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

Monday, April 8, 2024

Watching the watchers

So, you may have heard there was an eclipse today.

It was only a partial eclipse here in New York, and although I would love to see another total eclipse, I just couldn't handle traveling in the middle of the semester. And I consoled myself with the lousy weather forecasts, thinking I might scramble to get somewhere in the path of totality and not be able to see anything. (I do have to admit that when I saw there were actually going to be clear skies in Vermont today I was tempted to jump in the car and drive to Burlington.)

Instead I enjoyed walking around the neighborhood and watching the people watching the eclipse on what turned out to be a mostly clear and quite lovely day. I didn't have glasses, but someone let me borrow theirs for a couple of minutes, so I even saw the eclipse.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Return to Petra

I don't have the time or energy to start on Ephesus, so here are a few pictures from the Siq at Petra instead.

I took so many pictures the first time I was there I didn't think I could possibly have found any more interesting stone formations, but I was wrong.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Astronomy Tuesday

I haven't posted one of these in a while, but I couldn't resist this image.

Sagittarius A (usually written as Sgr A*) is the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Obviously you can't just take a picture of a black hole; you can only observe the effects it has on everything around it. The gases spinning around and falling into black holes are called the accretion disk; this image, taken in polarized light, show the structures and strength of the magnetic fields in the accretion disk. Our universe is so endlessly cool.

Credit: EHT Collaboration

The Minotaur cafe

Which is next door to Labyrinth Souvenirs.

Say what?

That statue of Marcus Aurelius is a fine example of good Roman art; however, this depiction of Hades and Persephone just made me laugh. Who knew that the three heads of the fearsome Cerberus were all the size of chihuahuas?

Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them

By 36 BC Knossos was a Roman colony. I love this bust of Marcus Aurelius in the museum.

Minoan culture

Sarcophagi in the museum.

The pyramids at Giza are only a few hundred years older than Knossos, and the Minoans are sometimes described as the first civilization in Europe. But we don't actually know very much about them. They used two forms of writing, a kind of hieroglyphics and later, Linear A, that we can't read. We don't even know what they called themselves. Referring to them as the Minoans—derived from the myth of King Minos—was popularized by Arthur Evans.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Random things I saw at Knossos

The Grand Staircase

This staircase has four levels, which I think is pretty impressive for a something built almost four thousand years ago.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Cats in Greece

Of course there was a cat. There were always cats.


These giant storage containers are some of the few authentic relics left in place on the site. Although everyone still refers to it as a palace, this was less a royal residence and more of a religious and administrative center. With a LOT of storage.

Update: I just noticed that this is entry number 5000 in this blog. Wow. I keep thinking I'm going to have to give it up, but whatever happens this is kind of an accomplishment.

The original

The original relief fresco of the bull from the North Gate is in the museum.

The North Gate

A reconstruction, of course—basically anything that has a column or a fresco on the site is a reconstruction, many of them done by Arthur Evans and his team (how Evans basically bought the site and got himself first dibs on everything is a really interesting story of archaeological wiliness.)

Some of the reconstructions, like the fresco of the three ladies from the museum that I posted previously, may be complete inventions. The architectural reconstructions, like this gate, are (I hope) more reliable.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

As I was saying

A model of the palace in the museum.


Or, rather, the archaeology museum in Heraklion. Most of the art and artifacts worth seeing at the palace of Minos at Knossos are actually in the museum, like this fresco, rather than at the site itself.

The site is still very much worth visiting, but if you are expecting another Ephesus or Olympia, you will be very disappointed. It's much, much older, for one thing; parts of the palace were first built around 1900 BC, and it was destroyed in 1350 BC. So while the size of the site is mind-boggling—archaeologists now believe that the myth of the Labyrinth was based on the palace itself—a lot of what you will see is ditches and stone walls, with some reconstructed elements to give an idea of what the palace looked like a few thousand years ago.

Saturday reflections

At the archaeology museum in Heraklion, Crete.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Urban poetry

This is a good example of the advantages of being able to Google places I've visited after the fact. I took this picture the day I visited Ephesus, and if I had any idea what the building was then, I no longer remember it. I was intrigued by the glass shapes sticking out of the domes; they looked like giant soda bottles and I've never seen anything like them. And I loved the giant stork's nest on top. The actual storks wouldn't be showing up again until spring, but you could see their nests everywhere.

I would have liked to know more about those domes, but unfortunately I didn't know where exactly I took this picture. I was walking around a little before getting back on the bus, I knew that. At the Basilica of St John, maybe? Checking the time stamps on other photos narrowed it down. It was at the Ephesus museum in Selçuk, not the basilica. And by using Google Street View, I was able to find the building. It's a public bathhouse across the road from the museum. I still don't know the significance of those peculiar domes, but I guess I can live with that.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

The Triangle Fire Memorial

The Asch Building where the fire occurred is now called the Brown Building and is part of NYU. There have been two plaques on the building noting its historical significance for as long as I can remember, but after the centennial in 2011, there was a competition to design a more fitting memorial. The first part of the memorial was completed in October; it consists of a panel of mirror stone at street level, and twelve feet above, a ribbon of stainless steel with the names and ages of the 146 victims laser-cut in reverse. When you look at the mirror stone you see the names reflected, looking as though they're written with the sky. Depending on the light, sometimes the names appear as shadows on the sides of the building as well.

