Thursday, November 21, 2019

Next stop in Sicily...

Village of Piazza Armerina (my photo)

                               Villa Romana del Casale

Detail of an animal mosaic (turismo in Italia)
Villa Romana del Casale is a large Roman villa, built in approximately 320 AD, (early 4th century) decorated with intricate mosaics located in the Sicilian countryside. It is believed to be an important statesman's country home and agricultural estate. It houses one of the best collections of Roman Mosaics in the world. It has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site. The detailed mosaics are very well preserved because the site was buried under a landslide, protecting it from weather damage and looting. It is a collection of buildings roughly oriented on 3 separate axis

Map of the Villa del Romana Casale complex  (

The estate consists of three main sections; 1.the open court and its encompassing rooms, 2. the private bath complex, 3. the grand formal entrance and a latrine complex. It is believed that in the 5th and 6th centuries the estates original walls were strengthened to protect the area from outside threats. It is recognized as a classic example of a Roman villa, but it is believed from the archaeological evidence that it was constructed over a pre-existing villa. The formal entrance hall has a grand entrance and columns of Egyptian granite. The floor and walls contain marble from different Mediterranean areas, this particular variety of marble was highly regarded in Roman times.
Villa Romana baths (Transparent roofing has been added to protect the ruins.)

When the Romans controlled Sicily they turned it into a vast agricultural area for the growing of grain to feed citizens of the empire. They had large agricultural estates called "Latifundia" in Sicily to see to those production needs. The villa is mentioned in Roman records and has the name of "Filosofiana", it is where the Roman official overseeing the estate lived, and where administrative functions for the estate were carried out. Rooms for state functions, for housing visiting dignitaries, dining halls, storage areas for agricultural products, and areas for the entertainment of visitors have been discovered. The villa is profusely decorated with mosaics and has frescoes as well. Two other Roman villas have also been discovered in Sicily, one is near Noto in SE Sicily, a grand old town known for Baroque style, and the other near Messina on the North East coast towards mainland Italy. Both of these villas also have mosaics but not as extensive as the Villa Romana del Casale.

View into the baths complex showing mosaics and the ancient stone wall construction. (my photo)

In the 12th century, a massive landslide covered the villa and the remaining residents of the area moved to another settlement which has become the current location of the town of Piazza Armeria, which is 5 km away from the site.. The villa was mostly forgotten and the area was used as farmland after that. In the early 1800's columns and mosaics were being unearthed with farm plows and excavations were begun. An extensive medieval settlement has also been found in the area which was possibly abandoned when the landslide occurred. Today, the University of Rome is participating in formal archaeological digs.

Open court area showing part of the fountain, animal head mosaics, and geometric patterning on floor. (my photo)
The grand formal entrance of the villa had an elaborate fountain consisting of three basins with a mosaic of fish swimming in the waves. The most famous mosaic would be the one known as the "Bikini Girls" which features scenes of females who appear to be wearing bikinis participating in a variety of athletic competitions including weight lifting, discus throwing, running, and ball games. Also shown in the mosaic is a woman in a toga offering a crown and palm to the winner. The "Bikini Girls" mosaic was excavated in 1960. Other rooms feature a mosaic of Orpheus, a musician and poet in Greek Mythology, playing a lyre with tamed wild animals all around him. The "Great Hunt" scene features men in boats transporting all kinds of wild animals which they are transporting back to Rome. It shows different sea faring craft, oxen, elephants, sea creatures, lions, horned animals and hunters with shields. The mosaics are so detailed that the mosaic people even have shadows crafted in mosaic as well. Other representations detailed in the mosaics are: cupids fishing, a children's hunt, actors and choruses, fruits, geometrics, various animals, the poet Arion, dancing women, the seasons, giants wrestling with serpents, and a mosaic of Hercules.
Storeroom with detailed mosaics. (my photo)

The villa had a Roman thermal bath complex, supplied with water from an aqueduct system, with a layout following the common theme of Roman baths. An entrance, with places to undress, an exercise room, steam bath or calidaria, warm bath or tepidarium, and a cold bath or frigidarium with a pool. Remains of ovens used to heat the baths can be seen. The routine at a Roman bath was to enter and undress, visit the steam bath, then the warm bath to wash, apply oil and then scrape the skin of oil, dirt and sweat. After one was clean, then the cold baths were visited. Visitors can also see the remains of a large external octagonal latrine with several seats, located to the side of the villa.

