Tag Archives: archaeology

Can’t Get Enough of that Ljubljana Stuff

ana desetnica
News Editor

What has been going on in the funky little Slovenian town of Ljubljana? That’s pronounced LYOOB-li-A-na and it’s a question that many people ask. The answer is: Plenty. Take, for example, the welcome news from author/professor/entrepreneur Bill Hennessey, of The Swampscott Reporter, who is bicycling through Europe this summer. He implies that Slovenia is, for monolinguist, the perfect tourist destination and the anti-France. (No offense to France, but some returning visitors do say the natives treat non-French speakers brusquely.) Hennessey says:

I had more trouble finding English speakers in London. English is taught from kindergarten and Slovenians’ proficiency in the language is impressive; furthermore, they enjoy speaking English and are eager to practice.

He praises the roads, the drivers, the buses and trains. He speaks of a wondrous hostel called Celica, administered by a student arts group. He admires the architecture (largely the work of one Joze Plecnik), which resembles the architecture of Vienna. There’s a statue of Slovenia’s cherished poet, France Preseren, in the town square. Not a sword-wielding warrior, but a poet! The memorial to this poet is also mentioned by Mike Yardley, a visiting New Zealander, who also appreciates the town hall (which is a marvel) and, of course, the castle. This Yardley bloke has been to 70 countries, and works as a travel consultant, and even guides tours himself.

There’s a classic old hotel called the Bellevue, near Tivoli Park, that’s scheduled for renovation. And a couple of 1930s movie theaters in the city center, lovingly described by Jost Derlink at Spotted By Locals, and here’s the beauty part: they still show films, a mixture of popular and art house fare. Derlink is a guitarist who belongs to a couchsurfing network, so if you aim to visit Slovenia, you might want to look him up ahead of time. He says, “For me, Ljubljana is the best city on the globe. It might not be as big as other European capitals but I think it’s perfect.” An unorthodox local performance artist called Annie Abrahams offers an online work called “The Big Kiss in Ljubljana.” My computer won’t play it, but it looks… interesting.

June was a bit hectic, with the international clown festival, and Brazilian megastar Gilberto Gil singing at the open air theater, and some uncouth incidents marring the harmony of Pride Week when all the LGBT folk gathered. And then, the 50th Annual Ljubljana Jazz Festival hit town.

In July, there was the traditional Ana Desetnica International Festival of Street Theatre. This convention of outdoor talent been going on for more than ten years now, and the city takes it quite seriously. Typically, about 2,500 performers show up. That’s just the people who come to be seen, you understand. The number who come to see them is very much larger.  Aljoša Markočič (CalypsoFolie), the photographer whose picture of street performers is on this page, says the name of the festival originates in “an old Slovenian folk fairy-tale that if the tenth child is a daughter, she must leave home when she turns 7 and must not return for 7 years.” Whether Ana Desetnica means “seven years” or whether that was the name of a particular exiled girl is not clear. Nor is the connection with street theatre. Maybe little Ana became a busker. Maybe that’s her in the picture.

Madonna had planned a concert in Ljubljana, but it was canceled. Rumor has it that only 7,000 of the venue’s 23,000 seats were sold. Just last week, a little Belgian girl was brought by her parents to visit, and they were greeted by the Mayor. That toddler was so celebrated because her name is Ljubljana.

According to the archeology wizards, a city has been on this spot for 3,000 years, and it was supposedly founded by Jason’s posse, the Argonauts. They went on adventures, and there was something about a sheepskin… The muses do okay in Ljubljana. Plans are underway for the 24th Vilenica Literary Festival, the 2nd to 6th of September. The 28th annual Biennial of Graphic Arts is coming up in September and October, at the International Centre of Graphic Arts. The theme this time is “The Matrix: An Unstable Reality,” so hold onto your hats.

