The Rape of Persephone

Of all the Greek myths that there are, this is one of my favourites. The rape of Persephone.

As soon as I saw this statue I was completely mesmerised by it. It is called the Rape of Proserpina or Abduction of Proserpina (Ratto di Proserpina) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the year 1622. As he was Italian he used the Roman names of the Greek gods. In this post I will refer to Proserpina by using her actual Greek name: Persephone.

I know the story by heart as it’s one of my favourites, and as intense as it is, only a very intense piece of art could represent it the best way. Bernini did it. And majestically.

Hades and Persephone in one of the most beautiful and dramatic representations of this myth.

 

Who were Persephone (Kore) and Hades?

Persephone (also known as Kore, ‘young girl’ in ancient Greek) is the daughter of Demetre, goddess of corn and harvest. Hades was the god of the Underworld, therefore god of all the dead, good and bad, and god of all the precious gems and stones that are found in the the underground. He was lonely, very grumpy and very unlucky with women. Every attempt of seduction failed miserably. He never left the Underworld unless he had business to do or when he is overcome by sudden lust. Tired of his failed attempts he asks his brother Zeus to give him Kore as his wife. Kore (in greek means ‘young girl’) was a young joyous girl, daughter of Demeter, jealous goddess of harvest and agriculture. Zeus knew that by giving his consent he would have to confront the severe Demeter so he unwillingly gave the permission to his older brother to take Persephone to the underworld.

The coming of Kore to the Underworld symbolises the beginning of autumn and then winter, as the mother cried her daughter disappearance by shutting down any agriculture growth and prosperity on Earth. This fact prompted to her name changed into Persephone, which means ‘her who brings destruction‘ in terms of life and vegetation. Negotiations were made in such way that it was decreed that Persephone would spend six months in the underworld with her new husband (autumn and winter) and the rest of the year with her mother Demeter (spring and summer).

This piece of art is a delicate balance of violence and seduction, bodies binding together with excellent attention paid to details that give it an effect of firmness and strength.

Hades grip on Persephone’s thigh

Persephone’s desperation is remarkable in this piece of work as her eyes and tears portray the fear and anger upon being taken away from her mother, Demeter, and her home town to be dragged in the Underworld.

Persephone’s desperation is shown by her tears and features

Tianjin: the city with no past

It was a very hot day in Beijing and I wished to avoid the crowds and explore something new, different. Like Tianjin. The city with no past. Or almost…

Tianjin, the largest sea-coast city of northern China, is located in the northeastern area of Hebei Province and borders the Beijing municipality. As per population, Tianjin is among 4th or 5th place.

Tianjin has long served as an important port since imperial times and has, at various points in history, been occupied by colonial powers such as Italy, France, Germany UK, Japan and even Russia. Tianjin is also known for being the set for a religious rebellion against foreign Christian missionaries.

A wiped past

The reason why I wanted to go there was due its illustrious historical heritage… and somehow I found almost none of it. China’s rapid economic development drives to build, modernise and emulate Western cultures by clearing old city quarters to make room for banks, malls, office sky-scrapers, compounds.
This moves dramatically changed the history of the city. And it’s not just in Tianjin. If you go to Shanghai you can see the same cultural massacre taking place at rapid pace for the sake of modern development. Some say it’s because Asian younger generation don’t seem to understand the significance of preservation, while others say that maybe it is because of a Buddhist belief that says that the world is in constant change and therefore they downgrade the notion of permanence.
The Tianjin Century Clock Tower

Still, historical sites aside, Tianjin is blessed with variety of attractions, Tianjin is a good place to explore. The top ten attractions are Jinmen Shijing, are Gu Wenhua Jie, Dagu Emplacement, Huangyaguan Great Wall, Dule Temple, Haihe River, Water Park, Panshan Mountain, among others. And several natural scenes of beauty as well.

Tianjin today and what to see

Today, its colonial past can be seen in the Italian Concession district, which features avenues with European-style architecture. Although by no means a small city, it is known for being much more relaxed than nearby Beijing and is often ranked high up on the list of most livable Chinese cities.
The fancy Italian Style Town where many Italians used to reside. Today is Italian looking and filled and with delicatessen little shops.

It was once known as city with historical significance until it was desecrated by foreign invaders long before the foundation of People’s Republic of China. In fact, the city has been home to Italians, Germans, French, British and Japanese among others. Their presence marked the city profoundly, we felt no air of “old” or “ancient”.

