What may seem an oxymoron, an agnostic recognizing the sacredness of Mt. Athos, is perfectly normal to me. I do not believe in a divine being, but freely accept the holiness of humanity and creation, whatever caused the big bang. I accept holiness because it’s impossible to deny visceral emotions when immersed in surroundings that dwarf ordinary human expression.
There are certainly impressive mountains that tower over 2,033 meter/6,670 foot Mt. Athos, even in Greece. It’s not about size. It’s all about perception.
Read more about my experiences on Mount Athos in the Hellenic News of America…
Nowhere in the southern Balkans has a region been so coveted by empires than Croatia with over 1,100 miles of photogenic Adriatic coastline. Although the ethnic Croats were themselves 7th century northern invaders, they could not stop a historical process that would come to an end only in late 20th century. The Romans, Venetians, Hungarians, Austrians, Ottomans, Mussolini’s Italy and Serbs all lusted over this beautiful and strategic land akin to the biblical neighbor’s wife.
Today Croatia is invaded not by empires but by golden hordes of tourists…
Read more on my travels to Croatia in the Hellenic News of America
“Welcome to Morocco,” was the greeting not just from the front desk reception at hotels but from shopkeepers, people on the street, vendors in the Medina and waiters at cafes.
A simple statement, yet time taken out of their day to make one feel less of an outsider had a major impact. It made one think why these ordinary gestures were important. Hospitality was not learned in university courses; it was embedded into a nomadic culture in a land of rugged beauty that preceded the Prophet Mohamed’s reinforcement of the concept.
We’ve all been there – that small panic when utterly lost, a sudden illness in a strange land or after 17 hours of hot, dusty travel an unexpected kindness makes clear why we call ourselves members of the human race.
If you’re a travel journalist, you’ve been in unexpected difficulties numerous times in some of Earth’s iconic locations. If you’re an active traveler, exploring and taking risks, getting out of one’s comfort zone is taken for granted. Getting back in often requires help – unexpected kindness.
“The eagerness of destroying books and libraries has been executed by judges, lawyers, literate and uneducated people, rich and poor and priests of all gods. The peculiar book hatred has been growing in parallel with the desire for knowledge.” (The introduction to the disturbing exhibition on book burning at Casa de Sefarad, Cordoba, Spain.)
In 1817 Heinrich Heine witnessed young German nationalist students burn books in Wartburg and later wrote, “It was only the prelude, where they burn books, at the end they will also burn people.” In 1933 his books were among the thousands destroyed in the infamous Nazi book burning, which was the prelude to the Holocaust. Yet Adolph Hitler was far from the first leader to inspire biblioclasm – the pathological urge to destroy the written word and erase collective memory.
It’s appropriate that the small but exquisite Casa de Sefarad in Cordoba should mount such a disturbing exhibition. From the 8th through the 13th century Cordoba had been Western Europe’s most enlightened and advanced city. As the capital of an Al-Andalus Moorish kingdom it excelled in urban technology, the sciences, arts and religious tolerance.
Casa de Sefarad is the Jewish cultural center in Cordoba preserving the legacy of what was once a thriving Sephardic community protected by the Moorish state. Today the former Jewish Quarter is the heart of Cordoba’s UNESCO World Heritage District abutting the magnificent Mezquita Mosque. Islamic Al-Andalus generally tolerated all beliefs as long as they did not openly denounce Islam although individual rulers interpreted tolerance differently.
All that changed when Cordoba, and eventually all Al-Andalus kingdoms, fell to the feudal Christian lords from what is today the northern Spanish provinces between the 13th and 15th centuries. Fueled by doctrinal certainty, an ethnic cleansing of both people and thought commenced for the next three centuries. Eventually most of Spain’s Jews and Muslims were murdered, expelled from the country, migrated to the New World or granted protection in Morocco and the Ottoman Empire.
Yet intellectual and ethnic persecution has a long history, and Casa de Sefarad presents highlights in a chilling timeline within the walls of this former Jewish merchant family townhouse.
416 BC Athens: The great Greek philosopher and mathematician, Protagoras was condemned by the city of Athens. His book, “On the Gods,” and his belief that “Man is the measure of all things,” prompted his persecution. In 416 his works were burnt and he fled, unfortunately dying on his way to Sicily.
213 BC China: Li Si, Prime Minister for the Qin Dynasty, ordered the burning of all books by Confucius on the grounds that the philosopher favored individual thought preeminent over obeying the State.
