My brother sent me a link to beautiful aerial photographs of Russia, Spain, India, and elsewhere that a man took using a drone. They are lovely: “I’ve spent the past two years shooting drone aerials around the world. Here are 38 images which would be totally illegal today.”
A Luddite at heart, I find current technological “advances” troubling, but there are moments when I reflect, “This is what such a device is really meant to do.” Our global traveller with the drone camera has put those machines to worthy use.
Happy feast of the Holy Spirit!
I have been absent for weeks, and I shall likely not resume normal posting for some time. However, I want to wish everyone a pleasant summer and safe vacationing.
Suitable to the occasion is an article from The Daily Telegraph about “Camping in the Caucasus.” Ignore the political commentary and enjoy the rest. A humorous section that I find rather accurate:
Yet over the course of the week, everyone we met on the trail – maybe two groups of three or four hikers a day – offered us something to eat or drink. Russians can seem unfriendly, and rarely ask any questions (a Greek will have details of your divorce out of you in five minutes). But they are often generous. My menfolk had never been to Russia before, and all three expressed surprise at the welcome we experienced in the Caucasus.
A few years ago, my father sent me a link to a fascinating photographic essay in The Atlantic about the Hindenburg: “75 Years Since the Hindenburg Disaster.” The pictures are quite interesting—especially the Nazis in New York imagery that strikes us as bizarre. Yet, it should not—the world was still at peace (of a sort) in the mid-30’s. Yet, war was coming. I found the picture of the crew’s survivors sad as I wondered how many of the men would survive the following decade.
The photos also show a little of what it was like to travel by Zeppelin. It is too bad that the industry fell apart after the disaster—bad press, indeed. It is rather surprising, though, that most of the crew and passengers survived the crash. Read the Wikipedia page for more information. Evidently, the young cabin boy survivor Werner Franz is still alive.
Happy Columbus Day to my fellow Americans! Our effeminate, overly apologetic (for others, of course, not for oneself) age abhors the day, but it is a celebration of our civilization’s conquest of the New World and of the new nations born therefrom.
Another famous traveler, though fictitious and more appealing to the liberal Zeitgeist, is the Doctor. Instead of the Santa Maria, he uses the TARDIS to get around. Instead of conquest, he forever gets entangled in local business on behalf of the locals (or for some of the locals, much to the chagrin of others). Like Columbus, though, he has been occasionally charged with genocide, monomania, and crimes against humanity. In short, the Doctor, like Columbus, is an interesting person.
To celebrate the day, I suggest that you set course for Brooklyn, where there is a Doctor Who themed bar—The Way Station. Girl Gone Geek offers a thorough review of the joint along with many pictures (see the full set below the post): “A TARDIS Lands in Brooklyn - The Way Station Bar Interview.” I love the wall homage to the fourth Doctor.
While in Jerusalem, we decided to visit several Palestinian towns, including the obvious choice of Bethlehem. I read a lot about the security wall situation beforehand online, but the information did not seem consistent. I knew that we had to go to the Arab bus station by the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, but it turned out that there were at least three different lots for the Arab buses. However, the lines to Bethlehem were in the “main” bus lot near the streetcar station for the Damascus Gate. I also read that we should take bus 21 to Beit Jala or minibus 24 to Bethlehem. The shelters for the buses are only about twenty-five feet from each other. So, we decided that we would take whichever bus arrived first. I am glad that we took bus 21. Minibus 24 evidently takes you to the security checkpoint outside Bethlehem, but then you have to walk or to catch a taxi to town. Bus 21, however, takes you through some lovely mountainous countryside south of Jerusalem before arriving in Bethlehem not far from Manger Square. On the way, we were able to see the Herodion in the distance. The bus goes through the checkpoint, and you only have to deal with security (having soldiers board the bus for inspection) on the way back into “normal” Israel. Once we arrived in Bethlehem, Arab taxi drivers repeatedly told us that it was a long walk to Manger Square, but it was not. I wonder if they misrepresent on purpose or if they think that Americans are too weak to walk ten blocks. We enjoyed seeing the Christian neighborhoods in the lovely desert rain.
