Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Treasure in the Christmas Ornament Closet

     When we travel, I often view the types of jewelry indigenous to the area we are traveling. And I often purchase a piece that is representative. I have amber from the Baltic Sea area, a peridot from India, some jade from China, Eilat stone from Israel, and most recently a tanzanite necklace from Tanzania.
      I thought I had lost the large black opal pearl enhancer my husband and I had picked out in a store in Melbourne connected to a mine not too far away in Australia. We were in Australia in 2006.  I have mourned that piece of jewelry ever since. I recall laying it and the necklace it was attached to on my foyer table. And then some months later I realized I didn't have it. It was not in my jewelry case, and I couldn't recall having worn it for some time. I had continued to mourn what I considered to be a final loss of that item. This necklace had a magnetic clasp and I pictured something catching the necklace and pulling the clasp apart allowing the whole piece to fall off of my person. I even pictured someone finding the necklace and perhaps at first not realizing what they had found. I hoped that that person whoever they were, had been able to enjoy this piece as much as I had. Sometimes those thoughts helped my sense of loss, but selfishly not always.
    Then this year I decided for the first time in 5 years to put  up my artificial Christmas tree. We were hosting a Holiday party for the neighbors and I needed to decorate the house at least a little bit. I have a nice frosted artificial pine with the lights already attached. Getting those lights on always seems to me to be the hardest part of the job. I dove into the upstairs closet where I store all my Christmas and Holiday decorative paraphernalia. I brought down several boxes of ornaments that I had forgotten that I had including some lovely burgundy balls, feathered birds, and bows, etc. I had forgotten that I even had these lovely Christmas things. I began hanging them on my tree. From time to time I went back to that closet to see what else I could find. Underneath a box was a piece of gold gauzy fabric that I recall using on my foyer table in the past. I picked it up thinking about where I could use it this year underneath some other glittery holiday ornamentation. As I shook it out, something fell out. I bent over and spotted the coils of a gold tone necklace, and there attached to that necklace was my Australian black opal. I couldn't believe it. It had not been truly lost--lost, but just lost in my deep closet of Holiday ornaments and memories. What a find and what a treasure in that closet! It has made Christmas 2013 a memorable one for me. I am healed in my mourning.

My lost and now found necklace

Notice that the background matrix is a dark blue to grey,
hence this is called a black opal.

Different angles of view show the play of light green and
darker green and iridescent blue  across the stone.
     Now I love Buddhist thought and have read a lot about Buddhism, the 8 Noble Truths and various other tenants. I attend a weekly Spirit, Mind, Body group which has a very definite Buddhist foundation. I have learned that I should not be that attached to any material item in my life. Everything in life is impermanent. The only constant is change itself. We can only move into higher spiritual realms and move toward enlightenment by giving up attachments to our possessions, and to things that we hold dear. But I admit that I have not moved that far spiritually and I really missed this necklace. Well, now I have it again. I am grateful for that and see that it was a Small Christmas miracle that I happened to find it amongst the trappings of the wonderful Christmas season. I felt the need to write something about this in this blog. And I think I will also start a series of pieces about various jewelry pieces that I have accumulated and which have meaning to me. If you are a regular to my blog, you know that I often get drawn serendipitously into topics by the happenings of my daily life.
     So.....What do you know about Australian black opals? Opal is surprisingly a hydrated form of silica, i.e. sand. Its water content can vary from 3 to 21%, but most precious opals are between 6 and 10% water. This water gives opal its amorphous and actually very soft consistency. It is therefore not really called a mineral, but instead a mineraloid substance. This consistency is responsible for its softness and ability to fracture and crack. Sometimes just the drying out process forms cracks in the stone. For that reason uncut and fresh opals are usually stored in water until they have slowly aged and become more stable. Opal is laid down in cracks and fissures in many kinds of  rocks which have cooled such as basalt, marl, rhyolite and even sandstone.
     Fully 97% of the world's opals are mined in Australia. Australian opals come from mostly Southern Australia from near a town called Coober Pedy, from the Mintable Opal Field 250 km northwest of Coober Pedy, and from Andamooka, also in South Australia. The latter areas produce most of the black opals which are only 10% of opal production. Also the Lightning Ridge Mine in New South Walles, Australia produces a relatively high percentage of black opal.

     There are many names given to different types of opals. I will not go into all these types and colors here. Common opal or "potch" as it is called by the miners in Australia does not have the play of color that makes opal a precious gem. The structure of opal is responsible for that play of color and the more there is as the stone is tilted in the light the more valuable the stone. Particularly red and orange seem to be desirable and are rarer although the iridescent greens and blues are also beautiful, the green on white the most common.. As the silica is laid down it forms microscopic spheres which align themselves in planes that are cubic or hexagonal. It is the light refracting off these planes of spheres that forms the rainbow colors. The thickness and orientation of these planes determine the play of color and the colors themselves. The optical density of the stones can vary from opaque through translucent to semi-transparent, which can also vary throughout the cut stone adding further interest to the depth and appearance of the stone. If the spheres are laid down among translucent white opalescent material they are called white opals. But if the matrix is darker, such as dark gray or dark blue, the opal is called a black opal. They command more value in the jewel market. Another form of opal gem is the boulder opal. In this case the stone is cut in such a way either as gemstone or as a display opal such that the opal is seen laid down in the matrix stone as well. Both are included in the piece due to their attractive appearance.
A white opal ring that I have owned since teen years with two small sapphires.

