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Certosa di Padula (5)

From the kitchen we wandered out into yet another courtyard.

This one had a cloister on only one side, but the floor was fantastic despite the relative plainness of the rest of this area.

Through a passageway off this courtyard was another courtyard with clearly a more workaday function.

Certosa di Padula (3): the chapel

I don't think I've ever seen anything like this chapel. By now I've been in quite a few Italian churches full of painting on every available square inch of space. But this one was just full of light by comparison.

The choir stalls with just unbelievable inlaid wood.

I don't know what these are, but I would guess they are fetishes.

The altar is decorated with a technique that is supposed to look like inlay work, and it does, but it isn't. There is a name for this technique, but I've forgotten.

According to the security guard, the blank panels used to contain frescoes that were stolen by Napoleon.

More to come.

Certosa di Padula (2)

In the entrance hall where you buy your ticket.

From the ticket office you enter the first of several cloisters.

Then you go into an antechamber to the chapel where there are on display a number of extremely old books. This book, for example, was published in 1570.

From the old books room you also get your first glimpse into the chapel.

Certosa di Padula

I have a large collection of photos that I took in October 2011 and never got around to posting here. As it's Saturday night and I'm doing nothing at all, I'm going to try to catch up a bit.

The Cilento National Park is a strange place with some non-contiguous sections separated by a so-called 'buffer zone'. This buffer zone is the Valle del Diano, a narrow, elongated, completely flat plain between two mountain ranges. There is a freeway through the middle and the Diano seems to have been forced into a dead straight concrete channel that feeds irrigated agriculture. In short, most of the Valle del Diano is characterised by industrialized agriculture and architecturally nondescript towns. From Fogna, where we were staying, you have to drive over the western mountain range (steep climb + winding road = car sickness for me; happens every time!). At the southern end of the Valle is the Certosa di Padula, a Carthusian monastery nestled into the side of the eastern range. The Carthusians were a silent order, and they originally owned vast tracts of land extending down to the Gulf of Taranto (the instep of the Italian boot). Nowadays the monastery is part of the Cilento World Heritage area, excised from the rest of the buffer zone and included in the National Park. The Certosa is a truly fabulous place - one of the more amazing historical monuments I've ever seen. I took masses of photos, so I'm going to present them in a series of posts.

First, the approach and the grounds. First up is the view from the car park. I don't know if this palazzo ever belonged to the monastery, but it gives a good idea of the flatness of the land. Looking towards the western side of the valley.

Then you have to walk along a narrow, tree-lined street with the wall of the monastery on your left and a view of the village of Padula, on the edge of the eastern range, ahead.

After about half a kilometre you turn into the entry courtyard of the Certosa. It was too big to get into my viewfinder! So here you see just one side of it.

On entering this forecourt we had to decide whether to go into the park or into the building. We chose the park.

There was a dry well with a spiral staircase. From N, aged not quite 2.5 at the time, we learned that throwing stuff into the well was the obvious thing to do. Fortunately, unlike others, the only things he could find to throw were sticks, leaves and so on. Most of the other stuff was plastic.

An elegant side gate.

We occupied quite a lot of our time throwing sticks up into the trees and making the autumn leaves flutter down on N's head.

Eventually you come out of the woods to some open fields.

... with sheep and some very vigilant dogs!

Cute caterpillar.

Finally, this track leads back towards the monastery buildings.

Coming down the mountain

Some pictures taken as we came down the mountain after our snow adventure. A lot of the higher landscape is very barren, but is still used to graze cattle in the summer months.

Below the snowline we saw horses grazing. The one with the bell is the leader. These horses are used for meat.

Further down we got a view of basically the entire river basin in which most of the villages of the Alto Cilento are located. The two that can be seen here are Valle del Angelo on the left and Piaggine on the right. The trees down here still had their autumn foliage at Christmas and the colours are stunning.

The view further to the northwest. Valle del Angelo in the foreground and you can see a couple of other villages in the distance. I think they are Bellosguardo and Roscigno on the other side of the river.