"Bikini Girls" mosaic, (my photo).

 Detail of Hunting mosaic (turismo in Italia)

Mosaic detail (
Nice shot of floor mosaics and wall frescoes with the remains of columns lining the hall (agri turismo Borgo degli Ulivi)

Friday, November 1, 2019

From Palermo to Valley of the Temples in Agrigento

Palermo and Beyond!

Temple of Concordia, Agrigento

After three days in Palermo it was time for our tour to move on. We all boarded the bus for the 2-3 hour drive to the next stop, (94 km or 130 miles away) the Agrigento area and the Valley of Temples, on the south-eastern part of the island. The Sicilian countryside is peaceful, with much agriculture, and, of course, all the roads are being worked on. Sicily is quite self-sufficient and has its own natural resources, they like having some measure of independence, they are part of Italy but are considered an autonomous region. After learning about the history of the island, no one can blame them for wanting some kind of say in their own destiny. 

Dopo tre giorni a Palermo era tempo che l nostro tour proseguisse. Salomnotutti sull'autobus per 2-3 ore di macchina fino alla fermata successiva (94 km) l'area di Agrigento e la Valle dei Templi, nella parte sud-orientale dell'isola. La campagna siciliana e tranquilla, con molta agricoltura e, naturalmente, tutte le strade sono in fase di lavorazione. La Sicilla e abbastanza autosufficiente e ha le sue rosorse naturali, a loro piace avere una certa indipendenza, fanno parte dell'Italia ma sono considerate una regione autonoma. Dopo aver appreso della storia dell'isola, nessuno puo biasimarli per aver voluto dire qualcosa mel proprio destino.  

View out the bus window as we approached the site.
Valle dei Templi

This area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. It is the largest archaeological site n the world (3200 acres).

Agrigento, the modern name, was known as Akragas and was an ancient Greek settlement in Sicily. It was founded around 580 BC. It became a large settlement and it is believed as many as 300,000 people could have lived there at its supreme times. Excavations have found 12 km (7.5 miles) of walls and nine city gates that once enclosed the city, along with some of the largest and best preserved Greek architecture of any where in the world, even Greece. It has been named a World Heritage site and though much of it has not been excavated yet, many wonders have already been found at the site.

Quest'area e stata dichiarata Patriomonio dell'Umanita 
dall'UNESCO nel 1997. E il piu grande sito archeologico
del mondo 3200 acres. 
Agrigento, il nome moderno, era noto come Akragas ed era
un antico insediamento greco in Sicilia. Fu fondata intorno
al 580 a.C. Divenne un grande insediamento e si ritiene che 
300,000 persone avrebbero potuto vivere li ai suoi tempi
supremi. Gli scavi hanno trovato 12 km di mura e nove
porte cittadine che un tempo racchiudevano la citta,insieme
ad alcune delle piu grandi e meglio conservate architetture
greche di qualsiasi parte del mondo,persino la Grecia. 
E stato nominato un sito del patrimonio mondiale e sebbene
gran parte dii esso non sia stato ancora scavato, molte
meraviglie sono gia state trovate nel sito.
Residents of Akragas tried to stay neutral in the wars between the Greek cities of Athens and Sparta but it is known that they sided with the city of Syracuse (Siracusa in Sicily) when that city fought Carthage. The city was attacked by Carthage and by Rome in the First and Second Punic Wars, and it was attacked afterward as well. After the Second Punic War the peace proceedings awarded the city to Rome and the name was changed to Agrigentum. Even though the city now became part of the empire, it remained mostly a Greek settlement for hundreds of years afterward.

Gli abitanti di Akragas hanno cercato di rimanere neutrali nelle guerre tra le città greche di Atene e Sparta, ma si sa che si schierarono con la città di Siracusa (Siracusa in Sicilia) quando quella città combatté contro Cartagine. La città fu attaccata da Cartagine e da Roma nella prima e nella seconda guerra punica, e fu attaccata anche in seguito. Dopo la seconda guerra punica i procedimenti di pace assegnarono la città a Roma e il nome fu cambiato in Agrigentum. Anche se ora la città divenne parte dell'impero, rimase per lo più un insediamento greco per centinaia di anni dopo.
Remans of the Temple of Olympian Zeus

The city was passed to other conquerors when Rome fell, the Saracens, the Normans and the Bourbons all became rulers of Sicily in the forthcoming years. Eventually the lower, coastal parts of the settlement were abandoned in favor of settlement in the hilly region, where the old Greek temples were. This abandonment is believed to be because of the threat of invasion from raiders on the coast bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Taking refuge in the hills, in places where settlements were vulnerable to attack by sea was a common occurrence in other areas of southern Italy along the coasts. The city did not thrive under Norman or Bourbon rule and in 1860, along with the rest of Sicily it supported Garibaldi and the unification of Italy, north and south, to finally oust the Spanish. The city suffered many bombing raids during WW II under Mussolini's rule.