     Jewel stones are made from solid opal as it is cut from the rock. Also sometimes a  layer of opal too thin to cut into a cabochon or a free form shape is glued to an underlying piece of dark non opal rock or even plastic to stabilize the thin layer and to show off the play of color against a dark background. This is called a doublet. On still other occasions a quartz or plastic coating is placed on top of this double layer to stabilize it further. This is called a triplet and is not regarded as a precious stone. These are still natural opals but usually have less value than a solid opal stone. Then of course there are also synthetic lab created opals. Usually these have a much more regular pattern of colors with the planes of color being small and all about the same size, often giving an impression of "chicken wire" design. One certain way to tell is to place the opal under a UV light. Natural opals fluoresce but synthetics do not. They are of course less expensive than natural opals.     

Pendant made of paua shell, a species of Abalone specific to
New Zealand, especially the Southern Island along the fjords.
    The name opal is applied to other items. Sometimes opals are sold in jewelry which is really the common opal. It has an opalescent quality to it -- that is the stone appears milky and turbid but it does not have a play of color. Common opal is such a stone. It is not classed as a precious stone. Mexico produces a stone of orange and red color which is often called the fire opal, but it also does not have a play of color. Other precious gems and semi-precious stones have opalescent characteristics, some of them organic. Examples are mother of pearl, abalone shells, and another piece I picked up on our New Zealand, Australia trip. To the left is a photo of a pendant made from the New Zealand paua shell, a species of the abalone found only in New Zealand water, especially off the fjord coasts of the South Island. This organic material almost looks like a very black opal. It makes a very nice piece of jewelry with a cost of as you can see, around US$13.00. Also you may run across opal as an ingredient in cosmetics. This is not a silica product. These cosmetics contain other synthetic materials that have been created to have similar optical qualities to the silica opal gemstone but are not made from them or like them in any other way.
     The Opal is usually regarded as the birthstone of October. Over the eons it has usually been regarded as a stone carrying good fortune. However, there was a novel written in 1829  by Sir Walter Scott entitled Anne of Geirstein which gave a bad name to opals and caused the sale of opal gems to fall by 50% in England during the next year after its publication and to remain low for 20 years. In the novel, Baroness of Anheim drops a bit of Holy Water on her opal stone and it becomes colorless. Worse yet, in the story the Baroness dies shortly after that. Due to the popularity of the novel, opals became associated with bad fortune and dying. Similarly in Russia, if an opal was found for sale, it was inadvisable to purchase anything near it or in that lot of sale goods, because there would result bad fortune.  I for one do not regard opals in this fashion. I love my opal stones and love to show them off. And of course my Australian purchased stone has special meaning to me.        .

     The information about opals in this post were summarized from the Wikepedia article on opal, which is quite thorough. For many lovely photos of the various types of opals and more in depth information about structure and the different types of opal, please refer to that article.        

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Another great link: Walking Humanity's footsteps.

     One man, one journey, 7 years, 21,000 miles.

     We have traveled a lot as you can tell from my blogs. But there are certain places that we will not go for several reasons. One is that we are getting older and we need some medical providers nearby on our trips so we have to stay in fairly civilized regions. Secondly, my husband is a sabra, a born Israeli and therefore there are some countries that we will not be able to travel to due to basic danger to us. So there will be many parts of this earth we will not be able to reach, and many stories about meeting people that we will not be able to tell.

     Now I have found a replacement for these places which we will not be able to visit. The National Geographic Magazine of December this year begins the story of Paul Salopeck, a journalist who plans to walk the 21,000 miles from the birthplace of humanity in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, over a seven year time period, following the footsteps of 60,000 years of human beings' diaspora. The first article to me was mesmerizing, his walking with a guide, two camels and their "mahouts" (a Southeast Asian word for elephant handlers)  out into the Afar dessert from Herto Bouri, Ethiopia. This location is the site of the Middle Awash Project, an archaeological dig, really a human boneyard, where some of the oldest human bones have been found. Paul and his camel handlers and another local who was his logistician then crossed the Afar desert and reached the Gulf of Aden. There is a map in the National Geographic which shows Paul's planned route, all the way around the world to Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America. The fascinating thing is that there is a website called outofeden.nationalgeographic.com in which you can follow Paul's walk over the next 7 years. You can follow his dispatches on Twitter:@outofedenwalk. I am excited. These links will allow this peripatetic author to travel to parts of the world even I could never go to and also to view parts of the world where we have been through this journalist's eyes. And I can do this from my lounge chair. Wonderful!

     Paul is making dispatches every 3 to 4 days with photos, often with videos. The URL for the first of these National Geographic dispatches is: http://outofedenwalk.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/26/the-glorious-boneyard-a-report-from-our-starting-line/
Paul Slopeck has already been walking since January 10 (my birthday) 2013. He has just now in December, 2013 walked into Jordan from Saudi Arabia. There are two sites where you can follow him online:
The National Geographic site above: http://outofedenwalk.nationalgeographic.com/2013

The second site includes a small video at various milestones, an interview with the closest human being at that milestone. The walk has now reached 16 milestones. This site has more structure designed for teachers and small children. This website is: http://www.outofedenwalk.com/

There are also various offshoots and articles written about these places through which Paul is walking. This undertaking of walking 21,000 miles in 7 years is funded by National Geographic Magazine. There have already been some TV stories about it and stories written in various local newspaper publications. There will no doubt be much more as time goes on.

