SOUTH TO SERENDIB (India and Sri Lanka, March 24-April 6, 2017)

Near the top of Mary Jean’s and my “bucket list” of travel destinations are Southern India and Sri Lanka. We had both previously traveled to northern and central India, but spice-rich Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka still beckoned.

No such trip was on our agenda. We were planning a month in Provence in June (the one part of France in which we never lived), the kids and grandkids were planning to visit us in the village of Lourmarin where we had rented a house, and this was not the time to get sick traveling in India (as has almost always happened on our previous trips).

Then, in mid-January, an email arrived from Dartmouth’s Alumni Travel Office. “Was I free to serve as the Dartmouth Guest lecturer on a two week cruise around South India and Sri Lanka?” The prospect of shipboard dining free of the risks of Indian food (and a ship’s doctor just in case) made our answer easy. “Delighted,” I replied.

Since I had lectured on Indian religions for years in our introductory course, preparing three lectures was a welcome task. In short order I had one illustrated lecture on “Indian Sacred Geography” (Indian cosmology and its manifestation in sacred spaces, such as temples); a second lecture on “Suffering and Salvation” (time, karma, caste and liberation); and a third in progress illustrating The Ramayana. Here’s a map of the voyage from our cruise brochure):


(Reprinted with permission of Criterion Travel. Image By Alexis Vilay © Criterion Travel, Inc.)

A word here about the title of our cruise, “South to Serendib.” Serendib is an early name for Sri Lanka. It derives from a combination of the name of one of the island’s dynasties (the Cheras) and a second term for “island” (dheeb); hence “Cheradeep,” or Serendip. The term “serendipity” was introduced in the 18th century by Horace Walpole (1717-1797) who was inspired to invent it by a Persian fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip,” whose heroes were always making surprising discoveries by accident and sagacity. An appropriate title, I thought, for a surprising trip that we had not planned on.


Following a long flight from Boston to Chennai via Frankfurt, we arrived at our hotel, the Taj Coromandel, around three on Saturday morning, giving us a late start the next morning on this pre-program day.

Chennai (formerly named Madras) did not impress. Lacking the grace of Mumbai (Bombay) or the British colonial monuments of Delhi, it appeared by night and day as a jumble of unremarkable buildings on busy, crowded streets. (In fairness, we really got to see little of the city on our brief half-day stay.) We made one foray out of the hotel to pick up nail polish for Mary Jean (forbidden on the plane), but it was a death-defying effort. Crossing the street in front of our hotel involved dodging an endless stream of fast moving autos, buses, and motorized rickshaws. We were lucky to survive the back and forth crossing.

The afternoon ended as the group of guest lecturers met for the first time to finalize our schedule of talks. Michael Golay of MIT would speak on energy issues and sustainability in the global and Asian context. Martha Crenshaw of Stanford would address the issue of terrorism, particularly relevant to Sri Lanka, which was just emerging from its decades-long Tamil Tiger insurgency. Annapurna Garimella, an Indian scholar, would treat artistic and cultural matters in contemporary India from urban design to fashion (at the end of one lecture, Annapurna would show us how to don a sari). Not present for our planning meeting, but arriving in time for our cruise departure was Peter Galbraith, former ambassador to Croatia and the son of John F. Kennedy’s ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith. Particularly fascinating to me were Galbraith’s reminiscences of watching as his father ably negotiated conflicts that roiled Indian-Pakistani relations.


As our luggage was loaded on busses, our tour formally began this Sunday morning with the two-hour trip south to the Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram. I’d wanted to see this ever since my late and respected Indologist colleague Hans Penner had lectured on it during our years of co-teaching Religion One. The site, a series of impressive stone-carved monuments, and a stone-built temple on the shore of the Bay of Bengal, didn’t disappoint.

Here’s a collection of sculptural experiments: large granitic boulders carved to create animal forms such as Lord Siva’s mount, the bull Nandi, and others hollowed out, reproducing the cave-like forms of some of the earliest Hindu temples.

The Shore Temple itself is a jewel-like edifice dedicated to Siva whose park features an assemblage of many sculptures of Nandi. Note the water in the distance.


As we approached the temple I experienced a brief moment of confusion. My impending first lecture on Hindu cosmogony and cosmology would argue that the entrance to a Hindu temple, reflecting Hindu cosmology, ordinarily faces east, the location of dawn, light, and the gods. Yet according to my iPhone compass, the observable opening in the small out-building in the photo above faced due west. But I knew that that outbuilding was a separate structure. Rounding the far side of the building, the side facing east to the Bay of Bengal, I looked up to a blocked portal, the main entrance.

Our day ended as we traveled back to the port just north of Chennai, where our ship, the Island Sky, awaited. Its multinational crew stood by with chilled towels and cold drinks, a welcome refreshment from the warm and humid Tamil Nadu climate. These greetings from an excellent crew after a day’s excursion, and wonderful meals onboard, were always high points of the trip.


This day was spent at sea, with a plethora of lectures. When planning this schedule, we were all a bit daunted. “Too much?” we asked. But it turned out that the four talks nicely filled an otherwise lazy day at sea. I was particularly fascinated to hear Martha Crenshaw’s brief history and analysis of the Tamil Tiger insurgency, as well as Michael Golay’s contrast of Chinese and Indian energy futures, with his prediction that because of its commitment and technology, China, despite its enormous current pollution problems, may become the world leader in addressing global climate change.


We awoke this morning in the northwestern Sri Lankan port of Trincomalee. After breakfast, buses took us inland to the ruins of Polunnarua, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The two and half hour bus ride to the north-central interior of the island took us through a region that had been torn for almost three decades by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, who fought to create an independent Tamil state. The conflict, which began in 1983 and lasted over 25 years, resulted in the death of an estimated 80,000–100,000 people. In the course of the conflict, the insurgents’ indiscriminate violence led to their being labeled as a terrorist organization, while the government side was accused of conducting a campaign of human rights violations. In 2009, with its top leadership captured or slain, the LTTE surrendered. Since then, tourism, which had virtually come to a halt during the conflict, has slowly begun to recover. Our tour was a small a part of that recovery.

Outside the windows of our bus, there was no sign of the conflict. We drove past modest villages sparsely located along the highway and separated by broad expanses of partially flooded rice fields:

Despite its grievous recent history, what first impresses one about Sri Lanka is the greenness of the landscape. Situated just above the equator (between 6 and 9 degrees north latitude) and reasonably well watered by monsoon rains, the island is intensely verdant. Equally impressive is the cleanliness of the landscape. Although Lanka is a poor nation, (Its per capita GDP at $3,900, which, although twice as large as India’s, is dwarfed by the U.S.’s at $57,000.) it’s amazingly orderly and clean. Roadsides are free of debris, and villages are tidy, a striking contrast with India, whose roadsides are littered with paper, plastic, and garbage (see photo below at April 2). When I asked our guide Latif how he could explain the difference between the two neighboring countries, he replied simply, “Buddhism” and added, “Buddhism teaches cleanliness.” Frankly, I’d never heard that before, but it’s a hypothesis worth pursuing.

