I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Urban poetry

Bonus urban poetry: colorful art hanging from the ceiling in Galerie Ravenstein in Brussels.

This was an arcade with shops and offices, not a gallery in the English sense of the word, but I was just cutting through on my way somewhere else and these pyramids made me smile.

And still do, on yet another snowy morning in New York. It's not even officially winter yet, but you'd never know it by the weather.

Urban poetry

The weather outside may be frightful, but nothing deters the hordes of tourists in Times Square.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Astronomy Tuesday

Jupiter in blue -- another stunning image from the Juno probe.

Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/ Seán Doran

Monday, December 11, 2017

More snow

It was lovelier to look at than to trudge through: the Christmas tree lot up the street from my apartment Saturday evening.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


All those loverly autumnal views in St James Park suddenly feel like a lot more than two weeks ago.

Sunday bird blogging

One of the magnificent pelicans in St James Park.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The queen of the night

Here's something different, and even older -- a Mesopotamian goddess, possibly Ishtar, created around the 18th century BC during the reign of Hammurabi in Babylon.

It's snowing, and I've converted all the documents I can manage today, so I'm heading home and leaving the blogging until tomorrow.

The lions

The wounded lions are rendered in such loving, respectful detail they brought tears to my eyes. How could creatures dead for more than 2000 years so bruise my heart?

The lion hunt

I must have seen these reliefs, from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Ninevah, before but I didn't remember them.

The royal seal of the Assyrian kings showed the king face to face with a lion, driving his sword through it, which symbolized his responsibility to protect his people from their enemies. In the mid-seventh century, the lions were more than just a symbolic threat. The records of Ashurbanipal report that “corpses of men, cattle and sheep lie in heaps as if the plague has killed them. Shepherds and herdsmen lament at what the lions have done. The villages are in mourning day and night.”

Clearly the king had to do something, and just as clearly it was more convenient, not to mention less risky, to have the lions brought to him. So this great lion hunt actually took place in an arena, where caged lions were released one at a time and the king killed them from a chariot.

While we're on the subject of lumasi

Versions of these are found in most of the ancient cultures of the Middle East -- here's a photo I never posted of the Gate of All Nations at Persepolis in Iran.

The damage here from millennia of exposure to the elements -- plus at least one angry army -- gives some weight to the British Museum's argument for keeping the Parthenon marbles. While actually walking through the ruins of Persepolis and seeing the stones in context was a once in a lifetime thrill, not that many of us get to go to Iran. And it's not likely that I'll ever go back.  But while I may never see the art of Persepolis again, I can take a bus uptown and see Assyrian art at the Metropolitan Museum any time I want.

When does protection become imperialism? Are they always the same thing?

It's complicated, obviously. Here's one more example: I knew that ancient Ninevah was somewhere in present-day Iraq, but I didn't realize until this last British Museum visit that it was on the outskirts of what is now Mosul.

Mosul was of course under the control of ISIS for much of the past several years. In addition to all the other havoc they created in the region, they destroyed all the statues of lumasi that had been left at the original site, as well as those in a local museum. So although I would have enjoyed visiting the ruins of Ninevah, the art would have been much safer outside of Iraq.

An ancient face

Here's a better look at the face.

The Assyrians were not a peaceful people, and the bulging eyes are a little creepy, but I'm always charmed by that faint smile.

The winged lions

A lamassu was an Assyrian protective deity, usually regarded as female even though they had the heads of human males. The body might be either a lion or a bull, but they were always winged. Pairs of these statues flanked the entranceways at palaces.

My fascination with these creatures goes back to childhood -- one of my favorite books was All About Archaeology, which I borrowed from the library over and over again (thanks to the miracle of Amazon, I now own my very own copy!) It tells the stories of Heinrich Schliemann and Troy, Howard Carter and the tomb of King Tut, and Leonard Woolley and Ur, and one of the illustrations shows a statue similar to this being dragged on a sledge during the excavation of Ninevah.

There are examples in many of the major museums of the world, and I've been lucky enough to see them in the Louvre and the Metropolitan and the Pergamon, but these were the first. And they're still my favorites.

This particular statue guarded the throne room of Ashurnasirpal in the 9th century BC. You can't really tell the size from the picture, but it's almost 12 feet tall. 

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