I recommend visiting the two websites most recently listed above. And if you want to start from the very beginning, (A Very Good Place to Start), I suggest using the first URL above which describes the Middle Awash Project, an archaeological dig which has discovered the oldest hominid skeletons so far found in the world, dating back 4.4 million years. As I indicated above, Paul Salopeck chose this site to begin his mind bending long trek because it was as close as our knowledge of early human history can put us to the "Garden of Eden."

It will take a while for you to just catch up to where Paul is now in Jordan, but it is worth reading all the comments that people have left. Some are inane and can be skipped but often Paul actually answers a comment from wherever he is that has cell phone connections and he often adds wonderful little tidbits to his more formal dispatch. I can identify with him trying to find a cell phone connection in the wilds of Ethiopia and the Saudi dessert. During our trip to Kenya and Tanzania, we often stuck our phone into the air to try to get a few bars of signal. And even in the middle of the Serengeti National Park, the guides knew where to stop for a possible connection. They had phone calls to make and we occasionally used the opportunity to post a text on our travel journal.

I am planning on following Paul on his long journey for the next 6 years. If you haven't picked up the December issue of National Geographic, I suggest you do so and read the opening article about his trek and view the magnificent photos.

In the spirit of the Holiday Season, here's hoping that our journey "Out of Eden" will lead us toward world peace and understanding between all the great religious traditions.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thanksgivukkah!! 2013

     I know that this evening has passed, but I can't let something as rare as Thanksgivukkah also pass without some comment here. We were told in the national news media that this event -- the coincidence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah -- has not happened since 1888 and will not happen again for approximately 70,000 years. I became curious about why this is. Of course, I knew that it had something to do with the difference between the Gregorian calendar that we use secularly in the United States and in much of the rest of the Western world-- and the Jewish calendar which is used by Jewish communities in their religious activities all over the world. But I didn't know the complexity.

     Of course, the Gregorian calendar is a solar based calendar. The earth orbits the sun in about 365.25 days. So the Gregorian calendar is 365 days long with a leap year day about every 4th year added on February 29th. (Note: Be suspicious whenever I use a term like "about" 365.35, and "about" every 4th year, because it usually means there are even more complexities to calendar making.) The Jewish calendar is a lunar based calendar but also has some machinations thrown in to make sure that the Passover holiday will always fall in the spring. (By comparison, the Islamic calendar is only lunar based and therefore the great fast days of Ramadan fall in a cycle throughout the year.)

     A local rabbi at Chabad ran a calculation on his computer taking into account the basics of these two calendars and the facts that Thanksgiving always falls on the 4th Thursday of November and Hanukkah always falls on the 25th day of the month of Kislev of the Jewish calendar. Using strictly these calculations we would have another coincidence of the two holidays in 2070 and again in 2165. However, indeed as I alluded to, there are other machinations of both calendars to consider. The solar year is really 365.2425 days long. By the time of Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, those 11 extra  minutes had added up so that calculations to determine Easter had put it out of the springtime. The date number for the spring equinox, March 21, had moved 11 days away from the astronomical event.  Gregory solved that problem by adding some other machinations that mean we really don't have a leap year day every 4 years. Some are skipped. (Read the details in this article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-joel-hoffman/hanukkah-and-thanskgiving_b_4312207.html)

     Rav Schmuel had set the Jewish calendar in the first millennium of the Common Era. But he also used the calculation of 365.25 days per solar year and made various complex additions and subtractions of months to accomplish a calendar that matches the secular Gregorian calendar every 19 years. However, no changes were made to account for those extra 11 minutes. So there is a constant drift of the Hanukkah holidays later and later in the year. Probably at some point there will need to be more adjustments made to make sure that Pesach falls in the spring, but that has not been determined yet. Suffice it to say that all of these complexities have made this year's Thanksgivukkah a very very rare event. In fact if the calendars continue as they are, they will not occur again together for some 70,000 plus years.

     This confluence of holidays has led to a lot of laughter: Thanksgivukkah, the menurkey ( a turkey shaped menorah pictured above), Gobble tov (the good luck wishes that correspond to Mazel tov in Hebrew), and others. Many Jewish families concocted new recipes for the occasion: cranberry sauce on potato latkes, sweet potato latkes with the turkey, turkey pastrami sandwiches, and others. Hanukkah gelt was used as place cards on the Thanksgiving dinner table. But many Jews wondered how to seriously deal with both holidays. They do have similar ideals: peace, restoration of normal religious life, the joining of multiple cultures, and family celebrations. But some worried that if the two holidays were melded too much each would be diminished by the other. And how many characteristic food items can you eat in a single day? Of course, the best part of Hanukkah is that it continues for 8 nights, so the next and the next day etc, it is still Hanukkah and families could do the special things for Hanukkah on those nights.

