Reluctant Famulus 110
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red

Yes, I still draw fanzine art after all these years. Not as much as I once did, but it does me good to be asked. So ask!!

“They All Speak English”
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red

Kurt Does Berlitz
Traveling to Europe makes me realize one thing. We expect everybody there to speak English. But when a non-English speaker visits this country, he’s in trouble.

I make a point of learning what I can of the language. It’s never enough to be anything close to fluent. In Hungarian I have a couple hundred words of vocabulary, mostly for reading. A bit of listening recognition, but speaking anything beyond “köszönöm” was a bust. I listened to MP3s and practiced, but my accent plainly was incomprehensible.

Hungarian is of course a non Indo-European language. It was different but not as different as I supposed. The vocabulary is different of course, but the grammatical structure reminded me a bit of Latin, but on a grander scale (22 cases).

Some words are familiar once you learn the pronunciation. “Tánc” looks odd till you sound it out, remembering that “á” is “ah” and “c” sounds like “ts” and you realize it sounds exactly like a familiar German word, and that’s what it means. In some ways Hungarian is simpler than I expected. Most pronouns and prepositions are implied by the declension or conjugation and are needed only for clarity or emphasis. And Hungarian doesn’t assign arbitrary genders drops to nouns — there’s a bit less memorization. On the downside, there ARE 22 cases, a system of conjugations, and a “familiar / formal / official” distinction that applies not only to pronouns but verbs as well.

Sticking to tourist areas and central Budapest, we had no significant communication problems. One waiter had limited English, and when we asked to keep the receipt, thought we were disputing the bill. And a pharmacy clerk didn’t speak English; but with my few words of Magyar, her few words or English, and sign language, we still did business. I had a broken tooth, but that’s another story.

The guidebooks are right. Hungarians really do greet you with “jó napot.” Constantly.

Beszél magyarul? Csak egy kicsit.


Recent Theater - Budapest
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red

Our trip to Budapest was a musical theater odyssey. Our goal was to see shows that don’t get performed in the States. We had to make accommodation reservations months in advance, but Budapest theaters only post show schedules about 6 weeks out — so we had to see what happened to be playing during our week. We were in luck for musicals, but not operettas. The three musicals we saw were new to us, so part of my comment is reaction to the shows themselves. We studied in advance, and were well prepared to watch them in a language we didn’t understand. Here are some notes I hope will be of interest to musical / operetta enthusiasts.

All three shows are carried mostly by their songs, and have limited and brief dialogue. One difference from American musicals. All three shows have ballroom scenes. Róméo and Rebecca, to my surprise, both had projected titles in English.

Would’ve loved to see Cigányszerelem, Franz Lehár’s Zigeunerliebe (Gypsy Love), a show I’ve never seen performed. Missed it by a couple of weeks.

Vámpírok Bálja

Vámpírok is a book musical, and of the three shows, I think it has the most distinguished score. The original musical was Tanz der Vampire (Dance of the Vampires), based on the movie Fearless Vampire Killers. The plot follows the Polanski film closely — to the point of including some extraneous scenes, like Rebecca hitting Chagal and Abronsius with the salami. The set is a cross-section of the Inn, allowing the audience to see what the various characters are doing in four different rooms, all at once. Ingenious if rather busy.

Answering my own question: the Budapest production is based on the German, rather than the very different American version that bombed on Broadway.

The plot hinges on vampires not casting a reflection in a mirror. How do they do this on stage? By using a double behind a scrim, moving in tandem with the main actor.

Rómeó és Júlia

This Romeo uses dance as heavily as another adaptation – West Side Story. The dance numbers are high energy. I’ve never been a disco/electronic music fan, but these songs create an air of excitement. The weak point is the boy-girl songs. They come off as generic ‘I love you and you love me’ songs.

Body count: more people die in Rómeó és Júlia than in Vámpírok Bálja.


This show is heavily plotted – I found I paid as much attention to the story as to the music. It is based on the duMaurier novel and the Hitchcock film of the same title. The songs support plot, often without calling attention to themselves – most of them are part of the action (“I'm an American Woman” being an obvious exception). As such, this is the most operatic of the three shows.

Budapest in-joke. The party guests at Manderley all come decked out in vampiric black leather Goth, as if they were the cast of Vámpírok Bálja walking into the wrong theater. One guest is a dead ringer for the vampire, Count Von Krolock.