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Unaddressed Costa Rica

Street directions are quite important, they are significant in order to get to places on time so that we won’t miss a movie, or a date, they’re important especially if you’re hungry and you want to get to the burritos place soon.

So what happens when you suddenly find yourself traveling to Costa Rica?

The first suspicion came up when I needed to pay for my hotel and the sales representative goes:

“Please send your payment amount to the following bank: HSBC, 15 N Subaru Autos, San José – Costa Rica”

After a few seconds I asked the person:
“Excuse me, just a question… What does the N stand for in the address?”
“N is ‘next to’, our bank branch is located next to the Subaru Cars Distributor”
“Ok…”

When traveling to a new place for many people can be a challenging experience even for the most experienced travelers. Where for many places the language barrier is one of the most typical brick-walls you can find, in Costa Rica you’ll find a complete different mindset when it comes to giving directions. According to the maps I carefully looked at, when you see street numbers that are clearly marked, such as Calle 15 or Calle 3, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are likewise clearly displayed on the streets.

And this makes perfectly sense! While my bank transaction had to be addressed to Calle 15, it needs to put as reference the Subaru Cars Distributor.

When it came to pick the hotel, the issue became even more intriguing and peculiar.
The Hotel that my colleagues and I chose is Hotel Jade, and this is the direction indications to reach the place:

 

So, travel and driving directions in Costa Rica can be confusing and hilariously fun. Many foreigners are accustomed to road names and road signs, which in this case are all but non-existent.
As I came to learn, Tico (colloquial term used to refer to Costa Ricans) cultural tradition is to think of roads and streets as a pathway to a Final Destination, whose directions are explained with reference to a distance from a milestone.

One week mission in Costa Rica, good luck to me!

Dangerous Landing

Have you ever been to Tegucigalpa?

If you haven’t, let me tell you one thing: if you fly there it will be a landing you will never forget. It will be the first time an airplane takes a vertical inclination on such low altitude that you think the wing touches the houses below. Plus the stir of currents and the sudden immersion between hills will make the usual dangerous landing in Toncontín Intl. Airport in Honduras a unique experience. And to think that this time there wasn’t even turbulence involved.

The most chilling landing

Listed as the third most dangerous airport in the world, It has been subjected to scrutiny very often after several accidents occurred in the past 20 years. Since it was built in 1934 it was thought to serve less powerful air crafts that didn’t require very long runways.

The airport is located on an elevation of 1,005 meters and the runway is barely 2,163 meters long. As a comparison, Fiumicino runway is 3,900 meters and Santiago’s is 3,748 meters long sitting on an elevation of 474 meters.

It’s not just about the runway length but the fact that the airport is nestled in a cove of mountain terrains.

But that’s not it either! What’s even more special about this airport is that there is only one way in and one way out for airplanes, looking like this:

Disclaimer: the photos above do not even reflect the actual excitement nor the seat belt literally holding my whole weight as the plane bended to go through the mountains.

The Arirang Mass Games of North Korea

The Arirang Mass Games are the most beautiful (and controversial) choreographed performance I have ever seen. An acrobatic, dance and gymnastic show involving up to 100,000 participants in Pyongyang’s 150,000-seater May Day Stadium.  Thousands of artists, gymnasts, martial art experts, dancers and acrobats join the stage and perform acrobatic games with  music and colors. They’re held everyyear, and this year in August I joined the crowds in the May Day Stadium of Pyongyang.

Stunning to the eyes, it’s just too beautiful to watch and magic, the music, colours, background noise, the sound of the thousands of boards flapping in the background forming stunning drawings and images.

The Mass Games are a mix of performing gymnasts with a background made of other 30 thousands of children holding cards, see the background images that change every time?

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The cards are flipped in such synchronised way that they create the mosaic images you can see in the back. Before everything begins, the cards are flipped creating a sourround noise throughout the stadium, creating lots of excitement.

Its purpose

Each performance has basically two meanings: one is to depict important moments of the (North) Korean history such as the Korean War, the Signing of Armistice in 1953

Remescing war war times in the Korean peninsula.
1953, the Signing of Armistice between the Koreas.

Another purpose of the Arirang Mass Games is to show pride of their national potential in every aspect. Artistic abilities, the birth of Kim Il-Sung, red coloured flowers symbolising working class, their technology progress, armament and military capability, and their neverending hatred for the Imperialism.

Mount Paektu, allegedly the birth place of the Dear Leader Kim Il-Sung.