We spent the morning in the Church of the Nativity. While waiting in line to visit the chapel of the Nativity, we were behind a Russian pilgrimage group and in front of a German group. We were Poland, and the two groups were quietly positioning all the time for more Lebensraum. We held our own turf, though, thanks to my ample experience in dealing with foreign queue weasels. The German tour guide explained Orthodox liturgical practices to her fellow Teutons as they waited, while the Russians prayed by the icons in the southern chapel where the entrance to the crypt is located. Once we were below, the Russian group sang while their two priests led a moleben. I was grateful that my visit to the cave of the Lord’s birth had a traveling Russian choir for its soundtrack. After we venerated the cave, we visited the attached Roman Church of Saint Catherine as well as its crypt, which includes the cells and tombs of Jerome and his followers. This was a surprise for me. I knew that Jerome translated the scriptures in Palestine, but I did not know that he lived next to the Church of the Nativity.
After we left the Nativity complex, we went shopping at Blessings Olive Wood Factory on Milk Grotto Street next to the Milk Grotto. Along the street are dozens of vendors, but we passed them to get to the place that was recommended to me before I went to Israel. There, a hospitable Palestinian Christian family sells wood carvings that they make in the workshop next door. It was fascinating to see their skills in action as well as to peruse their beautiful merchadise. The olive wood carvings that peddlers sell in the Old City come from the craftsmen in Bethlehem, who sell their goods directly to you for much cheaper.
After souvenir and gift shopping, we visited the neighboring Milk Grotto, run by the Franciscans and also tended by Sacramentine Nuns. In addition to the grotto, there are numerous chapels as well as ruins from previous churches at the site.
By the time we finished visiting the Milk Grotto, it was past lunchtime. We headed back to Manger Square to eat at Afteem, where they sell what is considered the finest falafel in Israel. The atmosphere, service, and food were excellent. I recommend it to anyone who visits Bethlehem. It must pass for a local gem, too, as an Arab family was celebrating a birthday feast for a little girl when we were there. The family who runs it appears to be Palestinian Christian, as well—there were several icons inside the restaurant, which closes for business on Sunday.
After lunch at Afteem, we walked around town. I had originally wanted to visit the churches in the Shepherds’ Fields, but I did not want to haggle with the vulturous taxi drivers, and we did not feel like ambling in the countryside that afternoon in the rain. I visited the Judean desert, where drought is normal, and it rained every day! As we were walking on streets named King David, Paul VI, Carmel, Manger, and Star, several people asked why we were not in a taxi. One young shopkeeper even offered to drive us to the bus station himself. We returned by foot to the bus stop and took 21 back to Jerusalem. And, yes, I did hum the carol in my mind while visiting those not so dark streets.
Happy feast day to my friend Andrew and to all Andrews, Andreas, and their various forms on the new calendar!
If you plan to go to the Holy Land, you may find the Franciscans’ Christian Information Centre very helpful. The Franciscans have maintained the Latin presence in Palestine for centuries, but they offer useful pilgrimage information for all Christians. Perhaps it is due to my own family’s Franciscan heritage, but I find Francis’ disciples to be the most genial of Rome’s orders—the most Orthodox, dare I say. Franciscans manifest a sacramental, cosmological approach to the world, and they combine heart with their intellect. Their love, joy, and gratitude reminds me very much of Orthodoxy. One sometimes finds Orthodox criticism of Franciscan spirituality, wherein the polemicist contrasts Francis with Seraphim of Sarov. Yet, I think that the comparison is fitting, though not in a negative way. Both men typify the best of their traditions. May they pray for us and for Christian unity in truth and in charity.
I have recently been looking into various aspects of Israeli tourism. As I was reading the Wikipedia article for “Bus travel in Israel,” I chuckled when I read (emphasis mine),
If you want the driver to tell you your stop, it is best to be clear about it. If you just tell the driver where you want to go, he may ask you at the following stop why you didn’t get off. Also, he might forget, so it is often better to ask the passengers.
While Israeli manners may be rougher than in some other countries, they are also more likely to actually help you, with several people debating the best route for you.
They just cannot help themselves.
It is vacation time in much of the civilized world. If you find yourself at the beach, in the mountains, on the lake, or in a distant land soaking up the local color, enjoy yourself and be grateful for the splendor of life.
