Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Carolina on my Mind

July 21, 2017

Yesterday we spent the entire day traveling back from Hungary to our home in North Carolina.

You could say I had Carolina on my mind as it was my destination, while we shuffled through multiple planes, seats, lines of people, airports, coffee cups, etc to get back to my Carolina home. But I wasn’t really thinking about home yet.

What had happened in eastern Europe during my lifetime was thoroughly fascinating to me.

After spending a couple of weeks hoofing around Vienna, Prague and Budapest, I had developed an intense new interest about how these three countries that we visited–Austria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary–had managed to endure and overcome Soviet occupation, which finally ended in 1989.

So I filled those long stretches of airliner time reading a collection of letters that Vaclav Havel had written during his lifetime. Vaclav was a Czech, a dissident playwright who had dared to resist and criticize the Soviets during their many years of trying to communize eastern Europe. Fortunately, Vaclav had squeezed through all that long time of communist mumbo-jumbo; when the Czechs, Poles, Hungarians and other eastern Europeans managed to eject the Soviets in 1989, the newly-freed citizens of the Czech Republic elected Vaclav Havel as their first President.

All of those changes had not come easily.

While trying to understand some of those changes while reading on the plane, I came across a statement that Vaclav Havel had written in 1969 to Alexander Dubcek, who had  formerly been First Secretary of the Communist Party of Hungary during the time of the Prague Spring movement and the subsequent military invasion by which the Soviets had crushed the Czech initiatives with their tanks, guns and occupying soldiers. Through the roughest part of the 1968 showdown between the Czechs/Slovaks and their Soviet oppressors, Alexander Dubcek was the Czech in charge who had tried to reconcile the two differing positions of Czechs and Soviets.

Here is a thought that Vaclav wrote to Dubcek in 1969 a few months later:

“Though (I was) moved by the physical and psychological pressures you endured, and deeply aware of the complexity of the situation and never for a moment doubting the honesty of your intentions, I was still convinced from the beginning that by signing the Moscow Agreements, you were making a terrible mistake. . .”

Vaclav Havel was quite an independent thinker,  a brave man who survived perilous persecution to ultimately prevail and become President of his own people.

He was one of many dissident Czechs. There were many, many others of eastern Europe who suffered all those changes.

We heard quite a bit of info about it, along with other facts about Czech history, as we followed two excellent guides through two different walking tours in Prague.

On the Discover Prague tour, guide Kevin provided an excellent backstory for us about the events/effects of World War II in Czech lands, and the subsequent Soviet communism period.

On the Sandeman’s tour, guide Karel featured the main points and places of historical interest, such as the Castle, but also including this one:

UCarolina

Our Prague guide Karel stands here in front of Universitas Carolina, which is actually called Charles University, because it is named for Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire back in the 1300’s. So this association of similar names is one reason that I say Carolina is on my mind, aside from the fact that both of our daughters are graduates of the University of North Carolina, back home in the good ole USA, to which we have just returned.

A curious collection of European confusion can sometimes be recalled and possibly correlated when one considers the cornucopia of names directly related to this Carolina root. For a long time I have wondered about it. Between England, France, Germany, the Roman Empire, Austria, Hungary, Czechia et al, the Car… prefix nomenclature becomes quite confusing. There’s the Latin Carolus, the several French kings Charles, going back to Charles Martel, Charlemagne (the main guy), and the Carolingian dynasty that arose from their loins. Also, across the Channel, we find the several English kings Charles (including the one who was beheaded), not to mention the German version Karl and the Czech iteration Karel, and we shan’t neglect to mention wild and crazy American variations  like Charlie and even Chuck. And as if that wasn’t enough. . . my own name, Carey, was mentioned to me– by a girl I knew many moons ago who was proud of her German heritage–she claimed that my name  was  a French or English corruption of the German Karl.

But as I was saying. . . Karl in Prague was telling us about Charles IV, and the founding of Universitas Carolina in 1348 as the first University in central Europe, not to be confused with Central European University in Budapest,

CEUBudp

which I hear was funded by George Soros, a financier quite unpopular among my American conservative colleagues because they say he wants to cram more immigrants into  Old School Europe.

