Category Archives: Travel

Icon Redux: Saint Christopher

Byzantine & Christian Museum (2013-05-28 220In the post on my visit to the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens, I took a photograph of an icon with a dog’s head. At the time I merely commented on how bizarre this icon seemed to me. At the time, I did not think much about it.

In volume 2 of his book Orthodox Saints, George Poulos discusses St. Christopher Cynocephalus. The only St. Christopher I knew was the one who is depicted on medals carrying a child with the caption, “St. Christopher Protect Us.” Well, this is the same St. Christopher. Poulos explains that Christopher, whose original name was Reprobos, was ugly and repulsive. He was so ugly that his comrades called him Dogface. (Cynocephalus means “dog-head.”) His inner spiritual beauty was hidden by a hideous face. Actually painting a person with a dog’s head seems just a wee bit extreme.

Anyway, Christopher is known as the patron saint of travelers, but this is the Roman Catholic tradition. The Eastern Orthodox have no stories relating to Christopher as a traveler. However, the story of him carrying the child–who is actually the Christ Child–is known in the East. Christopher finds that he is actually carrying the weight of the world when he carries Jesus. Christopher lived during the reign of Emperor Decius, who had him executed on May 9, 255.

The explanation of why the saint is painted with a dog’s head still doesn’t warm me to the work. To me, a dog-headed icon is more kitsch than holy.

Poulos, George. Orthodox Saints: Spiritual Profiles for Modern Man, April 1 to June 30 (Brookline, Mass.: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1991), p. 101-102.

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Photographs Needed

(2014-06-20 006I was stunned to have gotten a request for the photographs I took of the marble slabs decorating the façade of the Metropolitan Museum, when I visited.

The email was from Christine Van Blokland, who has the blog, The Curious Traveler. In conjunction with PBS, Christine is going to be doing a piece on those big slabs of marble. It won’t air until April, but Christine promised to let me know when it would be posted.

Oh, and I gave my permission for Christine to use the images. I’m flattered. I’d like to take all the credit, but a big part of it has to go to my Sony Cyber-shot. It’s a really nice camera.

Take a look at Christine’s site. There’s some good stuff, and she covers many different parts of the world.

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Val-Kill Visit

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my friend Lucye and I went to Val-Kill, Eleanor Roosevelt’s last home in Hyde Park, New York.


The site is run by the National Park Service. Unfortunately, because it was a holiday weekend, the tourista were everywhere; all the tours through Val-Kill were booked for the day, so we settled for wandering around the grounds, which is what a lot of other people were doing.

The Val-Kill grounds are wonderful. It is the only national site dedicated exclusively to the spouse of a president. There’s a pond with a stream that flows between the houses and the parking lot. The bridge over the stream is how one enters the grounds. There’s actually two houses, and a separate “playhouse” which was built for Eleanor’s grandchildren. It was here that Eleanor brought her entire family together for Christmas and other holidays, and she entertained heads of state and diplomats in an attempt to bring peace to the world. She was a U.S. delegate to the United Nations.

We visited the gift shop. It’s not too big, but it has some nice things. Most of the nice things were pretty expensive. I settled for some postcards, one to send to my friend Lucretia back in Pittsburgh, and a small copy of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written by the committee Eleanor Roosevelt chaired at the United Nations.

Eleanor is buried next to Franklin a few miles away at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, also in Hyde Park. I’ve been to FDR’s home a few times, but this was my first visit to Val-Kill.

I’d love to have a place like Val-Kill, but it’s not going to happen.

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The Cold Days of January

This month has been cold. That one, big snowstorm didn’t help things.

Nonetheless, I decided to walk to the Philipse Manor train station. Philipse Manor is part of Sleepy Hollow, but it’s on the other side of Philipsburg Manor, the historic 17th century center of … well, civilization at that time.

This building used to be the train station, but it now houses a writer's workshop. A peek in the window revealed a huge table

This building used to be the train station, but it now houses a writer’s workshop. A peek in the window revealed a huge table

Anyway, the train station is behind the housing area that is called Philipse Manor. It’s two miles away from my apartment as opposed to the just under one mile Tarrytown train station. And why, you ask, would I want to go to Philipse Manor and not Tarrytown? Two reasons.

