Monthly Archives: October 2013

No Christians Fed to Lions and Other Things You Might Not Know About the Colosseum

Christians never battled lions in the Colosseum. It is thanks to that  notorious Italian villain Mussolini that the Colosseum became one of the most visible landmarks in the world. Paul McCartney gave a concert in the Colosseum.dave inside the colosseum

We took a tour of the Colosseum in Rome and I learned some interesting things from our guide Elizabeth, a knowledgeable young woman with a PHD in archeology.

Elizabeth cleared up some misconceptions I had about the Colosseum. One of these was that Christians battled lions there. The Colosseum, which was built largely with the labor of thousands of Jewish slaves brought to Rome by the emperor Titus after he destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, was certainly an arena for death.  marylou inside the colosseumThe wildlife of northern Africa was significantly depleted by the three hundred years of savage sport staged in the Colosseum, featuring animals and gladiators fighting to satisfy the blood lust of the up to 80,000 fans in the audience. However, our guide Elizabeth made it clear there is no historical proof for the exciting tales of early Christians being thrown to the lions in the Colosseum. Historians now believe those stories were invented to glamorize the suffering of early Christians at the hands of the Romans. Despite the fact there are no written records of Christians being martyred in the Colosseum it remains a holy site for the Catholic church and every Good Friday the Pope leads the stations of the cross procession at the Colosseum, commemorating the fourteen stages of Christ’s passion.

marylou outside the colosseumElizabeth also told us the fascist dictator Mussolini despite his villainous reputation was responsible for the restoration and protection of many of Rome’s archeological sites including the Colosseum.  Mussolini wanted to return Italy to its former greatness at the height of the Roman Empire so he designated substantial government funds for the excavation and preservation of the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon and other important ancient landmarks. dave outside the collosseum He staged quite a number of rallies in the Colosseum to stir up nationalistic pride and Italian patriotism among his people.  Mussolini was eventually murdered by Italian partisans and hung upside down for public viewing since he was considered such a disgrace to his own nation.  He’s not a celebrated hero in Italian history but had he not led the country from 1922-1943 I might not have toured the Colosseum.

the colosseumThousands of people visit the Colosseum every year but care must be taken to balance the need for income from tourists with the need to preserve and maintain what is left of the structure. Consequently the Colosseum is no longer the site of huge public events but occasionally special concerts are still held there. interior colosseumOur guide Elizabeth said a few years ago four hundred people paid close to $2000 each to attend a charity concert Paul McCartney gave inside the Colosseum.   Later he staged a free show just outside the Colosseum for 300,000 fans. The money generated from ticket sales and television rights was donated to various charities including one for landmines removal and another to rescue artifacts ransacked from museums in Iraq.

the colloseum in romeI learned the Colosseum has been the site of many historic spectacles in the last 2000 years including rock concerts, papal processions, fascist rallies and gory battles. It’s intriguing to think about what else archeologists might discover happened there and what future events might take place in this famous building.

Other posts about Rome…….

The Catacombs- Myth and Reality

Questions at the Vatican

Visiting Pompeii

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Winnipeg Coffee Quest- Candidate #2

man at bike rack on freezing dayWe’ve checked out the second candidate in our search for Winnipeg’s best coffee establishment. I’ve written all about it on my Destination Winnipeg site. 

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Picking a Church Out of the Cereal Bowl

We had to do something! When we moved back to Canada two years ago from Hong Kong I was eager to get involved with a church congregation in Winnipeg. 

My husband Dave thought we should shop around for a church. “Give it a year,” he said “and then we will decide.” There are more than a dozen churches that belong to our particular Mennonite church conference in Winnipeg and I think we went to them all, some several times. But we also attended Lutheran churches, United churches, Anglican churches and non-denominational congregations. And soon……. two years, not one had passed. 

When our two year anniversary of being back in Canada was reached I put my foot down.  “We have to decide,” I said. 

“OK,” said my  husband. “Let’s each write the names of three churches on slips of paper, put them in a cereal bowl and then you start drawing. The last slip of paper that’s left is the church we’ll attend.”