Polunnarua is the remains of what was once a major political and religious complex, the capital of the ruling dynasty from the eleventh through thirteenth century. In some cases, brick interior structures are all that remain of what were once magnificent stone-clad temples and stupas. The famed relic of the Buddha’s tooth (his left canine), which, now resides in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, spent one of its stays here as local monarchs sought legitimation through religious symbolism. Here are some images from our visit.

Remains of the Royal Palace:

A beautifully carved entrance stairway to the temple compound:

The remains of one of the temples at the site:

The exterior wall of the stupa (reliquary) that is said to have once contained the Buddha’s tooth:

And the stupa itself:


As we prepared to board our bus for the journey to another part of the compound, a local monkey family looked on.


A few minutes drive away was the gargantuan stupa of Ronkoth Vehera:


And here a series of Buddha sculptures at Gal Vihara . . . .


. . . . with the Buddha in his reclining position:



Evening was spent in a fine shipboard meal and then sleep, as the eastern coast of Sri Lanka slipped by. We awoke with the ship docked in Hanbantota, an expansive, well equipped but still almost unused port on the island’s southern coast. The port and nearby international airport were built in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated Hanbantota and killed more than 4500 people in the area and thousands more in Sri Lanka. To build the port and airport, the government drew somewhat controversially on substantial Chinese investment, but its dreams of a major, tax-free transfer zone for east-west commerce have not yet materialized, and our diminutive ship was alone among the largely empty piers.

But Hanbantota is a jumping off place for the remarkable Bundala National Park nature reserve, a 25-square-mile wildlife sanctuary that in 2005 was declared a Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Following a short, 15-kilometer bus ride, we transferred to four-wheel drive vehicles and began a bumpy tour of this vast and pristine marsh with its many species of birds, reptiles, and large mammals. Here, briefly, is a selection of images:

One of the safari vehicles:

A stretch of marsh:

Water buffalo grazing:

A termite mound:

A tiny dragon:

A handsome peacock:







And, as dusk fell, we witnessed the sudden appearance of an elephant:

One of the wonderful things about Sri Lanka is that elephants range free throughout the island. But they face many risks, whether from collisions with motor vehicles or from the wrath of farmers whose crops they threaten. Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) is a major cause of elephant mortality. In two days, as a stop on our way to Kandy, we would visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, where a herd of seventy elephants whose mothers were killed or lost is maintained.


The short overnight sail took us to Galle on the island’s southwestern tip. Occupied over the centuries in succession by the Portuguese, Dutch and British, Galle bears the marks of each culture. Here, for example, is a scene that could come right out of a small British village:

Here, a Dutch reformed church:

The fort, built by the Portuguese and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, dominates the seafront:

On a promontory a young entrepreneur sells his skill at diving from the high rocks below into the sea:


As our day ended, we crossed paths with a group of schoolchildren visiting the fort. Note the boys’ neat white shirts.

Is this another token of Sri Lankans’ commitment to cleanliness (keeping whites clean is hard work in this steamy environment)? More to be noted is Sri Lanka’s adult literacy rate of 93 percent and 90+ percent secondary school attendance. The government furnishes education free for all children. Here, again, the contrast with India is striking. Adult literacy there, although making significant gains in recent years, stands at only 75%. School attendance in India is also dependent on family income, with the result that only about half of boys attend secondary school and even fewer girls do so. So Sri Lanka, despite its recently tortured history, shows that culture and values play a larger role in a nation’s advancement than GDP alone.


Morning found us docked in the picturesque harbor of Colombo, the island’s west coast port and largest city. Note the large stupa at the center styled on the casket that holds the Buddha’s tooth:

Our group split in two, one group heading by train to Kandy and the nearby Royal Botanical Garden, the other, which included us, taking busses to Kandy with a stop mid-way at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. There are critics of this facility who believe that too much time is spent showcasing the herd to tourists and too little seeking to return the animals to the wild. But given the dangers posed to Sri Lanka’s elephants by Human-Elephant Conflict, I wonder whether the public education afforded by this facility doesn’t justify its existence. During our visit, a school holiday, scores of schoolchildren were enchanted by their contact with these amazing creatures. These children will shape the future of the island’s free ranging pachyderms (again note the girls’ white outfits):

Here are some photos from our visit.

Feeding time:












An elephant stroll:

Down to the river for a daily bath and shower:


After leaving the orphanage, we continued on to Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth. I’ve wanted to see this since Hans Penner described his visit to me many years ago. Following Hans’s visit, however, the temple experienced a terrible episode in 1998 when Tamil insurgents detonated a massive truck bomb at the entrance. The bomb killed sixteen people, including the three attackers and a two-year old infant. Twenty-five people were injured and the temple itself was badly damaged.

Although visitors must pass through a security check at the entrance, none of this history is evident today. A walkway lined with flowering trees leads up to the temple:

Approaching the golden casket that houses the tooth, one can buy flowers to honor the Buddha:

Here worshippers venerate the sage:

The tooth itself is contained in a stupa-like gold casket about six feet high. The casket is kept in a chamber behind this protective tapestry and is displayed only during an annual festival. You can see a depiction of the casket on the tapestry:

Here’s some detail of the temple itself:

At 1600 feet altitude, Kandy is a bit cooler than coastal Sri Lanka, but a day spent in Sri Lankan heat and humidity can be enervating. So we were pleased to end the day with a return to port on board an air-conditioned (but vintage) train. Some images:



Farewell lovely Sri Lanka. We awoke this morning in the Indian harbor of Trivandrum surrounded by colorful fishing boats. The large statue of Jesus was a first sign of the strong Christian presence on this southwestern Indian coast:

Our visit to this city of seven hills would include three sites, the Napier Museum with its extensive collection of Indian religious statuary and artifacts; the Kuthira Malika palace, a maharaja’s edifice fantasy and testimony to the unbridled wealth of indigenous potentates in the pre-colonial era; and an outside glimpse at the Padmanabha Swami Temple, with its mammoth Dravidian-style gopura entrance gate.

As we approached the Napier Museum, we passed a colorful kiosk:

Some flower vendors:

And a striking topiary at the entrance to the museum:

The Napier Museum is a nineteenth confection of British and Asian architecture. No photographs are permitted in the interior, but the outside is itself an objet d’art.

