Every year, about when Indian Summer in San Francisco begins to strike, we receive wishes from friends and relatives in China for the Mid-Autumn Festival. The mooncakes are given to celebrate the unity of the family, on the 15th day of the 8th Month of the lunar calendar. Moon watching and lantern lighting are part of the festivities in many countries in Asia.
The origin of mooncakes dates back to the Tang Dynasty, when a Turpan businessman gave the cakes out after the Hsiungnu were defeated in Northwest China (at the gateway to the Silk Road). The gift of mooncakes became a tradition after that.
Our daughter and dessert chef at Mr. Jiu’s in San Francisco created her interpretation of mooncakes in the picture above. She hosts a pop-up shop, “Grand Opening” every second Saturday of the month, with different limited-edition desserts paired with savory specialties created by in-house or guest chefs.
Apologies for the premature post a couple of days ago, to those of you signed up for notifications. I pressed “Publish” by mistake! THIS is my final post to everyone, with love, from Salzburg. After sixty days of travel, ten cities, and 11 flights (not environmentally correct, admittedly), I successfully completed my complicated travel plans!
The past six years have been amazing travels, from UNESCO World Heritage sites in Uzbekistan; two trips on the Trans-Siberian Express East and West from Beijing including Mongolia; Morocco, Iran, and this year, to the Caucasian countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Each year, they were anchored in German language study programs followed by trips to various countries in Asia.
We often think of Europeans cities such as Paris, Rome or Berlin as destinations, and not countries to which they belong. This year, I learned more about Portugal and Austria than about the major cities that lie in them.
As for differences between Europeans with Americans, the environment comes to mind. Europeans are more aware and definitely ahead in terms of public transportation. They seem to live modestly within their means, and are less about themselves. I can still overhear conversations between bratty entitled Americans that make me grateful for my Asian face.
On the other hand, the food quality and waste seem to be lacking here. An article last year in the NY Times reported on the food waste. It was evident in the food markets (shown here, albeit pristine and among the most beautiful) and even in the run of the mill supermarkets. Perhaps their denial of GMO’s has to do with the selected supply and demand.
The ethnic food is institutionalized here. Just as we did in the States in the Sixties, fast food became the alternative to hot prepared restaurant food.
The Currywurst in Germany was among the first, so now it represents what every immigrant dreams about: its own take-away. Yesterday I bought my Japanese-style chicken teriyaki and rice from a hawker, who spoke in broken English but actually was Chinese. The fast food with a mixed message he was selling is a sign of the times—processed ethnic food that is predictable and a reasonable facsimile of food remembered from 50 years ago.
It wasn’t cheap—10 Euros. I can rationalize the cost for the overhead needed by families to make up for all their sacrifices in education, income and risk to reestablish in a new country. Hopefully in the future authentic ethnic food will be in greater demand as food origins are better appreciated and customers are more sophisticated.
Kunst Historisches Museum
This huge repository for the Italian and Flemish masters keeps an incredible collection of European art. The slide show includes the following in order of appearance below (but not chronicalogically): Breughel, Vermeer, Durer, Raphael, and Rembrandt
If you were wondering where all the artifacts from early Mediterranean civilizations had gone, you could probably find many of them here, like those in the “mummy” room:
My last-minute museum fix was to the Leopold Museum. Leopold was a private philanthropist who decided to collect art after he saw the collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum and became a patrin of the arts.
I was swept away by the entire collection. The “Modern” section told the story of the Vienna Werkstatt. Architects, artists, literary figures, and designers all gathered together to form the “Vienna Werkstatt”, that preceded the Bauhaus. Here are some of the exquisite design pieces from the period around 1900, in the Jugendstil:
Primarily led by Klimt, the group seceeded from the conservative Vienna Kunsthaus. The group then later became fragmented and Klimt and others left the Secessionists. He was also embroiled with the University of Vienna’s administration over the paintings, “Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence“.
We read and discussed this argument in our German class. Klimt was criticizing his benefactors. The faculty considered the nude figures pornographic and removed them from the ceiling where they were located.
This would not be so earth-shaking today, as many artists push their boundaries. Names like Ai-Wei-Wei came up. It was interesting to note, that while most of the European studentswere familiar with his name, none of the Chinese students knew of him.
Egon Schiele was an artist unbeknownst to me. He donated his collection to the Museum, so it may explain his prominence there.
