Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

The Imperial Ducks

April 3, 2019

“Friends, humans, snackers, give us some treats!”

Ducks2

When the dark Duck of the South is floating on the pond,

and the greens, wings and flings of Spring respond,

observe  with me now the ducks as they cavort,

and I’ll tell thee a tale of a different sort.

As I did chance upon this lovely pond of the Queen city,

methinks I encountered two green-headed ducks, quite pretty.

As I did watch them they made likewise to observe me

and they noticed me munching on some cracker delicacy.

They commenced to approach my pondside perch quite boldly

and did by their quickened quacks begin to entreat me

for some morsels of my whole wheat crackers

‘cause I had landed there as a pondside snacker.

No sooner had I tossed them a tidbit or two

than two others like them waggled over to get some too.

But as the newcomers did paddle their approach

the first two judged their entrance as a fowl reproach.

Thus ducks one and two did confront their mallard cousins

and assail them with quackish protests by the dozen.

I beheld as these first two wiggled wildly their duckish butts,

chasing away the offending intruders with quackerish cuts.

As I am a human with tendencies to taxonomy,

methoughts I’d take note these behaviors of birdbrain ferocity,

as their hubris did remind me of the ancient imperial city

where bullies intimidate their kin with fierce intensity.

Vittorio

Methinks these bossy birds are of the bullish Roman variety,

having no tolerance for taxish quacks from the Euro birdbrainery.

Like their Hungarian cousins doing their own territorial hustles,

these haughty ducks harass their meddling cousins back to Paris or Brussels.

“Friends, humans, snackers, toss us some snacks!”

those bold ducks had demanded—them greedy green hacks,

as if . . . “don’t waste your snacks on those lingering slackers.”

So I gathered my crackers and took leave of those quackers.

Glass Chimera

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Et tu, Brussels?

October 23, 2018

Of course everybody who goes to Rome brings home mucho pictures. People travel there from all over the world to tour the originating sites of the ancient Empire; then they take a little chunk of early European history home, in the form of photographs.

When we were there, yes, we certainly did do the obligatory tourist ritual of snapping photos of the so-called Imperial City. You’ve probably seen classic images of the Roman ruins, which commemorate the Empire period of two thousand years ago.

But I was most fascinated with a relatively new structure there, Il Vittoriano.

Designed in 1885, inaugurated in 1911, and completed in 1925, this incredible monument makes an absolutely grandiose visual impression when you first catch sight of it.

VitorioB

You can see from this grand edifice that the Italians have never forsaken their proudly imperial self-image.

This morning, however, a Roman venue of a grittier sort—the Circus Maximus— was brought to my attention. In his Seeking Alpha post,

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4213358-now-circus-maximus?isDirectRoadblock=false

Mark J. Grant used that  ancient racetrack as a metaphor for the  fiscal contest that is now heating up over in Europe.

Here’s what Mark wrote about the presently escalating Continental showdown:

“The new “Circus Maximus” will include all of the European Union and their population of 512 million people. Sit back and enjoy the grand spectacle as Italy has now presented its budget and the European Commission has sent it back. Rome then reacted to Brussels and stood steadfast on the banks of the Tiber and now the overmasters in Brussels and Berlin will hand down judgment, and likely some form of bureaucratic justice, that was not fashioned in Italy, but which Italy is expected to obey.”

The original Circus Maximus, however is just a dirt racetrack.

If you’re a boomer geezer like me, you may remember, from a classic race scene in the 1959 MGM movie, Ben Hur, Charlton Heston heroically outmaneuvering a less-than-honorable competing charioteer, to win the great chariot race.

  BenHur

That scene may or may not have taken place in the Circus Maximus of olden times.

The real Circus Maximus, where those famous chariot races usually took place, wasn’t conducted in the Colosseum. The actual site was really a huge dirt track, located near the Tiber River, beneath Palatine Hill, where Roman emperors and their hobnobbing hoodoo entourages could view the spectacle from an elevated, privileged position. Here’s what the real Circus Maximus looks like now:

CircMax1

Seeking Alpha blogger Mark J. Grant speculates figuratively on how the present European budgetary shootout at the Circus corral may turn out:

“The European Commission will likely wield the big stick. This is initiating its so-called ‘Excessive Deficit Procedure.’ This process has never been used before and will likely be tortuous for both Italy and the European Union. Fines have never been applied to any country, with previous breaches by France and Germany overlooked, and yet, there is always a first time.”

