Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

14 March 2020

Guest post: Giordania alla scoperta dei luoghi biblici, di Carlotta Garilesi

Monte Nebo
Da inizierò a pubblicare post in collaborazione con Rolling Pandas. Spero siano di gradimento dei miei lettori.

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Che decidiate di svolgere un pellegrinaggio a Canaan o che siate solo curiosi, la visita dei siti biblici della Giordania è un viaggio indimenticabile e ricco di storia ed emozioni.

Monte Nebo

Secondo ciò che è scritto nel Deuteronomio, Mosè affrontò un’arrampicata sul Monte Nebo per ricevere da Dio la mostra della Terra Promessa prima di morire da lì a pochi giorni.

Sulla cima più alta, intorno ai 710 metri, sono stati ritrovati negli anni ‘30 i resti di una chiesa e di un monastero bizantini costruiti in commemorazione alla morte di Mosè.

Betania oltre il fiume Giordano

Sulla riva destra di questo fiume trovate Betania, un luogo importante per le Sacre Scritture. La prima citazione di questa meta nella Bibbia si ha nel secondo libro dei Re dell’Antico Testamento in cui, sulle rive del Giordano, il profeta Elia ascese in paradiso con carro e cavalli infuocati dopo aver nominato Eliseo come suo successore.

Dopo secoli il luogo acquistò popolarità grazie alle predicazioni e ai battesimi effettuati nelle sorgenti nei pressi del fiume Giordano da Giovanni Battista che solitamente riposava in una caverna vicino alle sorgenti di “Saphsaphas”, dove era solito ricevere le visite di Gesù. Intorno alla grotta di Giovanni fu costruito nel V secolo un monastero che comprendeva quattro chiese.

Riscoperta verso gli anni ‘90 dell’Ottocento, Betania oltre il Giordano tornò in auge come luogo di pellegrinaggio cristiano nel ‘900, in particolare dopo il 1994 (anno del trattato di pace israelo-giordano).

Sulla meta vi sono cartelli esplicativi e visite guidate che descrivono le vicende che si sono susseguite sulle rive del Giordano durante i secoli.

Umm Qais

Le leggende narrano che qui Gesù abbia esorcizzato un uomo pazzo trasferendo i suoi demoni ad un branco di maiali annegati, dopo una corsa folle giù dalle colline, nel mar di Galilea.

La città si trova su una collinetta da dove si possono ammirare il già nominato mar di Galilea, ma anche le Alture del Golan, il Monte Hermon e la Valle del Giordano.

Gadara si aggiudica la menzione di ciò che c’è da vedere in Giordania non solo per i suoi punti panoramici e la sua eredità religiosa, ma anche per le sue estese rovine: due teatri in basalto, bagni pubblici, un acquedotto, una basilica e il decumano massimo ancora in parte conservati, ogni angolo è la prova dell’antico splendore della città ormai scomparsa.

Mar Morto
Mar Morto

Una delle mete più conosciute per le numerose citazioni nella Bibbia, il Mar Morto nell’immaginario religioso è principalmente conosciuto per le vicende di Sodoma e Gomorra.
Nel libro della Genesi si dice che rivelò ad Abramo la sua intenzione di distruggere le due città perché «il loro peccato era molto grave». Due angeli ricevettero, quindi, l’incarico di distruggerle, ma arrivati a Sodoma, vennero accolti da Lot, nipote di Abramo, che chiese loro di risparmiare le città. Dopo aver rifiutato, la moglie di Lot iniziò a fuggire, ma si girò e fu trasformata in statua di sale, motivo per cui sulle coste del Mar Morto è comune vedere delle formazioni rocciose simili a delle figure che vengono spesso identificate proprio nella moglie di Lot.

Nelle sue vicinanze, in particolare nel villaggio di Safi sorge la grotta dove si presume che Lot e le sue due figlie abbiano vissuto dopo essere scappati da Sodoma.

Eppure, il Mar Morto è diventato importante nella seconda metà del ‘900 anche per i ritrovamenti archeologici: i manoscritti, i primi trovati nel 1946, sono datati tra il III secolo a.C. e il I secolo d.C.

Consigli Utili Prima di Partire per la Giordania

Partire per la Giordania per scoprire i luoghi biblici può essere davvero un'esperienza unica, un viaggio attraverso l'incredibile storia di questa terra, che oltre alle destinazioni appena descritte ha davvero tanto da offrire. Dalle rovine degli insediamenti romani a Jerash e Azraq ai primi insediamenti greci nella regione visitabili a Umm Qais, passando per i castelli crociati Karak e Shobak, la Giordania è decisamente una delle destinazioni che maggiormente attirano gli appassionati di storia, in particolare del mondo antico.

