The Churches of Lalibela


Last night part of 60 Minutes featured these churches.  Several years ago I went with friends from Ethiopia to see them.  We spent almost an entire day hiking through around and up and down all eleven of them. I decided to travel back a few years and relive my experiences there and share it here.

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800 years ago these churches were carved from the top down out of solid stone. They dug a trench deep all around what is now each church and then worked from there.  Everything is stone, including the interior columns and spaces.

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There are areas around all the churches and drainage canals so they do not flood in the rainy season.

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The inside of each church is decorated with carvings, frescoes, and wall hangings.

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Because 800 years of wear and tear and especially rain was beginning to take its toll, they covered them several years ago.  Now, according the the architect on 60 Minutes, they are experiencing the opposite problem.  The stone is getting too dry and contracting. They are teaching local people how to preserve the stone so it will last hundreds more years.

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Dino, my Ethiopia friend, and the guide, in white.

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Why the ridiculous looking socks?  Fleas are a problem.  Many of the churches have old carpet on the floors, thousands of people still workshop in them regularly.  We were told to spray our ankles, tuck our pants inside out socks, spray our socks. It worked.

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And here is probably the most photographed of them from up above. Yes, you do get to climb all the way down there if you want to go inside.  We did. The story goes that the king went to Jerusalem and wanted to create an Ethiopian Jerusalem.  There is a river nearby which they call the River Jordan. As you tour, they explain every detail and how they match passages and stories from the Biblical Jerusalem.  How did they build all of these out of solid stone?  With the help of angels.

 

 

 

 

You’re Gonna Eat That!? Adventures with Food, Family, and Friends


This is my new book, published last month.  It is filled with stories, poems, and recipes–healthy food for vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and meat eaters with photos and detailed instructions. Currently, it can be purchased at Burrowing Owl bookstores in Canyon and Amarillo, Texas, and online at http://www.dreamcatcherbooks.com, Angel editions.

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The World in One Room


 

Four jaguar heads stare at me,

Mexican, Costa Rican.

A third guards the mantel,

partially hidden in tropical plants,

attack ready, tail raised, jaws open,

teeth bared.

 

My feet rest on a coffee table

carved in Kashmir.  I look at the photo

of the young man whose family made it.

He took me home to meet his mom,

to the floating market.

Once peace reigned there.

Now I wonder if he is safe, alive.

 

The Hoop Dancer raises his arms,

the Acoma pot exudes ancient

black on white beauty, painted

by the tips of yucca stems.

The Thai Spirit House begs

to appease evil spirits.

I should put food and flowers there;

I never do.

 

Corn plant of life–for Navaho, Hopi,

me, painted, growing up my wall,

blue and red birds flitting through

the stalks, singing ancient songs.

Corn Maiden rug hanging on the wall;

an Isleta Pueblo girl won a contest

with its design.  Four Corn Maiden

Kachinas watch the room.

Corn everywhere–Sacred Corn.

 

Three Ethiopian crosses, St. George

and the Dragon, Frida Kahlo doll,

Argentinian Madonna, Tohono O’odham

baskets, a painted cow skull, Nigerian carved

wooden elephants, including a Chieftains chair,

the stained glass transom window from the house

where my dad lived from birth to ten.

 

In a room filled with windows, there

is little room for paintings, yet–

purple bison glide across the prairie,

an Iraqi woman flies through an azure

sky filled with dark blue birds,

a 15th century mystic, Kabir, tells

a tale in poetry, Navaho spirits,

pumas walking toward me–

my obsession.

 

Rugs scattered–Kerman,

an unknown Persian city, Afghani,

Egyptian, Indian, Zapotec, scraps of old

Turkish rugs sewn together.

 

In one cabinet, Grandmother’s china,

Mom’s Czech crystal–a wedding present

decades ago, Grandson’s painted art,

the silverware Dad gave Mom on their

first wedding anniversary,  Mom’s

everyday dishes–flowers blooming.

I use them every day.

 

These objects–a testament to who I am:

World wanderer, seeker, citizen.

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Italy–a day in Naples


Naples is big; it is old; it contains stark extremes.  How old?  The New Castle was built in the 13th century; yes, that one is the new one.  Coming from Sorrento one first sees the ship yards, huge apartment complexes where the less fortunate dwell, industrial areas.