If Mark J Grant’s racetrack metaphor is indeed indicative of the present European Contest, we’ll see in the days ahead whether Italy’s impudent leaders can prevail in their fiscal rebellion, or whether they will go down with classic mutterings of “. . . et tu, Brussels?”

Smoke

Be aware of Greeks bearing debts

April 25, 2015

Greece is, you see, the opposite of California, and I’ll tell you why.

The first thing is: Greece is very old. California is, on the other hand, very new.

The “West”–that is to say, California and all the rest of us New World types– actually started in Greece about three thousand years ago. Greece was the “West” because it was westward from what was, in ancient times, the Old Country, the region we now call the Middle East, or Levant, or Holy Land, depending on your point of view.

Long ago, after Alexander and his military legacy turned the Persians back at the battle of Marathon, long about 490 b.c.e., the people of the Greek city-states began joining together to form an historical entity that we now call Ancient Greece.

And since that time, the whole thing of Greek culture moved westward and northward over a couple of millennia  of time. The great thrust of Western thought, anchored in a mental discipline called philosophy and a political idea called Democracy,  inspired empires and nations from those ancient days until the present day.

We still dream about governing ourselves in this thing call a democracy, but it has never quite manifested in a way authentic to the original concept.

Probably never will, but it’s a nice thought.

A  couple hundred years after the Greek Golden Age, the Romans came along with their Republic and their empire. Much of their marvelously innovative empire-building was rooted in Greek thought and mathematics (Euclid and Pythagoras). A lot of what the Romans did was direct imitation of Greek stuff. A good example of this is their omnipresent use of Columns for holding buildings up.

You’ve heard of Doric columns, Ionic columns?

That’s Greek stuff. Except that–guess what!–the Doric and Ionic names originated across the Aegean sea from Greece, in a region called Asia (Minor), which is now Turkey. Go figure!

A couple hundred years after the Greek Golden Age, along came the Romans. What they ended up doing was much grander and more elaborate than what the Greeks did. They took Greek columns and turned them into a universal architectural art-form. Those two earlier Column designs–the Doric and the Ionian– were not fancy enough to suit the Roman sense of grandiosity. So the Romans decorated the capitals (tops) of their columns with new, leafy frou-frou carvings and castings  which came to be called Corinthian.

The Corinthian name, however, was not Roman, but Greek. Corinth was an important city in Greece.  So once again, go figure.

Figuring is important to the whole advance of Western civilization. Everywhere Greeks and their European progeny went, they were figuring stuff out.

Thus did Western Civilization expand over millenia of time. Along came the Germans, French, Spanish, British, all of them making ever grander plans,  striving to construct their own versions of civilization.

When the Greco-Roman enterprise got to the big Sea at the end of Europe–aka the End of the Earth–its expansion was delayed for a few hundred years. But then along came Cristoforo Columbo and Presto!, Western civilization took a grand leap across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now we Americans know about Boston, New Yawk, Philly, etc etc etc;  and we are intimately familiar with Paul Revere and Grampa George Washington. Why we even know about Charleston and Savannah and all that unreconstructed goings-on down south, but what’s important here is California!

Why?

Because Americans are adventurers. Our forefathers and foremothers hit the ground running after we got off the boat in Baltimore or Ellis Island or wherever it was.

Before you knew it, we were all the way over on the far other edge of the continent, in California, baby!

Or bust! That’s what the Okies said.

And that was, if you think about it, the very end of the Greek frontier. From Athens to Anaheim, westward ho all along the way. That’s all she wrote.

The westward expansion of Greek culture ended at California. It couldn’t go any farther. Why, even when they o’erleaped the wide Pacific, what did they find?

China!

It doesn’t get any older than that–China. No Westward expansion there, although the Brits made a few dents, and of course there was Marx and all that People’s trial and bloody error.

Now We Americans have a saying: as California goes, so goes the nation.