La Giordania è inoltre nota per gli incantevoli paesaggi naturalistici, la bellezza unica delle barriere coralline del Mar Rosso esplorabili ad Aqaba ed ancora una lunga tradizione culinaria che sapranno rendere indimenticabile il tuo viaggio in Giordania.

Di seguito vogliamo lasciarvi con qualche consiglio utile prima della partenza.

Come arrivare in Giordania

Se state cercando un volo per la Giordania vi consigliamo di effettuare la vostra ricerca sull'aeroporto internazionale Queen Alia (AMM) che si trova 35 km a sud di Amman.

Sono molti gli aeroporti che dall'Italia servono questa tratta e prenotando con anticipo è possibile trovare biglietti aerei a prezzi davvero bassi. L'aeroporto italiano dal quale è possibile trovare le migliori tariffe è quello di Milano Malpensa. Acquistando infatti i biglietti con qualche mese di anticipo rispetto alla partenza è possibile trovare offerte a partire da 80 euro a persona per andata e ritorno. Altro consiglio poi se partite dall'aeroporto di Milano è prenotare per tempo anche la tua sosta presso l'aerostazione milanese. Anche in questo caso, la prenotazione in anticipo sulla partenza ti permette di risparmiare e di poter trovare il miglior parcheggio Malpensa low cost in relazione alle vostre esigenze.

Quando andare in Giordania

In Giordania il clima e le temperature variano molto in relazione alla zona del paese che desiderate visitare, per le differenze di altitudine che contraddistingue il territorio. Ad esempio ad Amman, così come il resto della Giordania settentrionale è solitamente più freddo rispetto al resto del paese.

Se dobbiamo consigliare un periodo nel quale visitare la Giordania, sicuramente più piacevole sarà organizzare la vostra partenza alla scoperta dei luoghi sacri durante la primavera o l'autunno, quando i luoghi di maggior interesse non sono affollati da turisti ed le temperature sono ideali per le escursioni a piedi. L'estate infatti è solitamente contraddistinta da un clima torrido e temperature elevate soprattutto nella zona del Mar Morto. L'inverno invece può essere molto rigido ed in questo periodo molte attività turistiche sono sospese.

Si ricorda infine che in Giordania si segue il Ramadan durante il nono mese del calendario musulmano, durante il quale i fedeli, la maggior parte della popolazione, digiunano e si astengono dal bere durante tutte le ore diurne. Anche se i turisti non sono obbligati a seguire queste regole, mangiare in pubblico durante questo periodo è considerato da molti una mancanza di rispetto ed inoltre la disponibilità di servizi e gli orari di apertura di molte attrazioni turistiche, in particolare nei luoghi biblici, possono diventare decisamente irregolari.

Il nostro consiglio è quello di non perdere la possibilità di compiere un viaggio in Giordania per un’esperienza all’insegna di emozioni, storia e spiritualità.

Puoi comprare libri per preparare il viaggio in Giordania qui.



12 October 2019

Tempio Sikh e ristorante italiano

Mi avvio a piedi verso un tempio Sikh, ma fa troppo caldo e mi piego alla forza maggiore ordinando un "Grab" la versione locale di Uber, solo più economica e rapidissima.

Arriviamo dopo pochi minuti, scendo e mi avvio all'interno. Da fuori non dice nulla, non ci sarei mai entrato se non me lo avesse consigliato un conoscente locale.

Al tempio vengo accolto un po' freddamente da un omone al botteghino, mi presta un fazzoletto per coprirmi la testa. C'è una piccola sala per pregare e una molto più grande sala per mangiare.

In una enorme cucina con pentoloni che sembrano piccole vasche da bagno sono al lavoro i cuochi. Uomini e donne al lavoro, gli uomini cucinano mentre le donne preparano l'impasto per somoza. Alcuni ragazzi sulla trentina, sorridenti e disinvolti, scaldano l'olio nei pentoloni mentre altri pre

Prima scaldano olio, ne versano forse 30 litri in una pentola, quando bolle ci versano impasto vegetariano. Intanto su una griglia grande come un tavolo da biliardo preparano le cialde rotonde e riso e quando sono pronti ne assaggio un piatto molto saporito.








La sera cambio radicalmente cucina!

vera caprese italiana

Carpaccio di ricciola
La sera cedo ad una tentazione come non faccio mai: vado ad un ristorante italiano all'estero. Non conviene quasi ma, quello buoni costano troppo e quelli economici fanno pena. Ha ragione mia moglie a dire che il rapporto qualità prezzo è molto meglio in quelli cinesi. Buon italiano estero diventa troppo spesso alta cucina. Ma non mangio italiano da oltre un mese e ne ho voglia.

