Back again

It’s been more than thee years since I’ve done a blog post. I’m doing so now because in mid-August Carol and I will be taking our grandson, Max to Africa, so I wanted to test whether I could still blog.

Can I?

Do you want to come along with us on our trip?

(I’ve added this recent image just to try that feature.)

On the Road to Philanthropia

Over the years, many of you have followed us on the exotic trips we’ve been fortunate to take.  In some cases you’ve visited those places yourselves; in others ours was your only trip to that destination.

During the pandemic, Carol and I did not go to the airport for a year and a half, by far the longest stretch of our adult lives. We canceled trips we’d planned to Japan, India, Colombia and England/Scotland. Certainly, we were sorry to have to do this (especially the trip to England/Scotland, which was to have been with two granddaughters). But we’ve had so many fabulous trips over many years that it was hard to be too sad about not taking these.

Carol and I did, however, take another wonderful journey that I’d like to tell you about. It’s not far, and it’s easy to reach, but it’s as fascinating as any place we’ve been. Many of you may have been there already, as well, maybe without having thought much about your journey. I hope that this post will stimulate your sense of adventure.

Around the time of the pandemic’s start, Carol and I, together with a college friend, started a Donor Advised Fund and invited organizations to apply for grants.  We were approaching eighty years of age in a few years and were looking for something new, so we called the fund, Innovation 80.  For symmetry, we decided that we would provide funding totaling $80,000.

Little did we know, but we were on our way to Philanthropia, along a windy road strewn with obstacles and opportunities. This journey has allowed us to meet talented, creative and engaged people of different races, ethnicities, gender preferences and ages who we would never otherwise have met. Experienced philanthropists have guided us by generously taking time to share their expertise.

We sent out RFPs to nine small organizations that friends of ours had founded and/or were actively engaged in, and which we had supported at modest levels over the years.  When the applications for grants came in we noticed that those we were most attracted to were organizations that used the arts to engage and support young people in underserved communities in Chicago, so we adopted that as our focus.  We chose four organizations, granting them each approximately $20,000.

We’ve been privileged to partner with and act as catalysts for organizations encompassing arts as diverse as dancing for disabled people, circus arts, glass blowing, storytelling, young children reading to dogs, an orchestra for steel drums, mosaic murals, literature for ex-prisoners and more. Here are photos from some of the organizations that we’ve supported.

The journey has been engaging and joyous.  Looking back, it almost seems that our lives have been a rehearsal for this journey.  Friendship has always been a key value for Carol and me and over the years we’ve made and stayed in touch with many people around the country and around the world.  Innovation 80 has allowed us to reach out to these friends and afford them an opportunity to come along with us on our journey, much as this blog has done over the years.  Many have chosen to join us.

In only sixteen months, Innovation 80 has grown from supporting four organizations with $80,000 to supporting thirteen with over $250,000. By the end of the year, we hope to partner with twenty organizations and raise more than $400,000.

I hope that you’ll travel with us as generously as you can by supporting Innovation 80. You’ll feel good about contributing, and your support will allow us to expand our efforts and to support many other worthy organizations. We leave now. And you don’t even need to worry about what you’ll pack. Your credit card or check book is your passport.

Bon voyage.

Two Short Travel Stories

June 29, 2020

In addition to reading my old travel journals and blogs, I’ve written two short stories for a contest by an upscale hotel chain. One of them has been I singled out for publication. See if you can figure out which.

Guiding Lights

By Arnie Kanter

I met the King of Bastar.

My guide, Japreet, said the king was an acquaintance. His company had made travel arrangements for the royal family.  Though the king was the central figure in the four-day festival, the Bastar Durshea, that I was in India to see, starting that evening, Jaspreet called the king on his cell. The king invited us to come over to the palace to see him.

Jaspreet and I spent forty-five minutes with the king, a young man of about thirty, who clearly believed that he was fully entitled to be king. Jaspreet conversed comfortably with the king, who spoke of the festival and how his participation and approval would be required for every aspect of the festivities.  He made a point of telling us that he would be riding in on the new horse he’d just bought in Mumbai for many millions of rupees.  His manner in greeting us and ordering tea from his servants, while not unkind, was aloof and privileged.  Clearly, it was good to be king.

Afterwards, alone again with Japreet, I said that, although he had described the king as an acquaintance, from my observation of their interactions he might well have described him as a friend.  Without hesitation, Japreet replied, “No, you have only a few friends.” His tone suggested that not only was the king not a friend now, he never would be.  And that would be Jaspreet’s decision.

