaweekly.com

In a breaking story, a highly placed source in the Louisiana Republican Party has revealed to The Louisiana Weekly that not only LAGOP Chairman Roger Villeré has called for the resignation of Monroe Republican Congressman Vance McAllister, but, in a new stunning revelation, Villere' was threatened when he did.
* In an exclusive to this newspaper, Adam Terry, McAllister’s Chief of Staff, responded to Villere’s call for his boss’ resignation by vowing to “expose other elected Republican officials” who have engaged in affairs while in office.
* Video of McAllister engaged in a long kiss with a staffer Melissa Hixon Peacock, age 33, who worked as his aide was recorded at his District office in Monroe, LA in December. The Ouachita Citizen obtained a copy of the video and to its website Monday, April 7th.
* Within 48 hours of its release, husband Heath Peacock announced he would be divorcing his wife of six years, and Vance McAllister was publicly apologizing for his behavior to his wife of sixteen years—as well as calling for an FBI investigation of who leaked the security footage.
* According to the highly placed LAGOP source, Villeré initially intended to privately urge McAllister to resign on the logic that Hixon-Peacock was a federal employee in his office. Moreover, the reported illicit activities, including the kiss, occurred in a taxpayer funded office between a public employee and her direct superior, during office hours. “It’s not just about the affair…It’s a situation of a Congressman taking advantage of his position and engaging in inappropriate activities with employees under his preview,” the source explained.
* Chairman Villeré attempted to telephone McAllister on at his home, cell phone, and office, repeatedly asking the Congressman to call him on a urgent matter. Shortly thereafter, McAllister’s Chief of Staff Adam Terry called back asking what the Chairman wanted with his boss. According to the source, to whom the story was related later, Villeré replied that the matter was between he and the Congressman, but also admitted under questioning that he was going to ask McAllister to resign.
* Reportedly, Terry hung up, and called back within three minutes. At that point, he began to threaten to expose affairs of “other elected Republican officials”.
* Villeré has not spoken on the record about the exchange, but an LAGOP Executive Committee member confirmed the conversation with Terry--on background, noting that Terry's threats left the Chairman no choice but to take a public stance, a motivation unexplained until now.
* In a public statement Thursday, Villere' did call upon the embattled congressman to step down, citing McAllister's infidelity as an example of a well-worn hypocrisy in politics.
* "A breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation. He has embarrassed our party, our state and the institution of Congress," Villere maintained. A video showing him engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of Congress, on public time, in a public office, with one of his employees, was the focus of the national press for days."
* Adam Terry has been running damage control for his boss all week. First, the Chief of Staff ruled out McAllister's resignation, and the called the video’s release, “a serious breach” of security, implying that a conspiracy was afoot against his boss.
* It was perspective of which West Monroe minister Danny Chance was in full agreement upon on Tuesday. In an interview with the Monroe News-Star, he contended that McAllister’s Monroe District Office manager Leah Gordon leaked the video of the congressman’s affair.
* Chance, pastor of Christian Life Church, maintained that Gordon provided the footage by back channels to Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, and Jonathan Johnson, who worked for former U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Ruston.
* “I’m not taking up for the congressman; what he did was wrong,” Chance told the News-Star, but also added that he could not confirm whether Gordon ever personally took the video to Walsworth and Johnson. “But I just feel like there is a conspiracy to bring Vance down and destroy him. For someone on his staff to do that is wrong.”
* The internal jockeying came from the fact that Walsworth and Johnson worked for McAllister’s opponent, state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, in the fall special election. Adam Terry served as campaign manager for McAllister. He had also been Chief of Staff for the previous incumbent Rodney Alexander, and, according to some, when his boss passed him over for support for Congress, he used his expertise to help elect McAllister over Riser.
* Both Walsworth and Johnson have denied ever viewing the video before it was obtained by the press, calling the scenario ridiculous.
* Bill Land, who owns the building where McAllister’s office is located, claimed to the Capitol Hill Newspaper POLITICO that neither he nor his employees leaked the video. Land said the leak probably came from someone on McAllister’s staff.
* Giving the affair a distinctly reality television bent, McAllister previously worked with Heath Peacock for 16 years at Mustang Engineering, according to the Citizen. He left his post there last August to run for Congress, with the endorsement of Duck Commander Willy Robertson and his famed TV family.
* McAllister’s special election victory last year charmed many Democrats. He broke with the GOP, calling for Louisiana to accept expanded Medicaid funds. His election in the all-Republican runoff came mainly from a surge of African-American voters on his behalf. The Fifth District has one of the highest concentrations of Black voters in any GOP leaning seat in the nation, nearly 30%.
* "There's no doubt I've fallen short and I'm asking for forgiveness," McAllister said in a public statement on April 7th. "I'm asking for forgiveness from God, my wife, my kids, my staff, and my constituents who elected me to serve. Trust is something I know has to be earned whether your a husband, a father, or a congressman. I promise to do everything I can to earn back the trust of everyone I've disappointed.”
* "From day one, I've always tried to be an honest man,” the Congressman continued. “I ran for Congress to make a difference and not to just be another politician. I don't want to make a political statement on this, I would just simply like to say that I'm very sorry for what I've done. While I realize I serve the public, I would appreciate the privacy given to my children as we get through this."
* The Federal Election Commission, according to the Citizen, reports that Melissa Hixon Peacock donated $5,200 to McAllister's congressional campaign last year. Heath Peacock, donated the same amount.
* McAllister spoke about his Christian faith during his campaign last fall, even asking voters to pray for him in one TV commercial, a reason the “Duck Dynasty” family and Willy Robertson specifically, said they supported his candidacy.
* "I'm just freaking devastated by the whole deal, man," Heath Peacock said during an interview with CNN. "I loved my wife so much. I cannot believe this. I cannot freaking believe it. I feel like I’m going to wake up here in a minute and this is all going to be a bad nightmare."
* "He has wrecked my life," the 34-year-old Peacock told CNN. "We’re headed for divorce. It was just a kiss, that was all it was, but it embarrassed me and my family. This guy has turned my life upside down”
* The 40-year-old McAllister has five children; the Peacocks have a 6-year-old son.
*
Possible Challengers to McAllister Include Black GOP State Sen...
* Candidates have been lining up since word came out for this Republican safe seat, state Sen. Mike Walsworth amongst them. Former runoff opponent and Jindal intimate State Sen. Neil Riser (R) told the TP it was "too early to be talking about" it. The leading Democrat in the last special election Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo is "not planning on running", nor does another primary opponent GOP Public Service Commissioner Clyde Holloway, who says he is "very content" with his current job. Democratic State Rep. Marcus Hunter also says he has no plans to run.
* On the other hand, Democratic State Rep. Bob Johnson is "certainly very interested," and Republican State Rep. Jay Morris uttered a coy "no comment".
* Most interesting, the State's newest GOP African-American State Sen. Elbert Guillory is keeping his eye on it , and Republicans State Reps. Charles "Bubba" Chaney and Frank Hoffmann are not commenting.
* Daily Kos noted, "Other possible Republicans include and businessman Harris Brown. While this seat is dark red and Democrats would have a difficult time here under the best of circumstances, four different Democrats split the vote in the special, leaving Mayo to finish just 3 points behind McAllister. Had the party been united, McAllister likely never would have made the runoff. Mindful of this fate, Hunter promises that the party 'will be running one Democrat this time, if I have anything to do with it.'" Perhaps that's the reason that McAllister went into attack mode against Bobby Jindal when the Governor spoke out against Medicaid expansion this past week..
* McAllister noted to the Baton Rouge Advocate, about Jindal's statements, "I thought, ‘You know what, I'm not going to skirt the issue. Republican, Democrat, it don't matter. Those working poor have paid that money in. That money's going to Washington. It's their money.'
* "For me to say I'm against Medicaid expansion makes me the best congressman California and Massachusetts could ever have, because that's where that money's gonna go." "It's about doing what's right. You keep your people healthy, they'll continue to work. They'll do better," McAllister maintained. "The money's there. As a business guy, I don't like Gov. Jindal standing up there and trying to use political points" to argue that the state can't afford the small fraction it would eventually have to pay to draw down billions in benefits. "It don't take Einstein to figure out that's a pretty darn good return on your investment."
* Definitely a strategy to appeal to Democratic swing voters in seat that stretches from Northeast Louisiana to the outer metro Baton Rouge suburbs, and possesses more African-American voters than any other GOP safe seat. And, one of the only Congressmen to come to McAllister's defense was New Orleans' Cedric Richmond, due to McAllister's willingness to work across party lines. Richmond, a Democrat, said the matter of the kiss was between McAllister and his family.

Ukraine, LA Natural Gas, Common Core, and Cameron Henry
March 07, 2014 06:31 AM PST
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Christopher Tidmore and Hy McEnery take on another edition of the Founder's Show with the situation in Ukraine--being a benefit to Louisiana? It could be if President Obama allows export of local liquid natural gas to Europe. We talk about the options in the Crimea, and then switch to the coming legislative session with Rep. Cameron Henry, talking about Common Core. Could Shakespeare be banned under the national standards, and why are people opposed?