Nevertheless, lest I digress, I will mention, in closing, that  Charles University or Carolina, as we see in the first above pic,was attended by Franz Kafka, Albert Einstein and many other notables. This collection of courageous revisionists goes way back. In the 1400’s the Universitas Carolina became, under the influence of Jan Hus, a hothouse of emerging Protestant revision of the Christian faith.

Thank God for that!

Anyway, speaking of God, back here in my Carolina home, we have an old joke: If God’s not a tar heel, then why’s the sky Carolina blue?, which only adds more curiosity to the confluence of C-words connected to a  Carolina root from which it all came and later culminated, I must conclude.

All in all, it’s good to be back in the New World Carolina, the one sung about by James Taylor,

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXmgkvIgc0w

 the very same Carolina  that I was on my mind as I was returning here from recent travels in the Old World Carolina.

King of Soul

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The End Room

July 12, 2017

For 600 years, a royal dynasty named Hapsburg ruled the vast European domains called Austria-Hungary.

In 1848, an emperor died; and so an emperor’s son replaced him.  From 1848 onward, Emperor Franz Josef ruled the empire for almost 68 years, until his death in 1916.

Franz Josef had a nephew named Ferdinand, whose place in the extended family would later qualify him as the heir to the throne at the occasion of Franz Josef’s death.

HapsLine

But Ferdinand never ascended to that throne,  because he was assassinated in 1914. This assassination happened in Sarajevo, Serbia, on June 28, 1914. It is considered by most historians to be the fatal event that sparked the powder-keg of militarized Europe and ignited World War I.

But before all that, when Emperor Franz Josef was still ruling over the quasi-peaceful Austro-Hungarian empire, and the Hapsburgs were still lolling along as royalties habitually did, the royal family spent their summers at their summer palace near Vienna.

It is a place called Schonbrunn.

Schonb

We visited the palace at Schonbrunn as tourists. As I was walking through the “royal apartments,” the audio-guide mentioned that Franz Josef was a real go-getter when it came to performing his roles as Emperor. I got the impression that he was a workaholic monarch who spent his entire day, every day, dealing with matters of state. It makes sense if you think about it, because. . .

Ruling over an empire is no easy task. But in fact, it ultimately proved to be an impossible task. After his nephew Ferdinand, the heir, was assassinated, things really got out of hand for Franz Josef and the Hapsburg monarchy.

The whole royal arrangement really started to unwind when he demanded restitution from them upstart Serbs down there in Sarajevo who had shot his nephew.

But a Serbian concession was not going to happen. The Serbs did not like being subjects to Austrian control; they wanted to have their own country. Franz Josef’s ultimatum soon became a declaration of war.  Next thing anybody knows, there’s a whole damn alliance-mongering world war exploding all over the place, because one very important man was shot to death.

Cutting toward the chase here, I must say that about half-way through that war, the old Emperor Franz Josef died, in 1916. So the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in need of a new Emperor.

But nephew Ferdinand, the would-have-been heir, could not ascend to the throne at that time, because he had been assassinated.

Therefore, the scepter of royal authority of the house of Hapsburg passed to another nephew, Karl. Karl was the nephew of the nephew and therefore the next in line to be Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

But this would be no easy task for young Karl. The prospect of assuming that royal authority must have been, in the wrath of an escalating world war,  akin to accepting the gift of a hornet’s nest. Most all the European potentates and their armies were mad as hell at the German Kaiser Wilhelm and his Austrian co-potentate, the erstwhile Emperor of Austria-Hungary. The wrath of Republican Europe was fast mounting fiercely to dismantle their Entente Axis of presumptuous military power.

But at a terrible cost: millions of lives perished in World War I.

Emperor Franz Josef’s death in 1916, only half-way through the hostilities, was for Karl, more an overwhelming burden than some whoopdeedoo ascension to kingly privilege. His uncle’s prickly challenge to the Serbs had rendered Europe into a grand bloody mess.

So in the year  1918, a scant two years after his accession to the throne, Karl was in no position to wheel and deal on behalf of Austria, or Hungary, or his supposed royal realms, or any other entity except, perhaps, for his immediate family. He was between a rock (Germany) and a hard place (the Allies who were hell-bent on demanding reparation from Germany and Austria.)

This was no easy position for a young monarch to be in.

As we traipsed through the royal apartments of Schonbrunn last Monday, the audio-guide informed me that I had just entered a certain room where, in 1918, a gang of both friends and foes of the Emperor had presented to young Karl his choices pertaining to the Empire.