Today Agrigento is a popular destination for tourists in Sicily because of its vast archaeological history and it is also an agricultural center. Some of the best examples of Greek architecture can be seen in Sicily. Doric style Greek temples and the largest Greek temple believed to be erected anywhere in the world (Temple of Olympian Zeus) can be found at Agrigento. During the Byzantine era, Christians used the Temple of Concordia at Agrigento as a church and also built catacombs in the area. Rocks from the structures were re-purposed for the building of a port on the Mediterranean and other local building projects over the eons. Sieges of war and earthquakes have also left their marks on the structures there. The site has also been found to be rich in Neolithic artifacts which can be seen in the archaeological museum.

Temple of Olympian Zeus
La citta fu passata ad altri conquistator quando Roma cadde, i Saraceni, i Normanni e i Borboni divennero tutti sovrani della Sicilia nei prossimi anni. Alla fini le parte costiere inferiori dell'insediamento furono abbandonate a favore dell'insediamento nella regione collinare, doce si trovavano i vecchi templi greci. Si ritiene che questo abbandono sia dovuto alla minaccia di invasione da parte di predoni sulla costa al confine con il Mar Mediterraneo. Rifugiarsi sulle colline, in luoghi in cui gli insediamenti erano vulnerabili agli ataachi via mare era un evento comue in altro aree dell'Italia meridionale lungo le coste. La citta non prosperosotto il dominio normano o borbono e nel 1860, insieme al resto della Sicilia, sostenne Garibaldi e l"Unita d'Italia, nord e sud, per cacciare definitivamente gli spagnoli. La citta subi molti bombardamenti durante la seconda guerra mondiale sotto il dominio di Mussolini.

Oggi Agrigento è una destinazione popolare per i turisti in Sicilia a causa della sua vasta storia archeologica ed è anche un centro agricolo. Alcuni dei migliori esempi di architettura greca si possono vedere in Sicilia. I templi greci in stile dorico e il più grande tempio greco che si ritiene siano stati eretti in qualsiasi parte del mondo (Tempio di Zeus Olimpio) si trovano ad Agrigento. Durante l'epoca bizantina, i cristiani usarono il Tempio della Concordia ad Agrigento come chiesa e costruirono anche catacombe nella zona. Le rocce delle strutture sono state ridisegnate per la costruzione di un porto sul Mediterraneo e altri progetti di costruzione locale nel corso degli eoni. Assedi di guerra e terremoti hanno anche lasciato il segno sulle strutture lì. Il sito è stato anche trovato per essere ricco di manufatti neolitici che possono essere visti nel museo archeologico.

Sights to see: remnants of the catacombs and the city wall
Catacombs dug by Christians in the walls that surrounded the city.

The Concordia Temple, built around 450 to 430 BC, one of the best preserved Greek temples anywhere in the world. 6X12 columns.

The Temple of Hercules (Ercole), the oldest temple at the site build around 510 BC to honor the hero Hercules. It was re-erected in the 1920's. 6X15 Doric columns.

The Temple Dioscuri (of Castor and Pollux), 480-460 BC which was destroyed by a siege from Carthage in 406 BC.

The Temple of Hera (Juno), built around 450- 430 BC. Black stains of fire damage from the attack by Carthage in 406 BC can still be seen on the large temple stones. It overlooks the scenic valley. 6X13 columns.
The Temple of Olympian Zeus, Believed to be the largest Greek temple ever built in the world (480's BC) to commemorate a victory over Carthage in one of the city's many sieges. The size of this structure can be compared to the size of a modern football field. It was massive. Scholars say the temple was unique because the columns incorporated into the temple structure were set into a half-wall and the spaces in between the columns held huge statues that appeared to hold up the roof of the temple with their outstretched arms. Each of the 38 male statues were 7.6 meters (25 feet) tall. One of them lies upon the ground in large pieces near the temple. Iron was used as a structural support in the stones of the temple during construction. It is believed the temple was never completely finished because the city was again attacked and ruined by Carthage in the siege of 406 BC.