     My Christian family all gathers at my sister's home for Thanksgiving every year. Our big meal is at noon time. My Jewish husband is Israeli; in his homeland the Hanukkah holiday was never a big holiday. In Israel, Passover and the High Holidays-- Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) and Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) -- are the major holidays. Even Purim and Succoth are more prominently celebrated than Hanukkah. So this year's combination was not a problem for my husband. It was me that decided I wanted to honor the Hanukkah holiday in some way. So I took a menorah and the candles, some Hanukkah gelt, and a dreidl along with me to my sister's home. I asked my son to tell me about 45 minutes before they were going to leave so that I could light the menorah for my grandsons. I told them the Hanukkah story and we played some dreidl games. The day had been stuffed with sweets, so I secretly handed the gelt to the parents of the children and told them to present it later. Other more distant relatives in the family asked questions about Hanukkah and commented about it. My sister usually puts out some leftovers and some snacks, cheese and crackers, etc late in the afternoon for those that might be getting hungry. I had brought along some latke mix and I made latkes and served them with sour cream and applesauce. I felt there was enough of the Hanukkah holiday to make an impression on my grandchildren and it did not interfere in any way with my sister's celebration of Thanksgiving.

     I stayed overnight with my mother and then the next day drove back to Milwaukee. I always call my 96 year old mother when I get home so she knows I am back safely. This time when I called her, she told me: "I forgot to say anything to you about this last night, but I thought it was wonderful what you did about Hanukkah. I saw the little boys taking it all in, and even some of the adults were asking questions. I think you made some people think about other traditions and other holidays. I am glad that you did that." Now I have to fill in the back story a little bit here. My parents had a terrible time with my marriage to a Jew, and especially to an Israeli (read foreigner) Jew. I don't want to go into detail, but suffice it to say it was a very difficult time for all of us. But even my mother who had the worst time of it, had grown to know my husband's parents, visited them in Israel with a Jewish tour group of all things, and entertained my Israeli father in law in Arizona for the winter years ago. So she had been made tolerant and accepting a long time ago, but I was still very much intrigued that she had made this statement to me that next day. I once told my husband that I thought marrying him had broadened my life to an extreme degree and he had repeated the same thing to me. I think our union also may have broadened the horizons of other people in my family as well. That can only bring Good!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mystery Photo #24: The city is Moscow, Russia.

   Probably the distant church gave you the clue you needed with its "onion" domes. Yes the city is Moscow, Russia, and we are looking at the 350 feet high monument to Peter the Great which is set in the confluence of the Moscow River and the Vodootvodny Canal in the middle of Moscow. A Georgian designer by the name of Zurab Tsereteli erected it in 1997 to commemorate 300 years history of the Russian Navy, established by Peter the Great. It is the 8th tallest statue in the world, made of stainless steel, bronze and copper.
      And it is a source of great controversy in the city of Moscow. First it has been voted one of the 10 ugliest monuments in the world. Its base would seem to be a towering wave from which the bows of several smaller ships poke out. And riding the top of this wave is a lifesize sailing ship with the sails furled. Standing astride the bow is a giant Peter the Great holding a golden map up in his right hand. He is wearing clothes almost looking like a Roman soldier, and totally out of sync with his time period. The Moscovites wonder why in the world it would be mounted in Moscow when Peter the Great hated Moscow and moved his capitol to beautiful St. Petersburg.
The statue in the near distance, from a nearby park.

     And then there is the story of the designer. Apparently he was a favorite of the then Mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov who gave this artist several municipal commissions, among them the Cathedral of Christ the Savior which you see in the background of the photo of the Peter the Great statue, to the left. The story is that this statue is based on a design to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492. Hence the ship is possibly the Nina, or the Pinta, or the Santa Maria. But no one in America would purchase and commission the statue. A similar Columbus statue was eventually sent to Puerto Rico but it was never assembled. Of course, designer Tsereteli denies that this was the Columbus statue that was repurposed to a Russian theme. It is a fact that as soon as Mayor Luzhkov left office, Moscow tried to send the statue to St. Petersburg, but that city also refused it. And so it still stands on the Moscow River.
     I recall when our guide in Moscow pulled up along the Moscow River to show us this statue close up. He made some slightly negative remark about this statue which I didn't understand at the time because I had not read of this controversy. I can only say that from close up and from the near distance it is impressive to the eye. But I can see some of the issues. It might be like the blue working man's shirt sculpture, designed by conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim, that was supposed to be mounted on the corner of a parking lot down at our airport, Mitchell Field, in Milwaukee. Some thought that this huge translucent shirt denigrated the city's labor worker past. However, the artist insists that was never his intention. He had many other successful artistic installations that especially in his later years championed the human figure. But in Milwaukee, this particular design was so controversial that it never made it. But apparently neither did this Peter the Great (Columbus) statue at several places.
The model for the proposed Mitchel Field parking lot "blue shirt" sculpture.