I was drawn to the graphic nature of his work, powerful compositions, and emotional content. Being an aspiring artist, I studied his choice of color, figure drawing skill, and architectural themes intently. If you are interested you can read more about him here: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egon_Schiele
You may remember the Salzburg Music Festival from the film, “the Sound of Music”, where the Von Trapp Family made their debut. This weekend escape served as a finale of sorts for my travels. The ultimate purpose was to see “Adriana Lecouvreur” starring Anna Netrebko, Yuri Eyvazov (her husband), and Anita Rachvelishvili.
These are superstars in their prime in the opera world. I don’t know if there ever will be such a dynamic combination of singers performing such a highly dramatic opera.
The story takes place in 1730 and is about a theater actress, who became involved in a three-way triangle. There are many twists and turns about actresses playing their roles so well that they forget about their own lives and vulnerabilities.
This was Anna Netrebko’s greatest artistic challenge, not only as a singer but as an actress. You could only imagine what she is feeling after her own marital tribulations, on top of singing to her current spouse!!
Anna Netrebko, who did not respond to immediate audience approval at the end, was just recovering from her own performance. She was so immersed in the role, that she had forgotten that she was only performing! I could see how audience applause nearly destroyed the moment she was feeling. To jolt her out of one intense emotion of dying over spurned love (she won the battle but lost the war), the instant accolades were at first irrelevant. I could only imagine that feeling as it took some time for me to recover myself (from the performance, not spurned love!)
Earlier in the morning. I attended a Mozart concert. It was the usual Mozart fare offered by the Mozarteum Orchestra (who coincidentally played “Adriana Lecouvreur” at the Salzburg Festival.
I flashed back to one of my favorite movies, “Amadeus”. This came up in our class and was dismissed as “Hollywood”, implying that it wasn’t an authentic interpretation of Mozart. I defended the industry by indicating that the film launched the career of Milos Forman, a Czech.
Since this is my last post, I want to thank everyone for joining me. Your words of encouragement and comments were sincerely appreciated. I hope we will have an opportunity in the future to travel with each other!
If you haven’t already commented online, feel free to write to me at email@example.com!!
PS. Further apologies for any mistakes in this post. I am rushing to catch my flight!!
Okay, this is going to be a fast landing. I am uploading a cache of pictures from this week’s class tours: the Friedhof, or Cemetery outside Vienna, where many prominent and famous people of Vienna are buried; the Insider’s Walking Tour of Vienna in the oldest area from the Middle Ages; and the collections from the Decorative Art Museum
Vienna Central Cemetery (Wiener Zentralfriedhof)
Established in 1874, this cemetery reminded me of the one in Montparnasse, Paris. The loess soil in the outskirts of town was considered a better site for interment, especially after the cemetery had to be moved a couple of times. The first location inside the walls of the original city was bulging at the seams before long, so districts outside the city walls began to create cemeteries for specific ethnic and religious groups.
With so many people dying from the plague and pestilence in the 13th C, plots became scarce. Dogs were digging up the bones of those who had been laid in shallow graves and reintroducing body parts and diseases into areas occupied by those still alive. Soon these local cemeteries became too crowded.
This time the cemetery was centralized. Cemeteries from individual churches were combined, but it created new challenges. Being nearly an hour outside the city, it was difficult for relatives to attend to their dearly departed. Administrators found clever ways to encourage people to buy and maintain plots in the new location.
They provided a grand church for services, leased and subleased unused plots, and offered a park-like setting with a cafe to enhance visits. There were strict rules to maintain supply and demand. A “Famous Composers” section with the remains of famous composers like Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Brahms and Mozart was created to attract tourists. The wealthy built artistic monuments and used expensive materials to flaunt their prestige and wealth.
It’s a pretty good guess that one of the Hapsburgs had a hand in creating nearly every institution in Vienna, and this cemetery is no exception.
Decorative Arts Museum (Museum für Angewandte Kunst)
The applied arts museum offers an extensive collection of Baroque, Rococo, and Art Nouveau era furniture, household items, and special exhibitions..
Names like Biedermeier, Jugendstil, and Thonet–remind me of the not insignificant role of Austrian design. The Vienna Werkstatt reflected early European modern design. It was was influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement in England.
