Tag Archives: Museum artwork

SILK ROAD ADVENTURE #6C: Armenia

We have been traveling through the Caucasus —with stops in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and now Armenia.

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”.

Want people?

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.

Groups of Tourists descend from the Cascade Monument, Yerevan, Armenia

You will notice in one of the above photos our guide, Agii, from Mongolia. This was three years later and an unplanned encounter! Agii was visiting the Caucasus with her S. African husband to investigate potential countries for a permanent residence. They chose this part of the world over the U.S. or Europe, so it says alot about the stability, inexpensive living, and relatively reasonable standard of living. We found their mission for visiting the Caucasus fascinating, and even more enthralling that we met them completely by accident!

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.

Zvartnots Cathedral

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.

Geghard Monastery

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.

Our next and final stop along the Silk Road will be Turkey. Although it is not normally thought of as part of the Silk Road, it certainly has over various stages in time been a destination point at the end of a very long journey westward from China.

originally posted 6/29/19

SILK ROAD Adventure #5B: Isfahani Style (Cont’d from Part A)

From the last post, our itinerary started in Tehran, then south to Shiraz. In this second half of travels to Iran, we are visiting Isfahan, then plying our way north to Yasd, Isfahan, and back to Tehran.

Isfahan

Isfahan represents one of the great architectural cities of the world, and now I know why. The magnificent scale of site planning, building design and decoration are fully integrated. Many of the civic buildings surround what used to be a polo field and display the pride and beauty of Persia. (Yes, Persia and Iran is used interchangeably).

In the 16th Century, the Safavids defeated the Ottomans. During this triumphant period, Shah Abbas developed this square, which is the largest in the world. Islamic art and architecture flourished with distinctive elements. The public Mosque with twin towers dominates one end of the square. The architect’s signature is written on a tile discreetly placed to the side of the building. It avoids the front face and competing with the orientation towards Mecca. If only all architects were as humble!

After designing and building the Mosque, which is now a UNESCO World heritage site, the architect went away and returned after six months. He managed to convince the king that he was waiting to see whether the massive structure, with all its solid stone, brick and tilework, would cause settlement. (Yeah, right!!)

Everyone was relieved that it hadn’t, and the architect could still get his tea in Isfahan. Maybe the architect and structural engineer for the Millennium Tower in San Francisco were taking their sabbaticals before they got the bad news.

To the side is the private mosque, known as the Shah’s mosque. Daylighting illuminates verses on walls. As the sun rotates and casts light on various exposures, appropriate poetry is spotlighted naturally. The inside of the dome is also decorated with flecks of gold to cleverly simulate a spotlit tromp l’oeil effect.

This is only a glimpse of the many beautiful buildings with intricate floral tilework and awe-inspiring domes that are signatory to Isfahani architecture. The Shah’s Palace contained a music room with deep cutouts that made you feel as if you were inside a gigantic violin. And the Entertainment Center for the Shah displayed beautiful period paintings. While depiction of human figures was not allowed, these paintings represented non-Muslims such as Georgians or Indians. Some faces on the paintings were later marred or removed.

Persians enjoy strolling in the world-famous gardens built on the desert oasis and along the Zayandeh River. Sadly, the river is dammed to provide water to Yasd and farmers in the desert and as a result it runs dry. The Khaju Bridge that originally spanned the river is used as a leisurely stroll for Isfahanians. Local singers gather under the bridge to spar with other talented folk opera afficinados.  Here’s a short video of one of the talented regulars:

While I normally focus on historic architecture and museum artwork, this trip has engaged me in taking more photos of people in the streets. I have not been shy about asking for posed photos of strangers, because they are universally handsome and graceful in their poses and demeanor. You can’t help but want to capture some of this spirit that delights visitors to Iran and endears you to the people.

Where We Didn’t Go

Apparently the hottest place on earth is in Iran. Fortunately, it wasn’t on the menu. We got the details from our guide as he drove us from Yasd to Isfahan. A year ago, he took a couple of people out to see sand towers that appear like high rises. He reported to the police before entering the desert and notified them that he and a tourist couple were entering the zone. If you go missing after an hour, they come to get you.