I couldn’t resist this photo of an Indian dog near the entrance to the museum. All such dogs in both Sri Lanka and India seem roughly of the same indistinct breed (though of different colors), and all think nothing of bedding down on the floor of a bus depot, or otherwise busy thoroughfare:

Taking pictures was also forbidden inside the Kuthira Malika Palace, the seat for generations of the Travancore Royal Family. Its wooden construction is famous for multiple horse sculptures reflecting a passion of the monarchs. I confess, too, that the confined spaces and daunting heat and humidity made this a difficult visit. What was impressive was the evidence of the vast wealth of these local rulers and their strong relationships with the British aristocracy. This was a reminder that caste and hierarchy were ideas that didn’t divide but united the British of the Raj and their Indian subjects.

Wealth was on our minds as we emerged from the palace into the short street leading to the Padmanabha Swami Temple. As Westerners, we couldn’t enter its interior precincts, just as lower caste Hindus were once forbidden from doing so. Even today, qualified Hindu visitors like these must don temple garb to enter this sacred site:

The temple entry is guarded, and intruders warded off, by this impressive demon figure, and, as we’ll see, for good reason.

Recently, five of six sealed underground chambers in the temple were broken open by the Indian government and were found to contain an enormous treasure in gold and jewelry: the fruits of centuries of temple donations by dynasties seeking favor from Vishnu, the lord of the temple, and from the rulers that controlled it. Here is a website offering stunning pictures of the treasure found so far.

Based on of what has been found to date, the treasure is said to be worth around $18 billion, not counting its antiquity and cultural value. Some believe that when the sixth chamber is opened—it is currently “guarded” by a serpent bas-relief threatening death to trespassers—the total value of the treasure could reach one trillion dollars, making Padmanabha Swami the richest religious edifice in the world. The central Indian government and Kerala government are currently disputing control of this wealth.

Here is the single large gopura (gate) of the temple itself.



With a close friend whose family emigrated from Kerala, and having read many accounts over the years of this unique state of India, I had long wanted to visit.

Kerala is known for its religious diversity (about twenty percent of its citizens are Christians, who date their community from a founding visit in the first century by the apostle Thomas). For over fifty years, it was ruled by a local version of the Communist party (which lost power to the Congress Party in 2011), and the state’s social progressiveness is reflected in its 94% adult literacy rate. Our brief visit to the state’s largest city, Kochi (previous name “Cochin”) and its environs did not disappoint. Arriving overnight, we docked at a mammoth port facility, and in the morning bussed into the Jewish sector of the city. “The Jews of Cochin” are also an ancient community, claiming a presence in India since the time of King Solomon. Others date their presence from the twelfth century, and in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries following the expulsion from Spain, there was also an infusion into Cochin of Ladino-speaking Jews.

Sadly, little of this remains. “Jewtown,” as it is unashamedly called, features shops selling Jewish-themed trinkets. But with most of the Cochin Jews having emigrated to Israel, only a handful of Jews remain. These must join with the small number of others in the city and suburbs for occasional religious services in the Pardesi (“foreigners”) Synagogue. We were able to purchase a yarmulke and challah cover (for my sister and brother-in-law) that were handmade by a ninety year old Jewish woman whom we glimpsed through a window reading a religious text—one of the last of the Cochin Jews.

Some images of Jewtown:

Afternoon was an adventure to which I had long looked forward, a houseboat cruise through Kerala’s many interconnecting waterways and lakes. A one-and-half hour bus ride 55 kilometers south of Kochi took us past the usual array of colorful Indian sites. Here are some images from the bus of a temple festival underway:

A temple cart:

Arriving near the city of Alappuzha, we boarded our houseboat. Steered by a wiry helmsman, we joined the many other boats plying the waterways


The streams, canals, and lakes of Kerala are major centers of residential and commercial activity. Some of the commerce has waned but is being partly replaced by this large houseboat industry. Here are some images of our tour:

Boys bathing in the canal beside their home:

At one point, our houseboat (and the others in our party) pulled up along the side of a canal to give us a closer look at the village culture that lines the waterways.

It’s for good reason that India in general (and its south in particular) is regarded as the land of spices, since almost every savory plant flourishes here. As we walked, we could see spices drying:

Pepper growing (during the middle ages, this valuable Indian export cost more than salt and was sometimes used in food preservation):

A canalside house:

Maybe this is the moment to mention the dirt of India. Passing by this dwelling, I noted this open sewer. It’s estimated that 50 percent of Indians (mostly rural people) lack indoor toilets and just use fields, lots, or shorelines to do their business. Prime Minister Modi has initiated a “clean India” drive to spur the installation of indoor toilets, but according to one of our guides, this effort has been slowed by underfunding and corruption.

Contrast this with the beauty of India. On a nearby footpath, a group of friendly ladies in saris wave hello:

Further along, at the dock where we were picked up, a Communist flag waves proudly.


Having mentioned dirt above, here’s a photo snapped from the bus on our return. It’s a typical roadside in Kerala. The contrast with clean Sri Lanka couldn’t be more evident:


We remained in Kochi this morning, visiting sites we had missed the day before, including these fisherman who utilize cantilevered nets to pull fish out of the sea:

Large stones provide counterbalance and permit the men to pull the catch-laden nets from the water:

Here’s the result of a morning’s work:

Following a visit to the interior of the Pardesi Synagogue (photography forbidden) we returned to the ship and departed for the start of a long run up India’s western coast that would eventually take us to Mumbai (which apparently everyone still prefers to call “Bombay”).


Morning found us in Mangalore, where a bus tour took us inland first to Moodabidri and the thousand-pillared 15th-century Jain Saavira Kambada temple. . . .

. . . . and following that to nearby Karkala and the mammoth statue of Bahubali, a Jain adept and liberated soul (siddha) who escaped the stream of karmicly determined death and rebirth (samsara). Standing high on a hill overlooking the surrounding landscape, this tenth century monolith, 57 feet high and carved from a single block, is one of the largest freestanding statues in the world. Legend has it that Bahubali stood erect and unmoving in meditation for one year before attaining liberation, during which time vines grew his legs, as you can see on the statue:

Before returning to the ship, we had a buffet lunch at Soans Farm, an innovative agricultural plantation that has successfully introduced new varieties of pineapples and other tropical plants into the region.


We awoke this morning docked in the harbor at Goa, a former Portuguese possession for hundreds of years that remained an overseas province of Portugal as late as 1974. Since we had a good stretch of Indian ocean to transit before reaching Mumbai, this stop was short: a 7AM departure for a three-hour visit that included a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Basilica of Bom Jesus, containing the casket of St. Francis Xavier, and then a visit to the State Archaeological Museum. But awakening somewhat tired and with a lecture to complete, I decided to skip this tour. That afternoon, I enjoyed delivering my illustrated lecture on the Ramayana. As Diana Eck argues in her India: A Sacred Geography, Rama’s travels mark off many of the sacred sites of the Indian subcontinent, recapitulating in reverse some of our trip. So it was a treat to be able to introduce the travelers to this wonderful story of Rama’s loss of his beloved wife Sita and his struggle to recover her with the help of his brother Lakshmana and the wily trickster Hanuman.


