¶ This blog started in 2015-2016 with two years of devotionals: “Midweek Meditations: Family and Friends.” ¶ It continued throughout 2017 with short poems: “Midweek Moments: Creator and Creation.” ¶ Now in 2018 comes a lighthearted travelogue: “Midweek Milestones: 6½ Times Around the World.” ¶ For three decades we lived in a faraway place. Our travels, during those years and since, have brought us to a strangely uneven global total. Each blog posted during 2018 will actually be an excerpt from a paperback soon to be published — with cartoons, plus fuller accounts of our worldwide adventures (and misadventures!).
SIGNS AND NUMBERS
In France during World War I, my father said that one of his fellow American soldiers, a truck driver, was functionally illiterate. When asked how he was progressing with his army-enforced literacy training, the trucker confessed: “I’m a-gettin’ along faster with them numbers than I am with them letters. Whenever I see a sign, I can tell how fur it is, even when I don’t know whur I’m a-goin’.”
International travel would be immeasurably harder without signs and numbers. Fortunately Fran and I can read enough French, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian (as well as British English!) to help us decipher road signs in countries where those languages are used. Sometimes European languages can also be useful in former European colonies. But when newly-aroused nationalism in Morocco caused all road signs to be written only in Arabic, we were utterly at a loss. Oddly enough, modern Arabic does not use what we call “Arabic numerals.” Instead, numbers are indicated by some of those strangely-shaped letters in the Arabic alphabet.
Older sections of Nashville, Tennessee used to baffle tourists. Someone conceived the artistic notion of engraving street names on upright concrete markers, rather than painting them on overhead signs. The problem is, the average human eye is geared to take in several letters at a glance horizontally, left to right, but NOT several letters at a glance vertically, up and down. Some disgruntled Nashvillians even said those older street signs must have been devised by the Chinese!
Now that Cuba has been re-opened to worldwide tourism, many travelers have been baffled by written street addresses in older sections of Havana. They think they’re seeing double: Two names are given for the main street. Two numbers are given for the cross street. But the house itself is given no number at all!
Actually, there’s a logical explanation. Many older streets have been renamed, and locals often refer to the old familiar names. But many older houses have never been numbered, so the only way to locate them is by listing the cross streets on either side: “Between 14 and 15,” for instance.
I’m not sure where we were picnicking in the British Isles when we saw a sign that strictly warned us: “TAKE YOUR LITTER HOME.” We thought this was getting a bit too personal, because we had children and grandchildren with us at the time.
Since World War II, many American service personnel have ridden the Metropolitana train line that fans out from downtown Naples. Many of them have gotten off at the sign “USCITA,” thinking that letters almost like “US CITY” surely must point the way toward their military base. Eventually they have learned that “USCITA” is only the Italian word for “EXIT.”
Copyright © 2017 by Perry Thomas