Karl’s choices were not pretty. The military leaders, diplomats, politicians in that room told him that they were taking the whole damn empire away from him and his family. He was in no position to argue with them, so that was where it all ended for the Hapsburgs. Therefore he had no choice but to concede to their demands.

So Karl and the Hapsburgs lost it all, right here in this room.

Except one thing. Karl refused to abdicate. He managed to slink away still having his title.

Whatever that means, I thought, while standing there with all my fellow-tourists in the room where a 600-year empire had ended. Karl would still be Emperor, but emperor of what? His own kingdom exiled him.

At that moment, I accidentally snapped a contraband photo:

EndRoom

This is where it all ended for the legendary Hapsburgs. As cousin George said later, all things must pass.

Smoke

Vienna

July 8, 2017

My mama raised me to be a Catholic. Daddy wasn’t into religion much.

After I grew up, and became a man who could/would relate to the world on my own terms–after I had reached the age of reason and I had decided for myself what this life was all about. . . after I had lived life to the full, and managed to do a few things right and many a thing wrong–after I had made a grand mess of my life, then allowed the Lord of the Universe, our Creator, to take hold of me at the ripe old age of 27 and turn me around and plant my wayward feet firmly in the ground of the gospel of Jesus Christ–after all that. . .

I met my wonderful little women, Pat from New Jersey. We got married in 1980 and by n’ by she presented three lovely children to me. Eventually the kids grew up, became responsible adults, etc and, long story short, we have followed each one of them to various points of interest all over the world.

Our current adventure in following progeny has brought us to the wonderful city of Vienna, Austria.

Now I have to say that this is an amazing place. Walking around this city for just one evening has already taught me some profundities about what life is all about and where things came from, long before I was born. Previously unexplained elements of my childhood, my heritage as a Catholic kid who later turned born-again Christian, can now be contemplated from the perspectives of history itself, and the movement of certain people groups at various periods of time from the Old World to the New, which is to say, America.

I mean, we grow up and we see things and we don’t really have a clue where all this stuff came from or how it got here and how we came to be in the midst of it all. In my case, I was a kid in the middle of the Deep South, in Mississippi in the 1950’s. Growing up, snotty-nosed and clueless as I was, now I’m wondering how likely it could have been that I grew up Catholic instead of Southern Baptist.

Well, my mama was a French-American Catholic from Louisiana, and my daddy’s people were from Scotch-Irish stock from up in the piney wood of Mississippi and before that they had come through Pennsylvania and before that from the old country, Ireland or Scotland or somewhere over there on the other side of the Pond.

So now, at this particular moment in time, it just so happens that I wake up this morning on the other side of the Pond, which is to say: now we are in Europe, the Old World, because yesterday (or maybe it was the day before that) we flew from America– formerly the New World– to this Old World, and one plane led to another and now I find myself in Vienna on a sunny morning and thanking God for such a wonderful life a the one we now find ourselves in.

As we strolled along the Karntnerstrasse last evening, we encountered this very impressive big cathedral structure, so I snapped a pic:

Steph-z

The immensity of history–what has gone before–is what I’m feeling as I pondered this structure. The erection of this church building took lifetimes of work and toil and sweat, and devotion, back in the days of the Holy Roman Empire, whatever that was, and its long tails of historical development through Peter and Paul and later Constantine and then all the Popes in Rome and eventually the Austro-Hungarian empire and the Hapsburgs and their hunky-dory relationship to the Catholic Church. . .

Until that fateful day in 1914 when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand got shot in Sarajevo by an angry young Serb and the Empire ended and the Old World ended and World War I dealt the final death blows to the ancient reins of power and the reigns of the royal houses that had ruled Europe for a couple a thousand years or so.

As I was pondering all this, we did stroll inside, into the Church at Stephensplatz. We found there a group of devoted Catholics celebrating Mass. This kind of thing has been going on here for a long time. And I don’t care what you think or say about it . . . This was a good thing.

Steph-in

That devotional setting took me back to childhood memories of being Catholic because that’s the way Mama raised me, even though Daddy wasn’t into it.

