Saturday, October 22, 2005

Physio not painless

So there I was, with my foot in a tub with whirly water whooshing round. Why? Well, physiotherapy they call it. And I need it because my ankle is still heavy with swelling even a month after the event. For what happened, you'll have to check the caving blog, which I hope to have up to date soon enough.

I am still in a fair amount of pain, although it is very manageable and serving more as a reminder than a warning to desist. I cannot walk yet. It is tough with friends, family and work not understanding exactly how hard a sprain this was. The physio identified the damage done based on what he felt, what I told him about the circumstances of the fall and how it all felt.

I have until 4 November officially off work. Hopefully by then I'll be in a position to drive and walk and On 28 October and for a few days we have the Panhellenic Speleological Meeting in Kardhitsa Prefecture - it is to be the largest meeting and the first with official representation from foreign clubs.

I have nothing to say about the lost Turkey.

Nor about how they are breaking my balls with advertisements for toys every evening.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Venice Jan 2005 - Part II

We walked around the square to get our bearings and to allow the admittedly small queue for St. Mark's to become smaller. I was disappointed by the no-photography rule inside, especially given that this was one of the reasons I was here. I have photographs of mosaic work from Sicily, Greece and Turkey where no one forbids it. Now I had come on what was essentially a mosaic holiday and faced "no photography" signs. This was a bit down heartening. OK - if I cannot take pictures, St. Mark's still has one thing to offer me: atmosphere.

St. Mark's is meant to have been constructed on the same size and plans as the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. This was another of Justinian's exercises in supersizing Constantine's churches. While we can still see three of Justinian's churches in Istanbul today, the Church of the Holy Apostles fell into disrepair and was already in ruins at the time of the fall. It was taken apart and used as spolia by the Ottomans for their Fatih "Conqueror" mosque. There are very few churches of this size and floorplan still around, and now I was getting the opportunity to look inside a church with the floorplan of the Holy Apostles, and with mosaic decoration, which should also give an idea of what Justinian's church was like.

On entering, I was struck by the size and spaciousness, but that was all. What disappointed was the mosaic work. Compared to the works in Constantinople of the same time, or even of Palermo, what I saw in St. Marks left me with a feeling that I had been cheated. The hype was such that when I got there and craned my neck up, I felt unsated. It's not so much the workmanship on the figures themselves so much as the programme - there are great empty spaces of gold ground which would have been so much better filled with vines, tendrils, geometric shapes, and the like. I was not prepared for so much gold ground and unimpressed by it when I saw it. No doubt the Frankish knights of the fourth who came to ask for carriage to Alexandria in the very early thirteenth century were suitably impressed by this show of gold. I wouldn't have made a good Frankish knight.

Speaking of which, we visited both the treasury and the Pala d'Oro, and then the space on the upper floor with the horses and an exhibition on the history of restoration work. The balcony gives an impressive view over the square and across to the Lido. The horses gave mixed emotions, as I wanted to believe that I was in the presence of a Pheidias original, but the exhibition texts talk of first or second century creations. We will never know. These horses in front of me are those same ones which Porphyrius the charioteer and Theodora's father raced around when they sat on the spina. No doubt some of the Nika rioters would have died with these horses as the last thing they saw, while being charged down by the horses of Belissarius' cavalry. Noise - the statues lived surrounded by noise in the mother of cities, and now they had the quiet of St. Mark's and the hushed voices of the passing tourists to keep them company.

I have highlighted a little original building-work peeping through here in the side of St. Marks.

Leaving the cathedral, we picked up our bags which we had been asked to leave just off the little square of the lions. We began a westwardly stroll without any destination in particular, intending to reach at some point the Rialto Bridge. We passed many art exhibitions which seemed ridiculously overpriced to us, especially the Turner whose works one does not pay for in London. I am not sure which way we went and how we eventually go to the Rialto Bridge, but we ate at a restaurant near the theater on the way, called al Teatro, which was decent enough, without being something overwhelmingly special. There were building works going on nearby which started up with their pneumatic whatsits soon after we started eating and the staff were very apologetic, despite it not being their fault at all.

The Rialto Bridge area was very busy with tourists and locals alike. I was fascinated by the mareometer on the main vaporetto stop which barometer-like recorded the height of the sea throughout the day. I had read about the flooding and read the posters outside St. Zacharia showing flooded Venice, but since all the days we were there the water seemed to be quite low, nothing drove it home more than the mareometer, except perhaps the "moss-line" visible all over the town about half a yard above the sea level. This is a green line on every wall in the city above which the wall is normal, and below which grow mossy sorts of plants which give the impression of the sort of plants which need to be in water to survive.

It was here at the Rialto area that I decided to talk to one of the gondoliers as we were still debating with Korinna whether or not to take one of the 60 Euro rides.