Il ristorante italiano stasera si chiama "Otto", perché 8 è il numero fortunato dei cinesi e perché han cominciato nel 2008. Il patron Paolo è ligure con socio chef di Treviso, Sta da 11 anni a Singapore, propone un Fine Dining creativo. Scelgo un menù degustazione. Piatti caldi, buon segno.

Maialino da latte croccante



ravioli al brasato di vitello

L'olio d'oliva è servito in un padellino microscopico, devo sempre chiedere di rabboccare come fosse oro liquido ma sono molto gentili e generosi e me lo rabboccano un sacco di volte.

Il menù è di grande soddisfazione, sia di quantità che di qualità. L'ho recensito qui.

Accanto a me un tavolo di malesi, evidentemente danarosi, Paolo mi dice che sono clienti abituali. Partono di Solaia, resto colpito ma solo per poco per minuto dopo Paolo stappa un Sassicaia 2003! Costa 808 sing dollari, prezzi finiscono quasi sempre in 8, per invogliare i clienti cinesi.





24 May 2018

Guernsey and its Little Chapel

Visit to the "Little Chapel" is part of a tour we did as part of our one-day visit to this island, which is not part of the UK though it uses the pound sterling, accepts most laws and standards and lets London run its foreign policy and defense.

Description of Little Chapel from the Visitguernsey website:

The Little Chapel was a work of art and labor of love built by Brother Déodat, who started work in March 1914. His plan was to create a miniature version of the famous grotto and basilica at Lourdes in France. The version you see today is actually the third version.

The first, measuring a tiny 9 feet long by 4.5 feet wide, was criticized, so Brother Deodat spent the following night demolishing the building. He soon set to work again and, in July 1914, the grotto was completed and officially blessed. This survived until September 1923; Brother Deodat demolished it in that month because the Bishop of Portsmouth had not been able to fit through the doorway.

He soon set about the construction of a third chapel - which we see today. The building operation proved laborious, collecting pebbles and broken china to decorate the shrine. Then suddenly the Little Chapel became famous, thanks to an illustrated article in the Daily Mirror. Presents poured in from around the world and Islanders brought colored china to Les Vauxbelets with the Lieutenant-Governor offering remarkable mother-of-pearl.

In 1939 Brother Deodat returned to France because of ill health. After his departure, the care of the Little Chapel was entrusted to Brother Cephas, who continued to decorate the building until his retirement in 1965. In 1977, a committee was established to restore the chapel and today it falls under the care of The Little Chapel Foundation.

There is no charge to enter the Chapel as it relies totally on public donations.






Tribute to the crew in kitchens and restaurants at the end of the cruise!

18 December 2017

Book review: The Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy (2015) by J. J. Robinson, ****

Islamic Center in Malé
Synopsis

The Maldives is a small and beautiful archipelago south of India, more renowned for luxury resorts than experiments in democracy. It is a country of contradictions, where tourists sip cocktails on the beach while on nearby islands local women are flogged for extramarital sex and blackmarket vodka costs $140 a bottle. Until 2008 the Maldives also hosted Asia's longest-serving dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. A former political prisoner, Mohamed Nasheed, an environmental activist, journalist, and politician, brought Gayoom's thirty-year autocracy to a sudden end, in the Maldives' first democratic elections.

Young, progressive and charismatic, President Nasheed thrust the Maldives into the spotlight as a symbol of the fight against climate change and the struggle for democracy and human rights in one of the world's strictest Islamic societies. But dictatorships are hard to defeat, enduring in a country's institutions and the minds of people conditioned to autocracy over three decades. Democracy brought turmoil, protests, violence and intense political polarisation.The ousted dictatorship overthrew Nasheed's government in February 2012, supported by Islamic radicals and mutinying security forces. Amid Byzantine intrigue, the fight for democracy was just beginning. (Amazon)


Review

It is unusual for a book entirely dedicated to the Maldives to come out, and here it is from an English journalist who lived and worked there for four years. The book is a compendium of his time there. It touches upon many aspects of Maldivian life, with special attention to the political dimension. Loads of facts and footnotes but also some opinions and evaluations. The book is written loosely in chronological manner, and it ends with the author's departure in 2013.

The general approach is typically English, ie detached. John J gets to know a lot about the Maldives but one does not get the impression he ever fell in love with the country, or was emotionally involved with it at all. But that is not a criticism, in fact perhaps it is a good thing in a journalist!