They each brought a bottle of water to drink. On arrival he began to feel faint and told the travelers that he had to leave right away. He found out afterwards that you need to drink water every few minutes in order to stay hydrated. Food shrivels once it hits high temperatures of 76 degrees C. (equivalent to 167 degrees!!)

Driving through in the car reduces some of the effect until you get out. Abdullah had the AC on but the wife insisted on having full effect of windows open. He tried not to think what would happen if his car broke down as he seldom saw anyone on the road returning.

The second time, he accompanied two male travelers who wanted to get their thrills as extreme sportsmen. Once they got in, they encountered a sandstorm, that can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Fortunately, they were on the edge of it and after it blew past they were able to see what they wanted. They tried dripping water on the stones to watch how fast the water would be sucked dry. Others were frying eggs.

He has returned the second time to be ready to escort any of you for his third foray to a place that’s hot (literally) on the adventure trail. Sorry that this is only a second-hand story, but if you are interested in more, you can go to https://www.livescience.com/19700-hottest-place-earth.html for another great story about the Lut Desert in Iran.

Speaking of water and lack thereof, here’s a picture of the water bottle we recently purchased. Being a Muslim country, Iran does not allow liquor to be drunk or sold. This plastic bottle is shaped like a flask of liquor, or even worse, it makes me think of some toxic lighter fluid or cleaning alcohol. Its shape can’t be understood, but it seems to make sense for grasping (or gasping) purposes. Maybe drinking from cases of these will be part of the desert ritual as the Rime of the Ancient Mariner searches for those precious drops.

IMG_0291

Only 2 days left of blissful travel in a clean country with exceptionally kind and handsome people with a deep sense of their history and humanity.

Here’s a bonus video of delightful young, uninhibited girls playing in the evening. They capture the spirit of a safe and secure life. This was taken in a shopping area around 10pm at night. I feel far safer here than any country I have ever visited.

(This post was created on April 18, 2018 and edited April 22,2018.

Kool in Kashan

Midway between Tehran and Isfahan lies Kashan. One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Fin Garden highlights traditional Persian landscape design with fountains, channels and reflecting pools. These design principles trace back to the 6th Century and Cyrus the Great.

Local tourists love to visit these parks. On a particularly busy “weekend” Friday, the sites were crowded but the feeling was festive. Persians are courteous and never pushy, so it always seems like you are part of the public experience, not against it. Each person, including you, is entertainment material.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where large divans or platforms shaped like a huge sofa surrounded by a low back/barricade offered guests an alternative to traditional tables. The design defined a semi-private space, where groups or families could sit cross legged, enjoy the food, but not miss out on the activity outside their spaces.

The nearby town housed merchants who became wealthy from the textiles, carpets and tile produced in the area. Door knockers on a pair of entry doors differentiated men from women arriving by the sound of the knock. That was a pretty ingenious communication device!

The local bath house was an important community space and lavish design details encouraged members to use the club’s facilities!

I couldn’t help but to continue a few of my forays into people pictures. I was starting to get really comfortable doing this, again because the faces of the individuals are so engaging and CALM. Young girls may be a bit giddy, but overall everyone whose pictures I took were inviting, elegant and never intimidated or negative.

Below, here’s a video of the adorable little girl shown above:

(This post was created on April 20, 2018)

Iranic Irony in Tehran Terroir

Iran can be considered as a country of contradictions. We certainly experienced many of them, but certainly not without challenging our own values and assumptions about what it means to be a citizen of the world, of one’s country, and about human beings and their treatment towards each other.

Iran currently produces no wine. But like wine, the struggle to survive, the endurance, and the flavor come from the people. As mentioned in earlier posts, the most remarkable takeaway was the unique character of Iranians. They are proud. They are animated. And they are a kind and gentle people.

Everywhere we visited, people were not only good to us, but good to each other. There is a high value on the family. In the streets of Tehran and elsewhere, there’s no jostling, little noise, and a graceful poise.

Naturally, as travelers in a foreign country, we notice the aspects that are different from what we consider normal in our own countries. But being in Iran has had a profound effect on how we think about human interaction.

