After the collapse of VirtualTourist, I decided not to use any more “free” sites (not even the free version of wordpress.com), but to be a paying customer in hopes of having more stability and security. After five years I am still happy with this decision, since the costs are not excessive and I have a fair amount of control over my website. For instance, I can decide whether or not to have advertising — none for the time being, but it’s good to know the possibility is there, in case it is ever needed.
WordPress has a steep learning curve for the first few weeks (and I suppose I’ll have to learn the Block Editor someday), but otherwise I feel quite comfortable with it.
My new website went online on February 27, 2017, the day VirtualTourist was shut down. My first blog post on my new site was called Home of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). I assigned it to the category of Busseto, Italy, and gave it two tags, Operas and Verdi. (I had decided that the categories in my site would all be places, and the tags would be people, topics or years.)
Out of curiosity, I have just looked up the statistics for 2017 to see which of my posts were viewed the most often in that first year. Here’s a countdown of the top ten, with links:
# 10 — Berlin Citadel with discarded statues. Political and aesthetic preferences in Berlin have changed repeatedly over the years, so that statues erected in one phase have often been removed from public spaces in the next. But recently some of these old statues have been found, dusted off and painted white, and are now on display in the Citadel in Berlin-Spandau. In some of the rooms the interior walls have also been painted white, so the white statues look like ghosts in front of the white walls.
# 9 — R&R in Hong Kong 1965. My ninth most-often-viewed post in 2017 was a reminiscence of my visit to Hong Kong fifty-two years earlier, in 1965. At the time of my visit I was duly impressed by the Hong Kong skyline, though I am sure my old photos must look quaint to anyone who knows Hong Kong today, since many more and much larger buildings have been built in the meantime.
# 8 — Lyon’s unmistakable opera house. The French city of Lyon has a nineteenth-century opera house (dating from 1831) which was renovated but also dramatically expanded and redesigned by the French architect Jean Nouvel in the 1990s. The auditorium, where we spectators sit, is not directly attached to the main building but is (amazingly) suspended from above, for reasons of soundproofing and acoustics. This is an arrangement that was later used in the newer opera houses of Erfurt, Germany, and Copenhagen, Denmark.
# 7 — The Rabbi of Bacharach. My seventh most-often-viewed post in 2017 was this one about the town of Bacharach, on the Rhine River in Germany, as invoked by the German author Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) in his powerful short novel The Rabbi of Bacharach.
# 6 — Arrival in Tân Ba 1964. Tân Ba is a small village on the right bank of the Dong Nai River in Vietnam. I was stationed there as an American soldier for several months in 1964 and 1965, as the lowest-ranking member of a five-man ‘advisory team’. Fortunately, I didn’t have to ‘advise’ anybody about anything, just talk on the radio and interpret French-English for the local district chief, a South Vietnamese major who turned out to be a Francophile and had served twenty-six years in the French army.
In 2020 I received two comments on one of my Tân Ba posts from someone called Nguyen, who wrote: “Hi Don, I think I might have known you and Major Giam in 1964. I lived in Tanba and was an elementary student then.” And: “After the Tong Bang, the Ong Tiep bridge which was built by the French was also blown up. I remember after that the US engineering unit built the new bridge in a week.”
#5 — Jacques Brel’s Marieke in Brugge/Bruges. My fifth most-often-viewed post in 2017 was about a song by the Belgian singer Jacques Brel (1929-1978). In this post, I also give my answer to the age-old question of why the lovely young ladies in French love songs are always twenty years old, rather than nineteen or twenty-one. (By coincidence, this post was also # 5 in 2020 and 2021.)
# 4 — Frankfurt OperaTalk. My fourth most-often-viewed post in 2017 was about Frankfurt OperaTalk, an English-language opera appreciation course that I taught from 2002 to 2020 at the Adult Education Center (vhs) here in Frankfurt. I used to advertise this course by calling it “Germany’s only English-language opera appreciation course”, figuring that if this was not true, somebody was bound to contradict (which no one ever did).
# 3 — Why the Dutch don’t wear bicycle helmets. In this post I explain why Dutch traffic planners decided years ago not to make helmets a part of their safety package. The post also includes a section entitled: “Why I still wear a bicycle helmet, even though the Dutch don’t.”
# 2 — About me. Most blogging websites have a post (or a page) called “About” or “About me”, and mine is no exception. Here I have attempted to summarize my life and hard times in 1,230 words and fifteen images. This is my own view of myself, obviously, but I have tried to keep it realistic. As I get older, I occasionally have to go back and update this post by changing the tense of certain verbs from the present to the past.
# 1 — Opern-Gespräche. This is my only post that is written in German, the other 1,026 being in English. This post includes a list of the 243 singers, musicians and other opera professionals who came to my German-language opera courses over the years as our featured guests, to talk with us and answer our questions about Frankfurt opera productions and about life on the international opera circuit.
In March 2020, the 41st semester of the Opern-Gespräche was ended prematurely after only two course meetings, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
My post on the Opern-Gespräche was — by far — my most-often-viewed post in the first five years of this website, from 2017 through 2021.