The Voice: The First Instrument

From the grunts and groans of ancient man, to the highly trained and remarkable vocalizations of modern day opera singers, we can trace the development of vocal music through the ages.
The human voice sets us aside from all other creatures on earth. It is certainly one of the defining aspects of being human. The voice’s ability to change pitch or sing, is the first, oldest and most highly developed and sophisticated of all musical instruments.165493049-1

People in the oldest civilized cultures of Greek and Roman societies sang in religious settings and theatrical events. The ancient Jewish tradition of chanting phased into the beginning of Christianity. The chanting evolved into vocal music during the early development of Christianity.

European Background
The Medieval or Middle Ages (500-1450) was known as the “Golden Age of Melody” or Monophony: meaning one voice, or one part. This was the music designated as Plain Song, Plain Chant or Gregorian Chant. This music was not written until the monks of the Middle Ages wrote music down in an early form of notation. This music was sacred and liturgical in nature. Secular music was sung by Troubadours and Trouveres in France and Minnesingers and Meistersingers in Germany. They were itinerant musicians that went from town to town performing for, hopefully, money.

The Rennaissance (1450-1600) was the “Golden Age of Polyphony.” Meaning “more than one voice or part,” this is music written for two, three, four or more parts. This was a huge step up from Monophony. Before the Rennaissance, vocal music was by far the predominating form of music. Instrumental music became more important and prominent during this period of music history. During the Baroque period (1600-1750) vocal and instrumental music shared prominence. In the classic period (1750-1827) instrumental music was the leading force in musical composition and has remained so to the present day. Vocal music lost its leading role in the musical world to a plethora of instrumental musical forms and styles.

Voice Classifications
Human vocal ranges are usually divided into six ranges: Three female voices: soprano, mezzo-soprano and contralto and three male voices: tenor, baritone and bass. If the singer is an opera singer, a further classification is used: dramatic, lyric and coloratura soprano and dramatic contralto. Male opera singers include: robust, lyric and heroic tenors and basso profondo, basso buffo and agile bass.

High vocal parts presented a problem for the Roman Catholic Church. Females were not permitted to sing in acts of worship, so they used pre-pubescent boys to sing the high parts. Another solution, although controversial, was the castrato, a young male singer castrated before puberty to preserve his high voice. This option became an important aspect of Catholic choirs all over Europe for the next two centuries. In 1599 a castrato was on the payroll of the Sistine Choir in Rome.

In John Stanley’s book, Classical Music, he writes, “Castrati were also used extensively in opera, primarily singing women’s roles. The castrati provided a new and more powerful voice to sing the high parts with support, volume, intensity and control.” Stanley writes, “Music of the Roman Catholic Church, with a few notable exceptions, is a mere shadow of its former glory, while the Anglican choral tradition (a choir of men and boys) continues to flourish.”

Vocal Music in the United States
The early colonist brought with them the musical training they learned in Europe. Many came to our shores for religious freedom and quickly set up church services. Hymn singing was an integral part of their services. The first book printed in British North America was The Bay Psalm Book (The Bay Song Book) in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As singing took on greater importance, especially in churches, the Reverend John Tufts of Newbury, Massachusetts published the first practical book in singing in 1712. The better singers in church services tended to sit together and gradually became choir groups. The so-called “singing schools” were formed to improve and develop the church choirs. They first appeared in the colonies in 1720 and they quickly spread throughout New England. The directors of these singing schools were concerned with the ability to read music and interpret a variety of choral works. The rudiments of music and sight singing were paramount in the instruction.

It wasn’t long before music was introduced into the classroom of public schools. The first formal inclusion of music in schools occurred in Boston in 1838. The aim was to have a citizenry exposed to music as part of the common cultural heritage. Some schools followed the pestalozzian principles of music instruction, namely to teach sounds before signs and make children sing before they learn the written notes. Principles and theory came after the practice and not before.

As a result of these early practices, music instruction today is present in virtually all public school systems. In some school districts it is considered an indispensable and essential part of a student’s education. Let’s hope music education will continue in our schools for many years into the future, preserving this precious cultural heritage for generations to come.

Don’t miss the Danville Community Band’s annual concert at the Blackhawk Automotive Museum, 3700 Blackhawk Plaza Circle, Danville, Sunday, March 29, 2015, 2:00 p.m.

