We're preparing to fly to South Africa. We'll be crossing the Atlantic with South African Airways and refueling on the Cape Verde Islands before touching down at our ultimate destination, Cape Town.
The basic idea is to visit an old friend who lives in the Cape suburb of Constantia and who we haven't seen in 40 years. Last sighting was at the Porsche factory in Stuttgart, where we worked together in the early '60s.
Our only previous trip to Africa was in 1984, when we were helpers and guides on a client company's incentive trip. We got a quick look then at Durban, Johannesburg, and Pretoria before flying to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls and Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana - with its surfeit of hippos, rhinos, lions, giraffe, monkeys, gazelle, and more.
Much has changed since then, of course. But Cape Town promises to be something very special. And we'll have plenty of time to bone up on its history and all the tourist stuff on our 16-hour flight over. More to come, of course …
We were rather intrigued by a scheduled refueling stop on the Cape Verde Islands, and had to look it up to be sure we should be landing there. It does seem to be on the direct route between Atlanta and the Cape, so that part is OK. A bit more research produced a capital, Praia, a population of 383,000, and languages of Portuguese and Creole. Sort of what you might expect from a group of islands colonized by Portugal in the 15th century and gaining its independence in 1975. The "Verde" should have been a clue, though, because "vinho verde" is a wonderful Portuguese wine.
IN OUR LAST column, on Auschwitz, we didn't have the space to mention some of the books we've read about Poland in general - and Warsaw and Krakow, in particular.
The country's long and overly complex history is well covered by James Michener's Poland, and while we recommend it highly, we also won't hold it against you if you have to skip a few of the middle chapters to get to the 20th century! The descriptions of the concentration camps and the ghettos are very well done, however. And extremely graphic.
For more on Warsaw, the uprising of 1943 in the Jewish Ghetto, and the 1944 Rising, you have to read The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman. The recent movie of the same name, directed by Roman Polanski, won three Academy Awards, but the actual autobiography is 1946 vintage and was forbidden reading under the Communists. It's now available in paperback and published by Phoenix.
The Pianist is an incredible saga of fortitude, guile, good luck, and humanity by a world-class artist who lived in Warsaw and played well into his 90s.
After our Warsaw trip, we went right back to Mila 18 by Leon Uris, the story of the Jewish ghetto uprising that became a national bestseller in 1961. It doesn't feel at all dated and gives a pretty accurate description of the momentous events and the extraordinary courage of the participants.
Great courage, too, will be found in two Auschwitz survivor books picked up at the Jewish Center in the Kazimierz section of Krakow: Hope Is The Last To Die by Halina Birenbaum and But I Survived by Tadeusz Sobolewicz.
Another great read, of course, is Schindler's List, which was turned into a film by Steven Spielberg. Many of the sequences were shot in the Jewish ghetto of Kazimierz in Krakow which brings planeloads of moviegoers to Krakow.
These are just some of our suggestions. If readers have other special recommendations on books or movies about Poland and the uprisings of the '40s, we'd love to hear about them and pass them on.
ON OUR RECENT trip to Austria and Germany, we uncovered some rather interesting statistics about beer and beer drinking.
Touring the Stiegl Brewery Museum in Salzburg (highly recommended), we learned that the study of beer is called "cerevisiology" after cerevisia, the Latin word for beer. (Cerveza isn't far off, is it?) It goes back to Ceres, the Roman goddess of cereal.
We also found an instant hero in the fabulously monikered Theophastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, who lived in Salzburg in the 16th century and was both scientist and physician.
He claimed that beer clears the liver, reduces the chance of heart attacks, strengthens the power of concentration, and helps you sleep.
Also, according to our Theophastus - and contrary to popular belief - beer apparently doesn't make you fat. That's merely the result of a heightened appetite caused by drinking too much beer.