North Korea also shares the dream of the peninsula’s reunification

The image depicts two ladies dressed in traditional attire who jointly hold a sphere bearing a map of a reunified Korea

I took photos of the event but they won’t do justice. However, the feeling and exaltation I had while I was watching, so many movements, athletes flying on top of our heads are hard to describe.
This is a very short video I made with my phone:

Un-Veiled Women: the rules

Iran is a land of contrast and probably defies what most people think of it. Especially regarding women. Women who strongly belong to a silent yet strong rebellion motion for freedom. It is because of Iranian women that I believe that contrasts are a vital cog of any Iranian experience and those same contrasts are leading the ladies and others to become stunch advocates of freedom.

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Few things to know about Iran

1- Among the several social problems Iran is facing, youth and young couples are one of the biggets ones. Young couples cannot walk holding hands, they cannot kiss and show any other sign of affection. Having a relationship out in the open is reserved to married couples. Therefore young unmarried couples tend to meet up in houses and friends’ places. To be able to walk down the street holding hands, you need to married.

2- All women, Iranians and foreigners, by law must cover their head.

3- For women, blouses and shirts sleeves must be at least elbow-long. Skirts and trousers must not reveal anything from ankles up. If a woman is inside a private place, the rules do not apply.

4- The law forbids dancing and drinking in public places (this has been true for at least 3 centuries as Persians used to bring women from Georgia instead of locals Persian women). Depending on the level of faith, a woman might cover only her hair or a more traditional stand will have a woman wearing a chador that will cover most of her body.

Young people, in spite of the limitations, still have fun and enjoy shisha and alcoholic drinks even though hidden from public eyes. These are young people I met at the Sad’ Abad Complex.

The Women’s Movement

Women’s movement in is peaceful yet powerful. Historically, women have lived in a relative progressive society and enjoyed more freedom and equality than any of their neighbours. Women were workers, owners, sellers and tax payers.
With the arrival of Islam, women rapidly saw a decline in their position at every level.
Then things changed again. In the 1930’s, Reza Shah started legislating for women by granting them the right to seek divorce. He also encouraged them to work outside their homes and abolished the veil, a move that polarised opinion among progressive and conservative women. Finally, women gained the right to vote in the 1960’s.
But when in 1979 Iran became an Islamic Republic following the fierce Revolution, the adoption of the Sharia Law affected women enormously. Legal age for marriage plummeted from 18 years old to 9 years old for girls and 15 for boys. Women were obligated by law to wear the headscarf (‘rusari’ in Farsi) and were not allowed to appear in public with a man to whom they were not related to.

On 8 March 1979, more than 100,000 women gathered on the streets of the Iranian capital to protest against the new Islamic government’s compulsory hijab ruling, which meant a compulsory use of a headscarf when away from home. The protest was held on International Women’s Day. Photo source: @ Rare Historical Photos

Many things changed for women, freedom of travel, expression, family law fell under religious jurisdiction which means that for a woman to seek a divorce became almost impossible.

What do women dress and look like today in Iran?

It depends on where you go. Women in the capital have had a taste of what emancipation is so it is common to see more modern/rebellious styles strolling the streets of Tehran. They push back their rusaris, wear heavy make up and like to reveal their hair in abundance.

A very friendly girl I met at a shisha café-bar in Tehran. She, like most young people in Iran, has social media accounts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

In rural areas, however, tradition is more predominant and the level of faith is more tangible. Women behave and dress more conservatively.

Girls in Yazd, a very traditional town located south-east of Esfahan.

On every inch of Iranian soil, under the law women who venture outdoors must wear a headscarf, the “rusari”, and a long overcoat, known as the “manteau”. Alternatively, they can wear a black cloak known as the “chador”. These are legal requirements, punishable by fines or imprisonment for repeat offenders.

The strictness of the law enforcement depends on the areas. Consequently, it is down to where you happen to be: in affluent north Tehran, women tend to push back their rusaris to reveal an abundance of hair. Their “manteaus” are multi-coloured and stylishly nipped in at the waist.

Cumae: The Door to Hell

Welcome to Cumae, the door to hell according to ancient believes. Located 25 km west of Naples, Cumae is ancient city of Magna Graecia on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Founded by settlers from Euboea in the 8th century BC, Cumae was the first Greek colony on the mainland of Italy and the seat of the Cumaean Sibyl, the priestess presiding over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae.

