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Frankfurt Book Fair, Timber Frame Buildings, The Gutenberg Press, and Kartoffelkuche

Note, these blog postings show what happens when I'm floating around out on the road. Time on my hands. I'm in Frankfurt at the International Book Fair.

The Sad State of United Airlines


United is a fossil of a company, still operating on an old tired model. The way JetBlue operates show how out of it United is. The United employees have to grapple with a dumb and inefficient setup. The 747's are old. The leg room is criminal. I'm short and when the lady in front of me leaned her chair back, it hit my knees. (For $119 I could have bought 5" more leg room, thanks a lot!) Food is atrocious. Beef stroganoff or chicken a la king, brown glop and yellow glop, take your pick. I was feeling pretty smug with my food from home: chicken breast sandwich on roll with mustard and garden tomatoes, cottage cheese and pineapple, and homemade cookies. Airlines should quit serving food, like JetBlue. It would save a ton of money.

The International Terminal at SFO is great. Good food, shops, and always a great art exhibit. Today it was on Warner Brothers cartoons and there were sketches and little figurines of Bugs Bonny, Wily E. Coyote, the Roadrunner, and Daffy Duck. Eh, what's up, doc? Beep-beep. Th-th-that's all folks. The conceptual drawings of these caracters, especially by Chuck Jones, are a treat to see. On the plane I watched Surf's Up, a Pixar-type computerized cartoon feature and, charming as it was, it didn't have the pizzazz or wit or life of these hand-drawn critters from the '40s.

The Frankfurt Book Fair


I've been going to this for about 15 years. It's the super bowl of book fairs. I meet with agents and publishers from other countries; foreign translations of our books have grown over the years. Stretching is in 23 languages. Homework, already in Japanese and French, is now being translated into Korean (as is Shelter). I stay in a small hotel in the elegant spa town Bad Homburg, about 20 miles north of Frankfurt, and take a train straight to the fair grounds.

Semi-sabbatical 2009


I'm going to take some time off in 2009, something I've never really done. 3-4 months to travel, not deal with the daily business grind, do some fishing, coastal exploring, surfing, get refreshed in order to come back to work with new zeal. My wife Lesley is English and we'll go to England and Ireland. It may mean winding down our business somewhat that year. Right now I don't know how the details will work out but I'm committing to this now since it's all too easy to put it off forever. Giving voice to it makes it more of a reality. PLUS and I know this sounds radical, but I've decided to quit checking and sending email, for maybe a month at a time spaced over that year. I mean I'm a fucking captive to email. My generation never figured on this. We thought we'd go the rest of our lives with letters and phone calls — surprise! And of course I jumped into it, especially with some 400 people on my monthly or so GIMME SHELTER email newsletter list. I'll see if I can pull this off.

Sleepless in Bad Homburg


I got into Bad Homburg around noon on Sunday wasted as usual from the 10 hour flight. I have never been able to sleep for 5 minutes on any airplane.

It's the being there that's great.
It's the getting there that sucks.


Survival on flights


I wear a "chi ionizer" around my neck, running for the entire flight. Supposed to create negative ions and, true believer that I am, I think it helps. I also always carry a little bottle of tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant that I rub in my nostrils occasionally to discourage entry of viruses from the shared air of airplane cabins. I bring my own food, get up and down at least 10 times, stretch often. It all helps, but the inhumanity and indignity of United's cattle car 747 setup takes its toll.

I went out for a run as soon as I checked in. Running for an hour or so and staying awake until night time at the destination gets me into local time. No jet lag. Bad Homburg has a magnificent centuries-old park and it was gorgeous in the sharp autumn light. Pretty soon I was feeling human again.

Jaywalkers nicht in Deutschland


German pedestrians don't jaywalk, cross against red lights, or walk off paths in parks. Being a barbarian from the west, I routinely accomplish all these transgressions. Running through the grassy meadows in the park is like being in the country. I'm staying at a small hotel and my landlady, Frau Birkendorf, is a jolly sort who's amused by me and worries that I'm not eating enough.

Brothers on Wheels


Yesterday a 6-year-old came whipping down the sidewalk on a skateboard. Yeah man!

Hessenpark Museum of Half-Timber Buildings


Took the (electric) train through the farm fields yesterday to this wonderful collection of ancient half-timbered buildings, lovingly reconstructed. It's a timber framer's dream. The art of diagonal bracing. Shot 200 photos, some of which are, ahem, stunning. I got better shots of half-timber framing than are in either SHELTER or HOME WORK. What am I gonna do with all this material? Or should I say content…



Field of Dreams


From the window of the train yesterday around sunset, suddenly there was a field of maybe 30 ponies, all different colors, all healthy, with shiny coats. It was like a dream, these beautiful little horses in a verdant green pasture backlit by the setting sun.

Trains, the Civilized Way to Travel (And this does not include high-speed trains)



The Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof is superb, as are train stations in general in the great cities of the civilized world (this does not include the U.S. of A). Train stations got soul, unlike airports, with the bustle, the food, shops, excitement of coming and going, the multi-nationalities and languages and the high arching ceilings and fresh air. It's the right technology for much of travel. Amtrak ought to be subsidized for chrissake!

Speed bumps on a street in Bad Homburg at night


Mass Murderers at Stanford


Worthy of note: The Hoover Institute at Stanford, replete in its right-wing cluelessness, is hosting war criminal Donald Rumsfeld as a visiting lecturer. Maybe Rummy will explain to students how he led this country into the disaster in Iraq. Then when the Bush administration completes its chilling years of usurped power, Stanford will see the return of the forked-tongue Condy Rice. Gurus for the training of Captains of Industry.

The Gutenberg Press


My friend Bill Newlin, also here for the Fair, and I went to see the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz today. The invention of movable type in the 1400s. Previous to this, books were produced one at a time, lettered by hand. Gutenberg adapted the wine press and olive press to printing, since pressure had to be applied to have the type make a clean impression on the paper. A printing press — I never got the meaning of the word before.

Cafe Da Pino


I found a microcosm of Italy, a cafe here in Bad Homburg, that makes real espresso drinks. No women. Bunch of older guys playing cards and yelling and emoting and waving hands in the air, hey, it's a romance language, che bella! Contrast to the hard-edged sounds of German.

If You Say So Dude…


Young tough looking guy, arms covered with tattoos, on the street yesterday with a T-shirt saying "100% Asshole."