What the book lacks is a more critical organization of the issues, but perhaps as a journalistic chronicle it was never intended to delve in political analysis. Still, you will find more raw material for political analysis her than in any other book I know of that has been written on this country in the last decades.

I recommend reading this book to understand more about a country known mostly for its resorts.





10 November 2016

Book review: Hunan Harvest (1946) by Theophane Maguire, ****

Synopsis

Diary of a young American Passionist missionary who is sent deep into China to preach and help. Theophane is just twenty-five years old when he travels to Hunan, learns the language and starts four years of intensive work against all odds.

According to the Passionist Historical Archives, Father Theophane Maguire, C.P., St. Paul of the Cross Province (1898-1975) was born in Wayne, Pennsylvania. He attended St. Joseph's Jesuit Prep in Philadelphia. There he became interested in the Passionists and decided to enter the novitiate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On August 13, 1917 he professed his vows and received the name Theophane. He was ordained on October 28, 1923 and quickly was assigned to the Passionist mission in Hunan, China. After he returned from the mission in 1929 he wrote Hunan Harvest which was published in 1946.

Back in the United States he went to Pittsburgh and eventually to Union City where he was editor of Sign magazine. Later in Pittsburgh he did fund-raising and worked at the retreat house. His later years were at the Passionist monastery, North Palm Beach, Florida. His last days were spent at the Passionist infirmary of Brighton, Massachusetts.


Review

Unique book by an ardent Christian missionary in one of the least known provinces of China. Magire writes well and draws the reader into the harsh reality he experiences every day.


He is very dedicated to the people of Hunan, but even more to their souls, which he wants to "harvest" for Jesus Christ. It is an attitude one often finds in Christian missionaries around the world.   While he humbly serves his superiors and is truly compassionate with the Chinese, he does betray a kind of complex of superiority. He writes (p.24) that training of missionaries in the local languages is a good idea because "it is a matter of results, which in this case is to be reckoned in souls. We were to deliver a doctrine entirely new to these people. We were to deliver a message that is supernatural. It is opposed to beliefs that are rooted in centuries of obstinate tradition. it slashes at old habits and widely observed superstitions." Well many Chinese are superstitious indeed, but I am not sure they are more so than Westerners on average, and in any case the incredible wealth of Chinese culture can hardly be dismissed as just a matter of superstition,. many would argue that religion itself, any religion, is superstition.

While he does endure lots of suffering, one can see he and his colleagues are often privileged compared to their fellow Chinese helpers: for example he is depicted as traveling on horseback while his Chinese companions are on foot.

At the end of the book, he seems to worry more about the future of Christian proselytism in Hunan than about the horrors of the civil war or the gathering storm of the Japanese invasion.

Another interesting aspect of the book is that he pays a lot of attention to the minorities of China, especially the Miao people whom he met on several occasions.

He is also a careful painter of scenes of everyday life in rural China where warlords called the shots and the rule of law enforced by the state was nowhere to be seen: the Emperor is far away, as an old Chinese saying goes.

The book is also valuable because it contains lots of drawings that convey a sense of the atmosphere where father Maguire worked for four years. I reproduce them here.

























14 January 2016

Film review: Ju Dou (1990), by Zhang Yimou, ****

 Synopsis


In Zhang Yimou and Fengliang Yang's sensuous, Oscar-nominated Ju Dou (1990), billowing bolts of red, yellow and blue dyed silk have more freedom than any of the main characters, who are cut off from the possibility of happiness by circumstances and convention.

The trouble starts early, when Tian-qing (Li Baotian) returns from a long road trip and first sets eyes on his new aunt, the beautiful young Ju Dou (Gong Li). Tian-qing's selfish, harsh silk-dyer uncle Jin-shan (Li Wei) - who reluctantly took Tian-qing in after his parents died - has already gone through two wives, and at first his third seems likely to join her predecessors. Jin-shan routinely beats and humiliates Ju Dou at night, berating her for failing to give him a son (he blames her despite his own impotence and sterility).

Tian-qing is drawn to his lovely, sorrowful "aunt," and eventually they begin a torrid affair. But the strict rules and customs of 1920s China make it impossible for them to build a life together, even after Jin-shan becomes paralyzed and Ju Dou gives birth to Tian-qing's son (whom Jin-shan claims as his own).




Review

A gripping story about how tradition and cultural context can make it impossible to find happiness. Wealth, prestige, beauty, strength, youth all abound in the big house of the cloth dyer, but no one is happy. And it is unhappiness of their own making. The bad old man has his evident faults, he seems to attract hate like a magnet. The young couple is brave and fight for their rights, at least as we can tell with XXI century eyes. But they also err in taking on a battle against their world (feudal rural China) and impossible odds.

