Walter Bitner

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The Bamboo Thicket

click images to enlarge


It’s a rainy October Saturday. This week under the pandemic has been insufferably dystopian, with all kinds of preposterous news. After slowly making my way through Saturday morning I manage to drag myself out of the post-workweek daze for a walk under the trees, despite the rain.




I am sitting in Seat 14D, a window seat on a medium size passenger airplane. In the economy class section of the plane where I am seated there are four seats across the width of the giant metal tube – two seats on each side with an aisle down the middle between them. Other passengers are filing down the aisle as I sit here typing on my laptop and the plane’s public address system is playing country music songs. I’ve been sitting here for about five minutes as the rest of the passengers board the plane. (more…)

The Japanese Garden

(click images to enlarge)


I came to the Japanese Garden because I thought it would be serene here. I’m having a bad day, and spending some quiet time alone in the peaceful environment of manicured footpaths and miniature bridges, gentle streams, colorful fish and artfully arranged rocks will help me to feel better. I’ll sit quietly in the bosom of nature like a Buddha. Everything will be ok. (more…)

Three Days in London


Trafalgar Square (click images to enlarge)

Warning: long, self-indulgent travelogue and photo essay

Not entirely Off Topic

Last week I traveled to the United Kingdom to attend the Association of British Orchestras annual conference, held this year in Cardiff, Wales. I was very fortunate to be able to arrive a few days early so I could spend some time in London.

It was my first visit to the U.K., and I packed as much into it as I could. I logged 46,699 steps in those three days in London, exceeded the fare cap on my Oyster card each day with trips on buses and the Underground, saw places and relics for the first time that have lived in my imagination since I was a child, and was reunited with old friends I haven’t seen for decades. It was thrilling.


Peaking at Totality


Total Solar Eclipse, August 21, 2016, Nashville, Tennessee ~ photo by Isa Bitner (click photos to enlarge)



It’s a once in a lifetime event. A total solar eclipse passed over Nashville today, and the city’s population reportedly doubled briefly as approximately a million people arrived in the area from out of town to witness it. Parties were scheduled all over town, with commercial opportunities galore as eager consumers snapped up eclipse glasses, eclipse t-shirts, beer brewed especially for the eclipse, cocktails crafted for the eclipse, eclipse mugs and growlers and tote bags and ball caps and smart phone apps. Experts across the country shared astronomic data and compiled essential playlists. The Atlantic reprinted Annie Dillard’s superlative 1982 essay Total Eclipse.


New York 2017, New York 2140

Lower Manhattan from the Williamsburg Bridge, Brooklyn, July 11, 2017 (click photos to enlarge)



What a beautiful ruin it will make!

~ H.G. Wells,
on first seeing the Manhattan skyline

Last month we traveled to New York for our summer vacation –  a combination of seeing old friends and introducing our teenage daughter to the city. My wife and I lived in the New York metropolitan area for nearly 5 years in our late twenties: formative years. Our first child was born there. Although I have been back a number of times since we moved away in 1995 (several times for work) and seen old friends and colleagues before, it has been a decade or more since I saw many of them – more than 20 years since I have seen some, and since we really had the time to simply roam about Manhattan.


How to Make a Difficult Decision




The Internal Decision Method

Have you ever had to make a tough decision?

This is a technique I have used to make difficult and important decisions for about 15 years now. This article belongs in the Sage Advice category, which I have not yet set up here on Off The Podium.

I won’t guarantee that this technique will work for everyone, however I have used it successfully many times when making important decisions about plans and changes regarding my career, education, and other aspects of both my professional and my personal life.

This is not a technique for making decisions that must be acted on immediately, under duress. This is a method for making momentous decisions that will impact your life and the lives of those around you significantly, for which you have a cushion of time –  days, weeks, or months – to come to a decision.


Walter’s Caesar Salad




Saturday night Caesar

This article is about the noble Caesar Salad, and how to make it my way. If you like romaine, garlic, and lemon, read on.

Caesar Salad has been around nearly a hundred years now. It was invented by an Italian chef named Caesar Cardini although if and when he did so is has been the subject of argument among his family and those who worked in his restaurants. Many have said it dates back to the 1920s.

I don’t remember exactly when I first started making it at home, but it was sometime in the 1990s. It was around that time that I came across my grandfather’s recipe for “Walt’s Caesar Salad” in the Bitner family cookbook.


100 Years of Jack Vance




Jack Vance playing banjo and kazoo, San Francisco, 1979 ~ photo by Hayford Peirce

Jack Vance playing banjo and kazoo, San Francisco, 1979 ~ photo by Hayford Peirce

Today is the birthday of the American writer Jack Vance (1916 – 2013). If Jack were still with us he’d be 100 years old today: it’s his Centennial! Jack’s books have given me countless hours of amusement, wonder, and escape over the last four decades, since I first found The Dying Earth on a paperback rack at a local drug store in Camillus, New York. I paid $1.75 for the slender volume of loosely connected stories, took it home, and was miraculously transported to the strange far-future fantasy inhabited by Turjan of Miir and Pandelume, the lovely but unfortunate T’sais, Guyal of Sfere – and of course, Chun the Unavoidable. The next week I returned to the drug store and found The Eyes of the Overworld, and trudged with Cugel and Firx across a strange and outlandish world, often laughing at Cugel’s intrepid antics or cringing at his relentless scheming. I was hooked. Jack’s stories were an unfailing source of delight and as I got older his characters became a part of my interior world, with whom I could find respite at times from the stress and pressures of my daily life.


Saying Goodbye To 12 South Dharma Center


the zendo (meditation hall) at 12 South Dharma Center, Nashville

the zendo (meditation hall) at 12 South Dharma Center, Nashville



After 8 years, Nashville’s unique and only ecumenical Buddhist center is closing its doors.

This weekend the three local Buddhist meditation groups who share 12 South Dharma Center are moving out of the second floor suite of rooms on hip & trendy 12 South Avenue they have occupied since June 2008. Nashville will no longer have a dedicated space where those interested in Buddhism and meditation can choose from several groups to sit with or experienced practitioners to receive instruction from 6 days a week.

It’s been great while it lasted.