In summer 2008 we took a trip through the Mediterreanean, the cradle of our civilization, in search of the indigenous Europeans. What does that even mean, "indigenous"? Of course it means native, originating in a place. Martin Prechtel would say that a person is indigenous to a place if their ancestors are buried there; if they still know the stories of that land. Now that indigenous peoples are seen in a more positive light by the descendants of the Europeans who invaded them, the word has taken on the connotation of a person who has an earth-based spirituality, who is in touch with the body and the natural cycles of the land.
Were the people we think of as Europeans indigenous to that land? Not all. Many of them belong to a group known as the Indo-Europeans, and it seemed the first wave moved into what is now Turkey around the 4th millenium BC. The debate about the Indo-Europeans original homeland is fierce, but the most reasonable speculation seems to put them in Central Asia, around the high steppes of Russia. The name Indo-European actually refers to a language group, which includes most of the languages we are familiar with: Romance (Spanish, etc), Germanic, Slavic (Russian, etc), Greek, and Indo-Iranian (Persian and Indian languages). The only current European languages that are not Indo-European are Basque (spoken in the Pyrenees of France and Spain), Hungarian, Georgian, and Finnish.
So if most of European ancestors have only been there for 5000 years or so, who was there before? Those people are a mystery, but archeological research suggests that they were a type referred to as the Mediterranean race, with dark hair and olive skin. It seems that they were a peaceful people, skilled with ceramics, goldwork, and copper work, and worshipped a Goddess. They left spirals everywhere they went.
Therefore, all of today's Europeans are descended from a mixture of these two peoples. On my trip I was keeping my eyes peeled for clues as to the identity of the indigenous people, those who roamed that land before the warlike Indo-Europeans and their Sun God.
The curious spiral of our trip began and ended in Northern Europe. Amsterdam and London were like the white bread around the sandwich meat that was the Mediterreanean. Of course, northerners (here, the Germanic peoples) tend to be organized, efficent, reserved, where the southerners (Latin peoples) tend to be passionate, expressive, messy.
Amsterdam to me looks like a museum, an adorable caricature of itself. It's like an adult playground, where sex and drugs are legal and everything is safe. There seem to be no slums, no bad-smelling seedy corners, no homeless. The small number of immigrants seem well-integrated, with plenty of racially mixed couples and groups. Do they have no festering permanent underclass in Holland?
The Dutch are my favorite northern europeans. They are organized and tidy, yet open-minded, friendly and easy-going. (This supports my theory that people from small, relatively insignificant countries are nicer and friendlier than people from big bully countries.) As a people they seem wholesome, uncomplicated, and drama-free. They seem free of excessive hipness. You get the feeling in Amsterdam that a person could pass out drunk with a stack of money falling out of his pocket, and no one would take advantage of him. And, they ride bikes everywhere. .
the bicycle parking lot..
I think it's the easy-goingness of the Dutch that allows them to legalize marijuana and prostitution. They seem free of compulsive passions such as addictions. Why not make drugs and sex legal? They aren't tempted to abuse them. See the pictures below of an Amsterdam coffeeshop, where marijuana is sold.
We had a great time in Amsterdam, walking our feet to the bone, riding around the canals, and hanging out in the city park, Vondelpark, along with 90% of the city's inhabitants since it was a sunny day after 3 months of solid rain.
We loaded up with supplies for our trip and took the train to Antwerp, Belgium. As you probably know, Belgium is divided between the Dutch (Flemish) part in the north and the French part in the south (and a small German part). Antwerp is Flemish, and the people there seem identical to the Dutch: pragmatic, good-looking, and able to ride bicycles everywhere. And all perfectly trilingual. It seems like they almost don't understand excessiveness and passion. If they saw someone yelling, they would probably cock their heads curiously and hurry past.
We were in Antwerp for the Sfinx World Music Festival. Our favorite gypsy brass band, Fanfare Ciocarla, was playing as well as the fabulous Umalali and others. We arrived in Antwerp and found the city hotels full; it's a popular party town for students on the weekends. Some people we met pointed us in the direction of a hostel, and we were off to the festival. The music was fantastic. The audience, despite their reserved nature, was very appreciative. It was a wholesome family festival, but everyone danced heartily. The highlight, for me, was the Corsican singers -- their acapella, polyphonic chanting lifts the little hairs on my arms, and is a reminder of the indigenous soul of Europe.
THE MIDDLE: BELGIUM AND NORTHERN FRANCE
When our train moved through the hills that separate northern Dutch-speaking Belgium from southern French-speaking Belgium, I thought perhaps these hills could be the boundary that marks the beginning of central Europe. France is pretty much central Europe. I've always liked the French since they seem a nice compromise between the tidy north and chaotic south. The people we met in Antwerp told us that "Netherlands" meant "no-man's land", which is pretty much what it means in English. I think of "nether" meaning "nebulous nowhere" but the other meaning refers to "below", since all those flat lands are below sea level, and were recovered from swamp. Those lands got somehow compiled into a country now known for waffles, chocolate, fried potatoes, and beer.
We emerged from the nether-lands into Brussels, the capital. It seemed humble for a big city, not too hip, but lively. Its status as the new capital of the evil European empire has ushered in all sorts of modern hideous buildings that have ruined the skyline. Apparently, they levelled all sorts of gorgeous historic art nouveau buildings to build the new government center. We wandered through the government quarter, abandoned at night, and the ominous hum of nebulous machinery reminded me of Washington DC (my hometown).
We noticed right away more edge than in the north, slightly more decay and danger. The children lacked the ruddy-cheeked innocence of the Dutch kids. We also noticed people stared more than up north -- every culture seems to have a different custom around how much staring is acceptable. People were nice, though, with a certain ironic humor. We dined to the music of some gypsies on a park bench, playing their hearts out, and warming ours up. We had a beer in some lively quarter and then hung out in the famous Grand Place, wishing we had such grand places in America, public places where people can be and be seen.
And then to Paris. With its old city unmarred by hideous modernity, Paris is, for me, the perfection of our era, the height of our civilization. Paris is ancient sacred ground, with her ancient snaking river and huge skies. The city is built on an ancient shrine to Goddess. The Seine river is named after Sin, the ancient moon goddess. "-is" , as in "Isis". is a pre-Celtic word for a holy place with underground water. And of course, the Notre Dame of Paris -- one of the many "Notre Dame" cathedrals in France -- is a Goddess temple; "Notre Dame" of course means "Our Lady", the Virgin Mary, who is Isis, the Great Mother, and Greek Demeter rolled into one. You can see Mary at the center of all the cathedrals.
See below, the Notre Dame, you can see the central statue of Mary and baby on the right. And, a Parisian Isis...
Life in France just works. The French, more than any other Europeans, seem to relax back into the arms of their mature culture. People are treated like adults there, unlike in the States. Alcohol is not confined to seedy liquor stores, but available in regular stores. There's little that's taboo. What is there to rebel against? There seems to be racial harmony, at least between blacks, whites and Asians (the Arab population is another story). Stale bread seems to just not exist in France. In fact, there seems to be no bad or mediocre food allowed in the country. Everything there is just really good. (Except the service.) Everything is beautiful: clean but not anal, orderly but not stiff. Grand but liveable.
This was the first time I had noticed the big pyramid on the top of the Notre Dame. After that I realized there are pyramids on many old cathedrals, including our own Grace Cathedral in San Francisco!
I feel the snake energy in Paris. The snake and dragon were anciently associated with Goddess-- hence the snake that tempted Eve. See the woman-headed snake below with Adam and Eve. When the masculine warrior culture supplanted Goddess culture after thousands of years of struggle, the cultural myth of the Hero slaying the Dragon was born.
We wander Paris, drawing in the parks, walking the Seine with its new beaches, gawking at the architecture (I love the way the streets curve). We make our offering to the sacred river, rent our car and we're off to Chartres.
Chartres Cathedral, of course, is the most celebrated in France, and the quintessential Gothic temple. It was built by the Templars, a secret society who suddenly gained enormous wealth after they dug up the Temple Mound in Jerusalem. They must have found something there, since after their dig they started building the architectural masterpieces known as Gothic. Whatever they discovered must have included the ancient knowledge of measuring lay lines, since they built Chartres miles outside of Paris, in the middle of nowhere, just because there was a major lay line there.
We were a bit grouchy that afternoon, overtired, but when we walked into Chartres and looked up I felt immediately right, and tears came to my eyes. The late afternoon light glowed through the stained glass, and a choir of children sang heavenly music. We took the tour of the crypt, with all the layers of history. Underneath Chartres are many other chapels built in different eras. We made an offering into the ancient well.
From Chartres our next destination was the Loire Valley. The drive there was through bucolic green pastures, with water everywhere. The Loire Valley is so green and beautiful you can almost believe things are fine on the planet. Words can't describe the charm of the rolling hills, round hay bales, old farmhouses, lush forests. The confluences of rivers and stone.
Loire is famous for its castles. This one barely looks real.
We stayed in Loches, one of many medieval towns, in the Georges Sand hotel. The hotel is named after the 19th French novelist and feminist who is a heroine of mine.
DORDOGNE: ROCK AND WATER
Then on to the Dordogne region, land of ancient cave paintings. We stayed in the medieval town of Sarlat, at the lovely old castle La Couleuvrine.
Sarlat is a large, living town. Every perspective on its ancient buildings and streets has different angles and beauty. And of course, Our Lady, the Virgin, holds court in the sacred fountain in the cave in the middle of town. We ate in a cave restaurant that night.
see the enormous door in the first photo
You could spend a lifetime in the Dordogne region and find new beauties. Villages carved out of cliffs along the river, riddled with prehistoric remains. We visited the villages Roque-Gageac and Beynac.
We took a boat ride down the river, marvelling at how it's sometimes impossible to tell whether a cliff is pure rock, or carved wall. This land has been so inhabitated for so long, and the rocks have been carved out by rivers and by innumerable hands. Houses are nestled into bulbous outcroppings. Round stone houses still stand here. Forests grow out of rock.
One of the great highlights of the trip was the visit to Pech Merle, one of the many caves in the Dorgogne that were inhabited in Paleolithic times. This cave, although it's not famous caves like Lascaux, is like a fabulous cathedral, with many levels, majestic stalactites, colors that glow by candlelight, and strange mushroom-shaped stones. When you walk in there, you can imagine the awe felt by our ancestors who worshipped there. There is a famous hand print there, in red ochre -- a young boy of 25,000 years ago. There's a sense of looking back to someone just like us, another human being making a message to the future.