Still further down. Getting close to Piaggine and the fields of olive trees.

Bonn Christmas market

At the end of the first day of the workshop we went on an excursion to the Christmas market

It was fun, but freezing. The stalls had products from all over the place. I bought myself an Indian shawl. No idea whence all the wooden things in this photo came from, but note the didgeridoos at the stall behind it.

We stopped for a gluhwein (sp?). I remember having that when I was young, but it was too sweet. This one was perfect - warm, spicy and not at all sweet. Unfortunately it was way too cold to hang around there for too long.

Afterwards we went to an Italian restaurant called the Cat House (!). Germanized italian food.


Final post about my Darwin trip

I've been meaning to post this picture for ages. There are many unpleasant aspects to Aboriginal life in the Northern Territory, and also in Darwin. Mostly in Darwin they seem to be related to alcoholism and the sometimes life-threatening behaviours (like lying down to sleep in the middle of somebody's driveway, domestic violence, etc.) and poor health outcomes that can result. There's also an informal system of apartheid in most of northern Australia - like the sign I saw in an outback pub once saying that Aborigines were not permitted to drink in the front bar. When I asked the barman about it, he said that they preferred it that way. They liked to sit outside in the beer garden. So why have the sign then? is the obvious retort. So I was a bit surprised to see this scene when my friend and I sat down for a drink in a pub in the middle of Darwin. Just a normal after-work gathering of colleagues.

In Darwin there's a clear divide which you can see on the buses. The back part of the bus is 'reserved' for Aboriginal drunks - other people just don't go there. The front part is for white people and non-drunk Aborigines. But white people are also sometimes drunk - I once sat next to a guy who had a rather obvious case of the DTs and was also shouting incoherently at nobody. So the divide is partly black-white, and partly based on the level of inebriation. On the whole, I thought the degree of segregation manifested in Darwin was not so great as elsewhere.

The Rhine

I confess that before I went there, I had no idea that Bonn was on the Rhine. I found it out by studying the map in my hotel room, so the next morning I went for a walk to see it - the famous river that I'd never seen before. There were little patches of snow lying around and puddles that were essentially ice, so I had to walk rather gingerly through the park in front of the hotel. Then I climbed up something called the Alte Zoll (which I think means old customs) from where there is a good view of the river, which is impressively large. The first thing I saw was this big industrial barge, amusingly called Little Flower (a bit like those smoke belching tractors in Vietnam called Lotus and Peach Blossom).

Looking towards the south, the view opens up more towards the hills and the struggling sun. The tall buildings are in a precinct where all the government buildings used to be - and where our workshop was held.

Most of this old part of Bonn seems to be architecturally 18th-19th century, but I liked the new building by the river. It's sort of Mondriaanish and I like the fact that the vertical lines are not symmetrical. I'd have liked to be able to take more time to explore the old city centre, but I had to go back to my room and spend the day reading papers.

Bloody hell! It's 45 here now (114F).

ETA. Just heard on the radio that it hit 45.7, which makes it the hottest day on record. The previous record was in 1939.

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Female train driver

As I was leaving Italy a couple of weeks ago and waiting on the platform at Napoli Centrale, I noticed that the FrecciaRossa (Italian TGV) coming into the station was being driven by a woman. I was infatuated with trains as a small child, but soon learned that train driving wasn't for girls, so it was a kind of extra pleasure to see that.

Kill Anything that Moves

There has been discussion on the VSG list in the last few days of a new book that is appearing today. I find that in my old age I can no longer face this kind of stuff - re-living old horrors from the age before the 'embedded' journalist. I read a huge amount of the literature back then too (as noted in the abstract pasted below, it's all now out of print). I must admit I'd not heard of the 'doctrine of atrocity' before, but yeah, it fits! It looks like the book is getting some attention from the mainstream media, though I suppose this will mean a bout of self-flagellation followed by the usual silence. Everyone will go back to talking about 'collateral damage', as if that's the real truth and Vietnam was just an aberration.