Today, we’ve arrived at Mumbai and the end of our journey (though some travelers would go on to a post-trip excursion to Ajanta-Ellora, which I had visited years ago with my then teenage son, Matthew). Travelers would depart our bus tour in waves throughout the day, but we had much of the morning together to visit sites around the city.

Here we are aboard the bus, proceeding along the city’s attractive shoreline.

En route, we paused briefly beside the Taj Hotel. Here’s the old part of the hotel:

And here its modern tower:

The Taj first opened in 1903. Popular accounts (not entirely reliable) have it that Jamsetji Tata, founder of the great Tata industrial empire, decided to build the hotel after he was refused entry to one of the city’s grand hotels that was restricted to “whites only.” Tragically, in 2008 terrorists arriving in small boats staged a bloody attack and occupation of the hotel. Indian authorities, our guide opined, were slow in responding, and the attack ended with the deaths of 164 victims.

Our next stop was the Crawford Market, a rambling assemblage of food vendors in a series of buildings, some of which are now undergoing renovation.

Here’s a newer part of the market:

No need for a shopping cart. On entering the market, you can hire one of these fellows to carry your purchases:

A beautiful basket of acid limes, a variety I had never seen before:

Equally unusual and attractive melons:

A pluck of chickens:

A merchant amidst his wares:

India’s (and much of Southeast Asia’s) favorite mood-enhancing drug is betel. Here in a corner of the market a vendor prepares the stimulant by wrapping ground Areca palm nut in a betel vine leaf that has been coated with lime. Chewing this turns the user’s mouth and teeth a red color, as it does the floor or sidewalk when the used-up mixture is spit out.


Leaving the market, our next stop was a modest museum-library dedicated to the life and thought of Mahatma Gandhi. A nicely done bas-relief adorned the entrance:

The interior walls were lined with framed quotations from the Mahatma. This one struck me as particularly wise:


A room on the top floor of the museum offered a re-creation of Gandhi’s quarters in his ashram near Ahmedabad. Spinning wheels symbolizing his call for a return to Indian economic self-reliance and indigenous craftsmanship line the wall:

Our next stop took us to the rail station to watch dabbawalas perform their miracles. This core of workers distributes over 130,000 lunchboxes every working day throughout Mumbai. The insulated boxes are filled in the morning by the worker’s wife, delivered by suburban rail, picked up by the dabbawalas, delivered to the worker’s office, re-collected after lunch, and returned home by rail. These feats of organization and near perfect efficiency on the part of semi-literate workers have drawn the attention of the Harvard Business Review ( and were celebrated in the 2013 film THE LUNCHBOX.

A collection of lunchboxes just arrived by train:

A dabbawala carrying lunchboxes to the waiting bicycle-mounted deliverymen:

Our own lunch was at an excellent Indian restaurant. After that, busses dropped us at an elegant near-airport hotel, where the travelers could spend the latter part of the day awaiting the evening departure of most of our flights.

To conclude, I must say that this trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There was no way, traveling on our own, that we could have seen all the destinations that we did. The local guides throughout and the excursions were terrific. With our two bus tours to the interior and circumnavigation of Sri Lanka, I feel we had an extraordinary introduction to this beautiful island nation. I’d like to go back. And in our stops in Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, in particular, we deepened our understanding of the Indian subcontinent. Our fellow travelers, including alumni of Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Dartmouth, were wonderful conversation partners and responders to our lectures.

While traveling I had a chance to read Jene Drèze and Amartya Sen’s 2013 book, An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions. Drèze and Sen note India’s astonishing recent economic growth (7% per year), but its lingering problems of illiteracy, inequality, and sexism. They contrast India with Bangladesh, which, with half the GDP, has made better progress in education and the inclusion of women in society. For me, this trip confirmed their general finding. India is an emerging giant on the world stage and still one of the most remarkable cultures in the world. It is always worth the visit. But to advance further, India will have to follow the lead of its tiny neighbor Sri Lanka in creating a clean and sustainable environment, educating its citizens, and affording all of them, regardless of sex, caste, or income, greater equality of opportunity.




















Op Eds (Published & Unpublished)

How Will Neil Gorsuch Vote on Roe v. Wade?



How will Neil M. Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, rule on abortion? Will Gorsuch sustain the many impediments to abortion recently introduced in state legislatures across the country? Will he vote to overturn Roe v. Wade’s establishment of a woman’s basic liberty- and privacy-right to abortion?

Answering these questions is difficult because Gorsuch has almost no record of ruling in abortion-related cases.

In his service on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch ruled against the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, but this 2013 decision at best only reinforces the impression that he is willing to privilege the claims of people with dissenting religious objections to reproductive health care over the needs of the women served by that care. In 2015, in the wake of the release of secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood workers discussing the provision of fetal tissue, Utah’s governor stripped the organization of funding. When the 10th Circuit Court struck the governor’s ruling down, Gorsuch wrote a dissent defending the governor’s action. But this dissent was based on narrow factual matters and did not address the issue of abortion itself.

This leaves us with only one major source for understanding Gorsuch’s likely positions on abortion and Roe v. Wade: his 2006 book The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. Published by Princeton Press in a series edited by Robert P. George, one of the nation’s leading conservative intellectuals and a widely published opponent of a right to abortion, Gorsuch’s book barely mentions abortion. But there are significant strands in the argument that do not bode well for the preservation of Roe.

Chief among these is the principle of the “inviolability-of-life,” which Gorsuch believes rules out both physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. This principle, views human life as intrinsically valuable no matter what its quality or duration, and it stresses agents’ intent in acting. While it is permissible to discontinue aggressive medical care where the intent is to relieve suffering and respect a patient’s clearly expressed treatment wishes, Gorsuch argues that this principle forbids heeding a patient’s request for assistance in dying, whether by prescribing lethal medications or administering them, because the intent in such cases, by both patient and physician, is to cause death.

Bioethicists like me will quibble with many of Gorsuch’s aruments. One problem is whether it is possible or even desirable to interpret intent as decisively as Gorsuch wants to do. Does a doctor really kill a patient when she prescribes a lethal medication, or is her intent to help the patient to achieve his desired end of life? A deeper problem is whether the writing of a prescription is itself a death-dealing act or whether it is not more properly described as “getting out of the way” and removing state-imposed restrictions that limit someone’s access to needed drugs.

But these questions are beside the point. What is troubling in Gorsuch’s argument is his strong reliance on the “inviolability-of-life” principle because he never states how far this principle extends. Does it comprise the early embryo or first trimester fetus? Does it protect the third trimester fetus that has been diagnosed in utero with Trisomy-13? This is a condition largely incompatible with survival. Only a tenth of Trisomy 13 babies live beyond their first year. But if life is inviolable no matter what its quality or duration, will parents who receive this diagnosis of their fetus be prohibited from terminating a pregnancy? Only Mr. Gorsuch knows his answers to these questions, but the broad argument in his book is not encouraging for supporters of a woman’s or a couple’s right to make these reproductive decisions on their own.

