Friday, September 30, 2011

The past of Santorini


Photo: Statue of an ibex found in 1999. Courtesy of Museum of Prehistoric Thira.

Santorini, in a Greek island group called the Cyclades, has an explosive history. The site of a massive volcanic eruption in about 1630 BCE, it was nearly blown out of the water. What remains today is the crescent-shaped remainder of what was once a much larger island. The isles of Thera, Therasia and Aspronisi form the outer rim of the group, and the middle contains the Kameini islands.

In his dialogue Timaeus, the Greek philosopher Plato describes the sinking disappearance of an island with a great and wonderful island culture called Atlantis, which may have been Santorini. As this happened long before Plato's time, however, his account of it is hearsay. It appears that Plato got his account from that of Solon, who in turn heard of it from Egyptian priests. According to How Volcanoes Work, the massive eruption that left Santorini a shell of its former self was caused by subduction of the undersea plates.

Archaeological finds on Thera demonstrate that Santorini was inhabited before the volcanic cataclysm, by the Minoans, whose culture thrived on the earlier form of the exploding island. Most likely they had expanded there from nearby Crete.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The historian and the fisherman of Halikarnassus

Photo: Herodotus bust,
Exploring Bodrum

The first historian of the Western World was born in 484 BCE in an area then known as Caria. His home town of Halicarnassus is now the Turkish city of Bodrum.

Herodotus wrote a book called simply Histories, in which he reports what he has discovered by observation and inquiry. He begins the book by expressing his desire to preserve in memory the achievements of Greeks and non-Greeks, as well as the nature of the conflict between these groups as he defined them.

In 1925, as the Ottoman Empire wound down, a Turkish writer who had once been an Oxford don was convicted of a crime and exiled to the city of Bodrum, then considered a backwater. There he wrote under the Turkish nom-de-plume of Halikarnas Balikjici, the fisherman of Halicarnassus. His statue may be seen in Bodrum.

Along with the Colossus of Rhodes and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum at Halikarnassus was another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Samos, home of Pythagoras


Left: Samos, Greece: aguide2Greece.com

The renowned mathematician Pythagoras, he of the famous theorem that every school child must learn, was born and grew up on the island of Samos, then part of Ionia.

He traveled widely, and had many interests besides math. He could play the lyre and recite the poetry of Homer, and also liked astronomy.

Pythagoras was not only the world's first pure mathematician; he was a philosopher too. He studied as a young man with Pherekydes, and later with Thales and Anaximander, and later developed his own philosophy, which included a belief that humans had separate physical, mental and astral bodies. He and his followers are also believed to have been vegetarians.

The gorgeous Aegean isle of Samos, much contested in ancient times, lies just off the northwestern coast of Turkey and belongs to Greece. A statue of the great mathematician may be seen in the Samian town of Pythagorion.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Carthage then and now

What remains of ancient Carthage today is little enough, though the modern city of Tunis has grown up around the hill where it once stood and the name lives on in the name of Tunis Carthage Airport.

Carthage was the birthplace of Hannibal, the renowned military leader who marched on Rome after crossing the Alps with his elephants.

The illustration below, located in the Bardo Museum in Tunis, shows a plan of what the city and harbour looked like in ancient times. The map drawing reveals the high level of sophistication the Carthaginians had reached in engineering and design. The remains of Carthage is one of  eight UNESCO heritage sites in Tunisia.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Bardo Museum in Tunis

The Bardo Museum in Tunis is a beautiful building filled with treasures of art and architecture. This wood-framed doorway gives onto a colonnaded area surrounded by a mezzanine lit by natural light that shows the many and varied works to great advantage.

This remarkable museum contains collections of classical and Islamic art, as well as a vast display of Byzantine, Roman, and Punic mosaics. Many are startlingly well preserved and the artistry draws the viewer into photo-like portrayals of a variety of life scenes. Fishing and hunting, eating and drinking, birds, animals and fish are displayed. Of course, there are also many more stylized portraits of men and gods. Lifelike details include gardens, statues, and fountains. Grape vines and olive trees symbolize wine and oil, the most ancient products of the Mediterranean.


Aicha Ben Abed Ben Khader has created an illustrated book,
Tunisian Mosaics (2006, J. Paul Getty Trust).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cappadoccia -- below ground

Kaymakli is only one of about 36 underground cities in the region.


