Monday, November 5, 2018

THE ROAD TO DENALI







About the only activity in the port of Seward beside off-loading luggage was that of a nearby whale disporting in the quiet sun-lit waters of Resurrection Bay. The little town, first settled in 1793 by Russian fur traders, is named for Lincoln’s Secretary of the Interior who bought Alaska from the cash-starved Russians in 1867. The port was linked to the interior by the Alaska railroad in 1903. A few years later, news of a gold strike in the interior spread to the lower 48. In 1908, surveyors rushed to map out a trail called the Seward to Nome Trail, or more familiarly The Iditarod, based on a network of existing native trails and ten thousand dreamers rushed to Seward to begin their arduous trek to the far north by dogsled. Other planned settlers never arrived after some government official came up with the idea that the town should be the site of a Jewish settlement in 1939. The plan was never implemented. World War II brought activity, and now the town is an important terminus for the cruise ships that dock there May through September. We were one of those many passengers taking a family vacation and wanting to see more of the state.



We piled on a tour bus with others from the cruise and drove along Turnagain Arm, named by the infamous Captain Bligh during Cook’s last voyage. The Arm, which goes nowhere – hence the name – has the second highest tidal movement in North America, a plus for surfers although the 1964 tsunami rushed up the Arm destroying Seward and other towns including quirky Girdwood. That town was rebuilt in a different location and looked to me like it should be the setting of a TV show like Twin Peaks. Just above the town is the Alyeska Resort, home of great skiing in winter and many summer activities, where we were to spend the afternoon and night. With twenty hours of daylight I reveled in the hotel gardens. I was leery of  hiking on the many trails because it was early June, the season when bears are emerging after their long winter doze. Signs were everywhere warning visitors to be careful. We stuck together along a trail, trying to make enough noise including shaking the silly jingle bells we were given to warn the hungry animals off.











Off again in the morning we began a long day with a brief stop in Anchorage. Someone remarked that it hadn’t changed in the 30 years since she’d last been there. Indeed, it didn’t look any different than when we were there ten years ago. It was remarkable that there appeared to be no construction cranes in comparison to Seattle. Declining oil revenues have apparently brought development to a halt.

One location has changed however: the international airport has become a major hub for cargo from/to Asia. Rows of UPS, FedEx, and other cargo carriers were lined up on the tarmac or waiting to take off. Nearby, we stopped to watch the float planes, Alaska’s preferred method to reach the outback, take off and splash down from the busiest such airport in the world.



We turned north up Highway 3, the route to Fairbanks and eventually the Prudhoe Bay oil field passing Wasilla (where you cannot see Russia despite a certain politician’s claim) and Willow which hosts the official start of the Iditarod race the first Sunday in March after festivities in Anchorage.
A complicated arrangement of fencing lined both sides of the double-lane highway. The objective was to keep moose off the road but it had limited success since over 300 had been killed in collisions with cars and trucks in six months. We didn’t see any alive or dead and began to think our land-based wildlife adventure might be a bust after the wonders of the maritime part of the journey.
However, the next stop was a wildlife center centering around a tourist shop. Nothing much was in view except a couple of musk ox in a small enclosure. These curious creatures, natives of the far north, are famous for standing in a circle, young protected inside as the adults face outward with horned heads lowered against predators. We watched one trying to rub off the long winter fur against a car-wash brush; not exactly nature in the raw. The downy inner coat, called qiviut, is knitted by native women into extremely expensive beautiful hats and scarves.