Some other structures at the site are, the Tomb of Theron, a burial monument once believed to contain a small pyramid, the Temple of Hephaestus, with only the base and a few columns left, and the Temple of Asclepius, a God of Healing, with only a partial sanctuary left.

Concordia front detail

Temple of Hera/Juno

Luoghi da vedere: resti delle catacombe e delle mura della citta. 
Il tempio della Concordia, costruito tra il 450 e il 430 a.C. uno dei templi greci meglio conservati in tutto il mondo. Colonne 6x12.
Il tempio di Ercole, il piu antico tempio del sito construito interno al 510 a.C. in onore dell'eroe Ercole. Fu eretto negli anni '20. Colonne doriche 6x15.
Il tempio Dioscuri (di Castore e Polluce), 480-460 a.C. che fu distrutto da un assedio di Cartagine nel 406 a.C.
Il tempio di Hera (Giunone), construito intorno al 450-430 a.C. Mecchie nere di danni da fuoco dell'atacco di Cartagine nel 406 a.C. sono ancora visibili sulle grandi pietre del tempio. Si affaccia sulla valle scenica. Colonne 6x13.
Il tempio di Zeus Olimpio, ritenuto il più grande tempio greco mai costruito al mondo (480 a.C.) per commemorare una vittoria su Cartagine in uno dei tanti assedi della città. La dimensione di questa struttura può essere paragonata alla dimensione di un moderno campo di calcio. È stato enorme. Gli studiosi affermano che il tempio era unico perché le colonne incorporate nella struttura del tempio erano incastonate in una mezza parete e gli spazi tra le colonne contenevano enormi statue che sembravano sostenere il tetto del tempio con le braccia distese. Ognuna delle 38 statue maschili era alta 7,6 metri (25 piedi). Uno di questi giace a terra in grandi pezzi vicino al tempio. Il ferro è stato usato come supporto strutturale nelle pietre del tempio durante la costruzione. Si ritiene che il tempio non sia mai stato completamente completato perché la città fu nuovamente attaccata e rovinata da Cartagine nell'assedio del 406 a.C.

Artist rendering of the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Telamon or one of the giant statues (7.5 m tall or 24.5 feet) were holding up the roof of the Olympian Zeus Temple (see artists rendering above)

Prickly Pear cactus are seen all around the island of Sicily, these were growing in the Archaeological prk.

Sunset on the Mediterranean Sea as seen from our hotel near Agrigento.
Concordia Temple
Agrigento is 94 k (130 miles) from Palermo.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Highlights of Palermo

Porta Felice, Palermo City Gate 1637 (RomeArtLover)
Porta Nuova Palermo City Gate, rebuild in 1667 after a gunpowder explosion (AtlasObscura)

 Highlights of Palermo

I recently returned from a 12 day tour of Sicily, the island off the south western coast of the Italian peninsula. Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, is considered a part of Italy but it also has its own autonomous government and language. While Italian is based on a Latin structure, Sicilian is based on Greek, Spanish, French, Catalan, and Arabic, and has differences in grammar and structure.

There is always a bit of jet lag, and a feeling of being overwhelmed when you visit a new, far-away place. Everything is different and you cannot communicate with the people there very well. Add to that a somewhat intimidating maze of streets where graffiti is abundant, there's a lot of trash around, and stories of the mafia are floating around in your head. That was my first impression of Palermo. Not the best I'm sorry to say. After three days of staying there and being introduced to the wonders and uniqueness of Palermo, I was reluctant to leave for the next portion of our journey.

Sicily, by virtue of its location, throughout its long history has been in the cross hairs of those wishing to conquer and get gain. The Greeks came, they established settlements, they built fantastic buildings that have lasted for over 1000 years, and yet they fought among themselves over different parts of the island. Then the Romans replaced the Greeks, deforested the island to build ships of war and turned it into a place that would serve as the 'breadbasket' growing wheat to service the Roman Empire. They converted the Greek theaters where moralistic and philosophical plays were performed into places of blood and combat. The Arabs came, they dominated the western portion of the island, especially in the Palermo area, they brought citrus plants, eastern wisdom, and distinctive cuisine. The Normans, the Lombards, the Spanish, and then finally the House of Savoy came, with the Northern Italians and a plan to unify the peninsula with the island.

