Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Shall I Retire? Will I Retire?

I continue to watch as my friends and colleagues go through the agony of deciding about when and how to retire.  For me, it’s been almost nine years.

And what about the minority of Americans who have prepared adequately for retirement? YOU would think it would be a simple decision to retire or to significantly cut back on work time after a certain age, at a point in time when finances have been secured and available.  These are the smart ones, the lucky ones, and the fortunate ones who have been at the right place at the right time, careful with their dollars, investing wisely, saving what they could.  Retirement decisions should be a slam-dunk!  But nothing is further from the truth. Retirement is not a slam-dunk even for these individuals.  Why so? 

Many people are afraid to retire because they are afraid to lose their perceived status and respect gained in their successful and valued careers.  Many people fear a life without work and the enormous dump of free time that will need filling with something new.  Many people feel wedded and contented with the routine that they are addicted to and fear disrupting and/or disturbing its comfortable configuration.  Many are afraid to venture out to seek new adventures for fear of failure.  Many people do not have creative goals in later life other than to relish the status quo.  Many people are so used to making money: they shun the temptation to spend any of it.  And some people fear getting lazy, slowing down, getting sick and dying, or turning into a motionless mass of mindless mush.  

A number of years before I retired from my position on the full-time University of Hawaii faculty, I was told by a respected friend that you need to have a well thought out plan before you retire.  She was in her 50’s, had a husband and family and retired after leading a major hospital as its CEO.  She had the vision and the means to carry out her retirement plan.  She treated retirement as a discrete intellectual challenge using the same processes that she used as CEO to manage a large hospital complex.  In the end, she was successful in her retirement, as she was as CEO.  My situation is different than hers.

I have been semi retired for almost nine years.  My wife died over twenty years ago. I have remained in the work force at about a 50% effort at the University of Hawaii under a totally different system of employment and benefits. 

My advice: IF you want to retire, retire sooner than later while you have most or all of your faculties. NOT retiring should not be taken as a failure but as a personal choice.  But if you choose to retire, you will find that there are more things to do than you would think possible. Free time enhances your quality of life and gives you control of your day and surrounding environment.  Maintain enough free time to force you to confront yourself often to make active decisions in shaping the next chapters of your life. Percipient self-awareness is key!

“If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self—himself—he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.” 
― Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

There are several retirement scenarios that I have observed over the past twenty years. I will present two, and try hard to avoid my strong biases to shoot out in these descriptions. 

Scenario No 1: Classical Retirement: To a life of relaxation and the slippery slope of leading to piggishness.  Just relax, lower your guard, and enjoy not having any pressing duties to attend to. Taken to the extreme, this can backfire badly on you.  To be sure, I have marveled at the number of friends and acquaintances who, from the moment they retire, began to gain considerable weight while simultaneously reducing physical activity to a near standstill.  These are the folks who are frantic without a remote control, who take every opportunity to sit rather than stand, who watch TV shows and sports and Netflix in gross excess, who consume increasingly dense caloric meals and snack relentlessly, and whose alcohol consumption increases unconsciously over time.  They are the bulk of the folks that I notice every time I step foot on a cruise ship.  It’s as if they have released themselves of any self-control lured by the immediacy of hedonistic, reckless self-indulgence.  But not all are moronic automatons glaring nonstop at some flickering screen; some spend their couch potato hours reading books – all kind of books, some good, and some better.  Some even enjoy gardening and other outdoor activity.   

The hedonistic identity is to not deny you the pleasures of life that you have heretofore abstained from but increasingly yearned for.  Pleasures that you have worked hard for can now be enjoyed, accepting the notion that life is short and you must live it to the fullest.  You should not deny yourself anything that will bring pleasure.  I don’t think you will take pride in your diligence in abstaining from eating mouthwatering cheeseburgers while sinking into oblivion on your deathbed.  

The problem of course is that your life is invariably made shorter by following a path of profligacy, and also less enjoyable as lifestyle abuses mount up over time to exact their toll on the human body. Chronic diseases are debilitating and draining which may be worse than a death sentence itself. Despite these cautions, this life style choice is attractive to the masses and even to a self-proclaimed, self-righteous health charlatan like myself who is intermittently tempted with deliverance from my self-imposed dietary manias.  Alas it would be pure bliss to not feel the mounting crescendo of remorse that invariably sets in like a shroud every time something calorically yummy travels down my alimentary tract.   

