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

Looking for Tatooine

When George Lucas heard the name of Tataouine and visited the town he liked it so much that he felt the name inspired him to proclame Luke Skywalker’s home planet as Tatooine. I, being a die-hard fan of Starwars, decided to make a pilgrimage to this fantastic set in the remote Tunisian desert.

We had been driving for hours and apart from the obvious beauty of the desert, the dunes, the aircraft fun, and salt plains, we had to see the Star Wars movie set!

Where is Tatooine?

The exact location wasn’t easy to spot as it is fiercely protected and used by locals to earn a few coins, so there are really no maps that take you there. However, we had come prepared and had a rough idea of its locations.

Tunisia served as shooting locations for many of the Star Wars films, and as we drove through this beautiful country we encountered many spots that were used for the whole saga. Ksar Ouled Sultane, used in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace as the slave quarters

Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata, later known simply as Star Wars Hotel was used to shoot the Lars dinner scene in Star Wars Episode II: The Attack of The Clones and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Some of the interiors and the courtyard of Luke’s house in The Phantom Menace were filmed in this hotel as well. We could visit this hotel with no problem as many other people do, you can take photos and even see the painted ceiling of what was used for the Skywalker dining room. The funny thing is that in the movie, when Luke walks out of the farm, he appears in a flat deserted area (our mission goal), while in reality, as soon as you walk out of the hotel you’ll see houses, small stone hills and a lot of prickly pear-trees (a variety of cactus that is very common in Tunisia)

However our search mostly focused on finding the spot for the pioneer movie, the one that dazzled all fans around the world: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope Easier said that done though, after much driving we started losing hope as most signs would drive us to Episode I and II locations only. But as we approached Tozeur, hints and signs were given to us until we found the Road to Tatooine. This road was built especially for the movie shooting, so that more than 60 tracks could easily reach the locations that will serve as Luke Skywalkers’ home town, Mos Espa, here in Onk Jemal (Berber for ‘camel’s neck’), about 38 km northwest of Tozeur and about 20 km northeast of Nefta

It looked so promising that I couldn’t hide my thrill. We drove until the magic Tatooine appeared in front of our eyes and it looked exactly like in the movie

The unmistakable Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi shrouds with Lightsabers  are used to welcome people and perhaps to let them know they arrived at the correct place.

Iconic Starwars Props

If you are a big fan of the saga as I am, you probably know of those props that were unique and very rememberable like those sticky rockets you coul see in the desert. The rockets (in the movies they were actually moisture vaporators) that you see standing are entirely made of wood, which is impressive if you think about it, they survived through many sand storms and high temperature since they were placed in 1977

 

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In the saga, these vaporators  were devices used on moisture farms in order to capture water from a planet’s air. They were especially used here in Tatooine since water was scarce.

Another very memorable prop is the lightsaber

Darth Vader’s lightsaber. The most famous weapon of the fantasy world ever known.

Details of the houses depict futuristic simple homes

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The inside of houses made basically out of papier-mâché

And more futuristic devices found outside of most houses

A little gift shop with typical Star Wars souvenirs. The town is inhabited by two nomads who run the souvenir store

At the Tatooine souvenir shop you can buy stones, lightsaber replicas and other little props from the Starwars saga.

Unfortunately, one must not forget that we are basically in the Sahara desert, and the Sahara is slowly pushing dunes everywhere, jeopardizing locations such as this one as a huge sand dune has been tracked moving towards Nefta at a rate of 4 cm per day. It won’t be long before this alien town is buried beneath the sand. Go now!

The Pending Coffee tradition

Italians are masters of many noble traditions, inventions and deeds, many of them taken from unnoticed customs in other countries where they did not receive much attention, evidently. True: we did not invent pizza, pasta, coffee. But we certainly invented the way the rest of the world conceives, serves and drinks coffee, starting from the linguistics of it (espressocappuccino, latte macchiato, etc) to the steam-driven espresso machine (first pioneered by Angelo Moriondo in 1884), to the more stylish brands (Illy and Lavazza, my favourite). If coffee has a spiritual home, this is it. Italy.

Today 🙂 let me delight you with some curious Italian coffee traditions: the pending coffee.