Even the little boy who is born out of wedlock in this cruel environment becomes evil very soon in his life, and after his "official" father drowns in a pool of color dye he can only smile and seems bent on perpetuating his heartless character. He viciously kills his biological father when he realizes they are all the object of gossip in the village.

The final fire that consumes the dye factory is perhaps the only satisfying scene of the film, and I read it as a depiction of the last vestiges of feudalism in China crumbling down with the onslaught of modernity. Very good photography in this film. It is paradoxical that the long rolls of cloth of the dye factory give so much color to a very sad and dark story. The DVD is technically poor, seems a bad digitalization from a film roll, for this I take out one star.

The erotic charge is strong in some scenes in this movie and it is always present in the background, but very indirectly. I would not say this is an erotic tale. No nudity at all is to be seen, presumably to get past the Chinese censor.

See more reviews of films about China here on this blog.





25 December 2015

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

Roman Imperial repoussé silverdisc of Sol Invictus (3rd century), found at Pessinus (British Museum)
The birthday of the unconquered sun marked the end of the Saturnalia since 274 AD when Aurelian apparently wanted to revive a much older cult of the Sun in Rome.

Saturnalia was originally a holiday created by Emperor Augustus to celebrate Saturn, on 17th December -- my birthday! It then developed into a week-long festival, the craziest week in ancient Rome, where people made merry with food, wine and more and even slaves were allowed to indulge in excesses that would have been punished by death at any other time.

The date coincides, closely enough, with the shortest day of the year (which the Romans believed to be 25 December whereas we know it is 21 December). Light prevails over darkness and days start getting longer again, an occasion to celebrate indeed.

Then the Christians took it over during the reign of Emperor Constantine, who had accepted Christianity as a religion of the Empire. The Church decided that Christ had chosen to be born on the shortest day of the year, after which light again starts to prevail, to symbolize his contribution to the rebirth of humankind.

I feel it's too bad that the ancient tradition of Saturnalia is gone. Not so much for the sake of Saturn, of course. But rather for what it symbolized: fun and naughtiness for a week but strict rule of Roman law for the whole year!



01 December 2015

Film review: Earth (1998) by Deepa Mehta, ****

Synopsis

Earth, the second film in Deepa Mehta's controversial trilogy is an emotionally devastating love story set within the sweeping social upheaval and violence of 1947 India. As her country teeters on the brink of self rule and instability, 8-year old Lenny, an innocent girl from an affluent family, is in danger of having her world turned upside down. As the simmering violence around them reaches a boiling point, Lenny's beautiful nanny Shanta (Nandita Das) falls in love with one of Lenny's heroes, the charismatic and peace-advocating Hassan. Love, however, can be dangerous when religious differences are tearing the country apart, and friendships and loyalty are put to the test. Building to a shattering climax, Earth is a devastating human drama in which desire unfolds into a stirring tale of love and the ultimate betrayal.


Review

This is a good movie about the dramatic partition events of 1947. It show the conflict between Muslims and Hindus though the eyes of a parsi family. Parsis are a Zoroastrian community that constitutes a substantial minority in the Mumbai area and were often caught between their two large neighbors. No happy ending, and indeed the history of India and Pakistan since then sadly shows that beyond doubt.

The movie is harrowing, Mehta does not refrain from showing horrific violence, if indirectly but not less shockingly for that. The question of identity in India is addressed in depth, with friends and neighbors who shared a lifetime finding themselves on the opposite side of the fence.

It's probably my least favorite movies among the three of Mehta's trilogy because it relates to well known events, while the other two address much less discussed issues in Indian society like child abuse, family violence and homosexuality. Aamir Khan is great as usual.  Aamir Khan is great as usual. I take one star off because compared to Fire and Water this is just a bit predictable.

See my other reviews of films on India in this blog.

In the UK buy it here



Available from Amazon.us

22 May 2014

Recensione: Il mappamondo con la Cina al centro (2007), di Margherita Redaelli, ****

Matteo Ricci in Cina
Sinossi

Confrontarsi con la Cina: una sfida dei nostri tempi? L'impresa non è nuova se già quattrocento anni fa Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), gesuita e missionario, vi riuscì con risultati sorprendenti, utilizzando tecniche di gestione della diversità culturale che hanno ancora oggi molto da insegnare.