One, I need the exercise. For the past three days (two of them being quite cold), I walked up to Philipse Manor to see if I could get there without leaving too much earlier. I found out that I could. An extra fifteen minutes is all I need. It’s also nice to be able to get some exercise in before going into work.

This train may appear to be going forward, but the "engine" is the last car; it's headed in the opposite direction

This train may appear to be going forward, but the “engine” is the last car; it’s headed in the opposite direction

Two, there’s just too many people trying to catch the express trains in Tarrytown. I got tried of trying to get on the train before this person or that one. And no matter where one stood, there was always the day when you would stand because there were no seats–unless you wanted to squeeze into a middle east on a three-seat bank. I watched a businessman tell his daughter–who probably came up to my thigh–to get ahead of people to get them seats. (He did this daily.) This after they would arrive late, but being small she always got around people. Except me. I blocked her on several occasions with my shoulder bag. One has to wonder that, years from now, will the daughter and her friends push their way through people to get onto the trains first?

It’s barbaric, and uncivilized. I’m tired of it. There’s a lot of people getting on at Philipse Manor, but probably four times as many get on in Tarrytown. It’s always fun when the train is a car or two short, which happens occasionally .

No, I’ll walk the extra mile. I can get a window seat, get comfy and write my diary or read a book.

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Parthenon (Athens, Greece) vs. Parthenon (Nashville, Tennessee)

The "front" of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, as it currently appears. It is through these doors that the Athenian treasury was accessed. The opposite side of the building was where the colossal statue of Athena was accessed. There's not much left of the pediment.

The “front” of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, as it currently appears. It is through these doors that the Athenian treasury was accessed. The opposite side of the building was where the colossal statue of Athena was accessed. There’s not much left of the pediment.

Okay, there really is no contest between the real Parthenon and its imitation in the United States. Nonetheless, it’s fun to compare them.

I never wrote an entry about my trip to visit my cousin in Nashville in September, 2012. I was there for a few days, and I had gone down there specifically to study the Parthenon, and to see the huge statue of Athena Parthenos, built by Alan LeQuire in the spirit of Phidias, the sculptor of the original statue. More on that later.

The "front" of the Nashville Parthenon. The entrance is downstairs and into the art gallery. The Athenian Parthenon had no "cellar."

The front of the Nashville Parthenon, which compares to the entrance in the Parthenon to the statue side. (Compare to the next picture of the Parthenon.) However, the entrance to the building is downstairs and into the art gallery. The Athenian Parthenon had no “cellar.”

This trip was a warm-up to my trip to Greece at the beginning of the year. She had just gotten married in 2012 to another ex-Pittsburgher who loved the Steelers. I had never been to Tennessee, and I was looking forward to seeing this Parthenon that captured the  look of the original when it was first built.

I had seen the Parthenon in Athens when I was on Semester at Sea and had photos of it from my first trip. The Parthenon is on top of the Acropolis, which towers high over the city of Athens. In contrast, the Nashville Parthenon is on a slight “hill” (more like a mound) in Centennial Park.

The entrance to where the cult statue of Athena once stood. Notice in the left and right corners of the pediment that still have the horses heads.

The entrance to where the cult statue of Athena once stood. Notice in the left and right corners of the pediment that still have the horses heads.

The art gallery is only the size of the building, and part of it is dedicated to the history of the Nashville Centennial, when a wood and plaster Parthenon was built to celebrate Nashville’s moniker as the “Athens of the South” because of the number of universities in the city. It’s the only building left from the Centennial still standing or, rather, a replica of the original in stone which replaced the first Parthenon at the end of the 19th century.

I heard people complaining about Athens, that there wasn’t much left of the ruins and that “there was nothing to see.” These ignoramuses did not seem to understand that Athens is a living city; it has been inhabited since ancient times. Every succeeding city was built upon the ruins of the previous. I told one woman that she needed to visit Nashville to see what the Parthenon originally looked like. Of course this really isn’t true, as the sculptures decorating the Nashville building are not painted different colors, which we know the Greeks did with their marble statues. Also, the Nashville Parthenon was not built of marble.

