Saturday, February 18, 2017

Cyprus | Paphos | St. Paul’s Pillar

After an enlightening few days at We Crociferi in Venice I wandered on to Athens, Crete,  and Rhodes, before finally washing up in Larnaca, Cyprus.
 Cyprus (click on iamges for enlargements)
Statue of my man Xeno in Larnaca
After spending a day Getting Back In Touch With My Inner Stoic—as you probably know, Larnaca (then Kition) was the birthplace of the Greek philosopher Zeno (c.352 BC–c.255 BC), founder of Stoicism—I moved on to Paphos, at the western end of Cyprus Island. According to legend Aphrodite was born just up the coast from Paphos and I was eager to see her birthplace, but first I wandered by the church of Panagia Chrysopolitissa to see St. Paul’s Pillar.
Alleged route of Paul and Barnabas through Cyprus. This assumes they used roads built by the Romans to get from Salamis to Paphos. Their itinerary is not detailed in the Bible. 
Paul—he of Road To Damascus fame—and his sidekick Barnabas arrived on Cyprus in  45 or 46 AD, landing at Salamis, Barnabas’s birthplace. According to legend, they then proceeded to Kition, current-day Larnaca, where They Supposedly Met With Lazarus, who had washed up in Larnaca after Jesus of Nazareth, according to the Bible, had raised him from the dead. From Kition they moved along the coast to Paphos, where Paul was supposedly tied to a pillar and whipped for trying to preach Christianity to the locals. You will recall from your Bible studies that he mentions being whipped in Corinthians 2 11:24: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one,” but he does not say where. The pillar that Paul was tied to when he was whipped in Paphos—at least according to legend—still stands in front of the church of Panagia Chrysopolitissa.
 St. Paul’s Pillar (click on photos for enlargements)
 The Church of Panagia Chrysopolitissa, dating to about the fifteen century
 The church of Panagia Chrysopolitissa was built of the site of a much larger fourth century basilica. The columns of the old basilica can be seen here. This church was destroyed or heavily damaged by Arabs who invaded Cyprus in the eighth century. The graffiti that they carved on some the columns can still be seen. 

Paul has of course gotten a lot of Bad Press lately:
“So because the Apostle Paul was a homophobic sexually insecure douchebag and authored the majority of the New Testament people are bound by his interpretation of bigoted hatred in order to fulfill the edict to live “‘good christian lives’”.
Aother Modern Commentator  considers him an insufferable misogynistic blowhard and gasbag who perverted the original teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. However, there is also the school of thought that maintains he was a Secret Gnostic and that the books in the Bible which have given him such a bad name (especially Timothy II) are actually forgeries. For more on this tantalizing theory see Jesus and the Lost Goddess: The Secret Teachings of the Original Christians. For a debate of these various issues see Paul Behaving Badly: Was the Apostle a Racist, Chauvinist Jerk? If you want a novelistic treatment of Paphos at the time of Paul’s visit to the city see The Rose of Venus. The book is narrated by a follower of Aphrodite. Paul makes an appearance in the book and tries to convert the narrator to Christianity, but he, the narrator, is not convinced and remains true to the cult of Aphrodite to the end of his life.  Read the book to find out why.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Italy | Venice | We Crociferi

I had intended to stay in Venice only three days, but once I was there I thought, what the heck, I am here, why rush off? I soon discovered, however, that the guesthouse where I was staying was all booked up and I could not keep my room any longer. Actually, after three days I was already tired of the place. It was located on an extremely quiet five-foot wide passageway, but this passageway opened out onto a busy shopping street lined with very upscale brand-name stores and white-tablecloth restaurants. There were no grocery stores or bakeries in the area and even the stand-at-the-counter coffee shops seemed expensive compared to other neighborhoods. While searching booking.com for new accommodations I noticed a place called We Crociferi in the Cannaregio district of Venice. The photo showed a huge white building in front on a long, narrow square. I realized I had walked by this building many times without realizing what it was. Apparently the building was an old monastery which had been refurbished and turned into a hotel. Sounded interesting, so I checked into this place.
We Crociferi on the right side of the square. Left of center is the entrance to the Church of the Gesuiti (Jesuits). (My photo; click on photos for enlargements.)
Church of the Gesuiti
Courtyard of the We Crociferi
Another view of the courtyard of the We Crociferi
Stairwells in the hotel; definitely a minimalist vibe
 Cafe in the hotel—more minimalism
The rooms were austere, but had great work desks and lights. Actually the rooms were originally designed as student digs.
The hotel was located just a few hundred feet from the Fondamente Nuove, a broad waterfront walkway along the northern lagoon.  The water-buses for the airport, the outlying islands, and other districts of the city all stop along the Fondamente Nove. Despite the hubbub on Fondamente Nuove the neighborhood is residential and surprising quiet. Just down the street from the square was a small grocery, obviously catering to locals, that had a good selection of cold cuts (a dozen or so different kinds of ham, salami, etc., a dozen or more kinds of cheese, and various fixings, plus fresh bread and rolls. A bit further on was a fruit and vegetable market with tangerines for one Euro a kilo and, thank goodness, pomegranates (I guess one could live without pomegranates but who would want to?). A couple of more doors down was an even better find—a bulk wine store. The wine comes from huge glass jugs behind the counter. You bring your own bottle (used plastic water bottles are fine) or buy a plastic bottle for €.40 (42 cents US). The proprietor then siphons the wine into your bottle. A liter (1.05 quart) of Cabernet Franc costs €2.40 ($2.54); a liter of Pinot Noir €2.10. This, keep in mind, is in a city where a small glass of wine in even a scuzzy cantina costs four or five Euros, and you may have to stand to drink it; if you want to sit down it might cost six or seven Euros, and possibly even more in ritzier joints. And where even a lousy mug of watery beer costs three or four Euros, and that’s assuming you want to associate with low-life beer drinkers. So the bulk wine is an incredible bargain in this notoriously expensive city. While I was there numerous neighborhood housewives were lining up for their daily liter. Wine is not a luxury for these people; it is a staple like bread or cornmeal. In the Venice of old even galley slaves got a daily ration of wine. Assured of provisions I settled into the We Crociferi.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Italy | Venice | St. Mark’s Basilica