Il libro analizza il contenuto di queste tecniche e la ragione del loro successo. Rintraccia le idee filosofiche e scientifiche della cultura occidentale che Ricci divulgò in Cina e mette a confronto per la prima volta i suoi scritti con i classici greci e latini ai quali faceva riferimento. Si fa chiaro, allora, che la cultura umanistica del Ricci, ricostruita qui attraverso nuove ricerche d'archivio, gli permise di farsi mediatore tra due grandi civiltà.

Tra i tanti contributi del gesuita alla società che lo ospitò, spicca quello geografico. Infatti Ricci produsse la prima carta geografica del mondo per l'imperatore Ming, ed in questa carta la Cina appariva, come è logico, al centro.

clicca qui pervedere il mappamondo in dimensione originale
Il mappamondo con la Cina al centro di Matteo Ricci
Recensione

Originalissimo libro di una studiosa italiana su uno dei più importanti contatti tra Europa e Cina al tempo della dinastia Ming. Ricci era un gesuita ma anche un uomo di scienza e come tale fu accolto ed apprezzato alla corte di Pechino. Curioso che, mentre Ricci insegnava geografia ed astronomia in Cina, a Roma Giordano Bruno veniva messo al rogo e Galileo obbligato a rinnegare la propria scienza.

La parte più interessante del libro è la seconda, che racconta del Ricci in Cina. La prima, forse troppo lunga (62 pagine) è sulla sua formazione in Italia.

Contributo centrale del Ricci è il metodo dell'inculturazione tramite il quale egli si integra culturalmente nelle alte sfere della civiltà cinese senza però cadere in trappole sincretistiche. Ricci non solo imparò il cinese, ma studiò il confucianesimo ed il buddismo per trovare punti di contatto tramite i quali perseguire l'opera di proselitismo.

Il libro contiene anche ricche appendici documentative. Quello che purtroppo manca è una descrizione più dettagliata della vita del Ricci in Cina, dei suoi problemi quotidiani, dei suoi contatti con la corte imperiale.




Trovi qui in questo blog la mia bibliografia sulla Cina.

You can read an English bio of matteo Ricci here.

01 March 2014

An Italian actress in London

Celeste is a 29-yo Italian artist who has been here a couple of years. She is from Puglia and tried a career in Rome but as so often the case there were too many insurmountable obstacles for her to have a chance. So she moved to London and now works at a major theater in Soho. She has adjusted to life in London effortlessly, her English is excellent and she is quite flexible in adapting to the environment.

Their budget being limited, she and her boyfriend usually share a house or an apartment with other students or young couples. She tells me that she met many good and interesting people, but had several problems with muslim families. She has been repeatedly insulted by their men for wearing a skirt above the knee (inside her own house!). Her boyfriend has been accused of assault for having the temerity to enter the shared kitchen space while the Bangladeshi wife was already there cooking something or other.

The Bengali couple called the police who came and immediately realized the young Italian man had done nothing wrong but advised them to find another accommodation without muslim roommates as these episodes were all too common.

30 December 2012

Film review: Water (2006), by Deepa Mehta, *****

Synopsis

Set against the epic backdrop of the River Ganges in 1938 during Mahatma Gandhi's rise to power, this is the inspiring tale of an eight year old Hindu girl named Chuyia. Chuyia's life is suddenly changed when she is widowed and sent to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. She refuses to accept her fate and her feisty presence begins to affect the lives of other residents, including a beautiful young widow, Kalyani (Lisa Ray of Bollywood/Hollywood) who has fallen in love with Ghandian idealist, Narayan (Bollywood star John Abraham).

Extremist groups waged a campaign of death threats, arson and riots to stop the production of this controversial film, but director Deepa Mehta would not be silenced. Set against Gandhi's rise to power, Water tells the profoundly moving story of Chuyia, an Indian girl married and widowed at eight years old, who is sent away to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. Chuyia's feisty presence deeply affects the other residents, forcing each to confront their faith and society's prejudices.


23 December 2012

Mithraeum of Santa Prisca in Rome

Today I have visited a small secret of ancient Rome. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in exploring off the beaten track ancient Rome.


Una descrizione in italiano e istruzioni per la visita sono presenti su questo sito. Consiglio anche un sito completo su Roma antica sotterranea.


Description

In 1934 the Augustinian Fathers accidentally discovered a Mithreum, a place of cult consecrated to the God Mithra, under the Church of Santa Prisca. The Mithreum was built using the walls of a house dating back to the first century A.D. and of a building of the second century with two naves on which the church was built later.