One can tour vast networks of caves that were once entire self- contained underground communities. The picture above shows a grindstone that was used to mill grain beneath the earth. Air ducts and wells provided fresh air and water to these cities, making it possible to do everything underground.

The deepest and most extensive of the cave cities of Cappadoccia is Derinkuyu, which includes stables, wine and oil presses, refectories and chapels. Its eighth storey reaches a depth of 85 metres.

A large room on the second level has a barrel vaulted ceiling; a staircase hewn into the rock gives access to a cruciform church at the lowest level. Since it was found and excavated in the 1960s, visitors have been able to go down and see what life was like below.

Certainly these underground places provided excellent air conditioning in a hot climate, but these sites were chosen for protection as well. Added security was provided by special rolling "millstone doors" that blocked the passages and could be opened only from one side.

This picture shows the author exploring Kaymakli with a young friend. (Photos Carol Tulpar 2006)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cappadoccia -- above ground

The land of the fairy chimneys, Cappadoccia is an astonishing landscape filled not only with Hoodoos, but with natural sculptures like the camel on the left. An image of the most famous of these, mushroom shaped, is featured on Turkish currency.

The Open Air Museum at Goreme is yet another of Turkey's World Heritage sites. It is a network of natural above-ground caverns which were used in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries as monasteries and churches. These contain beautiful frescoes, as well as tables and benches hewn from the natural rock.

Natural "buildings" of the region, like the one formed below, were created by erosion. As geologist Rasoul Sorkhabi explains, in Cappadoccia, volcanic rock lies between the harder sedimentary layers. These overground caves have been inhabited since at least the 4th Century. Even today, some cave houses and cave hotels remain in use.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Troy

Photo: Computer reconstructs the city at the time of the Trojan War, courtesy Manfred Korfmann



Until archeologist Heinrich Schliemann began excavating the site in 1870, nobody realized that Troy, or Ilium, really existed. The Iliad, by the great blind Greek bard Homer, was assumed to be a work of fiction.

But subsequent and extensive excavations have shown many layers of occupation. Troy (Turkish Truva) was occupied for at least 4000 years. As UNESCO states, this World Heritage Site demonstrates the first contact between the ancient civilizations of Anatolia and those of the Mediterranean.

The Trojan Women
, by Euripides, portrays what horrors the women and children of the city face when the war is over. In one grueling scene, Andromache, the widow of the dead Hector, must be parted from her young son, who is thrown from the city walls. Based on actual findings at the site, the computer reconstruction shows what those walls may have been like.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ancient Rhodes

Photo: Harbour at Rhodes, with castle in background

The Minoans, who also occupied Crete, were among the earliest known arrivals (circa 1600 BCE). They established trading stations on this Mediterranean island off the coast of Turkey.

The Mycenaeans came around 1500 BCE and established fortified settlements inland. Many artifacts from their occupation can be seen in the Rhodes Archeological Museum.

The Dorians arrived in Greece and nearby islands, including Rhodes, in the 10th century BCE. Their three cities, Ialysos, Lindos and Kameiros were prosperous commercial centres that even minted their own coins (Mediterranean cruise ports).

In 282 BCE, the Colossus of Rhodes was completed at the harbour entrance. This huge statue, a hundred feet tall, was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Made of stone, iron and bronze, it took twelve years to build. Unfortunately, after standing for less than sixty years, it was broken at the knees and tumbled down by an earthquake.

The fallen remains lay for hundreds of years until an Arab invasion in 654 CE. When the statue was broken up for re-use, 900 camel loads of rubble had to be moved (Rhodes guide.)

Nobody knows exactly what the Colossus looked like, since it can only be pictured from verbal accounts of the time. Some believe it used to straddle the harbour entrance, but others disagree.

On thing that is not in dispute is the size. According to Citizen Pliny, the thumb was so large that few could wrap their arms around it (Harbour Lights).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Antakya (Antioch)

Photo: Mosaic of sea nymphs, Antakya (Hatay) Archeology Museum

The city of Antakya, called Antioch in former times, lies on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey near the Syrian border.

Established about 300 BCE by Seleucus I Nicator, the city became the capital of the large Seleucid Empire and occupied an important position on the Silk Road.

Antioch-al-Oronte was the capital of the Roman imperial province of Syria. With its population of about half a million, this city was next in importance to Rome and Alexandria.