Scenario No 1 includes a healthier variation that calls for a more active life style.  I believed that once I retired, I would play tennis 4-5 times a week instead of sparsely as time would permit, encroaching on a busy doctor’s work schedule. (The problem is I quit tennis 10 years ago.)  Golfers would identify with this mentality.  Of course any recurrent physical activity pursuit is to be encouraged although excesses can be damaging and lead to exposure (sun and skin don’t mix well if you nest under the hot sun), injury (years of flailing on the tennis court has overworked my knee joints with my tendons ready to pop), and an enormous investment of time spend during selfish pursuits (a good or bad thing depending upon who you are doing what with and where your family fits into this overly consuming activity).  

Scenario No 2: Venture into the wilderness of the unknown:  Put another way, do something in your retirement that is completely new.  Something that requires skills that are different than those you have already acquired and are known for. Put yourself at risk for the unknown, in a place where you might fail or remain mediocre, or even excel if you are lucky and dedicated. Finding the right match might be tricky but a little common sense and dedication to self-preservation will keep you safe to choose wisely.  For example, taking up skydiving may pose an unnecessarily high risk of injury or death, while taking up race walking may have the same effect with infinitely less risk.

My situation can serve as an example to consider.  Not that I have any special talents in delving into the unknown.  But rather to display what contemplation processes took place in deciding on my first area of focus after retirement.  

I chose ballroom dancing as one “serious” area of retirement enterprise in stark contrast to my previous professional life.  Being an intensive care doctor was a serious and sober travail.  There was little time for levity except to flirt with an occasional nurse who was willing to play along.  Life and death and disability were on the menu on a daily basis, 24/7.  I put a 100% effort into my profession. Even when I was off duty, I felt guilty when I was reading anything other than medical journals and texts.  Family activities filled the remnants of every day, which was nevertheless rewarding and fulfilling.  My wife was a wonderful and understanding partner (for the most part), and my children were well cared for.  But, thirty years of caring for high-risk newborn infants at all hours of the day and night took its toll on me, my sleep habits, my personality, my sense of humor, my family, and my life in general.   Taken together, life felt like an incessant series of unhinged staccato lunges, everything was an emergency, and little was fluid or sanguine.  

Moreover, the fracture and cacophony of my former life was embodied in living the harsh sounds of my daily routine, dodging bustling traffic rushing to meetings with screechy chairs imprisoned by an endless stream of raucous pontifications. In the neonatal intensive care unit, it was the constant chaos of the staff frantically doing their jobs, providing care to vulnerable, helplessly sick infants, talking to families, and responding to the relentless shower of monitor alarms sounding off so frequently they produced a recognizable “music” all their own. 

Why ballroom dancing? For one thing, it was was the direct antithesis of my former life in almost every way. Indeed, new unused areas of my cerebral cortex would be called upon to awaken. However, it was mostly from my growing love of music. Having lost my wife to cancer more than 20 years ago, I have since been alone in the world for extended periods.  But I never feel alone when I’m listening to music, and more importantly, I am never lonely.  It isn’t just one type of music, indeed, I am fickle and drift from one type to the next…..Classical, Hawaiian, Latin, jazz, slow ballroom (waltz, foxtrot), and even tango which I truly suck at dancing. 

“Music is part of being human.” 

“The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain....” 
― Oliver Sacks 

“The only escape from the miseries of life are music and cats...” 
― Albert Schweitzer

And after struggling for years to translate the basic mechanics of the various dance forms into some muddled form of muscle memory, at special unexpected times, I feel I am truly dancing.  I am no longer conscious of my posture and technique or thinking what’s next; my movements are ordered by the music itself.  A truly wonderful feeling that is impossible to fully describe – other than to others who have experienced this thrill.  

When I am dancing, I feel I could dance forever if it weren’t for my hurting, tender feet, my starched left Achilles that resists stretch, and the limitations of my aging body parts and joints.  Even the grumpy philosopher Nietzsche loved music and dance.