We eventually turned off the main road into the wilderness to visit a sled dog kennel for a demonstration and box lunch. The dogs surprised me because they were of no particular breed in contrast to the ones we saw in Siberia who looked exactly like the UW mascot. (The puppy was adorable though). The dogs' appearance made no difference to their desires. Like those we’d seen in Russia, they were crazy to run when the owner came out with harnesses in this case to be hitched to an ATV since there was no snow. The dogs, each chained to a dog house jumped straight up, barking furiously as if to say, “take me, me, me!” We watched them go off at a run for a few turns around a dirt track trying to envision the annual race, an 1,150-mile mid-winter race through ice-covered and snow-bound tundra and spruce forests. The Iditarod commemorates the desperate rush to bring diphtheria serum to Nome to combat an outbreak in 1925, and is now a highly competitive test for musher and dogs and a great tourist attraction. We watched a film, the theme being the great bonding of man and dog working together but oddly to me, it seemed rather defensive given challenges from animal rights activists. And I can’t help wondering what will happen as the snow diminishes because of climate change.








The next stop was the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial with a sculpture at the entrance honoring the 6000 Alaska Territorial Guards made up of native tribes, who were active during World War II. They served as lookouts for further Japanese incursions and otherwise aided the war effort after the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands, thousands of miles northwest of the monument. The statue is set in front of a series of tall slabs, one for each branch of the military. The invasion is a little-known aspect of World War II where 1,000 US troops lost their lives along with all of the 2,000 Japanese invaders (the last by suicide). A dreadful byproduct of the invasion was the evacuation of Native Aleuts from the dry and treeless islands to the rain forest on an island near Sitka, resulting in tuberculosis and deaths. This stop was a somber way to embark on the last leg of the long bus ride.







We arrived at our hotel desperate to rest our weary bottoms which had been planted in the bus for eleven hours. The accommodations at The Grand Denali weren’t especially grand but the scenery was. The food was excellent as was the interior décor in the main lodge where enigmatic Yupik masks were displayed.






The following day was filled with sightings of grizzly bears, Dall sheep, caribou, and golden eagles. Exactly what we had hoped for except no moose even though a worried-looking park ranger warned walkers to look out for an aggressive female seen in the area. Where were they?  Denali wasn’t in sight either.



All ended well as travel should when we returned to Anchorage on the Alaska Railroad. Moose in abundance and the enormous cloud-wreathed mountain shining in the sun after all.


 
All photos except first and last (Resurrection Bay and Mt. Denali) copyright Judith Works
Resurrection Bay and Mt. Denali photos copyright Kathryn Schipper

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A TUSCAN HILL TOWN – CORTONA



My husband and I piled into our friend’s snappy red Alfa-Romeo for the short drive to Cortona. The town is at the top of my list of places in Italy to spend a day, a weekend, or forever. No matter how many times I visit I always want to return to enjoy the lovely ambience. This time it was a sunny late October day. It was early when we left, wispy bits of ground fog hung on low-lying fields and the distant hills were blue-gray. We wound through silvery-leaved olive groves interspersed with cypress trees and an occasional church as we ascended the steep hill leading to the town center.



Harvesters were spreading nets to capture the fruit knocked from the trees by a device on a long pole that shakes the branches. A tractor with a trailer was parked nearby to move the bounty to the frantoio and begin the pressing process where the olives become green-gold liquid.



When we passed an old monastery on a side road I thought back to the time we stayed there long ago: Spartan rooms, two tortoises fighting in the garden (we turned the loser right side up), fabulous view of the countryside and fireflies winking in the soft darkness below our room window. Unfortunately, there was also an air force of vampire mosquitoes feasting on our blood that night courtesy of the unscreened windows. That first weekend in Cortona was memorable for another reason: fungi porcini. Friends each ordered a single mushroom for dinner. I thought they were fasting until the meal was served: the porcini, redolent of the forest, nearly covered the dinner plate. I tried a taste. It was as rich as a steak from the prized Valdichiana cattle that grazed on the plain below the town. Forever more I’ll associate Cortona with those mushrooms.

By the time we reached the main parking lot near the city gardens on the recent one-day visit, the sun was brilliant and the park was full of grannies and children and the inevitable clusters of old men chatting amiably, no doubt about the latest cycle race or soccer game. In the winter the men reminded me of cats moving with the sun; but this was a warm day and the shade of the lime trees was already welcome.

After an espresso and flaky cream-filled cornetto we began to stroll along the main street, Via Nazionale – the only level street in the town.



