Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Time travel in Greece

You cain't sling a dead cat without hitting a really, REALLY old pile of rocks in Greece -- something that continues to amaze this Atlanta resident. Where I come from, old is the late the 1800s. If something from before THE war (you know the one I mean) exists, it's ancient. We just don't have a lot of old sh*t laying around.

But, in Crete, you get such an appreciation for old, and for history, and for living with your past (we still tear a lot of old stuff down around here). Not to mention a sense of wonder for how anything Greek still survives, given a history that includes conquering and occupation by the Romans, the Venetians, the Turks, the Germans. The list seems endless. We think America is a melting pot, but you want to see a melting pot that stretches back centuries, go to Greece. Spend a week in Crete for a journey that will take you back thousands of years -- and that doesn't even include the Homo Sapiens Museum.

When you land in Iraklion, it's the largest city in Crete and where most planes and ships land--or dock--you immediately see the way modern architecture incorporates ancient ruins. This is the marina or harbor, I'm not so good with the ship language. The stone arches are Venetian, that makes 'em about 900 years old or maybe only 500 years old--I write, I'm not so good with math. And now cars drive under them all day long. Probably not what the Venetians had in mind when they built them.

The Venetians also built this fortress on Spinalonga, a tiny island just off the northern coast of Crete. Then one day, the Turks took over the island--along with other parts of Greece. When the Greeks finally defeated the Turks in the late 1800s, several Turkish families refused to leave Spinalonga, that is, until the Greek government decided in 1903 to make it leper colony. I don't believe the Turks let the door hit 'em in the ass on the way out after that.

Even earlier than the Venetians, the Greek gods made their mark on Crete. This is the Dikteon Cave, said to be the place where Zeus was hidden by his mother, Rhea, so his father Kronos wouldn't eat him. Kronos apparently had an appetite for baby gods to be. But, Rhea's ruse worked. Zeus grew up and defeated Kronos, who promptly threw up all of Zeus' siblings that he'd eaten earlier. The bunch of them ruled as the Greek gods from Mt. Olympus for years. Mostly, I just tried to imagine how a really pregnant woman managed to climb down into this really deep, dark hole. But, I guess she was pretty motivated.

Phaestos is a Minoan palace site (that's archeology talk for really big pile of rocks). The Minoan period was 3,000-1,000 BC. The Minoans are said to be Europe's first "civilization." That means they had real pretty stuff and some of it exists to this day. Phaestos was great. A beautiful site, gorgeous view, and we took my sister, the anthropologist who has spent a LOT of time in Crete--it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it--so we know that some of the piles of rocks that we saw might have been bathrooms or bedrooms or theaters or something. But, it was definitely a palace, they think.

All the history in Crete isn't ancient. Some of it dates to WWII. Crete is the southernmost island of Greece, not too far from Africa, which is what has made it such a desirable place over the centuries. Even the Germans wanted it during the second World War. This monastery--still in use today--was home to a band of resistance fighters, who operated an underground radio. When the radio was discovered, the Abbott of the monastery was executed.

You say time travel isn't possible yet. But I say you're wrong. In Crete, you can travel from the time of the Greek gods to World War II in a week. And find yourself wondering how there's any Greece left.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

There goes the neighborhood!

One of our new across-the-street neighbors--a family of four. You reckon our property values will go up if we talk about the wonders of free-range, fresh goat cheese right here in the 'hood?

Monday, July 29, 2013

6 parenting tips for the new royal parents

While the new royal baby, George Alexander Louis, has an awful lot going for him--a mouthful of name, money and his pick of fabulous castles to call home--his new parents may need some parenting tips, and I'm not sure they have the best role models to turn to.

In case they want to swim outside the Royal Gene Pool for parenting help, I'd like to offer up these tips from my dad, who's been a parenting King for longer than I can remember!

1. Love unconditionally. Dad loves cars a lot. This was brought home to me when in the months following me getting my driver's license I hit everything in sight--and many things that were out of sight--poles, the garage, an MG convertible driven by a nasty man in a mustard-colored suit smoking a huge, smelly cigar. And as hard as it was to call Dad and tell him I'd hit something else, it was never because I thought he'd stop loving me. Keep this in mind when little George throws the royal crest, just to see if it will break or teenage George plows the Rolls into the side of the palace.

2. Have a sense of humor. (see above!)

3. Step outside the castle every now and again. Develop your own interests. It will make you more interesting to your child--and others. Daddy flies planes ...

(even landing them in the occasional corn field)

and rides motorcycles--sometimes with Mom strapped to the back.

4. Sing. I grew up with country music coming out of the radio and out of my dad's mouth--which of course I hated. But now, I wouldn't trade the sound of my dad's singing voice in my head for anything. And, while I don't sing so much, I do love music and play in a band.

5. Plan to keep on parenting long after the prince is grown. Don't get too busy being king and queen to check in on your prince--and whoever else might come along. Kids never stop needing their parents.

6. Stay married if you can. I am grateful every day that my parents are still married to each other and still live in the house I grew up in. Buck recent royal family tradition and try to stick it out for the long haul.