Nick Turse, Kill anything that moves: the real American war in Vietnam

Here is the abstract of the PhD thesis on which the book is based:

This dissertation offers a history of U.S. war crimes and atrocities during the American War in Vietnam from 1965-1973. During the conflict, U.S. military policy was, to use historian Christian Appy's formulation, a "doctrine of atrocity" (DoA) in which the strategy of attrition; the indiscriminant use of firepower; an over-riding command emphasis on killing as the measure of success (the "body count"); the fact that the American military's stated rules of engagement (ROE) were largely ignored, broken or circumvented; and standard operating procedures that exhorted soldiers to "kill anything that moves"; dehumanized the Vietnamese as "mere gooks"; and cast civilians as enemies; ensured that millions of Vietnamese noncombatants were killed and wounded. Throughout the entirety of the conflict, the U.S. military regularly flouted the laws of war. Yet, despite a contemporary literature that shed light on American atrocities, most of the mainstream histories of the Vietnam War, ignore, marginalize or deny the pervasiveness of U.S. atrocities and reduce discussions of American war crimes to the U.S. massacre of Vietnamese civilians at My Lai.

This dissertation uses formerly classified military criminal investigations documents, once confidential Department of Defense analyses, veterans' testimonies, military court records and secondary source materials from a now largely marginalized and out of print literature, among other sources, to reveal the existence of the American doctrine of atrocity and the pervasiveness of U.S. war crimes during the conflict. This dissertation also attempts to properly contextualize the doctrine of atrocity by demonstrating that the DoA did not originate during the Vietnam War, but instead was part of a long legacy of the U.S. military's conduct during wars against racial Others over the prior 100 years. As such, this dissertation is meant to contribute to a greater understanding of the American War in Vietnam and ongoing discussions, across a variety of disciplines, of atrocities, humanitarian law and American military policy, past, present and future.


The first part of my trip in December was to Bonn, where I had been invited to present a 'master class' to PhD students in the Development Research Centre at the University. On the last day of this event (which mainly involved reading and commenting on student papers) I had to give a public lecture. I was pretty nervous about it as I'd no idea what to expect in terms of audience, level of understanding, etc. But it went down really well I'm pleased to say, which I found out afterwards at the food and drinks. Then a few of us went out to a pub to continue drinking. We had to walk quite a long way - but fortunately it wasn't too cold (only about zero) and it gave me a chance to look at part of the city for the first time. Quite an elegant part it was that we walked through. Here's the pub:

From the pub it was only a short distance back to the hotel. On the way we passed something called the Arithmeum, which is apparently a museum of mathematics. I'm sorry I didn't have time to go back and take a closer look.

I knew that Marx had studied at the University of Bonn, but none of the students I met knew that. These days Bonn is mainly famous for being the birthplace of Beethoven - a fact that I didn't know - and for having once been the capital of West Germany.


Presepe again

I also really liked this one. There is a Neapolitan school of art in which Vesuvius is always portrayed erupting, or at least smoking. There was an explosive (Plinian-type) eruption in the 17th century, but since then it has more or less gone off every 70 odd years in Strombolian-type eruptions (lava etc is ejected, but the mountain itself doesn't get blown up). When we climbed it last year the guides at the top said there is currently a 1% chance of a Plinian eruption and a 27% chance of a Strombolian one. I don't know whether to believe that, but it has been 70 years since the last eruption, so the longer it lies dormant the higher the probability I guess. When you go up there it's hard to imagine that it will blow again sometime.

Aside from the ever present volcano the other details I like about this presepe are the cat, the pigeons and the Neapolitans talking with their hands. Also the melon rinds discarded by the guy in the background.

Various bits of crockery that you can add to your presepe house. The dishes are about 1-2 cm across.

Musical instruments - about 4-5 cm high.

Foodstuffs. I loved the snails, though by comparison with the size of the other stuff they were gigantic!

Various tools and utensils.

A fishmonger and his wares. The swordfish always seem to be in these displays. I could identify things like squid, cuttlefish and scampi, but my friends could identify all of the fish.

Later on we went shopping in Presepe street, so there will be more photos. Unusual to see ones as fine as these though.