It’s good to see Kunze and Levay use subject matter that has a chance of winning over an American audiences. Their work deserves to be seen in this country. Their other shows are Elisabeth (Empress to Franz-Josef -- most Americans have never heard of her), Mozart, and Marie Antoinette.

Die Fledermaus

We had to see a show at the Opera House. Mere days after a crowd of 10,000 protested the new government there – as we found out after we got home. Our other choices were La Bohème or Swan Lake. Either would’ve been okay by me, but we finally concluded it’d be most memorable to see Fledermaus. The show doesn’t need much comment — it’s the archetypical Viennese operetta. It contains all the stock characters, pretended identities, and situations. What sets it apart from many other operettas is that these standard elements actually work.

The theater was just as elegant as we expected, but surprisingly small.

Recent Theater: Paris
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red
La Belle Hélène - Menilmontant

Travel for us always includes musical theater if possible.

The obvious show to see in Paris would be Les Misérables. No such luck. The 25th anniversary tour closed in July. And no other shows by Claude-Michel Schönberg being performed, as near a we could tell. But here’s what we found.

1.      How to Become Parisian in One Hour – one man show (with plants in the audience) starring Olivier Giraud. This show was written for English-speaking tourists, but seems to have developed a local following. It’s a humorous look at Parisian attitudes to their own society and toward tourists, performed in English. It was fun, and played to a packed house.

2.      Showboat – Paris is an interesting place to go and see an 80 year old American operetta. I had never seen a full-scale professional production of it. They performed it in the original language, but provided projected subtitles, so it was no problem. The fact that Theatre Chatelet put this Capetown Opera production on their schedule is significant. It recognizes the show as an international classic. It also states that this odd operetta that tackled social justice issues as an evening’s entertainment still has something to say — with some updating. South African portrayal of black characters was different than an American production would be; they did not shy away from using Hammerstein’s original lyric for the opening chorus — and the accents sounded more Caribbean than Louisianan. Perhaps that dialect bears more relevance to the French audience? Queenie’s character was modified slightly to give her superstition African/voodoo roots. And the Chicago World’s Fair scene included an African tribal dance/production number.

3.      Organ recital at Notre Dame. The cathedral has a series of free 45-minute recitals. We were able to schedule our de rigueur visit to coincide with it. It was too late in the day to climb up the tower (closed at 5 PM), but afterward we toured the interior. As we were leaving mass was starting. The Celebrant performing the mass was magnificent; the effect in that setting, haunting.

4.      La Belle Hélène — John dug deep on the internet and found an Offenbach production during our visit — something I dearly wanted to see. The Théâtre de Ménilmontant production we saw was a “young professional” company. Acting: excellent; singing: very good; staging/direction: excellent (borrowing a few ideas from Pelly); costumes: tolerable; choreography: adequate with a few clever bits; music: one piano. A well-played piano, but it came off as weak for the big finish needed for finales. A very fun production, definitely off the beaten track for tourists. It was held in a very plain movie theater that seemed to date from the 20s to a packed house. All in French of course, no subtitles. We missed most of the jokes, but we know the show well enough that we had trouble following the story.

And yes, we caught all this in a week.


Reasons to visit Paris
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red

John and Kurt at la Tour Eiffel - taken by a Spanish couple - we took their picture too

John and I visited Paris — our first time. We had an opportunity for a week in a time-share, and jumped at the chance.

Paris was at then top of John’s must-visit list. It was his birthday, so he got to decide. We went to Wien for my birthday and Neujahrstag. This time it was his turn.

What can one do in Paris in a week? Not enough. Paris has much to offer, and you simply have to prioritize. Here is my (incomplete) list of world-class offerings Paris has:

1.      Art

2.      History

3.      Architecture

4.      Museums

5.      Restaurants as a culinary adventure

6.      Pastry shops and bakeries

7.      Wine

8.      Shopping

9.      Music

10.  Theater

11.  Neighborhood walks including all of the above

12.  Famous monuments

13.  Rioting in the streets (do they still throw up barricades in front of Hôtel de Ville and keep guillotines handy?)

14.  Verbal abuse in a romance language

Us? We focused on first-timer sight seeing, architecture, lots of walking, as much of selected museums as we could manage, and (musical) theater. Since we were in a time-share, we limited restaurants to one meal a day, usually picking something handy for the neighborhood we happened to be in. Lunches usually came from the grocery store, in itself a minor adventure. And a bit of shopping.