The Espresso-macchiato:  an espresso literally “stained” with a light amount of steamed milk. This is my friend Riccio’s favourite although she might have transitioned to the more tasteful marocchino, another great invention from north of Italy, which carries a mix of espresso, cocoa powder and milk froth.

In Italy, having coffee is a form of art: is a ritual that may be practiced more times in a day depending on the need, before a meal, after lunch, a work break, etc. Come to a bar and live the full coffee experience. A bar, normally very crowded and noisy coffee house, is where people gather to have coffee and meet friends, discuss politics and sports. It’s where they start their day and, at times, where it ends along with an aperitivo.

This is a typical bar in Rome, more specifically in Ostia Antica, my home town. Normally crowded, this bar is located right outside the train station. In a bar people normally have coffee and/or a quick digestive drink, accompanied by little snacks such as peanuts.

The barista, the man or woman behind the bar who prepares the coffee, is a key element to this tradition. He or she joins random conversations, debates, is normally friends with the regular customers. Coffee gives us morning boost, helps digest our food, avoid nappy desire and open the evening together with aperitivos. In few words: coffee rules our lives.

Cappuccino, my absolute favourite: 50% hot milk, 50% espresso with foam to the top usually had for breakfast. Traditional Italians would curse me if they knew I have cappuccino also after meals, even if I ate fish. I don’t care because it’s just too good.

But let’s go deeper into Italian culture and tradition and explore a very unknown term to most foreigners: a pending espresso. Else known as caffé sospeso (suspended coffeee) or caffé pagato (paid coffee).

What is a pending or paid coffee?

The caffé sospeso is a concept mostly unknown to rest of the world. A very old Italian tradition that enchants many because of its romantic simplicity: gifting an espresso to somebody.

Born in Naples during the Second World War, this habit came to symbolise solidarity in a very critic moment in Italian history. Those who could afford an espresso at the bar normally would pay for a second coffee to pay for a coffee many times they would pay for another one which would be left pending. This pending coffee would later be given to anyone who wished to have it (normally it would be someone poor or homeless).

In that very moment of our history, coffee became a sympathetic and philanthropic gesture that anybody who was happy made when entering a bar.

Precisely because a person was happy, he or she would decide to have an espresso at the bar and pay for an additional one to be assigned to anyone. In few words, an espresso was offered to a stranger, any stranger coming into the bar later on.

This person, aware of the tradition, would go to bartender and ask if there were any pending coffees.

Nino Manfredi on the most classic Lavazza Caffé ad of 1986.

The Judgement of Paris

Travel with Stanito is not only a blog about real geographic travel adventures. It is also a space where you can travel back in time, when the world was a more magical place filled with myths and tales. On this note today I offer you a piece of one of my biggest passions: Greek myths. Specifically, to the myth that caused the most famous war known to ancient men: the Last War of Troy.

The Trojan horse as seen in the movie “Troy”

Troy was attacked and almost sacked at least three times during different kingdoms, but the one we remember is the was caused by love. Or at least that is what we believe to be the cause. The cause of the war of Troy was a very unfortunate judgment.

The most emblematic paintings of this tragic event is this one:

The Judgement, by Francesco Podesti, hosted at Palazzo Braschi. This simple act of judgement provoked one of the most beautiful tales ever: The Iliad, or Song of Ilion, by Homer.

Paris was a handsome young man. A goat herder with a scarce intellect and a very interesting past.

Anaware of it, his true name was Alexandros, and he was the youngest child of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. But the poor child had a terrible older sister, Cassandra, who as soon as he was born started shouting “Troy will burn! Kill him!”.
As Priam knew his daughter was blessed with the gift of prophecy, he considered that the safety of his realm was too important, and so one night he left the new born baby on a cliff of Mt. Ida hoping that wolves or whatever angry animal looking for a meal would eat the baby. However, Cassandra had already spoken and Troy was doomed, so the fatherly gesture didn’t help save precious Troy in the future: Alexandros was found by Agelaus, who took him along and named him Paris (Greek for ‘warrior’ or ‘backpack’, I disagree with the first one as Paris was quite the coward and fled battles in numerous occasions).

The Love of Helen and Paris, by Jacques-Louis David

Now, we know Cassandra was quirky but she did in fact predict the fall of the city very accurately, in fact she knew how it would have been destroyed, when and by whom. Such gift you would think could have saved the entire country from the peril of destruction, but the girl also brought a side effect to it. Being gifted and all that, Cassandra once refused to lie with Apollo. The god, angered by such offence, spit in her mouth and turned her blessed gift into a curse that would make Cassandra’s divinations never to be believed by anybody.