Ukraine Breaks Apart, Kiev Burns But So Does Jackie Clarkson & A Whole Bunch of Birds in Las Vegas
February 21, 2014 06:33 AM PST
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On their new radio program on WRNO 99.5 FM from 8-9 PM Saturday night, Christopher Tidmore and Hy McEnery talk about the looming challenge of Ukraine, how the Western provinces are breaking apart from Kiev, and the possibility of Russian troops and a civil war.
Speaking of civil wars, what's going on with Lourdes Moran's endorsement of Council District "C" candidate Nadine Ramsey over her political mentor Jackie Clarkson? And, Barack Obama, Greatest Bird Hunter of all time?

Election Aftermath
February 06, 2014 12:51 PM PST

In our new WRNO Saturday Evening Program, Christopher Tidmore and Hy McEnery deconstruct the Mayoral elections and find out why Landrieu won the Black vote, Bagneris lost the Republicans, and what these elections hold for the November Senate race, and the impact to the nation at large

Tidmore Eats a Scorpion in Beijing
September 18, 2012 07:24 PM PDT

I usually send long emails describing a place. This time, I thought that I might try something different to capture the essence of the difference of the East.

There is a part of Beijing called "the Night Market". The main street is a clash of electronic billboards and high end shopping. Lined along the road are food kiosks. During the day, it is a working street, but at 7 PM, it becomes a walking thoroughfare, for night shoppers and those seeking pleasure.
Walking it, I thought of the crowds that pour out from the French Quarter onto the preternaturally quiet Canal Street. Why must it be that way? Could we not create a "Night Market" on Canal, at least on weekend nights--and bring our main street back to life.
Locals certainly would like the kind of experience,to be able to eat on the street, or duck into high end restaurants on the side. What a way we could recreate Canal Street with this lesson.
What makes the Night Market different, is the side streets then have slightly less expensive shopping options, and more exotic eateries.
In fact, it is how I came to eat scorpion.
For sale in this place are oddest foods imaginable. From spiders to beetles to every creepy crawly. There is a saying in Chinese, "Only the back of the cow is inedible. Everything else in this world can be eaten." The vid proves it.
Watch the video, if you dare. (It's tastes a bit like barbecued soft shell crab.)

Tidmore on the MadBus in Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan
September 06, 2012 06:34 PM PDT
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Tidmore in Tajikistan & Kyrgyzstan

Christopher Tidmore continues his adventures, traveling overland across Central Asia.  He currently rides on thewww.madventure.travel 's London-Sydney exploratory venture, on their first trip via the Tajikistan-Siberia-Mongolia route.   He is writing about his experiences.   Now, he continues, leaving Uzbekistan and going to Tajikistan and into Kyrgyzstan.
 
Wednesday, August 5, 2012
 
"Let's go to border number three," Johnny muttered as we all piled back into the MadBus from our impromptu stop for anything cold to drink.
     For nine hours we have been trying to leave Uzbekistan, but from the first, and then the second borders, we have been rebuffed. 
    In fact, we back-tracked on the second border for five miles to approach it from a second gate—at the same crossing—and still were told that a truck could not cross.  
     At least, that's what it seemed.  No one was sure exactly the reason that all could pass but the big Orange bus, save for the crossed arms that means "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!"
 
It took two days to leave.   Our route, though, took us through a passage to a stunningly beautiful mountain range, remote, but pristine.  
     Scattered along the ground was a pure white marble, of the type found in Italy around Mont Cassini and worth fortunes to sculptors.   We drove along the blue stream for a day, and through a tunnel that Literally stretched at least four miles.
     Explosively blown open as a deep portal through the rock in recent years, the road itself was unfinished due to cascades of water that kept falling through cracks in the walls.   We trudged along and emerged from the other side.   Finally we arrived in Dushanbe.
 
Tidmore and the MadBus in Uzbekistan
August 24, 2012 01:42 AM PDT
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Christopher Tidmore has crossed the Atlantic by ship, traveled overland from Europe to the Caucuses and now along the Silk Road in Central Asia, he enters Uzbekistan.    He is circumnavigating the world this year, and writing about his experiences. 


Uzbekistan
Somewhere on the Steppe
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
9:24 AM
 
I just drank the Babushka's Chai—out of her cup.   When one rides with a Russian family in the carriage of an Uzbeki train across the desertscape, and they endeavor to be hospitable, one must make allowances.
     Ange and I are in separate chambers of an all night sleeper train hurtling across Uzbekistan to Uganch, in an effort to meet our tour in nearby Khavi...  

Read More at http://gtmorning-chris.blogspot.com/2012/08/tidmore-and-madbus-in-uzbekistan.html

Tidmore Around the World--Part Two, the Caucuses--Tblisi and Azerbaijan
August 23, 2012 03:27 AM PDT
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Christopher Tidmore is traveling around the world, by sea and land, on the MadBus.   He has crossed the Atlantic, and now has joined Madventure.travel to transverse the Silk Road across Central Asia.  His latest updates from Georgia and Azerbaijan...

Tblisi

“Nicholas Sarokozy gave us that piano,” the guide said pointing to a giant white object that looked like a two story building.   People were sitting beneath it for shade, out of the sun’s glare in the Riverside Park.

           It was quite literally a massive piano, as if designed for King Kong.  “Sarkozy gave it to us as a promise that we would be let into the European Union.   We like to say when we find a giant tall enough to play it with one hand, we will be admitted.

            Just about the fifth of never.  Yet, the cynical reaction was a rarity, and exception, to the usual optimistic nature displayed by the citizens of the Georgian Capital, to which we returned after a short few days in Armenia.  

        The historic city is built on the side of a mountain, at who's top, the massive statute of the Mother of Georgia looks down from above the ancient fortress...

Read More at http://gtmorning-chris.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-caucuses-part-two-tblisi-and.html

On the MadBus-Part 1 Caucasus Journal--Tidmore in Armenia
August 05, 2012 03:55 AM PDT
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Yerevan
.
At a club called Poison, the Bohemian Bourgeois Backpackers joined with the yearning youth of Armenia to find midnight truth in dance and music.
. Western songs were interspersed with Armenian Jazz and pop standards as we gathered at this neo-flower child themed subterranean bar. Ostensibly, our first night in the Armenian Capital of Yerevan was dedicated to celebrating our tourmate Feng’s Graduating with a First from Christ Church College, Oxford University. Or at least, that is what we told ourselves as we hopped from bar to bar, trying to understand the night life of this city that aspires so to be modern, yet behind the recently constructed towers for Oligarchs, there rests something ancient.
. There is a Bourbon St. Bar in Yerevan. It says that one “need not go to Montreal or Louisiana” for great jazz . It could be found there. And as night falls on this vibrant city, it can be found everywhere.
. Armenians have taken the signature Creole artform and turned it into their own music. Like so much of the 21st century’s culture. This isolated nation, accessible only through Georgia or Iran, yearns for the West, connected by the eight million Armenians scattered across the planet by the Diaspora.
. “Yerevan is three thousand years old, but it is a new city,” our guide Marney observed the next day.
. The city escaped the Stalinist dullness of many other Soviet SSRs thanks to the abundance of the local volcanic rock. The buildings have a brownstone brilliance that evokes permanence, though, the most the oldest structures (with only a handful of exceptions) date from only the 1920s.
. The city suffers from earthquakes, and the famed one from the 1670 leveled every structure in the city, forcing it to be built anew. This feeds into the Yerevanite’s lack of resistance to ripping down pre-war structures in favor of taller modern ten story showplace towers funded by the wealthier members of the Eight Million Strong Diaspora.
. “It’s terrible that we just rip down the buildings,” Marney noted. “I know they are not that old, but other cities have historic districts. Tbilisi manages to have the modern and the old. Why can’t we?”
. The new structures are not cold, however, but very Art Nouveau buildings along walking throughfares. In the city center, one of these developments has opened the walking mall between the cafes and nightlife around the Opera House and the step like park called “the Cascades” and Republic Square—where every night the fountains are programmed for water shows to music until midnight. The experience is breathtaking and honestly superior to those in Barcelona.
. In fact, it was an earthquake that convinced the Armenians that they were better off outside of the Soviet Union. Unlike the other Caucus states, the Armenians generally view the Russians positively, as the last bulwark of defense in holding the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Thousands of Russian Army units are deployed in Armenia.
. But, despite the financial and political costs, the Armenians embraced independence reverently—even the pro-Russian elements in society, all because of a failure.
. The 1988 Earthquake damaged Yerevan in such a fashion that the city managed to fully recover only in recent years. And, the Soviet Government, bankrupt at that stage, was able to provide very little fraternal socialist help.
. Moreover, the Armenians, a deeply religious people who boast of being the first Christian state, were faced with loss of job or home for attending church, and shortly before the end of the Soviet period, their Apostolic Catholos (Pope or Patriarch) died and the Soviets tried to prevent the appointment of a new one—knowing the political influence this religious leader enjoyed.
. It was only when the Diaspora threatened to appoint one, and move his See to Lebanon, that the Politburo in Moscow relented.
. Today, the churches are filled by the generation that came of age in 1991. Their children may not feel the urgency to the same degree, but Armenians of all stripes, like the Georgians, view their church as key to their national identity.
. (Marney also took a subtle dig at the ornate Georgian Orthodox Church, noting that Armenian Apostolic Churches are rather stark, featuring a single icon of the Holy Mother and Child, and little other paintings or statues. Their church came of age before the embrace of graven imagery, and the resistance stuck. A Baptist or Methodist would feel quite at home in their worships.)
.
. Still, while the Armenian’s northern neighbors in Georgia had their “Rose Revolution”, there seems to be little impetus for major political reform. The influence of the Oligarchs lurks everywhere. Their sons drive White Lada SUVs, and pay no attention to pedestrians or police. In one case, an Oligarch bought the two hundred year old market, and despite major protests, was able to turn it into a Supermarket—over public objections.
. The people are well educated and traveled. Tourism has brought the Diasporan members all over the country regularly, so few are not exposed to the outside world, and English is becoming extremely common. (Like Georgia, all the roadsigns and buildings are listed in English as well as the native tongue.)
. So, why do they tolerate a corrupt government? “We need to stay friendly with the Russians,” Marney suspected. Of course, there is another explanation. If the Armenians had a protest, after an hour, many joke, everybody would retreat to the coffee houses of a drink.
. Humor is a key part of the Armenian personality. For example, as Marney recounted an old bit, “When God was going to give out the lands of the Earth, he said to be there to get your lands at a certain time. But, the Armenians stayed out too late drinking the night before, so they showed up really late the next morning.”
. “God said, ‘Why are so late? I already gave out all the lands of the Earth.”
. “The Armenians replied, ‘God, you don’t have anything left?’”
. “Well, there is this bit of Rocky land that no one wanted. If you really want, you can have that.’ And, so the Armenians were given Armenia. But, wait,” Marney said with a glint in her eye. “After the Armenians left, the Georgians showed up. They had been drinking even later, and said, ‘God what about us?’”
. “’What is it with you people in the Caucuses? Can’t you ever be on time?’ God exclaimed, and then softened, ‘Well there is this piece of land I was going to keep for myself. It is full of beautiful mountains, and gorgeous forests, and the best vineyards on the planet. I suppose you can have that.’”
. “The lesson is,” Marney set up theatrically, “always be the last one to show up.”

