Saturday, May 24, 2008

A view from Ghent

Ghent ERC 05-08 02 The conference has ended, leaving me a half-day to explore the historic center of Ghent.  I was last here about forty years ago when my foreign exchange group spent a night here before boarding the plane from Brussels back to the US.  We must have been staying just outside of the city center: I remember nondescript yellow buildings, businesses closed through midday lunch, and a total lack of people on the streets.

Ghent ERC 05-08 08 I have a better impression the second time around.  The historic core is pedestrian-only and the old harbor area has been extensively rehabilitated.  Dramatic lighting has been added throughout the core to highlight buildings and improve safety, and this has brought lots of people out to enjoy the restaurants and cafes.  It gets a bit kitsch in places (the castle tours and canal boats are more 'Disney cute' than historically informative), but the overall ambience has really improved.

My hotel turned out to be a half hour walk from the center (another reminder to check city maps when booking), and neighborhoods south of the core were more like I remembered: empty, shuttered, quiet, and a bit rough at the edges.  But the city is worth a visit, especially in the evenings when the central streets come to life.

Ghent ERC 05-08 15    Ghent ERC 05-08 18

Ghent ERC 05-08 35 Ghent ERC 05-08 19

Ghent ERC 05-08 16  Ghent ERC 05-08 28

Friday, May 23, 2008

Do not destroy what you cannot create.

Broads May 08 01As we continue the difficult and sometimes contentious work of dismantle the company here in Arnhem, I'm reminded again of my hierarchy of things I enjoy doing, in work or outside of it. I'm someone who loves exploration and epiphany, so it's not surprising that I find my greatest joys in creating new things. If pressed, I will maintain or repair them if I value the result. I really have not got much heart for tearing things down after I've built or committed to them: it saddens and frustrates me.

I am attending a resuscitation conference in Ghent this week, and it's exciting to see all the new ideas that people have for ways to save lives when people have a heart attack. It's also restorative to have so many old friends to catch up with and to share ideas with. I had to break at noon for a conference call to update status and policies around the transfer of the product and the closure of the facility, and the contrast couldn't have been greater.

I always liked physicist Leo Szilard's ten commandments in this light, and it's worth repeating them:

1. Recognize the relationships between things and the laws which govern men's actions, so that you know what you are doing.

2. Direct your deeds to a worthy goal, but do not ask if they will achieve the goal; let them be models and examples rather than means to an end.

3. Speak to all others as you do to yourself, without regard to the effect you make, so that you do not expel them from your world and in your isolation lose sight of the meaning of life and the perfection of the creation.

4. Do not destroy what you cannot create.

5. Touch no dish unless you are hungry.

6. Do not desire what you cannot have.

7. Do not lie without need.

8. Honor children. Listen to their words with reverence and speak to them with endless love.

9. Do your work for six years; but in the seventh, go into solitude or among strangers, so that the memory of your friends does not prevent you from being what you have become.

10. Lead your life with a gentle hand and be ready to depart whenever you are called.

Fortunately, since the human race seems to advance over time, there must be more creation than destruction going on in the world.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Once around the Broads

Norfolk, of course...

Broads May 08a 12 I finished with business in the UK on Friday and had a beautiful weekend to spend on the Norfolk Broads, a web of waterways in pristine forests and marshland east of Cambridge. This is a very traditional British yachting area, and we were lucky to explore it with Zoe, a restored gaff-rigged broads cruiser built around 1900.

Broads Cruisers are wide, shallow-keel boats, able to avoid the mud and tidelands that make up the area. Zoe is a beautiful wooden sailer with a full Victorian stern, unique among the yachts sailing the area. No winches, no electronics, no shower: this is sailing the way it once was, close to the elements in a heavy, warm cradle of a ship. I had never sailed a gaff rig before, so it took a bit of practice to get the rhythm of it, handling theBroads May 08 50 boom at both top and bottom of the square sail. It makes for a lot of ropework and a lot more weight to haul up and down the timbered mast. But the form and performance are really great once you get Broads May 08 23things set right. The cabin is small, just a couple of berths and a small gas cooker and pump toilet, with a roof that had to be lifted on my shoulders and braced into place at each stop to provide room to work.

At several junctures, the channels are blocked by low bridges, so the mast must be taken down to get beneath. While a lead slab counterbalances the mast weight, it's still considerable work to walk the heavy mast down and back up in a controlled way. The rigging is much more complicated than a traditional bermuda sloop, and can become a mess of tangled wire and rope if you aren't careful. Broads May 08a 03Anchoring is done with a traditional mud weight, which is a real struggle to free from the bottom each morning.

Overall, she's a physically demanding, but very satisfying and beautiful boat to sail.

The Broads were unusually vacant, and the wind was good, so we were able to sail eight hours a day, covering most of the main areas of the Broads. We were able to do lots of beating up the waterways in a staccato of tacks, then take an easy run ahead of the wind down another channel. It was easy to find sheltered marshes and still coves to anchor into for the night where it was quiet and solitary. Broads May 08 51 Waterfowl were abundant, providing a swan poking a nose in each morning or a family of ducks in the evenings to keep company.

The wind was cold, but the sun was warm; we didn't really get any rain or insects to interfere with the elemental pleasures of sailing. I enjoy helming part of the time, just handling jib- and main-sheets others: there's always with time to think, to talk, to laugh, maybe to spot a heron or a pike. In stressful or relaxing times, sailing Broads May 08 68always brings back patience, connection, balance, and reflection. It was even better to have the opportunity to sail a classic yacht on this turn.

For me, times just don't get better.