We're told that art has developed over the years, that ancient art is "primitive" and lacks "perspective" and "depth". This is false. Art from the Paleolithic, 25,000 or more years ago, is every bit as subtle, lively and masterful as the art of today, and this was done with natural pigments by flickering oil lamps. Oftentimes the artist used the contours of the cave to suggest animal contours. Sometimes the paint was spit out of the mouth to create subtle blending of colors.
There was a nice little museum at Pech Merle. It is the first time we saw some of the prehistoric artifacts we were to see everywhere in Greece and Turkey, that suggest a single culture in the prehistoric Mediterreanean: spindles, black pottery, the large goddesses of the "Vinca" style (Vinca is a place in Bulgaria they were also found).
We had dinner in Rocamadour, a medieval town perched on the edge of a cliff, surrounded by crystal caves, lulled by a divine rustle of leaves.
We stayed at a 9th century farm (now bed and breakfast) in the small town of Les Eyzies. In the morning we lined up to get into the Font de Gaume, a cave famous for having the best-preserved colored prehistoric paintings. We met a guy carving out an antler, who was active in the French primitive skills movement. He admits that even the foremost experts are unable to replicate many so-called primitive technologies. We saw many of these things -- carved masterpieces of oxen and vulvas, cutting tools.
From here we made our way to the Pyrenees, and crossed the border into Spain. Here is the land of the Basque people, who call themselves the Euskadi.
The Basques are the only indigenous European culture that still exists in Europe. As with most ancient cultures that have survived the longest, they are a mountain people. Many people believe that the Basques, the Georgians (also a mountain people, of the Caucasus Mountains), and the Berbers (ancient people of north Africa) are all remnants of a culture who once stretched from Portugal to the Caucasus, and across northern Africa. They may have been Cro-Magnon types, who were very tall (6-7 feet tall) and large-brained. They may even have been colonists from the mother-culture that colonized ancient Egypt.
Basque language may be so old that it goes back to a time when the Sino-Caucasian language group (which includes the languages of the Caucasus Mts. such as Georgian, as well as Chinese, Tibetan, some native American languages, Quechua (language of the Inca of Peru) and potentially ancient Sumerian) was still undifferentiated from the Eurasiatic group (Semitic and East African languages). Basque also has links with Dravidian (the ancient people of India). In other words, the Basques are a mystery that probably go back tens of thousands of years.
Nowadays modern Basques have a separatist movement, and maintain hopes of governing themselves in their ancestral land, which includes the Pyrenees parts of Spain and France. But it is difficult for us as tourists in Spain to tell the difference between Basques and Spanish, they are so intermingled. San Sebastian is a Basque city, and while signs are written in both Basque and Spanish, otherwise it could be anywhere in Europe.
San Sebastian is a lovely city. We determined that the best way to find a hotel is to find a parking space, if possible, and stay near there. And then we wandered into the old town and discovered Basque tapas. Everyone was eating standing up, along the bar. The bar was covered with all sorts of never-before-seen treats -- like european sushi.
San Sebastian seems like a livable city, with some old pedestrian streets and a really nice long city beach. On the day we were there it was full of healthy-looking older people enjoying life.
ROCK AND TREE: THE PYRENEES
We headed into the hills to take in some traditional Basque villages. Granted we didn't have much time to sink in, but we found the Basques elusive and unfriendly. Of course -- I understand. Why would they want to cater to a culture who took over the land where they have lived for tens of thousands of years? But what that means is that there aren't many places to stay in Basqueland (or Euskadi, as the Basques call their territory). We did stop in one village, where Andres got out to ask directions (I stayed in the car since I tend to feel uncomfortable in bars full of only drunk men). One old drunk Basque man did talk his ear off about America for about half an hour.
The Basque villages, with their white houses set in picturesque hills, all look rather similar. Some of the small windows remind me of the windows in the caves where the ancestors of the Basques lived. Sadly, these villages seem nearly deserted. I guess the young Basques, like most young people, crave the stimulation of the big city. In any case, the Basques have always been at the forefront of modernity: throughout history they have been famous artists, navigators, movers and shakers.
I had this fantasy about starting an organization that would hook up city youth who were tired of urban life, and craving community and a peaceful life, with the old people left behind in the villages. Imagine young people coming in and revitalizing the deserted villages of the world, renovating under the guidance of the old-time crafters ... sigh.
Since there was not a hotel to be found in the mountainous area of Aralar where we were driving, we were forced to drive on to Pamplona, the big city of the region (famous for the running of the bulls). We were shocked by the depressed and dead feeling of this city. Everything seemed shut down. We could understand why they chose this town to host a bunch of bulls running amok; there's not much to destroy. We found a dingy hotel and crashed. In the morning our car was gone. Towed. Apparently, towing cars is the #1 money maker in that awful place. We walked miles to the towing place, paid our heinous fine, and drove out of there, trying to shake the bad vibes of Pamplona.
The outskirts were dry and bleak, but then we started to climb into a mountainous region known as the "Switzerland of Spain", a beautiful green zone. We sought out the ancient forest, sacred to the Basques: the Irati. Here there were dense fir and birch trees, mossy blankets, and gnarled tree roots like the bones of the Mother Herself.
In the region of Navarra, we sought out one of the prehistoric stone circles. This one, like ancient temples in Malta and Greece, had what was called a naos and a pronaos in Greek: a larger circle with a smaller circle next to it, like an infinity sign.
Truly a stunning region, the Spanish Pyrenees. Here is an old bridge ..
As we drove through the late afternoon, the sky started to get dark and a big storm was brewing. Suddenly it was hailing. Driving in that storm was out of the question, so we had to stay in the village where we found ourselves (Jaurrieta), even though the slightly morose old hotel was overpriced. Too bad we couldn't have made it a few more kilometers to Ochagavia, which we saw in the morning was a more cheerful place. There we visited some artisan breadmakers and cheesemakers ... yum.
And so we crossed the border into France -- at least, Basque France. The French side of the Pyrenees is the Pyrenees National Park, which is stunning. The landscape whispers to me of old witches and fairies among its huge boulders strewn by the rivers. We got out to play in the creek and make our offerings to the mountain. I walked barefoot on the soft carpet of grass and talked to the tiny orchids and crickets with striped legs. Every angle of the mountains was breaktaking.
The drive was stunning as we descended from the mountains to the lush foothills around the town of Foix. It started to get late and we nearly ran out of gas due to our American assumption that gas stations would all have automatic credit card machines. They close early. So we rushed to Quillan, a town in the region of Languedoc, where we had a hotel reserved. We wished we were staying in L'Espinet, the town outside of Quillan with a pictoresque castle. Quillan seemed morose; cursed, even. The area around was scruffy and unattractive.
My theory is that this region is still low vibration after the years of barbarism which followed after the brutal genocide here in the 13th century. You can read more about it online but here is the story in a nutshell. Before this time, southern France was once geographically, culturally and religiously distinct from northern France. While northern France was in the dark age of strict control of the Catholic church, southern France enjoyed the most enlightened, peaceful, and educated culture of the age. The people here spoke Occitan, a language related to all other Romance languages, and called the French language "langue d'oeil" -- meaning, the "language of oil" -- since to their ears, it sounded clipped, dark and oily. They considered the French harsh, violent, and morose. Many people of this region were Cathars, a type of Christian who believed that killing was wrong and that men and women were equal. They were opposite of the Catholics in that they believed non-procreative sex was better than procreative, probably because they didn't welcome over-population. But this heresy was unacceptable to the Catholic church -- after all, how dare the Cathars believe that rape was worse than masturbation! Calling the Cathars heretics was a perfect excuse for the Church to eradicate the Oc people and thereby annex their land for France. There was a horrific bloody Inquisition which set the stage for future Inquisitions. The last light of the Dark Age was extinguished, and the Languedoc region entered an age of barbarity until recent times. To this day it's possibly the least prosperous region of France.
The story goes that the Cathars, before they were exterminated, hid away a secret treasure. Some believe that somewhere in that country is proof that the story of Jesus Christ is not as the Bible tells it; that Mary Magdalene was equal to Christ and gave birth to his bloodline.
The next day found us in Rennes-le-Chateau, the strange hilltop town now becoming famous for this mystery involving the Cathars and the Templars, featured in the Da Vinci code.
The cathedral at Rennes, like most Catholic churches, features Mary: and this one has a skull at her feet. Not surprising, when you consider the especially horrific violence committed by the church in this area...
From here we drove through the dramatic Galamus gorge .. it was epic-ly windy, so we drove through without getting out, looking down on the brave souls that were descending to the clear and beautiful river below.
We were late for our concert that night and so missed Peyrepetuse and some of the other Cathar sites we wanted to visit. We endured heavy traffic to enter Sete, an overcrowded port town with some scruffy charm. We were there to see our favorite Roma Gypsy string band: Taraf de Haidouks (the honorable brigands), arguably the fastest violinists in the known universe. What a venue, right on the edge of the Mediterreanean. The sea was lit up by spotlights and at one point a night cruise passed behind the amphitheatre. The boat was bobbing comically in the choppy waves, and everyone in the boat was waving in unison. A laugh went through the audience, as we all waved back. It was somehow a touching moment of human unity.
While I was in France I read a magazine that had Roma people on the cover, dedicated to the Roma. The cover said : Roma: The Soul of Europe. The Roma, of course, are often called Gypsies, which they themselves consider a derogatory term. They have been the downtrodden oppressed people of Europe for the hundreds of years that have wandered Europe, making their living the best they can. The magazine discussed the Roma convention that was coming up in September 2008, the first convention dedicated to ending the oppression of the Roma.
Some Roma they interviewed expressed trepidation that the aim of the convention would be to "civilize" the Roma; to get them to trim their nails and behave like Europeans; which would, in essence, be the end of their culture. The fiery spirit that has infused their music has influenced music all over the world. These people say, leave them alone. There's not a Roma problem in Europe .. there's a Roman problem!
WIND AND WATER: PROVENCE
Provence to me is a smell. Like the famous herbes-de-provence herb mix : rosemary, thyme. And Provence is a sky, vast and full of puffy clouds that hang still, even when the wild Provencal wind is blowing.
Even in Avignon, a big city, you can hear the crickets in the streets, which are a Medieval maze. In the picture below, see the golden Mary in the main square ...
We had to rush again to our reserved hotel to get there at a decent hour. We arrived in the small town of Bourg d'Andeol in the region of Ardeche, to our very special bed and breakfast. The place, the Digoine, is a tribute to one man's adventures at the turn of the century. Each room of this 18th century mansion is decorated according to a different country that he sailed to. (We stayed in the Kyrghiz room). How stunning: room after room of lush furnishings, 18th century style. The sun glinting off the river illuminated the rich velvets of the sitting room through the grand windows. And the host made us incredible Provence specialties for dinner in the homey kitchen. In this place I felt transported to a bygone age, since it felt like a comfortable, living place, not like a museum....