“To live is to suffer; to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”

 “We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

This was the perfect egress from my former life calling for a totally different skill set that I had heretofore ever experienced.  And risky too… one wants to fail…..I was a good doctor… then be a shit ballroom dancer would be a hard pill to swallow.  But without risk there is no sense of adventure or excitement, no self-awareness, no immediacy.  Indeed, I could continue to live my former life trudging on day after day as mindless as the Myth of Sisyphus.  It was the routine I had become accustomed to; it was the routine I felt safe with.  But at some point in my life, I realized I was slowly dying inside, and at unexpected times, I felt I was nowhere to be found. Something else was occupying me.  It was indeed time for something new.  It didn’t matter that on the surface, everything seemed normal.  I was important and prosperous and respected and responsible for the many human lives around me.  It took an act of faith to give this all up.

But this is the departure that I feel represents the critical moment of truth.  Not everyone is willing to abandon the safety of his or her routine. Not everyone is able to acknowledge or even understand or admit his or her self-imposed captivity.  And not everyone is willing to risk losing what is known for the unknown.  Ergo, not everyone should venture into the wilderness for something new. To decide to continue the course is not a failure or weakness or cowardly response, it is an acknowledgment and recognition that for that individual, doing what they did yesterday and today is what truly makes them happy.  But at the very least, everyone should consider all of the variables in choosing what direction to take in order to avoid that moment of truth, when you realize the immutable certainty that its too late to venture into the wilderness of the unknown.  

I live life in chapters.  After nine years of semi retirement, and seven years of ballroom dance competitions, I am looking forward to Chapter 6 in my life.  And I am just as anxious now as I was nine years ago in deciding how Chapter 1-5 will shape Chapter 6.  But alas, this writing has already contributed a smidgeon to the process…………………  

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Most People Will Work Until the Day They Die

Most people will work until the day they die.  The cost of living is prohibitive, and costs continue to rise beyond expectation or reason.  Virtually everything costs more than it should and it seems that every retailer takes any opportunity to bilk the public of every last drop of blood they can squeeze….Look at airline fares that change by the day by more than 30-50% even when fuel is at bargain basement prices.   Go to an isolated resort and deal with the exorbitant prices that are charged for nothing.  I used to claim this of Europe; now that the dollar has strengthened, it seems that US prices are the shocker!

Getting to the point, the truth is that the majority of American have not prepared for retirement, spending every penny on yesterday and today and tomorrow hoping that a miracle will provide for next week and next month.  I refer you to one of many websites detailing the challenges facing American’s in retirement: 

But it feels like things are getting worse, not better.  We are not alleged to be in a recession, but it seems like there is little hope for any upward mobility for the masses, dealing with the reality of rising prices that continue to do so unscrupulously, while wishing to squirrel away a few dollars for those later years of life in retirement. 

Indeed, a growing number of Americans will be in debt for the rest of their lives, not only with mortgage payments, car loans, credit card debt, alimony and child support, but also many have amassed enormous debt from extraordinary loans for college, graduate school and/or professional school.  Accumulated debt of up to ¼ million dollars is now commonplace per individual; the total debt has now surpassed one trillion dollars nationally!  To make matters worse, many students continue accumulating student debt just to postpone payback (the clock begins to tick when you complete your education).  In addition to student loans, Americans are infamous for compulsive spending on frivolous items and luxuries that ironically backfire in later life when they can no longer be afforded.  Pay now or pay later!

American Household Debt: Current as of August 2015
U.S. household consumer debt profile:
  • Average credit card debt: $15,706
  • Average mortgage debt: $156,333
  • Average student loan debt: $32,953
In total, American consumers owe:
  • $11.85 trillion in debt
    • An increase of 1.7% from last year
  • $890.9 billion in credit card debt
  • $8.17 trillion in mortgages
  • $1.19 trillion in student loans
    • An increase of 7.1% from last year

Increasingly, its not a matter of if or when to retire, but rather how to earn enough to get by in your later moments of life, assuming that accumulated debt will continue to drain whatever income you have earned or stored away for emergencies and to fulfill your retirement fantasy. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

