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Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

la-fenice1We stride on two levels, I think. There’s the domestic life, the day-to-day, the gainings of friendships and expertise. And then there’s the moment of deep insight, a flash of a hidden facet – the pattern of a façade, a new interpretation of a famous piece of music, that makes you believe you’ve comprehended the shape of things.

On Valentine’s Day, my fiancée and I attended the first opera I’d seen in many years – Mozart’s The Magic Flute, performed by the Yale Opera. It was truly a production for our age, a thing of very high quality indeed. It managed to translate Mozart’s Enlightenment philosophies perfectly into the contemporary idiom, while flashing additional little insights from the right now. The costuming of this Singspiel spoke volumes: Pamino in burgundy, Tamina in a blue-white gown reminiscent of Snow White; male choristers in turbans, female choristers in Women’s Temperance League hats, the Three Spirits as American Revolutionaries, and Papageno and Papagena – the true scene-and-show-stealers in both panache and vocal qualitybirds of a feather in 19th-century French Bohemian linens.

When you put it that way, and remember that Die Zauberflöte premiered on September 30, 1791, it’s pretty easy to gather what Mozart might have been thinking about: music as the magical, reconciling element, enlightening society and freeing it from slavery. (An excellent added touch: as Tamino and Pamina ascend to the wedding altar, the three Revolutionary Sprites are ring-bearers, and don the coats of Colonial statesmen as they bring forth the wedding rings.) (more…)

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Everyone knows about that annual tempting of fate known as running with the bulls in Pamplona. It’s one of those festivals that make the saner among us scratch our heads in confusion and wonder, “How was that ever a good idea?”

But just because it is Europe’s most famous oddity certainly doesn’t make the Pamplona festival an isolated case. Indeed, the more traditions and customs one comes across, the stranger the Old World starts to look. Just in Spain alone there are two monumental annual food fights: one, in the town of Bunol, involving tomatoes; and who could forget the famous grape war of Binissalem. Up north, in Basque Country, it gets even stranger. There, young villagers hang from a live goose’s neck until the poor animal expires — all in the name of tradition.

Over in Greece, the island of Chios erupts in an annual fireworks war on Orthodox Easter pitting one parish in the town of Vrodandos against the other. In Belgium, they swallow live fish. In Turkey, camel wrestling is all the rage. And in the town of Malanka in Ukraine, residents dress up as Nazis and create simulated wartime checkpoints once a year to celebrate the end of World War II.

In short, there is no end to odd European festivals and traditions. And with the Euro 2008 football championships running through the month of June, SPIEGEL ONLINE thinks it’s time to expose Europe for the strange place it is.

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They went to Delphi, the Earth’s center, to visit Phoebus’ Oracle, and prayed to him to grant them his aid in their misery, to give them some oracle that would restore their health and put an end to the evils of their great city. The ground, the laurel tree and the quivers which the god himself carries, all trembled together and, from the depths of the shrine, the sacred tripod uttered words, making the listeners’ hearts quake with fear… (Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book XV)

Up on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, in the time before Time, the young god Apollo slew the monster Python and founded a shrine commemorating the event. It was the omphalos, the navel or center of the world, and Pegasus swooped in and stamped his hoof and cracked the ground from which came forth the Castalian Spring, pluming underground waters bearing a sweet perfume. (Of the last, so said Plutarch.) Down in an enclosed subterranean chamber, the Pythian Sibyl sat on a three-legged stool, breathed in the vapors surrounding her, swooned into a trance, and uttered delirious visions that would be translated, by the Pythian Priestesses, into prophesies that would command the fortunes of the kings of the world.

The Sibyl was a huffer.

In 2001, geologists discovered that two geologic faults intersected directly beneath the ruins of the Delphic Shrine. About every hundred years, earthquakes rattle the faults, heating the adjacent rocks and vaporizing the hydrocarbon deposits stored in them. The result: ethylene vapors, which, inhaled in concentration, produce a sense of disembodied euphoria. It is no longer a myth or a tall tale: that’s how the Pythian Sibyl received her visions from Apollo. Read more about the Delphic Oracle’s drug use here and here.

See Delphi and get a whiff of myth on Travel Dynamics International’s Landmark Sites of the Mediterranean: Greece, Sicily, North Africa, and Spain from November 9-28, 2008.

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