170 BC: The Seleucid King Antiochus IV forbade the practice of Judaism. He commanded the destruction of all books in Jerusalem. This act motivated the Maccabean rebellion against the Hellenistic Syrian Kingdom (the festivity of Hanukah)
260 AD Athens: The Goths invaded Athens. One of their generals prevented the burning of the city’s libraries claiming that, “As long as the Greeks are slaves to reading they won’t be good at fighting.” Later the libraries were destroyed.
637 Syria: The library of Ctesiphon in present day Syria was burnt destroying thousands of ancient scientific works by Persians, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Babylonians.
1233 Montpellier, France: The orthodox Jewish community reported the works of Maimonides to the Roman Inquisition. All the works of Maimonides, the towering intellect of Jewish Cordoba, were burnt in the main square of the city.
1530 Tetzcoco, Mexico: thousands of scholarly, literary and religious Aztec books were burned on the orders of Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga – founder of the University of Mexico.
1553 Rome: The Talmud was condemned as blasphemous. Thousands of Jewish books were burnt in the Campo dei Fiori.
1600 Rome: the intellectual Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori. Giordano Bruno was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet, and cosmological theorist who conceptually extended the then novel Copernican model.
1826 St. Petersburg: Tsar Nicholas I decreed the Law of Censorship consisting of 220 categories of banned topics.
1873 Washington DC: Congress past the Comstock Law defining obscene literature. Banned books included the Arabian Nights, the Decameron, Canterbury Tales, Lysistrata, and Moll Flanders.
1909 Rome: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) writer, poet and playwright was a promoter of the Futurist Movement. In his 1909 “Futurist Manifesto” he affirmed industrialization and technology as the engine of creativity and that, “we have to tear down the museums and libraries.” Marinetti became a favorite of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.
10 May 1933 Nazi Book Burning, Berlin: Three days after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, any book containing “inaccurate information” (aka “fake news”) was forbidden in Germany. With the assistance of the German Students Association and professors of the University of Berlin over 25,000 books were burned including the works of Andre Gide, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Voltaire, Einstein, Jack London, Marcel Proust, Maxim Gorky and Ernest Hemingway.
When Sigmund Freud heard that his books had been burned in the OpernPlatz his reaction was, “How has the world advanced! In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me instead.” Freud fled Austria in 1938 after that country’s union with Germany and died in London the following year escaping the Holocaust.
1961 Munich: The German state of Bavaria banned the broadcast of Aristophanes “Lysistrata” citing that its subject matter – wives withholding sex in order to force their men to stop war – “offends the moral sensibility of the population.” (Hitler started his rise to power in Bavaria).
1978 Buenos Aires: One million books printed by Argentina’s Latin American Publishing Center were burned by the military dictatorship.
Mid-1960s through early1970s China: the Cultural Revolution under Mao Tse-Tung saw the destruction of many libraries and institutions housing the priceless patrimony of over 5,000 years. As a young man Mao had worked as a librarian.
1992 Sarajevo: Literature professor Nicola Koljevic, Vice President of the short lived Republic of Srpska during the former Yugoslav civil war, ordered the fire bombing that destroyed the National and University Library of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The following day a Serbian sniper murdered Aida, a young librarian trying to save books that remained. The library has since been rebuilt but countless works by scholars from antiquity through the Ottoman Empire were lost.
2002 Ramallah: The Israeli Army inflicted massive damage on the library of Al-Bireh Ramla destroying thousands of Palestinian works of art, science and literature. It has since been rebuilt.
And yet not all was horror. There were windows of hope in this timeline.
1775 Leipzig: Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” was banned in Saxony for obscenity. It became an instant, and German literature’s first, bestseller.
1985 Cairo: A Lebanese edition of “The Arabian Nights” was declared obscene – 3,500 copies are burned. The ban was lifted a year later.
2012 Tumbuktu, Mali: Then biblioclasm comes full circle. An Islamic extremist militia attempted to find the collection of thousands of manuscripts on the history of Al-Andalus written by Moorish, Jewish and Christian scholars known as the Kati Collection. They failed since supporters had hid the collection.
How did this exhibit affect me? I lost it when I came upon the fate of Michael Servetus Villeneuve. Heinrich Heine had made a historical error in his comment; authors had already been burned for their writing. In Geneva, 1553, Free Thinker philosopher Michael Servetus Villeneuve was condemned by both Catholic and Protestant leaders including John Calvin. He was burnt to death on a pyre made from his own books.
