Never Again...until...well...now

   The Nazis at Auschwitz used the word Stücke or pieces to describe and completely dehumanize their captives. They didn't start out calling them that. Back in the 1930s in a Nazi propaganda film, immigrants in general were referred to as "parasites...bringing with them crime, corruption and chaos."

   Also, Auschwitz itself did not start out as a death camp. In the spring of 1940, the Nazi conquerors of Poland needed some place to house their Polish POWs. It chose an abandoned army barracks in the town of Osiewicz, near the Polish/Czech border. Only after iterations as a work camp for Polish political prisoners, then captured Russian soldiers and finally, when penning Europe's Jews in ghettos proved increasingly costly to maintain, did the Nazis hit upon the idea of "repurposing" Auschwitz for mass extermination. It took a full two years before Auschwitz went from POW camp to death camp. And even then, there was a period when the camp population still waged a daily "battle of starvation, disease and appalling physical abuse," according to a BBC documentary on the camp.

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Embracing your inner vermin

   It was the bug's bad luck to have wandered up the gossamer curtain in our hotel room, just as the early morning sun had revealed its presence like a spotlight from a guard tower.

   "Reid, please kill it, it might be a bedbug," Carol commanded, as her sleepy, still opening eyes caught sight of the invader immediately.

I was more attuned to the thought of crushing an insect in the city that was home to Kafka's most famous work, Metamorphosis, than I was contemplating Carol's summation of the bug's identity as yet another swipe at my choice of low-rent accommodations. "Sorry, Gregor," I said, as I knocked it to the floor and crushed it into extinction, "but I can't allow m'lady to awake from a troubled sleep, now can I?"

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Czech-Mate

The 11:10 to Prague

   To a range of responses generally ranging from the bewildered to the bemused and on to the mildly annoyed, I manfully try to address the host countrymen in their native tongue. I greet them with a bonjour, guten tag or buon giorno. When it's time for the check, I ask for the l'addition s'il vous plait, die rechnung bitte or ill conto grazie. But all my attempts to address my Czech hosts in their native tongue were met with complete incomprehension. I think it's the Czech alphabet that's my problem.

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Must see must not

   The problem with travel in Europe for me are the cities with "must see" sights that you haven't seen yet. For a mindless wanderer, a must see creates an obligation, a commitment to accomplish, an achievement requiring plans, knowledge of opening times, tickets, lines, security checks, amidst a sea of selfies, tour group flags - and for reasons that completely escape me - cone-licking tourists in mock poses with a fondness for miniaturizing the particular must see into something that appears to be hand held.

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Split infinitive

Sometime early on this current trip, Carol and I began to think we might not be going to Hell after all. The combination of perfect timing, perfect opportunity and perfect luck that had befallen us in our previous travels had redemptively abandoned us so far. Where once we had been Roadrunner, we now seemed to be experiencing the aggregatable fates of Wile E. Coyote.

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Attack of the bike people

It is estimated there are 850,000 bicycles in Amsterdam. About 750,000 nearly ran me over during our stay there. By the time we left, the shrill little bell rings from cyclists warning me they were about to lay me out flat had begun to sound like a chronic medical condition. The Dutch are polite enough about not running you over, but to a man and woman, they claim their bike paths prohibitively as their own. The city claims they fish anywhere from 12 -15,000 bikes out of the canals every year, and several times I fought an urge to add to that total - while the bikes were parked or otherwise.

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Song of the standby

   Except my readers, who will hear about nuisance and delays because it's an integral part of the meaning of travel for Carol and me. Carol handles nuisance and delay with the peace of a monk and the patience of a pointillist painter. My handling varies, but tends toward an Indiana Jones sense of imminent peril. Between the two of us, we have a travel approach that is a comforting blend of serenity and an urgent sense of gloom.

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The last picture show

  I'd managed to book us into yet another disappointing accommodation for our last stop on our Wild West adventure. To top it off, I'd booked us in for two days. Two days in a place that when Carol looked up what there was  to do there as we were driving towards it, reported to me, "There's no there there."

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You can't go chrome again

   Nostalgia, when done right, is charming. When we rolled into Williams, AZ prior to our train trip to the Grand Canyon, I felt we had discovered a little town that had gotten nostalgia just right. Carol was still a bit unsettled from seeing our accommodations for the next two nights. Even after I had explained how the guy backing up next to us in his pickup with his personal belongings neatly tied off in hefty bags had made his reservation using Expedia.com, she remained skeptical, suspecting I'd once again booked us into a hotel occupied by characters in a Rob Zombie movie.

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Grand illusion

   I can sum up my initial view of the Grand Canyon this way: totally fake. There is no way a river is responsible for what you see here. The Mississippi River has been depositing Minnesota onto Louisiana for eons, but it still looks like Louisiana, which is to say, an unreclaimed swamp. That's what rivers are supposed to do. They do not paint breathtaking landscapes like they were van Gogh or Monet. Even the little kid standing next to me told his mommy, "it looks fake."

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Road trip

    It was the day Carol looked into the living room and didn't see me on the couch. She called out for me. The thing was, I was sitting on the couch as I'd been for the last whenever. "I'm right here," I said waving to her, a wan smile on my face. When I realized that she could no long discern my outline on the couch from that of the couch itself, I said, "We need a road trip."

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The Sabbatical: Hurricanes 101

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in 1965, much of St. Bernard Parish and Chalmette were flooded to a depth of about five feet. These were the days before federal flood insurance and FEMA trailers. What was available was a loan from the Small Business Association, which my parents dutifully took out and repaid just in time for Hurricane Katrina.

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The Sabbatical: Bayou Blues

   My family's roots are submerged in the bayous of Louisiana. If you think Louisiana is the armpit of the country, then the bayous are the pit hairs.

   My grandparents raised eight kids on little more than what could be hooked, dragged, dredged, gigged or netted out of Bayou Des Allemands. My grandfather was a barber; my grandmother ran an ice cream parlor. Between my grandfather not charging the Depression-devastated inhabitants for their haircuts and my grandmother frightening the children who came in her shop at the wrong time for ice cream, my grandparents eventually lit out for greener pastures: the reclaimed malarial swamp known as Chalmette, where I grew up.

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