Each and every one of these governing bodies has pretty much shafted the people of the island in favor of their own self interest, so if anyone is wondering why Sicilians might have a bit of a fatalistic point of view and be reluctant to accept everyone's great new ideas for improvements in society, now you have some kind of understanding of why. I tell all of this to give you an idea of what makes Palermo tick and why it is like it is today. It sits at the intersection of several differing and conquering cultures and has made a one of a kind distillation of all of those differences to become what Palermo is today. 
Gems of Palermo: Capella Palatina- The Palatine Chapel

The Sanctuary of Capella Palatina showing Christ as "Pantocrator" (my photo).
In 1132, Roger II, a Norman king of Sicily desired a grand chapel to be built on the site of a former church in the royal palace. This chapel took about 8 years to build and the intricate mosaics decorating it took about 10years to complete. The mosaics are the charms of this chapel, the ceiling and the walls are covered with them. Featured in them are stories from the Bible and depictions of Saints and Apostles. The mosaics in the Palatine Chapel are believed to be the largest example of Byzantine mosaics in the world. The palace has been put on the UNESCO world heritage list because of the unique blending of architecture and the historicity of the site.
Interior of Capella Palatina (my photo).

The chapel is dedicated to Peter the Apostle (also known as St. Peter, Simon Peter), and features a domed basilica with three apses with six pointed arches off the nave. The architecture is a harmonious melding of Norman, Arabic, and Byzantine. The arches are distinctly Arabic and another feature of Arabic design is the 8-point star which is used abundantly in the chapel and the stars are arranged on the ceiling forming a Christian cross. The ceiling of the chapel is an example of carved wood known as muqarnas, a three dimensional version of a geometric design. This is a form of ornamented vaulting used on a ceiling and is an intrinsic part of Arabic/ Islamic architecture. 

Interior showing the muqarnas, antique wood ceiling in the Islamic style (               
The nave features texts in Arabic, Latin, and Greek. In the sanctuary there is a depiction of Christ known to Christian iconography as “Pantocrator”. You can see he is holding his hand a certain way. The Palatine chapel is considered a supreme example of Byzantine artistic style and has the distinctive flair added to it with the blending of Sicily's, and Palermo's in particular melting pot culture. It is seen as a shining example of multicultural cooperation. The royal palace is currently the seat of the regional government of Sicily.
Detail of mosaics in Capella Palatina (
Detail of mosaics (my photo).

San Cataldo Church
(Chiesa di San Cataldo)
San Cataldo church, showing the distinctive pink-red domes (my photo).

This is an example of Arab-Norman architecture and also part of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Palermo. This church was founded in 1160, by Maio of Bari, the Chancellor or Prime Minister of Norman ruler William I (known as “The Bad”). Unfortunately the Chancellor was assassinated and that resulted in the interior of the chapel never being finished or decorated, and it has remained that way for over 800 years. Yet, it is an intriguing and distinctive building that is brilliant in its austerity. The most distinctive feature being the three pinkish-red cupolas or domes.
Detail of San Cataldo

Interior of San Cataldo

Agatha Patron Saint of Palermo, Quattro Canti
Qattro Canti- The Four Corners of Palermo
The old historic district of Piazza Vigilena is known as Quattro Canti, it is a baroque square where the two main streets of Palermo cross (Via Maqueda and Corso Vittorio Emanuele). This square was commissioned by a Spanish Viceroy with a very long name about 1610. Four palaces ring the square with convex facades. On the facades you can see four different levels, representing nature and ascending up to heaven. The first level consists of fountains representing ancient rivers of the area, next, there is a figure on each palace which represents one of the four seasons, with Doric columns framing the sides of the figures. The next level on each of the buildings names a Spanish ruler (Charles V, Philip II, Philip III and Philip IV), set off by Ionic columns. The top level of each one shows a depiction of one of the patron saints of Palermo, Agatha, Nymph, Olive and Christine, set off by Corinthian pilasters. 

Quattro Canti, showing the top level depicting a Saint.

View of Quattro Canti from above showing the four convex facades.