     Near the area of the Peter the Great Statue, between the Moscow River and the .... Canal, and south of the Kremlin, is a small pedestrian park called Bolotnoya Square. Along with a fountain and a typical 'man on a horse' statue, there is a famous sculpture group placed in the square in 2001 called The Sin Monument, or Children Are the Victims of Adult Vices by Mikhail Chemiakin. In the center of the grouping are two children covered with gold tone foil, and around them are aligned fairly large sort of scary statues depicting various adult "sins." The children have no where to turn because every adult figure is guilty of some flaw. And in addition, they are playing "blind man's bluff" , ie blind folded so they will not be able to see the obvious signs in the adults that show their flaws. When we visited in .... there were still a lot of people visiting this sculpture grouping. I have a photo of the whole grouping below. Here is a link of a site that shows each individual statue with great detail.
Broad view of "The Sins Monument", Bolotnoya Square

A closer view of the center of the grouping with the children with blindfolds.
Ludzhou Bridge "padlock" tree.
     When we visited Moscow, we noticed all the wedding parties at almost every tourist site: the Kremlin, St. Basil Cathedral on the Red Square, the nearby Church of Christ the Holy Savior, the view over the city, from the University of Moscow, and last but not least, Ludzhov Bridge across the Moskva River. For many decades, newly wed couples came here and put a padlock on the rails of the bridge, possibly recalling a past custom where newlyweds were locked into the parents' barn to provide privacy on the wedding night. These padlocks were meant to show the total locking commitment of the new couple. Once the padlock was placed on the rails, the key was thrown into the canal water and the union could only supposedly be dissolved by one of the party diving to the bottom of the cold polluted Moskva River to retrieve the key to their own lock, of course, next to impossible. Over the decades, so many rusted old locked appeared on the bridge that it looked like a junkyard. Therefore city authorities cut the locks off the bridge rails and erected "padlock" trees on the bridge and later as the need arose, along the promenade along the River. These padlocks have appeared elsewhere as well, for example on other bridges, and on the railing surrounding the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, but at many of these other sites, the locks are cut off as soon as they are placed. It is rumored that so many keys have been thrown into the River here along with champagne bottles and glasses, the river needs to be dredged regularly to provide passage for the river tour boats that pass here. To the left is one of the Ludzhov Bridge "padlock trees."

Muzeon Park of the Arts: central statue of Lenin, surrounding busts of Stalin,
and  symbols of Russia in the background.
     Also in this downtown area is a very interesting park. Our guides told us that in English it is known alternatively as the Park of Fallen Heroes, or the Park of Fallen Monuments. In the early 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, there were many movements in  Moscow to remove statues of Lenin, Stalin and other Communist leaders from parks, square, and traffic circles in the city. Interestingly even recently there was a proposal in front of the Russian legislature to remove all these statues throughout the country. There are a lot of Stalin and Lenin statues still around the country and the proposal said the cost to keep these statues up could be spent on parks and other amenities for the people. Of course, the Communist party did not like this and so far no law has been passed. This Park is really called Muzeon Park of the Arts and is on property adjoining the Krymsky Val building shared by the Tretyakov Museum of Modern Arts division, and the Central House of Artists. Below are some other photos from Muzeon Park.

Krymsky Val building of the Tretyakov Art Museum, adjacent to Muzeon Park.

Lenin in the center, small Stalin bust to left, Lenin bust to right, and Russian
emblems to the far left, in Muzeon Park.

In the center is a wall created by placing heads of fallen statues in a wire cage
to create a wall. There are several walls like this in Muzeon Park.
Statue of Stalin without its pedestal in Muzeon Park.

     There is also quite a story about this now famous church, across the Moscow River and a few blocks southwest of the Kremlin. It is the modern church called the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, building initiated in 1992 and consecrated in 2000. At 338 feet high, it is the largest Eastern Orthodox church in the world. Initiated in 1812 by Alexander I, whose architect patterned it after Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and further changed and commissioned by his successor brother, Nicholas I, it was finally finished and consecrated in 1883. It was reportedly a remarkable structure with huge marble freezes which commemorated the defeat of Napolean and other historical events in the Tsarist Russian history. However when the Communists took over, it was regarded as a waste. The government needed the value of the gold which covered its domes, which was first harvested. The Cathedral itself was dynamited to rubble in 1931 at Stalin's order. At least many of the detailed marble freezes were removed and are now in a museum. Stalin intended to build the Palace of the Soviets on the site, as a monument to socialism. However, World War II interfered and that building was never erected. Instead the large hole left by the demolition was turned into an the largest outdoor swimming pool in the world. Our guide could remember swimming there in the 1960s and 1970s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church sought and won permission to rebuild the Cathedral of Christ the Savior based on the original church. Funds were collected from the people all over Russia with 1,000,000 Muscovites contributing. The first architect, Denisov, however, was relieved of his duties and replaced by Zurab Tsereteli, a familiar name to you readers, as he is the designer of the Peter the Great statue which was the mystery Photo. True to his nature, Tsereteli made several modifications to Denisov's design, which included replacing the marble freezes with modern bronze ones. This Cathedral now has the only such bronze interior elements like it in any Eastern Orthodox Church. Truly this Cathedral is magnificent and remarkably suitable as the national Russian church and now centerpiece of the Russian Orthodox sect.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Gives you an idea about the massive nature of this church.

The Kremlin Wall from outside Red Square
Famous Saint Basil's Cathedral, now a museum.

