Friday, July 13, 2018

Hub Of Liguria

Shaped like a salmon, Liguria, Italy extends from the French border to Tuscany, and features nearly 250 miles of gorgeous beaches from Ventimiglia to Portovenere. It’s much like you'll find on the French Riviera, only with an unmistakably Italian twist. At its epicenter is Genoa (above and below), hub of the Italian Riviera.

Marking our 40th wedding anniversary, we booked passage to Genoa by way of Frankfurt and secured a berth at the Hotel Colombo, located among the cobbled, history-steeped streets lining Porto Antico. The old port has been renovated and features newer dockside areas lined with fishing boats, ferries, yachts and cruise liners.

Genoa, founded several centuries before the birth of Christ, was an important Roman port and was later occupied by Franks, Saracens and Milanese. The first ring of defensive walls was constructed in the 12th century. Just steps from our hotel, the Porta Soprano (above), built in 1155 A.D., is the only remaining section of the wall.

To its credit, Genoa was the first northern city to rise up against the Nazi occupation and the Italian Fascists, liberating the city before the arrival of Allied troops. Coincidentally, we watched “The Secret of San Vittorio,” the story of a small Italian village that refused to give up its wine to the retreating Germans, while we were there.

Our plan was simple, really. Visit all the shops, churches, art boutiques, and museums in Genoa. Then, we would explore the Italian Riviera, including the Cinque Terre, followed by a cab ride into the hill country of Liguria to visit our long-lost cousins, the Saunguinetis, in the little village of Isolona. Va bene!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Nature Of Time

Ever wonder about the concept of time? I know I have. Time has been pondered in literature and song for, well, time immemorial. “Time has come today.” “Time is on our side.” “Time waits for no one.” “Time after time.” “Times like these.” “Does anybody really know what time it is?” “Time in a bottle.” Well, you get the picture.

So, when perusing summer reading material, I selected a tome on the subject of time by Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli, who “uses a conversational tone to untangle the most complicated” of concepts, someone who is “known for making complex science intelligible.” The book? Order of Time. Okay, I thought, I’ll bite.

Needless to say, I’ve been fooled by dust jackets before, and this would certainly be no exception. Rovelli delves into quantum loop theory, the laws of thermodynamics and other subjects that remain elusive for the likes of me. At times, I was clearly lost. Yet, he offered several digestible nuggets to consider on the subject.

He starts with a few questions. Why do we remember the past but not the future? What does it mean for time to “flow?” Do we exist in time or does time exist in us? Citing Aristotle, Einstein and other great philosophers and physicists throughout history, he weaves through realms straight out of Marvel’s “Dr. Strange.”

First, Rovelli deconstructs time, using a relatable quote from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by English author Lewis Carroll: “How long is forever?” asks Alice. “Sometimes just one second,” replies the White Rabbit. True enough, because alternately, time can drag, or it can fly by. It depends on your perspective.

Without suffering through the worm hole that I experienced attempting to wade through the book, the short answer is this: time exists in each of us. There is no “flow of time,” and no “present” in the classical sense because our present does not extend throughout the universe. The "present" is like a bubble around us.

Yet the absence of the quantity of time does not imply a world that is frozen and immobile. On the contrary, Rovelli contends, it portends a world in which change is ubiquitous, without order from Father Time. The events of the world do not form an orderly queue, like the English. They crowd around chaotically, like Italians.

The world is not a collection of things, it is a collection of events. The difference is that while things persist in time, events have a limited duration. For example, a “rock” is a prototypical thing. We can ask where it will be tomorrow. Conversely, a “kiss” is an event. It makes no sense to ask where the kiss will be tomorrow.

Another learning: time for us is memory and nostalgia. It is the pain of absence. But it isn’t absence that causes sorrow; it is affection and love. Without affection, without love, such absences would cause us no pain. Even pain caused by absence is something good, even beautiful, because it is that which gives meaning to life.

To summarize: at the fundamental level, the world is a collection of events not ordered in time. The world that we have been given is a world seen from within, not from without. We must not confuse the world “as seen from the outside” with that which we observe, and which depends on our participation.

Rovelli ultimately poses the question: “How can we come to know so clearly about the past, about time, if we are always in the present? Here and now, there is no past and no future. He concludes, much like St. Augustine, that the concepts are within us. The idea is much more convincing than it seems on first reading.

“It is within my mind, then, that I measure time,” wrote Augustine, an early Christian theologian and philosopher. “I must not allow my mind to insist that time is something objective. When I measure time, I am measuring something in the present of my mind. Either this is time, or I have no idea what time is.”