There is a niche in the rear wall bearing an inscription in the vault that proves the Mithreum was already in use in the year 202 A.D.. The statue of the cult representing Mithra killing a bull and a Saturn lying down built with fragments of amphorae covered with stucco are placed in the niche. The Mithreum was destroyed violently around 400 A.D., probably by the Christians before the Church of Santa Prisca was built. (From Romacapitale)

The Mithraeum later became a Christian church


My visit

Very appropriately I visited on 23rd December, which is when the Romans celebrated the cult of the sun god venerated in Mithraism. We were a small group of six and were led into the chamber by our tour guide and a custodian.

Statue of Coates symbolizing the dawn of the sun
It is possible to take photographs in the Mithaeum but without a flash.

20 August 2012

The Terunyan (or Trunyan) of Bali, Indonesia



The Terunyan cemetery

A day trip from Ubud to a rather atypical destination: the village of the Terunyan (or Trunyan) a "Balai Aga" (aborigenal people of Bali). Their name comes from Taru (tree) and menyan (fragrance) and I will return to the importance of this fragrance in a moment. These people date way back to before Hindus came to Bali, where they now constitute over 90% of the population, an anomaly in Indonesia which is mostly muslim.

As I read from a local information board (I slightly adapted the English):

The Terunyan village is situated at the foot of Mount Abang, in remote and isolated locations on the eastern coast of the Batur lake. The Terunyan society calls the community of Bali "Aga" (native). In Terunyan there is a temple called Pura Pancering Jagat. In addition, in the village, the houses still reflect a traditional home. Near this villave there ia a cemetery that can only be reached by boat via the lake.

Unlike other Balinese cultures, these people do not cremate their dead. The bodies of the deceased are just laid on the ground within fenced "ancak saji" (woven bamboo). Women are generally not allowed to attend the ceremonial processions that accompany the dead to their final resting place. (Actually it is not quite "final" as I will elaborate below.) This is because of a belief that if women were allowed to partake of funeral processions this would produce a curse for the whole village.

Interestingly, these bodies do not smell after decomposition begins. This is believed to be the consequence of the Menyan Taru trees (taru = trees, menyan = fragrant) that grow just next to the graves.




A unique experience, if a quiet and sober one. Not rally an "attraction of Bali", which is how Tripadvisor classifies it. Some contributors to this most useful website compared how much time was needed to visit Tetunyan and trip prices to rafting or market browsing.




There are actually three cemeteries. The first is for children. It is called the Semà (cemetery) Muda (youth). The second one is the Semà Bantasi and it is for those who die in accidents or because of illness.

The third one, which we visited, is called the Semà Wayah (old people) and it  is for people who were married and die of natural old age. Only eleven people are buried there at any one time. When additional elderly people die, the ones who were placed there first are moved to an adjacent site and their skulls and bones are lined up.

As for the trees, I could indeed small a fragrance, but won't attempt to analyze what effect this can have on the preservation of the cadavers. The legend has it that in the old days the elderly were asked what to do with these trees, whose smell was so strong that it made people sneeze all the time. They advised villagers to plant the trees next to the dead so that the stench from decomposition would be balanced with the fragrance.

Our local guide Agung also relates another legend according to which the stench of the dead is sucked in by a network of natural tunnels under the cemetery.

Great book about Bali:

16 May 2012

Film Review: Samsara (2001), by Pan Nalin, ****

Synopsis

The film was released in 2001 and remains a classic in its genre. A spiritual love-story set in the majestic landscape of Ladakh, Himalayas. Samsara is a quest; one man's struggle to find spiritual Enlightenment by renouncing the world. And one woman's struggle to keep her enlightened love and life in the world. But their destiny turns, twists and comes to a surprise ending... Written by Monsoon Films. Tashi has been raised as a Buddhist monk since age five. When he gets erotic phantasms as an adolescent, his spiritual master decides it's time to taste profane life, sending him on a journey in the real Himalayan world. Once he is told his hottest dream was real, Tashi decides to leave the monastery and marries Pema, the daughter of a rich farmer, who was actually engaged with local stone-mason Jamayang. The ex-lama soon becomes a rich land-owner himself, and makes a killing from his harvest by bringing it to the city instead of selling at half price to the local merchant Dewa, but half of his next harvest perishes in a fire, yet he comes trough and raises a bright son, Karma. After committing infidelity, contemplated for years, and as he later hears from the promiscuous Indian labourer girl, Tashi reconsiders his life... Written by KGF Vissers

01 May 2011

8. - 1 MAY: Kunming Western mountains, flight to Chongqing

Morning to the Western Mountains, it’s May 1st, officially Workers' Day in China, so EVERYONE is out enjoying the sunshine and the city parks. There are so many Chinese tourists, and not a few foreigners, that it is literally difficult to move around in the park.