From the perspective of Roe v. Wade, there is another, less obvious theme in The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia that is troubling for those who support abortion rights. Again and again, Gorsuch signals his preference for leaving complex issues like physician-assisted suicide to “legislative experimentation” at the state level rather than resorting to the kind of broad national mandate epitomized by Roe v. Wade. Although this is a popular position among abortion opponents, its effect would be to return us to the pre-Roe reality where women had to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to the few states (New York, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska) that had repealed their prohibitory laws. In effect, in a post-Roe world, across broad swaths of the country women would be denied access to abortion.

Neil Gorsuch’s rulings and writings provide no definitive answers to the questions with which we started. He is the perfect stealth candidate for the Supreme Court. But if his appointment is approved, the hints in these writings portend the effective end of the right to abortion in this country.




Havana, Cuba—January 18-21, 2017

With the Trump inauguration looming, Mary Jean and I chose to take advantage of the eased travel opportunities to Cuba created by Obama’s opening to that country to make a quick trip to Havana. We fear that our new president might limit or even terminate the convenient flights recently made available by several airlines. It also seemed a good idea to be out of the country on inauguration day. With an Airbnb reservation in hand, we drove over to Fort Lauderdale from Sanibel, boarded a Southwest flight, and in fifty minutes were at Jose Marti airport in Havana.

This proved to be a city of stark contradictions. On the one hand, it seems to be in a state of terminal deterioration. Although some restoration is going on in the city center, most homes and buildings have not been repaired or even painted in decades (a consequence, perhaps, of prohibitions on private ownership that were only eased a few years ago). Many people live in squalid environments. Two photographs document this. First, in the heart of the city the remains of a once-beautiful fountain:


And here, the rear of a deteriorating pre-revolution hotel, with its empty swimming pool:


But if Havana’s physical environment is deteriorating, its human one seems to be vibrant. Although our Airbnb was located in one of the poorest and most racially mixed districts of the city—many would call it a slum—we quickly learned that we were safe walking the streets night and day. Everyone we met—and I mean everyone, from neighbors sitting on their stoops to pedicab drivers or local merchants—were friendly, welcoming, and helpful. People of different races mix and interact as friends. When I asked our Airbnb host why there was no menace or violence in this otherwise very poor neighborhood, he replied that from elementary school on children are taught to respect one another. Bullying, he added, is never permitted. So while the revolution, the blockade and their consequences have diminished Havana’s material wealth, they seem to have enriched its human environment. Here are some photographs of our neighborhood:

Interrupted in their mid-road soccer game, three friends:


During our two days on the ground, we tried to see as much of the city as we could: walking the streets of Old Havana, visiting the leading museums, grabbing a daiquiri at Hemingway’s watering hole, the Floridita, and even taking an extensive open-top bus tour of the city’s outer districts. Here is a succinctly annotated collage of some of the sites we visited.

[NOTE: To those of you planning to visit Cuba, a word of advice. This is a cash economy. We didn’t stay in an upscale hotel, and, despite guidebook claims, we nowhere encountered a willingness to accept credit cards. ATMs do not help (and one swallowed one of my cards). The relatively scarce change agencies (“cadecas”) discount the dollar heavily. My recommendation for now is to change all the money you’ll need for your stay into Euros, and change these as soon as you arrive at the airport cadeca. Be prudent but not worried about having cash. Havana is safe.]


Thursday began with a walk downtown via the Malecon, Havana’s miles-long seafront esplanade and gathering place. Here, a bit out of chronological order, is a snapshot of this thoroughfare taken the following day from our open-air bus:


Downtown some building restorations are underway on the Paseo del Prado, the city’s most elegant thoroughfare:


Here the Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada. This has recently been beautifully restored with assistance from Spain:



Following a walk around the Old Havana neighborhood and lunch, the afternoon was devoted to a search for the family that welcomed Mary Jean to Havana nearly a decade a go when she visited with her wonderful (but now deceased) Canadian colleague Ben Scheck. Mary Jean had no idea of where the family lived or what their family name was, but she did recall that one of the daughters, Alina, taught mathematics at the University of Havana. A cab ride took us to this impressive pre-revolutionary campus:


We were fortunate to locate Alina, who came out of a class session to meet us and tell us where her mother and the family home were located. This quest took us to a gracious neighborhood in the Vedado district, not far from the sea, where we met her sister Alita, and chatted for an hour with both women’s mother, Ada. This energetic 84-year old still teaches English to a roster of classes. She regretted that limited mobility prevents her from traveling to visit family members and grandchildren who now live abroad. This theme of close family members who have left Cuba is one we repeatedly heard, whether from middle-class teachers like Ada or taxi and pedicab drivers. Cubans are proud of family members who have managed to succeed abroad. However, Cuba’s financial and political isolation separates them from loved ones.

Our day ended with an undistinguished meal at a restaurant near our Airbnb hostal. The reminded us of our dinner of the evening before. I mention it here, because it was so much a highlight of stay that we returned to it on the eve of our departure. Café Laurent is a “paladar” or privately owned restaurant. Expanding the food scene well beyond the previous state-run restaurants, paladares have been allowed in just the past few years and are among the best dining places in Cuba. Café Laurent is located on the top (penthouse) floor of what seems to be a private apartment. It afforded sweeping views of the western part of the city and of the sea. My meal, a black rice seafood risotto, was memorable. Here seated just after the restaurant opened, is Mary Jean viewing the setting sun:



Morning encompassed visits to the leading downtown museums. The first of these, the Museum of Bellas Artes stands in two buildings, one celebrating modern and another traditional art. We visited the modern art museum, with its striking building and extraordinary collection of paintings from the nineteen thirties on.