Maybe it’s because life is tougher in many ways, and there’s so much misunderstanding about the country.  But there appears to be a genuine friendliness that is inherent in Iranians. Hospitality is in the DNA of every Iranian. There is an elegant flow in body language, facial expressions, and greetings to one another.

The newest gesture we learned is placing your hand over your heart to express many words:  “I’m thankful”, “I’m sorry”, “I feel for you“, “I’m happy that you’re happy”. It was an unfamiliar gesture of hand to heart.  We tried it out and found that it was a quite natural act to put your hand over your heart, especially meaningful between strangers.  We hope we won’t lose this stress-reducing contribution to the world. Our guide taught us. After studying his natural behavior, we wanted to do it too. These habits could certainly be considered by others, where the “in your face mentality” is the new normal.

The Iranian’s sense of history is profound. Had it not been for the depth of it and my obvious ignorance, I probably would not have ventured here. Indeed, it’s all here, in its raw, all-inspiring splendor. From the earliest settlements around 2,000 BC that predated the Greek and Roman civilizations to the latest shopping mall outside Tehran (complete with fast food outlets sans American chains), Iran is country that is proud of its history. It is one that has had to become self-sufficient. It is stifled by political, cultural and economic events.

This is a country of very handsome people. We stare at their faces, and see the lines of character and beauty that appear from nowhere. My imaginary pen draws each face, each feature, with love and affection. Clothing shrouds the natural beauty of the women, so exceptionally high value is placed on their facial features and how they manage them.

Within a very short duration of time, we were hooked on Iran. It wasn’t expected. It’s definitely not what the media world tells us. After a short overnight layover in  St. Goarhausen ( in second home Germany) and a few days in Manhattan, we have come back to recover our thoughts and perspective on Iran. Like our own, a country like Iran is full of contradictions. We wish the people well and a hopeful future.

Below are a couple of galleries of people and places that capture our fanstastic experience:

Iran can be considered as a country of contradictions. We certainly experienced many of them, but certainly not without challenging our own values and assumptions about what it means to be a citizen of the world, of one’s country, and about human beings and their treatment towards each other.

Iran currently produces no wine. But like wine, the struggle to survive, the endurance, and the flavor come from the people. As mentioned in earlier posts, the most remarkable takeaway was the unique character of Iranians. They are proud. They are animated. And they are a kind and gentle people.

Everywhere we visited, people were not only good to us, but good to each other. There is a high value on the family. In the streets of Tehran and elsewhere, there’s no jostling, little noise, and a graceful poise.

Naturally, as travelers in a foreign country, we notice the aspects that are different from what we consider normal in our own countries. But being in Iran has had a profound effect on how we think about human interaction.

Maybe it’s because life is tougher in many ways, and there’s so much misunderstanding about the country.  But there appears to be a genuine friendliness that is inherent in Iranians. Hospitality is in the DNA of every Iranian. There is an elegant flow in body language, facial expressions, and greetings to one another.

The newest gesture we learned is placing your hand over your heart to express many words:  “I’m thankful”, “I’m sorry”, “I feel for you“, “I’m happy that you’re happy”. It was an unfamiliar gesture of hand to heart.  We tried it out and found that it was a quite natural act to put your hand over your heart, especially meaningful between strangers.  We hope we won’t lose this stress-reducing contribution to the world. Our guide taught us. After studying his natural behavior, we wanted to do it too. These habits could certainly be considered by others, where the “in your face mentality” is the new normal.

The Iranian’s sense of history is profound. Had it not been for the depth of it and my obvious ignorance, I probably would not have ventured here. Indeed, it’s all here, in its raw, all-inspiring splendor. From the earliest settlements around 2,000 BC that predated the Greek and Roman civilizations to the latest shopping mall outside Tehran (complete with fast food outlets sans American chains), Iran is country that is proud of its history. It is one that has had to become self-sufficient. It is stifled by political, cultural and economic events.