Relatedly, I have discovered an interesting site that showcases postcards from around the world, Wild Postcards. It is well designed with suitably scenic content that makes me want to travel to the depicted destinations. Happy trekking!
John Bloom (“Joe Bob Briggs”) makes some comedic observations of Niagara Falls’ tacky tourism in Taki’s Magazine: “Niagara Falls, Ontario: World’s Greatest Tourist Trap.” I visited Niagara Falls three years ago, and I can attest that the Canadian side holds its own in the realm of Ripley’s Believe It or Not spots. I do not mind the hucksterism and tastelessness; that underbelly of culture has its own charms. Human beings are endless fascinating, even in their silliness.
However, there are many wonderful things about Niagara Falls on both sides of the river. The lakes, falls, and river are spectacular. Both Ontario and New York have made visiting these natural attractions quite easy; parks, picnic areas, and viewing platforms are located throughout the region. I recommend the Niagara Falls and Great Gorge Adventure Pass from the Niagara Parks Commission in Ontario. I would also recommend a day trip to visit the vineyards north of the falls, including a stop at the quaint Niagara-on-the-Lake. If you visit the Canadian side, do not overlook the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and Butterfly Conservatory.
The New York side is not entirely bereft of entertainment. The New York State Reservation offers some grand views of the falls, and it is free to enter on foot. New York’s other parks along the river, like Whirlpool State Park, are excellent places to eat with a view after picking up some delectable treats at DiCamillo Bakery. You can always get a bit of history at Fort Niagara, opposite Niagara-on-the-Lake, which offers a distant view of Toronto. You may also make the short drive to Buffalo to feast at the Anchor Bar, the origin of Buffalo wings. So, get fat in America and get stupid in Canada; that’s a fine recipe for a fun vacation.
As I type, thousands of committed prolife Americans are travelling to Washington to participate in the March for Life. In just a few hours, they will arrive in the capital, cramped and tired, and step into the stinging cold air that nonetheless must provide a nice change from the stagnant atmosphere of a charter bus. I somewhat miss the hassle and strain that I had to go through to get to D.C. for the march. The trip seemed like a pilgrimage, and the pain in travel added to the value of the mission.
Now, when I simply walk down Constitution Avenue after having gotten up, showered, and eaten breakfast, it seems a bit like cheating. I also miss the camaraderie of the trips. In undergrad., our Students for Life group would organize stays in the lounges of local colleges, and we would remain in D.C. for several days to see the sights as well as to participate in the march and in other prolife activities. Staying up all night in a Georgetown study lounge, discussing scholastic ethics or arguing whether Homer or Vergil gave his society the better epic are moments that I remember fondly.
Moreover, the city appeared more enchanting when I did not know it well. Of course, getting lost in the ‘hood back then because I did not know about the quadrant system (how many intersections at Fourth and H Streets are there?) make me appreciate my current acquaintance with Washington. Still, there is something marvellous about a new, mysterious town where the various places that you visit do not fit together to make an overall map but rather suggest an infinity of potential experiences.
I suppose that it is yet another example of how life is about trade offs. The new and alluring ceases to be mysterious once you live somewhere for long, but then you develop a relationship with a town, as it becomes an old friend. When I visited Paris as a sixteen year old, it was magical. When I returned to live and to study there, the magic wore off, but a new love developed. It became my town—no longer unknown, perhaps a bit less enchanting, but more loved and appreciated. Only by spending much time in a place can you begin to know all of its hidden charms that outsiders miss. My first impression of the Seine could not have been more romantic, and yet only when I lived in the City of Lights did I have the opportunity to enjoy the Parc des Buttes Chaumont on a windy day in the summer, the cozy hospitality of certain small Mediterranean cafés near Saint-Germain-des-Prés, or strolling through the Parc Monceau among April blooms on a Sunday afternoon after the liturgy. Contrast the emotional riches of the adolescent crush with the faithful marriage of many years. Each has its own delights, but the latter rests superior.
Anyway, I wish all of the marchers a safe trip and a fruitful time in Washington. I hope that the legions of teenagers and college students find the city wonderful for the hours or days that they experience it.