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Some said they thought it looked dingy.  I laughed to myself.  These buildings are old and near the sea.  Will anything built in the US last this long?

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IMG_4505Then we drove up higher and higher into another part of Naples.  You can see Mt. Vesuvius in the background.

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The island to the right in the distance is Capri. More on Capri in a later post. In this part of Naples it is obvious that some people live very well there.

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Then we went lower again driving along the seafront and parked where we could walk to the oldest part of Naples.

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A very old cathedral in the background to the left.  We wanted to go in but it was closed until later in the day.  To the right of this photo, a large group of protestors were shouting slogans, etc. through loud speakers. Military were evident in the square.

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A city government building.  The statues are of various famous people in the history of Naples.

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Looking across the square from the church steps.

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The oldest opera house is in Naples.  Operas are still performed here.

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We walked to another area and went inside this building which is filled with restaurants and shops, many with very high end clothing.

IMG_4532As we left, I noticed the bay was filled with tiny sailboats.  It was very windy and I thought they were very brave.  Later, I learned that these tiny boats are training boats, the ones you use when you are first learning to sail.  It looks daunting to me. I have only sailed on boats much bigger.

Why do so many people still live so near a non-dormant volcano?  Someone asked this question.  The response was:  Why do people live in Florida, Houston where there are hurricanes rather often.  Why do people live where there are tornadoes, earthquakes, mudslides? At least Vesuvius provides a beautiful backdrop.

 

 

Italy–Sirens’ Song


As we drove along the Amalfi Coast, the guide told us the mythological story of the Sirens.  My daughter took a photo out the window of the Sirens’ islands.

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Later I wrote this poem remembering the travails of Odysseus.

 

The melodious Sirens’ song

lured Odysseus

begging to be untied from

the mast.

Even the roaring sea’s

voice whispered in

comparison.

They sang honeyed

love songs to starving

sailors, longing for a woman’s

touch, a kiss, ecstasy.

With knife claws, they

ripped them asunder,

crunching bones, blood

erupting.

Satiated, they sang,

eternal, etherial, deceptive.

 

 

Several days later at a shop in Sorrento, while my daughter was looking for a medusa cameo, the owner, a cameo artist, brought out Siren cameos.  He insisted the Siren’s have been terribly misunderstood.  I wanted clarification but unfortunately other customers appeared and I remain mystified.

Cooking in Italy


After spending most of the day exploring Pompeii, we rushed back to Sorrento for an evening cooking class up on a mountainside above the main part of the city. We made eggplant parmesan and  cheese ravioli. Their take on the eggplant dish was different from any I have seen in the US.  They had sliced the eggplant on the diagonal and already cooked it.  Each person received several pieces of the already cooked eggplant and a bowl of their homemade mozzarella cheese.  We were instructed to place a teaspoon of the cheese in the middle of each piece of eggplant, roll it up, and place it in a small casserole dish with their homemade tomato sauce already in the dish.  Instead of layers of eggplant, sauce, and cheese, this was rolls of eggplant filled with cheese atop a tomato sauce in a casserole dish which they baked while we made ravioli.

For making the ravioli, in front of each person they placed a pile of a couple cups of flour and dishes of water and oil.  We were instructed to add the oil and a little water to make a stiff dough.  Then we were told that the key to really good ravioli dough (and I am guessing any pasta dough) is to knead it a lot.  Yes, to do all this, we had to use our hands.  After the dough was thoroughly kneaded, we patted it out into an oval and then ran it through a pasta maker several times to make it thin.  We laid this rolled dough on the table and then with a ravioli cutter, we cut circles, filled them with mozzarella cheese, but not too much.  The key is to get just the right amount of cheese so you have enough but can still fold it over and seal the edges with the cheese inside.  It must be sealed thoroughly so it does not fall apart when being boiled in the salty water.

The owner asked my grandson to help cook the ravioli.  Here he is working away.

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After the ravioli was done, we all sat down and enjoyed the eggplant, the ravioli with their homemade tomato sauce, and their local wines.  Making both dishes was much easier than I expected.  And fun.  The evening was filled with joy, laughter, and good company.