Over the years, many excellent guides have shed light for me on animals, birds, a country’s history and its culture.  Jaspreet shed light for me on the meaning of friendship.  Long after I’ve forgotten the King of Bastar, I’ll remember Japreet.

Suffering’s End

By Arnie Kanter

In 2009, on a mountaintop near Paro, Bhutan, I met His Eminence Neyphug Trulka, a 29-year old Rinpoche, now in his tenth life.

Rinpoche’s smile is radiant, his manner calm, unhurried. The half hour he’d allotted for tea stretches to five hours. Discussion topics include his discovery as a reincarnate, the school he’s established for Bhutan’s orphan boys, and his studies with a master in India. 

I pose one burning question. Since Buddhism teaches that life is suffering, what advice would Rinpoche have for Chicago Cubs fans, who have not won a World Series in over a century? He pauses. “Well…you should not be too sad. Think of the joy you have brought to other teams.” 

This is decidedly notthe wisdom I sought. Here on a mountaintop, thousands of miles from Wrigley Field, should I take heart from the joy I’d brought the teams who had caused my suffering? Way too Buddhist for me. I gave Rinpoche my Hebrew Cubs hat, converting him into a Cubs fan. Now he would know true suffering. 

Rinpoche comfortably inhabits two worlds, the monastic and the modern. His monastery houses fifty-one disadvantaged boys. Rinpoche teaches them Buddhism, but also computer skills and languages to prepare them for secular life, should they decide not to remain monks. He’s downloaded What’s App for me, so we can communicate more easily. 

Back home, I accept Rinpoche’s request to friend him on Facebook, thus making him my only openly-reincarnated friend. I have met with him twice more, once as his guest at his monastery’s annual festival, once in Singapore, where he teaches. 

As I’d hoped, this friendship ended my suffering with the Cubs. At my request, Rinpoche conducted a puja (special prayer) for our team. Attending the seventh game of the 2016 World Series, I What’s App-ed with Rinpoche, as the Cubs finally won the championship.

Traveling at Home

June 20, 2020

Well, it has been more than four months since my last blog post, from Colombia. The three additional international trips that Carol and I were planning to take this year—to Japan, to England and Scotland, and to India—will not happen because of COVID-19.

Since we could not travel by plane, I decided to travel by rereading old travel journals and blogs, which has proved to be an unexpected pleasure. Those writings evoke a depth of memories that photos cannot fully capture. I must say that I never expected that I, or anyone else for that matter, would ever read through those writings.

I’ve also used the opportunity presented by reading my old travel journals to reach out and try to reconnect with people around the world who we encountered on our travels and of whom I was reminded by the blogs. I have gotten a large number of responses and am now in touch with people in more than twenty countries, including South Africa, Ghana, Indonesia, Borneo, Vietnam, Colombia, Jamaica, Germany, Turkey, England, Ecuador, India, New Zealand, Myanmar and others.

When my children were young, among my favorite books to read to them was Dr. Seuss’ AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET. In that book, the narrator, young Marco, is chastised by his father for making up tall tales to tell his father each day when he asks Marco what happened walking to school. One day, on his way to school, Marco sees only an old horse-drawn wagon on Mulberry Street. But that can’t be his story for his father, Marco thinks, because it’s way too dull. So the horse in Marco’s mind becomes a zebra, then a reindeer and then an elephant, and it winds up pulling a big brass band in a chariot driven by a charioteer, and police, led by Sergeant Mulvaney, appear, as does the mayor, and a plane that drops confetti on them all.

In a way, traveling is like walking down Mulberry Street in Marco’s imagination. You see and experience the most unbelievable things. Except they actually happen.

Carol and my travel started when we were quite young twenty-five years old.

