Travel Letters

Next Stop? The Horn of Africa!

Bangkok
Thailand

March 29, 2011

Dear Family and Friends,

My upcoming departure for the Horn of Africa reminds me of  Haile Selassie and Abebe Bikile and the dramatic events and the enduring personalities of the 1960's.

Who among us can ever forget the sounds and images from late November, 1963: the gunshots in Dallas, the bloodied dress, Walter Cronkite's tears, the murder of the murderer (?), Chopin's music, a boy's salute to the flag covering the coffin of his father, the rider-less horse?
 
Do you remember the funeral procession of John Kennedy - heads of state in a solemn march? Le Président de la République française, Charles de Gaulle at 6'5" (1.96 m) walking beside and towering over the Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie at 5'1¾" (1.58 m).

De Gaulle died in his bed in 1970. But Selassie?

The opening sequence of the film "Marathon Man" features the archive footage of a graceful young athlete, on a summer evening in 1960, effortlessly running the 42km (26 mi) Olympic marathon, gliding past the Coliseum and along the darkened, torch lit avenues of Rome, sprinting toward the finish line at the Arch of Constantine. Abebe Bikile became the first black African to win a gold medal at an Olympics event. 

Phanna Dureyavijit (1946 - 2012)

Nang Rong

Buriram

Thailand

Sunday

December 23, 2012 

My Dear Friends, 

I am sad to report that my friend Phanna Dureyavijit passed away on Thursday, December 20 at her son Kiew’s home in the Isan province of Buriram.  For the past few years, Phanna suffered from the painful and debilitating effects of diabetes.  Kiew told me his mother passed away peacefully in her sleep.  Phanna was 66.   She leaves behind her three sons, her mother, six sisters, and innumerable family members and countless friends.

Montevideo and the Polatschek Family Tree

Montevideo

Uruguay

El 2 de Mayo de 2012

My Dear Family and Friends,

Forty years ago, in 1972, my father Otto decided to draw a Polatschek Family Tree.  He wrote to his sister Ida Kiewe in London and to his cousins around the world to gather information.

 Eventually, with pen and paper, Otto drew a chart.  He included the names and dates of his relatives, past and present.  In addition, he added as much information as possible about his many uncles, aunts and cousins who had “disappeared” during the Holocaust in Europe in the 1940’s. 

When the large chart was complete, Otto mailed copies to his relatives in Europe, Canada, California, South America, South Africa and Israel.

Over the years, my father and I discussed our Family Tree.   I was curious about where his (my) relatives had lived in Europe and where their descendants were now living.

Jewish Salta

Salta

Argentina

May 21, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

The plaque on the wall reads “Estudio Contable, Ema Jaffi de Kohan, Contadora Publica National.

 After almost two weeks in the “deep freeze” of Patagonia, I wander about this lovely city with its spring-like weather (actually, right now it’s late fall). This city of about 500,000 is known as “Salta la Linda” – Salta the Beautiful.

I find the Cathedral, the Church of Saint Francis, and the Monastery.  Orange trees line the residential streets. I photograph the preserved colonial homes and offices with their ornaments and pastel walls.  I stroll through the Plaza of the Ninth of July where the kids are enjoying the mild temperatures. And by accident, I find that brass plaque affixed to the wall of a narrow street. 

I normally think of the surname Jaffe as a possible Jewish name.  But, Kohan? A possibility.

Mysterious Jewish Cemetery

Yeghegnadzor

Republic of Armenia

October 19, 2012

Dear Family and Friends, 

 My grandfather, Herman Poláček, had a dry and sometimes biting sense of humor.   Yet, he always delivered his remarks with a twinkle in his eye and a broad, devilish grin that spread from ear to ear across his round Slavic face.

When my Grandmother poured him a cup of coffee, black as night, he took a sip, smiled and said, “Warm ist es.”  (At least it’s warm.)   When she served a delicious Czech-style meal, he laughed and said, “Die bidienung ist sehr schlecht hier.”  (The service is not so good here.)

After he had purchased a burial plot he proudly and comically announced, “Es hat eine gute Sicht.”

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