The Danville Community Band was founded by Dr. Lawrence Anderson and his wife, Jan in 2001 and quickly became the largest community band in the Bay Area. The band is currently directed by Professor, Robert Calonico, director of bands, at the University of California, Berkeley. The band currently has openings for percussion players. Please submit your questions and comments to Visit our website at for up-to-date information about the Danville Community Band.

Mona Lisa—Over 500 Years of Face Time

The Mona Lisa, Leonardo Da Vinci’s iconic painting wasn’t always as famous as she is now. Prior to Vincenzo Peruggia ripping her off the wall in the Louvre in August 1911, she was just another pretty face.
My longtime affinity for Mona Lisa goes back to childhood; my mother always displayed her image, and my girlish heart soared when Nat King Cole crooned the Mona Lisa song from cafe jukeboxes. Imagine the thrill when I met Ray Evans who wrote the “Mona Lisa” song. Giddy as a schoolgirl, I asked about his 1950s megahit. “It’s my best money-maker; I still get royalties in my mailbox.” Evans told me and sang the first line. “Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa men have named you…”Mona_Lisa

When I further researched “the lady with the mystic smile” I learned how she had become the most famous painting on earth. According to my Facebook friend, art historian Professor Noah Charney, he writes about her mysterious back story in his book, The Thefts of Mona Lisa: On Stealing the World’s Most Famous Painting. Professor Charney founded ARCA— Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, a non-profit Rome-based think tank.

The 1911 heist of the Mona Lisa first appeared to have all the marks of an international theft ring, but the artwork was stolen by a nondescript disgruntled museum contractor, Vincenzo Peruggia, who co-workers nicknamed ‘macaroni’.

Peruggia, the unassuming thief from Dumenza in Northern Italy, went to Paris to find work, and was ironically contracted to the Louvre Museum to build a protective glass case for the Mona Lisa. The Louvre, without sufficient alarm systems, was finally beefing up security after Iberian head sculptures had been stolen in 1907 and sold to Picasso. The staff did maintenance on Mondays when the museum was closed.

The Salon Carre, where Mona Lisa was exhibited, also featured Titian, Raphael, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto, Velasquez, Rubens, and Rembrandt masterworks. Peruggia targeted the Mona Lisa, (known as La Giaconda in Italy and La Jocunde in France) because he mistakenly perceived that Napoleon had plundered it along with other Italian treasures during his late 18th century Italian Campaign. Burning with patriotism and a dash of larceny, he believed Da Vinci’s painting should be returned to Italy. Though other Italian paintings were then more valuable, the Mona Lisa was accessible and portable.149139656

Peruggia had spent the previous Sunday night hiding in an airless closet off the staircase while scheming to steal the masterpiece at daybreak. His intention was to return it to the Uffizi in Florence, perhaps with a reward, and hence be acclaimed a national hero.

About 7:30 the morning of 21st August 1911, the white-smocked worker calmly lifted the masterpiece from the protective wall cradle and carried the unwieldy frame to the staircase. There he removed the painted wood panel from the frame, wrapped it in his smock and pried the doorknob off an exit door. It did not open. By chance a worker arrived and unwittingly opened the door. Peruggia nonchalantly carried the treasure under his arm to a museum courtyard and out to the street where he discarded the incriminating doorknob.

Meanwhile, back at the museum, with only a skeleton crew in the low-security 50-acre museum, no one noticed the blank space on the wall until replicator artist Louis Beroud arrived to finish his own copy of La Jocunde. The place where once hung the masterpiece had four pegs in the wall; the painting was missing!

Monsieur Picquet, maintenance director, coolly replied that the painting may have been removed to photograph in better light as was the custom. The earthshattering impact of the daring theft would not be discovered until Tuesday when viewers arrived. Gendarmes rushed in, launched a dragnet around Paris, trains, trolleys and trawlers were stopped. Mon Dieu!

That fateful Monday morning when Vincenzo Peruggia had exited the Louvre unnoticed he hopped a trolley to his flat at 5 Rue de l’Hopital Saint Louis. Carrying the precious loot to his fourth storey room, he placed the Mona Lisa in a firewood cabinet behind his bed, and gloated.

The thief could never have imagined in his wildest dreams that he had succeeded in pulling off the biggest art heist in history, and singlehandedly made the Mona Lisa the world’s most recognizable work of art. Peruggia’s single act of valor, or skullduggery, was to bring fame to the once-incognito Mona Lisa and the then-estimated worth skyrocketed way beyond $5 million.