This is a country of very handsome people. We stare at their faces, and see the lines of character and beauty that appear from nowhere. My imaginary pen draws each face, each feature, with love and affection. Clothing shrouds the natural beauty of the women, so exceptionally high value is placed on their facial features and how they manage them.

Within a very short duration of time, we were hooked on Iran. It wasn’t expected. It’s definitely not what the media world tells us. After a short overnight layover in  St. Goarhausen ( in second home Germany) and a few days in Manhattan, we have come back to recover our thoughts and perspective on Iran. Like our own, a country like Iran is full of contradictions. We wish the people well and a hopeful future.

Below are a couple of galleries of people and places that capture our fanstastic experience:

Swivel-Chair Pop-Up: Join us for a Zoom Party with Sara Ishikawa, former UC Berkeley Professor of Architecture, and Peter Basmajian, AIA, of Richards Basmajian, Hong Kong, for a crazy, 40-year delayed world catchup— with Iran as the backdrop—on Saturday, August 7, 8pm (PST). Send me an email at vifongit@gmail.com and I will send you the link!

CORRECTION: THE DATE IS SATURDAY, AUGUST 8, AT 8PM!

SILK ROAD ADVENTURE #3: NORTHWESTERN CHINA

Today is a travel day, so I am getting ahead of the pack by sharing some information about the Silk Road. I read the book “the Silk Road, a New History” by Valerie Hansen and I want to cite some interesting points from it. The book covers three key chapters of my selected cities: Turpan, Dunhuang, and Samarkand.

Dunhuang, while known for its Buddhist cave paintings, has a treasure trove of over 35,000 documents that recorded official edicts, announcements, and private letters. These were found in a garrison outside of Dunhuang. The dry desert air helped to preserve these documents from the 1st Century BCE to the 1st Century CE.

Agreements were written on bamboo strips and wood before paper, originally used for wrapping, became the material for writing. Paper did not become widely used for writing until the 2nd Century. All envoys passed through this garrison at Xuanquan outside Dunhuang in either direction to control movement.

Turpan, a walled city further west from Dunhuang, was known for its foreign community dating back to the Tang Dynasty. It was only the halfway point between Samarkand and Chang An (current day Xian). One of the most significant groups living in Turfan, believe it or not, was the Sogdians, who originated from Samarkand! They settled in Turfan to farm, run rest stops, take care of animals, and trade.

Thing for Thina
image

In case you were ever wondering, the name “China” is derived from a reference to “Thina”, by a merchant in the 1st C. CE with a description of China as “a great inland city from which silk floss, yarn and cloth are shipped by land…” Since Ancient Greek did not have a letter for “ch”, the letter theta was used. In Sanskrit, where the English word for China is derived, China was pronounced Chee-na. This word came into use around 221-207 BCE during the Qin Dynasty.
As far as the “Silk Road” is concerned, it is a relatively recent concept from 19th C. explorers. The Silk Road consisted mainly of clusters of cultures that lived and traded among each other. The paths were unmarked and did not provide the big saga event romanticized by the Marco Polo story. Silk was only one among other goods traded that included chemicals, spices, horses, glass and paper.

The Dunhuang Museum


The Dunhuang Museum was an exciting experience, because the museum provided the history and the context for what we were seeing in the ruins the previous couple of days. Most of the development of Dunhuang occurred during the Han Dynasty, when the emperor sent troops and their generals to protect the frontier of China. At that time, Dunhuang and the area around it was the outer edge of the country. The Han general finally defeated the Hsiung Nu raiders from the North.

Following this major victory, trade needed to be controlled and taxes charged. So it stood to reason that Dunhuang occupied a very strategic position in the future success of China. As a matter of fact, the heavy control over the trade and passage through the Silk Road allowed the Han Dynasty relative peace and prosperity. The country advanced in many areas during that time.

After a period of turmoil and disorganization, the Tang Dynasty continued to maintain strong control over the passages. We visited the Mogao Grottoes in the afternoon, and while there are no photos to share the experience, the Buddha sculpture, paintings, and architecture were a clear expression of the flourishing of encounters with the outside world. Trade, language, art, and religion were being introduced, explored, challenged, and absorbed between many cultures during this time (600AD-900AD).