The next day we canoed down the Ardeche river gorge. This gorgeous glittering river hosted tens of thousands of years of ancient culture. Its caves contain paleolithic paintings. See below the ruins of a Templar shelter.
We were not alone in admiring the Ardeche. This enormous gorge swallows thousands of delighted people splashing each other in canoes. The green river is luscious and fresh.
That night we stayed in Rousillon, a village in the hills. The root "rou", meaning red, goes back to proto-indo-european. Rousillon is red thanks to the brilliant ochre in its hills.
The village is painted with local natural colors, red, orange and gold ochre, and so blends in with the hills:
At sunset, we went for a walk outside the village in the area known as Valley of the Faeries. As we crossed the village wall into the hills, we met a very fluffy, very wise kitty and invited her to accompany us on our walk. The kitty kept running ahead of us and hissing at some invisible thing, and then Andres saw them too: shadowy forms, the faeries. The brave cat was going ahead of us, protecting us .. and then she would run back to us for petting. We left the valley and solemnly thanked the cat, who nodded proudly in farewell.
The next morning found us rushing through gorgeous Provence, sadly missing Isle-sur-Sorgue and the Chauvet cave, to reach Marseilles for our train. We stop briefly in Aix-en-Provence, the old town where I had spent a few months as a college student. At the Sunday market there we tasted some delectable figs and peaches, but the air tasted different than I remembered; it didn't feel like the same town I had lived in 18 years ago. I found out later, when we met some French people who lived in Aix, that over the last 18 years the native Provencal people had been gentrified out, replaced by morose Parisians.
In Marseilles, the interesting port city of Provence, we finally met some Roma Gypsies at a gas station, who recognized us as being kindred spirits. We dropped off the rental car (avoid EUROPCAR -- hidden charges!!) and took the train along the French Riviera into Italy.
As soon as we crossed the border the change was palpable: the land more scruffy, the buildings dilapidated. I missed France immediately. We were staying in Ventimiglia, on the crossroads of the east-west train and the one that goes north to Milan, since our intention in Italy was to go to the intentional community of Damanhur near Milan.
The cab we took from the train station to our bed and breakfast broke down on the way up the hill, so our cursing cabby enlisted passers by to push it. Ventimiglia is a medieval city with a few charming, crumbling streets. We rang the bell over and over at the bed and breakfast but no one answered. I went up the stairs and banged on the door yelling, but the neighbors sitting across the hall didn't even look up. I guess banging and yelling is normal there. Finally we got someone to phone the guesthouse for us, and it turns out that the young Bulgarian working there couldn't come to the door because he didn't want to leave the pot of jam he was stirring.
Northern Italy seemed a morose place, and the fashion not to our taste, but we had some great pasta for dinner. Over dinner we met an English couple who were living there in Ventimiglia. They told us about an interesting ecovillage near there called Torri Superiore. The ecovillagers had bought an old abandoned medieval village and fixed it up.
Our quirky guesthouse, with a lot of old antiques and quite a garden on the balcony, grew on us, along with the young Bulgarian manager who really liked us. But we left the next morning to get to Damanhur for the tour we had arranged. The train ride from Ventimiglia to Milano is very beautiful, through pristine green mountains. Damanhur is, as far as I can tell, the most fully realized intentional community in the world. They have a population of about 1000 citizens, their own currency and printing press, and a mystery school. Most interesting is the network of underground temples they built, all aligned with the lay lines of their land. They dug them out by hand in secret at night since they had no permit to dig.
It is not easy to get to Damanhur without a car. We took the train to Milano, then changed to Torino, and then to Ivrea. After much asking around, we found a bus from Ivrea to Damanhur, but it dropped us off a few miles from the Damanhur welcoming center. We trudged miserably with our bags, as no one stopped to pick us up despite the "Damanhur" sign we held up. The welcome center somewhat grouchily helped us to find the friend-of-a-friend there we had arranged to stay with. Damanhurians believe that if someone is "meant" to find what they are looking for in Damanhur, they must find their own grace and synchronicity, without much help.
I'm not going to say too much here about Damanhur. Apparently, it takes a great deal of time to become integrated into the highly mysterious circle of "true Damanhurians", who are spiritual workaholics. There are many levels of initiation. The next morning we were told that our tour of the underground temples was cancelled, but to come back in an hour. We were disappointed but smiled as best we could. If it was a test I guess we passed, since in an hour they told us we could have a tour after all. The tour guide was excellent, and it was a tour just for us. I'm not going to say more about the temples except that they are the most extraordinary works of art I have ever seen. The brilliance of the mosaic and painting, telling stories of humankind, brought me to tears. The stained glass is beyond even Chartres or Notre Dame. Seeing this art, made by people who were not trained artists, was enormously inspiring. It made me feel as though there was hope for the modern world, that the we can create wonders of the world to rival the ancient wonders that were destroyed...
Some Damanhurians do time travel, so they say, and a few came back from Atlantis and painted what they saw.
We made our way from Damanhur back to Milano where we had arranged to stay with someone we met on couchsurfers.com, a site that connects people who need a free place to stay. We tried to call him when we arrived at the train station, but the phone number didn't work. Sadly we wandered the streets of that sprawling, ugly city, looking at the ridiculously expensive hotels. Two hours later as we wandered depressed a car pulled up and the driver asked, "I am looking for two Americans. You're not... " It was Gregorio from couchsurfers, he had been looking for us for hours! What a nice guy. We crashed at his place and the next morning were off to our cheap flight to Istanbul.
On our first evening in Istanbul, it seemed like one of the most exciting cities in the world, the best of Europe and Asia. Outdoor cafes, crumbling walls, friendly people. We smoked apple tobacco through a hookah while we watched whirling dervish dancing. That was very relaxing.
Turks seemed to be extraordinarily friendly, especially after being in Western Europe where no one smiles. Anytime we looked a bit lost someone would offer to help us. The language sounds soft and sweet to me. Turkish language is considered a "language isolate", meaning it has no close relatives, the closest being Japanese and Hungarian. It sounds very perfectly halfway between east and west to my ear. And the bathrooms are poised between east and west as well -- western toilets, with but eastern-style showers (no walls -- plan to get the whole bathroom wet).
Andres with a Turkish boy -- the Turks all wanted him to be Turkish. And the ice cream man with brilliant blue eyes like many turks.
People seemed happy. Istanbul seemed, like France, to be a society that was working . Of course, it is very homogeneous. There are no African or Asian immigrants that I saw, only Arabs. The Turks cliam to like everybody in the world, even Greeks -- except the Arabs.
Turkey is a very secular culture. During the calls to prayer I saw few people heading for the mosques. Relatively few women wore head scarves. (the women we saw in full black covering were all immigrants or visitors from the Middle East). Turks are rushing to modernize as quickly as they possibly can, and it seems that religion is almost an embarrassment to them.
In Turkey, there are cats everywhere, doing their own thing. They flop out and look completely relaxed, which makes me think they are well-treated. We see people feeding them and caring for them everywhere. Even the men are very affectionate with them. Turkish men seemed affectionate in general, and gentle. We saw one father rubbing his son's belly. And we only witnessed one altercation, two men were yelling at each other. This was such an unusual occurrence that a crowd had gathered, whereas in Italy it would have not even attracted a glance ...
the tough kitties beg at the tourist tables
I guess the Turks have a history of tolerance, especially religious. Jews were well treated in the Ottoman Empire during times that they were brutally persecuted in Europe. Of course, the Turks only came to Turkey in about the 12th century AD. We are lucky that they were not intolerant fundamentalists, or they might have destroyed some of the great pagan and Christian treasures in the land they invaded. For example, the Hagia Sofia, the "mother" church of Eastern Christians, was converted into a mosque by them, but not destroyed. Now it is a museum, for which they overcharge, but at least it exists. It was first consecrated in 360 AD on a site that had been a pagan temple for who knows how long. The first one was destroyed and the present one was mostly built in 532 and is one of the greatest works of architecture in the world.
outside the Hagia Sofia
inside the Hagia Sofia
the Virgin Mary of the Hagia
Across the pleasant square from the Hagia Sofia, but built 1000 years later, is the Blue Mosque. It is splendid, but nothing like the Sofia. The inside of the Blue Mosque is slightly disappointing, since it is marred by the ugly candle lattices that hang down. Also, partly due to all the tourists tramping through at that time, it lacked a sacred atmosphere. Truthfully, I saw no mosque in Turkey which inspired spiritual awe in me like Chartres or even like small Christian chapels all over Europe, even though I am not a Christian. I was hoping to feel the real spiritual heart of Islam, but it didn't happen for me in Turkey.
inside the Blue Mosque
The Topkapi palace, another overpriced attraction, is sadly one of the few remaining traces of the Ottoman Empire. It was the royal residence from 1465 to 1853, when Istanbul was of course still called Constantinople.
The archaeological museum had some nice pieces.
prehistoric goddesses, circa 4000 BC, and an Egyptian carving -- so amazing to see up close. Is he handing over a drink with a straw?
>I think Babylonian -- the lady looks like Ishtar
beautiful jewelry, circa 3000 BC
The underground cistern, which was built by Justinian I the Byzantine emperor in the 6th century to provide water to the Topkapi Palace. It is a trippy attraction, especially with the upside-down Medusa.
We took a boat ride through the famous Bosphorus Sea. We walked through the maze of the Grand Bazaar, which was somewhat disappointing : quite touristy, and expensive, without too much in the way of tempting treasures.
We loved the neighborhood of Taksim, the party district. Here you see beautiful grand Victorian architecture, built by the French in the late 1800s. We bought some excellent Turkish music at one of the music stores there. Musicians entertain the thronging crowd on the streets, a few excellent ones, even a few Turkish beatboxers. The city is definitely buzzing. The young Turks coming to the discos there seem happy, good-natured, and unpretentious, not too hip or fashionable. Istanbul feels like a safe place. But why no trash cans in this city??
And then, the downside. While 9 out of 10 Turks seem like some of the friendliest people I have ever met in the world, the 10th may well lie and cheat you. Which makes it hard, since you are left wondering who to trust, since everybody seems SO friendly. It's too depressing to go into the ways we were taken advantage of, so I won't. But it's important to ask the price of ANYTHING that is offered you in Turkey, even if it seems silly: or you might be horribly overcharged for something you thought was being offered as hospitality.