Bottom line: time exists in all of us individually. In other words, it’s time to get crackin’ with living and loving, because this is our time. As the Zen poet Thich Nhat Hanh said: “The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment, feeling truly alive.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Buongiorno, Italia!

We’re off to Italy by way of Germany to celebrate our 40 years together and tour the Italian Riviera. With a base in Genoa, we’ll explore stretches of both the Riviera Di Ponente west of the city to the French border and the Riviera Di Levante east to Cinque Terre and the Bay of Poets on the border between Liguria and Tuscany.

We’ll stay at the Hotel Colombo near Porto Antico in old town Genoa and also explore the many ristorantes and trattorias available in this part of Italy. Toward the end of our stay, we’ll visit our cousins who live in the nearby hill country in the village of Isolona, where my grandmother lived before coming to America. Che fico!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Northwest Of Normal

Finally saw “Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey” at the Broadway Metro on Kesey Square in downtown Eugene, which was a trick of its own. The documentary on the legendary Northwest mountaineer literally takes the show on the road, with limited, one-day engagements in both the United States and abroad.

Recognized as one of the most prolific and influential mountain climbers of his era, Beckey has been called many things: rebel, recluse, outlier, showboat, schemer, womanizer and worse. The moniker that stuck, however, was “dirtbag,” a tribute to the nomadic lifestyle he fearlessly and unapologetically pioneered.

Born in 1923 in Dusseldorf, Wolfgang Paul Heinrich Beckey (later shortened to “Fred”) emigrated with his family to the Pacific Northwest to escape pre-war Germany. When he died at 94 in late 2017, the fabled mountaineer and author would be the first to scale hundreds of routes to the summits of the tallest peaks in North America.
Fascinated by mountaineering as a youth (above and below, with my Dad), my first exposure to Fred Beckey was in the 1960s, along with other Pacific Northwest climbers like twin brothers Jim and Lou Whittaker, Willi Unsoeld and Tom Hornbein. Yet Beckey was virtually unknown compared to his more famous comrades.

Shunning publicity, Beckey lived like a hermit in Seattle, sequestered to write, or otherwise disappearing for months on expeditions. A hapless vagabond, he was a wiry nomad with backpack and climbing gear. He never married or had children, never had a business or sought security of any kind. He just wanted to climb mountains.

And climb he did. By the 1970s, any self-respecting young climber could quote chapter and verse of the Beckey legend, a name ubiquitous among mountaineering journals and literary guidebooks. As a wilderness ranger in the North Cascades, I purchased the "bible of the backcountry," Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Climbing Guide.

Though he admits help with his definitive guidebooks, the series includes not only access routes but also rich detail and nuance related to the history of the area and the natural environment, including geology, botany and much more. Having visited many places he writes about, I was amazed at the detail and accuracy of his books.

The movie captures the paradox of Fred Beckey. On one hand, he was scorned by some in the mountain community for his cantankerous nature and obsessive quest for routes. His first ascent, in winter, of Yocum Ridge on Mt. Hood (the nose on the face of the mountain as viewed from Portland) is nothing short of remarkable.

Considered irascible by some, he wasn’t generally viewed as a team player. When partners were hurt or killed on expeditions, Beckey suffered criticism. When the first American team to summit Mt. Everest was organized, no one invited Beckey. The Mountaineers refused to publish his books at first but eventually saw the light.

On the other hand, he was widely admired by generations of climbers for his extraordinary exploits. In seven decades, he had claimed more virgin ascents than any mountaineer alive. His guidebooks were a fusion of historical insight, technical analysis, geographical research and a sense of awe, poetically chronicling the beauty of nature.

The documentary illustrates the many faces of Fred Beckey -- the vagabond, the charmer, the recluse, the intellectual, the rogue -- along with interviews with a literal “who’s who” of legendary mountaineers: Reinhold Messner, Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, Jim Whittaker, Ed Viesters, Conrad Anker and Eric Bjornstad.

“Dirtbag” details the life of the rebel climber with a clever aggregation of narrative, interviews and (interestingly) animation, and has already won more than two dozen awards for best documentary. So if you’re into mountain climbing and backcountry adventure, my advice is to buy the ticket, take the ride.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Change Of Venue, Venue Of Change

Talk about a stark transition: from the pastoral, peaceful tranquility of the Owl Conservatory to the boisterous urban gridlock of Amazonia in downtown Seattle. Quite the change. Arriving at the PRSA North Pacific District Conference, “change” would be the key watchword with a stellar lineup of game-changers in the communications industry.

Peering down from my perch on the bustling core of the Emerald City, known for its global icons like Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks, I mused at the this venue of change, as well as the game-changers who have transformed their businesses and organizations by tracking emerging trends.