French detectives jumped on the case, interviewed museum staff, staged roadblocks, newspapers screamed banner headlines, and the frantic hoopla seemed over the top to many. Even though once acclaimed as the “embodiment of the eternal feminine” she was still so obscure that the Washington Post showed an incorrect image with the headline, “Priceless art treasure gone.” Mona who?

So Mona Lisa, once a 16th century nobody, suddenly became an overnight sensation leading to the now-iconic priceless masterpiece drawing over eight million viewers annually to the Louvre.

When news broke that the Louvre’s favourite girl had disappeared gendarmes searched the premises, interrogated workers, fingerprinted everyone. One un-smudged fingerprint was found on the glass cradle, but in 1911 there was an inadequate database. If Peruggia’s print was found he had worked on the display case anyway. The investigation hit a wall, reached a dead end, then the Titanic sank, the Great  War loomed, news cycles switched, and the case turned cold.
Rumour has it that a police inspector interviewed Peruggia in his flat. During questioning he filled out forms pressing on the actual Mona Lisa panel sitting upside down on the very table where he sat. At least that’s what Peruggia’s daughter Celestina claimed.

The 20-pound painting is small, at only 30” x 21”x 1.5” it was easy to hide. It was not painted on canvas but on a white poplar panel. Peruggia built a wooden crate, placed the cloth-wrapped panel under the false bottom, filled it with clothes, shoes, tools and a mandolin, and secreted the coffin-like box under his bed safe as an unlaid egg.

So Leonardo Da Vinci’s celebrated Mona Lisa, who had already enjoyed over four centuries of public face time, was now demoted to languish in the dark box perhaps alongside a chamber pot under the handyman’s iron bed.

Two years later Peruggia carried the trunk on the train and returned to Italy. He had contacted a Florentine art dealer and offered to sell the precious La Giaconda to the Uffizi Gallery for a piddling 500,000 Lire. The handyman met the potential Uffizi buyers in his modest Tripoli-Italia Hotel room.

They watched as Peruggia removed clothes, shoes, mandolin, and then unceremoniously freed the beloved Mona Lisa from her sarcophagus. Close inspection convinced them the panel was truly Da Vinci’s masterpiece. They carried her to the Uffizi, hearts racing.

Later when the Carabinieri jailed him for grand larceny he was startled. Surely Italy would glorify his patriotism! Lawyers and psychiatrists worked for leniency for the man who claimed to be a patriot. Many Italians, perceiving Peruggia had rightfully returned their beloved Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece, showered him with praise. Women sent sweet cakes to his cell. “Not so fast,” the law warned.

The Mona Lisa ‘capolavoro’ had never belonged to Italy; Da Vinci had sold it to Francis I, king of France in 1517 when he was court painter. La Giaconda had hung in Fontainebleau, Versailles, and on Emperor Napoleon’s bedroom wall before it went to the Louvre. Italy benefitted from the masterpiece’s brief sojourn, the first in four centuries. When La Giaconda appeared at the Uffizi in Florence it was viewed by over 30,000 people on the first day. Then the kidnapped Mona Lisa caught her last express train from Milano back to Paris.

Vincenzo Peruggia stood trial for the high-profile theft, was diagnosed as mentally deficient owing to the high lead content in paint that he mixed and breathed. Court records showed how his brain was affected by lead poisoning. The verdict was lenient for the ‘patriotic’ thief.

Peruggia served seven months in prison then joined the Italian army during the Great War. After the war he returned to Paris with his wife. Renowned for committing the most celebrated crime of all time, he died in Paris in obscurity on his 44th birthday 8th October 1925.

So the man who had brought recognition to La Giaconda was buried without fanfare, without a gravestone. His notoriety had dissipated, no one cared anymore. But Mona Lisa’s haunting mystique abounded, and the once-unknown Florentine girl with no eyebrows and enigmatic smile, had songs and numerous books written about her.

Her name was Lisa Gherardini. born on June 15th 1479. The Florentine girl married merchant Francesco de Giacondo at age 16. Between 1503 and 1507 Lisa sat for a commissioned portrait by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Da Vinci was born April 15th 1452 near the village of Vinci and was schooled in Florence. In 1481 he worked for the Duchy of Sforza as military engineer in Milano where he painted the Last Supper in 1495.

In 1507 King Louis XII named him court painter and he moved to France. King Francois I bought the Mona Lisa in 1516, and when Leonardo died in 1519 the he purchased his entire estate.