As Paris was herding his goats on Mt. Ida. on a sunny day, he was unaware that on a different mountain, Mt. Olympus, a very significant event was taking place, an event that would have soon claim Paris’ role in the biggest war of all time.

The apple of discord. Famous golden object that became the obsession of three goddesses.

The Wedding

On Mt. Olympus that day something very unusual was happening: for the first time, the Twelve Olympic gods were celebrating the joyous union of a mortal and an immortal, Peleus and Thètis. Normally the gods wouldn’t never attend weddings involving mortals, but this was a special case.
Thètis and Peleus wanted the perfect wedding, which means: “We want all the gods to be witnesses of our joyous union, we want to have our wedding on Mr. Olympus with a glorious feast and we certainly don’t want anything to go wrong, so Eris, we are sorry but you’re not invited”.  Eris, Goddess of Discord, Contention, Provocations and many more, was certainly hurt. But she decided to keep her name up with honor and mess up the wedding celebration by doing what she does best: she rolled on the banquet table a beautiful Golden Apple with imprinted “To the most beautiful”.

The Wedding of Peleus and Thetis by Cornelis van Haarlem

Aphrodite and Hera, quite rightly, jumped at it. Athenae, Goddess of Wisdom, Strategy, Intelligence and many more attributes, also raced to the get the Apple, but since she was known for other reasons (kind of like ‘inside beauty is what really matters’) and frankly she was not that pretty, I still wonder why she jumped too.
Zeus was quite the coward too and didn’t dare to assign the Apple to one of them, plus his wife Hera was fiercely jealous, so it was better to skip trouble and designate someone else to be the impartial beauty judge.

The choice went to Paris, an honest goat herder blessed with a simple uncomplicated life who was probably napping under a tree while his goats roamed around.

 

The Judgement

Hérmes led the three goddesses to the unfortunate fellow and let him judge who was the fairest. As soon as they found the doomed boy Hérmes gave the introductory speech (from Robert Graves’ book The Greek Myths):

‘Paris, since you are as handsome as you are wise in affairs of the heart, Zeus commands you to judge which of these goddesses is the fairest.’

Paris accepted the apple doubtfully. He first thought to divide the Golden Apple in three identical parts, but such thing was not allowed so he proceeded by asking the three goddesses to disrobe so that he could judge them. Before they did so, he said ‘But first I beg the losers not to be vexed with me. I am only a human being, liable to make the stupidest mistakes.’ As if he knew the gods at all before asking for such promise…

Aphrodite was quickly undressed, Hera followed right up and Athenae was the last one (she had a helmet and armor, so it took longer to undress).
Hera was the first one to speak and try to bribe him:

‘Examine me conscientiously,’ said Hera, turning slowly around, and displaying her magnificent figure,’ and remember that if you judge me the fairest, I will make you lord of all Asia, and the richest man alive.’

Poor Paris, knew nothing about glory and war ambitions so he kindly refused the offer.
Athenae was next:

‘Listen, Paris, if you have enough common sense to award me the prize, I will make you victorious in all your battles, as well as the handsomest and wisest man in the world.’

He didn’t know what wars and wisdom were either, so another monumental offer was kindly turned down.
Then last but not least, Aphrodite. She approached Paris so closely that he immediately blushed:

‘Look carefully, please, pass nothing over. … By the way, as soon as I saw you, I said to myself:’ ‘Upon my word, there goes the handsomest young man in Phrygia! Why does he waste himself here in the wilderness herding stupid cattle? “Well, why do you, Paris? Why not move into a city and lead a civilized life? What have you to lose by marrying someone like Helen of Sparta, who is as beautiful as I am, and no less passionate? I am convinced that, once you two have met, she will abandon her home, her family, everything, to become your mistress. Surely you have heard of Helen?’

Victorious Aphrodite

Paris immediately said ‘you have all my attention’ and asked for a description of Helen. Aphrodite knew to manage situations like this one very well as she masters all matters of love. It was easy: she basically described herself by adding the “human” factor, and boom! Paris was convinced and awarded her the Golden Apple!

The scene of Aphrodite’s moment of victory