. Unlike the Azeris, the Armenians generally like the Georgians and vice versa, but good natured jibes are a national sport. For example, the Armenians are very proud of their written language, created when the Persians refused to allow Greek to be used in religious or governmental business. Saint Mashop Matas derived the current alphabet. Or as Marney put it, “When St. Mashop came up with out language, he worked all morning, and he was tired and hungry buy lunch time. So he sat down to a plate of Spaghetti. Did you know that we Armenians CREATED Spaghetti. Okay, anyway…So, we was just about to eat the first noodle, when the Georgians showed up.”
. “They said, ‘St. Mashop, you wrote a language for the Armenians. We want one too!’”
. “St. Mashop said, ‘I promise I’ll write you one after lunch, but I’m very hungry right now…”
. “No, we can’t wait!”
. “But, just let me eat a little bit…”
. “No, NOW!!!’ Georgians can never be patient.”
. “So, St. Mashop was so angry that he threw the Spaghetti against the wall, and said, there is your alphabet, and that’s why the Georgian language looks like upside down Spaghetti.”

. Like the Irish, the Armenians use humor to deal with the great tragedies and travails of their history. When you live on a fault line, and your capitals are leveled by nature every couple of centuries, and your neighbors seek the kill you in the alternate decades, you have to laugh.
.
The Armenian Genocide
.
. To understand the divisions of the Caucuses today, one cannot ignore the historical legacy of the genocide. Because of it, there are no direct border crossings from Turkey or Azerbaijan into Armenia, which lies between both..
. The people of the Caucuses--whose habits of hospitality, generosity, and joie de vivre are so similar—divide themselves into hostile camps, thanks to the tragedy of a century ago.
. Armenians look to their “lost lands” every time they stare into the distance at Mt. Ararat. Historic Armenia is in Turkey today. Likewise Azerbaijanis look at Yerevan, and particularly the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh, and feel the loss. It seems having visited both countries, that one felt as if he were standing on the borders of Alsace-Lorraine in 1910, and threat of war looming all too near.)
. As the Armenians tell the tale, the “Young Turks” or the ruling group at the end of the Ottoman Period craved a union of the Turkic peoples of Central Asia, from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan and beyond..
. (The psychological affinity was certainly there. In Baku, Azerbaijan, for example, a guide name Gulten was to tell me that not only are the languages all but identical and intelligible, but, “We say that Turkey and Azerbaijan are one country, two states.”)
. It is quite possible that the stratagems of the Young Turks might have succeeded were Armenia not in the way. Their answer, as related by the historians at the National Museum, “No Armenians, No Armenian Problem.”
. Thus began what has come to be called the Genocide where Armenian villages were reportedly ethnically cleansed and hundreds of thousands died. Most of historic Armenia now rests in Turkey.
. (The curious reaction is that not only do the Turks claim that the genocide never happened, and that less than 3,000 people were victims, but so do the Azeris. In fact, the excellent history museum in Baku lists the efforts to resist Armenian aggression in 1918, and the efforts that were made to form a united Army of Islam in the Caucuses.
. “Yerevan was once a Azerbaijani city,” my guide in Baku noted, correctly. She claimed, citing historical papers, that the city was given to the Armenians as a generous gesture, since they had no capital, and Nagorno-Karabakh was signed over in exchange.)
. The lost province myth, so like France and Germany dominates the Genocide conversation today, in both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

. To the Armenians, the Genocide not only caused the deaths of countless hundreds of thousands, and forced most of their population to scatter to the ends of the Earth, it robbed them of their historic lands.
. But, the Azeris often say the same thing. Caught up in the Genocide arguments invariably is Nagorno-Karabakh. My Armenian guide argued that the majority Armenian population would have been part of the Republic, but for a paper signed by Khrushchev. My Azeri guide pointed out that the region was majority Azerbaijani until the Russians resettled Armenians from Iran and Turkey, thus diluting the native populations.
. Today, no person can enter Azerbaijan after having had a Nagorno-Karabach stamp in their passport. Of course, there are few Azeris left living in the sundered land, anymore than there are the thousands of Armenians that once lived in Azerbaijan during the Soviet period.
. Both groups have been ethnically cleansed. A pity for a people so similar.
. .
While the Azeris look to the lost NK, the Armenians still pray for a return of their historic lands, and specifically their historic mountain, visible from Yerevan, and all along the border regions.
. One derives a better perspective of the Armenian pain still felt from the Genocide at the Khorvirap monastery, in the shadow of the Holy Mountain of Ararat.
. Armenians define their identity from Noah. The ancient name of the nation, Hyek, labels them descendants of Noah’s son of that name. Here stood the ancient capital of Armenia, and here, after imprisonment for 13 years in a pit (that visitors can still viist by descending a ladder), St. Gregori the Illuminator upon his release Armenia into the first Christian State.
. Mount Ararat, the holiest place for the Armenian people, is in Turkey, a product of the Genocide.
. It is amazing that having survived the first organized state genocide in history that the Armenians remain such a sunny people. The Azeris too.

Churchill’s Brandy of Choice

Few landscapes in Yerevan evoke more senses of pride—and loss—than the view of Mt. Ararat from the Yerevan Brandy Company.
. One stands in the apex of the Capitol City, just down from the Blue Mosque and the most ancient Cathedral in the City, and one looks into Modern Turkey.
. It’s not surprising that the gorge is surrounded by Brandy companies. With that view, most Armenians need a drink, they often joke.
. Humor aside (for once) Armenians pride themselves on making some of the finest Cognacs in the world. And, none finer than Yerevan Brandy’s Ararat Vin.

. It was Winston Churchill’s Brandy of Choice.
. At the Yalta conference, Stalin served the reserve Brandy to Churchill, and the British Prime Minister declared it the finest he had ever tasted.
. It was not an idle boast from a man who once tried to calculate if he had ingested enough spirits to fill a railway car. (In that case, Champagne, though such a conversation about Brandy is quite likely.)
. Stalin, trying to ingrate himself with Churchill, began to send cases of the Vin Brandy to Chartwell.
. Just over a year later, in one of his communiqués, Churchill mentioned to Stalin that as much as he was still enjoying the Brandy, it seemed to the Prime Minister that the quality of the Cognac had deteriorated. It just wasn’t as good as a year before.
. The Soviet Autocrat was furious, and demanded to know from his ministers why? It turns out, that the skilled Cellar Master had been sent to a gulag in Siberia.
. Stalin ordered him back and Churchill enjoyed the Ararat Vin until his death in the 1960s. Who says drinking doesn’t save lives.