British Isles Cruise 2015 – Final Chapter – Crystal Cruises, Canterbury & Belfast

On Delta Airlines flying home:  I’m in a groggy shell shocked state of mind after a ten hour flight from London to Seattle, oozing with fatigue but happy that the transport from Canterbury to London Heathrow went well, and that we found our way to the gate and even spent an hour in the business class lounge before our on- time departure.  I must admit that the food was pretty good on the flight to Seattle and mighty plentiful.  But now I feel guilty that the extra pounds of flesh amassed during the cruise and the immediate aftermath, taken together, will agonizingly require at least a month of fasting to shed. Indeed, I sense the imminence of tomorrow’s remorse creeping upon me already, tummy prodding on and over my trousers, evidence of the damage that I have done to myself and its consequences.   But lets not jump the gun……..

One of many murals in Belfast telling the story of
the Protestant Catholic struggle

Crumlin Road Jail - A nearby surprise for those condemmed

Crumlin Road Prison
shipyard where Titanaic and other ships built in Belfast Harbor
Belfast: Belfast was the last city in Northern Ireland (remember Northern Ireland is occupied by the Brits unlike independent Ireland that resides in the south) visited since Londonderry was bypassed due to inclement weather preventing us from docking at our scheduled visit.  Belfast seemed a city in chronic mourning that is recovering slowly from the mayhem of the past.  We witnessed this theme during a walking tour that lasted three hours going from place to place, reliving the sentinel moments of violence, bombing, and shootings that fueled the hatred between the Protestants and Catholics.  To us, there was no adequate explanation or rationale for such hatred or violence………which nevertheless continues to embody the nature of man, proven over and over in history, never more palpable than now in the present.

But perhaps our most enjoyment –hummm maybe a better work is education or enlightenment… in Belfast came from spending the better part of three hours at the Titanic Museum where we relived the evolution and full history of the Titanic from pre-birth to postmortem.  It was truly a memorable museum experience.

Just by chance, Sally and John, very close friends of my wife Scherer were also on the
cruise.  This was mighty eerie since it was EXACTLY 20 years since her passing. 

Crystal Cruises: It was our fourth Crystal Cruise and I must admit there were a few differences that we observed.  But not all of them were negative.  Indeed, some guests were a bit more (and I think unfairly) critical as they described a progressive downward spiral in service and food quality that they have observed after umpteen Crystal cruises.  For me, it was undoubtedly the best of the four Crystal Cruises.  I won’t go into a detailed justification for this conclusion but just some general comments.

The food was excellent but maybe not spectacular.  The Silk Road on the Crystal Symphony maybe a bit better but Prego on the Serenity was better.  The entertainment was fabulous: singers and dancers, comedy shows, magicians, piano player, ventriloquist, political commentator, other staff including the gentlemen hosts, professional dancers, and cruise director – Gary Hunter (he was fabulous).  There were even a few shows using local talent: a fabulous Beatles show when we were in Liverpool, and a traditional Irish dance and song show when in Ireland.  I really cannot complain about anything except the inevitable let down that we felt the moment we left the ship realizing that your every whim will not be immediately satisfied by a host of pampering staff.  Back to the real world where you have to wait in line just like everyone else. Back to the real world where people eat two or three meals a day instead of twelve.   And it was particularly difficult on this cruise to control ones’ tendency to pick just one more item on the endless sumptuous buffet display, when so much food was constantly blinding you at every moment of the day, begging you to partake.

I got quite a few dances with the professional
dancer, Beverly Durand - that was quite
We observed more families this time; the rooms were not dominated entirely by the typical geriatrics crowd. Does this represent a growing trend of younger people wanting to enjoy their lives before it’s too late to do so?  More Asians than in the past as well, a lot of Chinese, many from Hong Kong.

When they gave out the awards, some cruisers were on their hundredth cruise, one lady was on her two hundredth.  A few of the ladies have sold their houses and make the cruise ship their home.  This is what I believe will be the beginning of a growing trend.  If you think about it, it makes sense.