The Neapolitans have a Christmas tradition of building elaborate tableaux of figurines called 'presepe'. These presepe should have a nativity somewhere - usually beside or beneath some Greek or Roman 'ruins' (very symbolic). The rest of the tableau comprises scenes from everyday life, preferably recreating Naples of the 17th century. However, in what I call 'Presepe street', because I never learned its real name, you can buy modern figures such as Berlusconi, Monti, Edinson Cavani and other footballers, or various TV personalities. Apart from the footballers (who are sacred) these modern figures are usually a way of poking fun at the politicians and celebrities. Berlusconi is a particular object of ridicule. Another popular modern figure is Totò (1898-1967), a great Neapolitan comedian whose face can be seen all over the city in posters from his various movies.

The presepe are incredibly detailed. In Sorrento one day we went to an exhibition at the Villa Fiorentina of presepe built by acknowledged masters of the craft. Here's an example (the nativity is out of frame as, to me, it's basically not very interesting). They even use perspective, with smaller figures towards the back. The large figures in the foreground are about 15 cm (6") high.

Some details of the above below the cutCollapse )
I did take one photo of a nativity scene because I was so impressed with the angels...

...and also the handsome young king or wise man or whatever he is. Well his costume is gorgeous anyway!

Here's another one with a musical theme. See the guy singing in the background (unfortunately obscured somewhat by reflection on the glass).

I am very fond of miniature things. I will post more of them later.

Chilli sandwich

The guy who runs the sandwich shop across the road offers what he calls 'Vietnamese pork roll'. He isn't Vietnamese, so I'm not sure where he got the idea from, let alone the recipe. Anyway I went in and ordered one today. First he slices the baguette, then he says "would you like chilli?". Yes please. So he digs a spoon in the chilli pot and then spreads it very liberally on the inside of the baguette like butter. Then, amazingly, "would you like mayonnaise?" Um, no thanks. Then he adds, without asking, processed pork meat, pickled radish and carrot, fresh coriander and spring onion slivers. I declined the offers of soy sauce (very un-Vietnamese), salt and pepper.

Wow! That was hot.


San Diego Armando Maradona

Among other things, in the past couple of months I've been travelling again. I spent a few days in Germany (Bonn) for work and then took 2 weeks' holiday in my old haunts of southern Italy. One day my friends and I went shopping in Naples. While walking down one of the narrow streets in the old quarter I spotted this shrine to Diego Maradona on the wall outside a bar. He played for Napoli for a number of years in the 1980s-1990 - during which they won the trophy for the first time ever - in fact twice, and they haven't won it since. But not only that, he fitted right into the Neapolitan culture. So even though he left years ago, people still basically worship him.

The shrine is a bit tongue in cheek. Various things are stuck around the photo. From top left: a picture of "our lady of Buenos Aires" who protects him according to the note. Underneath that is San Gennaro, the patron saint of Napoli. San Gennaro is also represented on the sticker to the left, which describes him as the 12th man on the field for Napoli. Then a miniaturized copy of the front page headline when the team won the championship. Then an ad for Radio FM 88.7 "The Tribe". Down the right hand side are: a bus ticket; an Argentinian saint, a picture of Edinson Cavani (current Naples striker) "Athlete of Christ" and then a little bottle of "Neapolitan tears, black year 1991" (Maradona was banned for 15 months for cocaine use and never played for Napoli again). Immediately above and below the photo are two Argentinian bank notes. Below that is an alleged "Miraculous hair" of Diego Maradona. If you peer very closely you can indeed see a hair, but it is blond, so the provenance may be somewhat in doubt. Along the top is a row of the two scudetti (championship shields) and cups that the team won while he was there - including the UEFA cup. Just to add to the bizarreness of the whole scene is the sign on the left in Japanese!

Below all this is the sign in several languages that says: "you've taken the photo, now how about a coffee! Attention: if you take a photo but don't take a coffee you camera might fall from your hand (it would be a real sin) Get it?

