Looking northeast along the Mediterranean coastline from Beirut’s Dar Mreisse district. Photo: Henry Lewis
From the foundations of the ancient Phoenician Empire to occupations by the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and French, Beirut was destined to become a cosmopolitan city with a rich cultural history.
The 20th century witnessed rapid change in almost every area of life for Beirut’s residents, particularly following WWI when treaties granted France power over the future territories of Lebanon and Syria.
After independence in 1943, Lebanon’s capital developed into an entertainment oasis that attracted Europeans looking to experience the exotic Middle East and Arabs seeking the forbidden fruits offered by the city’s nightlife districts.
However, Beirut’s privileged location on the Mediterranean Sea directly north of Israel and west of Syria also brought destabilizing forces that eventually erupted into the prolonged Lebanon Civil War from 1975 to 1990.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the essence of a deity could inhabit an image of that deity, or, in the case of mere mortals, part of that deceased human being’s soul could inhabit a statue inscribed for that particular person.
Edward Bleiberg: Curator of Egyptian, Classical and Near Eastern Art
Blame it on my love of adventure films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Curse of the Mummy, but I actually got a bit spooked wandering alone deep inside the tomb of Pharaoh Ramses IV in Egypt’s legendary Valley of the Kings. Should I defy the tourist signs and take a photo of the 3,000 plus-year old sarcophagus, risking my own curse? I snapped a few. The temptation was simply too much to overcome.
The more than 3,000-year old carved stone sarcophagus of New Kingdom Pharaoh Ramses IV located within his burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings just outside present day Luxor, Egypt. Can you feel the vibe? Photo: Henry Lewis.
I recalled reading that Ramses IV had impatiently waited for his father to die in order to create his own historic legacy by building monumental structures that would bear witness to his greatness for millennia after his time. Unfortunately for him, Ramses III – whom scholars call the last great monarch of the New Kingdom – lived a long life, leaving his son only six years to rule before his own death. Perhaps the restless spirit of Ramses IV still inhabited the tomb, forever longing to fulfill his lost promise.
Standing in the crypt’s shadowed stillness, my attention was drawn upward to a row of hieroglyphs near the top of the stone wall. As my eyes carefully examined each detail, my mind drifted off in a sea of daydreams. Physical awareness slowly melted away until I was no longer conscious of my mind’s connection to an earthly body. Until, that is, I suddenly felt something grasp my left shoulder as I let out an audible scream.
As the Monty Python crew used to say, “And now for something completely different!”
Let’s escape to the deserts of southern Oman to participate in one of the locals’ favorite events – a camel beauty contest. Mind you, these descendants of Bedouin tribes take camel raising very seriously as the princely sums paid for a prime specimen indicate. Contestants – lovely one-humped dromedary camels with long double sets of eyelashes – are judged on the fullness of their chests and downward curve of their lower lips, among other distinctive qualities.
As you’ll see in the following video, the owners and other audience members create a party atmosphere, filled with dancing and lots of cheering for their favorite contestant.
Start Here >>> Relax with a bit of Miles Davis as you browse……..
Emerging from my hotel on a cold January morning, I braced myself against the breeze as I closed my jacket and adjusted the wool scarf wrapped tightly around my neck. I certainly wasn’t going to allow winter’s chill to slow my pace of exploration. After all, I felt it was far better to brave the elements of a Czech winter than face the tourist hoards that predictably descended in summer on Prague, the much-hyped former capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and home to a golden string of Holy Roman Emperors.
Old Town Square is the heart of Prague’s UNESCO-listed historic area. Photo: Henry Lewis
The twin towers of the imposing Church of Our Lady Before Tyn dominate this view of Old Town Square. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Prague astronomical clock, located in Old Town Square, is a visitor favorite. It was first installed in 1410 and is the world’s oldest working astronomical clock. Photo: Henry Lewis
The Gothic tower of Old Town City Hall in Old Town Square. Photo: Henry Lewis
I don’t know about you, but I need a nature break!