If you are reasonably ambulatory and self sufficient, living on a cruise ship that travels the world compares positively with being relegated to the confines of a nursing home.  To be sure, the advantages and perks are much more attractive on a high-end cruise ship than the unequal treatment that you might get in a nursing home, which is legend.   And in Honolulu at least, it is less expensive to live on a cruise ship!!!  Do the math and you will see that nursing home costs may run you about 20k/month or more.  I figure that the average expense for a month on the Crystal Serenity would be about 16k, but to be conservative, lets say its 20k.  So if you can afford a nursing home, you can afford a cruise ship.  And you get service with a smile, food in your room or at one of a half dozen venues, entertainment, lectures, dancing, bridge, computer instruction classes, swimming, afternoon tea, and the ability to venture out into the world to explore a new city adventure, or to return for another look.  Moreover, you get to meet new people and they are genuinely friendly since they are on holiday on their best behavior…..a far cry from seeing the same desperate looking faces every day wondering whether that day would be their last on earth.  On a cruise ship, dying is the last thing on anyone’s mind.  

An old house leaning forward and to the right

CanterburyCathedral - unbelievable in its design and detail

Canterbury Cathedral as seen from walking street

named after the Archbishop who died at the hands of Henry II

A guest house of the Queen that was used by some of her suiters
generating a number of salacious tales

the venue from our row boat tour

Canterbury: I never like to disembark from a cruise to the airport and fly out on the same day.  Shit happens and I feel that it reduces stress to buffer in one day of transition.  It was only a 20 min drive from Dover to our hotel in Canterbury where we spent the day, a splendid sunny day exploring the Canterbury Cathedral and the beautiful sights of Canterbury.  Walking cobblestone quaint streets were filled with an international mix of tourists, groups of children and adolescents, venders trying to get ones attention, restaurants and tour guides.  To be sure, there was an endless stream of things to do and see.  We took a wonderful walking tour that was led by an energetic and knowledgeable middle aged local who really knew her English History, was engaging and professional and kept us alert and interested for the two hours of touring.  Having to shoulder my heavy backpack, I was pretty spent by the end of the two-hour tour.  Back to the hotel to check in and unload most of our valuables in the sanctity of the room, and a few moments of rest revived the rest of the day for more adventures.

A tour by rowboat provided access to other sights along a bisecting city waterway but the quality of the tour was just a little too casual and the young man rowing the boat doubled as the tour guide.  I think he was a little spent since ours was his ninth tour of the day.  He was also distracted by a pretty British girl that was sitting just to his right, who could have been wearing a little more cover – to protect herself from the sun and the piercing eyes of the hormonally clogged guide pretending to not notice.  I must admit I glanced once or twice myself.

In any case, we ended the day at a local Italian restaurant.  The restaurant was of decent quality and price and the cliental were international and subdued.  The culinary experience may not have compared to the Crystal Serenity but it was good enough and a welcome change from eating on the Cruise ship.  And our dollars are worth more today than in the past, making our stay in Canterbury an enjoyable experience that did not break our bank.  This is an opportunity for more Americans to travel to Europe while the dollar is strong!  What a difference a few years makes in affordability.

The truth is that Canterbury is a beautiful town to visit and enjoy, and the experience punctuated the end of our two weeks of travel with an exclamation of pure delight.

A few more photos follow of Weymouth and the English countryside.............

Weymouth, a lovely English coastal town


Weymouth beach
Final photos: other views of the English countryside

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

British Isles Cruise 2015 - Chapter 3: Dublin – the Best City

What makes a great city?   My answer; you will know one when you see one.  Dublin is a great city!

I’ve had enough travel experience to know. I’ve been to New York and I’ve been to London.  I’ve been to Paris, Copenhagen, Rome, Athens, Brussels, Stockholm, Oslo, Hamburg, Munich, Beirut, Montreal, Ho Chi Min City, Da Nang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Anchorage, Toronto, Milan, Istanbul, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Jerusalem, Auckland, Sydney, Cairo, Tangier, Casablanca, Barcelona, Siem Reap, Madrid, Lisbon, Dallas, Bangkok, San Jose, San Antonio, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jackson, New Orleans, San Francisco, Budapest, Tucson, Bergen, Amsterdam, Florence, Salzburg, Dubrovnik, Vienna, Boston, Atlanta, Miami, San Diego, Quito, Lima, Helsinki, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Rio De Janeiro, Charleston, St Louis, Salt Lake City, Prague, Phoenix, Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Nara, Kyoto, Beijing, Shanghai, Durham, Columbus, Pittsburg, Washington DC, Baltimore………and these are only the ones I could think of in the first five minutes.