We also found that the quality/price in ratio in Turkey is pretty low. That is, it's too expensive for the quality you get. And you have to put up with people constantly approaching you to sell you something. Yet, in August, it was more expensive than Greece (we paid about $80 for accomodation in Istanbul). Especially if you are addicted to non-Turkish coffee, which can cost you $5-8 bucks a cup! Since the current generation, in their rush to be modern, has abandoned their culture, you find little in the way of authentic Turkish style, or music and dance. They have hastily built modern eyesores everywhere, so the land is littered with half-constructed concrete monstrosities. It is truly sad. And buy your Turkish carpets now -- since there are no more where that came from. The girls no longer weave.
After Istanbul we flew to Cappadocia, in the very heart of the country, the land of caves. Actually, "Cappadocia" means " land of beautiful horses", though, the wild horses no longer roam here. Well, Cappadocia is an extraordinary place, a desert whose three volcanoes spewed volcanic ash which formed the unique landscape. This tuff has formed into "fairy chimneys", fantastical conelike formations, and is easily carved. Therefore the landscape is dotted with cavehomes, cavetowns that once housed thousands, and modernly, cave-hotels and cave-discos!
Andres climbs the ice cream cone. I can't watch.
In the 2nd century, The Christians, during a time of persecution from the Romans, hid out here and painted marvellous little cave-chapels. Some of these look like mini-Hagia Sofias. (Although, I will say, their art pales in comparison to the Paleolithic cave art of 40,000 years ago!) Note the mushrooms in the 2nd picture below.
Some of the windows you see in the photographs are not for humans but for pigeons. For the first time I understood the origin of the term "pigeonhole". The pigeons went in there so that people could harvest their shit, which makes excellent fertilizer.
These windows though, are for humans. People actually live there.
The colors of Cappadocia are breathtaking, mostly in pastels, pink, yellow, tans. The yellow grasses set off the small trees, mountains and plateaus perfectly. Oddly, the architecture is eerily similar to that in the southwest of the United States, which is the only place that has a similar landscape.
does this look like New Mexico or what?
We crawled through the streets of an underground city, which was linked by miles-long tunnels to other cities in the area. Below is the Goreme open air museum.
We visited a pottery workshop.
a plate, and a vessel for capturing the tears of a priestess
Our excellent cave hotel, the only really nice hotel we found in Turkey, was in the town of Urgup. After hiking around in the miserable oven that is Turkey in the summer, it was a great relief to come home to the cave, which is always cool and fresh. Urgup is a nice enough place. At one point I dropped a $20 bill out of my pocket and a nice young woman came running to hand it to me. In Urgup we were lucky to stumble upon a wedding, and were pleased to see they still played traditional instruments.
the cave hotel: our personal fireplace, and our room
One thing that held absolutely NO appeal for me was the hammam, traditional Turkish bath. You couldn't PAY me to strip naked and be scrubbed vigorously by surly men with highly toxic sudsy soap.
We got a bus from Cappadocia to the town of Konya, where the famous Sufi poet known to the West as Rumi lived and died. It is also the home of felt, a traditional Turkish craft which is now a dying art.
three felt pieces by the master, Mehmet Girgic
Our guide took us to meet his sufi master, who is also a felter who makes the felt hats worn by the sufi whirling dervishes. We walked into the sufi master's very humble bread store, to the back closet, not realizing what a highly respected person we were in the presence of. He was very humble himself, and personable. He was delighted by the felt water bottle Andres had made. He and Andres had a poetic conversation (translated by our guide) about felt, and how felt is a metaphor for spiritual work and the spiritual life. The word "Sufi" means "people of the wool", as they have always had a relationship with felt. Here is a photo with Andres sitting on his lap.
That night, we figured out what an honor it was to sit on the sufi master's lap. We went to the sufi ritual, a very beautiful ceremony, where our friend was presiding. Afterwards people sat at his feet and asked him questions, he was clearly a person who commanded great respect. Though ceremonious, his grin was genuine. Apparently, all sufi masters, even the highest, are required to work in a trade. Hence, our friend had his humble bread store.
Konya is a somewhat-unappealing modern city, baking hot at that time and polluted. The best part is that there is no trace of Europe, or of America, for that matter: no MacDonalds. It is more religious than other parts of Turkey, and supposedly has no crime. Konya is a good place to buy a carpet, since it is a weaving center and people are more honest there. We did buy a small one from a guy we met.
We visited the Mevlana museum (Mevlana was another name that Rumi went by), where they had gorgeously illustrated ancient manuscripts that Rumi wrote, and beautiful tapestries.
Konya has a nice little archaeological museum.
tantric Ishtar, the Goddess best known from Babylon; a floor mosaic, that looks like the flower of life
The next stop was the ancient site of Catal Huyuk, a few kilometers outside of Konya. Catal Huyuk is a Neolithic site occupied from about 7500 BC. There are layers upon layers of settlements here, and only a small fraction of the mounds have been excavated so far. The city in its heyday must have housed 5000-8000 people. No evidence of violence or male dominance has been found. The city was not fortified against invaders, as almost all later cities were, after war and domination spread through the ancient world. The bones of the women were buried underneath the homes. That is, people actually slept on the bones of their grandmothers. In one grave they found a woman lying on her left side in fetal position (like most burials there), cradling another woman's skull, which was plastered and painted.
the map of a typical house at Catal Huyuk; and the actual excavation
At Catal Huyuk they have found beautiful pottery, bead jewelry, and obsidian mirrors. Cowrie Shells (which were the most ancient form of currency) and other trade goods have been found from as far away as Portugal and Bulgaria, and of course from the Middle East. The houses were made from mud brick and mortar, and plastered with lime plaster. The walls were then covered with geometric carvings and with paintings, mostly depicting Goddesses (especially one flanked by two lionesses) and bull horns.
shots of a reconstruction of an ancient house
The city was built so that people walked across the rooftops, then entered into each house through a ladder. Each room was approximately the same size, suggesting a lack of hierarchy, and there did not seem to be any central area of administration. Each house had an oven under the south wall under the ladder. They must have burnt dung for their cook fires. There were smaller rooms for grain storage and slightly larger rooms used as shrines. Although now the landscape is a rather dry plain, in the Neolithic area it would have been green, with a river running along the edge of the mound. They would have gotten clay for building from the lakes nearby, and floated wood down the river from the mountains 50 kilometers away. They could have gathered berries from the nearby woods and obsidian from the mountains. They had peas, barley, and pistachio.
We were lucky to arrive at the site while the second-in-command archaeologist was giving a tour to employees of the Shell oil corporation, since Shell is one of their main sponsors. It was sad to see her have to spend her time talking to all these guys, who had no interest in ancient life. They were laughing and joking in their jocular corporate way. At one point one man made a joking but threatening comment suggesting that the archeologists were "ruining Turkey's cultural heritage" by excavating it. She was remarkably patient with him. I was lucky to be able to attend the tour at all, so I kept my mouth shut, though I was aching to snap "Turkey STOLE these lands and these ancient sites. The people who lived here lived thousands of years before there was any such thing as a Turk. This is the WORLD's cultural heritage".
Ahem. Anyway, what can we do, we spend trillions on blowing up innocent people, but we have to rely upon the kindness of oil companies to research the human past. Anyway. From Konya we took a bus ride to Antalya on the south coast, a very long ride through nice mountain scenery. Antalya is an enormous, heinous city. We stayed not one moment but got on a minibus to Olimpos. It's reputed to be a backpacker paradise, but we found it a dried up, neglected place where horrific electro-pop shook our bed all night long. Kadir's Treehouse is a morose place. It was too hot to breathe, and too loud to sleep, so we left . We got on a bus and went west towards the traveller's town of Patara, planning to get off the bus if we saw another place we liked. We didn't. The south coast was a somewhat bleak place. We were sorry to miss the underwater ruins of Kekova, but we just didn't feel like staying.
Patara was a decent place, a small town with a few guesthouses and restaurants and nice people. They could have used another 100 tourists to make it feel more lively and to make it easier for the locals to make a living. (Although, I can't help but wonder .. before tourism somehow people managed to live!)
Now we were in Lycian country. The Lycians were an ancient people contemporary with the classical Greeks. They survived into Roman times and were the last people to resist Roman rule. They were fiercely independent and ungovernable, freedom-loving people. In fact it was they who came up with democracy, which the Greeks copied. They had a federation of city-states that were at peace with each other while the ancient Greek city-states were constantly at war. They spoke their own language, about which not much is known except that it was an archaic form of Indo-European related to Hittite. They also had their own alphabet before they adopted the Greek one. The Lycians were a matrilineal people, meaning that the sons and daughters inherit from the mother's line instead of the father's. A woman was still able to preside over the Lycian council, even though patriarchy was in full force by this time (5th century BC). Even today in this region the women look different than elsewhere in Turkey, and seem more independent. Most of the restaurants seemed to be run by women.
We needed some rest so we spent our first day on the beach. Patara has a remarkably nice beach, sandy and long with dunes and ruins in the distance. We were impressed that the Turks have prevented any building on the beach, or visiting the beach after dark, to protect the turtles who come to lay their eggs at dark, and rely upon the light of the moon.
We met a clan of French folk whom we accompanied, at sunset, to the Lycian ruins near the beach. These ruins were very impressive. Patara was one of the 7 cities of the Lycian league, and at one time was the main port town of Lycia. (The beach is now in a different place than it was then). The Lycians were known for their arches. The government center had a huge door with intricate carvings.
We saw a faded carving of a woman holding a knife. Her dress reminded me of Minoan style. (see section on Minoans later)
The next day we rented a scooter and visited more Lycian ruins. The ancient city of Xanthos was a government center.
We saw the remains of beautiful tile floors, with amazing designs that reminded me of Escher.
the plumbing at Xanthos
Next we took a look at Letoon, which was the religious center of Lycia, set on a sacred hill dedicated to the Goddess Leto. Like all Lycian shrines, it faced southwest. The green river flowed nearby .. all ancient settlements were built near a river.
The scooter ride from Letoon to the next site, Pinara, was prettier than the sprawl surrounding Xanthos. And then Pinara -- what a stunning site. Pinara was founded by Lycians who found Xanthos too crowded. It is up in the hills, a high craggy site in the forest with some huge trees. They carved rock "tombs" -- I say "tombs" in quotes because I'm not sure it was proven these things were tombs. For some reason archeologists like to assume everything is a tomb.