The city included a large Jewish population, and St. Peter and St. Paul of the Christian gospels also preached here. Later it flourished under Byzantine culture, until a severe earthquake in the 500s killed 200,000 and nearly destroyed the city (History of Antakya).

Much contested, it was taken over next by Persians, then Arabs, then Seljuk Turks. It was occupied by Christians during the Crusades, then was re-taken by the Mamelukes, following which it became part of the Ottoman Empire. When this collapsed after World War I, the city was for a time a French Mandate. Antakya became part of the young nation of Turkey in 1939.

Nearby Daphne (Harbiye), is on a lovely forested mountain with waterfalls. The place is reputed by myth to be where Apollo pursued the nymph Daphne, at whose behest Zeus changed her into a laurel tree --Daphne is the Greek word for laurel. In the early days of the city, her temple was established here by Seleucis I.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Myra/Kale/Demre -- birth place of Santa Claus

Photo: Santa Claus Statue with children and toys, Kale, courtesy of Sacred Destinations

Santa Claus may live in Finland, Svalbard, or the North Pole,   but his original was born, lived and died in Turkey.

On the southern coast of Turkey, in a place now called Kale/Demre, and known formerly as Myra, the Church of St. Nicholas may still be seen. Now a ruin, it was built in Byzantine times. Within it lies the tomb of St. Nicholas of Myra, born 300 CE in Patara. He served as bishop of Myra.

After his death, St. Nicholas was named the patron saint of sailors and seafarers. His tomb was stripped about a thousand years ago and the relics taken to Bari, Italy, where they were enshrined in a cathedral.

The statue in the picture stands outside this ruined church. It reflects various legends about the kindness shown by St. Nicholas to others, especially the less fortunate, and clearly portrays aspects of the St. Nick, Father Christmas or Santa Claus we know and love today.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rock-cut tombs of ancient Lycia


Photo: a Lycian rock cut tomb, courtesy of Lycean Turkey

Before the Hellenistic cultures established themselves in southwestern Turkey, an older Anatolian people called the Lycians had built their civilization there.

The Lycians, who occupied portions of the coast of southwestern Turkey, are noted for their elaborate rock-cut limestone tombs. Over a thousand of these remarkable cultural artifacts are intact.

Unlike the Hellenistic cultures, the Lyceans did not place their dead outside the cities in necropoli. In contrast to those of neighbouring cultures, Lycian temple tombs were positioned in the midst of their cities, next to important elements like harbours and granaries.

In contemporary Fethiye, rock tombs remain and stone sarcophagi are still clearly visible in the middle of the city. Lycian carved tombs can also be seen in nearby Dalyan, Myra (Kale), and Pinara.

Pillar tombs were erected in Xanthos, a very ancient capital of Lycia, dating back to the 8th century BCE and possibly earlier. Xanthos-Letoon is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Patara



Photos: Ancient lighthouse foundation, Patara Beach, courtesy of Lycian Turkey



Today Patara Beach on the south coast of Turkey is a protected spawning area for sea turtles. When they lay their eggs at night in summer, the beach is closed daily after sunset to accommodate them. Patara is also one of Turkey's many Blue Flag beaches. The Blue Flag is an award given to clean beaches by the Foundation for Environmental Education, a non-government organization that promotes environmental sustainability and clean beaches.

In ancient times, Patara was part of the kingdom of Lycia. From the top of the nearby hill of Kursluntepe, a wide range of remains of the former city can be seen.

The ruins include a large Hellenistic style amphitheatre, a necropolis with stone sarcophagi, a granary named after the Roman emperor Hadrian, a variety of baths including the Vespasian bath and a 2000-year-old lighthouse. The former harbour is now a marsh.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pergamum or Bergama

Photo: partially restored Temple of Trajan, Ancient Pergamum

Those who are fond of Earl Grey tea probably know it is flavoured with bergamot flowers.

But these tea drinkers may be surprised to learn that the bergamot flower is named for an ancient town in Turkey.

As Turkish Odyssey explains, after the death of Alexander the Great, Lysimachus, one of his generals, deposited his 9000 talents of gold at Pergamum and asked Philetaerus to guard it. A dynasty of Attalid kings was established and in the Hellenic period, the city became a centre of culture, known for its library, school of sculpture and great temples.

