Frescoes draw the viewer aloft into the domed ceiling of the Bascilica di San Marco in Milan. Photo: Henry Lewis
Italy, we love you!
Your extraordinary wealth of art and architecture dazzles our senses and ignites even our most latent sense of historical curiosity. Your heavenly cuisine provides all the sensual pleasures a lonely traveling soul could possibly desire. You’ve produced some of history’s most distinguished and intellectually gifted artists and scientists, from Leonardo da Vinci to Galileo Galilei, as well as showing us a woman’s view of life in the early 17th century through the work of the fascinating female painter Artemisia Gentileschi.
As residents of Italy’s northern Lombardy region – and its capital Milan – suffer under the local strain of a global pandemic, it seems fitting to present a tribute to some of my favorite places.
Milan, the country’s northern industrial, financial and cultural metropolis, is often quickly dismissed by travelers who rush through on their way to more popular attractions in the northern cities of Florence and Venice, or on to see the ancient sites of Rome and Naples in the south.
I LIKE Milan. It’s a vibrant, interesting city that feels authentic. At the same time, it holds enough treasures – from meticulously detailed Renaissance churches to great works of visual art – to satisfy even the most jaded traveler.
The Milan Cathedral–Spectacular
Every evening light is still visible in this view of the Duomo di Milano (Milan Cathedral) which commands the surrounding Piazzo del Duomo, and is the city’s most popular gathering spot. The Candoglia marble used on the building’s exterior constantly changes color, slowly taking on magical hues as the light changes from dawn to dusk. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Piazzo del Duomo from the rooftop of the Milan Cathedral. Photo: Henry Lewis
Consider the humble handshake…
Dating back to approximately the 5th century BCE and popularized in the 17th century by Quakers looking for a more egalitarian gesture than bowing or tipping one’s hat, the handshake has become the defacto greeting used in international business situations. To some degree, it has also replaced many traditional forms of personal acknowledgment once used in various cultures around our planet.
Greek goddesses Hera (Queen of the Gods and the wife and sister of Zeus) and Athena (goddess of wisdom, war and the crafts, among other things) handshaking, late 5th century BCE, Acropolis Museum, Athens. Photo: Henry Lewis courtesy of the Acropolis Museum, Athens.
A handshake: Donald and Me (or I, uh?)
While searching through news articles this week, I discovered that I have something in common with Donald Trump. [You, dear reader, may be surprised, but imagine how I felt!] It seems that it’s a well-established fact – as opposed to an alternative fact – that Trump is a germaphobe and will often go to great lengths to prevent exposure to coughs, sneezes, and yes, even the common handshake. He reportedly once wrote that the practice of shaking hands was “barbaric”
The infamous 2017 handshake between President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron. Macron is showing Trump who has the strongest grip! Photo: Courtesy of Bloomberg Politics https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOf9FqsLfA8
I admit that I too have occasionally been known to recoil in horror (at least internally) when meeting new people and feeling the pressure to swap sweaty palms. It’s not that I dislike being touched. On the contrary, I think human touch is essential to an individual’s well-being. Part of my reluctance to press hand flesh with a stranger is because of my childhood upbringing.
Even though our factual truth is never completely free of interpretation or personal perspective, this situation cannot serve as an argument against the existence of reality and facts, nor can it justify blurring the dividing lines between fact, opinion, and interpretation. The outcome of such blurring is a confused public that cannot differentiate between fact, fabrication, and opinion.
-Philosopher Hannah Arendt
The mid-20th century writings of Arendt seem prophetic in today’s post-truth world where maintaining political advantage often outweighs the common good. In such an era, what happens when a confused public is faced with contradictory information relating to a topic as important as public health? A comparable scenario was created this week by the Trump administration while discussing the level of risk the US population may face from the current world-wide corona virus (COVID-19) epidemic.
The stage was set by acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney who accused the media of stoking virus fears to “bring down the President.” Mulvaney’s comments were purely political and had no basis in fact, and indeed, ignored the seriousness of the worldwide COVID-19 epidemic. They also fly in the face of health experts worldwide.