Naturally, we went into the bar and had a coffee to make sure that my camera didn't have an accident. It was full of football stuff and hanging from the ceiling were many toilet rolls with the badges of all the northern football teams (Milan, Juve, Inter, Lazio, etc) printed on the paper.
I think that was the longest break I've taken from LJ in over a decade. New Year resolution to get back and try to keep it up again. Plenty to post about over the last two months anyway.

This is not a painting, but a satellite photo, of the Tibesti mountains on the border of Chad and Libya. From New Scientist.



A marine biologist and a surfer went on a 15,000 km tour to come up with Australia's best beaches. The marine biologist chose Mindil Beach in Darwin as one of his top ten.

I guess the surfer didn't chose it on account of the crocodiles in the water.



Yawkyawk are 'young woman spirit beings' also known as 'young women with the tail of a fish'. They live in freshwater streams and rock pools and sometimes walk about on dry land at night. The creation ancestor Yawkyawk travelled the country of West Arnhem Land in human form, but changed into the 'mermaid' form as a result of various adventures that are not really explained (maybe secret business). This Yawkyawk was made by Owen Yalandja who is 50 years old and lives in Maningrida. It is made from stringy bark wood with ochre and PVC fixatives.

Head and torso of Yawkyawk. She has very short arms! They are also supposed to have long flowing green algae hair which is possibly represented by the frame around the face - or else this yawkyawk is really a bloke (also possible).

Where the torso meets the fish tail.

Detail of the fish scales. They are laid on in thick 3 dimensional layers of paint.

Last Darwin photos

On my last day in Darwin my friend had to go back to work so I went for a wander around the city. I bought some paintings from the Maningrida Arts and Crafts centre. It's a cooperative run by a cooperative from Maningrida, though the woman who works there comes from the Pilbara, and has easily the best art in Darwin. Anyway at Maningrida they do bark paintings and things on wood - not exactly sculptures, more finding a suitable stick or branch and painting on it. For myself I bought a 'yawk' which is a kind of mermaid spirit being (to keep company with Mr Quinky whom some of you may remember). I have yet to take a picture of it. But I'll post that later. I also bought a couple of bark paintings as gifts. They had better stuff, but it costs thousands, so I couldn't really go near it. I should visit Maningrida one day to see what they do with the money! They have an airport which is tarmac, but no bitumen road to get there. It's about 400 km east of Darwin and the bitumen stops around half way at Jabiru in Kakadu NP.

Anyway, after splurging on art, I went for a walk to find some lunch. I found myself in the 'old' part of town among some ruined buildings. I was amazed to find that this stone edifice, the former town hall, had been wrecked by Cyclone Tracy which struck on Christmas Day 1976.

More power of wind. This is the Anglican cathedral. Everything was destroyed by the Cyclone except for the porch.

Some other buildings have been restored more in their original style.

Not a particularly interesting building, but I'm amazed that I captured a dragonfly in the photo!

Down at the wharf there has been extensive work since my last visit. It was nothing more than a working fishing wharf back then (2000). Now there are posh apartments, a shopping precinct and a hotel as well as a crocodile- and box jellyfish-proof swimming pool with real sand.

I went down and had a late lunch down there, overlooking a wave pool - very popular, but with a cement 'beach', and really not enough of a wave to catch a ride, even on a boogey board. Still, I regretted not bringing my togs from Sydney. I had assumed that swimming in Darwin was not really possible.

After lunch I went back to pick up my purchases and then to meet my friend. We went to a pub, which reminds me that I haven't exhausted my Darwin photos. There is one on my phone, but I don't have the right connections here, so will have to post that later too. I got the red-eye special back to Sydney (departs Darwin 1.35 am, arrives Sydney at around 6) - bad mistake as I was wrecked for the rest of that day.

It's an interesting place, Darwin. I'd hate to have to live there - so redneck and all, though I do think it's improving as the white blokey element diminishes in proportion to the rest. Mind you, my friend emailed me a newspaper item about the new Minister of Health - pictured with a half smoked cigarette hanging out of his mouth and a DUI conviction under his belt. One of the old school!


hanh's dream

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