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I couldn’t begin to present the many wonderful works displayed, including an entire gallery devoted to the work of Wilfredo Lam, Cuba’s important Picasso-influenced artist (see: ). But here is one (semi-political?) 2003 canvas by Sandra Ramos that caught my eye. Depicting Cuba as a woman, its inscription reads: “The damned circumstance of water everywhere”:


Just beside the Museo de Bellas Artes modern art building is the Museum of the Revolution with its impressive memorial to the Granma, the 60-foot yacht that in November 1956 sailed from Mexico to Cuba’s Oriente province carrying Fidel Castro and 81 other insurgents belonging to the 26th of July movement. (The movement takes its name from the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks on 26 July 1953 that led to Fidel‘s imprisonment, his departure from Cuba, and his return in 1956 on the Granma.) The exhibit thus celebrates the start of the Cuban revolution. Here’s the Granma:


And just beyond a jeep used by Fidel is a delivery truck used by the rebels that was caught in a firefight during the early days of the insurgency:


The actual museum, housed in the nearby presidential palace, is, like its counterpart in Hanoi, an uninspired and dusty collection of revolutionary artifacts that exudes a sense of weariness with the revolution. I suppose that acolytes might thrill to this collection of Che Guevara memorabilia (including his medical tools, pipe and shirt with a 26 of July armband):


I was amused by this wall installation, “The Corner of Cretins,” featuring presidents Reagan and Bush, father and son (but notably not President Obama):


The rest of the morning took us to the newly opened Casa de Africa, with an impressive collection of statuary celebrating various Santería deities and a special exhibition of contemporary Gelede, Yoruba religious and artistic masks. Here’s a powerful statue of Eleggua, the most important of the Santeria orishas (deities):


And here, two modern takes on traditional Yoruba masks by the artist Wabi Dossou. Above is “La Clase,” and below, “Women’s Liberty”:



Our morning concluded with a stop at El Floridita, one of the many bars made famous by Hemingway’s patronage. Nowadays, it’s besieged by bus-tour visitors willing to pay $6 for a daiquiri. Surprisingly, though, the daiquiri was good enough to merit the visit.



Before leaving Old Havana and the Prado area, we took note of the beautifully restored 1950s American cars, many serving as taxis, for which Havana is well known:



Although this living, driving auto museum is one of the most colorful and famous aspects of Havana, we learned from one our taxi drivers that it derives from an unfortunate policy that forbids the sale of new cars in Havana to all but government agencies. This means that existing cars must be maintained and recycled. Our taxi back to the airport, a green restored and repainted 1950 Chevy was powered by a Toyota diesel tractor engine, and sounded every bit like the farm implement it was under the hood.

Following lunch we took an open-topped bus tour of the city and its near suburbs. This took us through some still relatively beautiful neighborhoods and past the elegant Miramar beach resorts and hotels that continue to attract an affluent clientele. Here’s one:


One of the more striking features of Havana today is the continuing emphasis on the cult of leadership with its pantheon of Fidel and Che Guevara. Here, at the Plaza de Revolución a building façade is dedicated to Che. The inscription reads: “Hasta la Victoria Siempre—Always on to Victory.”


Further on, a small government building celebrates Fidel (to the far left) and Hugo Chávez, described in the faint accompanying inscription as “El Mejor Amigo de Cuba—Cuba’s Best Friend.”


These images tell us that Cuba is at a fateful moment. The icons of the past, Fidel, Che, and even Chavez, are gone. We saw not one image of Raul Castro, Fidel’s bother and the charismatically-challenged current president. Will Cuba open itself to change? Will the US continue its willingness to engage? And if change comes will it efface what is so unique and inviting about this land: its open and gentle people?

Hoping that President Trump does not terminate the newly opened relations, we plan to return to Cuba next year in search of answers to these questions.


Response to Karen Lebacqz and Stephen Palmquist

On May 30, 2015, Dartmouth’s Religion Department hosted a conference celebrating my retirement and that of my colleague Nancy Frankenberry. For that conference, Karen Lebacqz and Stephen R. Palmquist delivered papers examining my writings in the areas of bioethics and philosophy of religion.  Karen Lebacqz’s paper, entitled “On Hope and Hard Choices: Ronald M. Green and Bioethics” now appears in the December issue of The Journal of Religious Ethics [Vol. 44, no. 4, (2016), pp. 722-737], where it is followed by the published version of Stephen R. Palmquist’s paper, entitled, “The Paradox of Inwardness in Kant and Kierkegaard: Ronald Green’s Legacy in Philosophy of Religion” [The Journal of Religious Ethics [Vol. 44, no. 4, (2016), pp. 738-751].

My own “Response to Karen Lebacqz and Stephen Palmquist,” delivered at the conference, follows their papers in the journal [The Journal of Religious Ethics [Vol. 44, no. 4, (2016), pp. 752-759]. As an author, I am permitted to share this essay with interested readers. It can be read here: response-to-kl-sp

Opinion, Opinion

My Review of DENIAL starring Rachel Weisz, Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson

This afternoon, we were privileged to see the new film DENIAL by Director Mick Jackson (THE BODYGUARD, TEMPLE GRANDIN), starring Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt, Tom Wilkinson, as her barrister, Richard Rampton, Timothy Spall as David Irving, and Andrew Scott as Anthony Julius, Ms. Lipstadt’s solicitor.

I am writing to counter the largely negative reviews of this film. Stephen Holden in the New York Times http://[ says that “The absence of an emotional catharsis in the film . . . leaves a frustrating emptiness at its center.” Writing in The Guardian, Nigel M Smith, among other things describes the film as “a standard issue legal drama with broad stakes and zero nuance.” And Stephanie Merry in the Chicago Tribune, says the film “may be competent at telling its story, but it’s missing one key ingredient: feeling.”

I could not disagree more. This is a riveting and beautifully done recounting of Deborah Lipstadt’s effort to defend herself against the libel action launched by David Irving whom she described in her 1994 Book Denying the Holocaust as a Hitler defender and Holocaust denier. Emotional scenes abound: Lipstadt’s engagements with her team of lawyers who believed that the center of the case had to be not a proof of the reality of the Holocaust but an attack on Irving’s historiography; Lipstadt’s agonizing encounter with a Holocaust survivor who felt that survivors’ testimony deserved a place in the trial while Lipstadt’s lawyers believed that this would only provide an opening for Irvings’ easy abuse of them as gold diggers; Lipstadt’s final admission that her lawyer’s strategy was wise, though it required her to put her own emotional interest in defending her claims aside.

Having read much of the courtroom testimony (Richard Evans, Lying about Hitler; Robert Jan van Pelt’s, The Case for Auschwitz: Evidence from the Irving Trial, I’m amazed that the film is able to present so much of the complex testimony. The individual performances, above all that of Weisz, as the courageous but conscientiously conflicted Lipstadt, and Wilkinson as her late night Scotch-sipping but dedicated attorney, are excellent. The editing and cinematography serve the narrative at each moment. This is cinema as it should be. It’s sad when able reviewers fail to see or support that.


Mediterranean Cruise—and Provence, September 28 to October 10, 2016

At the onset of fall, Mary Jean and I had the good fortune of participating in a Dartmouth Alumni Travel program cruise to the “Islands and Rivieras” of the Mediterranean. Cruise participants included about 15 travelers affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution travel program and 11 Dartmouth alumni and their wives. I served as one of two “study leaders,” the other being Aneta Georgievska-Shine of the University of Maryland. I offered three lectures on “The Mediterranean,” “Christian Sacred Spaces,” and “Sex, Faith and Fratricide in the South of France” (an account of the Albigensian Crusade). Aneta spoke about the art and artists of Provence. The travelers were all intellectually curious and appear to have enjoyed the intellectual content.