The street is lined with medieval palazzi, narrow and steep lanes leading both up and down the hill, stylish craft shops, art galleries, bars, and a startling shoe store. We paused, gaping at the men’s selection. I asked my husband if he wanted a pair. When he shuddered at the thought of such a daring fashion move, we walked on to the two main piazzas, linked by a narrow walkway.



The first, Piazza della Repubblica, is the site of the town hall, built before 1240. It is a massive stone palazzo with a wide staircase, old clock, and a bell tower, all emphasizing the importance of the town as an agricultural center in the Middle Ages. On the opposite side of the piazza where tourists sipped a morning cappuccino and rested their feet while locals with shopping bags over their arms chatted with friends, is another medieval palazzo graced by a loggia where a favorite restaurant, La Loggetta, is located. But lunch would have to wait.

Piazza Luca Signorelli, named for the Renaissance painter and native son, is the larger of the two piazzas. And, happily, it was market day.



It didn’t take a moment to dive in to enjoy the experience: glistening fresh fruit and vegetables, shoes, aprons and household goods, salamis and other cured meats. After picking out some of the sweet green grapes that ripen late fall we stopped at the cheese truck. The aroma made my mouth water for a taste of pecorino di Pienza, semi-stagionato. The cheese made from sheep’s milk is aged about 3 months and goes nicely with a glass of Chianti. The Roman army dined on it and it’s never lost popularity, especially with me. We bought a half of a round for snacks when we returned to our friend’s home.






It was time for culture: There are endless temptations but we confined ourselves to our two favorites: the Etruscan Museum, and the Church of the Jesu.

The Etruscans were actually late-comers to the area, the first known inhabitants were likely Umbrians. They were replaced by the Etruscans in around the Eighth Century BC, only to be vanquished themselves by Romans in 90 BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire the town seems to have vanished from history until the Middle Ages, when it began to rise again as a trading center. St. Francis had a convent built in nearby hills in the 1200’s adding to the town’s importance. Intellectuals of the 19th Century established the Etruscan Museum that contains a large collection of objects including bronzes. The most famous is a large hanging lamp, that on close inspection would definitely receive a X-rating in today’s world.



Church of the Jesu, now a museum, holds a lovely collection of Renaissance paintings including the sumptuous Annunciation by Fra Angelico as well as several by Signorelli. The Annunciation is a study in pink and gold with the Archangel Gabriele dominating nearly two-thirds of the picture. Golden-haired Mary wears a dark blue robe over a red dress and recedes into the background as the angel with his huge red and gold wings raised as if on the verge of returning to Heaven, points to her with his right hand and with the left issues the tidings. Mary’s response is also in gold letters.

Wikipedia has an interesting commentary on the golden words: “The words of the angel are written on two lines, reading from left to right. [Mary's words] are between those two lines. If we look attentively we see that her words are written upside-down. But that is not all. Mary's reply is also written backwards. As a consequence, [an earthly viewer has to stand upside-down,] reading from right to left, to discover what she is saying. This indicates to the viewer that the words are addressed to God, who would be in the proper position to read them.”



My attention always focuses on the angel’s flamboyant appearance. (They always seem so fashionable in paintings of this period.) His hairdo is stylish with a smooth crown supporting a red flame of holiness and tight gold curls around his face and neck. The hair is fascinating but even more beautiful is his gorgeous dress: pink with gold embroidery looking for all the world like the fabric for saris worn by wealthy Indian women. Altogether, a feast for the eyes making me wonder if the painter had access to such fabric and who could have modeled for the picture.

Our eyes filled and time passing, we were ready for another type of feast – a late lunch at La Loggetta. The menu wasn’t extensive but everything was so tempting it was difficult to make a choice. I finally settled on country-style prosciutto with melon followed by gnocchetti with shaved white truffles. Hubby went for fettuccine with fungi porcini and our friend enjoyed pappardelle with hare. Our wine was a Morellino di Scansano, a favorite red with its hint of ripe blackberries.
We were reluctant to leave but none of us could eat a main course.