So as I contemplated, and in some sense, entered into. . . the devotion of these congregants to their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their expression of that devotion in the sacrifice of the Mass,  and as I reconciled in my mind between those ancient strains of high-church faith and the Protestant Reformation that later changed everything . . . right down to the johnny-come-lately tides of Charismata that had drawn me into my experience of the Christian faith in 1978, and my present appreciation for all that God has done for me and Pat and our grown-up children and their spouses. . . as I stood there in the quiet reverence of a tourist who just happened into a cathedral while other believers worshipped in their strange high-church way . . .

I could relate. I could relate to what they were feeling.

This morning, I can still feel it, devotion.

Devotion goes way back. This is a good thing.

King of Soul 

Bon Voyage for Joey and Maria

December 24, 2015

Joey was really in love with Maria, so it didn’t matter so much to him that she was carrying someone else’s baby. He intended to marry her anyway and raise the child as his own. Blinded by love, he was ready to do anything to protect her. Her face was always in his mind, in his dreams. Whenever they were together, he felt himself to be a true man. Whenever they were apart, he felt himself even more, a man. That meant something–something very precious, very strong, and very. . . ancient, as if they had been together since the dawn of time. In spite of all the trouble and displacement of their immediate circumstances, he felt more a man now than ever before in his life.

What is a man anyway? Someone who takes responsibilities for his own action.

But to take responsibility for someone else’s carelessness? That’s crazy, especially if it requires a lifelong commitment to some other man’s kid.

It wasn’t like he could explain why he was willing to do anything for her. She had told him the whole terrible truth about what had happened–how she had gotten pregnant unexpectedly after making some poor choices.  He had known her far longer than the guy who had inflicted this condition on her.

But it was more than a condition that had taken hold of Maria. It was a child.

Nothing about that loser mattered now anyway. It was all water under the bridge.

They had left Izmir two days ago. Now, Joey and Maria were stepping onto an overcrowded boat to depart Lesbos. Two sketchy-looking characters were up on the deck, acting like they owned the place, rudely waving their herd of misfits through while checking each one’s ticket to make sure they had paid. No freeloaders. The two goons had already turned several off the boat, provoking loud protests from those rejected travelers–protests that were shouted loudly to no avail.

Joey felt secure in one thing; he had paid dearly for their two tickets. It had cost him more than half of everything he had managed to bring with them.

As the goon waved him and Maria through, he felt great relief.

He looked at Maria’s face. She was still smiling. It had been days since he had seen her smile. Suddenly, everything was worth the trouble and the pain of whatever the hell they were getting into now, whatever new phase. As they stumbled, then walked, around the stern, and to the other side of the boat. There was an open space at the side. He gently placed his had on her back, just above her perfect derriere, and urged her with a tender guidance to rest for a moment at the railing. This was, after all, a very special moment–one they had talked about for weeks. Now they were here at last, on the boat, bound for Athens.

He looked out seaward, across the bright-on-dark horizon, at the deep blue sea. Soon they would be skimming o’er the waves. Some time tomorrow, they would arrive in Athens and find the place that Gabe had told him about. If they could get there, surely their troubles would be over, at least for awhile.

After surveying that long-expected horizon for a few moments, he looked again at Maria’s face. The smile had morphed into what seemed a painful expression. But there was still a smile, somehow, beneath the pain. That’s what he loved about her. Now he couldn’t resist the urge, and there was no need to anyway. He bent down and laid a a long, wet kiss on her lips; she responded in a way that made him long for a place of their own. But this intimacy could only go on for so long here in this place, on this boat amongst all these straggly people, and then. . .

Then he looked out to the Aegean again, and his mind began to, in spite of itself, jump to the next phase–whatever that might be. He was hoping there would be room for them at the inn.

Smoke

The Bookends of Experience

October 31, 2015

As far as East is from the West,

and near to worst as to the best,

I have wandered lonely as a cloud

as we travel from some swaddle to the shroud.

Once we drove a stake in the ground and called it home;

now this morning wakes me here as sun is shone.

DawnWoods

Situated now on continental sunrise heights

while recalling vivid island sunset sights,

and noticing here our stark and spindly leaves, these trees,

I recollect the wide and warm of ocean breeze.

SSetHuna

Experience goes as far as mountains are from sand,

then circles back around to water, air and land.

Sometimes life is hard, you know;

at other times it’s soft as autumn leaves make show.

