blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Different perspectives, different reconstructions

Troy remains an “enigma”. Nobody can be 100% sure that the ancient city existed at a spot some 30 km southwest of modern day Çanakkale (Turkey) or that the Trojan War ever took place, as described in Homer’s Iliad of the 8th century BC. However, having studied the site in question, experts these days are more than 90% convinced. The site has had UNESCO World Heritage status since 1998 and a new museum, adjacent to it, will open this summer, after 30 years of planning, exhibiting the last 30 years of finds at the excavation site. The museum building is in layers, like the site itself. Extensive digs are still on-going, uncovering history that dates back 7000 years.

Dagmar and I learned all this from Dr. Rüstem Aslan, who gave a Canadian Institute for Mediterranean Studies (our mutual friend Louise is the CIMS Ottawa Chapter’s competent President) lecture at the Centrepointe theatre in Ottawa last weekend, with slides and video-clips for illustration. He has worked at the site since 1988, originally as a student of the previous, German, Director, Professor Korfmann, and now as the current Director of Excavations. Most of his predecessors were German, the most famous being Heinrich Schliemann; then came Schliemann’s friend Dörpfeld, then the American, Blegen, then Prof. Korfmann, who was granted Turkish citizenship shortly before he died.

The Trojan horse displayed in downtown Çanakkale to attract the tourists is a 20th century imitation donated by the Americans; many Hollywood films have been made about the Trojans, such as the 2004 one, in which Brad Pitt plays Achilles. The newer-looking wooden horse that towers over visitors to the excavation site, is also a replica, of course. The horse represents the “brutal” victory (as Dr. Aslan put it) of the Greeks over the Trojans after a 10 year siege and there is no historical evidence for the dramatic Trojan horse story. It is feasible that the idea came from the wooden machines used to attack the walls of Troy at the end of the siege. The horse legend doesn’t appear in the Iliad, but rather in the Odyssey, created 2 years later, and in Virgil’s Aeneid. Aeneas, of course, is supposed to have founded Rome.

A stone artifact recently discovered, with carvings in the Hittite language, mentions a middle-eastern settlement that had two names; the Alaksandu Treaty of 1300 BC contains a mention of a similar legend to the one Homer told, horse and all. Homer was from Smyrna, or Izmir, as it is now named, so we ought to refer to him as an Ancient Turk, not an Ancient Greek.

Troy, or Ilium---the city with two names---lay on the Biga Peninsula in the Aegean. The exact whereabouts of Troy puzzled scholars for centuries. Mehmet II’s library at his Istanbul palace contained the first written copy of The Iliad. 17th century explorers from Europe pinpointed Troy’s location as Pınarbaşı, as witnessed by Lechevalier’s map of 1791, and that guess was believed valid for 200 years, although the identified site is at Hisarlik near Mt. Kazdağı, closer to the sea. But the region is an earthquake zone, and repeated quakes buried one ancient settlement after another. The archaeologists have discovered nine “complicated” layers of remnants, at this location, which they number in chronological order of existence: Troy 1, Troy 2, Troy 3, etc. In the late Bronze Age, around 1300 BC, Troy (i.e. “Troy 6”) is thought to have been the major city of Anatolia, with a population of some 6000 people. Metal seals unearthed in 1995 apparently confirm that the Hittite language was spoken in Troy. In 1118 BC something catastrophic occurred at this place, but no written evidence has been found to determine whether it was it an earthquake or the legendary climax of the Trojan War!

Subsequent cities here were also ruined, probably by major earthquakes, in 85 BC and 25 AD. “Troy 9” (i.e. Ilium, now belonging to Rome) had a population of 9000 and was visited both by Hadrian and by Alexander the Great, the Romans boasting that by having conquered the Greeks, they had avenged the Trojans.

Frau Schliemann wearing the treasure
In 1882, Schliemann found what was nicknamed “Priam’s Treasure” (Priam being the King of Troy in the legend) in a cache in the ruined stone walls. Schliemann’s wife Sophia was notoriously photographed wearing the golden headdress and necklace they had unearthed, but mistakes were made in dating the jewellery. They carried most of it back to Germany. After the 2nd World War the treasure (plunder, rather) was transferred to St. Petersburg and thence to Moscow, where some of it still remains. Today, in fact, 9 museums and 7 cities around the world today share the hoard. As long ago as 1874, the Ottomans protested at the sale and dispersal of these treasures, to no avail, although vain promises were made to return it, even then.

