Archive for the ‘Fascinating’ Category

Chaz Darwin

Humanities, the magazine of the NEH, has a fascinating article on Darwin’s voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. The very fact that Darwin was invited on this circumnavigational “cruise” is amazing, a stroke of good luck; normally, aboard a vessel of the British navy, the ship’s doctor would undertake scientific observations. Luckily the Beagle‘s captain, Henslow, thought back to the great James Cook, and the discoveries that were made on his ships by the naturalist Joseph Banks. Darwin’s father didn’t want him to go; Charles was just 22 years old at the time.

We often think about Darwin with his notebook, scribbling details of finches and tortoises; we don’t consider him a “man of action,” but of detailed observation and lengthy meditation. So it comes as a great surprise to learn that he had far more daring adventures than anyone by rights ought to have, 22 or not:

At times he rode out with gauchos, making his way through political rebellions or embarking on shooting expeditions to get meat for Christmas dinner. In Tierra del Fuego, he saved his crewmates by rescuing a rowboat from a tidal wave. He saw stars from the top of the Andes, climbed mountains in Tahiti, felt his blood boil over the slavery that was still legal in Brazil, admired girls in Valparaiso, and splashed around in coral lagoons in search of evidence for their formation. These exploits were all recounted in a wonderful series of letters home to his sisters that still exist in the archive. Over the years, Darwin’s sisters saw his ambitions changing, his confidence emerging. Indeed, they may have discerned how unlikely it was that he would now become a clergyman.

You are definitely encouraged to read more.

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The Times Literary Supplement has an utterly fascinating essay on Minoan civilization, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Arthur Evans’ reconstruction of Knossos, and the role of ancient Crete in European modernism.

“Arthur Evans, the eccentric Englishman who led the excavations, was, if anything, even more creative in his reconstruction of the Bronze Age than Schliemann had earlier been. The fabulously ancient palace of Knossos enjoys, as Gere points out in her arresting first sentence, “the dubious distinction of being one of the first reinforced concrete buildings ever erected on the island”. The complex of buildings gawped at by thousands upon thousands of tourists every year owes less to the masons of the Minoan age than it does to the example of modernist architecture. On Crete, the archaic and the contemporary, both of them recreated in the image of the other, would end up generating a cultural Möbius Strip. “Not only did the Minoan past provide inspiration to the modern movement, it was itself a modernist structure, enfolding past and present into a closed loop of aesthetic self-referentiality.”

Read the full essay; you’re also invited to visit Knossos on our illuminating Mediterranean cruises.

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Within this fascist country, where the police and army are an extension of the absolute power, these days police are cheered and thanked by the Moussavi crowd as they buffer and “protect” their joyful gathering from the angry mob across the street. Besides a couple of shots of gas (not tear gas, but some milder irritant) into the crowd, the riot police are mostly just bystanders. This is where things become perplexing. This fascist regime has found a way to purge itself of its authoritarianism and allow the steam to escape from this social pressure cooker: people are allowed to gather within the contained setting of the election context as long as they stroll back to their homes in the wee hours of the night. Which is exactly what has been happening. Around 4 in the morning, everyone makes their way home, and tomorrow is another normal day. In the morning, the streets have been swept clean of protest residue, and people calming go about their daily activities (work, school, etc.), knowing that again at 7 p.m. they will gather in the streets to yell out once again. This will continue each and every night, and most likely will cease to exist once the new president, whoever he may be, is elected.

There is much, much more in this Dispatch from Tehran by a blogger named Bani, available in an extraordinary English-language online paper from Iran called –


And indeed, nothing is sacred: on the front page, there is this political cartoon:


This is the online, English-language voice of young Iranians, and if all you know about the country comes from White House press briefings and the mainstream American media, it will astonish you.

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“It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in  Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and  tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease  spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”

At this early hour, I’m unable to find complete video of this historic address, but you can read the complete transcript at the superb cultural website 3QuarksDaily.com. For many years, Travel Dynamics International has operated elegant cruises to Spain and the northern coast of Africa under the precise principle outlined in Obama’s words above; if you’re interested, please take a look at our 2010 journey to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.

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…until someone gets their head stuck in a 3,600-year-old Sumerian pot. From McSweeney’s Internet Tendency:

Beautiful piece. In excellent condition. One of only two complete pots from a pottery works at Larsa, dated to the reign of Rim-Sim I.

I honestly didn’t think my head would fit into it.

But it did, and now I can’t get it out. In addition to my extensive knowledge of the ancient Near East, I am blessed with a near-inexplicable touch-typing ability, so, if you will, picture me sitting at the computer with a pot on my head that dates from roughly the time when the Hittites invented iron-forged weapons. Or, to put it in more familiar terms, the pot on my head was about 400 years old when Troy was sacked.

It is of course priceless, which means I must extract my head without breaking it. Or, perhaps, my head should be cut off. But that would still leave the head-in-a-pot problem unresolved, wouldn’t it?

Welcome to Friday Funnies, Travel Dynamics International-style. Read the rest here. But don’t break your head trying to understand it.

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SCIENCE-US-BRITAIN-ROMAN-FINDIt’s called the “millefiori” (“a thousand flowers”) dish, and it’s “a miracle to have survived,” according to archaeologists in London.

Dating from the 2nd or 3rd century AD, and acquired by a citizen of the ancient Roman outpost of Londinium, it is made of hundreds of mosaic tiles shaped like petals, blue with white bordering. And nothing like it has ever been found intact in the Western Roman Empire.

The artifact was found 2.5 to 3 meters (yards) down at a sprawling ancient cemetery in Aldgate, east London, just beyond the old city walls. Romans were required by law to bury their dead outside the city gates.

It formed part of a cache of grave goods found close to a wooden container holding the ashes of a probably wealthy Roman citizen of Londinium.

Other artifacts recovered with the bowl included ceramic pottery and glass flasks which once contained perfumed oil used to anoint the body.

<Read more here>

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amazon_will_denimcintyre_getty460Next March, Travel Dynamics International will be embarking upon a tremendous journey up the Amazon – more than 2,000 miles from Belem, on the Atlantic coast, to Iquitos, in Peru.

On Monday, The Guardian brought us this tremendous story about medical researchers who are hunting for natural medicines, and cures for everything from cancer to AIDS, amid the dizzying biodiversity of the Amazon.

Tom Phillips, in Rio, writes:

TODAY, SPURRED on by an obsession with the Amazon and nearly 40 years as an oncologist, Varella leads monthly expeditions up the Cuieiras river in search of natural medicines that he believes could change the future of his profession and eventually bring new hope to cancer victims around the world.

“[As a child] I didn’t even know that [the Amazon] existed,” Varella told the Observer during his latest mission to the group’s base on the Cuieiras river. “I’d heard the children’s stories, about the Indians with two feathers in their hair. But you didn’t even talk about the Amazon back then. It was such a distant thing.”

That changed in October 1992, during a trip to the Amazon with Robert Gallo, the US biomedical researcher credited with co-discovering the HIV virus. (more…)

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