On October 6, we arrived early in the morning in Barcelona. While most of the travelers departed for home that day (or for a one day post-cruise tour of the city), Mary Jean and I found our rental car and headed north to Provence. This is the one region of France in which we have never resided, so our plan was to locate a one-month house rental for next year, finding the best village and home. Our three days on the ground in Provence were a special treat.

What follows is a brief narrative of our travels, punctuated by a pictorial record.


Flights arrived at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport where we were met by agents for Gohagan Travels, the firm that manages our trip for Dartmouth. We were then transported to Rome’s port, Civitavecchia, where our ship, the Variety Voyager, waited. (Here are pictures of the ship snapped later on in Marseilles port):



This is a small vessel, with only 36 cabins, affording the possibility of entering ports closed to larger vessels. It also offers the feeling of sailing on a private yacht. I love being on ships (having worked on them all through college summers), and I confess that our luncheons out on the rear deck with the white wake churning the blue Mediterranean behind us was a seafaring highlight for me.

With the Dartmouth group seated together at several tables, dinner was our chance to meet our fellow travelers. The eleven Dartmouth couples included Dartmouth men from the era when Dartmouth was still an all male school (classes represented ranged from 1953 to 1972) ). A special treat: at least one of the travelers, Peter Rufleth ‘72 had been a student of mine during my first years at Dartmouth. Here’s a photo from a few days on with all of us:



Sailing at 7 pm, we awoke next morning in Porto Cervo on the northeast tip of Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast). One of the attractions of this trip was the opportunity to get to both Sardinia and Corsica, which we had never visited. Guided by the knowledgeable British expat, Robert, we bussed across the rocky and maquis-covered landscape. Maquis is a dense growth of waxy, water-retaining evergreen shrubs and small trees. The next day I would lecture on the historic agricultural poverty of much of the Mediterranean, where scorching summer weather and mountainous terrain have limited farming over the centuries, a reality quite in contrast to the wealthy contemporary beach resorts and pleasure ports that we today associate with the region.


Our destination was one of the many Nuarghic fortresses that dot the Sardinian countryside. These were created by a bronze-age people that populated the island before yielding to the Romans and others. Here’s a view of the site:


We lunched on the ship as it traversed the fifteen miles of the straits of Corsica to Bonifacio on the southern end of that island. Here’s a shot of the massive limestone cliffs that line the shore:



In Bonifacio, we  were met by another fine guide, a British expat named Suzanne, who took us on a walking tour of the medieval city. Here are some photos of this fascinating site, to which I would gladly return in the future for a longer stay:



That’s Suzanne in the floppy hat. Note, too, the French signage. We are now in a Department of France. The odd bridging structures below are cisterns that collect scarce rainwater and channel it to storage tanks. High on a cliff top, Bonifacio is a city that has withstood numerous sieges thanks to such clever devices.



Overnight took us to back to the mainland and the port of Livorno, from where the travelers divided into two groups, one bound for Florence, and a second to Pisa and Lucca. This was a hard choice for me since I had been to Florence and Pisa but not Lucca. Nevertheless, Florence, with all its treasures, won out. Here are some snapshots of this delightful return visit.

Florence from across the Arno:


Of course, the beautiful Duomo.


And its dome


Two days later on, I would lecture on Christian Sacred Spaces, discussing the cosmology and theology underlying the many Christian churches and cathedrals we would visit. Time constraints prevented me from mentioning my favorite anecdote about this dome, so let me do so here. The dome’s designer and builder, Brunelleschi, won the commission with a secret plan to build this vast dome without the wood supports (centering) ordinarily used during construction. Challenged by the other contenders as to how he was going to do this, Brunelleschi placed an egg on the table and asked if any of them they could make it stand on end without support. When no one said they could, Brunelleschi smashed the egg’s end on the table, thus standing it up. “That’s not fair,” said one of the contestants. “If we knew that was permissible we could have done it.” To this Brunelleschi replied, “And if you knew how I would build the dome without supports you could have won the job.”

Here’s the baptisty with its bronze “Gates of Paradise” doors, recounting episodes from the Bible.




Even though our guide had pre-purchased tickets, we stood on line for nearly an hour to enter the Accademia museum. But, as always, it was more than worth the wait. Here is an uncompleted Michelangelo Pieta:


And here, the David:

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One mark of Michelangelo’s genius is his recognition that to be realistic when seen from below, David’s proportions would have to be skewed from the normal. To lend depth to the pupils of his eyes, they are heart shaped:



The following day we awoke in the port of La Spezia. The original plan was to board smaller boats (tenders) to visit several of the five towns of the Cinque Terre that are hard to reach by land. But rough seas ruled that out, so two visits by van (a full day trip that included Portofino and a more limited one to Porto Venere and the Cinque Terre town of Monterosso) were on offer. With a lecture to prepare and limited tolerance for a day in a van, we chose the former.

Our visit began with Porto Venere. Named after Venus, this is an exquisite village with a small but impressive gothic church. Like all the Cinque Terre towns, this is a riot of colors and tall buildings necessitated by the scarcity of square footage. Some photos.




Here a focacceria (pasta) shop displaying its wares as an impressive curtain.


A lovely street-side Madonna:


Saint Peters church:




One of the mercantile specialties of the region is local black marble, striated with beige. The baptismal font of St. Peters is a masterwork of this stone:


Following Porto Venere, we drove to Monterosso, the entry town to the Cinque Terre. This is divided into the Old Town and a modern seaside resort.

The Old Town:



As we were strolling, we came upon a demonstration by a right wing, anti-immigrant Italian party. The poster, “Enough Clandestine (Immigrants)” is a sad illustration of the nativist reaction gripping the world today:


Here the modern town with its beautiful plage:



This morning we awoke in Nice, France. This of course, is the site of the July 14 Jihadist terrorist truck attack that resulted in the death of 86 people and injured 434. That our cruise numbers are down by a half, from 72 to 36 reflects travelers’ wariness about returning to Nice.

I am proud of those in our group that chose to surmount fear. And Nice is always worth the visit. Having paved over a meager river, Nice now vaunts a lovely park that stretches inland from the sea. Here’s one view:


Our guide took us on a walking tour of Vieux Nice.


One stop was the beautiful Chapelle de Sainte Rita. Zoom in and note the wound on Rita’s forehead, one consequence of her martyrdom.


A food-favorite of Nice are Mediterranean sandwiches known as Pan Bagnat. Here’s a selection:


Nice’s historic wealth is reflected in this early merchant’s home, with a bas-relief of Adam and Eve:


Our tour ends at Nice plage:


Standing on the Quai des États-Unis, we looked westward to the Promenade des Anglais, where the July massacre took place. Our guide remarked that the Promenade was so disturbing for her to visit that she still couldn’t go there.