That means that, from the 1849 Gold Rush on, the great exploratory thrust of American ingenuity and creativity originates in place called California.

The land of fruits and nuts.

And broccoli, lettuce, grapes, wine, silicon, integrated circuit chips, beach boys, beach girls, computers, iPhones, movies and pop culture, etc etc etc.

So once all the migrant Europeans got themselves planted on the East Coast back in the 1800s, they built so many cities, and built them so quickly, that before you know it they got overcrowded and pulled up stakes to head West.

Go West, young man, wrote Horace Greeley, about a hundred and fifty years ago.

And very quickly. We developed America from raw earth,  from Schenectady to San Francisco in less than a hundred years, blazing a yankee trail all along the way.

And when we hit up against that great Pacific rim, the grand tide of our exuberance struck a sea wall and then it swayled back the other way: Disney in Paris, McDonald’s in Athens, Kennedy in Berlin!

But now–and my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars–our grand millenia-old Restatement of Greco-Roman expansionism strikes, back at its ancient nascence, an Athenian rampart.

So I see the next phase of history this way: As Greece goes, so goes the West. And this is what it looks like, according to a pic I recently snapped in Athens:

EarthBraceAgor2

Which is to say, a propped up portal. Where can we go from here?

Glass Chimera

The Ascent of Man

February 22, 2015

In the beginning

of his life, the man is born into this world. He is born and raised as a child.

Over years of time, the boy becomes a man. Finding himself in the midst of mankind, he looks around at the world and the people in it, and he  wonders what it is all about.

The man tries to make his way in the world, striving to find his place in it, but the attempt is not easy, nor is it simple.

One day, he sees the mountain. MtnCity

He is drawn to the mountain. He begins ascending it. After climbing to the top, he pauses to consider the city below, from whence he has just come. AcropEdgWal2

That’s interesting.

But there’s more to getting perspective than just climbing a mountain. Because he lives in the 21st century, the man is afforded even better opportunities to get a lofty view of the world. And so he ascends even further. AirAlps10

After the man comes down, and his head is no longer in the clouds, he finds himself once again in the midst of the world, struggling to attain mastery over the elemental forces of nature, and contending among the diverse populations of mankind for his very own place of fulfillment and destiny.  QuirnalSculp

After a while, he pauses to  gather his thoughts. Writing them down for his children, for posterity, for whatever rhyme or reason, he attains a certain satisfaction in having experienced life. Reflecting upon his experience, he writes. RomeWrite

Life is good: life. But he knows there is something meaningful behind it all, some lofty purpose, but it is beyond his field of vision. He he cannot see it, and so he cannot readily identify it.  He is not quite sure what is up there. ColmRestor

Nevertheless, the man continues. He rises from his reflection, and trudges on, moving through the opinions of mankind, and among the great monuments and feats of men and women upon the face of the earth, and the revelation of God among the men and women of the wide world.

For many and many a year, he sojourns along the path that is laid before him, for many risings and descendings, many decades, and yeah I say unto thee even, vicariously, through many historical epochs of mankind, and upwards into the mountain peaks of experience and downwards into the valleys to drink from cool, babbling brooks of refreshment, and then quieting himself to discover still, quiet pools of reflection.

It is good.

Then one day, he finds himself at an unprecedented place. A place he has never been before, nor will ever be again, a place from which there is no egress.

The man opens wide his eyes and looks fearfully, studying with wonder whatever it is that is in front of him. There, between the two constructs of experience and reflection, there directly across his forward path, he sees the obelisk of his destiny. He looks up; he squints, trying to figure it out.

There, at the top of the monument–there is nothing there.

No, wait. There is something there. What is it? ColCross

At the top of his obelisk of destiny, there it is: the way of all flesh. But beyond the way of all flesh, he could see only open sky.

And so he entered into it. But that was no end; it was the beginning.

 

Glass half-Full

Back to the future of Religion

February 21, 2015

Human history is full of walls. Everywhere people have gone upon the earth, they have built walls. Walls can keep good stuff in and bad stuff out, or the other way around.

For instance, consider this wall, which we encountered in Rome when we were there a few weeks ago:

VaticanWallC

Beyond this wall lies the body of Western Civilization. . .

if you consider the history of the Christian Church as a primary trunk of Western Civilization.