I am posting a few pieces from the museum that I particularly liked and found quite unusual. They seemed to be very robust and expressive, similar to the style of the better known horses of the Tang period. The Photos of Han and Tang (200BC-900AD) Museum pieces are above.

The new museum itself was surprisingly beautiful and excellent in its presentation of material. It was very thoughtfully and clearly laid out, and spanned everything from early neolithic implements to planning for the future generations. I am inserting a couple of photos to show you how the new building interior courtyard looks. I would highly recommend this museum to anyone intending to visit this area.

The Northern Silk Road
Over and Out

The camels could pack enough food for 2 months and water for 2 weeks. Other animals and men could go for 4 days, so the caravans timed their journeys so they would have enough provisions and wouldn’t get caught in between. From Dunhuang, on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert, there were two basic routes to the next watering hole: one took seven days and was easier, and another took four days but was riskier. Doing the hop-skip made so much sense!

Both Turpan and Dunhuang were major Silk Road trading points. Turpan contained one of the early walls from the 1st C. BC that preceded the Great Wall outside Beijing. And both the ruins of Gaocheng, a Han Dynasty city, and Jaio He, a fortress, were worth seeing but very remote from the current day town of Turpan.

The Han emperor sent the generals to fight the Hsiung Nu invaders from the North. When they finally won, a period of stability and civil order allowed the Han Dynasty to flourish. Trade and intercourse between the Chinese and the Sogdians, who were settling and trading in China, developed during this time. The Sogdians inhabited Bokhara and Samarkand! This period of prosperity lasted through the Tang Dynasty until the Mongols came down again from the dreaded north and ruined everything for the Tangs.

Gaochang

The Ancient City of Gaochang was an essential passageway between the East and West during the Han Dynasty and Tang Dynasties and was an important section of the ancient Silk Road. The foundation of the Wall was laid in the first century BC. The total area of this city is about two million square meters.

As soon as a sea route was discovered by Chang He in the Ming Dynasty, the party was over. It was better, faster, cheaper to go by sea to all the Middle East points. And sadly, the Silk Route diminished in its importance. While trade continued, the difficulty in going between desert and mountains became impractical and the cities like Dunhuang lost their significance.

It was amazing that amidst the Turpan desert were extensive grape vineyards. They really gave the lush impression of the oasis. It was a little bit of Napa Valley in the middle of the Gobi! The wells and water sources were precious and more important than gold. To this day, they are maintained carefully as a national resource. The government has big plans to harness the desert’s solar and electrical power capabilities. A high-speed train is under construction and will be in operation next year. That’s when development and tourism will be inevitable, and will kick in big-time.

Food! Food! Glorious Vegetables!

In addition to items one might expect from a typical Chinese breakfast buffet in Turpan, we were treated to an array of dishes, all cold, and mostly vegetarian. These locally produced vegetables were lightly flavored with oil and a hint of garlic or chili pepper and proved to be not only a visual delight, but very appealing to the palette for an energetic wake up. Dishes included the following:

  1. Fresh broccoli
  2. Lotus roots with ginkgo nuts, fungus strips, celery strips, red cabbage clips, red pepper, and straw mushrooms
  3. Fresh steamed yellow and orange carrots (a contribution to China from the West)
  4. Clouds Ears with onions, red and green pepper strips, bean sprouts and green onions
  5. Shaved Gourd strips with Green onions and red peppers
  6. Green beans (also likely a Silk Road vegetable imported from the West) with carrots, leeks and red pepper
  7. Chinese Greens
  8. Marinated cabbage with deep-fried pork strips
  9. Deep-fried pulled noodles
  10. Mini tschung and corn on the cob (another item from the New World) sections
  11. Mung beans and pickled cabbage
Onward to the Southern Silk Road