Titled #PRSAGameChangers: the conference featured, among others, the likes of Frank X. Shaw, the Corporate VP for Communications at Microsoft, Scott McClellan, Vice-President of Communications at Seattle University and former press secretary for President George W. Bush and Nicholas Thompson, Editor-In-Chief of Wired.

Every keynoter had good stories to tell, but Thompson’s presentation was seminal. He started by providing a blunt statement of the current situation: technology is changing our lives in ways heretofore unimagined. Nothing less than a “disturbance in the force” is afoot, affecting numerous issues from privacy to First Amendment rights.

Thompson led with an anecdote, casually referencing a recent interview with the president (cue puzzled glances).” “No, really, for about 45 minutes,” he continued. They discussed the pitfalls of digital technology and how our lives will change. “He was very engaged, very knowledgeable.” More incredulous looks.

With the audience in the palm of his hand, he then confessed that his interview subject was Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, not the current president here in the U.S. Thompson (below) admits we are woefully unprepared to address issues that will inevitably come with the development of artificial intelligence and robotics.

How will privacy, security and cyber-espionage evolve with universal interconnectivity? How will tech giants connect with their publics to write policy for the benefit of governments and citizens? Most importantly, how will the media continue upholding truth throughout in the face of an administration that’s declared war on journalists?

All significant questions, to be sure. “Is there any hope?” asked one conference delegate. “Yes,” replied Thompson, “at the ballot box this November.” Addressing issues of design, culture, media, tech and ethics, his presentation compellingly highlighted the big ideas and fearless takes on our digital future.

As a former chair of PRSA North Pacific district, my singular assignment of the conference was to introduce another game-changer, Zack Hutson, Vice-President of Corporate Affairs for Privateer Holdings Inc., the world’s first private equity firm to invest exclusively in legal cannabis.

“On the topic of cannabis,” I began, “a line from a Grateful Dead tune comes to mind: ‘what a long, strange trip it’s been.’ Marijuana has gone from a practical crop used by early colonists for textiles and rope to an evil substance known as the ‘devil weed,’ leading to criminalization of cannabis nationwide in 1937.”

“But as Bob Dylan crooned: ‘the times, they are a changin’.’ Today, most states allow for medical use of marijuana, and eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized the substance for recreational use. Hutson directs communications in building brands that lead, legitimize and define the future of the cannabis industry.”

The conference also featured a tribute to public relations pioneer, Jay Rockey, APR, Fellow PRSA, (below) who passed away earlier this year at 90. His game-changing campaign for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair drew international attention, forever putting Seattle and the Space Needle on the map. His motto: “always try to do the right thing.”

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Axis Mundi

Literally translated, “axis mundi” is the center of the universe, the conduit between heaven and earth. For me and many others, our property in the pines can truly be that place. Any excuse will do, so when I have the opportunity to attend a conference in Washington, a sojourn to our "capanna montagna" is nigh inevitable.

The conference? The 2018 PRSA North Pacific District Conference in Seattle, where numerous professional development presentations and networking opportunities await. Meanwhile, I have the chance to visit the Owl Conservatory near Plain, the first trip of the year, for a bit of repose and respite. More to come, so stay tuned.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Guitar Maestro

Finishing winter quarter in the UO School of Journalism and Communication, I paused to reflect on the life of Tom Wheeler, valued friend and colleague, who passed away on February 10 at age 70. A man of many talents, Tom was a guitar maestro, self-proclaimed grammar nerd and journalism professor extraordinaire.

Having met in the early 90s, Tom -- former editor of Guitar Player magazine and freelancer for Rolling Stone -- was hired to teach in the magazine sequence. A master storyteller and expert on the history of the guitar, he authored The Stratocaster Chronicles, among others. He also moonlighted as guitarist for several local bands.

His interviews with guitar heroes such as B.B. King, Keith Richards, Michael Bloomfield, Chuck Berry and Eric Clapton were legendary. When son Jory and I attended The Who concert at Moda Center in Portland a couple of years ago, I took note of the reader board on the screen when the band listed special acknowledgements.

“The Who would like to acknowledge the following individuals….” Near the top of the list was Tom Wheeler. Later, when Tom conducted a research presentation on his many interviews, he made sure to invite his music buddies, including yours truly. “Any colleague who’s a fan of The Who is a friend of mine,” he wrote me in an email.

A frequent guest speaker in his “Media Professions” course, I would expound on the trials and tribulations of my life as a career public relations practitioner. A staunch supporter of journalists, journalism educators and musicians of all stripes, Tom was one of the kindest and most thoughtful individuals you’d ever meet.