Back Streets of Vienna
I had dismissed Vienna as being pretty dry and uneventful until this week. The class outings picked up the pace and delivered pretty juicy stories about the history of Vienna. In three prior visits, I was completely unaware of the medieval section of the city. After starting at the edge of the old harbor to the Donau, we wound our way through crooked alleys and a labyrinthine course, passing many exclusive cafes, shops and historic businesses. We emerged by the end of the tour at the doorstep to St. Stephan’s Church in the heart of town.
The Greek Orthodox Church in the area was a reminder of the waves of immigrants who had populated Vienna and contributed to its growth and success.
A C Level Class for a C Level Student
Hey, I’m happy just to participate, as hubby Gee Kin would say. Here are a few parting pictures of our group, that included an Italian priest, three Chinese German language teachers, an Irish German teacher, a Belgian EU administrator, a Norwegian statistics consultant, and me.
This post is likely to be the second to last post for the trip. I am getting ready for the wrap in Salzburg, Austria this weekend. Look for it and let me know what you think of this year’s travels with myself and others!
Thanks to the Alps, there are plenty of resorts in Europe endowed with natural spring waters. The Europeans love to indulge in the purported therapeutic value. The Austrians are no less dedicated to magical wonders. Just one hour outside of Vienna lies a hidden gem known as Baden bei Wien (Bad is not bad, but good, for “Bath”).
That is, if you count having a casino as a gem. It’s a package deal, with a free music performance nearly every day in the summer in a toned-down version of Las Vegas or in a Riviera Wanna-Be. There are also miles of garden paths for “wandering” (a German-speaking country’s favorite past time), pedestrian-free shopping streets, and Baroque-era historical buildings. I even discovered one advertised as: “Beethoven slept here”.
Aside from the cutesiness, this little town is an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. Vienna is alot like Paris–overwhelmingly huge boulevards, huge art collections, and huge burning heat waves.
After a week communicating exclusively in German and starved by little or no English, my brain has had trouble with the cultural shift. Scrambling for a translation within whatever comes closest, glue exuding from my eyelids when I didn’t comprehend answers to questions, and the flippant responses emitting from my ignorance definitely caused Angst (a German word). Try a week of this and you will understand how I felt.
The planned mini-getaway with and from myself helped me to recover. Since there were no performances at the Vienna Opera House during the month of July, I searched my trusted opera.com website and learned that the nearest opera performances were listed in Baden bei Wien.
The “operas” were more like musicals, but the underemployed opera performers were very highly skilled and talented. This was a performance of “The Vogelhandler”, or the “Bird Trader”.
The small town, not unlike Bath, England, yielded an unexpected find. Beethoven had spent many holidays in Bad bei Wien during his residency in Vienna. The museum provided interesting facts about Beethoven’s life, health, and companions.
Beethoven’s deafness was well-known, but he also suffered from various ailments. (See the diagram showing his various sicknesses.) His moving journal notes, posted on music stands, indicated how much pain he endured and how he tried to find doctors and remedies, to little or no avail.
Despite these illnesses while he was in Baden bei Wien during the latter part of his life, Beethoven managed to write some of his best work. The Ninth Symphony, the Eroica Symphony, and Missa Solemnis were among some of the pieces written while he lived here. A summary of his arrival in Baden and a sample of the various voices and instruments he wrote in his music are shown below. (Click on images to increase for easier viewing).
A video showed the individual instruments or voices presented during a performance of the NInth Symphony, with Daniel Barenboim conducting at the BBC Prom. The complicated nature and integration of pieces are demonstrated. Watch the colors on the left screen as they coordinate to the music graphically, while the voices and instruments are shown on the right screen below.
Although I didn’t expect to be coming to Baden bei Wien to learn about Beethoven, I found this tiny museum packed with moving and compassionate information about purportedly the world’s best classical composer. It made up for the operas that I had come to see.
Vienna is very deceptive. At first glance, you see alot of well-built, sterile looking buildings that have been well maintained and proud of it. Street sweepers are a common sight so you have to skirt around them more often than you expect. But the endless rows of buildings, ornate details, heavy duty hardware and deluxe glazing make the city seem drab.
By Day Four (today) of my two week stay here, my opinion is reversed. The unbefore-seen Museum Quartier, tucked behind the Volks Theater, was an eye opener and inspiration for a visitor to this historic city. It’s alive with young people enjoying the balmy summer evening, amidst theater, dance, art, spontaneous outdoor performers, and of course, food establishments galore.
