Monday, January 09, 2006

Bird flu, mortality, immortality and related crap

Kastamonu, Samsun, Erzurum... if things were different, I might have been there now: the eye in the storm of a full blown family panic. As it is, I never made it to any of Kastamonu, Samsun, Erzurum.

I am concerned for Turkey and of course for when the jump will be made, but in a very detached sort of way.

I am not concerned about like whether I will get it. I will take my precautions, and if I am to outlive the pandemic, then I outlive the pandemic and tell the tale later. If I am to go in the pandemic in an unmarked mass grave with lime poured on top of me - well, yes, that sucks, but I'll be dead - so no sweat. We all die, you know. Whether we have managed to do all we want to do so that when we go we can feel we have justified our time here is something different completely. We are all dieing. Question is what are we doing about it - not about the fact that we are mortal, about the fact that once we are gone, we are gone. We can't write bullshit 15-syllable poems after death now, can we? We can't draw in chalk and charcoal after death.

We can't - but who is to say that so many of the other pleasures of life are lost? Who is to say that the sunset is lost, or that the crashing of the waves on the rocks is lost and who is to say that the joy to be gained from a nicely stratified and folded piece of limestone is lost? We are part of the natural world and we return to it. While we are alive, our bodies and our humanity prevent us from being one with the rocks, one with the trees, one with the surging sea and one with the stars as they wheel over the earth in their great circles.

"Why would I want to be one with the hermit crab chasing the tidal pools lest it dry in the heat of the sun?" I hear you cry... "Why would I want to be one with the arctic poppy as it twists itself continuously around chasing the never setting sun?"

I need to write more about nature and mans place both within and outside nature. I have no time now. I have a pandemic to panic about.

Venice - Jan 2005 Part V

Next morning - the morning of the Befana we woke a little later than we had wanted and did not make it to the regatta - some other time perhaps. We did manage to pluck up the courage to go to the supermarket, where we got some amazing cheeses and hams for the homemade sandwiches we were intending to eat in the courtyard around the St. Maria of Murano.

We checked out of the Giardinetto and set off with our packed meals for Murano, passing the cemetery island on the way. We did not stop off to look around, although I dare say it will be as impressive and beautiful as our own Proto here in Athens.

An island populated by cypress trees - Venice's cenetery

We ate in the courtyard of the Santa Maria after our visit. Again no photos allowed of the mosaic work, such a disappointment - but definitely worth visiting if one is a fan. Full length theotokos - complete with cross-shadow (if I am not mistaken - it was a year ago). Hmmm I'm confused - why would there be a cross shadow in a church that never had iconoclastic bishops? Very confused. Either there was no cross shadow and I am imagining it, or I am remembering this correctly, in which case, Venice was more under the influence of Constantinople than not. Iconoclasm and the whole cross shadow business is a subject for another time, though. I can't remember where I have seen it most pronounced, but I know I have been there more than once - so probably in St. Sophia itself - or one of the Thessaloniki churches.

The church of Santa Maria in Murano in daylight

On our walk around and some way into the almost frenzy of shopping for glassware, we ran across this chappie in the photo below. He runs a third or fourth generation glass works and happened to be in the place on the Befana public holiday.

Corinna and I had both been to Venice before, at ages near enough the single figures. Both of us recalled very little of our previous visits apart from the very vivid memories of the glass works. This man put on a performance for us, heating and blowing and shaping and spinning the bottle for us - I was surprised to hear the sound the glass makes while red hot is pretty much the same sound it would make when cold when he beat it slightly with his tongs.

We thanked the man for the demonstration and headed back to the Lido to pick up the car. We crossed from the Lido to the ferry port in very dense fog and then crossed the bridge and set off for the other daughter of Constantinople on the Italian Adriatic - Ravenna - some two hours drive to the south.

The fog stayed dense all the way there. We got very lost, not having a decent map of Ravenna, but found the hotel Piccolo, booked through the internet. It was so-so, but cheap and the staff were friendly.

Venice - Jan 2005 Part IV

Well, one year on and so many other journeys to write about as well. The rest of this write up of Venice will be necessarily brief and based around the photographs. After Torcello, we returned to Burano, where every building really is painted a different colour.