It was time to return to our friend’s home, itself in a fascinating and ancient Etruscan hill town where she lives in a 600-year old row house on a tiny street called Via Etrusca, the perfect name in this part of the world. That evening we sat by a fire with the grapes, cheese, and a glass of wine to talk travel – past adventures and those we hoped would come.

all photos copyright Judith Works


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

SATURDAY IN ROME



When I lived in Rome, my husband and I did much of our weekly shopping on Saturdays. During the week Glenn bought our vegetables at a stand set up on the sidewalk near our apartment where an old woman sat on a stool trimming artichokes while her husband helped shoppers select the freshest tomatoes. Our usual weekly shopping was done at a local supermarket where the eggs and milk were un-refrigerated, and there were dozens of kinds of pasta lined up on the shelves.



Once a month we trekked to the covered market in Testaccio, a working-class area full of traditional Roman restaurants because it was located near the slaughterhouse where organ meats (the quinto quarto or 5th quarter) had been inexpensive in the past. The abbatoir is now an arts center but still maintains the disconcerting statue of a bull meeting his end looming over the main gate. The surrounding neighborhood is named for Monte Testaccio, a 100 foot-high terraced hill made of broken amphorae that originally contained oil, wheat and other commodities imported to ancient Rome. The newest additions to the pile are dated to AD 140.



Wandering past merchants calling me to look, taste or smell their seasonal fruit and vegetables was a welcome part of the Testaccio experience. The open-sided market covering an entire city block was much more appealing than looking at food neatly arranged in the cavernous and deoderized supermarket with deadening fluorescent lights and dearth of human interaction. In summer the market aroma of mixed seafood announced its availablity a block away, but the sweetness of ripe grapes and figs compelled a much closer sniff. In winter, both merchants and shoppers were bundled up but the noise level remained as intense discussions about quality and price  for seasonal treats went on unabated.



I tried to stick to my shopping list but frequently bought more than we needed, unable to resist the seasonal giant green grapes, figs bursting with flavor, fresh porcini mushrooms, artichokes, or agretti 



Then there was the cheese: fresh mozzarella was swimming in milky liquid ready for a Caprese salad for lunch, or small rounds of semi-staginato pecorino, caciocavallo and giant wheels of parmigiano.



Next came meat or fish. Our shopping bags were soon stuffed.



The bustling atmosphere took my mind back into history, to visualize an ancient Roman housewife being harangued by vendors as she tasted a grape, tested a melon for ripeness, and bargained for bread and rough red wine. Or maybe a house slave belonging to a rich matron was looking for stinky fermented fish sauce called garum, roasted parrot, salted jellyfish, oysters, ostrich, or tiny songbirds to be eaten in one crunchy bite. Perhaps dormice served with honey was on the menu for the banquet that ancient Saturday evening. Maybe some shopkeepers shouted out Emperor So-and-So always served his mice with the vendor’s acacia honey. (Today’s shoppers often see stalls with a picture of Padre Pio, a favorite Roman saint, as a recommendation.)



But whoever the shoppers were in ancient times, they didn’t come home with chocolate, squash, tomatoes, or coffee. Can you imagine Italian food without these delights? The consummation of the marriage of Pasta and Tomatoes was surely the most inspired culinary hookup ever.

After my own food shopping (minus garum and songbirds) was finished, I couldn’t resist heading to the shoe stalls along one side of the market. The stalls were a goldmine because they sold the previous year’s shoe styles for bargain prices. I thought that shoes were a peculiar inclusion in a food market until I recognized that they were a staple as important as pasta and vegetables since the dawn of Italian history. One memorable fresco in a museum in southern Italy depicts Venus wearing a pearl necklace, red shoes and nothing else. It was probably painted around the fifth century BC but it was easy to visualize a more modern Roman mistress in the same attire. Studying the variety of sandals on Roman statues could take a lifetime. Romans could buy shoes during the Second World War when Italian troops were fighting in snow without boots. Even a recent pope was concerned with shoe styles, favoring red ones like ancient emperors.