Leonardo Da Vinci is celebrated for his body of works; paintings and codex writings made him a Renaissance rock star. Had he not left such detailed legacies he may have just blended in with other great 16th century artists, but his innovations forced him to the top of the artistic pile. The southpaw was not only painter, but engineer, inventor, sculptor, philosopher and all-round genius. Some theorize he invented the helicopter, Scuba gear, perfected siege projectiles and river fording machinery. Scholars theorize that if IQ tests existed Da Vinci would score higher than any other genius.

The introduction of Da Vinci’s sfumato technique gave his art a smoky quality not achieved by others including Michelangelo Buonorotti. He took years to finish a painting because he laid thinned paint with the finest hair brushes, layering in thin coats that toned to monochromatic colours. Lines, borders or heavy strokes evaporated, vanished to subtle graduations of transparency. Every work was a masterpiece.

So to steal one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterworks was the coups of all coups. Vincenzo Peruggia was the most daring rogue of the hour, more than just a common thief who courageously succeeded in the heist of a renowned painting from the world’s most prestigious art museum.

Two decades after the infamous heist the red-hot story still hadn’t died. A bizarre account in the Saturday Evening Post in 1932 has never been proven as either fact or fantasy. Writer Karl Dekker stated he met Argentine aristocrat Valfierno in a bar in Casablanca. Where else? The aristocrat confessed that he had hired master forger Yves Chaudron to paint six fakes of the Mona Lisa that he offered to six different American millionaires for $300,000 each.

Years after the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, supposedly by Valfierno’s own gang, he contacted the six unwary potential buyers offering them each the ‘original masterpiece’. The con man said a fake was returned to the Louvre in January 1914, and even if the museum experts had doubted its authenticity, they would not advertise their gross ineptitude. Each rogue connoisseur bought the story, aware of the mother of all heists, and champed at the bit to possess the forbidden work of art for their eyes only.

Though the magazine story purported the ruse to be fact, it was implausible that the simple-minded mastermind Vincenzo Peruggia was ever part of a crime ring.

The Mona Lisa was on the move again during World War II. Fearing the Nazis would plunder the high-value masterpiece; they sequestered it away from Paris by ambulance. Then in 1974, like a wandering Gypsy girl, Mona Lisa went on tour to Tokyo and Moscow.

Time has dulled memories; the incident has faded like the sfumato of a Da Vinci painting, but Peruggia’s family in Dumenza still believe he was a hero. His daughter Celestina and grandchildren Graziella and Silvio Peruggia speak of the daring Mona Lisa snatch with amazement, smile at his audacity. In-depth research has revealed that Vincenzo Peruggia was truly patriotic, albeit he also anticipated a large reward.

Yes, the lady with the mystic smile, and over five centuries of face time has definitely earned her fame. Over the years unstable viewers have thrown coffee cups and red paint at her protective bullet-proof case, but her smile endures. And now you know the rest of Mona Lisa’s story.

The New Year’s Signs

I love the New Year! It’s a fresh start, a blank canvas, a clean slate, a “Do Over,” if you will. The question on everyone’s mind undoubtedly is: Will it be a good new year or a bad new year? There is obviously an equal chance it could go either way, but 50/50 really isn’t bad odds. What I’ve come to realize is the direction our year will take usually depends on the subtle signs we’re getting just as the year is starting out. Once “the signs” start coming your way, you first have to recognize them and then, once it’s determined if it will be a Good year or Bad year, start making preparations.459881979

These “signs” aren’t anything as obvious as a street sign or your daily horoscope based on an astrological sign. They are tenuous signs coming at you from different universal directions. If you were thinking there was a movie entitled Signs released in 2002, written and directed by M. NightShyamalan, you would be correct. However, the plot of that popular movie involved crop circles and extraterrestrial life, so there’s almost no correlation to this piece at all. My reference to signs is more like the 1971 song, Signs, by the group Five Man Electric Band. Everyone (who’s super-old) remembers that song right? Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. Do this! Don’t do that? Can’t you read the signs? But I digress.There is a very strong chance that the New Year will is either going to be a Good one or Bad one, depending on what signs are coming your way.