. For a Churchill enthusiast, a visit to the Ararat Distilleries promises as taste of the Ambrosia that fueled our hero. And, so over the bridge spanning the nearly dry river, and up the hill and the nearly 100 steps to the Red Brick landmark, I climbed.
. Tours were supposed to be daily until 4 PM, and as it was only 2:45, I felt comfortable. That is, until the Gate to the gift shop and the tours was found locked.
. In the heat of the day, with a dwindling set of options, I walked to the loading dock and the staff car entrance at the rear of the complex. Everything was automated, and I wondered if I could get a message inside.
. A few moments later, a Land Cruiser SUV drove up, and the shaded window slid down.
. “Can I help you?” a middle aged man with a thick Northern French Accent inquired. I told him that I had come for the tour, but that the gate was locked.
. He looked at his watch, and said, “It is too early for them to be closed.”
. A pause in conversation followed, but I filled the time with my interest in all things Churchill, and my GREAT disappointment (thinking that maybe he would pass on a message to the guard).
. “Get in,” he said. And, so not wishing to look a gift horse in the proverbial mouth, I did. The guard waved us through, with not even a moment’s hesitation, and I began to chat with the man, first in English, then haltingly in French.
. The person who had rescued me was Philippe Thibaud, current Cellar Director of the Yerevan Brandy Company, and a senior manager with their new parent company, Pernod Ricard of France.
. Essentially, I realized as he directed me to his office, and then told his assistant to arrange a tour, that the CEO of the company was facilitating my visit to his Distillery.
. The guide, a young Armenian fluent in English and French, described her passion for the Brandy, and showed me the cabinet where the Ararat Cognac had won first place in France in 1910. (Philippe was quick to note that the company can no longer call their product a Cognac, under EU naming rules. And, this despite the fact that HE was from Cognac, France.)
. “This company is the pride of Yerevan,” my guide gushed, saying that it had been her dream to work here for years. To Armenians, drinking their Brandy is both their highest art form, and singular pleasure.
. As I sat tasting the various brandies made, including the reserve Vin that Churchill so loved (and rarely was given to tourists), I felt that pleasure. Interspersed with local Chocolates, I savored, the way Armenians savor life.

On The MadBus Across the Silk Road, London to Austria to Hungary to Turkey to Georgia
July 17, 2012 05:53 PM PDT
itunes pic

Three months have passed since Christopher Tidmore left the US, beginning a journey that seeks to circumnavigate the world by water and land—anyway but by airplane.   He crossed the Atlantic from New Orleans to Barcelona by boat, and then transited from Barcelona to Paris to London by trains and buses.  

       But, one month ago today, he joined on the focus of this world tour, www.Madventure.travel ‘s 26-week overland expedition from London to Sydney.    Today, we are exactly one month into that journey, as I write these words from Tbilisi, Georgia. Tomorrow, we embark upon the traditional northern route of the Medieval Silk Road through Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Siberia, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and finally Australia.

       So many people have asked to be updated about this overland expedition across Asia, that already has taken us through Europe, Turkey, and Georgia so far, that I agreed to send updates of the more interesting and esoteric findings of such an overland adventure.  

       I hope you enjoy it.   (You can still find updates on my political stories, filed each Tuesday at http://www.louisianaweekly.com/index.php?s=%22Christopher+Tidmore%22 )

        To read about the World journey so far…

        The story of crossing the Atlantic at http://www.tidmorereports.blogspot.com/2012/05/new-orleans-to-europe-by-repositioning.html ,

         The changes in Spain at http://www.tidmorereports.blogspot.com/2012/07/spanish-flu.html

          And the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in London at http://www.tidmorereports.blogspot.com/2012/07/this-is-london.html

 

Now, on to the Story of UKtoOZ, live from the road…

 

To Bush Camp

Somewhere near the Belgium/Luxembourg border 

Monday, June 18, 8:35 AM

 

We are driving during through a rain storm, having loaded the bus mere moments before the torrents fell upon us.

       To call our conveyance a bus, perhaps, is an inaccurate statement to say the least.    Will, the CEO, owner, driver, mechanic, sometimes dishwasher, and chief intellectual father of Madventure.travel, designed the myriads of parts of the odd and wonderful vehicle. 

         Image the world’s largest SUV mating with a Winnebago.  The all-terrain 18 Wheeler holds a travel cabin on top seating 40, toilet and firewood strapped to the back, features complete lockers of kitchen, storage, and tools below, with water and petrol tanks strapped to the bottom, all guided by driven by a trucker’s cab.

      On the front stands a balcony, with two seats, but thanks to active (and intrusively regulatory) European police, no one can sit upon it until we go off road in Asia.   

       There are slots for the tables that we eat upon in evening to be slid into groves between the cab and the “structure”.    Cubbyholes for every assortment of goods necessary for a six-month trip.   Food storage (and a safe euphuistically called the fridge) rest under the passenger floorboards of the upper story), and an actual fridge near the back.  

       It suffices to say that Madbus (henceforth my name for our conveyance) fits no approved definition of Eurotravel, despite its obvious comforts and utility.   We travelers were warned of the dangers of curious traffic cops flagging down our vessel, for a look.    If questioned, due to the oddity, we must tell the truth, as stated in our booking agreement.   “We are traveling, for free, through Europe.”

      Or as one customs agent wondered at the Port of the (Cliffs) of Dover, “What you’re doin’. Runnin’ a charity car?”

      He looked upon the group that ages usually from their late 20s to late 30s, with a few quite above that into the range of pensioners, with just a bit of skepticism.   In collared shirts and fleece jumpers, we did not fit the Bohemian image of wanderers, one supposes. 

      Just call us Gypsy Preppies.  

      Were we “paying” for the first leg of our trip, European travel standards would apply and endless questions would be found in Belgian, German, or other continental police stations. Instead, our payments of roughly 1000 GBP Sterling per month effectively kick in as we transverse the Bosporus into Istanbul.    Exit the European conventionality, so as not to be straight-jacketed by a misapplication of the European Convention.  

        But, we are on the road for our second day, and it all started in a car parking lot in Hammersmith…

 

        My around the world journey had found me in London for the past three weeks.    Following the Diamond Jubilee, I spent several days reacquainting myself with the city that I have often considered my second home.   After touring on Tuesday, I dropped by the Science Museum on Wednesday for their Universe of Sound exhibit.  

        The London Philharmonic was videotaped performing each movement of “The Planets”.   (If you think you haven’t heard the music, just remember the closing melodies of Star Trek IV.)  As one walked through the exhibit, each instrument was featured in their individual performances, their sound-dynamics explained, and the visitor given an opportunity to conduct that part. Eventually, in a quadraphonic room of circular screens surrounding video on all sides, one global sound and performance filled the air around the visitor. There he could stand in this symphony of sound and motion, waving his arms as if he were Handel. 

      Thursday saw me traveling by train for two hours to Canterbury.     After sorting out the confusion that is Victoria Station, I arrived in the Cathedral City at 11 AM.   I ascended the Medieval Walls, and walked around towards the Old City, as pilgrims did in Chaucer’s day.   

       (In fact, housed in an old church  (one of the 22 that were in the small town for the Medieval population of 4,000) one passes a rather cheesy rendition of the stories of the tale.   For twelve pounds, a visitor walks within the Knight’s Tale, and so forth.   Chaucerian Reality Television.  Certainly, no “Whan that Apprille with its…”—well, who learns the prologue in Middle English anymore?

       To the Roman Museum and the Heritage Museum I visited the history of the town.   The Roman Museum exists only because Canterbury was heavily bombed in WWII.    It revealed the foundations of a Roman Villa and the magnificent floor mosaics, now housed in a subterranean exhibit.   The Heritage Museum is in the former Chapel of the Dominican Monks, with a Medieval Arched ceiling.   One learns of St. Augustine, St. Thomas and the Martyrdom, the heyday of the town as the center of Northern European pilgrimage, the Tudor destruction of Thomas’s Tomb, and beyond.  (Interestingly, the most intriguing of the exhibits was the exact replacement of Joseph Conrad’s study.   The Polish-turned-English novelist died in Kent, and is buried in Canterbury.  His Estate willed his library and effects to the museum for display.)

          After taking a walking tour of the town, and doing some shopping, I attended the majestic evening song at the Cathedral.  The dozen or so choir boys attend school just behind (though not within the elite “Public School” of King’s that sits on the former Monastic grounds).   

        I watched their rehearsal, and then heard the heavenly sounds they made up to the arches of the nave.   Uplifted, after the service, and sitting in the Monk’s choir benches, I went down the stairs from the high alter, through a Medieval tunnel, to the Martyrdom Chapel.   On Thursdays, a communion service is held after evening song, so I prayed and received the host just steps from where the knives entered St. Thomas. 

