Whenever Michelangelo received a commission to sculpt a statue, he would travel to the Carrarra marble quarries. That night, he would sleep in the quarries. The light of dawn would illuminate the white marble, causing the unpolished surfaces to sparkle. At that moment, he would see the form of a slave or a disciple or a god imprisoned in the marble and say, with appropriate drama, “There! That is the piece I must have!”

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Michelangelo’s David

Today we visited the Accademia Gallery in Florence,  the home of Michelangelo’s David.

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Rumi, popularly known as Mevlânâ (My Master) in Turkey,  is a Persian poet of the 12th century who is currently the bestselling poet in America, and revered across the world.


Mosque and site of Rumi’s tomb

Orignally born in Afghanistan, Rumi and his family moved west to flee the Mongols invading Central Asia.

“According to hagiographical account which is not agreed upon by all Rumi scholars, Rumi encountered one of the most famous mystic Persian poets, Attar, in the Iranian city of Nishapur, located in the province of Khorāsān. Attar immediately recognized Rumi’s spiritual eminence. He saw the father walking ahead of the son and said, “Here comes a sea followed by an ocean.” (Wikipedia).

Eventually Rumi ended up in Konya, in what is now Turkey.

For years he served as an Islamic jurist, until he met the dervish Shams. This friendship changed his life completely. Shams encouraged him to pursue his poetry. This friendship transformed Rumi from a scholar into a mystic; from a jurist into a lover.  After three years of friendship, Shams walked out into the night and never returned. People speculated that he was killed by Rumi’s son, who was jealous of the influence Shams had over his father; or that Shams had simply left, as he had once before, in order to teach Rumi a lesson about the transitory nature  of earthly things, including friendship.

His poems celebrate God as the Beloved, using the earthy symbolism of being drunk in wine or in the ecstasy of physical love to convey his intensity of feeling:

          The Lovers

“The Lovers

will drink wine night and day.

They will drink until they can

tear away the veils of intellect and

melt away the layers of shame and modesty.

When in Love,body, mind, heart and soul don’t even exist.

Become this,

fall in Love,

and you will not be separated again.”

(translation by Shahram Shiva)

He was also non-discriminatory, inviting all to worship the Beloved:


                          Only Breath

“Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,

Buddhist, sufi or Zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East

or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the fround, not natural or ethereal, not

composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or the next,

did not descend from Adam or Eve or

any origin story. My place is placeless,

a trace of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

I belong to the beloved,

have seen the two worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that

breath breathing human being.

(translation by Coleman Barks)

Most Persian poems are traditionally signed by the poet. Rumi rarely signed his name, but instead wrote either “Shams,” in honor of his friend, or “silence.”

Rumi was also instrumental in developing the practice of whirling dervishes. The dance and music is used as a form of meditation to focus on uniting with God. The form of the dance, in which the performer turns circle after circle, was said to be in deference to God’s monotheistic nature: God was everywhere the dancer turned. The whirling dervishes wear tombstone-shaped hats which are supposed to represent that they are dead to this world and live another; in the photos below you can see the hat on a living Sufi and represented on the graves of former Sufis.

A modern-day Sufi reading aloud from Rumi’s poetry

Information, unless otherwise noted, from the wikipedia entry on Rumi.

Cappodocia: Dragons Slain Here

First all, I apologize for my absence! My keyboard broke about a month ago, the replacement didn’t work, and when I finally had a good keyboard, I was just starting my trip to Italy! So, let’s make up for lost time.


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Taxi Drivers

On this trip, I have expanded my mind and my heart. I’ve learned to look past cultural differences to see  the person underneath. My heart is more open. I am calmer and kinder.

Except for taxi drivers. I hate ’em.

The neighborhood of my hotel

There is no one on this planet I distrust more than a taxi driver, and whose actions I subject to more analysis and cynicism.

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Church of the Holy Sepulchre

In Jerusalem lies the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on Golgotha, place of skulls, where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again.