After the presentation the Turkish Embassy laid on a reception with plates of baclava and other treats. Three lucky raffle ticket holders went home with booklets about Troy and bottles of Turkish wine.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Songs in French

Verlaine said that the art of poetry was "de la musique avant toute chose"; at last Wednesday's lunch hour concert at Southminster Church in Ottawa, you might have put it the other way round, claiming that music was first and foremost poetry, French poetry at that, because the concert included Fauré's and Duparc's settings of poems by Verlaine and Baudelaire. There were also Cinq melodies populaires grecques, settings of Greek folk songs translated into French, by Ravel as well as three Don Quixote inspired songs by Paul Morand, also in French, also set by Ravel.

I enjoyed this concert! The singer was Denis Boudreault, currently Artistic Director of the Ottawa Recitalists Art Song Academy, and originally from Sept-Iles. Apparently he has been singing to the accompaniment of his pianist friend Frédéric Lacroix since 2001. Mr. Lacroix is very well known in Ottawa and has been mentioned several times before in this blog. I had come across some of the songs before, as well. As for the words of the songs, I'd discovered them during my student years in the 1960s and 70s.

Some lines in the Verlaine poems (Fêtes galantes) I remember underlining, in those days:
... Voix de notre desespoir,
Le rossignol chantera.  
Romances sans paroles ... 
... ta voix, étrange
Vision qui dérange
Et trouble l'horizon
De ma raison ...
Fauré successfully captures the wistfulness of the Fêtes galantes, incorporating melancholy arpeggios into the piano part. These pieces would fit well into an exhibition of impressionist art, as would the Duparc settings of Baudelaire and Lahor, with their mention of watery suns, ciels brouilles, sunset skies d'hyachinthe et d'or, soft moonlight, tinted seascapes, etc. The Lahor poem Extase was given a slowly rocking, lullaby accompaniment by Duparc. His lovely Chanson Triste I vaguely remember trying to sightread once. Its title Sad Song is because of the inclusion of
douleurs  ... triste coeur ... tête malade ... tes yeux pleins de tristesse 
in the poem, ending thus: I shall imbibe so many kisses and so much tenderness that perhaps I shall recover! But probably not, is the implication.

The concert was entitled L'invitation au voyage in honour of the Duparc song of the same name, the minor key setting of a very well known poem by Baudelaire. Here, the composer daringly has the singer singing the refrain
... La, tout n'est qu'ordre et beauté
on one note, and the following line
Luxe, calme et volupté.
is also sung on one note (a few tones lower). Here's a superb rendition of the song by Gérard Souzay:

Ravel's music made a good contrast with the rest, with its rustling, fast running or rhythmic accompaniments, the dance-like effects and the middle-eastern ornamentation of the singer's long notes in the first of the Greek songs (Le reveil de la mariee). The tenor had to sing in both high and low registers for these. Morand's "Drinking Song" in the second set was composed in a fast, Spanish style of music, with tumbling piano chords at the end ... Je bois a la joie!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Flying home from the Finger Lakes

Preparing to depart

KITH VOR seen on take-off
We had the same shuttle bus driver take us from the hotel to the airport this morning. FBO has a toy putting mat for golfers. Filed the EAPIS and CANPASS documents on line; you have to remember to open the international flight plan once airborne, too. Chris did his preflight checks outside the FBO's big hangar at Ithaca airport and we took off into a bright sky with small white clouds.

Some snow in fields near Ithaca
Snow still lingers in the fields near Ithaca; some more fell in the night. We climbed to 5500 ft and headed towards Syracuse over Skaneateles Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. The way we covered the route on the map seemed a lot quicker than on Saturday morning, and was, because this time a tail wind was helping us along. Watertown airport, beyond Syracuse, is a very obvious landmark. As we approached the border country over the St. Lawrence River conditions in the air became fairly turbulent with thermal lift and gusty winds, with lenticular cloud visible ahead, just north of Lake Ontario. We crossed the St. Lawrence, back into Canada again 5500 ft above the 1000 Islands international bridge, seeing the town of Alexandria Bay from both sides of the river as we did so. After this, visibility deteriorated as we flew through snow showers under the bases of thickening clouds. Even Ottawa International airport was hard to spot ahead of us, but Chris didn't seem in the least alarmed by this, nor by the bumpy ride.