Originally a series of small villages, the district has been tranformed into a string of happening event spaces. Outdoor dining seems to be the order of the day. What’s amazing is that these are primarily locals enjoying their new-found urban spaces, with perhaps a dose of savvy tourists to keep the economy thriving.
You would be completely missing out on Vienna if you only saw St. Stephan’s in the center of town, the Opera House (on summer break), and Mariahilferstrasse, the main shopping street. Just like we scoff at tourists in San Francisco who only go to Fisherman’s Wharf, it’s not the current menu. If you inadvertently end up there anyway, the center of town is only used to get one’s bearing for the rest of the city’s bright and newly minted cultural activities.
The Cultural Program
The Vienna Goethe Institute has an excellent cultural program, perhaps the best of any educational program I have joined. We started with a general city tour that gave us a good orientation to the center of town. Intriguing alleyways and amazing historic buildings are tucked behind major thoroughfares, so you almost require a guide to find these hidden gems.
There aren’t as many tourists, thankfully, as in Lisbon. We were only spared for a short time in the morning until we hit the center of town at noon. The St. Stephan’s church was the crowning glory and has been completely renovated for googling eyes and ears. Concerts are held on a regular basis here for eager tourists who take in the musical history of famous composers like Mozart, Schubert and Mahler.
Vienna’s history is shrouded in the Hapsburg reign from about the 13th C.-1918. Thirty Years’ War, religious battles between Protestants and Catholics, Napoleon, and the plague set the backdrop for a violent past. Marriages between royal families in Europe sealed the Hapsburg rule for nearly 800 years, one of the longest standing regimes in history.
The main history of Vienna is focused near the Royal residences and the churches in the area. In addition, the Spanish Riding School where the famous Lippizaner Horses are trained, and the National Library with its fabulous collection, are located in the same vicinity.
An excellent introduction to three historic and beautiful churches on the second day was even more fascinating and helped us to understand the extent of power controlled by church and state. Austria was primarily Protestant in the countryside but Vienna was controlled by the Catholics and the royalty. The powerful relationship prevailed at the expense of the majority. It seemed to be another sad lesson to today’s world politics and the division between the haves and the have nots.
According to tradition, many of the Hapsburg family have buried parts of their bodies in three separate locations. Hearts in Budapest, innards and bones in two other locations in Vienna. The family followed this creepy ritual. The guide savored telling the English pun: “May the emperor rest in pieces”. You can read more about the Royal family’s whereabouts here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Crypt.
There are 14 students, most of whom are German language teachers. They come from Ireland, China (Souzhou and Hangzhou), France, Belgium, England, Russia and Norway. I am the only American in the class and I am very happy that it turned out that way.
A word about my German C level class for my German language buddies. I don’t know how I did it but I was put in an advanced class. I figured the director must get a promotion for enrolling more students in advanced levels. We’ll see if he gets his promo after he gets the report on retention.
We have spent most of our time getting accustomed to the class environment. A full program of free guided tours of the city, museums, historic sights, and concerts are offered before and after classes. I am glad that I chose Vienna to study German! My only problem is that I am exhausted at the end of each day and have not had any time to sketch.
Accommodations, in true Viennese style, are generous and adequately stocked. You can see the view of the modern studio apartment below, that costs about $33 a day. It’s a great deal including the cultural program provided in the course.
After spending a week with a dozen companions in the Algarve, it took a bit of adjustment to being alone again. Fortunately sketching buddy Karen accompanied me to Lisbon for her return flight to San Francisco. She adeptly led me to the Neya Lisbon Ecohotel where we were staying. The hotel promotes saving the environment, even if it’s just a marketing ploy.
Use of solar panels, thermal and acoustic windows, separated garbage bins in every room, and reusing towels are commonplace for most hotels, but they don’t advertise it. Every little bit helps, so his hotel has got the right idea. I’m not sure that I can quote any other hotel chain in the U.S. or Europe that includes it in their name. If nothing else, you end up with a younger and more conscientious clientele.
I’m spending a few days here exploring on my own. Lisbon city streets are narrow crooked alleyways that hug the steep hillsides until they burst at the seams with long strings of steps. You are reminded of Telegraph Hill or Montrmartre as you carefully scale the steep paths and are glad that you aren’t sporting five-inch heels from the Ott’s.