Clock tower of the Kremlin

St. Basil's Cathedral from inside Red Square

Kremlin wall from inside Red Square; Lenin's tomb to the right in mid distance.
      We made another stop while in Moscow, not quite downtown, but still worth a stop. This is the grounds of the All Russia Exhibition Center. This site was a gorgeous Exposition in 1939 with magnificent buildings showing off what Bolshevik Russia and the Soviets had accomplished by this time. It fell into disrepair but in 1992 at least some of it was resurrected. The grounds now house an amusement park. But some of the old architecture still shines through.

The huge gates of the 1939 Exposition Grounds.
A wonderful fountain showing peasant women in native costume. It was not
running when we were there but apparently runs in the summer.

       All in all, I found the city of Moscow very unique, and really quite beautiful in many areas. Of course, some of the interest remains historical when the Kremlin was the center of government of our Cold War Enemies at the time. Now it is clear that Moscow has joined the world of fashion, modern architecture and great restaurants, unfortunately catering to very expensive tastes. But I would go back. It was in many ways a magnificent trip, both to Moscow and to the reset of Russia that we visited: Volga River cruise, Yaraslavl, Kitzi, and St. Peterburg.

Friday, November 29, 2013

"Packing for the Road"

From Journal of American Medical Association Nov 27, 2013: Volume 310, #20

Packing for the Road
by Corey Fogelmanm MD

Packing for the road is a way
Of lightening the load. So much
That crowds the mind can at
Last be left behind. Yet if we
Leave what gimbals the keel, how
Off-center the chest can feel.
Perhaps we are nomads at our
Core, connected to what's
Essential and nothing more.

     My husband and I are seasoned travelers as you can tell from the many travel blogs on this site. Over the years of our peripatetic activities we have slowly learned how to pack very very light.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Masai: National Geographic Info

     The new National Geographic Magazine arrived in the mail yesterday. My mother subscribes to the magazine for me and I usually read through the entire magazine. I love the reports about strange places and strange nature that my husband and I have often seen in our travels. There was a little page blurb in the December magazine showing a Masai junior warrior doing the famous Masai jump. (See my post from 11/7/2013 on this blog.) But this photo is accompanied by a very interesting story about the Masai and their worldwide fame.
     Surprising to me was the fact that worldwide there are 80 products which include even expensive items such as cars, clothing and jewelry that carry the name of this tribe. I have not seen advertisements for these products but I would guess that images of these famous warriors are used to sell these items. If no images, for sure the worldwide known stature of this Kenyan and Tanzanian tribe are used. But as indicated by Isaac Ole Tialolo, speaking for the Masai Intellectual Property Initiative, no one has asked the Masai's permission to so use their name, reputation, and indeed their branding to sell these products.
     This Initiative organization is now reaching out to all the clans of the 3 million strong Masai nation, to elect an authorizing council to review requests to use this Masai branding and to review those products that already use the name. The plan would be similar to what our southwestern Navajo have done. Any merchandise that has been approved by the Council would bear a certificate that it is either manufactured and produced by Masai themselves, or their design and name has been officially approved by this Initiative. "As the cultural owners, we want respect," says Tialolo. "We want to protect our heritage, our name, our image."
     Article by Johanna Rizzo.

Here you can see the beadwork that the warriors
wear, around the neck, the wrist, and the waist. These
two guides are serving us the morning coffee break.
They are also wearing the olive green fleece sweaters
 of the Kenyan National Guide Service

Here is the rustic Masai beadwork store at Porini Amboselli Camp.
The beadwork inside the Masai store.

     When we were in Kenya and Tanzania, we purchased a few things that were definitely of Masai origin. At Porini Amboselli Camp there was a small rustic store which was selling particularly beadwork done by the women of the local Masai village. I actually purchased a beautiful orange multistranded necklace which I like very much for just the equivalent of $11.00, and my husband got a beaded collar. As you can see from the accompanying photos the Masai warriors all wear many forms of beaded work, but mostly around the neck and around the waist. These items could easily be branded Masai just as the Navajo silver jewelry is branded.

     Also the Masai make walking sticks and shields. Of course they also make their famous spears but I didn't see any of those for sale in the Masai store at Porini. There were some shields for sale. And in other souvenir shops along the way there were shields, and drums which might have come from some of the Masai tribes.

More beadwork.

African shields, maybe of Masai design.

Drum set.

This is the necklace I purchased at the Porini store. It is just
made of glass beads and brass couplings, but it certainly
involved a lot of hours of labor to string all of these beads.
I found it quite attractive and am wearing it often.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Winter Holidays

 I always try to be ecumenical. This is certainly a time of year which demands that when writing a public blog. In the United States we have three big holidays at this time of year during which three large and very different communities celebrate.

     Of course, we all know about Christmas in this country. But, of course, for you readers in other parts of the world, it might be that your exposure does not make Christmas an ubiquitous almost annoying, overwhelming holiday. For you I include some words about past Christmas traditions that I recall from my childhood. Please regard these comments as a Christmas greeting that will recall the warmth of Christmases past for you.