Not everybody does of course. Some folk are not believers, but rather thinkers, like the early, pre-Christian Greeks. . . Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc. etc. . . Descartes, Locke, Marx . . .etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Greek_philosophy

Many people in Western Civilization understand the difference between thinking and believing this way: they are mutually exclusive, two different animals. You either spend your life thinking, or you spend your life believing what is taught to you.

This is not true; it’s a false dichotomy.

I myself am living example of this. I am a Christian believer, and yet I do like to think analytically about everything, including faith itself.

This I have concluded: Faith is what you find at the end Thought.

In other words, when you’ve exhausted your brain in trying to figure life out, then you start believing in something besides thinking itself.

In my youth, I considered the Catholic Church, in which I was raised. And I decided it was for the birds.

I took a look at Philosophy, and decided I couldn’t not understand enough of it to make sense of the real world.

I studied the Law of Moses, and learned that I could not live by it.

Recently, I studied a little bit about Mohammed, because, well, you know. . . he and his followers are all the rage. Mohammed was a very smart guy, probably even a genius, but he was obviously a man, like me and you. His visions and ultimate indoctrinations were human, not divine. The outcome was True Religion by Intimidation.

Jesus Christ, on the other hand, laid down his life rather than settle for merely human solutions to our predicament. Now there’s a man I could follow, even though he went to the cross and suffered death. He was pure goodness, and I could follow him through death’s door, all the way to eternal life.

Of course that’s what Peter, his right-hand man, said about Jesus: I will follow you.

Then he went on to stumble through life, like me or you or any other human being. I look forward to interviewing him in heaven. I can relate to his resolution to follow Christ, even though he screwed up on more than one occasion.

A lot of things were done, in subsequent Christian history, in Peter’s name. There’s the Chair of St.Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church

Which leads me back to Walls phenoma. . .people building walls. Consider the one pictured above, in the great city of Rome. This wall was built by the Catholics to protect the museum part of St.Peter’s Basilica (in the Vatican.) Pretty impressive wall too, don’t you think. I was quite moved by its immensity; that’s why I snapped the photo. It seemed so . . . medieval.

On the other side of it, as I later learned, is the Vatican Museum, which is why I say therein lies the body of Western Civilization . . .

In a metaphorical kind of way, and even then only if you’re a person inclined to place value on religious traditions and institutions.

Like Tevya, you know. . .Tradition! tradition. Tradition.

Well guess what. Life goes on. That day in Rome, after the big brown wall image was safely in the iPhone, Pat and I resumed our walking tour of the city. It was a beautiful experience.

But just so you’ll know what a backward thinker I am, here’s a different photo that I had snapped about a week earlier, in Athens:

ConstXIPal

This is a statue of Constantine XI Palaiologos. He was the last emperor of the Byzantine empire.

He was killed by the invading Ottoman Turks in 1453. He died defending Constantinople, the epicenter of Orthodox Christianity during that period of history. The empire that he ruled, the Byzantine, had been trying to build a Wall, of sorts, a wall of Christian religion and dominion that would withstand the onslaught of Muslim Ottomans, but Byzantium could not withstand the Ottomans. So now the place is called Istanbul.

But such is the fate of Western Civilization’s aspirations for world dominion. Orthodox Christendom and the Byzantine empire that defended it could not stand against the onslaught of Islam in 1453.

Later however, the Ottoman empire suffered its own demise, in 1924, after Western Civilization imposed a new victory over the Ottoman Caliphate in the aftermath of World War I.

Alas, nowadays we Civilized persons of the West face a new Islamic Pretender. This one, arising in ancient Syrian lands, is claiming to recover the lapsed Caliphate mantle which had been worn for a few centuries by the Turks, even though the arrogant ISIS brutes do not acknowledge the Ottoman legacy as a legitimate Caliphate.

Consequently, we survivors of Western Civilization are now building a new network of Walls: digital walls, firewalls, psychological walls, spiritual and moral walls, to arrest the shock and awe of “violent extremists.”

Ultimately, we will have to erect some military walls, both defensive and offensive, before it is all over with, the end of the world or whatever.