The curator noticed my reaction and any attempt on my part to explain failed. I left Casa de Sefarad in a fruitless effort to compose myself. Returning I engaged in an emotional conversation with the curator on why, as a writer, I’ll live with this image the rest of my life. Censorship, the attempt to erase collective cultural memory, is the eighth deadly sin.
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:
Nothing significant about the number 100 just a human penchant for symmetry. Although I continued to write for publications for which I had deadlines, since February I took time away from my own website to reorganize a significant facet of life – to be settled or wander. Necessity for the change was partly dictated by the end of a long relationship – isn’t that the truth in literature.
But as a life-long traveler – I was barely 20 years old when I went off on a solo year in Europe – the decision I made did not cause much loss of sleep. Okay, a little. Perhaps it was loosing the relationship that caused more sleepless nights, but that’s more for a romance novel than a travel web site, and besides, it ended amicably.
Being a full-time culinary and cultural travel writer since 2009 after a long and varied career as a chef, educator and historian, relocating – having a permanent address – in any number of suitable American locations appeared an oxymoron. (I’m doing my best not to bring politics into this.)
Except for frequent transportation connections – aka waiting – I freely admit being turned-on by the road. Why have an apartment when I don’t have to clean a hotel room? Why cook for myself when as a culinary writer it’s the cuisine of others that I seek? Why agonize over choosing among Earth’s beautiful locations when passport in hand I can be on a beach, hiking in a mountain or rambling through a vibrant urban space.
That doesn’t mean I seek the life of a wandering gypsy. I do have commitments to publications, fine public relations firms and tourism boards that work with me and my own interests that have already helped shape life for the foreseeable future.
One month ago, after considerable research and several invitations, I embarked on an ambitious seven month schedule that has already taken me to Mexico, France, the Pyrenees Mountain Principality of Andorra and, after several days in Barcelona, currently a long train ride through the beautiful Spanish countryside for a return visit to the ancient Roman/Visigoth/Moorish/Spanish city of Cordoba – a personal favorite.
By mid-June I’ll make a long-anticipated visit to Morocco. Having extensive life experiences with Spanish and Latino cultures and cuisine, Morocco – the wellspring of Moorish civilization – is essential in understanding the interplay of cultures that has so influenced the Western Mediterranean, Central and South America.
From Morocco I’ll fly east to the Balkans and a third return to beloved Greece. My smart sponsors for two months in Greece – September and October – not only admire my writing on Greek culture and cuisine, but also recognize my keen interest in history. I’ve always taken a holistic view that the life experiences of people in any region help determine its fascination as a travel destination.
1917 was the turning point for the Balkans and Greece during the First World War. Thessaloniki in particular is honoring this pivotal year that saw Macedonia and Thrace reunited with southern Greece after centuries of separation during Ottoman rule. Besides continuing culinary and cultural explorations in the north and Halkidiki – including Mount Athos – the Corinthian coast in the south will be a new region that’ll only add to my Greek experience.
Prior to my Greek return in September there are the months of July and August which will be filled with culinary and 1917 experiences in the heart of the Balkans including first time visits to Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and the city that sparked the world changing conflagration, the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital of Sarajevo.
By the 1st of December I’ll have made a full circle from where this adventure started returning to Mexico where I already signed a year-long lease on a beautiful apartment in Puerto Vallarta with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean – and weekly maid service (I still don’t have to clean!) It’s fortuitous that just as life was changing, invitations for two culinary press trips to Puerto Vallarta occupied a month of my life last Autumn. Not only did the city’s excellent cuisine and vibrant culture win me over but solidified my acceptance that being on the road is the life meant for me.
So a year in one city is not like being on the road? Not necessarily since exploring Central and South America has been part of my writing life since 2009 and Puerto Vallarta will become a hub.
After 2018…I don’t yet need to know. That’s the freedom of being on the road. The hundred days of silence are over, and a hundred articles are sure to follow.
The nearby medieval city of Carcassonne welcomes throngs of visitors inside its fortified walls, but at the Domaine St. Raymond, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for residential workshops at a house party in southern France’s Languedoc.
Domaine St. Raymond, home of the French House Party, sits among gently rolling hills of golden wheat and sunflowers. Within this bucolic setting, small groups of intellectually curious travelers gather for all-inclusive four to seven day creative residential workshops in southern France’s Languedoc ranging from culinary adventures with Michelin starred chefs, literature and graphic arts to song writing.