The paved cobbles are slippery from hundreds of years of footfall. I wondered how many souls (pardon the pun) it took to shine them. Occasionally a patch of roughed up cobbles provided relief to the attentiveness needed to descend them.
Mentally, I had no trouble skiing down the hill toward town and paused to savor the tiled facades and ironwork that were so compatible with each other. Even the laundry hung out to dry seemed to add an artistic swoop, as if to apologize for the untiled surface.
Castelo S. Jorge
I scaled the top of the 11th Century fortress castle. It was crenillated with lookouts that made shooting from below a challenge. The views from the fort were spectacular and peeking through the openings made you wish could dodge target practice. Other than that…overrun with tourists like me.
Pena Palace, Sintra
Despite being a world heritage site, Sintra was another destination overrun by tourists. It diminished my appreciation of the area’s man-made beauty. Tucked into the hills outside Lisbon, the national park was transformed from a barren hill to lush forest.
The palace itself looked a little bit like Disneyland, especially the bright colors. Its Moorish features and gardens were obscured by short rooms that lacked the high drama normally found in other European palaces. Pena was built by Ferdinand II, who ruled from 1837-53, and his two wives. One was an opera singer so you can imagine the level of high maintenance required on his part.
The Museum of the Orient
Okay, this wasn’t my first goal for museum googling. My first futile attempt was to the Archaeological Museum. The entrance was blocked by a parade for the 150th year of the Police Academy, who were out at least 150-strong: a great time to commit a crime!
The second attempt was to the Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology, located on the port side of a four-lane highway and railway line with no pedestrian crossing. I finally settled on the Orient Museum, that was also on the port side of the same highway and railway line, but WITH a pedestrian crossing!
Thanks to Vasco da Gama, who was responsible for the world trade routes to Asia as early as 1511! Macau and the Straits of Malacca were discovered in 1515, so they overcame the Silk Road drudgery of camel packs, winter snows, and sandstorms.
Had I thought about it, my Silk Road research and adventures could have been supplemented by tracing the Portuguese sea routes. Ach! Earlier freighters would have charted a simpler course. But…scurvy and mutinies…water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink…which was worse–the vast desert or the vast ocean?!?
This museum held me captive for over three hours. I read nearly every caption, to absorb the stories they told on porcelain, between the traders and the traded. As the market developed for the silk and porcelains, so shifted original Chinese themes to Western ones. The hunters became the hunted, and vice versa. Maritime prowess, religion, love of nature, and paganism were common topics that eventually drifted into the images depicted.
The Chinese found a liking to tobacco for both medicinal and euphoric purposes. Snuff bottles became popular and coveted. Opium became the new normal.
My HK friends will appreciate the material in this museum as it relates to Macau. Just north of Macau lies my family’s stomping ground in Zhongshan, China. It’s no wonder that the Southern Chinese were commercially influenced by 500 years of Portuguese presence, and they were already well into trading before the British arrived in 1851. A few of the well-curated artifacts are below.
Chinese Opera Exhibit
A separate permanent exhibit in the Museum of the Orient enhanced my research on Chinese Opera. The curators did an excellent job in presenting the topic to those unfamiliar with this form of integrated music and art. The costumes and descriptions were well preserved and comprehensive.
They clearly identified the four character types: the official, the maiden, the warrior, and the comic. The films that were shown were exemplary, not only of traditional opera, but one also described the complications during and after the Cultural Revolution by a ballet performer in the “Red Detachment of Women”. She was purged after the fall of the Gang of Four.
Shoes were of particular interest to me. Opera performers did not have bound feet, but they imitated those who did. They wore “high-heeled sneakers” with pedestals. If you wondered why Chinese opera performers were so deliberate in their actions, it’s because they couldn’t walk in those damn shoes! They had to balance themselves on platforms or pedestals and could easily trip on their costumes. The good news is that the pedestals allowed the fringes to flop over the edges and shimmy in a beguiling way.
One other note about this fascinating exhibit. Because of their heavy costumes, performers wore a shield of bamboo in between, so their skin could sweat! Just like bamboo mats. See the bamboo curtain below.
There were many other artifacts that mesmerized me for an entire afternoon. Here were just a few of the artistic pieces presented:
My apologies for this indulgence. They connect many dots in my historical knowledge of the Silk Road and the connection between East and West. Coming to Lisbon and seeing the artifacts at this museum was an unexpected delight. The museum gave me a deeper understanding of how two worlds collided and found a purpose.
