Category Archives: Travel

Marble

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

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.

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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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Food, Part 3

Thailand

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

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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Kathmandu

I’ve decided to publish this mostly as originally written. Many of these places were destroyed or damaged in the eatrhquake and may never exist again; I’ve written about how lucky I was to leave right before it  here.

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