As days turn dark,

so light doth continually toss out some spark

of hope or happiness or flexibility

that is yet assailed by despair or dearth or rigidity.

Experience comes as vividly as rising sun;

then memory renders it precious when day is done.

Doors of perception

open into windows of reflection

as present slips into the past

and future finds a fleeting foothold fast.

We amble here and there and everywhere;

we ramble now and then without care.

When reality and reflection mingle in the sands of time

imagination splurges into rhythm, sometimes in rhyme

when myself is beached upon the rock of time,

Boone53

and our family finds itself with God and universe in line.

SunsetFam

Glass half-Full

A Woman’s Love makes Possible

July 7, 2015

Well my bride of 35 years hath done it again. Last week she took me to Washington, so we could escort nieces and nephews around our great national memorials.

This week we’re in Chicago, while she attends a Nurses’ conference.

While we were walking along Michigan Ave yesterday, I thought about Mama Cass.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OouK3QOzW6Q

because she had sung that song back in the day. . . Words of Love, which contains these lines:

“Worn out phrases and warning gazes won’t get you where you want to go;

if you love her, you must send her somewhere where she’s never been before.”

 

This love strategy is appropriate to my wife and me, but in a reverse kind of way, because she is the one who takes me places!

Sunday morning, I had awakened in our home and made some coffee, then sat in my usual comfy spot to begin a day of reading and writing (which I cannot generally do for five days out of every week because of work.)

My comfy home-working spot is a chair by the living room window, which affords me a quaint view of our back deck and back yard. It usually looks something like this:

BirdDeck

But yesterday, after we checked into the Burnham in Chicago, this was my window view:

Burnhmvw

What a difference! Talk about literary inspiration! Chicago! Carl Sandburg rattling in my brain.

So today, Tuesday she will be attending her professional confab, while I amble over to Grant Park and pursue some groundwork for the new novel. The story, as it appears now in my mind, begins in Grant Park. That’s where, on August 28, 1968, some events took place that made an indelible mark on my generation.  I’ll have more to say about that in three or four years after the book is finished.

Meanwhile, a couple of pics may indicate where this thing is headed, at least for its first part:

ChiHiltn

Logan1
 

King of Soul

While flying over the Alps. . .

March 25, 2015

Yesterday I heard the sad news about a German airliner that crashed over the French Alps. 150 people were killed.

When I heard about the crash, I thought about my daughter. In a few hours, she would be getting on an airplane to fly from San Francisco back here to North Carolina.

Will she be safe?

Don’t even think about it. Just pray.

As I write this, our other daughter is settling into a long trans-Pacific flight that will land her ultimately in Vanuata, the tiny island nation recently devastated by a hurricane.

Will she be safe?

Don’t even think about it. Just pray.

I’ve been thinking of a line in an old song from John Denver, singing about a plane trip . . .

“it’s a long time from this place to Denver, a long time to hang in the sky.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VATSdTRtK

Being a songwriter myself, I have always appreciated that line. . . a long time to hang in the sky. . .

How many people are hanging in the sky right now, at this moment?

How many people in the world are waiting at airport gates, about to walk onto an airplane. How many are walking through the aisle looking for their seat, then stuffing the walk-on bag in the overhead, having a seat, and . . .

and what?

We never think about what might happen, or what might not happen. We politely ignore the flight-crew’s recorded instruction about flight safety and emergency procedures.

Forget about it. If this thing goes down from 30,000 feet, what are the chances its anything but goodbye cruel world?

Don’t even think about it. Just pray.

Just about six weeks ago, my wife and I were hanging in the sky, high above the Alps, on a flight from Athens to London.

I snapped this picture:

AlpValyGood2
Two days ago, Tuesday morning, 150 travelers were sitting in their assigned seats, expecting to leave Barcelona, expecting to glide over the Alps like nothing happened and then land in a few hours in Dusseldorf.

But they never arrived.

Don’t even think about it.

Flying has always been a kind of escape for me. But the opportunity comes only every now and then, when my wife makes plans with elaborate arrangements for some exotic travel. In between those occasional, adventurous flights of our life, I have embarked on flights of fancy about getting on a jet plane, flying into the wild blue yonder to distant lands. Many a cold, crisp winter morning here in the Appalachian mountains, I would steal a few  daydreaming moments from my maintenance job, gazing up at sky, seeing white jet-trails that criss-cross against brilliant blue sky, wishing I were on a jet plane, flying over an ocean, maybe over the Alps, then having dinner that evening with my wife in some faraway place.

