Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cool hermitage

15th century hermitage in cliff face

Fabulous 16th century hermitage built into the cliff face in Marjan Park - Split, Croatia

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Supermoon over the Seven Seas

Swami and Minerva on the Adriatic Sea
Adriatic sea from Split's bell tower
We're going to miss tonight's supermoon eclipse. It happens here in Croatia at the very inconvenient time of 3:47 AM tomorrow morning and I just can't seem to talk myself into getting up at three to climb the hill in the middle of the park to see it. I'm sure I'll kick myself when I see all the photographs in the morning. But we are hoping to see the supermoon rise over the Adriatic Sea this evening. The Riva promenade in front of Diocletian's palace is right on the water. That should be a good place to watch moon rise if it's not cloudy.

As for the palace itself, Diocletian built it some 1,700 years ago. It was his retirement home after stepping down as Emperor of Rome. Supposedly, he just wanted to kick back and garden but, being the iron-fisted bigoted bastard he was, retirement didn't stop him from having people put to death because he didn't like their religion. I think a lot of people must have been relieved when, after five years of "retirement", he died but Romans did built to last. Sections of his palace stand to this day and are the main attraction for the flood of tourists who visit here. We've spent the last couple of weeks exploring it and the rest of the jumbled maze of streets, stairs and buildings built into, on, over, under, against and often with the enormous stone blocks that were once the palace. The ancient city of Split is a small but amazing place.

So.... on with the night.

via i.space

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Late at night....

Late at night and almost beyond the edge of human hearing, giraffes hum....

Via New Scientist

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Happy Autumn Equinox 2015

Event Time in UTC, Time Zone

8:22 AM
Wednesday, September 23, 2015

That's 10:22 AM here in Croatia.

Once again, they are saying that tomorrow it is supposed to rain. In any case, it's nice today so gotta go. Have a good one.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Worlds within worlds

Split, Croatia

Our first day here we walked from our apartment to the water and thought, small town. Got it! On our second day here we entered the old city, a maze of Roman, medieval and 19th century overlays. Okay, it's not huge but, if you take a lot of photos, stop to read all the plaques and get an ice cream cone... before you know it, you're deeply into the layers and layers of history wrapped within it's walls.

Ok. Day three. As usual, gotta go. Photos to follow

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Amsterdam good-bye

Twilight in Amsterdam's red light district
Twilight in Amsterdam
red lights are brothels

We leave Amsterdam this morning and, rainy and cold as it's been lately, we're ready. I'm not exactly going to miss this place but I won't forget it either.

We did get to Rembrandt's house. Swami calls him Zoon, which means son in Dutch, but I think he just uses it as a nickname for Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Anyway, Rembrandt is one of my favorite painters so going there was on my must do list. M. Lee wasn't so impressed because the house is something of a "George Washington's axe", i.e. same axe... just with a new handle and a new axe head. But Swami and I had a great time. It was, after all, where Rembrandt lived. The location is the same. The light coming in the windows is the same light (more or less given pollution etc). There are paintings of his on the walls. But the tubes of paint, easels, and presses in the studios and the furniture, curtains, bedding, pots and pan etc. in the rest of the house are all props. Rembrandt went bankrupt and had to sell everything he owned to satisfy his debtors. However the Dutch are, if nothing else, great accountants. The auctioneers left a list of everything he had, down to the smallest paintbrush. From that, the museum did a good job of recreating the set. But we all liked seeing his etchings done on handmade Japanese paper. They were on exhibit in a less visited part of the house.
Rembrandt's house - Amsterdam
Me and Swami
at Rembrandt's house

Above all else, his house was a great studio with different rooms for different endeavors, an artist's dream. And yes, it's tawdry of me, but I did enjoy visiting the kitchen where, it is said, his outraged mistress threw pots and pans and screamed at him when he broke up with her.

Of course, this wasn't the only place we visited during our stay here but it's all the time I have at the moment to write about it. But I will say this. Visually, Amsterdam is a city right out of one of my childhood books. The houses are narrow and tall and lean on each other as, slowly over the centuries, they sink into the wetlands bog upon which they are built. The fisherman should never have built anything here but fishing huts but it's too late now.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Up next, modern art

Today we're headed to the modern art museum. I am ready for a break from the medieval world. Yes, the art itself, for it's own sake, is interesting. Some of it's even good. And it's interesting to watch how techniques and point of view evolved over the centuries but, holy god! They do love their martyrs. It gets oppressive, all the images of beatific people sitting in pots of boiling oil or water, being flayed, beheaded, hung or stabbed to death by ragged dudes with long swords. Funny. I haven't seen much on the subject of the Christians racing through the world in search of their bullshit "holy grail" ie another power grab murderfest, or whatever other discrimination of the "other" they can get away with, courtesy of church and state. Same old same old, ISIS to Kim Davis. Even if the art at the Amsterdam modern art museum is as ridiculous as the crap we saw in Ghent at SMAK I don't care. Bring on the black paintings and metal shavings hanging from the wall. I'm ready for a laugh!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Notes on Amsterdam

I don't have time or energy after a long day to do a proper post but here are some notes.