Examiner Molly McCahan is another of those people who call Slovenia the best-kept secret of Eastern Europe. Shhhh! Keep telling everybody, and it won’t be a secret for long, will it? McCahan describes it as a soft adventure traveler’s playground, what with the skiing and the wine and all. In this article, she concentrates mainly on outdoorsy activities, and gives us perhaps the most helpful hint of all: If you see a sign on a house that says zimmer, there’s a room for rent inside!

photo courtesy of Aljoša Markočič – whose entire PhotoStream is here.

Europe + Beer = Energy + Fun


News Editor

A couple of weeks ago, Thomas H. Maugh II alerted the public to the discovery of the world’s oldest known musical instrument and no, it isn’t Willy Nelson’s guitar. (There is no real good segue into this, but you should know that Maugh has written way more than 1,000 articles for the Los Angeles Times.) The artifact we’re talking about here is a 35,000-year-old flute, which is not in cherry condition. In fact, it’s only a partial flute, found in 12 pieces, and they don’t all add up. Nevertheless, someone in the distant past drilled deliberate holes in a griffon vulture bone, in such a way as to make it into a wind instrument. Maugh says:

Excavated from a cave in Germany, the nearly complete flute suggests that the first humans to occupy Europe had a fairly sophisticated culture, complete with alcohol, adornments, art objects and music that they developed there or even brought with them from Africa when they moved to the new continent 40,000 years or so ago.

They found a couple of ivory instruments, too, left there eons ago by folks who “drank beer, played flute and drums and danced around…” Remind you of anyone? Only everyone you know! The difference between our great-great-greats and us is that we have a lot more varieties of beer to choose from. For instance, there’s one called St-Feuillien that people just rave about. It’s a $10 bottle of brew described as a “delicate, exquisite gourmet beer” by Paul Hightower in the Examiner, and there’s a legend behind it, too.

Beer-making is adaptable to environmental and ecological best practices, and it’s a darn good thing, because nobody’s going to quit making the stuff any time soon. At Inventorspot, Myra Per-Lee looks into the use of beer waste as an alternative energy source. A guy named Wolfgang Bengel of the BMP Biomasse Projekt says he’s figured out a way to make beer byproducts into fuel that will power the breweries. Each cycle would recapture 50% of the energy, or something. Apparently, he’s already done similar feats in Thailand and China. It sounds great. This isn’t a totally new concept, however. Anheuser-Busch has been doing a similar thing in its United States breweries, says Leslie Guevarra at Reuters.

We have it on good authority (Rick Steves of Tribune Media Services) that there are over 300 varieties of Belgian beer alone, and that’s not counting all the rest of Europe. In Brussels, there’s a bar called Delirium where they have more kinds of beer than anybody. Really, it’s certified by the Guinness World Record people. As of 2004, anyway. Who knows where the current record holder may be? That’s one of the things that beer pilgrims go to Europe to investigate!

photo courtesy of Experiencias de viagem de 1 Brasileiro
, used under this Creative Commons license

Acropolis Museum: The House that Grudge Built


News Editor

Christopher Hitchens is a Vanity Fair contributing editor and this month in its pages, he turns the bright beams of a sharp intellect upon a brand-new museum. In Athens, Greece, there is a hill called the Acropolis, and on that hill resides a temple called the Parthenon, which is pretty much in ruins. You knew that. But – and it’s Hitchens asking this question, so pay attention –

Did you appreciate that each column of the Parthenon makes a very slight inward incline, so that if projected upward into space they would eventually steeple themselves together at a symmetrical point in the empyrean?

In his article “The Lovely Stones,” Hitchens explains how the Parthenon was originally built as a civic stimulus package, possibly with the hands-on help of Socrates himself. He traces the Parthenon’s history as a criminally abused piece of architecture, and explains why, philosophically, its conception was unlike that of any other great building, and why the new museum was, in its conception, unlike any other modern museum.