 Following long-standing tradition of being shoe-proud, I often left the market with a pair or two.   But like looking over the vegetables before buying, I learned that it is best to curb my enthusiasm. I found a splendid pair of bright blue leather and black patent high heels and snapped them up after trying on the right one. I paid while the vendor placed the mate in the box and handed it over. When we returned home I tried them on only to find that one had a black sole and square toe and the other a light-colored sole and round toe. Maybe someone scrounged them from the garbage can after they landed there that afternoon. Caveat Emptor, “Buyer beware” as the ancient Romans said.
Alas, we no longer live in Rome but never miss the markets when we return on holiday. And, the old fragrant market has been replaced by a sanitary enclosed version. But it still has shoes.

All photos except Monte Testaccio by the author
Photo of Monte Testaccio is from Wikipedia Commons

Sunday, April 8, 2018

MALTA - The Golden Island




The first time we visited Malta we saw a man with a falcon on his wrist standing by the side of the road. He didn’t look anything like Humphrey Bogart let alone Peter Lorre, but the falcon was truly a Maltese falcon. The Grand Master of the Order of Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, the ruler of the island between 1530 and 1798, had to “pay” a falcon as an annual tribute to the Emperor Charles V and his mother Queen Joanna of Castile as monarchs of Sicily. In return the Grand Master retained his rule over Tripoli, Malta and Gozo. Tripoli is now part of beleaguered Libya, and Malta and Gozo are the two main islands of the country of Malta set between Sicily and Libya. 

Napoleon ended their rule The Order eventually moved to Rome and is now known as the Knights of Malta who do good deeds and occupy a marvelous spot on the Aventine Hill. If any of you have peeked through the keyhole in the gate to the garden to see the view of St Peters, that’s the spot.



For a taste of the Knights’ life when they weren’t fighting The Grand Master’s Palace in Malta’s capital, Valetta, is well worth a visit. The Gobelin tapestries from 1693 depicting highly-romanticized exotic plants and animals from the New World are a marvel of the designer and weavers’ artistry.



Malta has many lovely churches but we found it strange that the first building in Valletta, Our Lady of Victory (in Maltese, Tal-Vitorja), founded in 1565 to commemorate the lifting of the Ottoman siege that year, and the capitulation of the Italian fleet to the Allies in 1943, is in a desperate state with the paintings on the vault almost invisible due to water damage and neglect.

The small church isn’t far from the city’s magnificent and hyper theatrical Co-Cathedral dedicated to St. John the Baptist after the Knights withstood the terrible siege by the Ottoman Turks. In an amazing victory an army led by Jean de Valette and his 500 Knights supplemented with an assortment of Maltese civilians, 500 galley slaves, and Spanish, Greek and Sicilian soldiers, defeated Suleyman the Magnificat’s force of 40,000 fighters and 250 ships. It was a war where the Knights used captured Ottomans’ heads as cannonballs and the Turks floated Knights’ decapitated bodies away on mock crucifixes.



The steps of the church were covered in flowers in memory of an investigative journalist recently assassinated for her writings about alleged government corruption. But once inside the cathedral our minds were swept back in time, overwhelmed by what seems to be acres of gold leaf and paintings celebrating the glories of the Church in high Baroque style. But as on every visit, my eye is drawn to the macabre inlaid marble floors which cover Knight’s tombs, many of whom are depicted as skeletons.



The painter Caravaggio fled Rome after a murder, first to Naples and then Malta. A fitting ending to a cathedral visit is his marvelous Beheading of St. John along with the less-dramatic St Jerome that reside in the Oratory, built for private devotion (although it’s hard to envision doing so with the gaping crowds). The Beheading is the only painting he ever signed perhaps because he knew death was close on his own heels. The Knights took him in but his violent ways could not be controlled and he fled again after he was forced to appear in front of his masterpiece, the Beheading, to be “expelled and thrust forth like a rotten and fetid limb” from the Order.