The Legend

Once upon a time, when the Earth was flat and it finished right after Gibraltar, the Greeks used to rule it all. It was known as the Greek World. They believed to have only one ocean, called Ocean, they believed that thunders were the anger expression of Zeus and they believed that the Sun was carried by a chariot through the sky. They also believed that there were more than one entrances to the inferno, the kingdoms of the dead. Inferno back then had no bad or good connotation as Catholicism later made us believe, but it was merely the place were the dead As we said before, they had many fascinating believes, but let’s pick what we left last time: Greek Hell. It is possible to find it, dear Reader. Continue reading “Cumae: The Door to Hell”

What to Pack for a Dictatorship

Packing is a pickle, especially for people like me who tend to bring almost… every possible gadget. Packing for Europe is one thing, but what do you pack for a dictatorship?

It will vary depending on where you plan on going.

What’s a Dictatorship

A dictatorship is a type of authoritarianism, in which politicians regulate nearly every aspect of the public and private behavior of citizens. An offbeat destination, for sure, but it’s a an attractive idea for adventurers who wish to keep away from crowds.

In other words , A dictatorship is a form of government in which a person or a small group rules with almost unlimited power. The ruler of a dictatorship is called a dictator, who holds absolute authority in any sphere.

Packing Ideas

Based on internet and common sense, it is easy to pack a suitcase if you go to Thailand, or Spain, or Jordan. But what about the special countries? Like North Korea? Yemen? Or China? Does the packing rule change?

Do not try and take EVERYTHING with you. Exhibit A above.

What you need to keep in mind is that these countries often present warnings and limitations to tourists in order to maintain a certain because of their governments (China, though, is not exactly a dictatorship but does present many limitations) sometimes there are rules set out in advance to prevent any difficulty for and from the visitor. Like North Korea. Myanmar didn’t have ATMs until couple of years ago, so rules and recommendations need to revised from time to time. For North Korea, I wasn’t warned about any specific rule regarding clothing (except the one piece of cloth for a formal visit to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun), but I distinctively recall the pre-tour information pamphlet with recommendations. Let’s see the bottom lines on packing:

  • Do not pack any religious book with you. You can’t play with this topic as it is highly sensitive in most sporty places (North Korea, Palestine, China, etc).
  • Pack light and with the necessary, do not pack too many pieces of clothing, remember that is always best to travel light with the necessary items. If you find a pretty shirt, you’ll buy it in the moment, but depart light.
  • Photo equipment: bear in mind that professional cameras with lenses up to 250mm might not be allowed in some places. For the rest consider that in many places you won’t find lenses and other camera items, so pack them with you.
  • As ATM machines may not be available, bring lots of cash with you in sufficient quantity for the duration of your trip (Eur and USD will both be fine). Don’t waste time and space for travellers cheques. Just cash.
  • Lots of gifts like tobaccos and cigarettes, pens, mainly intended for bartering and gifts. Very useful items 😉
Cigarettes are always well accepted
  • If you not visiting a muslim countries, you might want to take whiskey or any other fancy alcoholic drinks that locals can’t normally access to. In North Korea they are very appreciated presents to tour guides. Chocolates too!

  • A torch or flashlight. This is a fundamental item. The best countries are those that are sporty, do not always expect light everywhere and have your own.
  • Take with you a useful passport. Many passports are not accepted, like in North Korea a South Korean passport will not be allowed to enter the country. Here is a list of friendly passports and here as well.
  • Notebook in case you want to write down interesting things you hear or see.
Everybody likes Italians, that is a certainty, and Chileans. Although Chileans are a more rare and safer sight in sporty countries.
  • Minimized toiletries: we girls are specialists in finding teeny tiny tooth pastes, shampoos and creams. If you know you’re going somewhere where you will not find these items, use small containers.

 

Follow these rules and you’re good to go 🙂 !

Welcome to the Self-proclaimed Republic of Molossia

A true Micronation

Did you know that the desolate and dry plains of Nevada hide a true gem that almost no one knows of? A self-proclaimed country within another country! This is what we normally know as micro-nations: a small area or political entity that claims national sovereignty but is not recognized by other sovereign states. The name is Republic of Molossia, the very first self-proclaimed sovereign country within the United States, governed by His Excellency Kevin Baugh.