Unlike the Parthenon, the Nashville Parthenon never had a cult statue–until 1982. It was at that time LeQuire had been commissioned to create a statue of Athena in the spirit of the original work of Phidias. The statue was completed in 1990 but it wasn’t until 2002 that the statue was gilded in gold and painted, bringing it closer to the original statue’s look.

The LeQuire statue in the Nashville Parthenon. Impressive, isn't it?

The LeQuire statue in the Nashville Parthenon. Impressive, isn’t it?

The statue is truly remarkable. The six foot statue of victory that Athena held in her right hand had no pillar under it, which is what the surviving copies of the statue show. LeQuire closely studied Greek art and knew that the Greeks knew about counterbalancing weight, so he believes that the statue did not have a support pillar–at least originally. It is possible that, after several centuries, gravity finally took its toll and the arm began to fall, which would have called for a support–such as a pillar–being added.

My cousin, who had lived in Tennessee for years, had never visited the building. She was completely mesmerized by the eyes of the statue, which seemed to sparkle. She intended to bring her parents to see it.

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Art or Not?–You Decide

Thomas Jefferson on one of the sides of the piece of art

Thomas Jefferson on one of the sides of the piece of art

This piece of art is in honor of Thomas Jefferson and stands near the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont.

Each arm holds something different. In one, a church; in the other, scales representing the state. Although I didn’t see it, my friend told me that the arms move.

Well, what do you think?

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Manchester, Vermont

I spent last weekend up in Manchester, Vermont. I had never been to Vermont before, and I went with a friend . It took us 2 ½ hours from New Milford, Connecticut (it took me an hour to drive from Sleepy Hollow to there), and she drove. We took country roads and passed through many small towns that were very quaint. From the road, we could see lots of farms and animals.

The leaves have already started to change up there. Sunday was the first official day of Fall, although it has been feeling like Fall for weeks now. The foliage is not at its colorful peak yet, but many of the hills were starting to look gorgeous.

We stayed in the Swiss Inn, a small, family-owned hotel. We ate at The Perfect Wife, which shares the same building with the tavern above, The Other Woman. (They’re owned by the same people.) We had gone to the restaurant but it was wait until a table had opened up; who knew you needed reservations? So we went to the tavern but discovered that the sirloin tips, available on the menu in the restaurant, was not available in the tavern. (They have different menus.) So we went back down and waited probably for 20 minutes.

The food was spectacular! I had the sautéed Misty Knoll Farm Chicken Breast, and my friend had her tips. We were very happy with our dishes, and the spring roll appetizers were good. By the time we left, the place was nearly empty. So we headed back to the Swiss Inn.

My friend didn’t have a good sleep. She had forgotten the cord for the machine that helps her to breathe when she sleeps. Also, the room was stuffy even though it was cold outside. Then it poured down rain and she got wet. We had switched beds because she wanted to be near the window, which she opened and then had to close in the middle of the night. For some reason the bathroom was cold, and we left the door to it open but it didn’t help the stuffiness.

I got up early and got ready for the free breakfast, which was delicious. I chatted with my waitress. She made sure that I had authentic Vermont food for my big breakfast. She was originally from Norwalk, Connecticut.

My friend opted to stay in bed and try and get some sleep. She chose to eat later–and regretted it.

There’s a great bookstore in Manchester, the Northshire Bookstore. It is a multi-level store that is fun to explore. Their very top floor houses the children’s section as well as the events area where they have speaker and author signings. We stopped there Saturday night, but we went back on Sunday to buy some things. They have a great café that can be entered from the street. The tables are up a short staircase in the bookstore, and that area is big!

We went to Robert Lincoln’s house, but just drove up the road to take a picture. We passed through Bennington, Vermont, on the way home. We were exhausted. I didn’t get back to Sleepy Hollow until 9:30 or so.


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