(I wonder to this day why French authorities did not install heavy barricades to auto or truck entry to the Promenade, knowing that this was a possible site of terrorist attack and that vehicles had already been used in Israel for mass murder. I also wonder why there were no police present at the Bataclan concert hall last November when it was clear that Isis had announced its intention of targeting such “corrupt” Western dance and concert halls.)

Following a luncheon on the Voyager and transfer of location, the ship docked in Monaco. We had visited this tiny kingdom previously, but I was taken back when one of our fellow travelers expressed his disgust at the sheer plutocracy of this 500-acre nation.

Here’s a hilltop view of almost the entirety of the nation, which backs up against mountains that belong to France.


Here, the neo-Byzantine cathedral of Mary Majeure


that houses the tomb of Princess Grace:


(NOTE: I recently had a chance to re-view “High Noon,” the 1952 film starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, directed by Fred Zinnemann, with music by Dmitri Tiomkin. I regard this film, with its deep but non-obvious political import, as one of the very finest, if not the finest film ever made. Grace Kelly as Gary Cooper’s bride (and savior) is magnificent. She earned her renown for this film alone.)


We last saw Marseille in 2010 when, stranded in Tunisia by the eruption of the Icelandic volcano that grounded air travel, we hopped a Tunisian ferry to this Mediterranean port. We have always thought as this as a grubby city, but clearly that’s changing. The port glistens with new skyscrapers and cultural centers (including the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations.). Our afternoon tour made us eager to return.

Morning began with a short bus trip to Aix. This must be one of the most beautiful cities in France. Here’s a modern shopping area:


And here is a lovely rotonde:


Markets line the streets near the center of the city. A collection of chanterelle mushrooms on offer:


And here, cepes:


In my lecture on Christian sacred spaces, I mentioned the dazzling combination of Romanesque and Gothic forms in Aix’s Saint Sauveur cathedral:



At the close of our walking tour, we stopped for coffee in the Café des Deux Garçons. Only later, reading Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, did I learn of the fame of this Aix institution.


Afternoon took us back to Marseilles for a bus tour of the city that culminated in a ride along the seashore, where we stopped briefly in the old port that has recently been graced by this remarkable pavilion, a shelter by Foster and Partners architects (note how it reflects the scene around it):


As we motored along the port, we stopped briefly at this monument to all those from Asia (“The Army of the East”) and North Africa who sacrificed for France, and to those, as well, who fell in Indochina (Vietnam). Marseilles mirrors all of France’s terrible and sometimes ill-considered twentieth century wars, to which this sad and seemingly forgotten monument bears witness.




Our tour ended with a visit to the impressive neo-Romanesque Notre Dame de La Garde basilica that stands on a pinnacle high above the sea.


Here the sweeping view of Marseilles harbor from the basilica:


And inside:





During several of Mary Jean’s foreign study programs in Toulouse, we visited Carcassone with students, so this morning’s tour was a bit of déjà vu. Nevertheless, this remains one of the most beautiful historic sites in France, and it has been further improved in terms of museum facilities, restaurants. Carcassone always “vaut le visite.” Some images:




















Particularly noteworthy was lunch (along with several fellow travelers) at the Auberge de Dame Carcas which offered one of the best cassoulet casseroles I’ve ever had.

Strolling out of the city, we passed a candy store with some enchanting confections. Here’s a selection:


Some really “sweet” peas:


And here some “giant” strawberries:


After lunch, as we bussed to the Abbey of Fontfroide, I delivered my third lecture. It dealt with the Cathar heresy and the Albigensian crusade. The crusade itself was initiated by the killing of a papal legate from Fontfroide, and Carcassone was one of the first cities besieged by the crusaders. It was thus a privilege to be able to recount the causes and events of a crusade whose landmarks were all around us.

Fontfroide, which to the best of our recollection we have never visited before, is a tranquil reminder of the beauty of medieval monastic architecture. Now in private hands and no longer a religious center, it is remarkably well preserved.






Here’s a stunning window in the abbey church


And here a pieta in carved wood:


The day ended back at the ship with the captain’s dinner. In speaking with our captain, Andreas Siniotis, I mentioned that as a college student I had worked summers on steamships and that my first ship (in 1961) was the S.S. America, which sailed from New York to Southampton, England, Le Havre, France, and back. “That’s fascinating,” said the captain. “The first ship I worked on in 1968 as a junior officer right out of the maritime academy was the S.S. Australis.” He informed me that this was purchased in 1964 by Chandris Lines, a Greek shipping firm, to transport Greek emigrants to Australia. The Australis had been the S.S. America. So the captain and I each took our first cruise on the same vessel. Small world indeed!


Morning brought arrival at Barcelona where all the travelers went their separate ways. For us it was to a rental car and a drive 500 kilometers up the autoroute to the small village of Saignon in France. Over many years and many of Mary Jean’s foreign study programs, we have resided in most parts of France: Paris, the Loire Valley, Brittany, Lyon, and Toulouse. But we never lived in Provence. Now retired, we hope to spent a month next year renting a home in this region made so famous by Peter Mayle in his hilarious A Year in Provence and other books. Thus, we decided to take advantage of our presence in Europe to survey house rental possibilities before committing ourselves to one town or one residence. Saignon:


Saignon was not our first choice for lodging. Mary Jean has knee problems and this mountaintop village has no level streets. But our first choice, Lourmarin, was hosting a conference on its most famous resident, Albert Camus, and all the hotels were “complets,” so Saignon it had to be.

In fact, as these images show, it was a happy choice, since Saignon is a beautiful mirror of Provence.


















During our three-day stay, we reconnoitered surrounding villages, retuning each evening to Saignon. Since it was unwise to drive the winding and steep mountain roads at night after a wine-accompanied meal, we dined each night at the one open restaurant in Saignon, the Comptoir (Counter) of Balthazar. Questioned about the meaning of the restaurant’s name, its owner Michel, a fellow about my age, told us that he bought the restaurant with that name but never understood its meaning. Nevertheless, he and his chef wife clearly understood Provençal cuisine. Our three meals here were one of the highlights of our trip.

And we found our rental: in Lourmarin. With the help of the Office de Tourisme, we found a villa large enough to house us with both children and their families next spring. It is near the center of this charming village, where Albert Camus spent the years just before his tragic auto-accident death at age 47. Here are several views of Lourmarin:


















In the course of our visit, we were able to briefly attend a conference devoted to Camus, and we were able to hear a fascinating paper on Camus’ politics


As we drove out of Lourmarin on our way to Saignon, we stopped at a small cemetery where we were able to find Camus’ grave:


Many years ago, Mary Jean and I co-taught a course on “Ethics and Existentialism.” We were reminded that Camus has always been one of our intellectual heroes. You can imagine, therefore, how pleased we were to be able to conclude our trip in a village he so loved. We look forward to our return.