May 26, 2015

the anatomical waxes

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , , — cohn17 @ 7:09 pm

in tuscany, at the natural history museum, there is a collection of anatomical waxes. i quote directly from the placard at the museum:

unique in the world for the quantity and beauty of its pieces, this collection was the inspiration of the grand duke peter leopold of lorraine and felice fontana, the first director of the museum, who conceived it as a means of teaching anatomy without directly observing a corpse. it consists of more than 1400 pieces, done between 1771 and the second half of the 1800’s, contained in 550 showcases presently on display in 9 rooms.

enjoy, although possibly not immediately after eating.

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May 17, 2015

back to paleochora, with a diana lens on my camera

Filed under: antiquities, greece, photography — Tags: — cohn17 @ 11:24 pm

i went back to paleochora, in aegina, to do more photography.

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transfiguration st. euthymios st. george katholikos st. euthymios st. spyrion
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st. demetrios and st. george st. nicholas st. anne st. kyriaki transfiguration
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transfiguration st. dionysius transfiguration st. kyriaki st. anne

May 4, 2015

cyprus 5: abandoned places

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 4:23 pm

we came across a few abandoned villages during our drive through southern cyprus. sometimes, a village has been abandoned because an earthquake or water problem rendered it unlivable; however, it may be the case that a village was abandoned because it had been a turkish-cypriot village before the turkish invasion, and the residents left it for safety in the north.

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April 20, 2015


Filed under: idiotic musings, travel outside greece — Tags: , , , — cohn17 @ 4:25 pm
apparently, some cypriots are too polite to say the word "damn."

apparently, some cypriots are too polite to say the word “damn.”

dams are impressive pieces of architecture.  when i was in albania, i photographed the vau i dejës dam for a friend who was doing some architectural work for the electric company (including a few pictures with my 6×6 camera):

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so here have the asprokremmos dam, an earthen dam built from 1978 to 1982. stones on the embankment, a huge concrete overflow reservoir, and a capacity of 51 million cubic meters of water …

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… and below it all – in case the dang fails – a row of beehives to protect the buildings on the coast from the onslaught of water.


April 13, 2015

do you know the way to agia solomoni

Filed under: antiquities, travel outside greece — Tags: , , — cohn17 @ 5:04 pm

we decided to visit the church and catacombs of agia solomoni, which was located relatively close to our hotel. agia solomoni (saint solomoni) was an early christian who took refuge in a cave to escape persecution by the romans. when the romans located her hiding place, they walled her up inside, condemning her to a long and painful death; however, when the cave was opened up 200 years later, she walked out alive. so the legend goes.

amazingly, there is not a wikipedia entry on this.

as is typical, there was a only a small sign pointing us toward the site, so we parked and trudged up a hill to the only structure we could see up there. it turned out to be some kind of shed, but there was a staircase cut through rock leading underground, so down we went. we were underwhelmed by what we found:

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sure, interesting, but a holy shrine? not so much, especially if the mattress and discarded beer cans were anything to judge it by.

we spied another way out and scrambled up, thinking maybe we somehow came in the wrong way, and we did find a nondescript chapel-like room further along the side of the hill, yet – curiouser and curiouser – the exit led onto someone’s junk-filled backyard.

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“okay,” we decided, “this is just some inexplicably bad tourist attraction, like you read about in inexplicably bad tourist attractions magazine,” and we went back to the car. however, as we drove back onto the main road, we saw a chestnut tree with ribbons tied onto its branches for good luck, and a neat set of stairs leading downward, and we realized that this was the entry to the church and catacombs, and the other place we’d been exploring was just a dirty hole in the ground.

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April 4, 2015

cyprus 2: mosaics

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , , , — cohn17 @ 6:31 am

the paphos archaeological park contains sites dating from the roman period up through the 13th century. most impressive (to me) were the mosaic floors from the roman villas.  this is the floor of the “house of aion,” 4th century b.c.  (aion is the god of time, who features in one of the center panels, and for whom the building is named.)
this scene shows the infant dionysos in hermes’ lap, about to be handed over to his teacher, tropheos.
this is a telling of the myth of apollo and marysas, in which marysas, who challenged apollo to a music contest and lost, is about to be flayed alive.
moral: don’t mess with the gods.
outside, and currently exposed to the elements, is this mosaic in the “house of theseus,” showing theseus killing the minotaur.
columns from the house of theseus.
other ruins. i think the green burlap fabric in the lower right, under the sand, is a cover for other mosaics which are not currently on display.
an ornamental mosaic floor.
since this site has been occupied by numerous invaders since the romans, there are more recent ruins, such as the castle of saranta kolones (forty columns), which was built by the lusignans around a.d. 1200. the lusignans were a royal house that originated in france and conquered much of europe and the levant for a time. (according to wikipedia, the mythological founder of the family is used as the logo for starbucks.) the castle was destroyed by an earthquake 20 years after it was completed.

March 30, 2015

cyprus, part 1: the πέτρα του ρωμιού

Filed under: travel outside greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 6:05 am

a few weeks ago, we went to cyprus for a few days. the south and west of the island – the part i visited, well below the green line – appears πολύ ελληνική (very greek) …

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… although its history as a british colony is pretty evident as well.


so let’s take a look around.

the birth of venus by sandro botticelli, c. 1485

the birth of venus by sandro botticelli, c. 1485

we’ll start at the petra to romiou, or aphrodite’s rock. this is the spot where the goddess of love, aphrodite, who was born from the sea foam, came ashore at paphos, carried in a scallop shell.  it sounds very romantic, until you read the detail in the wikipedia entry:

in the most famous version of her myth, her birth was the consequence of a castration: cronus severed uranus’ genitals and threw them behind him into the sea. the foam from his genitals gave rise to aphrodite (hence her name, meaning “foam-arisen”), while the erinyes (furies), and the meliae emerged from the drops of his blood.

i don’t remember that from my copy of d’aulaires.