His Excellency, President Kevin Baugh of Molossia

The Republic of Molossia

The Republic of Molossia is a grand micro-nation and self declared sovereign state located in the state of Nevada. Founded on May 26th 1977 it was first known as the Grand Republic of Vuldstein and it was located in Oregon until 1999. Petite, curious and unique, Molossia has its own history, its own currency, its own rules and regulations

Here is the welcome message from His Excellency:

Greetings! I would like to wish you a very warm welcome and assure you that I am delighted that you have chosen to visit our official Molossian Website. This site is an important connection to the world, a link transcending the barriers of distance and helping me to fulfill my commitment to the Molossian people to use the office of President to reach out to others. I hope that it will be particularly helpful in educating the world about our nation. This virtual space will be a place where individuals and groups from many different cultures backgrounds and traditions will be able to learn about Molossia; our culture, our history, our government and our people. As one of the smallest nations on Earth, Molossia has a rich heritage and ever-expanding role on the international scene. A bright future lies ahead of us, and by visiting our website you are part of that destiny. I hope that this site will serve as an invaluable information resource on Molossia, in its unique place in the international world of today. Enjoy your visit! The Republic of Molossia is no different from any other sovereign country that you know

Travel Buddy and I absolutely had to check it out in one of our US trips.

The ruler of Molossia is His Excellency Kevin Baugh, he rules over 33 citizens (including pets) of the micronation he established as a childhood game with his brother, complete with its own rules, border control, traditions and currency. Truly.

Molossia has its own currency, the Valora, and the exchange rates with Euro and US Dollar is properly displayed

The Rules in Molossia

Here are few things you should know prior your visit to the Republic of Molossia:

  1. Visits are allowed by appointment only and arranged in advance. President Kevin Baugh will be delighted to give you a complete tour of his 11.3-acre country accompanied by his constable chief, Alexia.
  2. Customs formalities and entry customs rules are simple and are displayed on the Molossia-United States border.
  3. Passports are not necessarily required to enter Molossia but if you have one it will be stamped upon entry. Other than a valid passport in hand, there are no other visa requirements.
  4. Permission to visit is granted by His Excellency, who reserves the right to refuse or accept the visitor’s petition.
  5. Visa allows visitors to enter as tourist for a maximum of three hours after customs control. Visitors without permission are not allowed.
  6. Foreign nationals are not allowed to take up employment and/or residence within the Republic of Molossia.
  7. Foreign nationals cannot apply for citizenship in the Republic. Citizenship is reserved to residents of the Republic only.
  8. The following items are prohibited in the Republic of Molossia: ammunitions, drugs, tobacco, explosives, fire weapons, incandescent lightbulbs, plastic shopping bags, Catfish, “Fresh” Spinach, Missionaries and salesmen, onions and Walruses are also all prohibited. And finally, ANYTHING from Texas is also forbidden to enter Molossia.
Molossia Bulletin of Customs Regulation

For further information and exciting news and discoveries on the Republic of Molossia, stay tuned as our next post will cover the entire tour of this grand little nation! 🙂

The Park of Monsters

Once upon a time, a noble condottiero and patron of the arts, Sir Pier Francesco Orsini, decided to create the Park of Monsters in Bomarzo, a set of gardens filled with monsters and mythological creatures. The park of monsters. Sir Pier Francesco made it very clear and remarked that the garden and its creatures were not meant to be pretty, but to astonish and shock.

It all happened one rainy night, in the 1550’s… Sir Pier Francesco had just been back from a brutal war, the French-Spanish war fought in Italy, he had been held for random reasons, his friend was killed, and came home to find his beloved wife dead. Wrecked with grief, Sir Pier Francesco decided he wanted to create a park of wonders, filled with fascinating creatures and sculptures for which he would have an explanatory inscription for each. And so he hired the architect Pirro Logorio to help him with this creation. He was a very respected architect, he completed the Cathedral of Saint Peter after Michelangelo passed away. Sir Pier Francesco believed it took an unusual architect to build an unusual park of wonders. And this park, dear Reader, is truly astounding… The park is filled with bizarre and fascinating sculptures and creatures from mythology and other monsters for which only the accompanying inscriptions (and some imagination 🙂 ) provide any explanation.

Among the pieces are a war elephant

a dragon fighting a lion

Orsini loved Greek myths so it can be assumed that this sculpture is inspired by the tales of the Nemea lion and the Ladon dragon, both are two of the most famous Hercules Labours tales.

the Greek battle between two giants

Poseidon sitting in what looks like to be his temple at the bottom of the ocean

a house built on a tilt to disorient the viewer

The most iconic piece of the park is the Mouth of Hell, an enormous open-mouth screaming head inside which, on the tongue, stands a picnic table and enough seating for a few people. The accompanying inscription reads “all thought departs” (ogni pensiero vola).

As the park was not magical enough, I found the most unlikely creature that could ever be found in such place: a true Japanese cosplay girl dressed in a what I imagined to be an impala or wild sheep. She was accompanied by her own photographer and the environment actually suited her well 🙂