I wasn’t all that impressed with Dublin on day one of our stay.  Navigating in a clunky tourist bus amid the congested traffic and stopping for a few minutes to quickly view a few sights was unsatisfactory and unsettling.  Even posing next to Oscar Wilde was rushed and felt inconsequential.  We drove to one of the most beautiful places on earth and took some pictures (Wicklow Mountains and St Kevin’s monastery preceding back to the 6th Century).  Still the fatigue from the long curvy drive neutralized the benefit of the journey while rendering my knees and ankles frozen from the lack of movement of the long drive.  And then there was the vibratory torture from the bus’s pulsations transmitted from the road, which battered my leg muscles lifeless and intensely burning as if they had been slapped repetitively for 90 minutes with a wooden stick.

The next day was much better.  The city is divided into zones or quarters: Creative, Georgian, Shopping, Temple Bar, Antique, Historic, and Viking & Medieval Quarter.  We only got to see a smidgen during our second-day outing.

The weather was uncharacteristically sunny and cool, perfect for a walking tour.  The commentary from the tour guide was energetic, engaging and even funny.  The city was easy to walk, just enough to enthrall the senses, but not overwhelming or suffocating.  You were able to focus on the subject at hand. The city was fluid and had something for everyone.  Shopping in a beautifully crafted glass and iron shopping center just off of the walking street was pleasant and comfortable………although the shops were not as interesting as the shopping center structure.

If it was a museum you were looking for, the Natural History Museum or the National Gallery of Ireland were wonderful, free of charge (true of many museums in Dublin) and an easy to enter and begin to browse.  There were many that we didn’t go to that we wished we had (Irish Whisky Museum, National Wax Museum). Without all of the security clearance devices and ticket purchase booths and other roadblocks that are typical of well known attractions, it felt so easy wonder on the street one moment, and into the museum the next with virtually no down time or obstructive deterrents.  No one was looking at you or over your shoulder. It was indeed a pleasurable experience to navigate anywhere in the city without feeling like you were a foreigner, a tourist, a revenue source, or a potential terrorist. 

Trinity College was a lovely college filled with bright youth, and long lines of visitors waiting to see the Book of Kells.  We also ventured into the National Library, a historic building what was filled with displays of James Joyce, and WB Yeats. 

A dozen or more parks were found everywhere in the city (parks in Dublin were purposefully situated every so many blocks!), like the one that housed the statue of Oscar Wilde.  Some were large (St. Stephen’s Green) and some were small but all provided a friendly green and calming backdrop to a vibrant city filled with young people and not some not so young like us. 

A German woman asked our tour guide why no pedestrians in Dublin heed the traffic signals.  The tour guide responded with a lighthearted response……….  In Dublin, traffic signals are considered guidelines, not required legal commandments. 

Then our tour guide stopped at a curious statue of a fictitious Molly Malone and told an odd story that spawned a song which became the unofficial anthem of Dublin City.

There were many walking streets lined with curious shops and outdoor cafes (Grafton Street).  Everywhere there were musicians playing music and looking for handouts and maybe to be discovered.  The Temple Bar area was also a must for party enthusiasts with bar after bar filled with tourists and probably some locals drinking a pint of Guinness beer, chatting and laughing and pretending there was no tomorrow.

The Irish are an exceedingly friendly people who have no qualms about striking up a conversation anywhere anytime.  The city filled with the new and the old (buildings and landmarks) and the young and old (locals and tourists) all blending into a lovely community that was easy to navigate, friendly and inviting.  Indeed, each street corner included a multidirectional sign that pointed you in the proper direction of the most popular tourist attractions and important landmarks.  Even if you didn’t sport a map of Dublin, you could find your way around using these directional indicators without difficulty.  Signs were everywhere in Dublin; nobody got lost if you could read English.

And of course, directions were clearly marked to find the one landmark no one visiting Dublin should miss; the Guinness Brewery that commands a large block of land in downtown Dublin!