Piazza Pretoria, Fontana Pretoria or otherwise known as
The Fountain of Shame (circa 1554)
This elaborate fountain is done in the high renaissance style features a bunch of naked people in various poses along with all kinds of animals, sea creatures, nymphs, monsters, sirens, and other real or mythical creatures. It was created for a Spanish nobleman, Don Luigi de Toledo, as the mother of all fountains to decorate his estate in Florence. When Don Luigi died he left his son with a mountain of debt, so his son sold the fountain to the Palermo Senate. The fountain was taken apart and transported by boat to Sicily, all 644 pieces of it! Some of the statues were damaged during transport and the Palermo Senate also found out that Toledo's son kept a few of his favorite statues for himself. It is called the fountain of shame because of the nude statues which happen to be visible from the church and the nunnery across the square. It is rumored the nuns used to try to put clothes on the statues.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

What's in a portrait?

Roman, Greek or Egyptian?
Is the answer in the eye of the beholder?

After a recent trip to Italy and to the ancestral village of my paternal grandparents, I embarked on a quest to find more about the experience of being a hyphenated American, in this case, an Italian-American one. Living in the Rocky Mountains, as I do, far away from the East Coast of my youth, I often feel like I have lost part of my heritage by living where I do. While perusing articles of what it meant to be an Italian American, I found a piece where the author stated that the Fayum Portraits all looked Italian to him. Never having heard of these portraits before, despite having studied two courses of Art History, I decided to learn more about them. 

My quest to discover something unique about heritage became an art and culture exploration, and depending on who you ask, those assessing the look of the portraits all seemed to attribute them to their own or to their desired idea of an ethnic group. They look Roman! They look Greek! They look Egyptian! To me they look like an amalgamation of the cultures of that specific time and place. DNA and dental studies of the Fayum mummies have shown more solidarity with their Egyptian heritage but one can also see Mediterranean features in the portraits. The most striking feature seems to be their enlarged eyes and the realism represented in the portraits.

The Fayum Portraits are a group of naturalistic portraits painted on wood and attached to mummies found from the time that the Roman Empire controlled Egypt. They are classified as 'panel painting' in that they are painted on flat wood panels. The paint is generally done in encaustic style with wax mixed pigments or an egg based tempura. Mummy portraits have been found across Egypt, but these particular portraits date to the time of the Roman occupation of Egypt (approx 1st century BC to 1st century ad and after). The wood portraits are placed in the wrappings of mummies where the face would be, giving personality to the person wrapped within. They are very realistic but all seem to emphasize the face with very large eyes. They have surprisingly contemporary hairstyles and are quite individualistic showing expressions, clothing styles and jewelry, all done in vivid color with even gold inlay on the jewelry. They are in a Greece-Roman style, rather than Egyptian. About 1000 of these portraits exist in various places around the world, such as The British Museum, The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at various colleges and institutions. Most of the portraits have been removed from their mummies. It is speculated that the dry Egyptian climate helped preserve them and the wax mixed pigment technique helped preserve the colors and also aided in preservation.

In the 1800's British, French and Germans scouted them out for art collectors, museums, and even used them for firewood on cold desert nights when on digging expeditions. Some recovered portraits were lost at sea when being transported from Egypt to Europe. Few who sought them out properly documented the portraits or the circumstances of their recovery, so it makes their relevance, as far as academics are concerned, have less value than they otherwise might have.

In 1887, a British archaeologist, Flinders Petrie, excavated at Hawara Egypt and found a Roman necropolis from which he originally recovered about 80 of the portraits. Petrie was one of the few who did document and publish his findings about the portraits. Petrie did another excavation in 1910-11 but by the time this second dig occurred the French, Germans, and Egyptians were also looking for the portraits to sell to art collectors and they did not document their findings. Several of the portraits found in the British museum arrived there under shadowy undocumented circumstances. It makes you wonder how many might be collected in the mansions of the ultra rich that no one really knows about, and if these were plundered, their historical significance has been lost to the world forevermore.

The portraits depict persons from childhood to old age and were set into the mummy wrappings, the artistry shows skilled use of light and shade, 3-d appearance, and all depict large eyes, bringing about speculation about them being similar to icon paintings, whether they were painted before or after the person's death, whether they are truly realistic or are idealized conceptions of the person they represent. They appear to be a combination of Roman and Egyptian funeral tradition, for the wealthy, and only appear after the Romans established Egypt as a province. They look like paintings of the old masters but were in reality done 1500 years earlier.