Or just the end of Western Civilization. Then where will the body lie?

Whatever happens, our opposition to the jayvee-team fascists of the Khilafah will not end as Constantine XI’s last stand ended in 1453; nor is it likely to be enshrined within the walls of  the Vatican Museum.

 

Smoke

70 A.D. and the Arch in Rome

February 15, 2015

About 2800 years ago, King Solomon of Israel built a Temple in Jerusalem. Its purpose was to provide a place where the Jewish people would worship YHWH, better known today as God.

The Jewish kingdom came to an end when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem, about 597 B.C.E., and occupied the city. The Temple was looted and sacked. Most of the influential Jews were hauled off to Babylon to be imprisoned or to serve Nebuchadnezzar.

About sixty years after the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, a small number of the Jewish people were allowed to return. Two prophets of that period, Haggai and Zechariah, addressed their exhortations to leaders named Zerubbabel and Joshua, regarding a rebuilding of the Temple.

So within the fledgeling Jewish community of post-exile Jerusalem, work was begun to restore, in whatever way possible, a new Temple. According to Eerdmans New Bible Dictionary, 1970 edition :

“The exiles who returned (c.537 B.C.) took with them the vessels looted by Nebuchadnezzar, and the authorization of Cyrus for the rebuilding of the Temple. Apparently the site was cleared of rubble and an altar built and the laying of the foundation commenced (Ezr. i, iii. 2, 3, 8-10). When eventually finished it was 60 cubits long and 60 cubits high, but even the foundations showed that it would be inferior to Solomon’s temple.”

But the people of Israel were in perpetual trouble, as they are today, with the larger, stronger political and military forces that surrounded– and sought to dominate– them, during the next five hundred years.

Most especially, the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who (Eerdmans New Bible Dictionary). . .

“. . . set up the ‘abomination of desolation’ (a pagan altar or statue) on 15 December 167 B.C (1 Macc. i.54). The triumphant Maccabees cleansed the Temple from this pollution and replaced the furniture late in 164 B.C (1 Macc. iv. 36-59). They also turned the enclosure into a fortress so strong that it resisted the siege of Pompey for three months (63 BC).”

But the Roman empire was too much for the independent Judeans, who refused to accept any god except their one, true YHWH. The Roman legions subdued them, and massacred over 12,000 on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Those who remained among the Jewish people of Israel were still yet to see a Temple built in Jerusalem.

In 37 B.C., the Roman Senate bequeathed the title “King of the Jews” upon a Jew of Idumaean descent, Herod, who became known as Herod the Great.

His “greatness” was apparent to his Roman superiors, including Emperor Octavian (Augustus), more-so than to his Judean subjects. Among his several attempts to reconcile with his people (although he was an Idumaean, or Edomite, Jew), was his construction of a new Temple!

Herod “the Great” began its construction in 19 B.C., and it was considered complete by 9 B.C. It was a grand structure, very impressive, and consistent with the Roman way of grandiose magnificence, if not true to the original Jewish plan and worshipful purpose as King David and Solomon had envisioned.

Nevertheless, on a certain day about forty years later, Jesus of Nazareth walked in the place and prophecied that it would be taken apart stone by stone.

And that is what happened in 70 A.D. when the Roman military leader (later Emperor) Titus conquered Judea, ransacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Again. When Titus and his legions got done with the Temple and its environs, there wasn’t a stone left, except this retaining wall:

WallJeruslm

Titus, like Antiochus or Hitler, was quite proud of his conquest of the Jews. His father, the Emperor Vaspasian, agreed that the subjugation of those only-one-God-and-you’re-not-Him Jews was quite a feat. A few years later, in year 79, Titus followed his father into the highest office of the Roman Empire. But his time as Emperor was short. He died in 81 A.D.

The next year, 82 A.D., his conquest was commemorated in stone as the Arch of Titus, which still stands in the oldest part of Rome.