Finally, Kate and Will, if you need a few more tips, check out these things my Dad taught me over the years. Things that continue to be important to this day. Congratulations on the new little prince! Try to raise him right!

And Happy Birthday, Dad--a prince of parenting!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Around-the-world architecture tour ...

... in 37 minutes or less!

This has been the summer of colossal, all-encompassing museum experiences. First up, was the ENTIRE HISTORY of mankind (not WOMANKIND, NO, NO, NO) in 45 minutes or less. Now, I've seen ALL the marvels of architecture -- from the Great Wall of China to St. Peter's Cathedral -- without leaving Cullman, Alabama.

Ave Maria Rock Grotto at St. Bernard Abbey, "the only Benedictine monastery of men in Alabama" (If you'd have asked me, I'd have said there were NO Benedictine monasteries in Alabama, of men or women or even armadillos. How did they get past the Baptists?) "consists of 125 small stone and cement structures, the handiwork of creative genius (or obsessive fruitcake) Brother Joseph Zoetl, a monk at the abbey for almost 70 years."

The quote is from the flyer you get when you visit the Grotto--expect for the parenthetical comments. Those are mine. And it pretty much sums up the works, but it does nothing to capture the JOY the whole experience brought. It's like a much more orderly version of Georgia folk artist Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens.

Just take a look at these incredible representations--created from the images on postcards, because Brother Joe didn't travel, so they have no backsides. That also helps explain the bizarre relative scale of some of the creations. Like this one--who knew the Lizard Condo was so much bigger than the Great Wall?

They are all made of found and donated materials, like marbles (Brother Joe's lost ones, perhaps), shells and toilet parts.

To give you an idea of scale, that orange blob in the center left is the Abbey Tabby sitting on the roof of St. Peter's in the display called Roman Group.

I loved the leaning Tower of Pisa, a tiny structure stuck up at the top right of the Roman group like an afterthought.

This one was like a cross between the roadside shrines you see all over Greece and the fortune tellers at state fairs. It looked like if you put a quarter in, Jesus would lay your whole future out for you.

It's not all famous buildings and religious themes, though. Brother Joe had a soft spot for fairy tales. This is the Temple of the Fairies. I love the little bitty pipe organ in the lower right.

And here, Hansel & Gretal visit the Temple of the Fairies. This time a dragon, that looked a lot like a slobbering and happy dog, was literally chained up under the temple.

Go visit Brother Joseph and his creations. It is an unbelievable, fun time!

And when you're finished and starving, hit All Steak--who knew there were two places in Cullman a tourist would want to go?--for their orange rolls and whatever else is the special that day. YUMMY!!!!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The end of the convertible era?

After 15 years, I traded my 17-year-old Mustang convertible this week for the more grown up, fuel-efficient (boring) car sitting beside her.

It was a tough decision. I loved that Mustang, but her parts were going bad and dropping off. It was time to put her out to pasture.

This is my baby being towed in the spring--just the first of several times this year she had to visit the garage in an ambulance.

She was ready to relax, get out of traffic, have a nice cold quart of oil on the veranda. Funny how she got so old and I didn't! :)

She carried small, squealing children, who now at 6 feet+, have literally outgrown her. She carried saxes and costumery and dogs and beach chairs. And she carried me; offering a ride home in the open air after a long day in a cube filled with artificial ligh

Enjoy your rest, old girl! And thanks for 15 years of joy.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Celebrate Your Independence!

Happy 4th from the Seed & Feed Marching Abominable!

If you look closely, to the right of the fabulously tall stars and stripes hat and just behind the clarinet player in the bright blue shirt, I'm the sax player in the red tutu.

I had no idea I could play Stars and Stripes Forever that FAST!

Have a Stars and Stripey Day!

Monday, July 01, 2013

This must be a happy place

I started a new job today. It seems like I've said that WAY too many times in the last few years. A by-product of the down economy is how I explain it to myself and anyone else who'll listen.

But, my new job, has these great sculptures outside the door. Look:

It feels like a happy place, after just one day. Here's hoping it stays that way!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Dear Elton John

I dreamed the other night that you showed up at our band room to donate some of your fabulous costumes to our fabulous band, the Seed & Feed Marching Abominable. And I woke up thinking, "What a great idea! It's a natural fit." As a member of the Seed & Feed, I sometimes feel like a Rock Star. Not an Elton John caliber rock star, but a small, local bringing-joy-to-the not-quite-so-massive-masses rock star. (Though our rock star status got a big boost this week when we made the Huffington Post.) And in my band, we wear costumes—elaborate, Elton John in his best costume-wearing day costumes. Maybe you’ve seen us. We’re in Atlanta, where I know you spend some time.

So, anyway, the point of my letter. I thought maybe the dream was a sign, even a glimpse into some fabulous future where you'd show up in our band room and present me with costumery to wear and share. And figured a letter to you, one of my costumery idols, might help that future along. I’m trying to take my costumery to the next level—more feathers, more sequins, more, more, more. And oh, what a boost you could give my efforts.

So, you know, not to add to your already busy schedule, what with the young children and all, but maybe you’re cleaning out the closet one day and you realize you just don’t have anywhere to wear that sequined boa anymore.