Sources:, Wikipedia,,

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Sourdough by Robin Sloan, a book review...

I've been wanting to read this book for a while. I read the author's first book (Mr. Penumbra's 24 hr Bookstore) and enjoyed it so when I learned he had written another book I mentally added it to my To-Be-Read list. I walked past it a few times, and read the cover during my regular haunts of bookstores and libraries but never actually got down to the business of reading it until now. I am also someone who has tried to raise/keep a sourdough starter and cook with it but has not had good luck in that respect, so from that point of view the book also caught my interest. 

What a fun read! Need a good escape from the seriousness of life? Read this book. This book is hard to describe...there's a foodie focus, and having lived in the Bay area years ago I can relate to the setting and atmosphere created in the story. "Lois" is a software engineer leaving her comfort zone of a small town to go work for a technology whiz start-up company in the big city (San Francisco). She is spending all her time at the office with the other technological geniuses, who hardly even venture home from work and when they do they never cook. Lois soon relies on a local take-out and delivery joint for all her dinners and has food delivered nightly to her apartment. The place is run by two mysterious brothers, they cook the food and deliver soup and sourdough bread to her every night, she becomes their best customer. One day they inform her, that they are suddenly moving away and give her a gift of their sourdough starter since she has loved eating their food so much. They tell her to take care of it, learn to bake with it and to play it music to keep it happy. 

And... the story gets odder from there, but in a good way. It's fanciful, fantastical, farcical, and a quirky mix of oddball characters, technology, and the ancient art of baking bread for meaning and sustenance. Get your fill of inside foodie jokes (the urban scale Panettone is one example) and nerdy humor when you learn the story of how the mysterious Masque people (ancient keepers of the sourdough starter) became pirates..."For while other pirate crews were sick from moldy rations, the Masque pirates were strong from rations made of mold".

This book has an unusual and entertaining plot, it's a clean read, a quick read, great for travel or the beach and many parts are laugh out loud funny. Ancient world meet modern world, where a robot arm is programmed to stir the dough and the bread oven and sourdough starter are characters in their own right.

You may yearn to bake after reading this book. You will definitely want to sink your teeth into a butter slathered slice of fresh sourdough bread while reading it.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Disturbing trends....

I don't think I have ever repeated/reposted an entire article on this blog, I like to write my own pieces, but this seems to be a disturbing trend now a days in many areas of our lives. (It seems to be another reason why I dislike Twitter and will never become a "tweeter"). This article comes from The Spectator UK, was written by Karen Yossman and was published on May 18, 2019.

 Writers blocked: Even fantasy fiction is now offensive

Persecution is endemic in the vicious world of Young Adult publishing

Image result for amelie wen zhao
It was Lionel Shriver who saw the writing on the wall. Giving a keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival three years ago in which she decried the scourge of modern identity politics, Shriver observed that the dogma of ‘cultural appropriation’ —which demands no less than complete racial segregation in the arts — had not yet wrapped its osseous fingers around the publishing industry. But, she warned: ‘This same sensibility is coming to a bookstore near you.’ Reader, it has come.
Next month a young, Asian-American author called Amélie Wen Zhao was due to celebrate the publication of her debut novel Blood Heir, the first in a three-part fantasy series for which Zhao was reportedly paid a six-figure sum by Delacorte Press, a children’s imprint of Penguin Random House. Set in the Russian-inspired ‘Cyrillian Empire’, Blood Heir tells the story of a magic-wielding princess who is forced to flee her kingdom following her father’s murder. ‘In a world where the princess is the monster, oppression is blind to skin colour, and good and evil exist in shades of grey… comes a dark Anastasia retelling,’ blurbed the publishers.
Before the manuscript had even reached the presses, however, a furore erupted when Zhao, a 26-year-old banker born in Paris and raised in Beijing, was accused of racism. Armed with merely the blurb and a handful of excerpts from the book, her critics — many of them fellow authors, editors and bloggers in the Young Adult genre (known as YA) — repeatedly tore into Zhao on sites such as Twitter and Goodreads, outraged by, among other things, the novel’s depiction of indentured labour. For despite Blood Heir’s Slavic setting, her detractors assumed the plot was inspired by American slavery and thus something Zhao had no business writing about because she is not black. In a tirade that might surprise students of Russian antiquity, one critic reportedly raged: ‘[R]acist ass writers, like Amélie Wen Zhao, […] literally take Black narratives and force it into Russia when that shit NEVER happened in history.’
One prominent writer even claimed the very premise of a fictional world in which ‘oppression is blind to skin colour’ was racist and joined others in pillorying Zhao for creating — and then killing — a ‘black’ character in the novel. No matter that the only discernible evidence for the character’s ethnicity was a vague description of dark curls and ‘bronze’ skin. Another YA author, Ellen Oh, who joined in the fray by piously tweeting ‘colour blindness is extremely tone deaf. Learn from this and do better’, was herself forced to issue an apology after being castigated for using the phrase ‘tone deaf’, a turn of events that would be comical were it not so preposterous.
For Zhao, the onslaught proved too much and in January she released a statement titled ‘To The Book Community: An Apology’ in which she confirmed she had withdrawn Blood Heir from publication. However, in a volte-face last month, Zhao revealed that, with help from multicultural scholars and ‘sensitivity readers’, she had re-written the novel and would now be publishing it in November.
Would that Zhao were an outlier. If anything, hers is now a typical experience in the vicious world of YA publishing. Last year another fantasy novel, about a young protagonist rebelling against a sectarian society, inspired an 8,000 word blog post calling it ‘the most dangerous, offensive book I have ever read’ and set off a wave of recrimination against the author on social media. Around the same time Keira Drake, a marketing consultant turned YA writer, agreed to pulp hardback copies of her debut fantasy novel and re-write it with help from — you guessed it — sensitivity readers after critics claimed it contained ‘damaging’ depictions of Native Americans.

