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In April last year, we visited Belgium and France, Belgium for the fries and France for the champagne!
Our Belgium visit brought us for a couple of days to Namur, the regional capitol of Wallonia, located on a great confluence of the Meuse River, the world’s oldest river, that winds up from France through Belgium fried potato country to the North Sea. We stayed for a few nights at a novel hotel/spa called the Nest, located in a fine residential neighborhood atop the Citadel, the winding protective precipice above the city and river. It has been cleverly reconstructed from some ancient stone farm dwellings, and contains a handful of suites surrounding a beautiful pool and spa.
The White Suite, where we stayed, was set up like a small deluxe modern apartment, with ancient stone inner walls and modern white furniture. The bedroom, which contained a lounge area and fireplace had a hand-made Swedish bed, called a Hastens, which cost three or four times what the most expensive beds we had known, and was put in the year before for the historic visit to Namur of Prince Albert of Monoco, as the news item below outlines.
NAMUR, BELGIUM – JANUARY 31: Prince Albert II of Monaco attends the 1st Interdisciplanary Congress On Sustainable Development at the Palais des Congres on January 31, 2013 in Namur, Belgium. Topics expected to be covered at the two-day conference, on January 31 and February 1, 2013, include food and agriculture, land use, planning and housing.
We found the bed to be firm and very comfortable, by the way,
Giving permission for McDonald’s restaurants to appear in films had been part of my job description for a long time, but when producer Roger Weisberg, who I’d worked with before, approached me on this one, I had to pause. They not only wanted to film at the Museum McDonald’s in Des Plaines, IL, the recreation of Ray Kroc’s first quick service hamburgers and fries restaurant of 1955, but they wanted someone for the controversial host of the film to interview there. I knew this one would be trouble, but I was intrigued, as the host would be Andrei Codrescu, a colorful Transylvanian poet who was burning up the airwaves on National Public Radio as a social critic of all things American. But I was a fan of his show, and his oblique sense of humor, and I knew that Roger, and hopefully Andrei, had a soft spot for McDonald’s.
The premise of his documentary film, which was being produced for commercial distribution in movie houses, at least on the arts circuit, was that Andrei, who had never before driven a car, would travel from the east coast to the west, driving a 1968 red Cadillac convertible, producing a sort of “On The Road of the 90s” film of his colorful encounters with icons of popular American culture. I volunteered to do the interview with Andrei at Ray Kroc’s 1955 McDonald’s, but told almost no one in management as I was pretty sure Andrei’s controversial take on American culture would not sit easily with the keepers of our conservative corporate culture..So I donned my paper crew hat of the era, straightened my tie and walked onto the set of my first commercial film. When the movie came out, I think in 1993 or so, Vicki and I took our young niece and nephew with us to see it at a theatre in Evanston. We just told them it would have something to do with McDonald’s. When the McDonald’s segment came up, my niece Amanda exclaimed, “It’s uncle Chuck.” The film, Road Scholar, while winner of a prestigious Peabody Award, only attracted a limited audience, probably mostly hip college students and quirky NPR fans. Around the same time, Road Scholar was produced as a book, with the subtitle “Coast to Coast late in the century.” Following is the McDonald’s segment from the book (click on title), in which I’m quoted from the film.
The First McDonald’s ROOF of the power of dreams: Ray Kroc, one man with a single idea, a rounded idee fixe called a hamburger, began to dream an empire and, lo and behold, one day the entire planet is covered by the mighty waves of his single thought…If anybody’s going to get to heaven it’s Mr. Kroc on a ladder of billions of burgers, the number that most approached infinity. Next to rock ‘n’ roll, McDonald’s is the most enduring American creation of the second half of the twentieth century. They are chomping them down in Moscow, Beijing, Des Moines, wearing them in Poughkeepsie and Frankfort…(sing this) CHUCK, a company official, speaking of First McDonald’s (now a museum): This is the only early McDonald’s restaurant that’s been preserved exactly as it opened April 15, 1955. And these days the students who come through Hamburger University over at our McDonald’s campus nearby come over to get a little feeling for the culture. It’s really a cultural experience. It’s a chance to see, touch and feel what McDonald was like at the beginning. .Now we’ve got for you an official McDonald’s crew hat here just as was worn in the fifties. And we make you an honorary crew person. AC: (Pointing to life size replica of early McDonald’s employee) .I could look like him; he’s tall. A hamburger-deficient diet during my childhood in Transylvania must have stunted my growth. Eighty-five billion burgers sold vs. 250 million Americans equals 340 burgers per American…that works out to four extra inches per American versus your average Romanian.