King Attalus I befriended Rome and received favours in exchange, making Pergamum the centre of a kingdom that included Lydia, Mycia, Phrygia, Caria (capital, Halicarnassus, or contemporary Bodrum) and Pamphylia.

Later the Romans controlled the city, and after that it went through Arab and Byzantine periods before the Turks took it over in the 14th century.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sardis

Photo: floor mosaic in the Sardis synagogue, by Dick Osseman

In the wide fertile Fraser Valley near Chilliwack, lies the town of Sardis. For many years, the Tim Horton's there has been our stop of choice on road trips that pass that way.

But only when I saw the same name displayed on a sign in Turkey did I make the connection to the ancient Mediterranean city.

Sardis, part of the ancient Kingdom of Lydia, lies quite close to but inland from archeological sites of Troy, Ephesus, and Miletus along the Aegean coast. Wealthy as Croesus, we still hear the expression today. But who was he? An ancient Lydian king, the first to mint coins of pure gold.

Sardis changed hands many times. Between 550 BCE and 300 CE, Sardis was conquered in turn by the Persian King Cyrus, Alexander the Great, the Greeks and the Romans. In 17 and 123 CE, it was rocked by major earthquakes. The Roman Emperor Hadrian visited it, and Diocletian named it capital of the Roman province of Lydia. The Arabs conquered Sardis in 716 CE and the Ottoman Turks arrived in 1306.

At different times, the city was home to various religions. The synagogue was the largest outside Palestine, and the Romans celebrated their imperial cult. Christianity arrived in the first century CE and made Sardis one of the Seven Churches of Revelation.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Artemis of Ephesus

Photo 2006, at Ephesus Museum


About 550 BCE, the first huge marble temple to a goddess was built in Ephesus, on the Aegean coast near the Turkish city of Izmir. Called the Artemision, this Temple to Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient world. Today, only one of the pillars remains standing.

The Ephesus Museum in Seljuk has various representations of the goddess whose remarkable images once graced her nearby temple, now in ruins. These Artemis statues have long intrigued archelologists. Some say the oval shapes around her torso represent eggs or multiple breasts, while others theorize that they depict bull testicles. The bull was a powerful symbol in many ancient Mediterranean cultures.

This version of Artemis, also called "the great mother goddess," has subsumed aspects of earlier goddesses including the Phrygian Cybele, the Egyptian Isis and the Sumerian Inanna/Ishtar. In earlier antiquity, it is quite possible that these more ancient goddesses were worshiped where the Artemis temple was later built.

Another epithet for this goddess was "mother of the animals," and this statue appears to be flanked by a lion and an antelope or stag. With her arm position as well as her association with animals, she resembles another of her incarnations, Diana, the Roman huntress and moon goddess. Many statues show Diana with a stag.

Part of this statue's costume is covered in flowers and bees and her braided hair resembles cereal grains. A larger image of Artemis of Ephesus at the same museum has a mural crown with a disc, a garland of flowers around her neck and like this one, a tight skirt with empanelled carvings of lions, griffins, stags and bulls.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Was Gobekli Tepe the world's first temple?

Photo: Relief-carved pillar of ancient Gobekli temple, National Geographic, June 2011.

Some older Anatolian civilizations make ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans seem like newcomers. The recently discovered Gobekli Tepe (Belly hill in Turkish) is about 11,000 years old, much older even than Catal Huyuk.

According to Andrew Curry, writing for the Smithsonian, Gobekli Tepe is 6000 years older than Stonehenge. Near the Turkish city of Urfa, German archeologist Klaus Schmidt has unearthed massive decorated stones that he and others believe comprised the world's first temple. Some experts associate it with the Garden of Eden.

When these huge carved megaliths were decorated eleven millenia ago, people had not yet developed metal tools; yet as this History.com video shows, the artistry is remarkable. Strangely, no sculpting tools have been found at the site.

The partially excavated "temple" consists of concentric rings of stones that tower up to 16 feet in height and weigh up to ten tons, reports Curry. The site is on a round hill (hence the name) with an excellent view of the surrounding plain.

Though it was given a cursory examination in the 1960s by university archeologists from Chicago and Istanbul, the site was not explored until Schmidt saw it. Convinced that the round hill was man-made, he planned an expedition with five colleagues and it was this team that uncovered the first stone monoliths. More of the remarkable carved stones can be seen here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Knidos

Photo by Dick Osseman: the ruins of the round Temple of Aphrodite, foreground and the two harbours, background.