Because this persecution on the most spurious grounds is endemic — and because so many of its actors are themselves YA authors — plenty of those brandishing the proverbial pitchforks have, upon publication of their own novels, subsequently found themselves staring down the sharp side of a four-pronged rod. In February, Kosoko Jackson, a gay, black, erstwhile sensitivity reader who had previously joined in the skirmishes against other authors, pulled his own debut novel, A Place for Wolves, after his peers pronounced it ‘insensitive’ to Muslims on account of its Albanian Muslim antagonist.
Nor is the contagion confined to American authors. Last month John Boyne, best known for the Holocaust novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, received such a barrage of abuse prior to the publication of his latest book, My Brother’s Name Is Jessica, which features a transgender central character, that he was briefly forced off Twitter. Critics labelled the book ‘transphobic’, suggesting that because Boyne is not transgender the story ‘lacked authenticity’ and its title ‘misgendered’ the fictional protagonist.
At almost the same moment that Boyne was deleting his Twitter account, Lincolnshire-based Zoe Marriott, a prolific writer of YA fiction, was also being hounded on the site over her new fantasy novel, The Hand, the Eye and the Heart, because it’s set in ‘fairy-tale China’. One prominent YA blogger warned: ‘White authors need to stay the hell away from the stories of people of colour.’ Curiously, said blogger’s day job involves manning the tills at Foyles, one of London’s most revered bookshops — pity the poor sod who dares trouble her for a copy of Othello, or Tolkien for that matter.  The father of fantasy fiction has come in for criticism for his portrayal of orcs in The Lord of the Rings. Some feel his work is ‘racialised’. And what’s a sensitive young bookseller to do if a young customer requests a C.S. Lewis, whose Narnia books were branded ‘blatantly racist’ and misogynistic by fellow fantasy author Philip Pullman? Pullman has since been labelled ‘transphobic’ himself after tweeting in October that he was ‘finding the trans argument impossible to follow’.
Once you start seeing goblins in fairyland, there’s no end to it. Even the most enlightened author can cause offence. It is only a matter of time before it begins to eat away at every genre until, as Shriver predicted, ‘All that’s left is memoir’.
Already poets might understandably feel anxious: last summer The Nation, one of America’s most venerable literary magazines, published a 14-line poem about homelessness, which was swiftly accused of co-opting a ‘black vernacular’ and criticised for its use of the word ‘crippled’. Instead of defending the verses it had previously deemed worthy of publication, the magazine immediately issued an apology so spineless one of its own columnists said it resembled ‘a letter from [a] re-education camp’.
But it’s not just writers who ought to be worried. The logical apogee of a prohibition on cultural intercourse is a future in which each person is allowed to document only his or her precise subjective experience. A future, in other words, where fiction is history. And that sounds like a very dreary prospect for us all.
Karen Yossman on writers under scrutiny.

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