Mural in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

To reach the church, you travel through the narrow sandstone alleys of Old City Jerusalem. The light of the plaza is blinding after the dim awning-covered alleys.

From the ground, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre presents one wall, with arched colonnades framing an imposing wooden door. Through the door is a small alcove, paved in black-and-white marble.  Brass lanterns of many sizes hang from the arches, each candle casting glittering splinters of light.

After the alcove, the first thing you see is a stone slab, raised about six inches off the floor. Brass lanterns with candles hang over it and people crowd around, kneeling, praying, and pressing clothing and crosses against the stone. This stone is where Jesus’ body, broken and bloody, was prepared for burial.

Of all the blood that has been spilled through history, the blood spilled on this rock signaled something more: life not death, the triumph of the spirit over the body, and the end of suffering.

Behind the first room there is a great domed room; the vaulted arches that support the dome, many rows of them, are spangled with brass stars and hung with more brass lanterns. A beam of light as beautiful as grace streams through the single hole in the center of the roof, illuminating the great reliquary. The line is long and jumbled; we wait to enter and pray by the plain stone sarcophagus.

Groups gather in corners to pray or sing. A woman in a holy daze passes, her hands shaking as she crosses herself, her eyes fixed on nothing you can see. Through it all thunder black-robed Orthodox priests, shouting, corralling, trying to corralling, trying to give order, but nobody listens; this place does not belong to them.

One room leads into another, up, across or down into the earth. The steps have been worn slick with the centuries. On one staircase, a series of black Templar’s crosses, as thick as graves in a cemetery, adorn the walls.

This path leads down and down, to a place underground where natural rock forms one wall. In the shelter created by the natural rock’s uneven tilt, a group is gathered, singing in deeply resonant and beautiful voices of the wonder of our Lord. “I stand amazed,” they sing. This place, some say, is the true site of his tomb of holiness, not the place with the vast reliquary.

I think this entire place, this church, this city, this land is riddled with sacredness, like air bubbles in glass. There’s always more to find.

North Israel

We had planned to travel by car up to the north of Israel, to the area around the Sea of Galilee. At the last moment, a business friend of Daniel’s offered to accompany us, and that couldn’t have been more perfect.

Church celebrating the miracle of loaves and fishes

The north of Israel is greener and more hilly than the rest. Flowering plants bloom everywhere, and I was told that it is even more beautiful during the wet season.

First we traveled to the Sea of Galilee. Here we saw two churches, each right next to the other. One was devoted to the miracle of Christ’s walking on water (and the anointment of Peter as his agent on earth, if you’re into that) and the other was supposedly set on the place where Jesus performed the miracle of multiplying the loves and fishes.

Across the sea are the Golan Heights. Like all Israeli citizens, Daniel’s friend had served in the Continue reading


We began our tour of the Old City at the Tower of David, at the Jaffa Gate. The Tower of David, or the Citadel of Jerrusalem, is a fortress built during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods on the site of an earlier fortification. King Hezekiah was the first to build on this area. The Hasmonean kings also built on the area, as did King Herod. The Tower still includes the three original towers built by King Herod.

Jerusalem with Dome of the Rock in center

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Food, Part 3


Rice cakes and sweet pork dipping sauce –  I couldn’t find an exact analogue, but it was probably like this recipe, although with more sauce. It  was very sweet. The rice cakes were thin wafers, also a little sweetened. On the whole Thai food was very sugary; this dish was not exception.

Have we talked about milk green tea yet? Thai iced tea is black tea, spices and condensed milk, which has a lot of sugar in it.  A healthier version is green tea with coconut milk – incredibly creamy and filling yet still healthy. I’ll be making plenty of that when I get home.

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Singapore was not on my initial list, but I added it once I had to cancel the African portion of my trip for safety concerns. This was an excellent decision. I was able to explore Singapore with a friend I met in Bangkok. We spent four days wandering among the skyscrapers, talking and comparing our lives East and West.

Night view of Singapore’s financial center

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