Skaneateles Lake
View from the Canadian border

Near the clouds over Manotick, snow falling
Our descent into Rockcliffe was relatively smooth, so we had an easy landing.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A morning on the campus

Footsore, having walked 8 or 9 km yesterday and 6 or 7 km this morning, I am resting in our hotel room to write this while Chris wanders off to search for some toothpaste to replace the tube he forgot to pack. He doesn't approve of the remains of mini toothpaste tubes that I brought along for myself.

Ithaca's known as College Town, and its campus up the hill is huge. Over breakfast at The Commons Kitchen we discussed going to the Easter Sunday Quaker Meeting at the Friends Meeting House on Third Street, but Chris said he'd prefer seeing the waterfalls, following the Cascadilla Gorge Trail up to the university, a walk we enjoyed on our last visit. The start of this trail is on Linn Street, not Aurora Street, but we soon re-oriented ourselves, only to find that the trail is closed at present, presumably considered as dangerous during the spring thaw as under ice and snow. I do recall slippery steps in May. Anyway, a large wrought iron gate was barring our way, very decorative, but disappointing. The first of the waterfalls looked tantalisingly gorgeous so I took a photo of it from the footbridge:

Cascadilla Creek, at the start of the Cascadilla Gorge trail

Fall Creek
I remembered another scenic river with waterfalls further on. This is Ithaca's larger river, Fall Creek, with the Ithaca Falls, the Forest Falls, the Rocky Falls, the Triphammer Falls, all below Beebe Lake. There's a series of bridges too, vertigo inducing road- and footbridges, each one with safety netting above or below to catch any desperate student who wants to kill himself by jumping off. This is not funny and our shuttle bus driver of yesterday was of the opinion that it is usually Asian students who make the suicide attempts, fearful of losing face when they have to confess an exam failure. Poor souls.
Beebe Lake and falls

Along this river the trail was open, with warnings about No Winter Maintenance, and we remembered the starting point at the bridge on Stewart Avenue, opposite Carl Sagan's (the famous cosmologist's) house which we also remembered from before. We stayed by the edge of the gorge till we'd seen three more bridges, the uppermost one officially still closed for winter, though we stepped onto it to take photos of the white water pouring over Beebe Dam, before continuing along Forest Home Drive past the various faculty buildings: arts, physical sciences, human ecology, plant science and so on.

Lewis Building and Herb Gardens, Cornell
We eventually arrived at a spot near Beebe Hall where we could look down at the Cornell Botanic Gardens Welcome Centre and herb garden, winter garden etc. which looked so attractive that we went down some steps to explore, despite having spent the rest of the morning walking uphill and knowing it would entail yet another climb afterwards. It being Easter Sunday, the Welcome Centre is not open to welcome anyone today, but Chris enjoyed sitting at an outdoor table out of the cold wind while I enjoyed discovering a few things already in bloom: a cornus tree with yellow blossoms (Cornelian cherry?), some hellebores, masses of snowdrops and yellow flowers as ground cover for which I couldn't find the ID tag (winter aconites, I believe). In the Flower Garden near the herbs (not yet showing signs of blooming) a young mum was hiding hard-boiled, decorated eggs for her little girl to find, the little girl cheating by peeping through her fingers sometimes. Having spent a while engrossed by all this, I then realised that we hadn't seen a fraction of Cornell's whole botanical collection which covers several miles of land. We shall simply have to come back at another time, maybe by car so that we'll have the energy to walk round all of it. This would be a great place to bring my botanist sister Faith one day.

A variety of Cornus in bloom, at the Cornell Botanical Gardens
From there we walked the length of Tower Road through the campus, then down to College Avenue and across the bridge at the top of the Cascadilla Gorge where we found an eatery that was open, doing a roaring trade in snacks and hot drinks, so I finally had a sit-down before we went back downtown, down the steep hill.