An additional vertical steel ribbon will be added this summer. It will run up the corner of the building to the ninth floor, where most of the victims were trapped.


Members of the FDNY, doing the department proud. The Fire Commissioner was one of the speakers.

The memorial service

There were many speeches, mostly by labor and workers' rights advocates, music including a gut-wrenching version of We Shall Overcome, and a fire bell that rang as each of the 146 names was read.

But this was the most emotional moment: a fire ladder raised to the sixth floor while bagpipes played. I couldn't help thinking of the workers on the eighth and ninth floors, leaning out of the windows, desperately hoping for rescue, watching the ladder rise, rise, and then—stop.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Triangle Factory Fire

Monday was the 113th anniversary of the Triangle fire. On March 25, 1911, 146 workers, almost all of them Jewish and Italian immigrants, mostly teenagers and young women, died when a fire started on the eighth floor of a building on the east side of Washington Square. Some died when the single fire escape collapsed; many jumped to their deaths to escape the flames.

I knew about the fire, and I'd often walked by the building, but “work” is the theme of my class this semester and we've studied the fire. And there was so much I didn't know, about the fire ladders that only reached the sixth floor, about the lucky few who escaped by sliding down the cables in the elevator shaft, that the entire catastrophe lasted less than twenty minutes. Or that Max Blanck, one of the owners, who was acquitted of manslaughter because there was no proof he and his partner knew that the exit doors were locked, was arrested again in 1913 when locked doors were found at his new factory. He paid a $25 fine.

Or that Frances Perkins, who I knew only as the Secretary of Labor under FDR and the first woman to serve in the cabinet, was having tea with a friend on Washington Square and saw the fire. It had a profound effect on her and she quit her job at the consumer league to work for the state commission that investigated the fire. She later said that the fire was “the first day of the New Deal.”

I went to the commemoration on Monday, and also participated in the Chalk project. For the past twenty years on March 25 volunteers have written the names and ages of all 146 victims in chalk on the sidewalk in front of the buildings where they lived. My friend Jayne had two names and I had two names and we went from the Lower East Side below Delancey to East 12th Street, remembering Jennie, Bessie, Sarah and Josephine. We may have lacked artistry—getting down to the sidewalk and back up again was a challenge and chalk wasn't as easy to manipulate as I remembered—but it was a strangely moving experience.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

And did I mention that it was hot?

The temperatures on the coast were warm, but not unpleasantly so. In the desert, it felt about thirty degrees hotter. We didn't walk that far, but every time there was shade available, people took advantage of it.

And I think that's it for Saudi Arabia.

And of course there was seating

There was literally nothing around except some date palms and the road back to the village, but of course there were couches. Pink couches.

And mountains

More ruins


The other Yanbu

There are actually three cities comprising Yanbu. The other one we visited is Yanbu Al-Nakhal, a group of villages about an hour's drive from the coast that used to be one of the hubs on the spice and incense route between Egypt and Yemen.

There were camels and a staged sword fight on the streets of one of the villages, which wasn't that interesting, but I loved the landscape: date palms, mud-brick ruins, mountains.

Outdoor options

The pleasant plaza in front of the mosque and a restaurant along the waterfront. One thing that I found strange in both Yanbu and Jeddah was all of the upholstered furniture outdoors—not weatherproof patio furniture but ordinary couches and armchairs. I guess if it never rains you don't need to worry about mildew.

Senussi Mosque

At least I think this is the Senussi Mosque; Saudi Arabia's underdeveloped tourism structure includes online content. Usually I can just use Google to identify any buildings or natural features I've photographed, but there aren't that many sources for Saudi Arabia, and inconsistent transliteration (is it the Senussi Mosque or the Sounoussi Mosque?) makes it very hard to identify anything.

Anyway, this mosque is in the historical district in Yanbu near the Night Market. It's made from the same coral as the old buildings in Jeddah.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Saturday reflections

A Turkish diversion—I just found this photo from Ephesus. This is the entrance to the site, with some of the ruins reflected in the windows of the ticket office.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

The Night Market

Yanbu is also a port on the Red Sea, and the market began 500 years ago as a gathering place for merchants and sailors. I admit to being disappointed—it was small and dark, and there was nothing I was remotely interested in buying. (I finally bought an obviously mass-produced ceramic mug with some hand painting on it just because the young woman in the shop looked so hopeful when I walked up.)

I'm sensing a theme here

Moving on to Yanbu.

The waterfront, where there is a lighthouse, and surprise! a giant sign.

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