        Friday saw Sian and I lug my stuff to Hammersmith, where I stayed in a small hostel for the weekend, two blocks from my departure.    (I bribed her with Prosecco and pate’ on cucumber, and oranges backed by malomars.)

       Saturday was the Queen’s day, as I went to the National Portrait Gallery for an exhibit on Her Majesty through the years—and a glance at the other paintings.  

      More than a glance really, I stared at Thomas Wentworth, the man who worked so hard to avert the English Civil War, rewarded for his faithful service to his King by a beheading.   I was transfixed by the paintings of Disreali and Gladstone glaring at each other on a wall 125 years after they stared across the mace in the House of Commons, day after day. 

       I moved through the walls of greatness, wondering if my image shall ever grace such a place.  A Gallery in Washington or Baton Rouge, perhaps?   Maybe.  One wonders. 

      The Queen was seen in all of her youth and age, majestic and earthy.   Andy Warhol’s interpretation hung beside her official photos, and her private family ones. 

         After leaving, I passed the Theatre where the new play “Yes, Prime Minister”, an update of the old TV show, was just seating for the matinee.  I didn’t need the expense, but I couldn’t resist. Twenty-five quid later, I was laughing at the bumbling attempts at Sir Humphrey and PM Jim Hackett to find a prostitute for the Isreckistan Ambassador, in order to save the European Economy.   (Long story).

     That night, I was invited to a housewarming party by Nina, a friend of John Alfone’s, who has shown me great kindness in my London stay.   Her apartment was as impressive as the Champagne cocktails that she and her flatmates served.

 

      That night was restless, as I worried that I would oversleep my bus.   Tossing and turning and waking by the hour, I finally rose at 5:30, strapped on my oversized backpack, and walked stooped like Gun Din the four blocks to the Novotel Hotel.    (It was later described as if I had a Rucksack strapped to a Rucksack strapped to a Rucksack, with a tent strapped beneath the three.)

 

       I’ll describe my traveling companions in the next missive, but meeting Will and Karen, the couple that organizes these six month expeditions into the wilds of Central Asia and beyond, and paying another 1800 GBP Sterling, we set off from the car park.   (I must thank a certain couple [Adam and Corrine] for helping me find my way, or else my broken form would probably still be a bloody feature of the luxury hotel lobby.)

        It was a day of driving, broken only by a ferry ride.   Several of us, including Gayle and Sarah, sat on the aft of the ferry, toasting with Stella Artos, the beginning “of an adventure”. 

      We drove all day.   I sat in the front, looking across the Norman countryside, as Sarah put it in her charming Dublinite way, “Even if you were dropped here, and had no idea where you were going, you would know you were in France.”

        The stone houses and well-kept fields have changed little since the 101st landed.   Fewer hedgerows of course.

 

       Which leads us to the irascible Belgian.    Much of our stays, particularly in parts of Europe, are “Bush camping”.  Find a proper field, ask permission, and strike the tents.  Karen begins dinner with the help of a pair of us, and we set up the stools and watch the sunsets.

      The cornfield that Will found by chance is the sort of place of which every camper dreams.  Soft ground, with lush grass as a natural cushion for the tent, flanked by open vistas and the oranges and magentas of a sun meeting its orbital end.     We feasted on roast beef, and settled (after a few slugs of the Bushmills I bought at the duty free), down for the night.  

        In drove a late middle-aged man, and his wife, in a Volkswagen.   In the guttural French fully comprehensible only to the Walloons, he yelled, “Regardez!” at the slight tracks of the truck and the clean order of the campsite.  

        He wanted us to leave.   Karen explained that the couple at the house besides had given us permission to stay, and promised to depart with no evidence of our stay, by seven the next morning.  

       It was not enough.  He raged.  He proclaimed. 

      He failed. 

      As his wife put it, “There’re here already.”

      He endlessly dialed his cell phone to call his farm manager, fruitlessly.   Finally, in a huff, he left.  The next morning, just beating the rain, and filled with a slight breakfast, so did we.  

 

Outside Salzburg, Austria

Tuesday, June 19

8:45 PM

 

I sit here flanked by the foothills of the Alps, as England attempts to defeat Ukraine on the Gashaus Television.

        We arrived at the campsite, our first non-bush camp, just past 3 o’clock, in a stupor from excessive driving—and the repetitive shocks of Dachau.

         Fatigue consumed many of our company of 15, after a stormy night at our second camp.   

          We had driven all day for our second tour date.  Will saw a Lake just off the motorway, somewhere in Bavaria, and we maneuvered through the woods to its banks.    Only to discover a 10,000 Deutschmark fine for camping.  That’s correct for the close readers--not Euro--but Deutschmarks. so we were not too worried, but decided to go around the lakes just to be careful.

         Driving less than a kilometer, Will pulled the truck up to a divider, and we dragged our tents to a small pocket lake, a tributary of the larger one.

         I realized this as soon as I stripped down to my skivvies, ahead of all and jumped in.    There were two currents in the water, one warm and one cold, indicating a subterranean spring system.  

       I was soon followed by Adam, and we spent the next 15 minutes enticing the girls to join us.   I particularly put the pressure on Sarah, a redheaded photography-major turned Pilates instructor from Ireland.   Noting that she did not want to miss an “experience”, I began to say how warm and refreshing the water was, a true experience.    As she lacked swimming costumes, she stripped to knickers and TV shirt, and with the other women, came into the water.

       We floated until Karen’s dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese was prepared, and then Sarah presented us with the Apricot Brandy she purchased on the Calais ferry.  After dinner, as most went to bed, we nursed our aperitifs until the fireflies came to dance in the leaves around us.    “They’re the reason people believed in fairies,” I commented to Sarah.

       “They are fairies,” she replied with a half smile.

       No sooner than we had returned to our tents, on the hard, shelly earth beside the lake, that the lighting illuminated the skies, and the rains came.

       Many woke the next morning having earned little sleep, either from the storm or the hard earth beneath their sleeping bags.   After a quick breakfast, we drove the two hours to Dachau. 

        Most people forget that the concentration camp is named after the neighboring village, a township that is older than Munich and was mentioned in Carolingian epics in the 890s.   Now, it is just a byword for pure evil.

          It’s very green as one enters death.  

          Birch trees line the path from the parking lot into the camp, where from 1933 to 1945, countless thousands were worked to death.   No large groups were gassed at Dachau, though quite a few were shot--including 70 Soviet officers and a group of RAF women officers sent to help the French resistance.   

        Still, the death rate was appalling.   One need not recount the elements of this camp, save to note that all subsequent concentration camps were based upon its organization, their commanders were trained on its parade ground, and its medical experiments proved as daunting a defense for the Nazis as their other murders.

       What unexpectedly struck me were the fact that the prisoners were given absurd requirements to clean their barracks daily, with near fatal beatings the reward if anything were not exact—or cleaned across the rooms in exactly the same fashions. 

        And, that after the war, following the Americans using the camp to detain Nazi prisoners, Dachau became a refugee camp.   When many of the survivors returned in 1965 for the twentieth anniversary of freedom, there were children playing soccer on the parade ground often used for firing squads.   

       And, the former infirmary, made famous for the SS’s human experiments on pressure and disease response that killed dozens of inmates, had been transformed into a Green Grocer.

      Children have the right to play soccer, but not here! The former camp inmates raged, and they raised money to transform this into the first concentration camp museum in the world.  Many of those former victims of the SS returned as tour guides to tell the world, “Never Again.”

       Their work did not make them free, but their preservation of their collective memories insures that others will never forget how easy mad men can come to power. And try to enslave the world.

     In the afternoon, following a singularly Austrian traffic jam, we pulled into the Austrian Alps.    

 

On the Austrian/Hungarian Border

Thursday, June 21, 2012

12:57 PM

 

      I climbed a mountain yesterday!  

Literally.    It was called Untersberg, and it stands as the highest peak in the vicinity of Salzburg.  Shortly after the entry, Will’s friend Stephan joined us at the camp site.   The two planned to ascend the mountain the next day, and take the cable car down. 

      When Sarah and Ange said that they were in, I, of course, to defend my manhood, had to join the pack.   

       Four hours up mountain, with me hyperventilating—under my breath—the whole way.   

        The vistas, though, were stunning.  In fact, tourists never take this route.  Along the way, we saw the remains of snow, at one point, forming an archway, under which we cooled ourselves.  

       Pathways went uphill, until we reached a series of ladders at 45 to 50 degree angles, which we climbed up, as if we were mountain climbing.  Considering that the drops were a thousand feet if one slipped, it was a close to climbing without a rope as one can go.  And, the monuments to those who had climbed, and presumably died on the mountain were along the way.

        At the top, I gouged myself on Wienershinzel, and down the mountain by cable car.    The afternoon, after unsuccessfully searching for an internet café, I found myself at each of the Archbishopric churches in their stunning Baroque apportions. 

