Sicily and Malta.4 – Temples and Mosaics

Sunday October 14 – Valle Dei Templi

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Departing Ragusa on Sunday morning our first stop was at the Valle Dei Templi, site of seven temples on a huge 1300 hectare site on a ridge, not in a Valle, near the town of Agrigento.

After the seeing the Valle we bused to Palermo, where we dined with the whole group at our hotel.

Monday October 15 – Monreale Morning, Palermo Afternoon

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After breakfast on Monday Roberto delivered us safely uphill to another cliffside place – Monreale. Its beautiful Duomo Di Monreale is world famous for its Norman architecture and the fact that is chock full of spectacular mosaics.

We climbed many stairs from the road to reach the square where the Duomo, dedicated in 1182 to the nativity of Mary.

Palermo Afternoon – The Cathedral and A Historic Palace

We visited Palermo Cathedral and killed time checking out graffiti until our 12:30 appointment at perhaps the #1 attraction in Palermo: Palazzo Conte Federico. The Count’s family can be traced back to Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, one of the truly great figures in history and King of Sicily at four years old in 1198. His descendant loves to race vintage sports cars and the Countess, who guided our group around, is an Austrian swimmer and musician.  She was a fascinating guide, explaining some Sicilian customs and superstitions such as the proper direction for a bed and warned us not to make the upward “corno” sign even by accident. This belief apparently predates Christianity.

Two more nights in Palermo left… Visiting Erice and Trapani on Tuesday and on Wednesday we will have a great visit of Cephalu and proceed to Taormina.

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On Canadian Hypocrisy – A Limerick

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Recently Canadian Cabinet Minister, Jody Wilson-Reybold, tried to respect the Rule of Law as Attorney-General of Canada in deciding to let the courts continue to prosecute Québec Company SNC Lavelin for paying bribes to land lucrative  Libyan contracts between 2001 and 2011. Shortly after that the Minister was demoted from her tricky dual role of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada to Minister of Veterans Affairs by PM Justin Trudeau.

Flashback to the recent, embarrassing and ongoing fiasco in an extradition case requested by our frenetic regime to the south:

Prime Minister Trudeau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland repeated over and over and over that Canada is a Rule of Law country after arresting Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou on December 1, 2018 and holding her for extradition to the USA, where she may be prosecuted. President Trump made remarks that imply that the USA is using this threat of prosecution as a bargaining chip to get a better trade deal with China – all of this at the expense of Canada’s relationship with China and putting at serious risk three Canadians being prosecuted by the Chinese for various crimes. One of these, Robert Schellenberg has been convicted and, since the jailing of Ms Wanzhou, sentenced to death for drug trafficking.

 

Uncle Brother – A Novel

Barbara Lalla’s 2014 novel, Uncle Brother, published by The University of the West Indies Press, is a wise, culturally faithful and very funny tribute to heroism and loving personal sacrifice in family life. This third novel focuses on the subtle and not-so-subtle cultural and historical richness of the people of the Caribbean Island of Trinidad. Her first two novels, Cascade and Arch of Fire, focused on her native Jamaica, where she grew up, studied, and fell in love with a gifted young Trinidadian also at UWI in Mona. Her subsequent decades in Trinidad, where she lives, teaches and writes, have made possible this faithful and brilliant tribute that begins in the 19th century and ends in 2010, a decade into the twenty-first.

The book’s central character of “Nathan” found inspiration in a real person from a bustling rural town in southern Trinidad. Nathan is the fictional main “author” of his family’s story, put together from a treasure trove of notes and documents in English, including one in French and one in Hindi he has written or collected and saved through eight decades. Members of his family and friends also contribute their memories to the story. Both sides of the precocious Nathan’s family came from India in the 19th century when they were brought to Trinidad as indentured labourers after slavery from Africa had been “abolished.” The complexity of feelings produced by this continental uprooting is just one aspect of the history of Trinidad’s people that Lalla presents with great sensitivity and insight.