Anyway, Pinara is an eerie site. The chorus of crickets stops when the breeze blows, then starts up again with a new song. Up in this impossible slope there are ruins of huge perfectly smooth rounded columns. And below, a theater. I couldn't help thinking that our own civilization would not leave such scenic ruins...
the Lycians carved heart rocks
We scooted down the mountain, and along the cliffs with heady views to the coast below, where the land extends like fingers into the bay. When we got off the scooter, a boy of about 10, with piercing eyes, approached us with the proud Turkish male strut. "Chai" he says. (The turks use the same word for tea as in India). By this time we were wary of kind offers of hospitality from Turks which would be followed by demand for payment, so we said, "no lira". (Lira is the Turkish money). The boy said emphatically, "NO lira", thumping his young chest for extra emphasis. "No, pardon, no lira, chai." He communicated quite effectively with his 4 words of English. We were impressed by the fierce boy, in the middle of nowhere, and accepted his offer for tea. His mother brought us a bottle of cool water, which was very much needed on this baking hot day. We sat at their table outside their nice ancient shack in the hills and shared presence without language. I passed around my sunglasses which the boy sported to giggles around. We were soon joined by his friendly father and we pulled out some sunflower seeds to pass around. They pulled down some grapes off the vine to share. We took pictures and showed them to the happy laughing family, to their delight.
The next day, we were on our way north, toward the port town of Fethiye. We found a place in Oludeniz, the beach town nearby. We didn't realize until after we checked into the hotel and walked around what a horrible place Oludeniz is. A honky tonk beach town geared towards the worst sort of drunk English people.
We went down to the farmers market in Fethiye. The fruit was incredibly delicious and cheap. We found Fethiye a sleepy and pleasant town, with old ruins scattered throughout. There were trees around and a nice waterfront .. and, what a concept .. decent coffee! The next day we took a day cruise through the beautiful islands. The breezes from the boat were the perfect antidote to the heat, and the water was refreshing: clear, glossy water, a stunning shade between green and blue. We swam all day around islands and caves, and sat on the bow, dangling our legs and watching the water go by, imagining we were Ulysses ..
The next morning we went to check out the famous Blue Lagoon. It was stunning, but too hot to enjoy, and marred by millions of sun beds and a hefty entrance fee. Feeling a bit dejected about how spoiled Turkey was, we sat on the beach looking at pebbles, and then it started to drizzle. And suddenly, a massive downpour. Luckily it stopped by the time we got our backpacks and had to make it to the bus we had reserved. Ten minutes after the rain stopped, every drop of wetness had dried and it was once again baking hot.
The first part of the bus ride from Fethiye to Sulcuk, near Ephesus, was the prettiest one yet. This section of the central west coast is more lush than any other part of Turkey we had seen. But night fell, and then .. we pulled over into a small town that seemed to be one big auto mechanic shop. Streets of nothing but mechanics. Oh oh. Nobody spoke English so we had no idea what was happening. After about an hour of watching the guys try to fix something under the hood, we realized that most of the other passengers had left. That didn't seem to be a good sign. We had no choice but to wait. It was hideously hot and stinky. After about 4 hours, the bus did chug off again. We arrived in Selcuk at 2 in the morning and had to wake the old babooshka at the guesthouse we had reserved.
The Homeros Pension was very nice, an antique house owned by a family, with beautiful Turkish style furnishings. The lady of the house, a half-Greek half-Turkish woman, had quite a sense of humor, and served wine up on the deck in the evenings. She also served excellent dinners. The view from the roof was enchanting. You can see a column from up there .. that is the last column standing from the ancient Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
the roof at Homeros Pension
The first day we split a car rental (ridiculously overpriced in Turkey -- about 70-80 dollars a day!) with two Dutch girls we met who were bicycling across Turkey. We went to see gypsy DJ Shantel. It turned out to be at a very weird place, some kind of ugly, shabby resort that charged $10 for a beer. It was sad -- Shantel is a very inspiring front man, and he tried for HOURS to get these morose robotic rich young people to dance or even react, but they just stared. I guess they had forgotten their traditional Turkish dance, which would have been so appropriate for the music. We did our best to dance for them all. Sad.
The next day we still had the car since we had it for 24 hours so we drove to some areas surrounding Selcuk. Sirince is a cute hilltop village but nothing special -- it was a Greek village, and since Greek villages are so much cuter than Turkish ones, it has become very touristed. Then we drove on to Tire, a city reputed to have remnants of old-time crafters. Tire turned out to be a very ugly modern city, but if you drive up into the hills there are some interesting crumbling old buildings. We despaired of finding the felt-makers in this maze, since nobody even knew what we were talking about. But somehow Andres sniffed them out and we found the one street in town, possibly the only street in the whole country, of old-time crafters. Some great work, the felt and the saddle makers.
the saddlemaker; Andres wearing a felt coat;
an antique shop; a kitty of Tire
And so, we returned to Sekcuk and returned the car. Selcuk is a nice little town, with a good European flair of clean streets and nice cafes. The winding, cobblestoned backstreets are scenic. I met one carpet seller who lured me into his shop with the promise of exotic cats. He was from Van, in eastern Turkey, where they breed these van cats, who are white with different colored eyes.
The next day we went to Ephesus, the best-preserved ancient ruin in Turkey. It was a world-class city in the time of the classical Greeks(circa 400 BC). The cities of Asia Minor, however, had a different flavor than the ones in Greece at the time -- less rational -- more traces of the ecstatic remained. But Ephesus' roots were more ancient. Goddess Cybele was worshiped here since 3000 BC at least. The Carians and Lelegians were the first inhabitants, followed by the Ionian Greeks, then the Romans, Christians, Persians, and Arabs.
More photos of Ephesus:
Andres sitting on the Ephesus toilet. The waste was carried out by the running water below. People must have been comfortable with bodily functions, since they sat close together in the communal toilet.
the amazing tilework. It was cheaper for these ancient people to have tile floors than marble or stone.
It is fortunate that the Turks respect other religions because one of the most beautiful pagan artifacts in the world was found here, the famous Artemis of Ephesus. Artemis's front is covered with many many egg-shaped protuberances, which many archaeologists have claimed are testicles. Ha, not likely! They obviously look like eggs or breasts, and they are where her two breasts would be.
Artemis of Ephesus
It was when the Ionians took over this part of Turkey that they named the Nameless Goddess, named Her Artemis. According to Herodotus the ancient Greek historian, The original inhabitants, the Lelegians and Carians, did not name their goddesses. The Greeks gave name to the Nameless...
The Artemision, the original temple of Artemis, is across the street from Ephesus. Almost nothing is left of it, but it still has a sacred feel. Swallows circle. A resident flock of peacocks strut.
Sadly, we didn't get to visit the ancient site of Aphrodisias, many miles east of Selcuk. In this site, further removed from the advancing tide of patriarchal rationalism and the cult of the sky gods, the old ways flourished in a purer form, for 200 yearslonger than at Ephesus, even into the Christian era. Pagans all over used to buy the icons they worshiped from Aphrodisias. In one incident, they ran St. Paul out of town, tired of his morose ranting about sin and whatnot.
The Selcuk museum is a nice one.
a gorgeous jar; ancient coins
the great bull, sacred to the Goddess; and a lady
one of these looks like the poppy goddess from Catal Huyuk, and then there's the bee, very sacred to the Goddess; fine gold work
the swastika is a very ancient symbol, perhaps representing consciousness and energy interacting to give expression to the universe.
That night was our last night in Selcuk, and our last night in Turkey. We met a Californian woman who had married a turk and had been living there for 10 years, running a rug store. She told us that Turkish rugs were finished, since the current generation no longer weaves. Why spend 6 months weaving a rug if you can buy a polyester one, after all. Very sad. We chatted a while about what it's like to be a female expat in Turkey. She said that actually Turkish women rule at home, and are CEOs of companies more often than in America. The best thing about the Turks, she said, is that they understand how to mix business with pleasure. That is one thing we can learn from them. But they don't like to mix religion with government. They are totally shocked by the fact that the American dollar says "In God we Trust". In Turkey, she said, there are about 20 political parties. This is a great thing compared to our own sham two-party system.
Wandering the pleasant winding backstreets of Selcuk, we passed a door that said "Archeaological library". We were feeling a bit homesick after having been cheated by a Turkish man out of a lot of money, but were very much cheered up when we knocked on the door and it swung open to reveal a very American-looking older lady, who exclaimed in the most cheerful and excited way, "Are you archeologists?" It was like coming home to mom. The library had been her late husband's project and was dedicated to preserving information about ancient Turkey, since the Turks didn't much care. She let us peruse the library and take notes on the books there. We felt somewhat redeemed and enjoyed a beautiful sunset dinner with the swallows swooping, and the evening prayers echoing throughout the valleys.
Now began Ramadan so the next morning we were woken at 4 AM by drumming in the streets. We had reserved the ferry boat to Samos, in Greece, so got a ride to the nearby port town of Kusadasi, another English colony wasteland. The entrance to the port was through the shopping mall. It seemed sadly fitting somehow that to exit the country, we had to walk through a mall.
We were so happy to arrive in Greece. No hassles, stares or touts like in Turkey. Our first taxi ride was free, since the driver didn't feel like changing a $20 euro bill. The main town on Samos, Vathi, seemed quite cosmopolitan after where we'd been. It was also coffee heaven after our coffee deprivation in Turkey. We had missed the public squares of Europe, too. And good food. Samos had a relaxing vibe -- well, it's an island.
We visited the archaeological museum and rejoiced at the quality and affordability of Greek museums after Turkey. Ancient Samos was a busy place on the crossroads of civilization, around 8th-7th centuries BC. In the museum were artifacts found on Samos that had been imported in ancient times from Cyprus, Iberia, Etruria, Assyria, Egypt.
the figure on the right, her arms moved
note the flower of life on this statue!
The native style of statue was the kouros, the large, gorgeous statues with the left foot stepping forward, as in Egypt.
the kouros, butt and hand
Vathi was a bit boring though, so we got on a ferry the next day for Ikaria. This nearby isle had been recommended by a friend living in Greece. It's not a popular or touristy island. When we landed, we saw why -- Evdilos, the port town, is quite sleepy, and it's a dry, scruffy island. We were slightly outside of high tourist season, so the buses only ran every other day, at 8 AM! Hitchhiking is the only way to get around. We finally got a ride from a quirkly elderly guy in an even more elderly car. He clunked around the sketchy high cliff roads while telling us the myth of Ikarus, namesake of the island, in his limited English. It was kind of precious.