   Many Americans think that the real meaning of Christmas, that is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, has disappeared in the materialistic culture in which we live. The Christmas story is told in the New Testament in the 4 Gospels. It includes the child being born in a manger, because there was no room at local inns.  Local shepherds learned of the birth from angels and come to worship the child. A star supposedly led wise men from afar to pay their tributes to the child. In the present, the Christmas holiday is one for family and friends to gather together and recall the family traditions, to feast, to give gifts, and to attend religious services. Most of what we all feel around this time of year has its origins in the traditions that we have grown up with. Every family has its own traditions that recall for them the warm feelings of family and community. Many of our American traditions have their origin in the Victorian Era in England. When Queen Victoria married her first cousin Prince Albert from Coburg, Germany, he brought the ideas of putting up a Christmas tree, the hanging of greens in the home, and the use of mistletoe to prompt shows of affection, as well as a transformation of holiday celebrations centered in  the family. Since that time decorating the home has become a large part of the holiday traditions as well. The decorations all around, inside and out, even on the streetlamps all remind us of this festive season. And now foremost in every one's plans are the festive gatherings. In many cases these gatherings take place in order to help the less fortunate. Sending gifts to the Armed Services or to areas of greatest need have become a larger part of the Christmas season. Whatever the traditions, they become a very important part of the household and family and are carried forward through  future generations.

Advent December 2-23. Christmas Eve December 24. Christmas Day December 25

     The Jews in the United States often celebrate Hanukkah and sometimes quite dramatically. This is because the Jewish religion needs to supply a holiday that can somehow withstand the overwhelming nature of Christmas in the United States. Hanukkah can provide some of that balance. It has nightly gifts for the children, and it is the Festival of Lights. The warm glow of 8 candles burning in the Menorah can make a home atmosphere that can compete with a lighted Christmas tree. The holiday has its special foods -- latkes, and it has its special games and songs -- dreidel game. The Hanukkah menorah and the dreidel provide nice symbols for representing the holiday. But what does Hanukkah really mean? Since my husband is an Israeli I know that in Israel which is a Jewish state, and where there is little celebration of Christmas, -- just some Christmas Eve religious rituals by the various Christian churches in Bethlehem and Nazareth, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday. It stands for freedom. It celebrates the victory of  the Judah Maccabees in retaking the Great Temple from the Seleucid rulers. Because the Temple had been filled with Greek gods, there was no holy oil to fill the lamps to light the Sabbath lights. A very small amount of oil was found and it lasted a full 8 nights until new oil could be produced. The 8 nights of candles represent that miracle. This year Hanukkah is quite unique in that the first day of the 8 day holiday is on Thanksgiving.

Hanukkah November 28 to December 5th.

Photo from www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org
   I would venture to say that most of the Caucasian world doesn't know what Kwanzaa is. I didn't know. So come along and learn with me. Our African American neighbors may celebrate this holiday and we need to know about it. Like the other two holidays of this season, it celebrates various values that are universal and responsible for happiness and success in a people. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 at the University of California, Long Beach, by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor of African Studies. He felt that the black American community needed a holiday of its own at this season so that people of the African diaspora would not be forced into celebrations of Christmas or Hanukkah which originally had no meaning to these peoples from Africa. The word means "first fruits of the harvest," in Swahili. Symbols are colorful African  kente cloth, fruits, a cup to share libations, and the kinara, a seven candle candelabra providing the lighting. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are: Unity, Self-determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. This holiday was certainly created in response and to further Black Pride and Black Power. A postage stamp was first made for Kwanzaa in 1997. In recent years, the celebration of the holiday may have dwindled somewhat but most holiday communities still include it at this time of year. To some degree the holiday has become recognized in other parts of the world as well.

Kwanzaa  December 26 to Jan 1.

     Whatever your tradition at this time of year, whatever your religion, whatever your beliefs -- all of these holidays have a similar meaning which is to be with friends and families and to provide some sort of spiritual expression that recalls these shared moments from year to year. Giving of gifts and of your time have become deeply involved in the celebrations as well. Sometimes this gift giving has been carried to extreme. It may be more meaningful to give self made gifts or to give of your time instead of the large things or objects which require a lot of money expenditure.

     And of course before we even begin any of these three holidays, we have one we all celebrate: Thanksgiving. Just remember to call to attention everything we are grateful for while at the Feast Day table.  My best wishes at this time of year to all my readers from all over the world. I know that some of you celebrate none of these holidays and have very spiritual occasions at other times of the year. Allow me to extend Best Wishes to you all and to hope that our diversity however maintained provides a message of unity that can bring peace and happiness to a world widely troubled right now.

     Happy Holidays to you all as we draw near the end of 2013. And a very Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Mystery Photo #24 First name the city.

     This photo has several related questions depending on your astuteness in identifying this place. First name the city, country. Then try to name the monument, which is really very impressive just as this photo suggests. Then try to name the white building in the distance to the left. This distant building probably provides an important clue as well. When I post the answers I will include some other nearby tourist sites.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Mystery Photo #23: Assisi, Italy and Mount Tabor by our connection.

       The Mystery Photo #23 depicts the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi  An aerial view of the Basilica appeared on this 1920 travel poster in the photo below to the right. But this town of 25,000 people with 3700 residents within the surviving medieval walls of Old Town contains many other churches and landmark sites. Below on the right is the Roman facade of the Temple of Minerva converted in the first centuries of the Common Era to a Christian church. The bell tower on the right is called the Municipal Tower.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ground Zero Now and downtown in New York City!