It ended up that last slip contained the name of a church we’d both written down. Neither of us got our top pick, but we were both content with the choice.

I’m not saying the best way to choose a church is from a cereal bowl, but since our merry-go-round of visits and endless discussions about the matter had produced no results, for us at least it was a practical solution. 

Other posts about churches and faith groups……

Could I Have Been A Hutterite?

On Being  A Church Tourist In Winnipeg

All Saints Anglican

Could I Have Been A Grey Nun?

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Is Asia Still Authentic?

Here’s a piece I wrote after a visit to Chaing Mai Thailand a number of years ago.

Woman making umbrellas for tourists in chiang mai

 A woman making paper umbrellas for tourists in Chiang Mai

“Asia is no longer authentic. Modern barbarians and mass tourism are destroying it. “  Denis Gray, Associate Press Bureau Chief in Bangkok made that comment during an interview with a reporter from the Bangkok Post. I read the article about Gray during my visit to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Mr. Gray has had a vacation home in Chiang Mai for twenty years and bemoans the fact that Western business interests have completely taken over the area with their “ relentless greed and materialism.” 

     I can understand what Mr. Gray is talking about. I went to Chiang Mai on a golfing holiday and noted the ‘westernization’ and altered landscape of the area. Acres of jungle have been hacked down to create space for fairways, clubhouses and high- end spas and golf resorts.  

      Friends who traveled to northern Thailand decades ago say it was a jungle paradise. You could hike just outside Chiang Mai and find hill tribes villages where people lived much as they had for hundreds of years. Each tribe had its own unique dress, customs and was self-sustaining. In the last ten years, literally millions of tourists interested in seeing the traditional way of life in these hill tribes’ settlements have altered that way of life forever.

Performers at the Loy Krathong show

Performers at the Loy Krathong show

Chiang Mai now has a Starbucks, a McDonalds and a Holiday Inn. It also has a great deal of street garbage and its river is black with pollutants. Many of the rituals and ceremonies of the local people have become commercialized performances which tourists are charged money to attend. The tribal women come into Chiang Mai to sell their hand made products to visitors from around the world. Crafts are now produced in ‘factories’ especially set up so tourists can watch as they are created step by step. We were on a ‘packaged’ golf tour in Chiang Mai. Consequently we were ferried to several of these ‘factories’ before each round of golf to watch the staged production of jewelry, silk, ceramics and paper umbrellas. I felt uncomfortable viewing these talented people give a ‘fake performance’ of their skilled labor, staged primarily to convince potential customers to buy their wares.

Female golf caddies in Chiang Mai

Female golf caddies in Chiang Mai

     The golf courses in Chiang Mai were lovely. Each golfer was provided with a caddy, a local Chiang Mai woman, who had been taught enough English to tell you your yardage after each shot, and whether your ball would break to the left or right when you putted. The women were dressed in immaculate mauve and white uniforms. They smiled politely and helped you select which golf club to use for each shot, and carefully cleaned your club after every use. I wondered if before becoming golf caddies these women had lived an agrarian existence in a village attending to the needs of their families and participating in the traditions of their tribe. Were they happier then or do they prefer their present life with more modern conveniences and a steady source of income to support their families? people say tourism has been a boon to Thailand, improving the economy and the transportation system. Tourism however has also brought a thriving sex trade, AIDS, pollution, a depletion of natural resources, a changed landscape and has permanently altered the traditional way of life of the hill tribes people of Thailand. 

        I wonder if I a few years from now Chiang Mai will be distinguishable from any  typical American tourist spot. Will there be a theme park or museum you will need to visit if you want to see how traditional Thai people lived? 

Other posts about Chiang Mai……

Monk Chat

Loy Krathong

         

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Synchronize Your Watches- A Twenty Four Hour Movie That Tells The Time

In what movie can you see Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Rita Hayworth, Al Pacino, Alan Alda, Angie Dickinson, Woody Allen, Tom Cruise, Jean Simmons, Jimmy Stewart, Kathleen Turner, Faye Dunaway……..well really just about every well-known star in the history of film and/or television?  It’s Christian Marclay’s  The Clock now showing at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Read all about it on my Destination Winnipeg site. 

