The Original Olive Garden, Gethsemane, with very Old Trees

Many Holy Land sites are frauds, built after the fact; like the room sold to tourists as the “Upper Room” of the Last Supper but built in 1099 CE.  But the Garden of Gethsemane is the real thing.  Christ may or may not have prayed there, but  the Garden of Gethsemane has very old olive trees.  When Suzi and I visited the garden we were told the trees are 2000 years old.  Since then, carbon dating in 2012 marked them as only between 900 to 1000 years old.   DNA tests show the trees all came from a common parent.  They … Continue reading The Original Olive Garden, Gethsemane, with very Old Trees

Holy Land Kitsch

The Holy Land is mostly a fraud– a willing suspension of disbelief that allows you to believe that something happened at this exact spot and, therefore, this exact spot is holy. Stephen, one of the drivers who takes us to radio stations around the West Bank said “I hope you’re not Protestants because Protestants don’t seem to believe as much in these holy places.”  Then he pointed to a gate in the Old City wall and said “that’s where Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.” I said, “But that gate was built in the 16th century.” “Protestants!” But to make … Continue reading Holy Land Kitsch

Undersea gardens at Sharm el-Sheikh

In Sharm el-Sheikh the talk was of sharks.  A few weeks earlier four tourists were attacked and the beaches and reefs closed.  They were reopened and a German woman was killed in 2 feet of water off the Hyatt hotel, very close to where we were staying.  A satirical website is Serbia reported that a cannonballing fat Serbian tourist landed on, and killed, the shark.  Croat and Russian papers picked it up and published it as fact, much to the delight of Serbs.  When I got back to Belgrade a staffer asked me if I had met the Serbian “Hero … Continue reading Undersea gardens at Sharm el-Sheikh

Egyptian “Boardwalk” Towns, Sharm and Dahab.

It was not the boardwalk at Keansburg or Wildwood.  On the boardwalks in those Jersey Shore towns you won’t see a sign in the window of a hole in the wall shop that says “special, buy two bottles of Viagra, get one free. Genuine — illegally imported from the States.” Of course it’s called the corniche, and not boardwalk, on Naama Bay at Sharm el Sheikh.  It’s a bit more upscale than the boardwalk at Wildwood or Keansburg, but it has its share of shore dinners, pizza, postcards, and sunglasses.  Along the streets leading to the corniche you can find … Continue reading Egyptian “Boardwalk” Towns, Sharm and Dahab.

King Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

The only way to get into the King Hassan II Mosque, if you are not a Moslem, is on a guided tour.  It’s worth it.   The mosque is more than two football fields long and one wide.  I think St. Peters in Rome could easily fit inside if the roof were retracted for the dome.  It has a carved wooden roof of cyprus that is retractable so in good weather you can pray outside.  There is a glass floor under part of the mosque, which is built on and, in parts, over the Atlantic.  The floor gives us a glimpse … Continue reading King Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, The Great Library at Alexandria redux

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina, or “New Library of Alexandria,” is an attempt to recreate the tradition of the first “Great Library of Alexandria” built by Ptolemy in the third century BC.   It is either a stunning triumph of modern architecture or “The Rotten Oyster” depending on your point of view.  It is a stunning building, designed by a Norwegian firm incorporating types of natural wood never seen in Egypt.  Some Egyptians wonder “why a Norwegian, why Norwegian wood?”   I like it.  The outer wall has carvings of letters from most of the world’s alphabets reflected in a blue moat that surrounds … Continue reading Bibliotheca Alexandrina, The Great Library at Alexandria redux

Mt. Nebo, Jordan

When Moses got to Mt. Nebo he could see the Promised Land, but he could not enter. The mountain has a commanding view down into the Jordan Valley and across.  It is more than 2.600 feet above sea level and the Dead Sea at the foot of the Jordan Valley is more than 1,400 feet below sea level.  That’s quite a drop and quite a view.  You can just see the gold glint of dome from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. You can also see Jericho, the Dead Sea and practically all of modern Palestine and Israel.  I … Continue reading Mt. Nebo, Jordan

Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

This is the first of my posts on Holy Land sites.  Over the months there will be more.  We cannot be sure where most things in the Bible actually happened because, at the time, people didn’t put down GPS markers.  For instance, there are two competing sites of the crucifixion in Jerusalem.  The Via Dolorosa has changed routes several times.  The upper room touted as the site of the Last Supper is in a building erected in the 11th Century – AD.  This is one of three sites claiming to be the place Jesus was baptized.  If you’re looking for … Continue reading Bethany Beyond the Jordan.

Sacré Coeur in Casablanca.