      Up the mountain, I took the funicular to the castle, and waited out a storm as the clouds rolled into the mountain fortress.  

 

“Going to Walmart in Hungary”

Near the Romanian/Hungarian Border

June 23, 2012

 

We entered the Magyar nation as we exited it, our Madbus pulling up into large suburban style parking lots of Tesco, the Euro-equivalent of Uncle Sam's creations.  (Though a separate company.)

      One enters and short of the signs in the Finn-Urgu tongue, one would think he had entered a Walmart.  The colors, the myriad of items from electronic to sporting goods to clothing to the brands of foodstuffs would seem just as in place in the States.   Even the music is American pop, in a country where few speak English.

      (This auditory phenomena is hardly limited to Hungary, though.    How many countries have I visited where no television channel is in English save the music videos.   The youth hum the pop songs, often with no idea of their meaning.   Such is the power of rock and roll, I suppose.)

 

        Nevertheless, the former Communist state displays such an enthusiasm for Capitalism, that one would never guess that the disciples of Marx once ruled the place.  

      To walk through the shopping districts of Budapest is a promenade through high fashion.   On a Friday night, the Manolo Blahniks are out on the walks with stops in the parks and squares for the occasional Maygar music fest (as was seen Friday night) and big screens displaying the soccer matches of Euro 2012.  

      Ironically though perhaps not surprisingly, the Hungarians cheered the Germans over the Greeks, and everyone else now that the Maygar contenders have been eliminated.    The nation that once was half of the Hapsburg Empire was itself somewhat Germanophile, until Adolf Hitler invaded in 1944, complicating the situation.  

       (One supposes it resembles the attitude of the Irish, who cheered loudest for the English team when they advanced last Saturday night.   Or as an Irish solider in WWII captured by the Japanese in Burma put it when he was encouraged to denounce his British commanders, [a reasonable request, his captors thought, since the Celt’s father had been one of the leaders of the Easter Uprising], “We’re the only one’s who are allowed to kill the English!”    Distance makes differences devolve into trivialities.)

 

     Yet, I spent the afternoon on my full day in Budapest doing something quite ancient, and disconnected from the retail jungle.  I immersed myself in Roman Baths, appealing to the modern, but little changed from ancient times.  Thermal baths, and cold plunges.   A massage, and a steam room, but in marbled halls that once felt the feet of the Hasburgs.  But, now on to Romania, and the love affair that I have come to have with that country.

 

 

Into the Carpathian Mts.

June 24, 2012

 

       Speaking of beautiful, the landscapes of low rolling hills we pass on the winding roads, hills backed by distant mountains evoking glens and invaders and romance and romi.  Romania haunts one.   I see a gorge to my left where the limestone just peaks out amongst the fertile green.   Not the Emerald of Ireland, but the near bluegrass of Kentucky, awash though with centuries of blood and honor.

      Here, in this remote land, once called Wallachia, lives the language closest to that spoken by the Romans themselves.   

      The last outpost of Christian Orthodoxy, but eastern and distant at the same time.   As we entered, we transversed a small town littered with houses of multitiered roofs that would seem more in place in China than Europe, save for the silver trim and occasional Occidental (Onion) dome. 

     The trees along the streams along the roadside.  From Oaks to Birches to scrub grass, each coming and going in the glens in their tannish green...

 

Sighisoara, Romania

Sunday, June 24, 2012

 

“I slept so well in Transylvania,” Sarah said.  That made one of us.  

      It was not that we fear Vlad Tepis falling upon us in the valley of our Bush Camp, despite the fact that the low mountains and chateau looking hotel on the hill had a very Hollywood Gothic feel.   (As much The Shining as Transylvania, though.)

      It was not that we heard the screams of the night beasts, at least for me; though, the dogs moaned in the pitch-blackness like wildebeests of hell.  

      I was not the lightning that came upon us as we pitched camp; though, Erich von Stronheim could not have done it better for RKO.  

        For me, it was the brandy and the ants.    I was on cook duty last night.   When the Madbus arrives to Bush Camp, if rain harkens, we extend a large canvas awning from the side of the truck, suspended on makeshift steel polls.  Then, the nightly cook group, begins its tasks of removing the heavy steel tables from the slots welded between the cab and the main structure of the Madbus.   We unload a dozen or more plastic containers containing everything from plates and cups to spices and condiments to non-perishable food.   Out of an ice chest comes some of the fresh variety of elements, and the freezer in the back of the passenger cabin usually provides some form of meat for the evening.

    As we arrived late, Karen opted for us to cook salmon and pasta, with a crème sauce.    After I set up four large gas burners with steel backing boards, also stored under the Madbus, we went to work, boiling, chopping, etc.

      I ended up cutting an frying the tofu/mushroom topping for the tour’s two vegetarians.    Opting to use Lea & Perrins, I think it actually added something to their sauce not present in the rest of ours.  

      The challenge of the night was Karen’s great generosity.   She began pouring Brandy and cokes for our cook group of Ange, Feng, and I.    Lots and Lots of them.  

     We cooked, we ate, and began to clean up—taking only a brief break to erect our tents.    But, as most went to bed, Karen and the girls—and I—poured into the brandy.    I finally surrendered at 12:30.   They continued until well after three, knowing that they had to rise and complete this cooking process in the morning.

      Actually, do it all over again, since Karen insisted that we put everything away, to ward off thieves.   Another hour.  Still, enjoyable, though. 

     The brandy should have relaxed me, but it was the ants that invaded, the true minions of hell, that made the night less than restful.  Still, the visas were gorgeous, and the next morning, we made it to Sighisoara

        I began this missive as we left the town of Dracula’s birth.  Yes, the medieval prince of Wallachia was born in a home, now remembered by a plaque (in Romanian), and a rather contemporary coffee house.

       But, the ancient town is stunning, with its winding hill top streets, the Gothic church at the peak, graveyard down the back, and 16th Century guild workshops-turned-homes down the front.   

      I wandered for an hour and a half.  At one point, a local point showed me a grown over path along the bottom of the walls (an act of kindness for which he was well tipped).  Another local let me into the locked courtyard of the medieval castle, today a private home. 

      What I didn't find was the Apple Brandy that I bought from a Babushka in a basement in this same town nine years ago.  I searched, and searched, but no babushka to be found.   

      I even went into the hillside cemetery coming down from the highest Gothic church in Romania, but no luck there either.   

 

Bucharest

June 24, 2012

11:05 PM

 

      After an hour and a half, we were back on the road to the village of Bran, flanked by the Castle better known as Dracula's.    

      It's really the former castle of the Romanian royal family, which Vlad Tepis happened to be a prisoner in around 1465, but when you are in Transylvania, and you need a Vampire castle?

       It was quaint in its views, a practical construction as the castle's main reason d'etre was to collect tolls as people passed through the two mountain ranges it stands astride.  

       One down note was that I was about five LEI short for the ticket, so a couple on the trip [Nick and Juli] insisted on loaning 50 to me.   Unbenounced to me, I had to get it back to them tonight, so I made a mad dash out of the camp site to a nearby mall.   

       If the countryside still uses horse drawn carriages, and we passed a ton as the Madbus transversed a narrow mountain road through a myriad of villages, the backwardness is not felt here in Bucharest.  

       The mall was larger than any in Louisiana, which is good because my credit card gave out, and I searched feverishly for someone to change money.   It took three closed banks and a half and hour, but I finally succeeded.

      By the way, I feel guilty tonight.  I write this from a bed in a double room, rather than a tent.  When I was told that I could upgrade for just $12 a night more, well, I opted for clean sheets.   Have I betrayed the camper's oath of rusticness?  

 

Bucharest, Romania

Monday, June 25, 2012

6:27 PM

 

So the famous Romanian television actress, her Chef of a husband, and their friend, the minder of the Cathedral, found me a taxi.  

 

      It’s not the punch line of a joke; it is the culmination of one of the most remarkable afternoons of my life. Though, I will admit it helps when fame, flavor, and the divine coincide to find one a conveyance back to the hostel.

       We had just finished a three hour conversation on the nature of life, kids, coincidence, science fiction, acting, God, philosophy, novels, and the Baton Rouge sniper who had changed the actress’s literary career by email, and while she and he had shared some of the most detailed emotional and intellectual secrets, neither she nor her husband had any idea of his last name.  

 

       That morning in Bucharest, we took taxis into town, dropping us before the second largest building in all of Europe.  The hulking monstrosity flanked a circular parade ground meant to evoke the Place de la Concorde in Paris. 

      In point of fact, Nicolae Ceaușescu, the late dictator of Romania, dispatched, (hung, and disemboweled) by angry crowds in 1989, had ripped down large parts of historic Bucharest during his reign of terror.  He wished to build Paris in the East, and his street pattern resembled the Champs Elysees, down to the fake Arc as one enter his grand avenue.  