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Biking in Florence

bike guide in florenceThe highlight of our  trip to Florence Italy was the guided bicycle tour we took with Leonardo, a middle-aged athlete and history buff with a generous beard and black frame glasses. He was a veritable walking encyclopedia about the city of his birth. My husband Dave was keen on gathering information for the advanced placement course in high school history he was teaching at the time. He could ask Leonardo about anything that happened in Florence from the time it was founded by Julius Caesar in 59 BC to the present and Leonardo knew the answer.

duomo santa maria del flore florenceWe met Leonardo to begin our tour near one of the more than 40 large historic churches in Florence. Leonardo said people rarely attend them. “Most of Florence’s churches are visited only by tourists.” He told us church attendance by the 400,000 residents of the city is normally reserved for weddings, funerals and baptisms. Leonardo pointed out the huge rings on the sides of most churches in Florence. They were used for tying up horses many years ago when people still came to church in carriages.horse rings on church in florence My husband Dave tested the strength of these rings and verified they were firmly implanted in the walls. limbo squareLeonardo took us to a square near one church called Piazza del Limbo, or the Limbo Plaza. It was once a cemetery for babies that had died before they had a chance to be baptized and thus were ‘in limbo’ and unable to enter heaven.

Leonardo led us expertly through the city on our bikes, giving us a running commentary about what we were seeing on his microphone. earphones on bike tour in florenceHis interesting narration was fed into the earpieces we wore while we cycled. He took us to the square where the Medici family, Florence’s leading citizens from 1350-1750, used to host jousting matches, chariot races and the first soccer games played in Italy. He showed us the tall towers built by rival feuding families as safe fortresses during medieval times. ponte vecchio florenceHe took us to the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s oldest bridge, built in 1345. It is the only bridge the Nazis did not blow up before retreating from the city. He pointed out the art students everywhere sketching and touring with teachers. He told us every year 60,000 American students from forty different United States universities participate in study abroad programs in Florence to learn the Italian language and study history, art and literature. browning apartment florenceLeonardo showed us the apartment where poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning lived for 14 years. He told us the famous nurse Florence Nightingale had been named after the city of her birth.

bike tour florenceThere was only one other woman on our bike tour and she was Japanese.  I thought she was a tourist but she told us although she had grown up in Japan she now lived in Florence and worked as a wedding planner for Japanese couples who wanted to get married in Italy. We passed a young Japanese woman in a wedding gown and a Japanese man in a tuxedo shivering in the freezing January air as they had their pictures taken on the steps of the Santa Maria Del Fiore Cathedral in the heart of Florence. Leonardo our guide told us Florence is hugely popular as a destination -wedding site for Japanese couples.

ponte vecchio florenceIf it hadn’t been for the chilly temperatures I could have spent days on end touring Florence on my bicycle with the knowledgeable and interesting Leonardo. However after several hours our fingers were frozen and we were chilled to the bone.cold in florence It was time to say good-bye to Leonardo and head for a coffee shop where we could warm up with some thick, rich and very sweet Italian hot chocolate and talk over all the new, intriguing things we’d learned about Florence.

Other posts about biking…….

Biking in Bali

Toronto Bike Ride

Biking in Yangshou

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Help Me Decide

I want to enlarge one of the photos I took in Hong Kong to put on the wall in our livingroom. I took lots of photos in Hong Kong and just can’t decide which one would be the best to use. I want it to be a photo that says “Yes! This is the landscape of Hong Kong.” Can you help me? Check out these photos and then let me know which one you like best.

Photo 1
hong kong landscape

Photo 2mahjong game high island

Photo 3
star ferry

Photo 4

bamboo scaffolding

Photo 5

chi lin nunnery hong kong

Photo 6
funeral pots 023

Photo 7
tao fong shan 008

Photo 8
shatin village housejpg

Photo 9victoria peak tramPhoto 10sai kung hike 009

Other posts…….

A Blank Wall

Tetraphobia- What is It?

Meeting a Holocaust Survivor in Hong Kong

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