Etch a Sketch
Just so you don’t think I have abandoned my sketching, here are a few from sitting at train stations and leftovers from Olhao:
Finale in Lisbon
An open air concert with the Portuguese Symphony outside the Teatro S. Carlo! The sound and film crew were more interesting to watch from behind. Apologies for the blocked view of the symphony. (Give the video some time to load).
I’m off to Vienna, so look for my posting from there mid-week!
The pace of life strikes you as soon as you have contact with the first native you meet here. There’s a natural warmth and friendliness that puts you at ease and convinces you to slow down. Especially in Olhao, grantedly a tourist town, the shopkeepers and service personnel are responsive and eager to cater to your needs.
We are staying the week at Arts in the Algarve, a collection of buildings with hide-and-seek rooms. Courtyards interjected here and there remind you of the warmth of the sun and the incredibly piercing light in this part of the world. You can’t help but feel healthy and inspired here.
Locals seem to enjoy being outdoors and life doesn’t start taking shape until after dark. Music wafts through the alleyways and over the rooftops into our rooms. Both pop music and accordion-style sing-a-longs with smiles and laughter are detectable. Parades and celebrations are a daily activity that bring multitudes of friends and strangers together.
The details and tiled facades of residential buildings allow owners to inscribe their mark, while balconies and connection to the outdoors are always evident. Lush shady trees and parks provide escape from the blazing sun, while artwork and monuments remind us of our fragile existence.
Our group in the art school this week includes four physiotherapists, an attorney, art and ESL teachers, an executive coach, real estate and finance, one with a diplomatic background, and two AirBNB hosts. There are plenty of interesting conversations at each meal as we convene in the school, poolside, and at nearby restaurants. We learn from and support each other as we challenge our artistic abilities.
There’s barely enough time in the mornings to sketch around town, so I took a day off from a planned nature tour to wander around Olhao on my own. Street scenes and people brought me back to ground zero, where art and ideas come together quickly for me.
The afternoons are spent in the studio culminating color, form, composition, and style from the morning’s sketches:
The food served in the school as well as in dining establishments is unadulterated, straightforward and fresh. Everything you need to stay healthy, especially the fish. The wide variety of daily catch includes tuna, halibut, sole, sea bream, sea bass, sardines, monkfish, and skate, as well as shellfish.
Before parking in Vienna for two weeks, I will be spending a few days in Lisbon, Portugal. Look out for a weekend post from there. Let me know if you have been to Portugal and what you find special about it!
After Lucca I flew to Southern Portugal via Paris. It was still light enough to decipher the Arc de Triomphe and the radiating street pattern of the Champs Elysee before landing. Over the next week, I’m parked in Olhao, Portugal for an art class, where we will be visiting markets in the nearby fishing village to sketch and paint.
The town is small enough so you can’t get lost despite crooked alleyways, and people are apt to smile back. Plenty of fresh seafood and fish keep the diet and everyone healthy.
We are working in watercolor sketches and pastels. This inspiring art school holds space for 12 students with private rooms, numerous gathering spaces, courtyards, an art studio and two pools.
A friend offered to lend me her ample stock of beautiful pastels, so it was hard to resist trying a new medium. The first set of sketches below are drawn in Olhao and at Alcona Island, and the slide show below that are sketches followed by pastels.
Lucca is one of those uniquely protected walled cities, that tells you to go away. Unless you’re inside, of course. It took a bit of battling to get in, with a car (restricted) to an Albergo with private parking privileges. You are acutely aware of harming the environment when you drive a car in this remarkable city.
Everyone moves at a slower pace, tourists and residents alike. Bikes have their place, although scooters are allowed. You wish life could be this way in your part of the world. Everything seems magical–the ice cream shops, the antiquaries, the magnificently preserved churches. Maybe it wasn’t Disney who spread gold dust here, but he must have visited and discovered the qualities that gave him ideas for his magic kingdom.
We were in Italy for a wedding over the weekend. On Elba Island to be exact. After connecting flights in Paris from Yerevan, Armenia, we spent a couple of days in a luxurious villa as our base. Getting to and from the island was another story, but we made it to the wedding in plenty of time.