 

 

 

Italy–Pompeii


Although I had heard about, read articles, seen photos and documentaries, nothing prepared me for its size, grandeur, and wealth.

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To get here you have to climb up a hill.  This is where the gladiators lived and trained.

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The doors are copies, the rest not.  Gladiators lived in the rooms behind the doors and exercised and practiced in the green area shown in the previous two photos.

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This is the tiny amphitheater which holds about 1000 persons. Occasionally, performances, e.g. concerts, are still held here.

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An we walked around, I took pictures of the various buildings, streets, walls.

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Looking back toward the small amphitheater.

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This is the large amphitheater which holds 5000.  Just like in theaters now, the seats vary in size, view, etc. so that the where you get to sit depends on who you are and how much you have to spend.

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Looking toward what remains of the stage and area behind the stage.

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Streets were laid out in a grid at right angles to each other.  This is a typical street with sidewalks on each side.  Notice the large stones in the middle.  At times with excessive rain, the streets would flood.  The large stones allowed people to cross without getting their feet wet.  The spaces in the middle were designed so carts could pass through.  Along the sides are spaces for shops.

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The wealthy in Pompeii lived in very large, elegant houses, with water collection systems, heated and running water.  This is the entry to one such house.

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The courtyard at the same house.

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What remain of the frescoes there.  Considering this was buried for nearly 2000 years…

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Part of the dining room.  There, like in Rome, people reclined while eating.

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We moved on to another house.

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More frescoes.  Most of them tell a well known story.

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When they excavated this second house, they found this table with three legs–common then apparently.  This is not a new table, it is one from Pompeii found in this house.

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Decorated walls in this second house.

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An original floor in the same house.

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A place where someone had a shop with items for sale.

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We also visited the bathhouse area where there would be separate bathhouses for men and women, exercise rooms, hot water, steam, just like today.

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Although the walls, floors, streets and sidewalks are as they were before the volcanic eruption, in some places they have restored roofs to look like what they would have looked like then.

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They knew that domed structures are more stable.

Next we walked to the brothel.  Many of the sexually graphic frescoes remain.  They illustrate different positions.  I might also add that both stone and painted penises are everywhere in Pompeii.  Why?  They were the symbol of a good life, of prosperity, of fertility, of joy, of, well, everything good. I took some photos of the frescoes at the brothel but do not want to get thrown off my blogging site so will not put them here.

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Another typical street headed toward the giant city square.

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Standing in the middle, looking toward one direction.  I was astonished at the size of this place.  We went a good time of the year–the off season.  The guide told us that in high season there are so many people here, it is difficult to move through them at times.

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Looking the other direction with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Before the eruption this volcano was just a tall mountain or so the people there thought.  Then it was approximately 10,000 feet.  The eruption made it fall into itself and decrease by about 6000 feet.

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More photos of the square.

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The countryside near Pompeii is lush green. IMG_4454

The view walking down the steps leaving Pompeii.

 

 

 

 

Italy–the Amalfi Coast


On one of our day trips from Sorrento, we headed down the Amalfi Coast.  For years I have seen photos and told myself, “Wow”.  No photo can do this coastline justice.  The highway is excellent but narrow.  On many of the turns, only one vehicle can proceed.  A large bus cannot travel this highway.  Even with the small ones we took, the driver would often honk as we turned a corner which we could not see around.

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We stopped at one of the few turnoffs along the highway and took a short hike down to an overlook.  This is the town of Positano. I took the following photos while at this overlook.

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I love bougainvillea and all colors grew everywhere.

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Looking across the Mediterranean.

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The land is rugged with both new and ancient buildings hanging off mountainsides and cliffs.

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A closer view of Positano.

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Another view across the Mediterranean.

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The highway, houses hanging off the edge, olive trees, lushness everywhere.

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It was a stormy looking day.  We kept thinking it would rain but luckily it did not.

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The Amalfi Cathedral in the town of Almalfi.  Its design is unique and shows the cultural influence of the Muslim world with whom the town was a major trading center for centuries–arches, gold and green.

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A typical street in Amalfi.  We walked all the way up this street to just below the school, found all sorts of delightful shops, and ate our favorite food of the entire trip.   My favorite was spaghetti with a lemon creme sauce.  Recipe comes later.