In his tour-guide book about Rome, Rick Steves published this explanation about the Arch of Titus:

“The Arch of Titus commemorated the Roman victory over the province of Judaea (Israel) in A.D. 70. The Romans had a reputation as benevolent conquerors who tolerated the local customs and rulers. All they required was allegiance to the empire, shown by worshipping the emperor as a god. No problem for most conquered people, who already had half a dozen gods on their prayer lists anyway. But Israelites believed in only one god, and it wasn’t the emperor. Israel revolted. After a short but bitter war, the Romans defeated the rebels, took Jerusalem, destroyed their temple (leaving only the foundation wall–today’s revered ‘Wailing Wall’), and brought home 50,000 Jewish slaves. . .who were forced to build this arch. . .”

ArchTitus2

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Rome, observing the Arch of Titus, when I noticed this detailed bas-relief on the underneath part of the arch:

ArcTitusMenr

And even though the Romans carried off (as is depicted in my photo) the Menorah from the Jerusalem Temple, the light of God’s presence has not been extinguished. It still shines.

According to the one who predicted the Temple’s destruction, the flame still burns.

It shines for Jews as a Channukah celebration, and a Next Year in Jerusalem Passover prayer, and hope for a long-awaited Meschiach.

It shines for me as the light of Christ within me, and within all those who believe in Him.

 

Smoke

Ritual and Renewal in Christendom

February 14, 2015

I was raised in the Catholic Church, and my wife was too. That was a long time ago.

During the 35 years of our marriage, we’ve been intimately connected to a group of Protestant Christian believers. Our group spends a lot of time reading the Bible and discussing the revelation, poetry, prophecy and history that is documented therein.

Our literate emphasis on the Bible, the printed Word of God, has not always been the main thrust of the Christian religion. Widespread reading of the Scriptures only came to the forefront in Christian life during the Protestant Reformation, which was led in the 1500’s by Martin Luther, John Calvin and many other outspoken reformers.

There’s a historical reason why the Reformation, and the Renaissance before it, happened when it did.

About a hundred years before Luther ignited the Protestant Reformation, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention and development of the printing press had begun forging new paths of communication. This new printing technology would greatly proliferate literacy, and the use of the printed word, for centuries to come. The expanded use of printed Scriptures fundamentally changed the Christian religion; it was similar, in a way, to the way digital media has profoundly altered communication during our times.

But before that 16th-century revolution in literate religion came (enabling Christians to sit around discussing the Bible), there was the centuries-old Practice of Religion, and a major part of that religion was Ritual.

Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection is plainly told, for all to see and read, in the four Gospels of the printed Word. We take this for granted in the 21st century, as we did in the last century when I was growing up.

My Catholic childhood practice of religion was absolutely defined by the Mass, which is a ritual that had originated in the events of Christ’s sacrifice, but was later morphed during 1900 years of time into a prescribed, elaborate ceremony. The original purpose of the Mass was to tell the story of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, in Jerusalem. But as that Mass came down through the ages, the cognitive element (understanding what actually happened at Calvary) was draped (rather mysteriously in my young consciousness) in ceremonial robes, and spoken in a language–Latin–that I did not understand. And so the Mass became, for me and for millions of others, something else. It became a Ritual.

In my young soul, this produced reverence, and a kind of faith–not a faith of understanding, but of. . .ritual, and yes, belief.

I’m not rejecting ritual altogether. I believe it is a profound component of human community, and can be a pathway toward faithful worship. But my turning, in early adulthood, to (what is called Protestantism) the Scriptures, instead of the Catholic (or HighChurch) ceremonial practice, has been quite productive, and beneficial in how I have lived life.

When Pat and I visited Greece and Italy a few of weeks ago, I was enlightened about all this. It was a kind of epiphany.

In Athens, we saw:

OrthxBrite

I snapped the image in a Greek Orthodox church.

A week later in Rome, we saw:

GoldAltar

This image is from a Roman Catholic church.

These two pix cannot portray the meaning, nor the reverential profundity, of worship as it regularly is offered in Orthodox and Catholic churches of the Old World, and still today through the whole world. But they are a visual indicator of the cultural legacy, and the experiential intensity, that accompanies ceremonies in both major strains of Christendom. (Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic parted ways during the 11th century A.D.)

I will cast no judgement about the formal traditions of my Christian brothers and sisters whose faith is framed in the Old way of worship. I suppose what they are doing may reflect more perfectly what we will all be doing in heaven someday.