The morning after the Full Moon I wandered by St. Mark’s Square again.
 Venice, with St. Mark’s Square in center, near the eastern end of the Grand Canal, which snakes its way through the big island (click on photos for enlargement)
St. Mark’s Square, with the basilica of St. Mark to the right. The big U-shaped building below the basilica is the Doge‘s Palace.
St. Mark’ Square, with the Basilica of St. Mark and the 323-foot high Campanile, or Bell Tower, at the far end. Snow had fallen the night before and was still a stiff damp wind whipping around the plaza.Thus the place was pretty much deserted.
Another view of  St. Mark’ Square
 A 1503 etching of St. Mark’s. Not much has changed.
 St. Mark’s Basicila
The first version of St. Mark’s was completed in 832. It had been built to house the relics of St. Mark, which had been stolen and spirited out of Alexandria, Egypt, in 828 by Venetian traders. This church burned in 976 and was later rebuilt. Not much is known about these early versions of the church. About 1063 a new version was constructed. Although oft-modified and added onto, the basic outline of this version has survived to the present day.
 Detail of St. Mark’s
 St. Mark’s Basilica
Some of the more than 500 hundred columns built into the church. Many were loot from elsewhere. It is not clear how many may have come from Constantinople.
Much of the stone plating on the outside of the walls was also looted from elsewhere, includung Constantinople.
Detail of stone plating
 The Pillars of Acre
The so-called Pillars of Acre are located in front of the southern wall of the Basilica. For a long time it was believed they were loot seized by the Venetians in 1258 during the sack of Acre, a seaport in what is now northern Israel. Later research determined that they were actually stripped from the Church of St Polyeuktos in Constantinople) during or shortly after the sack of the city the Venetians and their Crusader cohorts in 1204. The Church of St. Polyeuktos, built between 524 and 527, was commissioned and presumably paid for by the Byzantine princess Anicia Juliana in honor of St. Polyeuktos. Anicia Juliana was related on her mother’s side to Byzantine emperor Theodosius the Great, who was responsible for building the Theodosian Land Wall in Istanbul. The capitals of the columns here in Venice were found by archeologists when the ruins of the Church of St Polyeuktos were excavated in the 1990s. The columns were supposedly placed in their current location in 1258, which may be why it was long thought they were seized during the sack of Acre in the same year. For more on the provenance of the pillars see The Pillars of Acre: Masterpieces of A Proud Sixth-Century Princess.
 One of the Column of Acre
 Detail of the one of the columns
 Detail of the one of the columns
 At one corner of the church, where it joins the Doge’s  Palace, stand the so-called Tetrarchs. 
Carved from Porphyry, a kind of granite, the statues, according to one theory, represent the four joint rulers of the Roman Empire during the time of Emperor Diocletian (r. 284–305). In 286 Diocletian appointed his fellow army officer Maximian as co-ruler of the empire, and then in 293 he appointed Galerius and Constantius  as junior co-emperors. Thus the Roman Empire was ruled by a 'tetrarchy', or "group of four”. The statues originally stood in the in the Philadelphion (Place of Brotherly Love) in Constantinople, however, which has lead to speculation that the statutes actually represent the four sons of Emperor Constantine, founder of Constantinople, who were famous for cooperating when their father died in 337. In any case, the statues were looted during the 1204 show in Constantinople and brought back here to Venice, where they were embedded in the wall of St. Mark’s.
 The Tetrarchs
 The Tetrarchs
 The Tetrarchs
During the looting of the statues one foot was broken off. When the statues got to Venice the missing foot was replaced by a white stone foot. Amazingly the broken-off foot was eventually found and can now be seen in a museum in Istanbul.
 Walking back to my guesthouse I spotted this Chinese couple celebrating their wedding in a gondola.
 Get a room!
My guesthouse is located on this narrow passageway. Actually it is a large apartment that has been separated into four rooms: a bed and breakfast without the breakfast. Very cozy however, and each room has is own espresso maker!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Italy | Venice | Full Moon | Rialto News