Swami liked the yellow boat
Swami has his eye on the little yellow boat

We are staying across the IJ River (eye river) from the part of Amsterdam known as the old city. It's the area dating from the 17th century through which the grid of canals was built. M. tells me that Amsterdam began as a favorite fishing hole. I can imagine how that went. First some guys just come to fish. Eventually their wives start bringing them lunch, then decide to set up fire pits and, because it rains a lot, shelters and so on. Eventually they start digging the canals to drain the land. Today the canals are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, not the city itself. Some of the buildings look like they are slowly sinking into the ground, judging by the way they lean this way and that but, if they are, it's only happening over centuries. 

Also, if you are a pedestrian, WATCH IT! The bikes whiz by like bullets. Pedestrians are the bottom of the pecking order here. When planning this trip, we thought we'd rent bikes in Amsterdam but hell no! They all ride like devils so no one can also watch out for ice cream eating, selfie stick waving tourists. I've nearly been mowed down twice and didn't have either.

Good advice in Amsterdam
In Amsterdam, bikes whiz by like bullets.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Swami and friends

The whole world is on a first name basis with Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn but Swami calls him Zoon.  He tells me they go way back.

Swami and Rembrandt, Rijks Museum, Amsterdam
Swami and his old friend Zoon meet again
at Rijks Museum - Amsterdam

This little fellow looked really weary walking around saying hello to everyone at a kid's carnival in Bruges...

Swami and Robot
Roby working at a kid's carnival

... then he came upon his old friend, Swami.

Swami and Robot meet again
Old friends meet again

"A friend is, as it were, a second self." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Fit for a king?

Ghent, Belgium

Touring a Count's house in Ghent, Belgium
Touring the Count's house
For an eccentric like me, the backstage lives of footnote characters is the best part of history. Their stories can offer a roundabout peek into color main players either lack or do their best to hide. So, though I respect the perfection and importance of the van Eyck brother's masterpiece The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which was at the top of our must see list here in Ghent, visiting the home of Count d'Hane de Steeuhuysein was more of an adventure. According to our guide, here's the deal.....

In 1815, when Napoleon re-conquered Paris, Louis XVIII fled for his life. Of course, he wanted to go to buzzy London but he owed too much money there so he went to Ghent and stayed with the Count instead. The house was not exactly fit for a king but definitely better than what Napoleon had in mind for him. The entrance was covered and included a marble stairs mounting to a large reception hall leading to a sweeping staircase. And, of course, there was a music room, a ballroom with angels peeking down from the clouds and the Count immediately put his servants at the King’s disposal.

French Kind Henry VIII's chair - Ghent, Belgim
Louis's chair in Ghent
Now Louis XVIII was very fat so using the stairs was out of the question. He took over the downstairs and the Count, his wife and their three children stayed upstairs. They were, basically, hostages of the king. Lucky for everyone, it only took the Duke of Wellington one hundred days to kick Napoleon back out of Paris after which the King made a hasty return. For his service and hospitality, the Count anticipated a generous reward … a better title, money, perhaps both, maybe more. Instead Louie sent him some plates and bowls. Nothing more. They are still there in the house, on display in a glass case… a few big, mostly white plates and bowls. They look like something you might see on sale in a charity shop.

Our guide at
the Count's house
Another detail I found interesting was that, while there, the King took his meals in a room facing the street and the giant windows were thrown open so the town people could stand outside and watch him eat. They did not come because they loved him. The people of Ghent did not want a French king but they did come to watch him eat. I can't blame them. Who would pass on the chance to watch a king eat? Did he wear white gloves and a plumed hat? Did he savor tiny bits of food from the tip of a silver fork or did he slurp and burp his way through a greasy feast? The guide didn’t say but I am intrigued by the image of the king gorging himself by candlelight as a crowd stares in at him from the dark street.

Our guide also explained an intriguing detail about the absurd, billowing, multi-layered, tightly corseted clothing women wore in those days. When dressed in this manner, a woman's personal servant was near at hand, prepared to slip a portable toilet under her dress because pulling up all those layers and layers of cloth, hoops and petticoats and sitting down on a regular toilet was an impossible task. Even at night, her servant was nearby. We saw where they both slept, the maidservant tucked in a cubbyhole above her mistress’s bed. Seems that privacy, as we know it, was unheard of.

Flaky angels
Of course everyone from that time is long dead and, over the centuries, the house itself fell into disrepair. Walls were added dividing it into separate addresses and even the grand staircase was moved forward to fit into a smaller apartment. One of the rooms along the street was turned into a pharmacy and the angels in the ballroom began flaking paint on the floor below. However, in recent years the city of Ghent bought and revived the old place. Divider walls were knocked out and rooms restored to their original shape and size. The stairs were returned to their original position and the entrance to the pharmacy was replaced by windows duplicating those through which people used to watch the king take his meals. The angels in the ballroom are still flaky but that's angels isn't it? Always delicate and unruly.

We're now in Amsterdam for the next two weeks.