These reverential musings, which were recently initiated for me in Athens and Rome, have marvelously, perhaps Providentially, landed on this screen just now, for you to see. Now I will bring this ceremonial sojourn to a visual cadence with . . . one more picture I snapped; it expresses my feeling about our colorful Christian faith, which is visible to those who watch attentively, in the midst of a tragic, and dreary, world.

PiazNovnaColr

Glass half-Full

Boston is from Athens; New York is from Rome

February 8, 2015

Having just returned from a week in Athens and a week in Rome, I have to say this: There’s a lot of old stuff there.

It is obvious to me that, as Americans, we live in a New World. Our infrastructure and buildings are decades, or a mere century or two, old.

Europeans live in an Old World. Buildings and roads there  are centuries, even thousands of years, old.

And yet, within that Old World, there is a noticeable “old” and “new” between Athens and Rome. There was a time–around 100 bc–when Rome was the new kid on the block. Greece’s culture and structure, stretching back into antiquity three or four centuries before Rome’s, was nascent and contemplative.

GrkColGlyf

In a mysterious kind of way, the dawn of Western civilization in Greek culture was delicate, as compared to Rome’s bigger-is-better bluster and in-your-face bravado.

BroknColm

Think of it this way:  Boston is from Athens; New York is from Rome.

Or think of it another way: Ancient Greece is like old Virginia; ancient Rome is like Chicago, Houston, L.A.

Or yet another way: The Greeks were Adams, Franklin, Jefferson; The Romans were Carnegie, Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan.

As Athens is the birthplace of democracy, Boston is the birthplace of American politics. World-changing ideas there caught a continental foothold that, once established, went on to inspire representative governments around the world.

The Roman Empire eventually degenerated into a dictatorship, but the Republic upon which Rome was established had its philosophical roots in the earlier Greek democracy.

When the Romans came along in history, a few centuries after the Greek golden age (450-400 bc),  they did everything bigger and better. Emperor Hadrian of Rome (117-138 ad) strode into Athens and fell in love with the place. But for him it was a diamond in the rough, not glitzy enough, and it needed to be bigger, on the scale of Empire, instead of City-state. He rebuilt the ancient Greek temples more impressively, in expanded proportions. His take-charge hegemony extended the city of Athens in a big way, by means of Roman high-tech engineering. Massive Roman engineering projects ensured that citizens could get around on new, sturdily-built highways. Hadrian’s update was like as if, bringing L.A. and Houston to colonial Boston.

Check this out, the ancient Greek theatre of Dionysius, which was begun in Athens about 500 bc on the south slope of Acropolis:

ThetrDiony1

Jimmi, our guide in Athens, mentioned the tragicomedy plays (Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides) and other events that were performed in this first major theater, during Greece’s golden age of 450-400 bc. These dramatic and sport events came  long before the Romans got there. The Greeks did get a little wild with their pagan Dionysian celebrations.

One person in our walking-tour asked Jimmi if gladiators had fought at the Theatre of Dionysius. Jimmi said there had been sporting events performed there that involved fighting, but not spectacles of death. The fight-to-the-death scenario was a Roman thing, he said. That’s Jimmi the Athenian guide’s version anyway.

The death-dealing gladiatorial contest is thought to have come later, in the Colosseo at Rome.

In the Rome-dominated city of Athens of 161 a.d., Herodus Atticus (Greek developer with a Roman name) re-defined the whole architectural concept of  theatre on a grand scale, with three times the capacity of the old one. His new showpiece, just a few hundred meters away from the old theater, was erected according to the new, grandiose template of Rome’s emerging status as a world power:

AcropVwTheatre

After walking around in those two cities for half a month, I came away thinking of the difference between them like this:

~Greek wrestlers, Roman gladiators.

~A sportly Burt Lancaster, overpowered by Stalone’s Rocky.

When we traveled away from Athens, our next stop was Rome. A day or two after arriving in that megalopolis, we went to the Colosseum. While standing inside that mega-stadium, Pat and I were listening to the iPhone audio,   Rick Steves was filling our ears with history about the gladiatorial contests inside that structure. Thousands of Roman citizens watched in the stands as one fierce fighter would overcome another. The fans would pass judgement with thumbs-up or thumbs down. It was a bloody death spectacle that appeased some blood sport inside the Roman power structure.