Stay tuned.
Galleries Lafayette - a department store, not an opera house


Roy H. Erichsen 1922-2010
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red
Roy and Eileen Erichsen 1946

My dad was not a storyteller. He served in the Navy, Pacific Theater, in World War II, but I never got much in the way of war stories out of him. Here’s the only one I remember. While training in Tucson he remembered being in the buffet line behind another guy. The guy cut the tips off the whole platter of asparagus in the buffet and left all the stalks.

That’s it.

As I understand it, the Navy housed its trainees at the Tucson Hotel during World War II, and it’s where my father stayed. The route between the nursing home dad was staying at in 2010 and the hospital where he went twice while we were in Green Valley (April), took us right past the place. I thought of asparagus tips.

After the funeral in Portland in July, the main activity the rest of the week was just being there for Mom. I went through notebooks of documents and photos my dad collected and had left for the next generation. This seemed the occasion to read them.

My dad didn’t talk much about his days before moving to Coos Bay and having a family. We knew the basic biography, but there was much detail that was new to me. The notebook included a thick file of Navy papers. It was like being introduced to a period of his life I didn’t know much about. Here are some things I learned about my dad:

1.      He chose a veteran’s funeral. From the little he talked of his days in the service, I hadn’t realized that would be his choice.

2.      He had seven siblings. I’d thought it was five. Two died in infancy.

3.      In 1938-9 he worked as a bellboy on Great Lakes ships. In ’42-43 he was a night ticket agent; and in ’43 a messman. I gather his father helped get him these jobs, as he worked his way through college.

4.      In 1937 at age 15 he looked like my brother.

5.      Dad enlisted in the Navy in late 1943 as an ensign. He was able to enlist as an officer because he had a degree in Civil Engineering? He was still an ensign in 8/45 but must’ve been promoted to J.G. at the end of the war. He became a full lieutenant in 1950.

6.      After the end of the war, he was in the Naval Reserve for ten years. I always thought he left the Navy at the end of the war.

7.      I knew he served on a Destroyer Escort. To be exact, the LCS(L)94, which does not seem to have had any other name. He trained in 1944 and the 94 was launched in January 1945. Their route: Portland, San Diego, Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa, Japan.

8.      Dad mentioned vaguely once that his ship had come under fire. A Navy memo tells the story of dad’s work in rescue and salvage operations for two stricken American ships:

Ensign ERICHSEN, participated in the OKINAWA Campaign from 10 May 1945 until 22 July 1945 as Engineering Officer under this command. During this time this ship was primarily engaged in radar picket duty. When not on this patrol, this vessel gave anti-aircraft support and smoke coverage for ships at anchor in the harbors at Hagushi, Le Shima, and Nago Wan. On 28 May 1945 and 11 June 1945 enemy aircraft were actively engaged and destroyed. This ship has two Japanese aircraft to its credit. On 10 June 1945 material aid was given in salvaging and resuming survivors from the destroyer William D. PORTER (DD 579) which was sunk as a result of enemy suicide and bomb attack. Forty-six survivors were taken aboard. The following day salvage work was done on the LCS(L)(3)122 which was hit  by a Jap suicide plane. Nine survivors were taken aboard. In each case of salvage work, Ensign ERICHSEN led and took his Fire and Rescue Crew aboard the stricken ship and directed salvage operations with his equipment. The fire-fighting gear from this ship was actually responsible in extinguishing the fire on the LCS(L)(3)122. // 13 August 1945

The following link is a newsletter about the “LCS” ships and mentions the 94 and three others of its class (one of which was the ill-fated 122) in rescue operations of the Porter:

9.      After the war he stayed in the Naval Reserve, transferring from Portland to North Bend.

10.  In 1947 he served on a training cruise of the USS Tilefish, SS 307, a submarine. Apparently dad was keen on this assignment at the time, but it was not a positive experience — on which Mom elaborated — and never wanted to go on a ship again. All of which I’d never heard before, but could explain why he talked so little about shipboard experiences.