I wanted to find out a bit about the Befana Regatta which ended at the Rialto - like what time it starts and where a good place to watch would be. The gondolier was a glum fellow and gave us the information I asked for grudgingly. I don't know whether this was because he realized we were not going to ask for a boat trip, or whether it was his nature to be a glum and grudging source of information about local customs to tourists. We did not take a gondola ride.

We walked about town after dusk and nightfall and stopped at a café which really did seem to be patronized by the locals. They had the Eraclea Antiqua brand hot chocolate, to which we are both very partial and we sat reading here until we decided to get on a boat back to the Lido. We did the Grand Canal by night this time, having walked up a little distance in the day and returned to the hotel.

We had supper in a pizzeria up the central perpendicular street which starts at the vaporetto stop. The pizzeria happened to be almost full of an American school group, but the pizza was good enough.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Venice - Jan 2005 Part I

And so it was that following bookings made at hotels in the Lido and a little outside Ravenna, and with the Blue Guide to both Venice and Northern Italy firmly in hand we set off on the evening of 2 January for Patras in my ageing Fiat Cinquecento. The trip was a surprise. Korinna did not know where we were going, just that a passport would be useful. Since we had been before to Ochrid and I travel frequently to Turkey, there was no way she would guess until well past Corinth and almost right up to the boat that the destination would be across the sea to the ungrateful matricide daughter of the Eastern Roman Empire.

In the end the passports were not needed for the crossing, nor was my green card for the car requested by anyone. We had 31 hours in the boat and I spent the time reading up a little on the destination. Fortunately it is possible to sleep for much of the 31 hours without having to alter your normal patterns. The boat sets off at about midnight and arrives at about seven or eight in the morning.

The arrival time was planned to be at about seven local time, and I learned that this is arrival at the entrance to the lagoon, not actual disembarkation time, so we had an opportunity for breakfast in the ship's canteen as we entered the lagoon. By the time we were passing the Doge's palace and St. Zacharia stop, the twilight had become bright enough to see Venice passing gently before us. They say that Venice should be approached by sea to appreciate the city - I have no recollection of approaching it any other way, so I'll just say that the approach by sea is special enough for me not to want to arrive any other way if I have the opportunity to go again. They say the same about Istanbul as well. I will have to wait and see about this.

By the time we had moored, the sun was up and colouring the lagoon and the city in a golden glow which was increasingly beautiful as we disembarked and made our way to the ferry service for the Lido. We got a three day pass, plus a return trip to the Lido for the car and went back past St. Zacharia and St. Mark's with the sun shining onto them from the sea. The three day pass allowed great freedom of movement and a carefree attitude to direction taking - it did not matter to be on the wrong boat, because not only would we see something unexpected, but we would not need to pay to come back. It also came out quite economical as the cost was less than individual trips to the three outlying islands which we made.

On the Lido, we stayed at the hotel Giardinetto, which is very central on the Lido, twenty yards or so from the vaporetto stop for St. Mark's and decently priced. We did not have a view of the lagoon, but some rooms in the hotel do. We took the car to the Hotel Park, a few km to the south which has an agreement with the Giardinetto and left the car there for the next three days. Coming back on the bus - ferry pass is good for travel on the buses too - we set off straight for St. Mark's arriving at about ten am. Amazed at this uncharacteristic efficiency in actually getting from A to B I was pleased that we had a great number of hours of sunlight left for walking around.

The plan was to see as much of Venice on this first day as possible, see Torcello on the second day as a day trip, and to see anything else in Venice which took our fancy on the third day, after watching the Befana Regatta.

We walked past from the St. Zacharia stop to St. Mark's square, past the hordes trying to look at the bridge of sighs, which were a little bit of a turn-off. I very much enjoyed the sculptured capitals on the columns of the Ducal Palace. They were something unexpected, and I have no idea when they were carved. Within no time at all, we were face to face with the tetrarchs, staring out of their new perch in all their porphyrean glory. It was moving to finally stand next to and dare I say it, touch this sculpture which was in my Latin books at school and about which I have read so much since school, and there they were. We asked a passer-by to take the canonical shot of us embracing like tetrarchs in front of the tetrarchs, but the passer-by cropped it in a way which shows that the visual echo was more a duck's quack than a fully-fledged yodel.

To be continued...

Bird flu

I'm alright, I'm a bloke.

But seriously, it's here - allegedly. If the news is to be believed we got bird flu on this side of the border now. Some Turkey's been found dead with it on an island.

I ain't had my flu jab yet and there's been mass illiterate panic buying by people who think one will protect you from the other. Bollocks bollocks bollocks - I'm in the high risk group idiots. Not only that but I know that the jab won't cover this year's flus but last year's.

The news channels are all blowing things out of proportion - I have no idea what is being said about the bird flu outside Greece, but here there is mass media-induced hysteria. The media thrive on lack of knowledge and fear thrashing the public into a greater state of fear and panic. And then there is no flu vaccine for me.

Ignorance is bliss buy consume spend panic suckers!