At the end of the Datca Peninsula, which separates the Aegean from the Mediterranean Sea in Southwestern Turkey, lies the ancient Hellenic Dorian city of Knidos, or Cnidus. In the now-ruined temple of Aphrodite, the famous statue of the goddess, sculpted by Praxiteles, once stood tall. Nearby is a huge amphitheater.

With its excellent accessibility by sea, this city was was served by two harbours, one for military triremes and the other to serve the interests of commerce.

On the other hand, even today, to travel there by land is quite an undertaking. However, the narrow, rocky, mountain road with its precipitous drops to the clear sapphire waters of the Mediterranean rewards the traveller with views of unparalleled beauty.

Though years have passed, I clearly remember how we refreshed ourselves on the journey with bunches of fresh-picked grapes sold to us by patient children through the open windows of the car. Upon arriving in Knidos, we cooled off by swimming among the ruins.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Catal Huyuk

Photo: a shrine room at Catal Huyuk by Ancient Man

Catal Huyuk is a ruin today. This low hill lying amid wheat fields of central Anatolia was first identified by archeologist James Mellart in 1958.

The earliest layer of this impressively organized site has been carbon dated at 6500 years. Around 6200 BCE an artist painted a twin-peaked erupting volcano on the wall of a shrine, thought to depict the stratovolcano Hasan Dag, or Mount Hasan, which was then active.

According to William Carl Eichman, Catal Huyuk, the forked mound in Turkish, was the world's first organized cosmopolitan city state. It flourished for two thousand years, supported a multi-racial population of 6000 people and had a great influence on later European civilizations.

Eichman believes Catal Huyuk was likely the source of the Mother Goddess religion that was widespread in the region before the rise of the later and better-known civilizations that developed in the fertile crescent.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hierapolis ruins at Pamukkale

Photo left: City wall of Hierapolis. The Domitian Gate, with one massive tower, can be seen in the background. Carol Tulpar, 2006

Today's sad anniversary is a good time to consider healing.

Hierapolis was a Roman spa town, famed for its healing waters. The pools feel lovely bathe in, to say nothing of the spectacular view. The minerals make the edges quite slippery, though, so one must be careful not to fall.

We took a tour from Marmaris, and after stopping at Efes (Ephesus), where we were shown a Roman perspective on that ancient city, we arrived at this World Heritage Site of Pamukkale--the Turkish word means cotton castle, a lovely metaphor--at dusk. Our guide, Ahmed, led us up the hill to wade in the mineral pools, which gleamed a brilliant white as darkness fell.

The photo below shows Pamukkale -- only the edge of a huge system of natural mineral pools that overlook the valley and are still considered to have healing properties. The small black specks are, of course, bathers seeking healing, or at least, an enjoyable experience.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Drakensburg Mountain cave art in South Africa

Photo: courtesy of National Geographic

Beautiful ancient cave art is found not only in Europe but in many other places.

This representation of an eland, in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, was taken in 2001 for a National Geographic article entitled "Paintings of the Spirit: Rock Art Opens a New Window into a Bushman World."

Paintings such as this, reports National Geographic, were painted by the ancient San, or Bushmen, not only to pay homage to great animals, but to harness their spirits as well.

Ancient cave paintings are found in Somalia, Egypt, and Jordan and also in India, China, Australia, and South America, although sadly, some of these sites are under threat since they are not being protected or preserved.

How fascinating it is that this art form was shared by so many cultural groups of our human ancestors.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Paleolithic cave art in Romania and Bulgaria


Left Photo: Oddee

Magura Cave in Bulgaria may have been a temple between the New Stone Age and the Iron Age.

Right photo: Black paint drawings at the Coliboaia cave in Romania, courtesy of HDHOD.

As reported by Sofia News Agency, a photographic display installed in 2009 made it possible to see these unique but inaccessible cave paintings.

In western Romania, the age of what may be Europe's oldest cave art yet to be discovered has been estimated by French paleontologists. These beautiful animal paintings link the Coliboaia caves to painted caves across Europe and may indicate cultural links between the peoples who created them. The cave paintings resemble others found in Russia, France, Spain and elsewhere in Europe.