The missing link between the two major urban areas of Tashkent, Uzbekistan and Urumqi, China is very perplexing. With a flight time of just less than 2 hours, the distance over the Ferghana Valley and the Tian Shan mountains was indeed very short. Google maps had no discoverable routes between the two cities. Even Kashgar, the far outer reaches of Xinjiang Province accessible by train, had no published routes between these two cities in Google. You can go to Kashgar but there was no train to go beyond into Uzbekistan, and there were no flights from Tashkent to Kashgar. This was a Catch-22 for me. The cities we are going to visit are only within a few degrees’ latitude of each other: Tashkent, Samarkand, Bokhara, Kiva, Turpan, and Dunhuang were nearly on the same latitude by a range of only 5 degrees. Amazingly, San Francisco lies in this zone of 38-42 degrees. There must have been something in the air or water that made me feel so at home in all of these locations. Maybe the wind direction had something to do with why the ancients chose to move eastward, or the water flow below fed the streams and wells in one horizontal line….

Training the Trainers

Our non-highspeed rail travels between Turpan and Urumqi involved harrowing late night transfers and crowded trains. We were rewarded with endless entertainment and an opportunity to chat with train interns.

Do’s and Don’ts

1. Organize your bag according to rooms in your house and how you use things in them: BR, bath, kitchen, etc. I use a lot of kitchen implements like a set of plastic fork, spoon, and knife to do most in-room dining for those unexpected, can’t be bothered moments to avoid eating out. Plus the knife comes in handy and passes security control.
2. Pack a box of tissue flat as a pad for your Ipad or computer.Use it as you go.
3. I use a nail clipper to cut and make my own band aids. They cost pennies if you buy them uncut and in sheets and you can make them any shape you need. The nail clipper also gets you around the scissor-weapon issue at airport security.
4. Be careful when taking trams and trains. Check to make sure that you know the end destination of the line, or you may end up in a completely different part of town!
5. Never be in a hurry when checking the next train or bus schedule.
6. Never, never, never take shortcuts near train tracks.
7. Don’t be without a cell phone.
8. Never have the batteries die or be close to dead before or after you take a train in the wrong direction.
9. Never be too sure you can meet someone even after you have just confirmed that you are meeting them in an hour.
11. Do not be in a remote location where there is no cell phone coverage.
12. Do not travel when it is getting dark.
13. Never trust your own judgment.

Minor point: in having executed 4-13 above in the span of 2 hours (between 7:30 and 9:30pm at an undisclosed location), I can vouch for the necessity to avoid these incidents at any cost, particularly when they are combined. Fortunately, one additional “do”: Do trust that your friend will be patient and wait for you, even if you are a complete flake and end up being over an hour late just because you were stupid enough to think that you knew what you were doing and didn’t.

This post is a compilation of several posts from August, 2014.

Our next major adventure will be from Urumqi to Tashkent, Samarkand, Bokhara, and Kiva, the classic cities along the Southern Silk Road.

Glyndebourne Opera Finals, Kensington Museums, and Fidelio

Glyndebourne Opera Finals

Among the six finalists, Edward Nelson from S. California won this year’s Glyndebourne Opera Cup. A baritone, he was a former student of the San Francisco Opera Merola Program and an Adler Fellow. It was particularly exciting for me to see the international reputation and success of our own local training programs. Along with the first prize, Edward will receive a principal role in a major European opera house.

One of my favorite finalists, American tenor Eric Ferring, won third prize. His Mozart choices were sung with beautifully articulated German and particularly moved me. I anticipate he will be performing some challenging German operas on the European stages in the near future. Another one of my favorite finalists was soprano Meigui Zhang from China. She was also a graduate of the Merola. Unfortunately, she did not place in the top three winners. I was pleased that my top three choices of the twenty contestants made it to the final rounds.

Overall, I was thrilled to attend both the Glyndebourne and Metopera finals for the first time. It provided insight on the training, technical skill, artistry, and determination required to become a professional opera singer. I now know some of the next generation’s exciting star performers.

Tutankhamun Exhibition at Saatchi Gallery, London

Located in Sloane Square, the Saatchi Gallery hosted a special exhibition of Tutankhamun making its way around the world. Tutankhamun was a boy who became king when he was around nine in ca. 1200 BC, and died when he was only 18.

The videos below explain the extensive methodology and preparation for the burial of Tutankhamun.