We did make it to Nas, the "hippie" town of the island, at the end of the road. In the morning I felt somewhat depressed. We had been fleeced out of a lot of money by thieves in Turkey, and were saddened by how modern and touristy the Mediterrean was. We had to decide whether to leave Ikaria that night, or wait another 2 days, since the ferries didn't leave every day. I didn't love the look of the bleak dry hills of the island, but decided it was ridiculous to leave right away. So we committed to staying 2 more nights and went down to the beach.
When we got down to the beach I started to perk up. The 5th century Temple of Artemis dominates the beach -- early that morning I had spotted some white-robed celebrants doing ritual. There were caves on the beach with hippies playing guitars. The water, unlike the tepic bathwater-like sea we found in Turkey, was rough and cold. The east coast of Ikaria is very far from the next island, which is how it became as isolated as it is... so the sea is like an ocean.
ceremony at the Temple of Artemis
And then we met some of the crew there. An English couple, Paul and Kate, had fallen in love with the island and were staying there for a few months. They hung out with all the Greek hippies, called "gruvelas", who were living on the river there. We connected with Paul and Kate and one of the Greek gruvelas, Iodannis. Kate told me that when Paul first brought her to Ikaria she didn't love it, found it harsh and craggy like I had. "And then", she said excitedly, "I made friends with the dragon. Have you seen the dragon?" When I said I hadn't, she took me by the land and let me part way up the cliff and pointed it out. Can you see it in the picture below? "And then," she said, "I started to understand myth.."
There began our love affair with the island. That night we went to see some Rembetika music our friends were playing in a cafe. It was the real Greek experience, as far as I know: several tables of friends all pushed together, flask after flask of strong Ikarian wine slapped down on the table, toast after toast, while the musicians smoked cigarettes constantly and played incredible music. We met Maria, a real free spirit who had been living on the river all summer. Ikarian wine is cloudy and unrefined and delicious and twice as strong as other wine! We could barely walk the many miles home (it's not so easy to hitchhike at night).
We spent the next day again on the beach with the gruvelas. Andres finished making his homemade mini-banjo. And that afternoon, we explored the famous river where the gruvelas lived. How amazing and ancient is this unexpected oasis -- a wonderland of huge gnarled old trees, massive rocks, and clear swimming pools. The community there has hung hammocks and installed little tea houses for all to use. It's truly magical and idyllic.
paradise pools along the river
communal hammocks on the river
That night we had a bonfire on the beach, with great music and revelry. We slept on the beach, since we had given up our room and thrown in our lot with the locals.
building the bonfire
The next day we rented a jeep with Kate and Paul to explore more of the island (we had put off leaving for another two days). There is a beach on a very desolate part of the island, called Seychelles Beach, with extraordinary colors. The water is bright turquoise and the rock is polished white marble. We swam out and around the bend saw a cave. With some nervousness about sudden swells, we swam into the cave, which was made of amazing purple stone.
And then we drove to the thermal area. The mountainous roads are bendy and hairpin even for Greece. We didn't bother with the developed hot spring but headed to the wild one. Here, the hot water comes out right into the sea. Quite amazing, the sea itself is hot. Tricky since in some areas it is boiling and then suddenly you get a burst of cold, which didn't feel good at that sunset hour. But it was very healing water.
That night was a famous panagyri ("pan-gaia"), the Ikarian festival. The ones Paul and Kate went to earlier in the summer were quite pagan, with trance-like fast violin music and drunken revelers dancing all night hand-in-hand. The one we went to first was in a church, and was a bit crowded and not all that festive. Apparantly the later the night the more festive they get, but we weren't having much fun, so we headed back to our side of the island where there was another panagyri happening. This one was somewhat under-attended, so we had a dance with our friends there and then explored the village, which was famous for staying open much of the night.
The villages of this area, Christos Rakis, keep their shops open till noon, and then close for the afternoon, to reopen around 10 at night until about 3 in the morning. Too bad we had missed them, as it was now about 5 AM, but it was still an interesting place to wander about, with large trees poking through the cobblestoned streets, and very quirky stores carrying random items.
Apparently Greece has been trying to normalize Christos Rakis and force them to shop at the same hours as the rest of Greece, but Ikarians are stubbornly individualistic. The ancient matriarchy persisted here well into modern times. They didn't even have electricity until the 80s. And a recent tradition of Communism has stuck around after 1500 Communists were exiled here in the 1940s. The banishment backfired, as the Communists got along very well with the locals and converted them to Communism. Ikaria is the kind of place where, if civilization fell, nobody would even know about it for weeks, as Maria joked.
Now, the Nas area is one the last places on Greece where Nature lovers can be free and naked and camp in the wild. While the gruvelas, living on the river naked for free, are tolerated for now, there at the end of the road on a remote island .. who knows for how long. Maria darkly speaks of the fires that destroyed much of the forest on Ikaria, that they were deliberately started to provide space for hotels. And it's so tragic for some in the tourist industry in Ikaria to think they should compete with Santorini, Mykonos, and the other hundreds of greek islands offering hotel packages and sun beds on the beach. Why can't we have just one island that caters to visitors who want to camp in pristine nature?
And so the next day we shared food and bid goodbye to Paul, Kate and Maria as we scrambled to find our ride back to the port. If we missed the boat, we would have to spend another week on the island, as one of the ferries had been cancelled .. but we made it. We disembarked on Mykonos, despite our Greek hippie friends' warning to avoid that island.
Perhaps Mykonos is awful in high season, but in September we found it extremely beautiful and even friendly. Well, obviously, the beauty of its village is the reason why tourists flock there. We checked into a nice family-run guesthouse and walked down the hill, entranced by the backstreets: winding, deserted, mystical, and home to many local kitties. It was epic-ly windy on the island, which added to the mystique.
The next day we just wandered, enjoying the labyrinthine walled town, with its white and blue and orange walls. I matched the turquoise, Andres matched the red and orange.
Mykonos has extraordinary shops full of hand made artisan goods.
The small chapels throughout the town are cute and a quiet respite from the crowded streets.
The waves crash into the village, climbing high up the walls and splashing onto the seaside caves.
The famous windmills of Mykonos.
Two pieces from the Mykonos archeological museum.
Unfortunately, someone stole my camera, so from here on out the photos are more scarce, and more grainy, taken by disposable camera.
We found the people nice. We made a friend named Jonny Boy who owned a clothing store. And the next day we took a day trip to the nearby island of Delos, which is a deserted island of ancient ruins. Delos was the sacred capital of ancient Greece; it was the center of the spiral that was the Cyclades islands . We sailed into the sacred harbor and made our way to the ancient lakebed. Here we found a dead snake, which became part of our offering to the island.
Delos has an excellent museum, with ancient beads, tools, a huge floor mozaic (imagine being an archeologist who has to move those things from the site to the museum!), and a section of sexy tantric figures. Then we climbed to the top of the hill, where the sanctuaries were located. I made offerings to the sanctuary of Isis, who still had a cult in Greek times. And we sailed back and sprinted along the harbor to make it to the ferry on time. We just made the ferry and were soon on the island of Naxos.
Naxos town has its own charm, with the portal of Apollo on the hill visible from the boat. It is the largest Cycladian island, inhabited continuously since the 4th millenium BC, and known for its wine and worship of Dionysis. I really felt the sensation of being on a larger land mass, after being on small islands. It was less windy, for sure.
We rented a scooter and explored the countryside. We stopped in one village with an appealing little path heading out through ancient olive trees, and followed it. We could have been in a village from any time in the last few thousand years, with the old stone walls lining the path, the olive fields, and sheep. We came to a Byzantine church, whose stone sacredness felt threaded from an ancient time. And on the walk back, we heard the strains of live bouzouki and followed it. A gorgeous young man was playing his bazooki on his front step, with his old mother nodding happily. She offered us tea in sign language, and gave a breathy little laugh when I did a little greek dance.
We returned to Naxos town for dinner, and explored the heart of it. Another mysterious labyrinth of winding city walls that protect from the wind. More neat shops with handmade art. Restaurants that spill out into the labyrinth -- it's like being inside and outside at the same time. We had a delicious dinner of rabbit stew.
this is not my picture--I found it on the web
The next day we took the scooter to the ancient temple of Demeter. This was in one of the lushest agricultural centers of ancient Greece. It felt peaceful and holy up there. Like most ancient settlements, it was on a central hill between two larger hills, with a gorgeous view of the valleys beneath. We made an offering into the ancient offering pits..
From here we rode through nice villages to the coast, where there is a long, sandy beach, frequented by mellow old naked people. We wished we could have stayed longer .. but we had reserved the ferry to Crete.
Crete is the ancient home of the Minoans, the magnificent ancient culture that held sway over trade throughout the Mediterreanean world from about 2700 BC to 1450 BC.
(Think about how long that is -- 1300 years. Eons longer than any empire or culture has lasted since). And who knows how much longer they would have lasted, had they not been invaded by the Mycenaean Greeks in 1450 BC, who appropriated their culture, but added war and male-dominance. The Minoans were a brilliant culture, with four story buildings, indoor plumbing, and art that is almost unrivalled. Their art was mostly of naturalistic scenes and Goddesses. The women in their friezes wore very sophisticated outfits, with flared skirts and bared breasts. The bull was sacred to the Minoans as it was to all Goddess cultures; they had a ritual where men and women somersaulted over bulls' backs. Perhaps that was the ancient origin of modern bull-fighting.
not my photos of the snake goddess and bull leaping
The Minoans spoke an unknown language, and their script, known as Linear A, has never been deciphered. It has continuity with even older Neolithic scripts, particularly the one known as the Old European or Vinca script. Could this have been the writing of the indigenous Europeans?
on the left, the old Vinca script; on the right, Minoan Linear A. not my photos.
When the warlike Greeks took over and became the overloards of the Minoans, they took on every aspect of Minoan culture, which was far superior to their own. They modified Linear A into a script that fit their own language, which was an archaic form of Greek (this script has been called Linear B, and has been deciphered). My own theory is that they also turned the community centers into palaces with themselves as royalty. I believe that the Minoan centers, such as Knossos, used to be centers of sacred trade, where they made sacred processions and offerings to the Holy to pay for the items they took from the earth: olive oil, wine, timber, pottery, copper, obsidian, ivory, gems. Perhaps these were communal centers that distributed goods to the society. When the Greeks took over they must have turned trade into pure commodity, and dominated by the upper class, taking the sacred out of it.
The myth of the Minotaur resonates with this theory. The story goes that king Minos, king of the Mycenaean overlords, prayed for a sign from the Gods that he had a right to the throne. Poseidon sent a beautiful white bull from the sea and told Minos to sacrifice the bull to him, but Minos was so struck by the bull's beauty that he kept it for himself. To punish him for his greed, Poseidon made Minos' wife Pasiphae fall in love with the bull. She found a way to mate with him and gave birth to the monster, the bull-headed Minotaur, who then lived in the labyrinth and demanded youths in sacrifice.