“I’m not sure if I really know how to write a song” is not what a guest at a songwriting workshop would expect to hear from an acclaimed New York writer/performer. But the creative process is nebulous.
Just like in a good ballad, disaster fell for Dean Friedman in the 1980s when England banned the delightful “I’m in Love With a McDonald’s Girl” in the 1980s because it mentioned a brand name and therefore was deemed akin to an advertorial.
Please go to my travel column in the Hellenic News of America to read all about the French House Party’s creative workshops.
Petra was carved into multi colored mineral laden sandstone by the Nabataeans c. 300 B.C., yet this geographically strategic region in present day Jordan generated wealth for whoever had control long before the city existed. As a center for long-haul caravans, some stretching for 700 camels, Petra was an ideal junction for the distribution of goods on their way south, west and north into the Levant, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean. As for security, Petra was a natural bank vault.
The massive city was carved into the red sandstone cliffs on the flanks of Jordan’s vast dry Wadi Araba. The dramatic main entrance through a long towering and narrow gorge – a Siq – was a defensive and psychological tour de force. The eyes are focused on the first building that comes into view, the impressive Al Khaznch. Popularly known as the Treasury, its purpose was more likely ceremonial – shock and awe.
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, chosen in 2007 as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and discovered by Hollywood in the Indiana Jones franchise, Petra deserves its reputation as the top tourist attraction in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. With an international mix of visitors, the carriage, horse, donkey and camel rides, the craft and trinket stalls, local musicians and water hawkers add a visceral caravan atmosphere to a serious archaeological site.
Petra’s dominance of the Spice Route in the Levant continued well into the Roman era when the city became the capital of the empire’s Arabian province. Although it’s not clear what use the Nabataeans meant for many structures, the Romans added obvious flourishes – an impressive theater, colonnaded market and freestanding temples. Yet if it were not for the genius of three human accomplishments, the glory of Petra would have been impossible.
Petra’s wealth and life in the Cradle of Civilization were based on wheat, sheep and water. The domestication of a wild grain and a feisty animal in prior millenniums allowed for settled life and the rise of towns. Yet all life was dependent on water, especially in regions prone to drought. The Nabataeans mastered an efficient system of dams, cisterns and water channels carved in rock that provided this desert city with a profitable surplus of water.
While Petra declined after the 5th century A.D. due to changing commercial routes and serious earthquakes, wheat, sheep, people and the need for water remained. The cuisine of Jordan’s Bedouin culture harken back to the basics of ancient settled life. Flat ash bread is still buried under the hot coals while goat, lamb and poultry may be grilled or baked in a hot sand pit. Vegetables of all types are pickled and dried fruits, nuts and cheese round out the basics.
Who knows when humans first discovered that slathering toppings on flat rounds of bread and baking them were tasty and had infinite possibilities? Among the many dozens of mezze – small plates – that dominate Jordanian cuisine, Araies Iahma is a favorite among locals and visitors. Known as Bedouin Pizza, araies lahma is easy to prepare.
Araies Iahma (Bedouin Pizza) – 8 servings
1 pound ground meat – any combination of lamb, beef, mutton or goat
1 medium onion, diced
½ cup olive oil
1 green chili pepper, seeds removed, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
2 tomatoes, blanched, skinned and diced (see preparation)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C)
Blanch the tomatoes for 45 seconds in boiling water and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Using a sharp knife slit the sides of the skin and slip off the skin
Finely dice the tomatoes, onion, chili pepper and garlic
Add the salt, cumin, and diced vegetables to the ground meat and mix well.
Cut each round of pita in half, and spread a thin layer of meat inside each pocket.
Brush the stuffed pita halves with olive oil and arrange on a sheet pan.
Bake for 7 minutes, turn each pita over and continue for 5 minutes more.
Serve hot with a salad as a light lunch, as an appetizer or part of a festive and elaborate Jordanian mezze buffet.
Araies Iahma is just one of a dozen dishes a visitor can participate in preparing at the Petra Kitchen. The staff of the Petra Kitchen under manager Ali and chef Mustafe have created a participatory dinner that introduces guests to the top tastes of Jordanian cuisine. Couple this with its location at the very epicenter of ancient human achievement, and dining in Petra becomes a bonding experience with the ancestors.
When you go:
Non-stop flights are available from major North American hubs to Amman, Jordan.
Petra is a 3-hour drive south from Amman on modern highways. Although day excursions can easily be arranged from Amman, to give Petra its due, an overnight in one of the new town’s attractive hotels is recommended.