ColosmN

And it seemed to me:

Athens: Olympics. Rome: American football.

Athens: College basketball. Rome: Professional basketball

Athens: James Bond. Rome: Jack Bower

Athens: Lawrence of Arabia. Rome: Schwarzenegger’s Terminator

Athens: the Old North Church and Paul Revere.

Rome: the Empire State Building and Godzilla

Athens: Chevrolet. Rome: Hummer

Athens: San Francisco. Rome: Los Angeles

You get the idea.

Smoke

A Clarinet Finish in Rome

February 6, 2015

After a week in Rome, this Friday afternoon was the beginning of the end for our sojourn here.

I was sitting at a table in a narrow cobblestone lane, Via Uffici del Vicario, enjoying an afternoon vino rosso. Pat was inside the Giolitto purchasing a few treats for later. My resting point was just a stone’s throw past Piazza di Montecitorio, where the Italian Parliament had selected Sergio Mattarella as their new Presidente a few days ago.

ItlyParl3

People from all over the world were ambling by me as I sat sipping. They were garbed in dark, protective warmth because the day was damp and cool. After a while, my eyes focused on a wall plaque that was mounted on a building across the lane.  It looked like this:

EndPntWallPlq

I was squinting to read the plaque, which was a dedication to Altioro Spinelli, a leader in Italian politics after the Big War in the 1940s. To understand any of this text was a challenge for me, although an interesting one, on this last afternoon in Rome. My only clue about the dedication on the plaque was a dim memory of Catholic high school Latin back in the day (1960s).

As I was studying this scene, and nurturing a smidgen of a the retrospective melancholia that would accompany our imminent departure from Italy, I heard the faint strains of a clarinet. At first I thought it was my imagination.

But a careful listening confirmed that it was true. Someone was playing a clarinet in the vicinity. As I tuned my ears to the vaguely familiar cadenza. . .it was. . . Rhapsody in Blue.

One of my favorites. How appropriate for this moment, I felt. The American traveler far from home in the Old World.

I savored the moment for a while, as the musician was projecting his tuneful magic upon the nearby world. What a moment.

It would be a long travel back home to the USA, and I was so thankful that Pat had been able to work this jaunt into our 35-year journey together.

Soon, Pat emerged from the Gialotteria. She took charge of the backpack while I walked around the corner to find the clarinetist who was crooning out Gershwin and  few other snippets of woodwind ambrosia. I followed the sound; it didn’t take long to locate the source. I turned a corner and there he was:

RomeClarinet

Grazia for the Gershwin, I mumbled and smiled;  he was a few Euros richer as walked away.

Then we headed for our rented apartment; this was as far as our trip would take us away from home– the end point of our Athens/Rome adventure. From this moment on it was just return trip, all the way back to the good ole USA.

Twenty or so minutes later, the sun was peeping out as we came upon Piazza Venezia for the last time.

VitorioSunset

Then we bid a final farewell to Vittorio Emanuele and all the Italians and other adventurers (even the immigrants hawking selfie-rods) from around the world who had come here. We trudged on to the apartment for our final evening in Italy. Time to pack, have a last dinner, and get ready from an early departure.

Buenasera!

I certainly hope that ISIS is not able to disrupt all this.

Smoke

Blogging in Stone

February 4, 2015

TreviHorsWrk

We moved to the West, having been born in the East,

subduing the wild,  taming the beast.

While striving in metal and sweating o’er stone

we forged out destiny, and carved us a home.

WriterStatu

We paused to ponder, to find purpose and rest,

to identify some truths and preserve the best.

Looking heavenward for faith, we found hope and love,

but we cast it aside when push came to shove.

ReaderStatu

Now we ponder our fate and wonder where it went–

this wonder and faith that was birthed in a tent,

while the old beast rises up among us again

to dismantle and slay us, Civilized Man.

ForumVw

But when earthen pots are broken into pieces,

when sheep are slain, and turned into fleeces,

don’t despair into thinking it’s the end of the game,

but rebuild and strengthen the things that remain.

Glass half-Full