Highlights of Martha’s Vineyard and a Baltic cruise

By David Amos

David Amos

David Amos

SAN DIEGO — This has been a busy, but fascinating summer for us. In celebration of my 75th birthday and of our 50th wedding anniversary, we and the immediate family went on a cruise of the Baltic Sea, and many of its fascinating ports of call. The week before this cruise, we attended a family wedding in Cape Cod, and took a few days to acquaint ourselves with Martha’s Vineyard. The cities on or near the Baltic we visited included Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Tallin, Helsinki, Berlin, and St. Petersburg.

Instead of giving you a detailed, uninteresting travelogue of each location, I would like to share with you a few interesting details which you may not find somewhere else.

In Martha’s Vineyard, a few blocks from our hotel, we saw a big banner at the Old Whaling Church, advertising a chamber music concert. We were already starving for some seriously good music, and were not disappointed. It turned out to be a performance by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society, and its Artistic Director and Festival Pianist, the distinguished Delores Stevens, a Southern Californian who is highly respected in serious chamber music circles. We heard delightful and some not-so-well-recognized music by Henry Eccles, Hugo Wolfe, Schubert, Vaughan-Williams, Charles Martin Loeffler, and Brahms. In various combinations we heard a soprano, a tenor, a viola, all expertly accompanied by Stevens. An unexpected surprise.

I am beginning to believe that airports and airliners have a “crying baby” service. If the boarding gates and airplane cabin are a bit too quiet, the “rental baby on call” is summoned, and enough noise is provided to insure discomfort for everyone. It happens so often, and that can not be a coincidence.

The cruise ship we boarded in Copenhagen was the Regal Princess. This was my first cruise, and I was easily impressed. 3,500 passengers and a crew of over 1,000, all at their best behavior. The staff came from everywhere; I asked a Mexican server, who told me that there were about 80 Mexicans among them.

On Friday night, there were Shabbat services on board. There was no assigned leader, but a few of the passengers were brave enough to take over, and provided a quasi-Conservative service to the 30 people who were there. It did give us, a good feeling to be there.

Our family group totaled nine. Our daughters, two grandchildren, son-in-law, and his parents. Most of the times we dined together, and took the offshore tours together, with and without guides. We averaged six miles of walking a day, and that does wonders to your feet if most of those steps were over cobblestones.

Some mornings, as the ship approached a port destination, we were awakened by the local dock workers shouting as they maneuvered our big ship into the docking areas. I thought of issuing a port noise complaint, but later decided against that.

With two cameras, I took over 1,000 pictures.

There was an improv show on board, in their television studios. It was fun and entertaining, but not to the standards of truly professional groups in the U.S., according to our daughter who has been doing “serious” improv comedy for 15 years.

In Stockholm, we drove past the ABBA Museum, which seemed to impress some people in our tour bus.

Interestingly, in our Norway tour (Oslo), not a word was mentioned about their great composer Edvard Grieg, but on the Finnish tour in Helsinki, the name of their National composer, Jean Sibelius was repeatedly mentioned. We made a stop at the park which has a memorial sculpture in his memory, while our tour bus kept playing famous compositions of his. I was touched by that.

I wasn’t touched by the resident String Quartet aboard ship. These four lovely ladies can easily be called the “Boring String Quartet.” Granted they were playing in a noisy room with passengers talking loudly walking around and paying little attention, and in spite of that, their playing maintained pitch accuracy and steady rhythm.  But their musicality, Oy Vey!  They played with the excitement of yesterday’s oatmeal with artistically irrelevant, dispassionate motions. Quick exit for me.

We noticed only one Israeli family on board, father, mother and two well behaved children.

Honest: We met an Australian family in the elevator, wearing life jackets. The father told me that “We came on board to die” Surely he meant “today”.

Two of the seriously good tours were the ones in St. Petersburg and Berlin. The former, where we hired a private tour company, took two days, and was most impressive in displaying the great art works of Russia. Yes we saw the Hermitage Museum with all its splendor and abundance, but there are many other palaces, summer homes, winter homes of the Czarist family. Our superb guide explained many details, once we explained our interest in the arts; her English was impeccable, and her sense of humor was subtle, adding the right touch of humanity.

But the tour of Berlin was the most impressive. Our private guide turned out to be an Israeli young man, who had a marked propensity to show us “Jewish Berlin”, once we conveyed to him our interests. We learned many lesser known facts about Jewish Berlin, from the past and today. Aside from visiting the remnant of the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and other historic places, we were stunned at the impact and symbolism of the Jewish Museum, and the Holocaust Memorial area. There are just too many details to mention here, but these locations are a must place to visit for Jew and Gentile alike. There were no horrific concentration camp photos and shock-value of the atrocities, but it was all SYMBOLIC. It entered deeply into our consciences and left all of us with the true feelings created by anti-Semitism, its development in Europe, to the culmination of the Holocaust. Most highly recommended.

The concluding ‘coda’ of this report: In the Newark Airport on returning, I spotted a young man wearing a baseball cap with a single word: INFIDEL.

Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has guest conducted orchestras around the world.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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