The French Cathedral Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Cathedral) is at the heart of French Colonial Art Deco Casablanca.  It was built in 1930, abandoned for Catholic worship in 1956 on Morocco’s independence.  It sat derelict for years and reopened as an art gallery just before I got there in 2005.  It is built in a mix of Gothic and Art Deco styles with Islamic touches.  The stained glass is set in cutwork geometric patterns much like the decoration in a mosque.  Paul Tournon was the architect for this church turned art gallery.  It serves its new purpose well.  For more … Continue reading Sacré Coeur in Casablanca.

Casablanca Art Deco

Who wouldn’t want to visit Casablanca made famous by the Bogart film?  Of course that movie was shot in Hollywood, not North Africa.  Some current guidebooks tell us that Casablanca is good as a portal to pass through on your way to more interesting places like Fez and Marrakesh.  One book said that aside from the Grand Mosque of King Hassan II there is not much in the way of ‘sights’ of interest to the tourist, unless you want visit made up sites, two bars designed after the movie set, “Rick’s” and “Casablanca.” My work took me to Casablanca three … Continue reading Casablanca Art Deco

Fayoum’s Water Wheels, Creating an Oasis in Egypt

At the roadblock the police asked where we were going.  Our driver mentioned several towns in the Fayoum Oasis (Faiyum) I wanted to see.  “But no tourist ever goes there,” which, of course, is the point.  Egyptian friends told us about these villages, each dedicated to some traditional manufacture, like pottery.  The roads into them are bad.  They don’t have bus service.  Pickup trucks act as public transport.  Because of security concerns westerners are not allowed to use public transportation here.  We must either travel in protected tour busses or a private car, which the police told us, require an … Continue reading Fayoum’s Water Wheels, Creating an Oasis in Egypt

The Evolution of Egyptian Pyramids.

Egyptian pyramids evolved.  They did not just pop out of the ground at Giza.  A series of mistakes litter the desert.  In a short space of miles you can see those mistakes and follow that evolution. Saqqara has a stepped pyramid (and rubble of a step pyramid that didn’t hold up so well.)  It was an early incarnation of Pharaonic funeral monuments.  Then the builders decided to shift to smooth sided pyramids.  The Collapsed Pyramid at Meidum was their first big mistake.  The builders made the angle too steep.  Instead of the pressure of the weight at the top of … Continue reading The Evolution of Egyptian Pyramids.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar,– I.M. Pei’s symphony of geometric light and shadow.

The gem of Qatar is the Museum of Islamic Art, with pieces from the time of Mohammad to the beginning of the 21st century.  The building, by American Architect I.M. Pei, is designed to allow for the play of sun and shadow on both the outside and inside the atrium.  Natural light plays against structural forms, floor patterns, winding staircases, balconies and light fixtures to create massive geometric patterns that move with the sun and complement the micro geometric patterns common in Islamic art.  In this building you can get lost in yourself, the art and perhaps infinity. Having lived in … Continue reading Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar,– I.M. Pei’s symphony of geometric light and shadow.

Sea Arabs, Oman, Qatar and Zanzibar

I rewrote this post from three family letters, written in 2010 from Dubai, 2011 from Doha and 2012 from Zanzibar. People think about Arabs as a desert people, riding camels, “The ships of the desert” as I was taught in school, across waves of sand.  But in my travels I learned that Arabs were also master seafarers taking their dhows all around and across the Indian Ocean, carrying trade goods, culture and Islam to East Africa, India, Malaya and Indonesia just as the ships of the desert carried the same across Arabia and North Africa.  Along the coast of the … Continue reading Sea Arabs, Oman, Qatar and Zanzibar

Arab Spring, April 2011

The bridge cleaned up.   April 15, 2011,  Cairo, Egypt I got into the cab in Cairo and was shocked; the driver was wearing a seatbelt.  I hadn’t seen this before.  I put mine on.  He smiled and said “New Egypt.”  New Egypt is being stuck in a traffic jam near Tahrir Square and seeing a citizen in a white t shirt step forward, waving a cigarette like a baton, directing traffic.  People are taking responsibility.  One friend said “They used to own Egypt, now we do.  We have to take care of it.”  Or as another said “Before we … Continue reading Arab Spring, April 2011

Arab Spring, Feb 11, Mubarak Steps Down

On February 11, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as President of Egypt.  Suzi and I were in Doha, Qatar that night and went out on the streets as soon as we heard he had left power.  We were watching the events on Al Jazeera in our hotel room.  I looked out the window and across the bay I saw what looked, to me, like a large number of cars for that time of night.  We could hear a lot of honking so we set out from the hotel on foot to see what was happening.  Doha is a strange place.  To … Continue reading Arab Spring, Feb 11, Mubarak Steps Down