The High Line
       After our niece's wedding in May we spent a couple days in New York City. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel on 8th Ave and 48th Street so we would be near our shows around Broadway. But on the second day, a cousin who is native to the city picked us up and decided to show us a few sights we had never seen. We headed downtown by car.
     . We parked the car and walked up onto the High Line walkway that was once the elevated train down there, a portion of the old West Side line of the New York Central Line spur. Briefly the history of this line began in 1929, but with the shift to transcontinental trucking in the 1950s, this line slowly lost one of its chief commercial supports. The southern end of the line was demolished in 1960. Though trains operated on parts of the line until 1980, it was closed from that point until 2009. Instead of tearing down these elevated platforms on which trains used to run, it cost less to develop these old track platforms into gardens and walkways. The planting beds are the old track lines many with the rails still in place. The plantings are mostly native often showcasing the plants that had colonized the old right of way. The hardscape in addition to walkways and plazas includes built in benches, chaise lounges and in one place chaises that roll on the rails to take advantage of the sun at different times of the day. Many people utilize these irregular green spaces for lunch, for reading, for sunning, or just for walking from one place to the other. Food vendors and other vending kiosks have begun to occupy spaces along these walks and there is an atmosphere of serenity and healthy activity. And the green walkways are actually safer than the street below. Although originally no one could explain this, it appears it is because these walkways are visible from the buildings that adjoin them. Therefore when you walk these spaces, you are never alone as you might be on the street below. It is along one of these green areas that the Whitney Museum of Art is building an annex, instead of adding on to its museum in Midtown. Real estate prices near the High Line have risen and much high end living space and commercial space has moved in nearby. The High Line now stretches from 3 blocks south of 14th Street (Gansevoort Street) to 30th Street. There is a Stage 3 currently under construction at the north end which will extend in a sharp turn west and then north to 34th Street.  Here are some photos of these spaces.

The Standard Hotel is a new property built over the walkway.
The IAC Building (at left) by Frank Gehry, located at 18th Street.

The Chelsea Market Building, once the National Biscuit Co. factory.

Looking east toward Lower Manhattan.

Looking west across the Hudson from the High Line.
The plantings among the remaining rails of the old West Side Line.

     Near this green space is the famous Chelsea Market of Lower Manhattan. In fact the High Line actually passes through the 2nd floor of the Chelsea Market building. What a colorful place the food concourse is. If I lived and cooked in New York city I would definitely make this at least a weekly stop. There are multiple shops and boutiques in addition to all the food markets. Restaurants located on the food concourse cooperate with the food markets so that the freshest produce, meats and sea food are readily available for both retail and food preparation. And all spaces and corridors take advantage of the character of the building itself with the visible infrastructure. The main building pictured below was once the National Biscuit Company factory, the makers of Oreo Cookies.  Many of the original brick walls and arches of the building add the charm of this venue. Across 10th Avenue, accessed by a pedestrian bridge, office space is available which has offered space to several media titans: Oxygen Network, Food network, a local cable TV station, recently Google and other media companies.

Between 14th and 15th Street, the tracks of the High Line run through the
second floor of the Chelsea Market Building.

Inside Chelsea Market building.

A few photos from the sea food market.

Another long corridor inside Chelsea Market building.
     I was prompted to include these photos from our May New York visit now, because just a few days ago, the lighted spire was placed atop the Freedom Tower, the tallest building in the United States counting the spire as was decided by a so called "Tall Building Council" just today in Chicago. It has been 12 years since crazy militant individuals in the name of Islam, having hijacked that religion, flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center in New York city.  I was so refreshed by the remarkable changes that have taken place in Lower Manhattan. The area is booming. There are all sorts of new buildings down there which have sprung up to fill in the void left after that devastating disaster of 2001. Our photos show the beauty of this building and of this area of the southern tip of Manhattan. There is a wide boulevard with a lot of green space between the lanes of the boulevard. It stretches from east to west across the island down there with Freedom Tower serving as its axis.
The spire being placed atop the Freedom Tower.

Freedom Tower

The base of Freedom Tower

All new buildings around Freedom Tower

Freedom Tower in May; it is now complete.

     One of the great characteristics of the Big Apple is its neighborhoods. Our cousins then drove us to their apartment in Forest Hills, Queens. Near their apartment building is an area of brick homes dating to the 1910s which has a flavor unlike what you would expect in any of the boroughs of New York, but instead seemingly would be more at home out on Long Island. This area is entered at Station Square just off Queens Boulevard and is called Forest Hills Gardens. This lovely area was a planned community started in 1909 to provide homes to upper middle class people who wished to commute to Manhattan. The Tudor and Colonial homes that characterize this area have been lovingly maintained and now sell for anywhere from 1.5 million to as much as 4 million. Surrounding the Forest Hills Garden area is Forest Hills itself, now the most exclusive area in Queens for apartments and condominiums and some single family homes as well. Forest Hills was once the home of the US Open Tennis Championship at the West Side Tennis Club, until in 1977 the tournament moved to Flushing Meadows. Here are some photos of the single family home areas of Forest Hills  Gardens.

Station Square entrance to Forest Hills Gardens

       Our cousin lives in one of the apartment buildings of Forest Hills. Below he is showing us his building and inviting us in for lunch. We ended the day with a very enjoyable social visit at their apartment. They love their city and we were glad they took the time to show us some of these little visited areas of the Big Apple.