25 Signs that it will be a Good New Year

1. Despite your over exposure to everything i (iPad, iTouch, iPod, iMac) you have not yet shown any symptoms of contracting “iBola.”
2. No one in your family is dating a Kardashian.
3. Mama June and Sugar Bear get back together for the sake of Honey Boo Boo.
4. A scientist in the Ukraine has finally developed a fat free donut that tastes just as good as a real one.
5. You used all your bitcoins in 2014.
6. Since the creepy neighbor moved away, none of the family pets have had unexplained absences.
7. Words with Friends recently accepted you back after the mandatory thirty-day suspension for habitually playing porn slang.
8. You sold your Cosby Show DVD box set to someone who just came out of a coma.
9. You gave your teen daughter a $20.00 to get a Starbuck’s drink and she actually gave you change.
10. The Witness Protection Program finally accepted you, a week before your scheduled visit with the in-laws.
11. Due to your more than normal consumption of candy canes during the holidays, your classic “Pull my finger” joke now features a subtle waft of peppermint.
12. Your savings account balance is sporting its first comma in months.
13. Your wife says she’s feeling frisky and it’s not even your birthday.
14. Thanks to the frequency of your holiday work orders, Roto-Rooter sent you a “Customer of the Quarter” plaque.
15. The water bill arrived and for the first time in the past year it was less than your mortgage.
16. The FX network announced they’ve decided to run one more season of your favorite show, Sons of Anarchy.
17. Your 17 year old son tells you he’s having second thoughts about getting those cool gauges in his ears for his 18th birthday.
18. Your boss, who you don’t like, just got transferred to the company’s Ferguson, Missouri branch. What…too soon?
19. Your HOA approved your plans to add a moat in your front yard.
20. Your kid’s doctor says the itchy scalp is simple dandruff and not head lice.
21. Due to your recent weight loss, people can finally make out the Def Leppard tattoo you got in ’84 during their Pour Some Sugar on Me tour.
22. You just met your ex-wife’s new husband and he looks miserable.
23. You bought an expensive electronics device at Best Buy and 14 days later it’s still NOT obsolete.
24. Your ISIS application was rejected for lack of anger and meanness.
25. You submit your New Year’s article two days before the ALIVE deadline instead of the standard ten days late. You’re thinking Pulitzer.

25 Signs that it will be a Bad New Year.

1. There’s police crime scene tape surrounding your house following your raging New Year’s Eve Party.
2. You’re considering leaving your outdoor holiday lights up all year to class up the neighborhood.
3. Your physician says that the lab results indicate you have two weeks to live and then he apologizes he couldn’t reach you during the holidays.
4. Your credit score is a single digit number.
5. 2015 is the newest calendar year and also your blood pressure reading.
6. Your New Year’s kiss was with your cellmate Rocco.
7. The Salvation Army called to say they want their red kettle back.
8. At the start of the NFL season, you bet it all on either the Raiders or 49ers winning the Super Bowl in 2015.
9. Your wife gives you a gift card to Forever 61 and you’re only 50.
10. The World’s Fattest Man sends you an email telling you to “Back Off!”
11. Your revised financial plan focuses heavily on Lottery tickets.
12. Your teenage daughter went on Craig’s List offering to trade both of your kidneys for Miley Cyrus tickets.
13. During a recent physical, your physician asks if you’re allergic to embalming fluid.
14. The kid’s college fund depends on you selling your gold crowns on ebay.
15. You’re thinking of filing a work place sexual harassment complaint and you’re self-employed.
16. After six months of intense cross fit training you’re wife says she finds you slightly less disgusting.
17. Your high school reunion now looks like a cast party from Cocoon.
18. Your current “To Do” list reads like a suicide note.
19. Your wife’s cooking has gotten so bad you appear to be a prisoner of war.
20. The cologne your kids bought your for Christmas makes you smell like an ATM machine.
21. Your wife tells you she’s into something kinky, so she handcuffs you to the bed and goes shopping.
22. You’re on a first name basis with the staff at Applebee’s.
23. The balance in your family vacation account would currently only get you a one-night stay at the Motel 6 in Pleasanton.
24. The dog refuses to take a walk with you until you lose some weight.
25. Your wife insists that you learn to write with your left hand so you can keep paying the bills if you have a stroke.

The signs have spoken, although it’s probably safe to say the signs above might be slightly different that the ones you’re receiving. Let’s hope the signs coming your way point to a good new year. Signing off…………

Stamps In My Passport: Bruges

I’ve never managed to get around to putting together a bucket list. Done lots of exciting and different things over the years, so never felt the need. Had I ever assembled one, it would have been divided into two distinct categories – one being things to do and the second would be places to visit. To fill the latter category I would have used the UNESCO World Heritage list. It’s a huge register of just over one thousand sites divided into cultural, natural, and mixed locations. I’ve blundered into a number of them during my travels, and I really have to give the twenty one members on the selection committee a “thumbs-up” for picking great places.