      What remains of the old town and its charm flanks the grand boulevards, but it is still grande!  Which leads to my story.

         Leaving the camp site by taxi, we progressed down an avenue, where—interestingly—the light polls were wrapped by layer upon layer of flower pots up the poll.  Bucharest hits one as green, well maintained, and particularly, wealthy compared to the countryside.  There is a reason.  

         After leaving the national palace (after unsuccessfully seeking a tour), my tour mates and I walked through a park with towering oaks to the Opera house, and sat for a languid lunch.    Beating the heat, the mainly UK contingent of ladies departed back to camp.    I, though, continued down a road of bookstores, many in English.   Past the national library, the winding streets of café’s and shops that is Old Bucharest greeted me.  

      I wandered in concentric circles of streets, past small squares, and outdoor bars, and antique shops.  In every bend, a historic church stood, and I began to visit the holy places.   

        At my second, one of the older, darker, and more magnificent, I spied a water cooler with a tap.  It was growing warm outside, and my small bottle went dry an hour before.   So, dropping a Lei in the slot, I asked the man behind the table selling pamphlets and icon postcards, if I could get a drink.

     “Of course,” he replied in almost accentless English.    

      Filling my bottle, I stepped up to admire the painted, golden wall.    The man had come up beside me.  I said, “That’s a beautiful iconostasis.”

       “You know what it is.  Most tourists don’t.”

       We began to talk about the frescos of St. Dimitrios’ church.   He explained that it had first been built in 1604, of wood.  Then, burned a hundred years later.   Then again a hundred years after that.  The current church dated from 1804.

       “Where are you from,” the man asked.  

       “New Orleans, in the US,” I answered.

       He looked pensive for a second, and then lit up with, “There is a dish there.  Gumbo, is it?”

       “Yes, I’m impressed that you know it.”

       “I’ve been fascinated by it.  It started off as a servant’s dish, right?”

       “Yes,” and so we launched into a discussion of how plantation slaves would create the slow simmering pot of food, how a rue takes 24 hours to cook, and what is in the soup, and how it has a cultural connection as Goulash has in Hungary.

       In this spirited discussion, he said, “Listen, I’m about to change off with my colleague.  If you would like a tour of the area, and some of the churches, I can.”

       “That would be wonderful,” I replied.  “And, of course, I’ll pay you for it.”

       “No, No, No.  Not. At. All.  This is what I do.”

       “You don’t have to it.”

       “I insist.”

        As he went behind the entrance table, I asked him what was his name. 

        “Romeo.”

         We walked out with a young boy that, at first, I misthought was the man’s son.   Shortly later, the boy left, and we proceeded down the street.  Romeo began to explain that he had been a banker , and how his life had seemed to have little meaning.

      “My brothers, my father are artists.   They are highly creative, and working at the bank didn’t fit. “

       “How did you end up at the Church?   Do you want to study to be a priest?”

       “No, I enjoy what I’m doing.    How I got there, well, that is my home church.  The Priest is a friend of mine.   A couple of years ago, I fell behind, and he loaned me some money to catch up on my rent.  Then, I lost my job.   I couldn’t repay him, not for a long time.   So, I suggested that I [work at the church] for free for a month, to pay my debt.   I fell in love with it.  I’m sort of a volunteer.”

         We came upon the first church, and Romeo explained in his near perfect English, that this old church, a rather small structure built in 1724, featured a unique Romanian art style.  The architect also painted the frescos in a style that was Byzantine leaning, but as realistic as the West.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  

       “It is an expression of who we are.  Romania is the only Latin and Orthodox country in the world.  We are where the East meets the West, and it has an impact on how we think.”

     “It’s a very left brain versus right brain way of looking at things.   We have the emotional spirituality of the Byzantines and the logic systems of the West.  In our religion.  Otherwise, we are very Latin.  We don’t have what that philosopher…Weber…called the…”

     “Protestant Work Ethic…”

      “Yes, but we enjoy life more…”

      Walking around the apse of the church, Romeo pointed out the choir seas, “men on right, women on left.  “The way they sing is sort of a hum, where one person sings and the others back him up.  It’s different from the polyphonious music that you are used to in Catholic Churches.”

      We stepped out of the church, and winded though the old streets and the curved medieval layout, coming up the neo-Baroque of the national “savings and loan” and the neo-classical of the national bank and national history museum.

       “So,” I asked, “What was the condition of the Church under Ceaușescu?”

        “Well, when he built the boulevards, many were destroyed.  They also tried to move several, but they didn’t survive.”    Romeo went on to explain that while 90% of the population of Romania was Orthodox, only 10% of those went to churches regularly.   Enough churches, though, were destroyed in the communist period, that most churches are filled.

        I noted that Bucharest seemed to have the energy of the country.  Romeo nodded yes.   “We’re modeled on the French system.   Everyone must come here, just like everyone comes to Paris.”

       “In Germany, if you want to study Philosophy, you might go to a university in Cologne.  If you want Engineering, you might go to Munich.  In France, everyone comes to Paris for everything.  The same is true of Bucharest.”  

       So the best and brightest come here, and soon we were back on the streets, wandering about with them.  I had just invited Romeo to let me buy him a drink, to thank him for the tour since he still insisted that could not pay him a dime, when he stopped to chat with a friend walking from the opposite direction.   The pretty brunette and he chatted in Romanian for a couple of minutes, when she said in English,  “Who is your friend?”

      Her English was excellent, and carried a very slight accent as well.  In a country that could not boast of many Anglophones, I was struck by the coincidence.  

       “Christopher Tidmore.”

       “Where are you from?”

       “New Orleans, in the United States.”

         “Oh, I used to live in the US, in Chicago,” she said.

         Romeo interjected, “This is...” and he introduced her.  For the sake of privacy, let’s call her “E”.  Then Romeo continued.  “She’s actually an author.  She’s just finished a book.”

       “It’s Science Fiction,” she said as if this would make it less interesting. 

       “I’m a huge Sci Fi fan.  You must let me review it for my newspaper.”   I reached into my pocket, and gave her one of my Louisiana Weekly business cards.  

         E stared at the card intently for more than a minute.   She looked up with a slightly stunned look of surprise.    “I know someone from Louisiana.   In Baton Rouge.  Do you know, David, by chance?” 

     “What’s his last name?  I’d need more than that.”   She seemed intelligent.  Did E just ask me a question that a peasant who has not traveled far from here village might?  Not realizing how big America was.  Impossible.   She had lived there, or so she said.”

      Ostensibly realizing my thought pattern, she said, “There’s a reason I only know his first name.”

       “What’s that?”

       “That’s a long story.”

       “Well, Romeo and I were about to go for a drink.  Would you care to join us?  My treat.”

        E nodded yes, explaining that she had to dial her husband on her mobile phone.   “We’re starting a new restaurant, and he’s meeting with our partner.  But, it’s only down the street.   I’ll come.”

       “So, what’s the long story,” I asked as we sat down at a nearby outdoor bar, the late afternoon sun shielded by the awning.   I also urged her to invite her husband to join us. 

         Romeo explained that E was a “famous” actress in Romania.   She smiled and laughed, but in a manner that I already deduced did not boast easily, she said, “I am well known actor in Romania, but in television, and I don’t do television anymore.  I went to the United States with my husband, planning on only doing movies.”  

       Television in Romania, she said, was very banal.  “We shoot 18 shots a day, and it doesn’t matter if you can’t learn the lines, or how bad your acting is.”

        While in Chicago and in Los Angeles, her husband urged her, she explained, to try to write “the dreams in my head.”

      It was concept for a Science Fiction novel called Strings.   “I went to a military website to try to get some military terms explained [for the book].    Then, all these guys were not responding to my question.   Most proposed ‘sex movies’ for them.   It was really bad.  Then, I met Mark online.”

       David, a new visitor to the website, helped her with military terms, began to communicate each day.  E would send parts of her book to David, and he would critique, make suggestions for rewrites, and honestly tell her what parts were good and bad.

      In the course of conversation, E talked about her husband to David, and he recounted stories of his three kids, Latin wife, and his Polish upbringing in Chicago, where she and her husband were staying.

      As if on que, E’s husband arrives and joins us.   I tell the waiter to put his drink on my bill, and E continues.  “I asked David for his last name, but he wouldn’t tell me.  Even after we had been communicating for months.    He said the didn’t want to give his last name because of problems he had with some people here in Romania.”

     “He said we would meet, maybe this year, but that I would have to leave it to fate.  That’s why I was so stunned when I saw Louisiana on your business card.”

       I went on to find out that his illusive David had encouraged E to try the distance shooting that her character does in the book.  When she did, she hit 22 out of 25 through the target center the first time.

     “The man at the shooting club at first ignored me, and then looked at me with astonishment.  I didn’t know I had done anything special.  When I told David, he said that as a sniper instructor, he had only 2 students in 16 years that had ever done that well at first.”