My reading of this myth is that when Crete was dominated by the kings, trade became corrupted by greed, like the greed of Minos for the bull. At this point people kept for themselves instead of sacrificing to the Holy. This corruption and greed bred a monster that lurked in the dark shadows of their psyche, festering and breeding a spiritual debt that required blood sacrifice.
The ferry from Naxos to Crete took 7 hours and was unpleasant, and when we stepped off exhausted it was a huge shock to be in a big city after the wee islands. Iraklion, the capital of Crete, is one of Greece's 5 largest cities, and is mostly sprawling and unattractive. Cheap hotels are scarce so we found a friendly, if dingy place. We wanted to leave as soon as possible but we had to wait for our rental car to be ready. We drove out of there, going east along the coast.
The eastern coast was pretty developed. We stopped in Agios Nikolaos, which was touristy but had a nice lake. And from there it was a few miles to the town of Kritsa, known for its old-time weaving. A cute hill town with some charm, and no parking whatsoever.
All over Crete, almost anywhere you go you will have an amazing view of winding coastline, natural harbors, and craggy mountains. The hills are covered with olive trees and the occasional donkey. The large island feels very lived in -- every inch of land has been nurturing humanity for ages and ages.
We sought out some ruins of Minoan villages, near Gournia. They were both closed (most sites close at 3 pm in Greece). One of the two, near the town of Gournia, we were able to sneak into. It was lovely to be there alone with the fragrant sagebush (Crete is famous for its aromatic herbs). We started to get a feel for how the ancients sited their settlements, on a hill surrounded by larger hills. We felt the wind and imagined the original inhabitants feeling the wind here, and looking out to sea.
We were planning on staying in the small city of Sitia, but we found no charm there, so kept going to Paleokastro. Nothing to write home about, but not bad for a night, so we stayed in an old stone house. The next morning we went to check out the local Earthdance gathering nearby at Kato Zakros. Earthdance wasn't too happening at that point -- most likely the party was the night before -- but that seaside settlement is home to one of the 5 great Minoan palaces. We really felt, there, how streamlined their building was, how low to the ground and in harmony with the contours of the landscape. Their buildings also sheltered them from the island winds.
The countryside there on the east of Crete is extremely barren. As we wound around to the south side of the island, it became increasingly developed in an ugly way. We sped through till we got to Mirthios, the most pleasant place for miles, a beachside village that had managed to retain some old trees, old buildings, and mellow charm. Too bad the archeological museum was closed. Through the window we could see a model of a Minoan palace.
From Mirthios we made a beeline to Matala, a resort town that was said to retain some bohemian flavor from its past as a hippie colony. We liked it. It was mellow and car-free, with some mystery lent to the town by the caves that surrounded it, lit up at night. The caves outline the town. The center of town is the port, surrounded by pleasantly crumbling buildings. One restaurant is basically a boat built into the port, with a table on the mast -- they actually served excellent food. That night was full moon and it was a rare opportunity to do yoga outside by the light of the moon (it's too cold at night in California...)
Matala is a good base for visiting Phaistos, one of the 5 great Minoan "palaces". Phaistos is famous as the place where they found the Phaistos disk. On this disk is written something in an unknown script, that spirals outward from the center. One character looks for all the world like a man with a mohawk hairdo.
Phaistos was excellent example of a settlement that is scultped into the contours of the landscape. The features of the town echoed the sacred landscape -- especially the sacred mountains Mt. Dikte and Mt. Ida.
Near Phaistos is Agia Traida, thought to be a summer home for Minoans from Phaistos.
From here the drive to Plakias was quick. We visited the famous valley of Preveli, with its famous palm forest -- the only one in Europe. Clearly Crete was once part of a larger land mass with palm forests.
me walking through the river cavern of palms
We met up with friends in Plakias and stayed with them a few days. This area is, as yet, unruined by tourism, despite the excellent beaches. It's quite hilly and windy there; the winds were high in the nice village of Hora Svakion, where the sea splashed up into the streets of the port.
That night, I took a late night walk in the outskirts of Plakias, marvelling at the exoticness - there were no lights anywhere, and the only sounds were the mysterious winds and the clang of sheep bells. We said goodbye to our friends Kundalini and Oona and took the ferry west, since the south coast of Crete is too wild for roads. The ferry stopped at Roumeli, where the famous Samaria Gorge meets the sea. Roumeli is a quite pleasant village with vines and flowers. We had a few hours to hike some of the gorge and walk through the ruins of an old town.
Our final stop was in Sougia, another pleasant place popular with naturists for its nude beaches and abundant hiking. The next morning we took a hike to Lissos, a beach and ruins only reachable by boat or foot. After walking through a nice forest, we reached a high windswept plateau, with a rough and sacred feel. We got hushed with awe at the feel of the place. Then we reached the edge of the cliff and looked down upon Lissos. We held our breath as the winds whispered, then descended the hill to the ruins of a temple: a stairway of tossed blocks and winding vines. The amazing mozaic floor featured sacred geometry, birds, the tree of life.
The temple was surrounded by caves that had been carved into for millennia, and stone dwellings. There was a very holy stone church with ancient mosaics and beautiful wall paintings, the gold paint glistening in the slanted sunlight. See the trippy floor in the photo below.
The landscape, curving toward the sea, had been loved for untold ages, despite its remote location. Every inch was carved out for use by man, woman and sheep. Someone had created a medicine wheel, where I found myself dancing. Yes, Lissos was one of my favorite sites from the entire journey.
From Lissos we headed out in the car (which we had taken on the ferry) to Milia, an abandoned village that had been rebuilt by an ecovillage. It was very far on a very windy road, but worth a visit for their interesting buildings and amphitheater. This area of Western Crete was the lushest place I had seen in Turkey or Greece, with huge nut trees. It was the first time we had seen leafy trees in months. I realized how much I had missed the rustle of wind through leaves, and the fallen leaves that allow things to grow. The chirping birds!
We drive to the city of Chania, the pride of Crete. Even the new part of the city seems livable, with plenty of trees and parks. Chania old town has had a unique history and has aged beautifully.
Stone walls of the Minoan town of Cydonia stand next to cafes. Curvy Venetian buildings are playful shades of pink, yellow and tan. Bougainvillias bloom everywhere over huge doors. Sunlight slants through cobblestone streets.
Crete was the crossroads of the ancient world, poised between east and west. The Minoan town of Cydonia was an important one, and in the 1200s the Venetians, who ruled Crete at the time, built their city on the Minoan ruins. They built a stone wall to enhance the natural harbor, and one of the oldest lighthouses in Europe. The Ottoman Turks then took over in 1645 until 1913 when Crete officially rejoined Greece. All these civilizations added layers to the city's unique charm. In 1941 the Germans bombed Chania, tragically destroying a portion of the old town. The Cretans were so fierce that they seriously damaged the German forces, perhaps causing their default in Russia.
I've noticed there is a genre of Cretan with very dark skin, who look indistinguishable from a person from India. We heard some Cretan music, which sounds distinctly Eastern, more like Turkish than like most Greek music, but really is its own thing. We fell asleep that night to the sounds of a rembetika trio playing outside our hotel balcony. (Rembetica is a genre of urban Greek music that developed in the early decades of the 20th century in Athens, a gritty and heart wrenching folk tradition.)
We stayed in the Castillo, an old stone Venetian castle on the port that had been converted into a guesthouse. Truly epic, with grand walls and high ceilings. In moments we could imagine life in a cold old castle by the sea.
In the afternoon a big storm gathers. The winds pick up and the light is fabulous, illuminating the pink Turkish mosque. The bay is eerily glassy within the sea wall, and frothy outside of it.
We walked to the new town to go to the movies. We noticed that afterwards when we returned to the old town, it felt so much quieter (since cars do not enter the old walls), so much more mysterious, and less windy, thanks to the narrow streets. Ah, if only we could build towns like they used to...
The museum of Chania is in a grand Venetian building with very high cavernous ceilings. We saw ancient coins, toys, sarcophagi, and chariots. We learned that they placed coins in the mouths of the dead, for them to offer to Charon the ferryman of the dead. The museum also had stunning tiny seals, intricate goldwork, huge crypts, beadwork, and votive offerings in open shrines.
We took a sunset walk along the sea wall to the lovely lighthouse.
We survived the heavy storm that drenched us for hours and finally had to bid goodbye to the beloved city of Chania, her beguiling streets and artists' shops (not before I bought a gold pendant that was a copy of the magnificant Minoan bee pendant).
The drive from Chania back to Iraklion is one of the nicest we took in Crete, featuring unspoiled canyons that beckoned. But we were off to Knossos, the most famous Minoan palace, that was excavated by Sir Arthur Evans in the late 1800s. Evans has been widely criticized for unscientifically reconstructing the ruins, adding concrete and paint; however, this is probably what makes Knossos one of the most popular archeological sites in the world -- it is fun to see more clearly what a site may have looked like in the past. Like most Minoan sites, Knossos is situated on a central hill in a bowl with beautiful higher hills around; and like all Minoan sites, the features of the building perfectly mirror the surroundings. In each one of the sites, you can see the sacred mountain from the central courtyard.
Minoans built out of plaster that was fired in a kiln and mixed with hay. They used this to cover the stone walls and as a mortar. They painted the walls while the plaster was wet, so that when it dried the painting was sealed in. The floors were of alabaster. Columns were made of cypress wood, for flexibility. In their paintings we see scenes of a procession along the sacred roads of Knossos, with the men flanking the women. They shook the branches of the sacred olive tree to call the Goddess.
Knossos was a very sophisticated building, with 4 stories. You can see in the pictures below how the sunlight filtered down to the mysterious lower stories...
We drove south from Knossos to Archanes, a restored village that had become very hip and modern. It rained heavily. In the morning we visited nearby Fourni, said to be a Minoan burial place. There was no one around and the gates were locked but we easily jumped over them and explored alone. Even with the sounds of modern construction and children below, it was a magical site. There were round chambers and dark, deep tunnels into the earth. We made an offering to a tree.
In the nearby Minoan site of Vathipetro we saw a 5000 year wine press. And then we visited Ross Daly's excellent museum of exotic instruments. (Ross Daly is an Irish museum who moved to Crete and became the great mage of Cretan music). I understood much better the lineage of stringed instruments after that.