We continued traveling, as we got older (after a pause when the children were young):

Here are some of the experiences we’ve had, as reflected in my journals:

Photographed Tigers from Elephant back in India, floated over 1000 stupas is in a hot air balloon at dawn in Bagan, swam with whales in Hawaii, ate dinner with a justice of the Constitutional Court in South Africa, walked by blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos, saw sheep herded by dogs in New Zealand, sat with village chiefs in rural Ghana, wandered around the Acropolis in the moonlight in Athens, listened to a leopard chew a warthog up in a tree in Africa, sipped champagne on the great wall of China, watched Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margo Fontaine dance together at Covent Garden, stayed at the Cottswald cottage of a Supreme Court justice of the United Kingdom, biked in traffic in Beijing, dog sledded in Wyoming, saw zebras swim across a crocodile-infested river in the Masai Mara, marveled at Michelangelo’s David in Florence, rejoiced at watching the Cubs win the seventh game of the World Series in Cleveland, camped at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, drove a dune buggy on the salt pans of Botswana, fly fished in waders in New Zealand, watched the sun set on the Taj Mahal, walked through Wenceslas Square in Prague one week before Russian tanks occupied it, helihiked in the Canadian Rockies, trekked gorillas in Uganda, put the holy Ganges River to sleep in Varanasi, drank tea with the ninth reincarnation of a 9th century guru in his monastery in Bhutan, heard a 95-year-old mother sing an Oriki, birth song, to her daughter in Nigeria, dedicated a well with a granddaughter in a rural village in Ghana, visited with the King of Bastar in his palace, climbed the sand dunes in Namibia, wandered through a camel fair in Pushkar, bird watched in the Pantanal in Brazil, attended the Royal Ascot races in England, stood in the rain in a plaza in Bratislava while the leaders of the communist countries met, was an honored guest at a wedding in Udaipur, walked around the Governor’s Palace at Uxmal, ate dinner with former political prisoners in Myanmar, toured Buckingham palace with granddaughters, trekked chimpanzees in Tanzania, attended a bullfight in Spain, marveled at gigantic stone heads on Easter island, watched kickboxing in a nightclub in Cambodia, passed badminton games at 6 AM in a park in Hanoi, saw trees grown through ancient ruins at Ta Prohm in Cambodia, ballroom danced in a pavilion in Xian, watched cormorant fishermen in Guilin, saw salmon jump upstream in a river to lay their eggs in Alaska, tasted opium tea in India, watched a Jain holy man walk naked through the streets of Udaipur, spotted orangutans in a forest in Borneo, watched snake charmers in Morocco and cruised past ancient temples on the Nile.

And these are just some of the experiences. I could have chosen to add many others. What a privileged life. I hope that when this virus passes, there will be other exciting trips. But, whether or not there are, it’s been a helluva good run.

Over the years, we’ve traveled with small biking, hiking and photography groups, with friends, with children and grandchildren and alone. What’s made all of these trips special for me has been sharing them with Carol during the fifty-five years (today) we’ve been married.


February 9.

Breakfast outside in he courtyard at the hotel, then picked up by Santiago (Santi) our guide for the day and a close friend and business partner of Juan Comilo, our guide of yesterday. Santi proves to be a capable and very affable guide who we enjoy spending time with.We are driven to Palenque by Santi’s cousin, Felipe.

Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005, the small village of Palenque (an hour and a quarter drive from Cartagena) was founded by escaped slaves who sought refuge and fled on foot to the inland foothills in the 17th century. The existing 4,000 residents in the town are ancestors of these original slaves. Although Cartagena was Spain’s principle slave port, the town of Palenque became the first “free” town in the Americas and today is a haven for the local African creole language, dance, colorful clothing style, and social structures.

We drive down the town’s dirt roads and stop at a house, where we are told something about the town and its culture. Then we are treated to a drumming, singing and dancing recital. I try out the drumming, but unfortunately no photograph is available. Probably, the photograph would not be very clear, anyway, because my hands move so quickly as I pound out the rhythm.

We pass by a local cemetery.witness a hot dominos game.and we learn something about herbal medicine and the architecture of an old house being restored by an architect.We return to the house that we first visited, where we are given some instruction on how to prepare a traditional appetizer, and then are served a traditional Palenqueno lunch.. Our shopping in town is not successful, but Carol does make a friend of one of the shop owners.

After lunch, we are quite ready to head home in our air-conditioned car, as the heat does not make one anxious to be out very long. It has been an interesting day in which we’ve been shown and participated in town culture, rather than simply having it described to us.

We have a good long time to rest in our comfortable hotel suite and get ready for tomorrow’s trip home, before it is time for dinner.

We dine tonight at a restaurant located in our hotel, called Alma, joined by Federico Ruiz, the art dealer who we met in Bogotá. Lovely setting outside in the courtyard, with outstanding food and beautiful presentation. Federico is an interesting and engaging fellow, so the conversation and evening were excellent. It’s still possible that we’ll arrange for a purchase of his brother’s sculpture by the Constitutional Court in South Africa, or even add a piece to our collection, but nothing is set yet.