Dublin is truly a great city!  One of my most favorites - belonging to the highest category that includes: Prague, Florence, Copenhagen, Vancouver and San Francisco. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

British Isles Cruise 2015 – Chapter 2: History of Slavery in Liverpool!

Three more days have passed and you must think I drank some bad tonic to enlist such an inappropriate subtitle! But please be patient.

Liverpool, Glasgow and Dublin have now been visited.  I’m happy to say that I have finally set foot on Scottish and Irish soil and it was truly a wonderful experience.   But I expected as much after so much chatter from friends about how beautiful Scotland and Ireland are - both in the cities and in the countryside, its kind and proud people, and its key role in local and world history.  Nevertheless, for now, I’ll leave these memories locked up inside, and dedicate the rest of this blog Chapter 2 to Liverpool. (I have one more day in Dublin and maybe I will be inspired to write something later).

Liverpool: I was prepared for Liverpool as an industrial wasteland, dirty, dreary and depressing!  It was the home of the Beatles, and that’s the only reason worth going there.

Nothing was further from the truth…really!  As for some examples, a few pictures, when posted, will showcase the beauty and majesty of the two cathedrals, one representing the Church of England and the other one Catholic.  But more broadly, the city was filled with old and well preserved buildings centuries old, but it also had its share of those in some disrepair.  Town squares, statutes of famous dignitaries, the hustle and bustle of a vibrant city and a very well done harbor area prepared perfectly to accommodate a growing number of visitors making Liverpool an easy and enjoyable city to visit and navigate.  Some lovely historical residential areas were in the process of revival and repair, not unlike other cities in England or elsewhere on the globe.  Liverpool was quite a nice city overall, nothing to be embarrassed about, as for example one truly in disrepair - Blackpool, which I have disparagingly written about previously.

Of course, memorabilia and historical landmarks about the Beatles dominate the city with places to go and things to see.  Nearly every street is dotted with reminders of the places and events that were crucial in the evolution of the Beatles.  The Beatles Museum was quite wonderful and entertaining…and brought back memories of when I first heard the Beatles play on the Ed Sullivan Show as a senior in High School, three months before graduating and going off to college.  And of course, everyone needs to go the Cavern, the underground venue that the Beatles became famous playing in.

Having squandered the better part of the morning at the Beatles Museum, in anticipation of our scheduled afternoon half-day city tour, we drifted back to the ship for lunch.  On the way, we visited several other museums without the time to fully invest in them, which was truly a shame.  They included the maritime museum that included displays and historical relics from the Lusitania as well as the Titanic.  The other museum that was located on the top floor of the complex was the Slavery Museum!!!!  What was that all about??????

It turns out that Liverpool was extremely engaged in slave trading of the 18th Century.  In fact, it was the European slave trading capital, responsible for over half of the three million slaves transported from Africa and then sold, including those sent to North America.  In its busiest period in the late 1700’s, hundreds of ships were working simultaneously to transport Africans around the globe. Of course, without the time to fully invest into the museum, I have very little insight into how this plays into the history of the city or its moral recompense.  I do know that slave trading made many folks very rich and bolstered the English economy until slavery was finally abolished in 1807.  To be honest, it makes me extremely uncomfortable to write about this without further explanation or context.  It becomes even more painful to admit that anything so offensive as slave trading had any positive impact on the health and wellbeing of a major British city; indeed, this is beyond repugnant!

Am I the only human on earth that didn’t know about Liverpool’s role in slave trading????  And so I am now completely embarrassed that my knowledge of Liverpool was heretofore limited to its portrayal as a boring industrial town, whose most important claim to fame was that it was the home of the Beatles.

Maybe I should not be so hard on myself.  Certainly, Liverpool does not want to dwell on its roll as a slave trading capital for the same reason it was a slave trading capital – because it created economic prosperity. Obviously, dwelling on this theme in the present would have the opposite effect.  The Beatles venues now sit as the major attractions for tourists and other visitors to spend their money on.  They will remain forever a major attraction and cash cow.  The city would like nothing more than to bury its dark history of the past and concentrate on the story of the most celebrated musical group in the history of the world!