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next: mosaics

March 22, 2015

the temple of poseidon

Filed under: antiquities, greece — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 8:00 pm
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having seen the sanctuary and death oracle of poseidon earlier, it was only right for us to see the temple of poseidon at sounio, about an hour’s drive from athens.  the temple of poseidon dates from 440 b.c.  according to legend, this was the spot from which the greek hero theseus’ father, king aegeus, threw himself into the sea: theseus had gone to crete to fight the minotaur in a ship flying black sails, and had told his father that if he won, he would fly white sails on his ship upon his return, while if he died, the crew would fly the black sails.  theseus did defeat the minotaur, and he won the hand of king minos’ daughter ariadne as well.  athena told him to leave ariadne behind, however, and he was so distraught that he forgot to change the sails to white. aegeus saw the black sails from the distance and threw himself into the sea (which subsequently was named the aegean sea).

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closer to today, one can see lord byron’s name scratched into the base of one of the pillars.  byron visited greece for the first time in 1810, before becoming known as a poet and supporter of greek independence, and apparently this was the thing to do. i didn’t find his name, but i found the names of plenty of others from later in the century, including one from (presumably) an italian soldier toward the end of world war ii.

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you will need to click on these photos to see them more clearly.

February 27, 2015

not dog sledding in kiruna

Filed under: general — Tags: , — cohn17 @ 9:16 pm

after we finished our dog sledding adventure, we had a day to relax in kiruna, the northernmost town in sweden (pop. 18,148 in 2010). the town grew up around an iron mine which opened in 1890. (iron was discovered as early as 1696, but the climate was too harsh, and the mining techniques too primitive, to make commercial exploitation viable until the 19th century.) according to our sledding guide, kiruna was the wild west of sweden until the government began formally settling the area at the start of the 20th century. the population was 18 in 1899, growing to 12,884 by 1930.

in 2004, the state-owned mining company notified the local government that it had to dig deeper into the hills just outside town, and this excavation could cause a number of apartments and public buildings to crack or collapse altogether. sure enough, fissures began to open up around the city, and the government therefore began planning to move the entire city center two miles to the east, a move that will start this year and be completed in 2034. this is a massive project, with all sorts of psychological and sociological implications: how do you make anything beyond the most minor life decisions when your entire town is in limbo? how do you redesign an entire community, and what happens to its memories?

so, let’s look at kiruna while we still can:

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kiruna architecture: some charming, some not quite so charming.
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i do not know what “obs snöras” means, but i like how it looks. meet me at the corner of a lot of syllables and even more syllables.
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the city center, with inexplicable metal sculptures.
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a fantastic clock tower on the town hall, foundlings left outside the public library, and, just outside the city center, above it all, the mine.

February 26, 2015

dog sledding in kiruna

Filed under: general — Tags: , , , — cohn17 @ 1:53 pm

for my 50th birthday, we went dog sledding in kiruna, in swedish lapland. why, you ask? because i like dogs, and when we were in albania in 2008, we met a guy who had gone dog sledding in finland, and he put a bug in my ear that was still there seven years later. so … to celebrate 50 years of not dying yet, we met some friends for the weekend in copenhagen, and then we all went up to the arctic circle where it still was warmer than anything our friends and family were experiencing in massachusetts, dc or new york; and after an overnight stay in a cabin at the company’s lodge, we had breakfast, suited up (thermal underwear, sweats, a thermal jumpsuit, hat and gloves) and met our dog teams. our guide gave us a quick lesson on how to steer the dogs, and off we went! and off we each promptly fell at the first big turn – it isn’t as easy as it looks.

my dogs and i bonded.

my dogs and i bonded.

my dogs turned out to be very easy to manage once i got the hang of it, and also were very friendly. as it happened, they all were female, and all in heat, so i went first (after the guide’s sled) to keep the other teams of dogs running in the right direction.

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dogs at camp; sleds ready to go; my team – risti, selka, smita and darro.

it’s hard to describe the experience: it is like sledding, of course, but also a little like water-skiing, in that you have to keep your legs loose so you can manage the hills and bumps without falling off. the dogs followed the lead sled, so we just had to use the braking mechanisms judiciously to keep from tipping over on the turns, or to create a drag on the downhill parts (so we wouldn’t run the sled into the hind dogs’ legs). otherwise, we just admired the views while feeling the wind rushing past. abby took a video that shows it pretty well:

we spent two hours out on the first leg of our journey, and then stopped for lunch in a cabin out in the woods, where we met other dogsledding teams, before heading back. once at camp, we took the dogs off the harness, gave them snacks and dinner, and then piled into our cabin to relax before our own meal. the camp had neither electricity nor running water – instead, we drew water from a hole cut into the meter-thick ice covering the lake, cooked over propane, dined by candlelight, and heated the cabins with wood stoves. very rustic, but very comfortable.

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lunch in the woods; selka bedded down for the night; camp in the early morning.

one of my hopes had been to see the northern lights, and on our first night in the wild (and my 50th birthday itself), we saw them. at first, i was surprised, because – for reasons i don’t understand – in the sky, they look something like this:

when the camera captures the sky, however, it sees this:

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this may become an annual tradition.

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