Hundreds of souvenir stands line up the walk from the parking lot to the site, and with tons of junk I spot a few nostalgic items, like Mao’s little red book, sold here in countless versions and many languages. I have already a few copies at home from my last trip, so I pass, and anyway prices are going up for the real ones, printed when Mao was alive. I suppose they must be getting scarcer, even though billions must have been printed during the Cultural Revolution.

Interesting talk with our guide Xu. He says Kunming is becoming a sought after destination for retirement: good climate (between 15 and 30° C year round, they don’t use much either heating or A/C), less crowded than the big cities of the coast, lower prices. Lots of effort to clean up the air, many scooters are now electric, cost about 400 euros and 5-6 euros per month in recharges. There is fresh fruits available year round, the red earth is rich and fertile, also lots of tobacco as cash crop. Quite a few from the West are moving here as well, he says, though that is more surprising to me.

I see a lot of police around, Xu says it’s because of drugs, we are near the “golden triangle” here and there is smugglers coming in from Burma.

Short visit to old downtown Kunming, just a street or two with a few old buildings and a live pet market that are included in all the tourist itineraries. Nothing much at all. Kunming is a new, vibrant and growing city, pretty impressive.

I am irritated by some of the comments of my companions who express regret that the good old times are gone, when homes in China were made of wood, there was no electricity, no cars, no plumbing... the usual litany of "it was better when it was worse".

More interestingly, I meet a couple of friendly old ladies, it is very hard to understand each other but they speak a few words of English and make it a point to underline to me that they are christians. They can say so more or less openly now, but remember well the times when they feared for their lives...

29 August 2010

18° g - 29 AGO: Delhi, tempio Sikh e partenza per l'Europa

Ultimo giorno di viaggio. Ancora una volta, molto a malincuore, lascio l’India. Ma so che tornerò presto. Quasi non mi sembra più di essere in viaggio quando vengo in India....


02 January 2010

5. - 2 JAN: Lalibela

Get up very early to try and get to the monolithic Lalibela churches and find room to witness the orthodox Christian ceremonies. Our hotel is a bit far from the center, so we had agreed with the guide to tell the driver to be ready at 5. Mistake: should have told the driver directly. As it was, there was miscommunication between the two and by 5:30am we start walking. It takes about half an hour to get to the main churches. The cool morning air makes walking rather pleasant and we join thousands of pilgrims who are also on their way. It is still pitch dark.

By the time we get there the small spaces inside the Churches are already overflowing with the faithful praying and singing. Most of THEM can't make it inside, so I guess it is only fair that we, visitors, should stay out. No sweat, this is not really a problem, for two reasons. Anyway, many of the functions actually take place outside, in the courtyards around the churches, so we are not missing all the action. In fact come noon most of the action is outside, with musicians and drummers attracting the pilgrims attention in the open spaces by the churches.

18 November 2009

Film Review: Kurdish Yezidis (2009) by Florence Gavage, *****


Synopsis
According to ancient legend, in the beginning God created a white pearl and a bird. He then created seven angels including Melek Taus, the peacock angel whom he made the greatest of them all. To make land, He threw Lalish into the water which made it solid. And so the seven Angels went ashore at Lalish.  These people, the Yezidis, believe that they were the very first inhabitants on earth when the world was created. Yezidism is one of the most unusual and unknown religions on earth. It has survived during the centuries despite its status as an unrecognized religion under Islamic rule, and through many onslaughts against its Kurdish followers. 

Review
This is a unique documentary on a little known people. The director has done thorough research and has traveled not only to Iraq to document the life of contemporary Yezidis, but also to various countries to meet Yezidi diaspora.

You can view Part 1/2 here:



You can vew Part 2/2 here:

14 November 2009

Film review: The Last Assyrians, by Robert Alaux, ****

For six years Robert Alaux researched and wrote this documentary. It is the first film that tells the complete history of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac people. History overlooks how they suffered from massacres, hunger and starvation during the1915 genocide; and the international community has not protected these people in their homeland after decades of mass exodus.

Despite their pain and suffering this indigenous Christian community, including the Diaspora, seek justice, peace, prosperity, security, and solidarity in the Middle East. From their ancient beginning in Mesopotamia to their present existence in the Middle East and around the world, the story of the last people to speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. I wish to thank Faito Doc Festival for having shown this movie to me and Robert Alaux for having presented it in Brussels.

This is a passionate accunt of the plight of an ancient people and a significant diaspora who can't really hope to have their own state but have been fighting to preserve their identity.

You can watch a trailer of this movie here. 

DVD available in English et en français. Contact the director here.