We treated ourselves to dinner at the hotel’s well appointed facilities, including the original villa’s main house. Needless to say, food here as in everywhere in Italy is a major undertaking and form of entertainment. Here are just a few dishes that refreshingly attacked our palettes:
I’m off to Faro, Portugal for a week filled with art and sketching. Am traveling via Florence and Paris as stopovers. Stay tuned…
The Haghartsin Monastery and Churches range from the 10th-13th Centuries, and are a fascinating example of early medieval/late Byzantine architecture. The heavy basalt walls protected the churches from earthquakes, but a considerable amount of renovation and restoration work was still needed.
The thick walls supported small chapels with heavy domes made of stone. Nevertheless, the simplicity of the structures provided a timeless quality and soothing relief to the 90+ degree weather. The main church is dedicated to St. Gregory. You can read more about it here: https://www.advantour.com/armenia/tavush/agartsin-monastery.htm
Along Lake Sevan, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, the Sevanarank Monastery was built in 874. It’s surprising to find these early examples of Christian architecture that never made it into the art history lectures. Our Eurocentric focus has neglected the early beginnings of ecumenical architecture.
I am now customizing my own studies of architectural history and history. By visiting the trans-Caucasus countries, I realize how little we have learned about these countries and the significant roles they played during the “Dark Ages” in feudal and medieval Europe. We could have been learning about what was developing in other parts of the world, especially where it was not “dark”.
Followers have noted that my photos are strangely absent of people. I’m not sure whether it is a blessing or a curse, but I do tend to avoid inadvertent passers-by to preserve my architectural shots. It takes some patience but basically a stealth-bomber approach as soon as the coast is clear. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get distracted by interesting people who are the subject matter themselves. And don’t be misled. There are plenty of tourists wandering around everywhere, so I may in fact be distorting the scene. The good news: we have run into very few Americans along our route.
Food for Thought
With a bit of effort, delicious healthy food such as vegetable plates with presentation flair are inexpensive and available.
Cafesjian Center for the Arts
As part of the “Cascade”, an outdoor stairway system that ascends halfway up a steep hill in the middle of the city, an art museum is located adjacent to the escalator system serving the stairs. Sculpture is placed in layers as one moves along the escalators and views artwork at an enjoyable pace. The Cascade Monument was erected to commemorate the 2780th anniversary of the founding of Yerevan with an equal number of stairs.
Genocide Museum, Yerevan, Armenia
No visit would be complete without learning about the Armenian Genocide in 1915-20. An estim 600,000 and 1.5 million people were systemmatically killed by Turks in three phases: first by forcing men into labor groups without means of survival; next, by decapitating intellectuals and leaders of Armenia; and third, by rounding up women and children and sending them into the desert. The Turkish government has yet to acknowledge its responsibility in causing so many deaths.
All Armenians (3 million) and the Armenian diaspora (approx. 8 million) know about this tragedy. Funds for public and private projects such as the Cafesjian Center are sponsored by Armenians living outside of Armenia to help support the country today.
Armenia was the first countries to adopt Christianity as a state religion. Unless you majored in Religion or Theological Studies, you probably would not be familiar with the numerous stories fron the Old and New Testament quoted when visiting the early Armenian Christian churches. They helped to shed light on the activities of about 1100 years between the 3rd C CE and the 13th C. CE of devout Christian belief and that continues today.
Coincidentally, Gregory “the Illuminator” had a lot to do with the designating of sites or inspiring a number of them.
The Holy See of Armenia was the residence of the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a monastery, and cathedral. It contained a museum in which the hierarchical aspects of the Catholica, archbishop and bishop, such as vestments, decorative items and tapestries were preserved. One of the most interesting was a reliquary covered by a piece of petrified wood purported to be from Noah’s ark.
What appeared from a distance to look like a version of Stonehenge, the ruins of this round cathedral served as the holy see, until an earthquake collapsed the stone dome above it. Only the arches and columns remain, as well as remains of the dormitories for monks and communal spaces.
This UNESCO listed monastery and church complex was started in the 3rd C CE and was partly carved into the mountain. Many small caves behind the monastery were used by the monks for individual meditation.
We’re very sad to leave this part of the world behind. The wealth of UNESCO world sites speak for its significance in the development of mankind and societies. Politics reign above all and challenge our knowledge of these misunderstood countries. While we were only able to digest a few statistics and a small portion of its legacy, we are inspired to pursue further studies about the Caucasus.