In an interview with the BBC, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) director of health emergencies, Mike Ryan, noted the advice posted on the official WHO website on Friday, February 28. “We have now increased our assessment of the risk of spread and the risk of impact of COVID-19 to very high.” This is the WHO’s highest level of warning.
The WHO warning calls for “all countries to educate their populations, to expand surveillance, to find, isolate and care for every case, to trace every contact, and to take an all-of-government and all-of-society approach.” According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is high, both globally and to the United States.”
Tom Toles – Washington Post
As the capital of a country with a long and complicated history, Berlin wears German history on its sleeve. From the prominently placed and emotionally moving Holocaust Memorial to the East Side Gallery’s graffitied remnants of the Berlin Wall, warnings for humanity to learn lessons from its collective past are everywhere.
One of the city’s most interesting and educational monuments to the past is the Jewish Museum Berlin. Drawing on an extensive collection, each gallery builds upon the next as visitors are invited to trace the history of German and Eastern European Jews from the Middle Ages up to horrors of Nazi Germany under the rule of Adolph Hitler.
The Jewish Museum Berlin complex consists of three buildings–a historic baroque palace, a contemporary glass building designed by renowned American architect Daniel Libeskind and the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy which was once a wholesale flower market. Photo: Henry Lewis
This is not a museum solely dedicated to the Holocaust, but one that does an especially good job of identifying the ever-changing status of local Jewish communities during the millennium leading up to Germany’s modern age in the 19th and 20th centuries. Through text, illustrations, paintings and personal objects, non-Jewish and Jewish visitors alike are able to fill in any missing gaps in their understanding of the events that led to the darkest days of Nazi Germany.
Many Americans still ask if it’s safe to travel to Colombia. Their vision of this visually stunning and culturally rich nation is rooted in past decades when violent drug cartels run by infamous leaders such as Pablo Escobar ruled the streets of the country’s major cities and when left-wing guerrilla groups dominated large swaths of the rural countryside. This is part of a complicated history that many Colombians have tried to put behind them, even though popular TV productions such as Netflix’s “Narcos” have made turning the page more difficult. Over the past two decades, Colombia’s citizens (often in spite of their government’s actions) have made great strides in creating safer communities where the country’s rich heritage and wealth of cultural diversity are now on full display.
Medellin born artist Fernando Botero’s painting of a dead Pabo Escobar. Photo: Henry Lewis via the Botero Museum, Bogotá.
Venus Figures are small bone, ceramic or stone carvings which exhibit exaggerated female breasts and hips. The term ‘Venus figure’ is strictly used as a metaphor for the female form. These carvings predate the mythological Venus – the Roman goddess of love, sex, beauty, and fertility – by thousands of years.
Venus figures are unique and hold artistic and cultural significance simply by being the earliest representations of humans in sculptural form. They also mark humanity’s earliest use of ceramic materials.
Venus Figures have been found all across Europe. Map Credit: Natural History Museum of Vienna.
The majority of these mysterious figurines date from the Upper Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) period between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago. This period contains the first archaeological evidence of small-scale human settlements along with more complex social organization. Numerous cave paintings, petroglyphs and carvings and engravings on bone and ivory indicate a blossoming of the arts during this period.
The truly futuristic sounding year of 2020 is almost upon us. While 2019 has most likely affected us all in both positive and negative ways, let’s dwell on the positive aspects as we say goodbye to those things that caused us emotional stress and physical discomfort.
Many Colombians burn ‘old year’ dolls to ritually say goodbye to the past and welcome the new. Año Nuevo celebrations can be found in many pueblos and cities around the country. Photo: Henry Lewis 01/01/2019
During this week while we consider how we’ve changed over the past year and look forward to a new script yet unwritten, I’d like to thank all my fellow bloggers for making me part of your online community. Many of you feel like old friends and I can’t express how much I appreciate your support for following this blog and for the enormous contributions you’ve made by sharing your own insights along the way.
My hope is that in 2020, we can join together to promote peace, understanding, tolerance and social justice for ALL.