The scope of the story has enabled talented, perceptive, and poetically memorable reflections on both intensely personal and broader 21st century political issues. It describes the struggles of the folk on a small, multi-cultural, “multi-continental” island to endure a final century of colonial government and later govern themselves during over half a century of self-government after independence from Britain on 1 August, 1962.

One unforgettable example: Nathan’s 12-year-old sister, Judith, who often helped her mother in her “vegetable” garden, asks him about the descriptions of beautiful gardens by great English authors he has given her to read: “How could karaile and pumpkin and all the other things that grew in a garden like Ma’s be pretty?” Nathan soon after took her on a journey to Port of Spain to see the Royal Botanical Gardens. Judith reflects: “It made him still more godlike in my eyes, for although he had not made the garden he had placed me in it however briefly and it in me forever… ”

The story includes playful and often hilarious dialogue in Trinidad “English,” a combination of English and Creole French with the languages of other cultures, like Spanish, Hindi and Amerindian that have interacted over the centuries since Columbus arrived in 1498. A massive 12,000-entry testimony to the seductive pull of Trini-talk is Dictionary of the English Creole of Trinidad and Tobago by Canadian editor Lise Winer who has devoted many years to collecting and referencing a language that makes English itself richer.

This inspiring, captivating story is also a thriller that includes some violence and, toward the end, some vitally important suspense. It is a wonderful, mature tour-de-force by a sophisticated story-teller that combines many laugh-out-loud moments with a complex worldview and a deep understanding of the human psyche.

 

 

Neoliberalism’s Legacy

Ravens on steps at Barr'd Island

This Chris Hedges post inspired my listing below, but my own blunt, scruffy and ornery mood soon took over, so don’t blame him…

Neoliberalism’s Grand Achievement: 8 Families now own half of the Planet’s “wealth”

A concise, incomplete history of it’s ascendency:

  • Sharing the wealth was invented to deal with uppity, but needed, unionized workers in the 20th century
  • A phoney science called “economics” was born and nurtured
  • They stumbled onto a flawed idea called “free” trade
  • Corporations were soon made into “persons” with rights and the ability to live forever; that’s much longer than real persons live
  • Those rights grew and grew as worker’s power shrank
  • Human rights, such as clean water, became “commodities” – sold at a positively pornographic price in some places
  • Market “freedom” inevitably led to privatization: fewer and richer Rich vs more and poorer Poor
  • Entertainment and gadgetry kept the middle class distracted – a worthy crowd control project presented to government/corporate/labour think tanks in the 70’s
  • Monopolies were made legal instead of criminal
  • Unemployment Insurance was euphemized Employment Insurance in Canada
  • Companies were allowed to use their employees’ pension savings, including the workers’ own contributions leaving just a bunch of promised numbers in the safe
  • Banks were allowed play with insurance and sell mutual funds
  • Crazy shit like derivatives became a way for the banks to get richer – until they didn’t
  • Your taxes and mine went to bail out poorly managed banks and their overpaid executives
  • Car companies were bailed out even though they broke their pension promises
  • Private equity firm(s) gobbled up peoples’ houses at auctions as if they’d planned it.
  • “Disaster Capitalism” took control of natural and organized disasters
  • Little wealth was created, just redistributed upward
  • The good freedoms of the many (association, speech…) were replaced by freedoms of the few (monopoly, price gauging, foreclosure…)
  • Human beings are now just another “commodity” to those above eight families.

Appreciating a Child, and her Eye

A simple thing is often missed.

Look at this photo for a little while…

This is our unspectacular, slightly wonky, 33 year old chandelier, an upgrade done by the previous owners of our place. They bought the house, new in 1984, and sold to us in 1985 for a handsome profit. We chose this place because it backs onto a narrow, forested park through which a gentle stream flows and warblers, hummingbirds and Monarch (what’s left of them) butterflies migrate every spring and fall. The central staircase made us go oohh, ahhh when our agent and friend took us through. Sold!

Anyway, this is about stuff we 70 somethings learn to take for granted until a grandchild shows us how she observes her much newer world.

This past Christmas our M, just turned 4, a frequent visitor all the way from Ann Arbor, Michigan said:

Papa, one of the lights in your chandelier is not on. 