But the Maltese sunshine lured us away from skeletons and grisly history to enjoy the golden-colored stone buildings that seem to have absorbed centuries of sunlight and now glow in contrast to the blue sky and sea.




 We stopped for a coffee at the town of Marsaxlokk, also called Tas-Silg or Marsaskala, a fishing harbor. The brightly-colored photogenic boats were bobbing in the harbor after the morning’s catch was unloaded. Many had eyes painted on the bow in an ancient custom.






We drove on to L-Isla, also known as Senglea, to stroll down the narrow streets toward Il-Birgu (Vittoriosa) to tour the harbor where the Maltese underwent years of horrendous attacks on the British shipyards during World War II.








The bravery of the dockworkers and their families was so notable that King George VI awarded the people of Malta the George Cross to "bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people" during the great siege they underwent in the early part of World War II. Italy and Germany besieged Malta, then a British colony, from 1940 to 1942. The George Cross was incorporated into the Flag of Malta beginning in 1943 and remains on the current design of the flag. The plaque is on the exterior of the Grand Master’s Palace and the harbor is still an important shipyard.




After finding a location called Ix-Xatt ta Tax-Xbiex on a map I looked up the derivation of the Maltese language so liberally sprinkled with Xs and Ks. It is derived from Sicilian Arabic with the addition of French and Italian along with an overlay of English, a reflection of all the conquerors who swept over the country for millennia.


We finished our day with a stroll along the waterfront below Valletta and stopped to admire the beautiful sailing ship The Sea Cloud. It was once owned by Margorie Merriweather Post, who founded General Mills, wore jewelry owned by Marie Antoinette, and vacationed at her estate in Florida: Mar-a-Lago of current fame. The ship is now used for cruises for those fortunate enough to have the time and money to enjoy it. 



The Sea Cloud’s sails were furled, the lowering sun reflected off the golden town on a cliff above us. We too anchored for the day.      
 


All photos except that of the Caravaggio painting and the Grand Master's Palace copyright Judith Works
The Caravaggio is from Wikipedia Commons; The Caravaggio is from Wikipedia Commons, photo by Stefano Trezzi

Friday, February 9, 2018

PATMOS: The Island of the St. John







"Do you have a cigarette?” Ninety-three-year-old Mrs. Simandiris said in Italian after we'd climbed a shaded lane to her home for a taste of local life. The ancient woman, sitting in an arm chair surrounded by nick-knacks and an overflowing ashtray, presided over our visit, smiling and laughing while she showed our small group photos of her family, great-great  grandchildren and all. In between cadging cigarettes, she asked people to take her photo for a euro. 

Never without words, she prattled on in Italian, the language she was forced to communicate in when the Italians dominated the island between 1912 and 1943. Her home has been inhabited by the same family for centuries after it was built by an ancestral merchant trader, who to judge by the furnishings, traveled far around the eastern Mediterranean and into Russia. After her talk we toured the home with typical embroidered curtains shading rooms crammed with memorabilia, samovars, oil lamps, a treadle sewing machine, a daybed covered with exotic fabrics. 




I was particularly enchanted with an old family portrait placed under an oil lamp. 




And an old mirror, the silvering gone.




Who was this family and what could their lives have been on this tiny island dominated by the Holy Monastery of Saint John? Of course, I’ll never know and must content myself visualizing our lively hostess having a breakfast of thick Greek yogurt, fragrant honey, coffee in a tiny cup half-filled with sludge, and the first cigarette of the day. Perhaps that’s why island Greeks are famous for their long lives.

Our small ship had approached what appeared to be a white and gold mound suspended in blue an hour earlier. It was the small island of Patmos with drought-yellow vegetation and Greek-white buildings resting between impossibly Mediterranean blue sky and sapphire sea. 