Burano - happy colours, fishing town

This gives a very characteristic and happy look to the island. The vaporetto drops you off in front of a rather nice bronze nude and an open space with grass and trees which functions as a park.

In Venice, the canals share traffic signs with normal road systems everywhere…

The sun gets lower over the lagoon - January 5 2005

We walked around the town looking at the lace work and painted houses, stopping for some pastries along our walk. From Burano, we made our way to Murano with the sun hovering on the horizon dangerously close to setting. We walked along the banks of the canals of Murano looking in the windows of the shops and deciding to come in the next day on the vaporetto for a better look.

Corinna and I pose for a timer-shot in central Murano

One of the definite things to come back for was the church of Santa Maria - described as having one of the best full length Byzantine theotokos mosaics ever, and certainly nicely tarted up in full twelfth century brick and masonry extravagance.

The church of Santa Maria in Murano, under night lighting

Resolving to be back the next day for a look inside, we set off for home, the long way round, taking the vaporetto towards the train station and then cruising the grand-canal back towards St. Zaccaria and off to the Lido again.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Venice - Jan 2005 Part III

The plan was for the next day to go pick up some material for packed lunches from a supermarket and head to Torcello. We woke slightly later than planned and went to the nearest supermarket (the one on the same street as the Pizzeria). It had a huge selection of cold meats and cheeses, but something stopped us from trying out our ordering skills and we left with only bottled water. I had recently learned "a half" and was dying to ask for 250 grammes of cheese by asking for a mezzo mezzo. I had to wait for the next day to do this.

The boat to Torcello goes via some part of the lagoon accessible by road from the mainland and then via Burano. Stopping on Burano made us want to explore after Torcello, rather than go straight to Murano and then Venice. So we waited for the Burano to Torcello shuttle with the others and set off for the island which we could see in the misty half-distance. We could make out what we assumed must be the eponymous tower, from Burano, but not much else. I had read that there were essentially two old buildings on the island, one a round church and the older of the two, the other a basilica sort of building with stunning mosaics. There was also the famous "throne of Atilla" a marble throne which was said to have been sat upon by Atilla the Hun when he passed through the area, many centuries before Venice was inhabited. In fact, Torcello has the earliest signs of habitation in the lagoon. Today, the island has about five buildings in total - it seems to be just open land for walking and picnicking and in the half sun and mist we had while there, it was as atmospheric as the guide books describe. From the vaporetto stop, there is a fifteen minute walk to the overpriced museum, opposite which is the square with the two churches.

Corinna sits on "Attila's throne" in front of the two old churches

Round churches usually have a special and significant history, being as they are imitations of the Constantinian and later Justinian church of the holy sepulcher in Jerusalem. This one was rather bland on the inside. The basilica was far more exciting and was one of the big draws of the trip. Inside things to see include, apart from the bones of St. Hippolito (?),two sections of mosaic. The first, is a full standing theotokos in the main apse, the second, on the back wall of the church is a series of bands, of various ages, essentially showing the usual heaven and hell stuff. Obviously the work had been done by craftsmen from the east, or under their guidance.

One section which I found especially disturbing, mainly because I have not seen a parallel elsewhere, was the section with the proud in hell, where there were shown a number of kings and queens and bishops. What's wrong with this? Nothing, in itself. What disturbed me was the fact that the kings and queens were dressed as Byzantine emperors and their empresses, and the bishops were dressed as patriarchs. Whether or not this is standard practice - the depiction of those who were first on earth being amongst the last in hell - it is clear that the young Enrico Dandolo would have grown up having seen the images, at a time long after their creation when the kings and queens were iconographically no longer generic, but very much specific images of the eastern rulers. If the kings and queens of the east were in hell being tormented in the flames, it made the justification of the post-Zara movements of the fourth crusade much easier in the minds of those trying to justify them.

Before setting off back to the vaporetto, we were surprised to have walked past a Braille map of the lagoon. Neither of us had seen a map done in Braille before. The shallows and land and water all had different tactile hatching, with a key in the bottom right. You learn something new every day.