You’ve heard of the so-called Elgin Marbles. Tons of sculptured stone, more than half of the Parthenon’s original decoration, were stripped from the temple around 1800 by Lord Elgin, and removed to England. And if you thought anybody was going to just let that slide, forget it. Greece wants its national treasures back. The famous poet and juvenile delinquent Lord Byron is involved in this story, as a bitter foe of Lord Elgin. He would have loved Hitchens, who deals summarily with all “frivolous and boring objections” the British Museum puts in the way of returning the art.

The new Acropolis Museum, which incorporates nearly 13,000 square feet of glass panels, was designed by Bernard Tschumi. It is an exercise in positive thinking: copies of the missing works are on exhibit as placeholders, until such time as the originals are restored to Greece. As a public shaming tactic, this just might work.

For more on the archaeological dig that preceded the museum’s construction, we consulted The Wall Street Journal for the article “A New Way to See Ancient Athens” by Christine Pirovolakis. She quotes the head of the excavation team who says, “Almost all of the ancient homes that we found in this area contained specially designed rooms where lectures or symposiums took place.” Dig it (little archaeological joke, there) — it was what the upscale ancient Greek family had for a media room!

And what is Kevin Dolgin’s take on the Acropolis? We thought you’d never ask, but you must be 18 or older to view the answer:

Once in Athens, you shouldn’t go to the Acropolis right away. You should make your way towards it, engage in some historical foreplay before the main event.

One of our favorite pieces in Dolgin’s The Third Tower Up From the Road is “Zvouros, the Clawed Guardian of the Acropolis,” and we’ll give you a hint: Zvouros is a cat.

photo courtesy of jonmcalister , used under this Creative Commons license

Cambodia, Not Swimming: Angkor

preah khan

News Editor

Today, we consider a piece by the maestro himself, Kevin Dolgin, whose lovely “One Dollar Cow: Angkor, Cambodia” can be found at McSweeney’s.

Here’s the convoluted reason why. Poking around in cyberspace, we encountered a helpful web page where Susan Breslow Sardone, longtime Romantic Travel Guide for About.com, recommends destinations based on a traveler’s zodiac sign.

Now, it happens that Mr. Dolgin is a Gemini, a type of person described here as having a “quicksilver mind” which needs plenty of stimulation in the form of novelty and action. The compiler of astrological trip-ticks assures us that the ideal Gemini destination is … “a great city.” Several possibilities are mentioned, all in the United States, two of them being Las Vegas and San Francisco.

Both these cities have been delineated by Mr. Dolgin in his essay “The West,” which appears in Kevin’s new book, The Third Tower Up from the Road. And while they are undoubtedly both great cities, neither one is what you might call exotic. So, onward to the jungles of Cambodia, and the remains of an urban center the size of Los Angeles.

First, we learn that Angkor means “city.” In the record business this is known as an eponymous title. And why not? Many groups throughout history have called themselves names that meant, in their tongues, “people” or “humans,” so why shouldn’t a city be called “City?” Especially when it surrounds a temple that turns out to be the largest building ever constructed in the service of religion. This edifice, Angkor Wat, is a marvel of the stonemason’s art, every millimeter of it covered with intricate carvings guaranteed to blow your mind.

But if you think this is Angkor’s only temple, think again – about Preah Khan, a former Buddhist monastery which Kevin describes thusly:

It is a vast network of passages crossing each other in a complex pattern that stretches the imagination by its very conception.

And, Preah Khan has been left alone, not scraped bare by archaeologists. So it’s all overgrown with vines, and pleasantly spooky. Pre Rup, a temple featuring pyramidal spires, is also recommended. It was here that the author was offered the one-dollar cow, and also here that his friend recalled and recounted a mystical encounter, in another time and another land, with another cow. “I’ll never forget that,” the author says, and neither will we.

Happy Birthday, Kevin!

SOURCE: “One Dollar Cow: Angkor, Cambodia”

photo courtesy of nimbu , used under this Creative Commons license