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the warm rays of sun fall upon you,
May the hand of a friend be always near,
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
And may true be the hearts that love you.
~From a traditional Irish Blessing
Peace and Happy New Year
The impeachment of Donald Trump has turned what was already an editorial cartoonist’s dream administration into a full-on party. The rich cast of characters legislating our lives from their Capitol Hill offices in Washington, DC can always be depended upon to create the kind of drama that can best be summed up in a cartoon.
Political commentators have been busy recently drawing comparisons between the on-going formal proceedings involving Donald Trump and those of Richard Nixon in 1974 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Due to overwhelming evidence of his knowledge of the Watergate break-in, Nixon actually resigned before being formally impeached by a full House vote, while Clinton was impeached by the House in late 1998 but acquitted in the Senate early in 1999 after a trial that lasted just over a month.
While we may think partisan politics is a recent phenomenon, a look back at some political cartoons produced during the impeachment inquiries into Nixon and Clinton tell a different story. It seems that in the past party loyalty has been prioritized over moral and ethical principles just as it often is today.
In this post, I’m presenting a curated selection of cartoons that illustrate and compare the political will and public mood in all three of these periods during which the strength of American democracy has been tested. Mind you, Trump’s political fortunes – and those of his GOP supporters – are yet to be determined as history continues marching on…
In this cartoon, Richard Nixon is depicted as a man about to be hanged – Wild West style – by the Democratic House Judiciary Committee. Artist: Carl Hubenthal (07/21/1974) LA Herald-Examiner and The Opper Project, Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library.
Bill Clinton being chastised for his sexual history. For those who weren’t around at that time, Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about having a sexual affair with a White House intern and for obstruction of justice during the investigation which followed. Artist: Steve Sack – Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Growing up during the divisive Vietnam War era, political discussions at the dinner table were the norm. True to their North Carolina farm roots, both my parents were socially conservative, but their views on politically charged topics varied greatly.
Prior to Ronald Reagan’s two terms in office, much of the American South was solidly Democratic. Politicians such as North Carolina’s ‘country lawyer,’ Senator Sam Ervin, who served from 1954 to 1974 and famously chaired the US Senate Committee that impeached Richard Nixon, supported policies with benefits that reached far beyond their provincial constituencies. Years later, another North Carolina senator, Republican Jesse Helms, made an art of conducting mud-slinging campaigns and using the senate filibuster to promote his own personal agenda.
Even given that background, neither of my parents would recognize today’s American political landscape. Despite my mother’s Democratic leanings and my father’s closet Republican mind-set, they both valued the shared truth that our nation’s government was designed to work for ALL the people, and not just any select few.
They believed that just as successful personal relationships involved inevitable struggles and a great deal of compromise, so did a properly functioning government.Their values of honesty, integrity and respect for human dignity seem completely out of fashion now, having been replaced by verbalized hatred and the belief that unethical and immoral behavior is to be tolerated as long as someone’s narrow agenda is being fulfilled.
I’ll admit it. I’ve always had a thing for bears. These furry – and seemingly cuddly – creatures have held a special fascination for me since I was a child. I remember my excitement the first time I laid eyes on an American black bear mother and her cub resting beside the main highway that traverses the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. While it’s sad to realize now that the mother bear, with cub in tow, was lured there in search of human food from the tourists gawking from the safety of their cars, at that moment it was pure magic.
Over the years, I became more accustomed to seeing bears on hikes and backpacking trips while living in the US Pacific Northwest. My time spent in wilderness areas gave me a healthy respect for the keen sense of smell and great power of these creatures, and I was always lucky enough to leisurely view individuals from a comfortable distance. This included watching a large and beautiful honey-brown specimen for over an hour while it foraged for berries on a mountainside slope in Washington State’s North Cascades National Park.
Let’s Go See The Pandas!
More than a decade later while traveling in China, I had the good fortune of visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in the country’s south central Sichuan Province. The research center has been ground zero in the fight to save this unique member of the bear family (Ursidae) from extinction.
Is there any human alive today whose heart doesn’t melt at the site of these adorable creatures? Photo: Henry Lewis