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Archive for May, 2012

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I enjoyed the numerous small details in the picture above a lot. The hunter in the center reminded me of one of my favorite ancient myths. Callisto, a beautiful nymph and servant to the goddess Diana, caught Zeus’s attention as she was resting in a grove. He transformed himself so as to look like Diana. He approached his object of desire imitating the gait and talk of this fair goddess. Diana’s nymphs had all sworn an oath of chastity, but Zeus could not be held back and and made love to Callisto.

Peter Paul Rubens: Jupiter and Callisto. Image via http://ovidsmetamorphoses.blogspot.de

She told none of her companions what had passed. One day, however, Diana called her nymphs to come bathe with her. It was a few months after Callisto’s encounter with Zeus. She tried to hide, but her goddess would not have it. The other girls gasped with shock when they realized she was pregnant. Diana was infuriated and sent her off.

Desperate and alone, Callisto roamed the woods. She delivered a son, Arcas. When Zeus’s wife Juno heard that her rival had given birth, she descended from the heavens full of rage. She dragged Callisto by the hair. She was pleading for mercy, but instead she saw that long black hair was growing all over her white skin. She was turned into a bear, but she still had the mind of a woman. She lived in perpetual fear in the woods and the fields, running from hounds and hunters. She even hid from wolves and bears, because she often forget she was now a wild beast herself.

When her son Arcas reached 15 years of age, he took to hunting the woods, like his mother had before her misfortune. His mother glimpsed him from far away and was overjoyed. She drew near in her eagerness to embrace her loved one who had been lost to her for so long. Arcas saw the bear come closer. But he did not recognize his mother and stepped back. He drew his spear and was about to plunge it into Callisto’s breast, when Zeus intervened at the last moment. He swept mother and son up into the skies and turned them into stars. We know these constellations by the names Ursa Maior and Ursa minor (Great Bear and Little Bear).

The Latin author Ovid created a beautiful version of this legend in his Metamorphoses. You can read a good translation here. There are many other great stories in Ovid’s book of poems. Zeus’ s affairs are numerous and the ladies always have to bear all the blame for Zeus’s bad performance as a husband. The only thing the father of the gods had to cope with was his nagging wife Juno. So much for his lucky ladies.

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The Italians call this tree “umbrella tree” for obvious reason. I have fond memories of sitting in its shade with a book and a gelato in hand.

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I took a lot of interesting pictures of the Vatican when I lived there. Though my thoughts on the Catholic church are divided, to say the least, the lavishness of Catholic churches especially in Italy does have its own kind of appeal. I will be publishing some more pictures every now and then to give you an idea of what I mean, because one tiny fountain and a plaza surrounded by columns and saints simply aren’t enough.

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Trees have always fascinated me. They have an architecture all their own. I love looking at patterns on tree bark or the the way leaves are distributed on a twig. I know that these features follow certain rules, but still every tree has a distinct personality. They often remind me of a better kind of people. They grow and enjoy the rain and the sunshine and the wind rustling their leaves. They give other creatures a place to live. They may be cut down with an axe, but still their roots are stronger than concrete. When I see sidewalks that are broken open by their roots or houses that are suffocating in ivy, I can’t help but wonder what our cities would look like if nature were allowed to have her way for 50 years.

Until that happens, we will continue to make trees grow the way we see fit in urban spaces. This has a charm of its own. Trees that line an avenue always remind me of watchful sentinels. They actually seem to be conspiring in the picture at the top. This idea is not new at all. Personification of trees is a common topos in some of my favorite poetry. In “Davanti a San Guido” (“In Front of San Guido”) by nobel prize winner Giosu√® Carducci, the cypresses lining the avenue leading to the narrator’s childhood home recognize him and try to seduce him into sitting down at their feet like he used to. They reminisce about his chlidhood when he used to throw pebbles at them.

Another one of my favorites is by Gabriele d’Annunzio. The poem “La Pioggia nel Pineto” (“Rain in the Pine Forest”) describes how he and his lover wander the woods in the rain and are slowly turning green and start smelling like plants. The plants around them turn into instruments played by the touches of the rain.

If this sounds like too much for the cynics among you, rest assured that anything sounds great in Italian. Kitsch doesn’t exist in Italian, things can just be naively beautiful.

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Trash

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Some people don’t know where to put their trash, so they dump it out in Iowa’s countryside. I love how you can see the traces of time and decay on these pieces of junk and how nature is slowly eroding them and reclaiming her space.

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DIY Cress in a Cup

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Would you like to grow your own fresh salad greens? There’s nothing easier.

Just line a cup or a bowl or whatever you’ve got with some cotton, or some pieces of paper towel. The cress needs a little something to grow its small roots into, and something that will keep the water. Moisten your wad of cotton and sprinkle on some seeds. They will start growing within hours, just remember to give them a little water every now and then.

Cress tastes great in a salad or on a bagel with some cream cheese. Enjoy!

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