And we have actually done that, many times, because Love is a wonderful thing; we celebrate it as often as we can, by traveling together.

But we always got there, to our destination; and we have always returned home after a week or two.

We never crashed.

Don’t even think about it.

Upon hearing, yesterday morning, about the flight that crashed in the Alps, I was sad.

This evening, two days later, an old song, old sad song, is streaming through my head. It’s a song about a man who was at an airport, but he did not get on a plane:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OCnHNk2Hac

There’s a line in this song that I’ve always liked, although I have no idea why.

“.  .this old airport’s got me down; it’s no earthly good to me, ’cause I’m stuck here on the ground. .”

But in some cases, the ones who never got on the plane would be lucky ones.

You never know. . .you never know. . . Don’t even think about it.

Just pray, today.

 

Smoke

The River of History

March 15, 2015

About ten years ago, our daughter Katie was traveling through Europe when she snapped this picture:

ParisGarg

The scene is Paris, as viewed from atop the cathedral of Notre Dame.

That creature in the foreground is unidentified, but there is something about him that I don’t like. Even though he has managed somehow to position himself in a panoramic aspect on the pinnacle of a classic sacred building, I suspect he is up to no good. Nevertheless, in spite of his sinister presence in the photograph, I will just ignore the guy for now, because I want to tell you why I am thankful that my daughter captured this scene, and why I was amazed when I encountered it yesterday.

I was wandering around in the old Dell looking at photographs from years gone by.  Encountering this stark image launched my mind into a series of personal recollections.

Pat, Micah and I had sojourned through Paris during the summer of 2002. We visited the cathedral of Notre Dame, but we did not climb up to this high perch. We did, however, have a great time traipsing around in the grand old City on the Seine that you see here.  Alas, that trip, as vividly entertaining as it was, has begun to fade somewhat in mind. It was thirteen years ago.

But at about this time last year, 2014, I was writing the last few chapters of a third novel, Smoke. And it just so happened that a sizable chunk of the story took place in the area of Paris that you see pictured here.

Notice the Eiffel Tower in the background. Just below that steel-framed landmark people from all over the world were gathering, in the year 1937, for the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques. In my story, a young American businessman, Philip Morrow, has a rendezvous with Lili Eschen, a German refugee. Lili is disturbed, however, by the looming facade of the nearby German pavilion. She tells Philip that she would prefer to leave the Exposition and go to a different place.

Long story short, the next day they are ambling on a bridge, looking out over the Seine River. In the photo above you see two bridges. Notice the further-away one, the Pont Saint-Michel. That’s not the one on which Philip and Lili are standing in my novel, but it looks very similar to the Pont Neuf, which is the next bridge downriver, around the bend. Imagine the scene. They are gazing at the river below, and Lili is worried because her family has fled Germany hurriedly, and now (in May 1937) they are in between a rock and a hard place, and faced with some hard decisions. Philip is speaking:

“. . .It’s a whole different world in the country I come from; we really don’t have a clue about what is going on over here in the old world. This Europe, this, well, France itself . . . Germany. It’s almost like a different planet. And Shirley Temple is just . . .” He was shaking his head and chortling at her naiveté. “You can’t take this Hollywood stuff too seriously. I mean, your brother is locked up back in Germany. That’s reality.”

She looked at him with a kind of fierce resolve, but a hint of the smile was still on her lips. “I can dream, can’t I? No law against that, no verboten on dreaming, hoping . . .”

“Sure.” He touched her hand tenderly.

A few minutes later, Philip and Lili complete their stroll across the Pont Neuf. They are on the île de la Cité, in the very heart of Paris; their next stop is an ancient chapel, the Saint-Chapelle. You can see its dark steeple in this photo. On the right, its ascending structure parallels the distant Eiffel Tower of the far background.

ParisSteepl

Gone from this pic is the ugly critter who had been lurking in the foreground of the earlier photo. I’m glad we got rid of him, although I have no clue where he got off too. But I fear he is still hanging around, and we may have to cast him out again before its all over with.

Smoke

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

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