-Henry…wacky humanoid with a bad case of cabin fever
Yes, I’m afraid I’ve resorted to finger puppetry due to being quarantined alone for too long. Photo: Henry Lewis
Being alone and under quarantine in a small apartment for an indefinite period of time is beginning to take its toll on my mental health. The chain-smoking downstairs neighbor who’s using his confinement time to build furniture (think lots of electric saw noise) and the weight lifters who set up their own gym just outside my balcony, complete with blasting sound system playing Colombian reggaetón music, are just two of the distractions that have been making the hair on my back stand on end.
A neighbor working out just in front of my balcony. The music system stays on low volume these days after a polite request. If you coat your words with sugar, you’re more likely to get what you want. Photo: Henry Lewis
The most important thing to remember at a time like this is to do our utmost to be kind to others. Besides worrying about the possibility of loved ones getting sick, millions of people have also found themselves suddenly unemployed and are wondering how they’re going to pay for rent, food and the other basic necessities to survive.
Trying to be empathetic and put ourselves in our neighbor’s shoes will go a long way toward soothing the frustrations of being cooped-up inside. A little empathy along with FREQUENT MENTAL ESCAPES will be necessary for maintaining a positive perspective over the next few months.
So, let’s give our minds a break from all the current uncertainties for just a few minutes, breathe deeply (then exhale) and take an easy trip to one of my favorite botanical gardens – the Botanic Garden of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland.
Looking across the Botanic Garden of the Jagiellonian University to the university buildings and towers of Kraków’s Old Town beyond. Photo: Henry Lewis
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
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.
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
The origins of the quest for El Dorado can be traced back to the early 16th century when a story about a place containing vast golden treasures began spreading from one Spanish settlement to another along the Caribbean coast of South America. In contemporary times, the name has been exploited in fiction and film, and has long carried the connotation of a search for riches.
Despite the Spanish translation of ‘el dorado’ being ‘the golden’–an adjective meaning ‘the golden one’ and not denoting a city of gold–the legend quickly became embellished to refer to an entire city made of gold which was said to be located in the Valley of Dorado, a place hidden deep in the mountains of the continent’s northern Andes. It was this feverish quest to acquire gold in all its forms that drove numerous European expeditions–from which most adventurers would never return–over the high ranges of the Andes and through dense jungles filled with wild animals, deadly reptiles, unfriendly tribes and jungle fevers.
The first regional expeditions in search of gold were led by German and Spanish explorers traveling along the Orinoco River in what is now Venezuela. Soon after, Spanish conquistadors stationed in the Caribbean port town of Santa Marta heard stories from wandering natives of an Indian chieftain living high in the mountains whose wealth in gold was so great that he covered his entire body in the precious mineral.
A mural depicting traditional Muiscan figurines rendered from gold and silver. Artist: Edgar Diaz.
Encountering the Muisca
In 1636, the news of this gold-laden chieftain led Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada and his army of 800 men to abandon their mission of finding an overland route to Peru, and instead head east and up into the Andes. There they encountered the Muisca people, a highly advanced civilization whose territories were divided into a confederation of states without a single centralized leader or ruler.
Physical map of Colombia indicating the approximate range of Musica territory along with the locations of the 3 main Muisca administrative centers in the eastern range of Colombia’s Andes Mountains.
A narrow sandstone gorge known as the Siq serves as the main entrance to southern Jordan’s UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra. This 1.2 kilometer long canyon twists and turns, and then turns some more before finally opening up to reveal a stunning view of the rock-hewn Al Kazneh, more commonly known as The Treasury. Photo: Henry Lewis
As the coarse sand and scree crunched under the weight of my moving feet, I passed through one narrow bend after another as I entered the wonderland that is southern Jordan’s UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra. The sheer cliffs and warm rose hues of the 1.2 kilometer-long sandstone gorge known as the Siq, which is the main entrance to this vast archaeological site, enveloped me as if I was being embraced by Mother Earth herself.
The sun was rising and the play of light and shadow on the stone walls of the narrow passage was mesmerizing. My only worry was that another speeding horse carriage driven by one of the local Bedouin guides would come careening around a blind-curve and run me down as I daydreamed about ancient caravans navigating such narrow passages.
A horse and carriage speedily navigates through the narrow passage known as the Siq. Photo: Henry Lewis