The treasures accompanying Tutankhamun’s mummy protected and assured his after life. The family tree traces his lineage from his father, Akhenaten, and grandfather Amenhotep. Both Tutankhamen and Akhenaten married their sisters, which may have contributed to multiple defects in the family. You can read about them here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tutankhamun

More exquisite artifacts show the high level of skill of artisans that produced wood, gold and stone carvings for the royal tomb. The layout of the tomb shows what Carter discovered in 1922. The pieces will be permanently installed in the museum in Egypt now under construction.

Natural History Museum, Kensington

A quick walk down the block from the hotel to the Natural History Museum confirmed my suspicion. The dinosaurs were the highlight, with the blue whale suspended in the Great Hall perfectly proportioned to its size.

Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington

The V&A, just another block further, reminded me of the British propensity to collect. But of course, it is always done tastefully. The giant Chihuly Murano glass sculpture barely made a statement within the monumental scale of the domed entrance. On the other hand, the Shah’s carpet, was imposing as the largest Oriental carpet in the world (a Kashan). But in the end, my favorite was a period Chinese cheong sam from the 1920-34 era at the time my mother immigrated to America.

Fidelio at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, was performed this year at the Royal Opera House to celebrate the composer’s 250th anniversary. The story is, like all operas, complicated and convoluted. Based on a true story during the French Revolution, it is a testament to marital loyalty (a long foregone concept). Fidelio’s wife, Leonore, attempts to save her husband from prison by posing as a prison guard. She gains the confidence of the prison official in order to free her husband. That’s it in a nutshell.

The new production by a German director was very choppy. In the first act, the historical setting is preserved, but the second act suddently jolts us into a modern day setting. The chorus, clad in black, serves as the audience in judging the scene. Fidelio, played by superstar Jonas Kaufmann, sings his chained lament before he is freed. Kaufmann performed for a total of only about ten minutes! The real star was Leonore, played by Lise Davidsen.

My apologies for the length of this post and the big cultural data dump. I couldn’t resist sharing these educational experiences. And yes, corona virus is everywhere and something to be concerned about. The news and alarm rolled into each country I visited like a slow but sure tidal wave–first in California as I was leaving, then New York, followed by the U.K at the end.

So, it looks like travel plans are on hold for awhile until further notice. I sincerely hope that this world-wide health problem will all come to pass quickly, teach us to be more vigilant and kind to each other, and that traveling with myself and others will again be as blissful and unencumbered as it has been over the past six years. Stay well and safe.

Picasso and Glyndebourne Semi-Finals

If you wanted to live and die opera and art, the UK is the place to be (next to Germany). Of course no one I know has this level of idiosyncratic passion as me, nor the idiocy. Nevertheless, I am here and indulging in two of my favorite interests.

Picasso and Paper

The Royal Academy of Art exhibition on PIcasso and Paper reminded me of the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition on Michelangelo a couple of years ago. Four hundred years later, Picasso had a few tips to share. His sketchbooks were treasures to study and admire:

As an avid student of sketching, I wondered about artists’ techniques and their process of making art. The Picasso exhibition was a real-time, home school crash course in the fundamentals of figure drawing. It also clearly displayed composition, line weight, and exploration beyond the obvious. Here are a few quick insights I gathered from the Grand Master (see captions):

And finally, these are a few colorful favorites among hundreds of items scattered throughout the exhibition:

If you want to find out the actual titles of the images above, go to https://shop.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/exhibition-ranges/picasso-and-paper. Like the Michelangelo Exhibition, my studying the early inception of Picasso’s artwork helped me to appreciate the master and the depth of his brilliance.

Glyndebourne Opera Semi-Final Competition

Now, on to Glyndebourne. There were twenty contestants in the competition, already culled from many trials in different countries. The finalists selected were: Eric Ferring, Tenor, from the US; Meigui Zhang, Soprano, from China; Siphokazi Molteno, Mezzo from S. Aftrica; Sungho Kim, Tenor, from Korea; Alexandra Lowe, Soprano, from the U.K; and Edward Nelson, Baritone from the U.S. (See photo below, with Jury chair (far left) and other contestants (in background)

It was great to see diversity among the finalists, as well as a good showing from the Americans. Edward Nelson was a graduate of the Adler program at SF Opera, so there were many candidates to feel proud of supporting.