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Near the sea looking up into the city.  The large building up on the slopes is now a cemetery but used to be a monastery.

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Same spot as previous photo, just looking the other direction.

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We were supposed to take a little boat trip out into the sea but it was too rough.  Ema, my daughter, walked all the way out to the end of the pier.

The water was so high I thought perhaps it was high tide.  I was told it was not.

 

Today I asked my daughter and grandson what/where was their favorite in Italy.  We all agree, Amalfi. I also loved Capri–more about there later.

Italy-Sorrento


It takes approximately four hours to travel by road from Rome to Sorrento.  To get in and out of Sorrento, the highway goes through three tunnels, one of which is more than three miles long.  Like all cities along this area of coastline, Sorrento is a city where many of the buildings hang off the edge of cliffs above the water.

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This part of the primary street off the main square is full of shops and pedestrian only.  Christmas decorations were already being installed.  From the time we arrived until we left, the giant metal tree in the middle of the main square went from just metal to covered with greenery to the installation of lights.

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A typical side street off the main street seen in the first photo.  Sorrento is the perfect place for those who like shopping in all sorts of little shops or enjoy hanging out in restaurants, many of which are open air along the street, sipping cappuccino.

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From the main street, we walked out to a cliff park overlooking the sea.

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This photo, taken from the same spot as the previous photo, shows Mt. Vesuvius in the distance.  Cities below the mountain include Naples and Pompeii.  Several thousand people also live on the slopes of Vesuvius.

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Again taken from the same spot, looking in the opposite direction, this photo shows the steepness of the cliffs around Sorrento. Houses, vineyards, businesses, olive and lemon groves hang off the edges.  The volcanic soil here is very rich and conducive to intense, successful farming. This is lemon country where limoncello is very popular.

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A few feet from the overlook, we visited a very old church courtyard.  Very old is relative everywhere in Italy.  New can be several hundreds of years old.  I kept thinking about the US and question whether anything we have built now or even at the beginning of the country will last as long as much of what I saw in Italy.

Italy–Rome


Where have I been?  Italy, on a trip planned for months, a trip with friends and family centered around a group of women writers with The Story Circle Network, a group focused on women telling their stories.  Yes, we had classes and wrote every day.  When we were not writing, we discovered a little part of Italy.  The first half day we strolled through ancient Rome, starting with the Coliseum.

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To the left of the Coliseum stands this arch–see a bit of the Coliseum on the right side of this photo.

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The Coliseum is so large that it is impossible to take of photo of all of it at once.  We were there on a holiday.  There was a long line of people waiting to get inside.  We did not go inside.

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The arch in the first photo seen from the side.

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On the other side of the Coliseum facing down a wide pedestrian only boulevard.  Many of the following photos were taken along this boulevard.  The trees in these photos are umbrella pines.  They are everywhere in Rome and other parts of Italy south of Rome.

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My daughter and grandson strolling along with friends in the background.

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One of the things I found most enjoyable strolling along were the street musicians:  One played classical guitar music, farther down the boulevard another was playing popular music while another man danced to it. I wanted to stop and dance along but everyone was walking fast away from me.  Getting lost in Rome did not seem to be a great idea.

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While sauntering along, I turned around and took a photo of the Coliseum in the distance.

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In one short walk in Rome, I saw so many things from thousands of years of history, it was hard to fathom.

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Away from the boulevard and walking toward Trevi Fountain, we saw this memorial.  It was a rainy, stormy day.  I kept thinking it is going to rain but it didn’t. In many places, the ancient, the not so ancient, and the new could all be seen in one place.

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And, of course, one of the most famous places in Rome.  We found a little restaurant near here.  I had my first Italian cappuccino and a delectable desert which I tried to find everywhere else we went but did not. It was in a little cup, 2/3 was a creamy bottom, 1/3 was berries on top.

 

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Walking along another route.  I seem to have a little problem taking photos, walking, and keeping my fingers away from the iPAD mini frame while taking some of these photos.  So much seen in a mere half day in Rome.  Shortly after lunch, visiting the Trivi Fountain, and passing by the above monument, we headed on the four hour road trip to Sorrento.

I could not resist taking a video of the lush emerald Italian countryside south of Rome.