It was time to drop the car back off in Iraklion. The museum in Iraklion, sadly, has been closed for renovations for years, but they have set up a temporary exhibition of the best pieces. Perhaps it was for the best, as we still spent 2 hours there. We learned that in the Final Palacial Period Minoan times, when the warlike Mycenean Indo-Europeans were overlords over the Minoans, we start seeing the themes of dragons, griffins, and Central Asian motifs such as the deer that leans back. At this point we also see the beginning of the worship of the dead, and individual burials. (this is a controversial and complex topic, but it seems clear that early on Minoans buried in caves, in great jumbles of bones). The sarcophagus found at the Minoan site of Agia Triada showed blood sacrifice and was clearly a post-invasion artifact, like the other evidence of Minoan human sacrifice found at the site of Archanes.
In 1200 BC, the world changed. No one is sure if there were many causes or a single one, but the peoples of the world changed places. All the empires fell. The power of the Goddess was finally defeated, never to return, until now. At this time, the Minoan cities, controlled by the Mycenean overlords, were destroyed for good. Greece fell into a dark age for 400 years until the rise of the classical Greeks. We are taught in school that these classical Greeks are the beginning of our culture, but they themselves understood that they were the heirs to an even greater people, the source of all their myth. They marvelled at ancient ruins and dug up tablets they could no longer read, which inspired them to rediscover the art of writing that had been lost.
But even during a dark age there are those who hide out in the hills and pass on their culture. In the museum we saw the artifacts left by those Minoans who survived in mountainous eastern Crete after the fall. While the Doric Greeks invaded, and their Olympian gods dominated Greece, still some Minoans held onto their old worship, especially of Hermes and Aphrodite. They kept contact with the East, and carried on their tradition of youth initiation.
But by the 6th century BC, they were exhausted, and we see little Minoan art after that.
the famous snake Goddess of Crete
We emerged blinking and exhausted after the Iraklion museum and did our last-minute Crete shopping. We met an excellent old lady whose late husband had made very unique and excellent silver work, from whom we bought a beautiful silver seal ring -- if you press it into clay, as the Minoans did, it makes an imprint. (For the ancients the seal was like their signature). The Prince of the Lilies adorns this ring: a Minoan character found at Knossos with long black hair and a regal stance. He looks like Andres.
We flew to Athens and took the long agonizing bus from the new airport to the city. The following day we walked to Plaka, the old city, and walked up the back way of the Acropolis hill. This is a great walk, past pleasantly crumbling buildings and whitewashed typically Greek houses. Then we walked through city parks with caves and shrines and ruins from every period. In Athens, they find Neolithic ruins every time they dig. There are ancient ruins under cafes and sidewalks.
I like Athenians. They have their own style, not too fashion-conscious or hip. They seem to not take themselves too seriously. It is a rather homogenious population, overwhelmingly white and Greek, with a smattering of Albanian immigrants. The one thing that annoys me is Greek men with their beads. They all have prayer beads, but no one prays with them, they fling them around as a nervous habit. You can hear the sound of clicking beads constantly when there's a Greek man around. I would never put up with that in a husband.
The next day I took a solo quest that started by climbing the Acropolis. It was a beautifully cloudy day, where dim colorful light alternated with drizzle.
The Acropolis seems to eternally be under construction, and visitors are no longer allowed to climb on the monuments. With the endless press of tourists it is hard to get much of a feel. I entered the way that ancient processions would have entered, through the grand entrance that was designed to draw attention up to the Divine. The entrance complex is called the Propylaia, that was a sort of transition to the sacred world, where celebrants purified thenselves to meet the Goddess. The procession, with young girls at the head carrying the robe that they had woven for Athena, made its way to the Parthenon, Athena's temple.
Of course you know the city is called "Athena" in Greek, the name of its patron Goddess. Did you know that Athena and Poseidon were ancient enemies, going back to Atlantean times, when, according to Plato, the Athenians went to war against the corrupt Atlanteans, who were led by Poseidon? Much later, Athena and Poseidon fought for patronage in the city, so both offered gifts. Poseidon used his great physical strength to strike the earth with his trident to create a well; but the water turned out to be salty. Athena, for her gift, buried an olive branch in the ground, creating an olive tree as symbol of peace and prosperity. She was declared the patron of Athens, but Poseidon was vengeful and cursed the city with drought. To this day, Athens never has enough water.
Athena's temple the Parthenon is a beautiful example of sacred geometry. There had been a Myceanean temple there, oriented to the horned Mount Hymettos, as their temples were always oriented to sacred peaks. The temple built there in Archaic times (750-480 BC), seems to have been oriented to face the Pleiades constellation. This position was sacred, so the temple that now stands, built in 447 BC, had to stand in the same place. It was built around the number 8, the octave -- the highest feminine number and the number of completion in the creation. The description of the incorporation of number and geometry is too much to go into here. The temple was decorated with a frieze that ran around the whole building, 40 feet above the floor. It was not easy for humans to see it, for this frieze was intended for the Holy. It portrayed the procession in honor of Athena, with chariots, elders, musicians, animals for sacrifice.
On the way down from the hill you can see the theater where performances still take place.
I continued my pilgrimage to the town of Eleusis, outside Athens. Eleusis was the site of the Eleusinian mysteries, the ritual that was conducted every year for thousands of years, from Minoan times until it was shut down by Christians in the 3rd century AD. Everyone who was anyone in ancient Greece was initiated into these mysteries, dedicated to the Mother and Daughter (the precursor to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost), Demeter and Persephone.
The initiates drank a sacred brew known as the kykeon, which many believe to have been hallucinogenic. What transpired during the initiation has been kept secret by initiates for these thousands of years.
Eleusis, now known as Elefsina, is an ordinary modern town. Very few people visit the ruin, perhaps that is how it has retained a sacred feel. The big sky presides over large courtyards. I stopped and shed tears in the cave where the initiates would stop to make offerings before they entered. I left an offering here with cactus flowers, in the opening said to be the entrance to the underworld.
I entered deeper into the sacred site.
And here is the courtyard, where thousands of initiates gathered for their secret rite. Little remains now, but it is still grand, and I fell into a trance to the sound of the crickets.
It was a shock to emerge from my trance into the modern world.
We spent hours in the impressive Athens museum. It is nicely laid out, with one wing for Archaic and Classical statues; one for neolithic; one for Cycladic (the culture that flourished in the Cycladic Islands around 3000 BC); and one for Minoan/Mycenaean. The Minoan wing had incredible gold work, especially the tiny seals with such intricate carvings, mostly of graceful deer and offerings to Goddesses . Again we saw the change in themes when the Mycenaeans came in, the addition of warriors, griffins, and monsters.
Minoan seal showing offerings to the Goddess
The Cycladian wing is interesting, with its white marble figures, so simple yet expressive. Here is an example:
There's a controversy about these figures. Some say that the figures were so simple because their makers didn't have the skill to create figures with more detail. But others point out that the detail that does exist required a great deal of skill, and believe that the ancients made these figures simple out of humility, to represent the simple human before the Divine, devoid of ego. They usually have an arm posture that suggests a worshipful attitude.
Then on to the Archaic statues. The Archaic period was between the Cycladic and the Classical. The statues they made were more human than the Cycladic, but still retained a divine quality, as if they were not individual, egotistical humans, but idealized. They radiated a godlike beatitude, modeling for humans the ideal attitude of the worshiper.
As the age was dawning from the so-called Archaic to the Classical, we see a statue that seems poised in-between both worlds. She has been called the Almond-Eyed Kore, and retains the mystery and idealized Divinity of the older era, while having some of the individual ego of the Classical Greeks -- she looks like a particular person. This statue from 500 BC riveted me:
And of course, the classical Greeks, who gave names and egos to the Gods, were magnificent sculptors. By the Roman times, the statues seemed all too individual: nothing of the divine remained, we see portraits of men, very individual, beady-eyed, important men.
And so, we leave rainy Athens and fly to London, where we have a one-day layover, which we welcome happily. We arrive in Heathrow and take a bus to the nearby hotel, in neighborhood with an old country feel. Talk about culture shock. After Turkey and Greece, England seems eerily, almost creepily, quiet and tidy. Where are all the street cats?
We take the tube to the city. It's a beautiful sunny day. How often can you leave rainy Athens for sunny London? And on such a day, it's a fantastic place to be. The city is so pleasant for walking, with wide uncrowded sidewalks, and grand trees. There are spotless squares and amazing architecture -- no eyesores, no rubbish, no hideous modern development to mar the grand views.
Andres fit in in London as he does everywhere. Westminster is stunning
We spent hours in the British museum, possibly the best museum in the world. Since most of the treasures there are looted from around the world, at least they have the decency to make entrance free.
We began in the Egypt room .. and needless to say it is awe-inspiring to be so close to these sacred objects.
But the big highlight of the British museum for us was the Assyrian room. These guys were true magicians. A photograph cannot even do justice to the halls of wonders, the giant doors, statues, and friezes.
After Egypt and Assyria, the world went downhill. (Unlike what they tell you in school, that ancients were ignorant and we are the pinnacle of human evolution). The art of the later Persian empire was clearly modeled on the Assyrian, but of much lesser quality.
The other highlights for us were the Celtic goldwork, and the clothing of North American Indians. I was struck by how the Neolithic pottery was all the same from the Middle East, Syria, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, etc .. evidence of a far-ranging culture many thousands of years ago.
a beautiful ancient golden bull
I was also struck by how the explanation plaques all over the museum kept driving home that the art was about power and authority. They never present these things as a theory ... but as fact. For example, they had on display one of the giant heads from Eastern Island, and stated that it was a display of power and authority. But no one has any idea who made those heads, or what they were for! Why do the "experts" try so hard to convince us that everything is about authority?
We limped out of the British Museum (too much walking) and went on a quest for a proper pub. We found one. What great ceilings and decor those places have. And we ate the most delicious sausages we have ever had, and great chips and warm beer. Then we saw a play. Wandering the streets after the play, we had a real sense of how unified British culture is. People of all ages were strolling the streets, coming from the theater, chatting to each other at the pubs. One continuous culture, young and old, unified by beer and a sense of their Britishness. This was a stark contrast to say, Greece and Turkey, where the young people seemed to belong to a different universe than their elders.
Yes, being in London is a reminder of the grandness of the imperial power which once rested here. The lion, with its golden mane, has represented the Sun God since the time of ancient Mesopotamia (the beginning of empire); and became the royal emblem of England. For surely the image of the lion devouring the bull, who was sacred to the Goddess, symbolized the defeat of the Goddess cultures by the empires of the Sun God.
And in the next age, when the Goddess returns .. who shall be her mascot? What will be the image for the age of balance between the Feminine and Masculine?
And so it is!