Like artwork, I found the competition helpful in deconstructing the mysteries of opera. My choices coming from an untrained ear were based on the following criteria:

1. Do they have stage presence?

2. Can they carry the notes to the back of the room?

3. Do they convey their lust and excitement for opera?

4. Do they have confidence in their command of the foreign language they are singing in?

5. Can they sing pianissimo as well as at full blast?

6. Are the notes smooth and effortless?

The opera house was small and intimate. Nevertheless, think about reaching the back of the room with your instrument. Built of wood, this circular, modern building is similar to the Globe Theater. It is located a half hour south of Gatwick Airport on the way to Brighton. The surrounding countryside was beautifully groomed and lusciously green. The U.K. is blessed with plenty of rain, an enviable environment coming from California.

Munchin’ in München (36 hours)

At the start of the New Year, dessert chef/ daughter Melissa and I are making a quick stopover in Munich en route to Western Turkey for a few days.

We searched high and low for tasty, affordable dishes. In Germany, it’s a challenge to avoid meat-forward or vegan counter-reactionary approaches. There seems to be very little in between.

Nevertheless, Melissa decided to go classic and identified the Cafe Luitpold. We indulged in a delicate croissant assemblage and a cheese plate for breakfast.

Cheese Plate at Cafe Luitpold

Meanwhile, our main objective for stopping in Munich was to hit as many museums in one day possible.

To digress, speeding thru museums when the kids were young helped. We broke into parent-child pairs for a one-hour treasure hunt. Finding famous pieces and objets d/art such as the Venus de Milo in Louvre was energizing. It helped each of us remember what we found!!

Quality was less relevant than quantity in order to win! I feel less guilty about subjecting our children after this daughter became an art history major.

Back to the ranch. We decided to tackle the Pinakothek Moderne today. It’s a behemoth museum that dwarfs artwork and erases any artist‘s notion of grandeur. The Reichstag-like atrium was wet with a pendulum-swinging, egg-shaped disco ball.

Pinakothek Atrium, Munich

After a short break, we visited the Brandhorst Museum across from the Modern. A huge Cy Twombly exhibition displayed his beautiful series on roses, as well as his Sketches and Scribbles.

Twombly’s Roses

The museum celebrated its tenth anniversary by providing souvenir cards of many artists’ works. It saved buying an exhibition catalog, that often are killers to transport home.

American contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jeff Koons were well represented here, juxtaposed against German Expressionists and the Dusseldorf Academy faculty.

This is one museum worth visiting, and the late Thursday opening allowed viewers near-exclusive access to an amazing collection.

Jean Michel Basquiat, untitled, 1983
The Dancer by Oskar Schlemmer, 1922

(Author‘s Note): if you think we’re crazy to do two museums in one day, we scaled our goal back from the four in the Pinakothek collection that we had intended to visit!

Day 57-60: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu…from Salzburg

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:

Leopold Museum

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 students were familiar with his name, none of the Chinese students knew of him.

You can read more about the Leopold Museum collection here: https://www.leopoldmuseum.org/en/museum/museum-history.

Egon Schiele

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

Miscellaneous Pieces

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.

Not being satisfied with my own answer. I googled “Amadeus”. You can read more about the film here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadeus_(film)

It led to further searches about the producer, Saul Zaentz, who turned out to be from the Bay Area and a former agent for Credence Clearwater Revival.

The fascinating life story of the producer was interwoven with a legal case with John Fogerty of the CCR. It even went to the Supreme Court! You can read about it here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Zaentz

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 vifongit@gmail.com!!

PS. Further apologies for any mistakes in this post. I am rushing to catch my flight!!

Day 53-56: Ravishing, Vanishing Vienna Woulds

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!

Day 49-52: Ba-Da Boom

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”.

Beethoven Museum

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.

I also managed to get a few sketches in!

Day 41-45: Bom Dia Lisboa!

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!

150th Anniversary of Police Academy

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!