As soon as the Blizzard in Istanbul subsided I wandered off to Venice. I had four goals in mind:
  1.     See the Full Moon of January 12 over St. Marks Square
  2.     Check the news on the Rialto
  3.     Continue the Investigations into the life of Enrico Dandolo that I began on my last trip to Venice.
  4.  View the loot stolen by Enrico Dandolo and the his Venetian cohorts during the Sack of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1204
 The Full Moon, partially obscured by clouds, over St. Mark’s Square (click on photos for enlargements).
 Another view of the Full Moon over St. Mark’s Square
 The Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal. The current version of the 104-foot long stone bridge was built between 1588 andl 1591.
Actually there wasn’t much news on the Rialto. If I hear of anything I will let you know.
 View from the Rialto Bridge
Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge

Friday, January 13, 2017

Mongolia | Bayankhongor | Camel Festival | Shoovoi

I was sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe in Istanbul enjoying the first appearance of the sun after a Huge  Blizzard. Skimming the news on the internet while sipping a demitasse of Turkish coffee I saw this headline: Camel Festival Takes Place In Mongolia. Clicking on the story I read:
“A ten-year-old male camel belonging to herder Shoovoi from the Shinejinst soum (district) has been named ‘Best camel’ of the year. A total of 22 male camels took part in a competition in which they were rated on their appearance.”
It just  so  happens I know Shoovoi and have even ridden one of his camels. I first met him on a camel trip I did in Bayankhongor Aimag back in 1999. He is married to the sister of my old pal Zevgee (now Deceased), with whom I did Twelve Horse And Camel Trips over the years. Zevgee was born in Bayankhongor Aimag but later moved to Töv Aimag, where his wife is from. He told me that he still had five brothers and a sister in  Bayankhongor and that two of his brothers and his brother-in-law were famous for their camels. Eventually we traveled to Bayankhongor by jeep and hired camels from his brothers Davakhüü and Khaidav. Then both Davakhüü and Khaidav accompanied us on a 124 miles camel trip from near the sum center of Shinejinst to the sacred mountain of Segs Tsagaan Bogd Uul the Chinese border.
 Davakhüü
Khaidav
Halfway through the camel trip south to Segs Tsagaan Bogd Uul we made a detour to visit Zevgee’s sister and Shoovoi, who at the time were camped with their sheep, goat, and camel herds at a tiny spring in an extremely remote area northeast of Ekhiin Gol Oasis.
 Shoovoi, camel herder extraordinaire,  and his wife, Zevgee’s sister
 Zevgee’s sister
We stayed the night and Shoovoi killed a goat and his wife made khorkhog for us. To prepare this classic Mongolian dish an entire goat (not including head and innards) is cut up and put into a big milk can along with rocks heated in a campfire. The can is then tightly sealed. The hot rocks and the steam that builds up in the milk can cooks the meat. After an hour or two of cooking the can is  rolled across the desert floor for twenty or thirty minutes. This tenderizes the meat. Then with great care—quite a lot of steam pressure has built up— the can is opened.
Khorkhog in serving dish. According to tradition you should always juggle one of the hot rocks in your left hand while eating with the right hand.  This allows you to absorb the full essence of the goat.
Over the years I visited Shoovoi and his wife twice more and they always offered to cook a goat for us. On one trip we used some of his camels.
 Shoovoi, on the right, behind the camel, helping us pack a load on a later camel trip to Shar Khuls Oasis in Bayankhongor. This guy knows more about camels than you or I will know in one hundred lifetimes. 
 At the start of the trip to Shar Khuls Oasis. The white camel, which I rode, belonged to Shoovoi.
 Zevgee and his wife at Shar Khuls Oasis.  The two magnificent Bayankhongor camels belonged to his brother Davakhüü. Bactrian camels are, of course, the most noble of all four-legged creatures, and more noble than many two-legged creatures  (click on photo for enlargement). 
 Camels. You can’t help but love them (click on photo).
Camels on parade at the 2017 Camel Festival. Shoovoi’s camel won the “Best Camel of the Year” award (not my photo).