Dr. Jean Clottes, a French expert on ancient cave art, has confirmed that these paintings are among the most ancient in Europe, dating them, incredibly, at up to 35,000 years of age.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Paleolithic cave art at Altamira in Spain

Photo: Engines of our Ingenuity, by John H. Lienhard at the University of Houston




 

Leinhard attributes copyright to Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911

Ancient peoples painted the walls of 200 caves across Europe with gorgeous representations of the animals that existed around them, and upon which they depended for food, clothing and shelter.

Many of these animals were significant in their religious rituals as well. The bull and especially its horns, have been mythologically important across Europe and the Mediterranean region.

This bull is from a decorated cave wall at Altamira, in northern Spain. The painted caves there were discovered in 1868, and explored a decade later, long before the most famous French caves at Lascaux (discovered 1940) and Chauvet (discovered 1994).

The area including Altamira and nearby painted caves, with their amazing art, is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chauvet Cave art in France is unbelievably old


Photos: Left: Lions hunting bison


Below:
Horse panel


Both photos courtesy of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art


In 1994 in the Ardeche Valley in France, roughly halfway between Nimes and Lyon, three cave explorers moved some rubble that was blocking a passage and uncovered the vast Chauvet cave.
Animal remains show that during the stone age, this place was occupied by hibernating cave bears who left scratches on the walls, along with ibex and wolf skeletons.

According to scholar Jean Clottes, writing in the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, radiocarbon dating has set the age of most of the cave paintings at between 32,000 and 30,000 BP (before the present) in radiocarbon years. Red ochre hand stencils and a human footprint are the indelible marks of the people who created the art. The French Ministry of Culture offers an online tour of the cave complex.

How remarkable that these astonishing works of art are so old. This indicates that the peoples of the distant past were far less primitive than proud moderns have been willing to believe.

Note, May 2014: In 2012, Werner Herzog created a beautiful documentary of this "Cave of Forgotten Dreams." His prologue mentions that it is located only a few miles away from one of France's largest nuclear reactors. The water heated by cooling the plant has been used to create an environment for heat-loving reptiles: alligators and crocodiles. This could put these ancient treasures in jeopardy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lascaux cave paintings

Are unicorns real? This photo by Sacred Destinations shows a cave wall painting depicting an unknown animal that has been called the unicorn.

In 1940, the discovery of the Lascaux stone age cave paintings near Brive la Gaillarde in southwestern France revolutionized the way humans conceived of our ancient ancestors.

The finders of the stone age art were children, looking for their dog.

The caves were opened to the public for tours in 1948. Unfortunately the effects of masses of visitors and artificial lighting had damaging effects on these priceless and ancient artifacts. The caves were closed to the public in 1963 so that restoration of the site could begin.

In 1979, UNESCO designated the caves at Lascaux and nearby a World Heritage Site. Of course people wanted to see the caves, and they were not disappointed. A project was undertaken to create a replica. This took ten years, opened in 1983 and became known as Lascaux II.

The amazingly beautiful wall art at Lascaux has been ascertained by carbon dating to be about 17,000 years old. The paintings, mostly of animals, employ the natural shape of the caves to give a three-dimensional look to the figures. In addition to the paintings, animal remains and many other artifacts were found at the site. A virtual tour is available here.

Experts believe the cave was a sacred place to the people who produced the artists. Author Jean M. Auel has incorporated into her most recent Ayla novel some thrilling scenes of sacred ritual in a painted cave. Her sixth book of the series Earth's Children, The Land of Painted Caves, came out this year (Crown Publishing, New York, 2011).

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jean Shrimpton is back in the news

Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

For many of the baby boom generation, this woman's face is very familiar.

A tiny, huge-eyed model who dominated the fashion world of the sixties, she was also known as "the Shrimp."

Last week she was back in the news. BBC4 is making a movie named for her first American shoot for Vogue. It's called First we'll take Manhattan.

The real Jean Shrimpton couldn't care less. Interviewed by Alex Wade in The Guardian in April, she said she had absolutely no interest in the film. Long since married, with an adult son, Shrimpton has for many years run her hotel, the Abbey, in Penzance, Cornwall. She grew up on a farm in Buckinghamshire, and has never missed the city lights.

Wade quotes her as saying that fashion is not normal, that the high-pressure fashion world is full of dark and troubled people and that she has always hated publicity. With the fashion photographer, David Bailey, publicity was her life.