As in all hot arid regions, visitors to Petra are urged to carry and drink plenty of water. Visiting the entire site entails walking 6 to 9 miles round trip, but carriage, horse, donkey and camel transportation is available. Bottled water is easily purchased in the historic site from numerous vendors.
A nighttime candle light illumination of the Al Khaznch (the Treasury) is not recommended. Candlelight at its base fails to do the vast edifice justice. Save your energy for the daylight.
As Thessaloniki has been at the crossroads of Greek history for 2,500 years then by all means walk the city. It’s not a small city but easy for anyone who enjoys a good low-impact hike. When that stroll includes stops at world-class historic sites, vibrant centuries old markets and unique cafes, the discoveries that are in store can be amazing.
What to visit:
Roman archeological sites: the 4th century triumphal arch of the Emperor Galarius still has a direct road connecting his palace to the Rotunda. For over 2,000 years the Rotunda served as a Greek/Roman temple, Christian church, mosque and now an Orthodox Church treasure.
The Archaeology Museum of Thessaloniki houses a wealth of culture that both Macedonia and the city fostered from pre-historic times to the golden age of Alexander.
Towering above downtown Thessaloniki up the foothills of Mount Chortiatis where the ancient acropolis was located, the massive fortress of the Heptapyrgion guarded the city for nearly two millenniums. Started by the Romans in the late 4th century it was substantially expanded by the Byzantine Empire in the 12th century and Ottomans in the 15th.
Down the hill the Monastery of Vlatadon in Ano Poli was built on a site already sacred where St. Paul preached to the Thessalonians in the year 51.
Until its near destruction in the great fire of 1917 the historic Ladadika district was the heart of Thessaloniki’s commercial activity and Jewish heritage. What survived both the fire and Nazi extermination is the heart of tradition and the city’s elegant beaux-arts pre-World War II rebuilding. Today it’s a trendy neighborhood of cafes and shops. Centuries old market arcades, the Modeano and Bezesteni in particular, still ply traditional goods such as textiles, flowers and jewelry.
Cafes surround the 15th century Bey Hamam, a preserved Ottoman public bathhouse.
The White Tower, built by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century on Roman and Byzantine foundations, is a popular icon and focal point of the new seaside promenade.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan may be less than a century old, but like many Bedouins, the Hashemite family share histories stretching back to biblical times.
For millenniums the river valleys, highlands and vast deserts of the Cradle of Civilization were the epicenter of the legendary, lucrative and infamous caravan trade linking Asia with the Mediterranean world. In an age before GPS pictographs were road signs directing caravans that could include up to 700 treasure laden camels.
One enterprising tribe, the Nabataeans, carved the city of Petra (300s B.C.E. – 800s A.C.E.) into sandstone cliffs and created the wealthiest financial center in the ancient world. With only one public entrance at the end of a lengthy, towering, narrow, canyon road, the Nabataeans made Petra immortal.
Coupled with its commercially strategic position, the Jordan region had been fused, either through mutual interest, religion or conquest, with the great powers of the day from Greece to the Ottomans. The Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, founded by Alexander the Great (331 B.C.E.) and continuing as a major city within the Roman Empire, is one of Jordan’s archeological gems. Heavily damaged by earthquakes in 749 A.C.E., the city continued, and the remarkably preserved site is surrounded today by Jordan’s modern city of Jerash.
The Jordan River of biblical fame still defines a land that has stirred great passions in human history from Moses to today’s conflict concerning the West Bank. People that share an ageless history are divided by a thin, slow moving stream of brown water.
Jordan’s storied history has created a legendary cuisine with variations of many dishes it shares with Spice Route neighbors. From breakfast to late night dinner a bounty of mezze (small plates) to aromatic wood grilled lamb and Bedouin ash bread baked in hot sand will be but a few of the dishes in a culinary repertoire as vast as the Kingdom’s deserts.
For the modern traveler there has never been a better time to enjoy hospitality as stunning as Jordan’s natural beauty. Despite surrounding turmoil, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan enjoys peace within its borders and goes to great length to ensure security for its citizens and visitors. Tolerant and democratic Jordan allows the 21st century traveler a rare glimpse at the entire history of the Cradle of Civilization from iconic archeological sites, ageless Bedouin lifestyles, the roots of modern cuisine, phenomenons of nature, accommodations from Bedouin tents to the heights of luxury and even newborn baby camels.
Discover Jordan for yourself.
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