There’s no dock other than that for the local ferry. A mustachioed man with leathery brown skin and a Greek fisherman’s cap steered the launch owned by the Port Authority to the inner harbor. We’d boarded a shuttle and wound up to the major town at the summit to meet Mrs. Simandiris before visiting the island’s two famous sacred sites. After we’d all said ciao and arrivederci to our hostess, it was time for more serious thoughts as we wandered down the narrow streets lined with shops, curtained windows, and old doors, one with a braceleted and ringed hand door knocker. Who lived there?













The first holy site was a cave just below the town of Chora where in AD 95, St. John dictated the last book of the Bible: The Book of Revelations. 

Scholars are not exactly sure who John was. Some think he was the Disciple John, but most now believe he was a different person, frequently called John the Theologian or St. John the Divine. He'd been living in sophisticated Ephesus when he was hauled off to Rome to face accusations of prophesy. After he miraculously survived being boiled in oil and managed to convert all the on-lookers with the feat, he was banished to barren Patmos to get him out of the way. 

Revelation is also known as The Apocalypse from its original Greek title. The word "apocalypse,"  literally "revealing,"has come to be associated with cataclysmic disaster, judgment day or the end of the world, and is of course famous in books, film, and commentary about current world affairs, the stock market, and the weather. 




It seemed to me to have little relevance to life on this idyllic island on the day I was there, but the island’s history like most of the Middle East has been painful over the millenia. 

Whatever the intent of the author, he apparently lived in a cave open to the weather for a year dictating his work to a scribe. Fortunately, the persecuting emperor, Domitian, was assassinated and John returned to Ephesus where he faded from history. His writings remain.





After the Edict of Constantine, establishing Christianity in the 4th century, the cave became a place of pilgrimage.

Probably no different from the past, we joined long lines of day-trippers standing next to white walls cut with sharp shadows.


When our turn came we filed in for a minute or so to look at the icons, touch the walls, and wonder about the past before returning to the sunshine. But as in pagan Delphi, the constant tramp of footsteps detracted from our consideration of the tenor of John’s times and the meaning of Revelations and its message for today.
  
The Holy Monastery of St. John towers above the small white-washed town of Chora and the entire island. Founded in 1088, the massive building in the form of a crusader castle, housed holiness and protected the island against depredation from Muslims and pirates. As with so many religious sites, it was built over the ruins of an ancient church which in turn was built over a temple to Artemis the Huntress. Both the entrance and the interior are covered with stunning frescoes, many from the 1600s. The beautiful gold-leaf dome, the hanging lamps, and icons combine to present an atmosphere to make even the most determined non-believer marvel at the profound sentiment it expresses.

















The museum is a treasure trove of ancient codices, documents, illuminated manuscripts and early printing. The most astounding to my mind is the Purple Codex, the section owned by the monastery composed of 33 leaves of parchment  dyed purple, the color of emperors. Dating to the 6th century, it is an extract from the Gospel of Mark written in gold Greek capital letters all run together. Other marvels fill the rooms, including an icon by know to us as El Greco, later famous for his dramatic elongated figures now seen in the Prado Museum in Madrid where he lived after leaving Greece. Other treasures on display are jewelry and church furnishings, but it was the fragment of the New Testament that moved me the most. I couldn’t help thinking if it wasn’t for these monasteries even more would have been lost to us and we would be much the poorer in spirit and knowledge than we are.

Still contemplating the religious aspects of the island we found our way down to the tiny port following lanes lined with more shops, white houses with pots of purple Greek basil on doorsteps, laden pomegranate trees, and views of the sea around every turn.











The café, shaded by a gigantic fig tree  was buzzing with locals and a few stray tourists. We joined them for an iced coffee before strolling by the few shops with their stylish linen summer clothes still hanging on racks stirred by a faint breeze. 






But it was mid-October and life was slowing. Mrs. Simandiris was probably contemplating her winter cigarette supply, and we needed to return to our ship.
   

All photos copyright Judith Works except for the following:
 Illustration from Medieval Book of Revelations are from Wikipedia commons
 Interior photos and artwork in The Holy Monastery of St. John are from Google Cultural Institute