It isn’t easy to get on the list. An applicant must meet at least one of ten criteria established by UNESCO. The next step is to become part of the Tentative List, meet their approval, and finally be selected by the UNESCO Council. The last stage is to receive final approval from the UNESCO World Consent Committee. Takes effort, time, and patience to be selected.

Perhaps my all-time favorite is Luang Prabangin Laos far up the Mekong River. But last year I found a great number two. May I tell you about it?

Our experience with Belgium has been quite limited. We spent a couple of days in Brussels some years ago while on an “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium” tour. A few years later we visited with friends who were living in Brussels. Our modus operandi has changed considerably since those days. As we age we are now spending weeks instead of days at each spot. This gives us an opportunity to feel the life of a location, rather than just a brief run-by.

We realized we knew very little about Belgium, so this country worked its way to the top of our “to visit list.” When one thinks of Belgium, Brussels is the first city that pops to mind. But as I said in my introduction, World Heritage sites usually prove more interesting, so our focus turned from Brussels to the near-by city of Bruges.174102041 44444

Bruges is a rabbit warren. Its history goes back about two thousand years. In the fourteenth century it was well established as one of the most prosperous and cosmopolitan cities of Europe. Its easy access to the North Sea made it a central operating city of major importance. Several major waterways allowed goods to flow into and out of Europe. The historic city center is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. This area is not only surrounded by canals, but they are also found in every corner of the town. Inside this tight little conclave a city of remarkable architectural and cultural interest developed.

The Industrial Revolution was not kind to Bruges. Other ports along the North Sea in France, Netherlands, and Germany drained much of the lifeblood from this thriving metropolis. The canals from Bruges to the sea began to fill with silt, and the deep draught ships found more appropriate ports.

World War I proved an important event for Burges, as it occupied the northern tip of the German defenses. The poem “In Flanders Field, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row,” speaks of the land surrounding Bruges. WWII had only a minor influence. The town was occupied by the Germans, of course, but was ignored by the advancing Allied armies. For all practical considerations, the occupying Germans just got up and left.

This light treatment was exceptionally beneficial for the town. There was very little damage done to the multitude of magnificent buildings, and Bruges became the stereotypical picture of historic houses. It achieved the coveted prize of being named a “UNESCO World Heritage Site” in 2008.

Now, let me slip from the broad overview to my own little Bruges story. Near the center of the town sits an old hospital, St. John’s, which was later expanded with the addition of a monastery and convent. The building was first built in the eleventh century and is located just across from the Church of our Lady. This complex served its purpose for many centuries, and then evolved into one of the leading hospitals in the city. It served in this capacity for many years and continues to have elements of its mission left behind, such as an herb garden which was used to grow healing plants. Alas, modern medicine made this beautiful sanctuary obsolete, and it now has been resurrected as a museum.

Just outside the west wall sits a white block and stone building. The wall itself contains a number of tombs – each of which holds the remains of local church leaders who were influential throughout the centuries.

The little building next door to the wall began as a nunnery. Early pictures show it standing stately by itself. The windows were heavily barred, and a local joker told me the bars were to keep the nuns in and not to keep the riffraff out. The construct of stone is strong and stately and shows no signs of its age. This building now is in its third resurrection. It currently houses a small apartment hotel with just eleven rooms, each about 600 square feet. It was here, within these four walls of ancient history, that we spent two plus weeks studying this fantastic town of Bruges.

My first observation found Bruges to have more chocolate factories and confectionary stores than it has churches. The chocolate shops are loaded with tourists stocking up on the well-known confections. Chocolate is resplendent in a variety of molds, not just proper-sized pieces. These molds can be of tools, such as pliers and wrenches, or as various body parts. (Use your own imagination here.) The chocolate shops are challenged for supremacy by the locally-brewed beers. Beside each chocolate shop lurks a store selling Bruges-brewed beer.

We spent days wandering the streets of this picturesque city. The canals offered slow and easy boat rides through the multitudes of canals. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clopped along the narrow cobblestone streets. Tea houses with Belgian waffles were mixed in between the chocolate shops and the beer retailers. The mixture of architectural design delighted the eye. The dates on most of the building went back three hundred, four hundred, even five hundred years.

We sat in parks, ate in street cafes, and allowed the tranquil atmosphere to sink in. Then, of course, we could return to our ex-nunnery for the night.

Once again I tip my hat to the UNESCO people. They did it right by putting Bruges on that very select list.