Thursday, February 26, 2009

Blood in the Streets

As the old rabbi said, the time to buy real estate (and stocks?) is when there is blood in the streets. We seem to be in such a period now, if not literally certainly figuratively. Economic news in the US, Canada and around the world just seems to keep getting worse. Only time will tell whether the new Administration's plans for the economy will lead to a turnaround soon, or whether we are in for a long period of stagnation similar to the Great Depression.

My parents told me a lot about the Depression when I was a kid. They said it was a terrible time, but also a time when people managed to have a lot of low cost fun if they could hang on to a job and/or some money. It was during the Depression that my mother (and role model) began travelling on her own (she was not yet married.) Her job as a secretary didn't provide much money or much time off, but she made the most of what she had. She travelled from Chicago to California, Canada, Mexico and several times on Caribbean cruises. Twice she sailed out of New Orleans on the passenger carrying freighters that belonged to the United Fruit Company, and she said that the informal slogan of the line was "Every banana a guest, every passenger a pest."

Her most memorable cruise was in the summer of 1939 out of New York on the S.S. St. Louis of Hamburg American Line. The ship's previous voyage has been chronicled in both a book and a film titled "Voyage of the Damned. " Carrying a boatload of Jewish refugees from Germany, the St. Louis wandered for weeks in the New World looking for a place that would accept them. A few were allowed to land in Cuba, but both the U.S. and Canada turned them away. The ship's captain refused a direct order to return them to near certain death in Germany, and eventually was able to work out a deal to divide them between the UK, France, Belgium and Holland. After the war he was decorated by the new West German government, but the St. Louis herself did not survive the war. Sadly, neither did most of the Jewish passengers.

My mother's cruise was much less harrowing, but she said the crew members of the St. Louis were very nervous and spoke of the tension and despair of their former passengers.

In the spirit of my mother (and her mother,) my close friend and co-author Susan Lukowski has recently returned from a trip to China and southeast Asia. She does not want me to mention the country she enjoyed the most, but suffice it to say it is one few tourists visit. Way to go Susan.


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