Did you notice it? It’s obvious now, isn’t it?

She and her mom stayed from December 23rd until January 7th. They love to visit. We love to have them.

It is now March whatever and Papa has still not replaced the bulb. There is no excuse for this neglect. I have spares in the unfinished section of the basement, hanging in a plastic shopping bag on a simple nail beside my wooden, homemade workbench.

Think I’ll go and change it now… before their next visit…

Tai Chi, Tonglen and Mr. Fixit

Things are good here. Just sharing a few tidbits from the past week…

My son had minor surgery this week and on Thursday we brought over about 20 lbs of Trini-style homemade soup at 212 degrees Fahrenheit for a shared lunch – plus significant leftovers. My contribution to that project was making sure it was safely transported from our perch in the NW GTA to their place near the lakeshore.

Good news: Fixed our 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid’s key fob issue by inserting a tiny square of three postit notes over the nipple that presses against the +ve face of the cell to make sure that it is firmly seated in its cradle.

“Bad” news: That $200 control panel I installed last year on our, then 3-year-old, Kenmore dishwasher already shows a crack in the plastic over the Start button.

I know, in the grand, global scale, the bad news hardly qualifies as bad, or even as news! Now, if we both had worked for Sears Canada…

My Tai Chi routine, which I modify by replacing “breathing in the Chi” with Tibetan Buddhist Tonglen meditation (breathing in suffering, breathing out healing) has a calming effect. I’ve already noticed a tiny, but significant, shift in the direction of a more, gentle peaceful world. Those Doomsday Clock scientists are clearly out of touch. 😜

A Special Book

 

I have just finished The Stones Speak by the prolific, much-loved, 20th Century writer, Thórbergur Thórdarson, born in 1888, who grew up on a remote family farm named Hali in southeastern Iceland, very near to Hvannadalshnúkur, the highest peak in Iceland at 2119 metres.

I bought the book at the Þórbergssetur museum, where our tour group stopped on July 18th, two days into our 10 day bus tour. The centre was built in 2006 in Hali, (near Reynivellir in Southeast Iceland) and is dedicated to this unique man. He was largely self-educated, being too poor to attend high school or university.

The Stones Speak, translated in 2012 by Professor Julian Melton d’Arcy of the U. of Iceland, is Thórdarson’s only complete book that has been translated into English. Written when he was in his 60’s, this is an inspired, witty and sometimes caustic collection of his earliest memories – those of a precocious, hypersensitive visionary who lived very close to nature.

The book is, in my opinion, a must-read for folks who plan to visit Iceland and really want to work at understanding its recent (20th C.) history and its people. The introduction and notes by d’Arcy deserve to be read both before and after reading the book. They even contain the simplest, best guide to Icelandic pronunciation that I have found.

I went to Iceland because it was my wife’s choice and must confess that, uncharacteristically, my only research before the trip was to google the heck out of each place we were visiting on our Ring Road tour and look for things worth escaping from the pre-arranged options to see. And because we were arriving in Reykjavík (KEF) at 6 AM on the red-eye from Toronto on July 16th I was looking keenly for the most interesting places we might explore that day on our own. Our Grand Hotel was only a half-hour walk or a # 15 city bus from the centre of town. These were, for this dyed-in-the-wool self-directed traveler, the vital facts, since we were not due to meet our tour director at the hotel until 5:30 P.M.

Combined with the superb tour itself, reading The Stones Speak has given me wonderful, intensely personal insight/hindsight into the unique Icelandic people. It was, for me, not an easy read. It does not grab you like The DaVinci Code. I put it down and picked it up several times, as I have done with Proust, until realizing that, by making margin notes and studying maps and breaking down words in what is for the superbly gifted Daniel Tammet this oh-so-special language, I fell in love with Iceland and humanity in general, starting with the folks in 1890’s Suðursveit. 

If you have already visited Iceland, take the time to study The Stones Speak. You will, through it, reconnect with human nature and, perhaps, yourself.

P.S. If you have not gone yet, check out Guide To Iceland, a great website community to which my post travel research luckily led me. They justifiably claim to be an “unrivalled source of information.”