CHUCK; We used to talk about hamburgers in terms of if we stack them all up it would be a stack that would reach the moon and back 16 times. But I think we have gone quite a way beyond that. So we haven’t related it to any more planets lately.
As Chuck and AC converse:, Ray Kroc’s voice is heard beyond the grave: Transfer your fears into faith. Any you will inherit the freedom of the future. And f you believe in it – and believe in it hard – it is impossible to fail.
And now there is the McLean Deluxe, a skinnier version of the Big Mac for the fat-conscious American of the end of the Millennium. McDonald’s has so penetrated out national consciousness we even have McPoems now, which are poems mass-produced in writing workshops at universities. And McTests, McThoughts, McReactions, McFeelings, and so on.
No meat eater myself, I watch the vast fields of wheat that end up between Mr. Kroc’s buns and the immense lowing herds that lay down their lives for Big Mac. I can see too the intense flows of these commodities through the banks and the money markets — the rivers of commerce paralleling the rivers of wheat and meat, like mind and body.
In the novel The Pit by Frank Norris, a madman tries to corner the wheat market. Like Napoleon he is filled with dreams of glory. Every leaf of bread on earth will be stamped with his name. Alas! The drought he prays for does not come. Instead, there is a plentiful harvest. The earth, which rarely sympathizes with the dreams of Napoleons, buries him in wheat. All his plans go awry. The peasants of Europe are starving, and the wheat he has been hoarding spills over the shores of America and feeds them. The Midwest harbors such dreams occasionally. It must be the immensity of her plains that allows imperial daydreams to roll unimpeded.
It was New Year’s Eve, 1967, and I’d driven up to Green Bay with my parents to celebrate the holiday. I was on leave from the Army War College in Carlisle, PA, where I was a young staff lieutenant. My grandfather, Ed Schweger, was one of the local businessmen who had the vision in the 1920’s of supporting a struggling new local football team named the Green Bay Packers. They needed money to keep going, so a local stock offering was mounted and my grandfather purchased 2% of the shares (which might have been worth more than $20 million today, if the team had not been created as a public trust). I’d been to many Packer games with my grandfather, when the team used to play at East High School. When Lambeau field was constructed in the 1950s, grandfather walked the new stands and picked out his two seats, around the 40 year line and just 8 rows up behind the home bench, so he could see over the heads on the sidelines for a perfect view of action on the field. As pharmacist to the team and an original stockholder, he had what Chicagoans called “clout.”
On that frigid day, we bundled up (grandfather was around 76 at the time, five years older than I am today), and my grandmother Sylvia drove us to a friend’s house a few blocks north of the field, where she would pick us up after the game. We walked to Lambeau and found our seats in the stands, which had been newly shoveled of snow. What a thrilling game; we were so enthralled that we barely felt the cold, though I think we both were numb. It was touch and go, with the temp around -15, but windchill somewhere between -30 and -50. The refs whistle froze to his lip, and the skin was ripped off when he pulled it away. They called the game verbally from then on.The field, where the heater had malfunctioned, was like an ice rink. It looked like the Packers might succumb. Then the final play:
“Radio calls of the Block
“Here are the Packers, third down, inches to go, to paydirt. 17-14, Cowboys out in front, Packers trying for the go-ahead score. Starr begins the count. Takes the snap…He’s going in for the quarterback sneak and he’s in for the touchdown and the Packers are out in front! 20-17! And 13 seconds showing on the clock and the Green Bay Packers are going to be…World Champions, NFL Champions, for the third straight year!” – Ted Moore, Packers radio announcer
“About a half-yard to go, here come the Packers up again. Mercein sets his feet. Bart Starr’s all set…16 seconds left… Starr’s in, touchdown!” (About 12 seconds of crowd noise) “And the crowd has gone wild and ran onto the field with 16, 13 seconds left, the Packers are ahead.” – Bill Mercer, Cowboys radio announcer
“Don Chandler kicked the extra point to make the score 21–17. Dallas downed the kickoff in their end zone, and after two Dallas incompletions the game was over. At the conclusion of the game, jubilant Packer fans streamed onto the field knocking over Packer and Cowboy players alike.”
My grandfather Ed and I, exhausted and stiff from the cold, walked back to the friend’s house and we returned to his house to thaw out and celebrate the coming of 1968. I shall never forget that days frozen walk into football history. Thanks to my grandfather and that legendary game, my tickets (then his, same seats) to today’s game, being called Ice Bowl II, sold for a thousand dollars online, and Vicki and I will be cheering on the Packers on our new widescreen TV next to our roaring fire in the hearth of our cozy Lake Geneva home.