    “That’s when I learned what he did, and that he had been posted to Ft. Hood.  In Texas, yes?” 

      “Yes,” I answered.

       “David says that he wants to go back to Texas.   Anyway, he encouraged me to keep it up.  Now a year later, I’m on the Romanian National Shooting team.”  She points to her shoulder bag.  “It’s my boots from shooting practice.  I was just coming from it.”  

        “He gave other advice too.   When I was offered 30,000 as an advance on the book, but I would have to wave all Royalties, he told me it was a bad deal.  To seek a better one.”

      “I know a few of the authors at Baen publishing, a Science Fiction publishing house in the US.  They accept new authors,” I interjected.

      “That would be wonderful!” E interjected not able to restrain her glee.   The conversation continued for the next two hours.   They told of the restaurant around the corner from where we sat, that they planned to open in the next month.  It would have a theatre theme, and would feature waiters with names like “Hamlet”, “Falstaff”, etc.

       I began to notice that people would occasionally glance at our table, or stop for a moment, before walking on.  It was E that caught their attentions.  “When I was on television, I was under exclusive contracts.  It’s not like it is in the United States.  I couldn’t do movies.  I couldn’t even sit at a café like this.  I had to quit it.”

     E and her husband spoke of the sacrifices that quitting had entailed financially and personally.  We spoke of my Odyssey around the world, madventure.travel’s attempt to cross central Asia, and why I had taken it.  To go places no overland tour company had ever attempted, and to escape from the pain of recent months at home.

      E and her husband were clearly in love, despite their struggles.   They had met Romeo much as I had, and when E opened an acting school in Bucharest, he showed up with three students, and helped them find eighteen more.  

      He humbly waved it off, but they dumped the praise on him.    We talked of how the tale with David would end.  Would E ever find who he was?  I promised to try to find out, but that led Romeo to interject, “You speak of stories having an ending?”

       “Occupational liability of being an author, I suppose.”

        “Here in Romania, we think less of a beginning and ending, I believe.  We live in the moment more than elsewhere.  I didn’t know where this would end when we first met in the Church.”  Our conversation turned to philosophy and the meaning of life.

       Emmanuel Kant and his perspectives came from E’s husband, and his love poetry.   E explained that Romeo organized nights where Romanians gathered to discuss philosophy and the Orthodox Faith.  “This is very rare in Romania,” she said.  “Religion seems all about ritual.  It’s not like the United States.  Young people are turned off.” 

     Romeo, it seemed, sought to engage the young—and the intellectually curious.   

    “I like philosophy,” the St. Dimitrios’ docent noted.  “I actually prefer it to reading novels or fiction.   Because it has no ending.   I only get mad when philosophers present their work to the world as the total truth…”

      “Maybe they should say there are many truths,” E laughed.  

       “No, it’s just their appeal when they try to connect.  There is philosophical truth, but there is also truth in the heart.”   Romeo pointed at this chest.  

        “That is the truth in poetry,” E’s husband reflected, and Romeo nodded in the affirmative.   We went on for hours talking about the meaningfulness of matter, existence, and life.    Of Newton, Einstein, and the curve of existence, only revealing itself the further from our perspectives we can get. 

      We talked of our table, and its vast amount of empty space in the room between the atoms.  How quantum physics seemed to say that matter was solid because it behaved that way.  But why?  And, who made it so?

     Finally, as the sun lowered in the horizon, I realized that I must return, and the others had plans.   E said, “Are you sure you have to leave tomorrow.”   The Madbus waits for no one, I joked, and said that they should visit me in New Orleans, perhaps at Mardi Gras, at their next US visit.  

     They promised they would, and I pledged to try to find David, “If only to see how this conversation would end.

      Earlier that day, my friends from the tour had trouble finding a taxi that would return them to the camp ground.  Taxi drivers claimed not to know the place. 

      When a famous actress finds you a cab, the reaction is FAR different.  Especially when she realizes, unlike everyone else, that your camp ground is adjacent to Ceaușescu’s home, now a garden museum.

       As I was opening the car door, Romeo grabbed my wrist and gave me the bracelet on his, a Byzantine cross embedded in a leather strap.   I was overcome.  E spoke the driver and she and her husband embraced me goodbye. 

     The cab driver, in his limited tongue, brought me back along the faux Champs Elysee, speaking of his own motorcycle trips across Germany.  It was a great communication considering his English was maybe a dozen words, but good pantomime.   

      Later that night, E sent me her book by email, and wrote what little she knew of David.   She added, “I'm still trying to assimilate what happened today and I feel proud when the universe sets things this way. I promise I'll come visit you in Louisiana one day.”

      David had said fate would provide.  Well, quite a charge from fate…

 

Bulgarian Border

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

 

We passed fields and fields of sunflowers as we exited Romania.   Just over a river, and the Cyrillic began.  Officially, we have left the Latin world, with its definable road signs, and entered pure Eastern incomprehension.   As soon as late Thursday, Orthodoxy will even be replaced by Islam. 

       Excepting our visits to Georgia and Armenia, so the culture of Mohammad merged with the arid impacts of the Steppe will be our companions for the next three months. 

        In Romania, one had the garden paths, expansive malls, and western shopping of Bucharest, alongside the horse carts and hand-plowed subsistence farming of the countryside.   I wonder if Bulgaria will seem more or less modern.

      One dawning realization is that the Bulgars did something about their toilet paper money.  Nine years ago, driving up the Black sea coast, Bulgarian currency numbered in the hundreds of thousands for a Coca Cola or a small meal.  (The exchange rate was incredible besides.)

      Now, it stands in more reasonable ones, fives, and tens, and actually was more valuable, note for note, than the Romanian currency.    

 

Leaving Tsarevera

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

3:45 PM

 

I ascended to the heights of historic Bulgaria, where the drive for independence found its fruit, and was later extinguished for three hundred years by the Turks.

      The mountain fortress of Tsarevera once contained the church of the Patriarchy of Bulgaria and the Royal Palace.  From 1198 to 1397, the Second Bulgarian Tsardom ruled from this hill, with a river surrounding the Island and a sole draw bridge entrance.

      Troublesome nobility flanked the nearby hill of the fortress.    

      I left the town, after a run for some Bulgarian Lei, and then six notes poorer at the gate, I ascended the hill.   Vast ruins led to tiered levels that culminated in partially repaired towers, and ultimately to a church built in 1981 to signify the 800th anniversary of the Bulgarian state.   It commentates two Boyars who fought for the country’s independence from Byzantium.  

      It also remembers the last Patriarch of Bulgaria in 1397, who pled for the lives of the people of Tsarevera.  He and the people were spared by the Turkish General, but when the Pasha in question was replace three months later, the new Turkish General sought to execute the Patriarch.

       As the executioner raised his arm, the arm began to petrify.  Withered, it could not hold the axe, and the Muslims fearing Allah’s wrath, released the Bulgarian unscathed.   

       I walked amongst the ruins, picking wild flowers in a bouquet for you.   A picture is attached, giving you a glimpse of the natural beauty of not only the hill, but the tier houses along the mountainsides.      Cobbled stone streets and dilapidated palaces still line the streets.

      We left the town to our current campground.    Such beauty is almost beyond reason, hence the reason that the owners, an English couple, bought the farmer’s field three years ago, with the dream of putting a perfect respite here.

 

       Now, I’m off to walk through the fields of wildflowers, down to lake, and the Monastery in the distance. 

 

       Off to Istanbul tomorrow.   

 

Motorway on the Çanakkale Peninsula, on the road to Gallipoli

Sunday, July 1, 2012

1:59 PM

 

Ah, the sunflowers.   At more than six feet tall, they gazed down at me.  I write of three days ago, but the fields of sunflowers in Southern Bulgaria, as wide as two hands each, and strung across fields for miles below our campsite reminds me what the outer banks of heaven must resemble.

       Just south of Tsarevera, we perched at a campsite run by an expatriate English couple.   It was as well apportioned as a minor resort, at least, by the reduced standards of the Bush Camp experience we had come to know well.  

       The sparking waters of the swimming pool, warmed by the clear rays of the sun, felt like a warm bath.   Enveloped by the waters, one looked down the hill at the tents, and beyond them to a sweeping valley of yellow.   Farmers fields of sunflowers in three directions.  

       Facing from the pool-deck, to our left lay the camp taverna/restaurant, and to our right, showers, laundry, and lines.   So as one sat by the pool, service of beers, spirits, and my favorite, the signature “Bulgarian Rose” could be had in plastic.

      (A Bulgarian Rose begins with local vodka, mixed with a red Bulgarian liqueur, Bulgarian Rose’ wine, and Sprite.    It suffices to say that one feels it after a single drink.   That first night, I was not limited to a single drink.)

       The day would have been hot, save for the constant breeze that soothed ones skin by the pool, but turned our tents into spinnakers.   .... Continue reading about Bulgaria, Turkey, and Georgia at www.tidmorereports.blogspot.com

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