The world's first supermodel, now 68 years old, is still slender, and wears her hair quite long. Somehow, this Guardian photo of her sitting on a garden bench subtly evokes the sixties.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Carbon footprints huge and tiny

Photo: Port of Vancouver

Every hour of every day, humans move goods around, by truck and train, ship and plane.

In every port in the world, harbours are hubs of activity. Huge cranes lift containers from from train to truck to ship. Contemporary freighters are so large that they take days to load, even with several spouts simultaneously pouring the grain or other cargo into the hold.

Out in the bay, other ships wait to come alongside and take their turn. The carbon footprint of all this activity must be enormous.

Mass movement of goods by truck is now done even by charities. Following an automated voice message asking for donations, I called CDA and left some boxes on my doorstep for the truck, "soon to be in your area." Two or three weeks ago, the same thing happened with Big Brothers, who also provide the option of scheduling your pickup online.

A few years back, people dropped off their reusable goods at the Salvation Army; now, the "Sally Anne"  picks up donations too. Large charitable organizations appear to compete with each other for donations. Evidently they need huge fleets of trucks to function.

Today SPUD is going to deliver food to my door. This process is supposed to be greener than my having to drive around to the grocery and produce stores. The rationale of returning to grocery delivery is to reduce the carbon footprint, and of course, for convenience.

All this makes me wonder what it would be like to live as cultures like the !Kung of the Kalahari Desert still live in some areas: they eat what they hunt and find, and carry what they own on their backs.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Floral delivery calling


The other day my friend Marion came over. When I opened the door in response to the ringing bell, she said, "Floral delivery," and presented me with these delightful rosebuds from her Steveston patio garden.

They were so delectably small that I used a tequila shooter as a vase.

They were closed then; they've opened since. I moved them from counter to table; in both places, they added a je ne sais quoi, and they smell wonderful.

Isn't it amazing what a difference the background makes to the photos? No fancy photography here -- both were taken with a cell phone camera.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Summer rain and feline friendship

August was warm and sunny and though it is now September, it's still summer. The weather has not yet produced that unique combination of temperature, light and fragrance that defines the beginning of autumn, besides which autumn is not allowed to start before the Labour Day weekend.

When the clouds moved in yesterday, I was delighted by the surprise that summer rain always brings after a hot spell, though I thought it might signal the onset of "Vancouver weather." The hours or days of rain and the low cloud ceilings constitute the price we pay for the spectacular lushness of the forests, mountains and beaches that surround us.

But the rain cleared off and the sun returned in the afternoon. The porch dried and I sat outside as a rosy dusk fell around me, and remembered a rhyme learned in childhood. "Pink sky at night, sailor's delight" is supposed to augur fine weather.

In the silence, I heard a meow I thought I recognized. It turned out to be the old orange stray that often hangs around. His voice is soft and tentative, unlike that of our Professor Plum, who can be quite vociferous.

At the bottom of the stairs, the orange cat was sitting by the corner of the house. Something moved in the long grass, and he watched intently as our cat appeared around the corner, walking with that stiff-legged silent care that is so uniquely feline. I watched, unnoticed, while our cat interacted with a friend of his own species.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The speed of human adaptation

For almost my entire driving life I drove a standard. Back when I got my license, road tests were not done on automatics.

This spring that changed. My husband took over the car I had been driving, and we got me an automatic. For a day or so, I fumbled for a gear shift, but I soon adapted.

This morning I drove the standard for the first time in three months. As I approached a red light, I slowed down to change lanes and promptly stalled the car. I had forgotten about the clutch. Fortunately, the road was quiet and nobody witnessed by my lapse.

This may seem like a mistake, but it signals good news. The fact that I was able to adapt in a day or so to driving without shifting, and then, after the one slip this morning, re-adapt immediately to the standard shift, shows how quickly we can alter our habits.

Though some experts disagree, many now say it takes only 21 days to completely automate a new behaviour. On this, I agree with the naysayers. We can change in far less than 21 days, as my recent experience with the two cars demonstrates.

Instead of bemoaning how hard it is to change, we should delight in the speed with which we can learn and automate new habits whenever we choose to do so.

Some might call this view pollyannaish, but I believe the amazing adaptability of humans is is far greater than we realize--a capacity we can learn to use with conscious awareness and positive intent.