11.  In 1951 he got a request to volunteer for active service — the letter noting that it was strictly voluntary. By this time dad had 1.5 kids to support and was working toward (whether he knew it or not) opening his own engineering consulting firm in three years. Just as well he stayed home and did not serve in the Korean War.

12.  His honorable discharge is dated 1956. By this time he had his own business and I think he simply couldn’t keep up with the required Navy training.

13.  My dad left behind an autobiography — 4 pages — and a half page anecdote of his and mom’s first vacation together. He wrote it for us kids. Can four pages do justice to 88 years that included a war, a career, and long retirement? When it’s your life you’re talking about, you can take a lot for granted, and underestimate how much little details matter. The first vacation anecdote he wrote was a story he’d told us. It was nice to see it in writing — it casts him and mom as carefree newlyweds having a good time together. I only knew them after they’d become burdened with the three of us, the house, and a career.

Below: the graphic from the program for the commissioning of the LCS(L)94 on 16 January 1945.


Farewell to Arizona?
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red

As I said at the beginning of this series — when my parents bought the place in Arizona I had my doubts, but we’ve come to find some places worth visiting in the Tucson area.

But we didn’t spend the whole week on field trips. The main purpose was to visit my father, whose health was taking a turn for the worse — and maybe say goodbye. Alternating days we visited our favorite haunts — and maybe said goodbye to them as well.


Madera Canyon
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red

Kurt in Medera Canyon
(Kurt shows off his Herculean strength in Madera Canyon)

There are a lot of mountains in the Green Valley/Tucson area, and canyons between them. One is Medera Canyon, part of the Coronado National Forest, and is laced by hiking trails. It’s become a favorite place for us to go for long walks.

The trails are rated by difficulty. The one we usually take is a “grandma trail,” perhaps 4 miles long and climbing 600 feet. This time we tried one the next level up in difficulty, climbing over 1000 feet. We thought we had the stamina. It didn’t seem all that steep. We thought wrong. I made it a bit farther up the trail than John, but we only lasted about half way before turning around.

To finish the day, we walked the handicap accessible trail, about as difficult as a city park.
This Medera Creek Canyon trail doesn't look so difficult
(This hiking trail doesn't look so difficult, does it?)


The view of the creek from a bridge reminded me pensively of trips we used to take when I was a kid, to go swimming in the Coos River. All the property was owned by the government or logging companies — you just pulled off the road and went swimming then and there. Apparently we weren't concerned about trespassing. Yes, there’s a reason why I was in this maudlin mood.
Kids were playing in Medera Creek
(Kids were playing in Medera Creek. I just cropped them out. Honestly.)

John  makes friends with the wildlife
(John  makes friends with the wildlife)


Fred Whipple Visitor Center Part 2
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red


The best part of the Whipple exhibit concerns the man personally, not astronomy. He had a great collection of astronomical neckties. Nobody but a total dork would wear such a tie — they must’ve looked great on him. I wish I had a collection like that. Who said there’s anything wrong with being a dork in the cause of science?

These neckties call to mind my days at the Michigan State University Science Fiction Society (MSUSFS). We should’ve adopted ties like these as our official club ties. They would’ve been perfect for us. Except that none of us ever wore ties.

Up closer:





Fred Whipple Visitor Center Part 1
Kurt Erichsen in front of an Eastern Red

Favorite Place #2 in Arizona for us is the Fred Whipple Visitor Center.


With the lateness of this post, let me simply summarize that he was an important enough astronomer, specializing in comets, to have a visitor center named after him. The visitor center/museum is definitely an after thought. The exhibits look like they have received little attention in ten or more years. The facility’s main function seems to be administrative; plus there are radio telescopes at the site, (see link above) and the parking lot is used by telescope enthusiasts for “star parties.”

We had the pleasure of visiting a star party on our previous visit — star gazers showed off their impressive telescopes. One had a telescope that measured about five feet around and a dozen feet high. I asked him where he kept it at home. He admitted it was a bit of an issue with his wife. A wonderful telescope, though.
Fred_Whipple_Visitor_Center cactus

The Whipple facility is within sight of the Mount Hopkins observatory, which is generally not open to the public, and being perilously perched on top of a mountain, not really accessible.

The attractions of the area — I will simply use photos.
Fred_Whipple_Visitor_Center cactus 2

Fred_Whipple_Visitor_Center desert flowers




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