Or if one of the feathered headdresses just doesn’t make you smile like it used to and you find yourself wondering, "Who could I donate these to? Who would enjoy wearing them? Who would use them to bring joy to the not-quite-massive masses?"

Why, members of Atlanta’s own Seed & Feed, that’s who.

I know, your costumes are worth a LOT of money, but we have a foundation, so if you made a donation, it might just be tax deductible.* And I could swear those sequins and feathers would have a good home and be well cared for and trotted out on special occasions.

So, let me know if you’re interested. I’d be glad to meet you at the bandroom--you could sit in with us at rehearsal on night--or anywhere that works for you.

Yours Sincerely,
Karen the sax player

*I’m not a tax attorney and don’t even play one on tv. But I hear tell donations are tax deductible.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fun with Camera +

I went to Greece last month, one of the most photogenic countries in the world. And would love to say I took fabulous, professional quality photos with my fabulously expensive, complicated camera. But, no. I could either afford to go to Greece or I could afford to buy the fabulously expensive, professional camera and stay home and take more pictures of the cat.

Clearly I've done enough of that.

Instead I invested a whopping 99 cents in Camera + for my iPhone and had fun with it all over Greece--taking perhaps not professional-museum quality photos of the lovely landscape, but taking decent photos, then having more fun editing/filtering/adding captions.

Take a look:

Before leaving for Greece, I practiced at Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary.

This is the original photo of the alligator.

This is it after I made it look like a cool, 1950s Florida postcard using the HDR setting to add the color and the borders to add the border--duh--and the text.

Here are some other photos I took at Noah's Ark.

Then, it was off to Greece.

Original of Mom and my nephew

Here's where I drained the color out of them. And added a border again. I love the borders.

Original of the view from the restaurant at our hotel.

Here it is after I cropped it and again used the HDR setting. I love the cartoony/old-timey postcard look it gives.

Original of the Dikteon Cave, where Zeus was born and hidden by his mother so his father Kronos wouldn't eat him. They don't tell you how a really pregnant woman might have gotten into this steep, dark cave. But I guess she was pretty motivated to keep her kid hidden.

Here's where I cropped it and hit the clarity filter, which brightened it up a lot.

So, while I still want a fabulously expensive, hard-to-use camera, I'm gonna go with Camera + for the time being. I'd rather do that than give up travel!

What are some of your favorite camera apps? Let us know in the comments.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Ogres, Unicorns & Goddesses, Oh My!

The littlest nephew (who is now 6'2") and I went to the Atlanta Botanical Garden this past weekend to see the Imaginary Worlds exhibit--and all the other pretty stuff too.

What a cool exhibit! Enormous, fantastical plant-covered creatures scattered throughout the garden.

The Unicorn was one of my favorites. I loved the way the plants that make up her mane and tail waved in the wind.

The Ogre was good too. You can't tell from this picture, but he had a tunnel through his side, like he was a bridge or a hidey-hole or a playhouse.

But those two were only my favorites until I saw the Earth Goddess. At 29 tons, she is quite a woman!

More ordinary critters such as butterflies, bunnies and cobras also were fun to see, but I loved the fantasy creatures best. They weren't the only bits of beauty, however.

I longed to take home orchids from the filled-to-overwhelming orchid room, but settled for lots of pictures instead.

And what would a day in the garden be without a time-out for a word from our sponsors. I know, the Garden has to support itself and the commercial was fairly unobtrusive, but obviously it obtruded enough for me to notice. Which is the point I guess. So, we'll be back after this short commercial break. Hum the Jeopardy theme in your head if you don't want to look at the picture.

Welcome back!

And while I was taking a ton of pictures, what was the littlest nephew doing? Creating art of his own. He sketched plants and characters holding plants and people who were made of plants as if possessed by some planty-arty demon. Just before I snapped this photo, he stopped mid-step and collapsed onto the wall where he's sitting. "Aunt Karen, I gotta draw!" he said in a desperate voice as if the sketch couldn't come fast enough. I stopped walking and waited for him to finish, happy that Imaginary Worlds had sparked his imagination.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The History of Man in 45 Minutes or Less

Everybody talks about the beautiful beaches, the ancient ruins, the spectacle that is Knossos if they go to Crete, the southernmost Greek island. But, honest to the Greek gods, the most fabulous museum on that island, hands down, is the Homo Sapiens Village. This museum covers the entirety of the human (or at least male) experience in one place that you can experience from start to finish in about 45 minutes. This will leave you plenty of time of sit on a lovely Cretan beach or eat more delicious food or drink Retsina or Raki, because you’ll never need to visit another museum again.

Take a look at what you can learn at Homo Sapiens Village:

My sister, the anthropologist, says this progression is all wrong. Maybe it's the blood splashed all over it.

Shouldn't this should read “From the caves TO the moon”? Unless we evolved from caves on the moon—and I don’t think so.

Where’s the guitar or better yet, the alto sax (that’s what I play)?

From the cave on the far left--it's kinda hard to see, but trust me, it's there--to a sort of wigwamy thing to stone huts to a fancy room dedicated to the Greek gods to a Christian church to an entire section devoted to astronauts—Homo Cosmicus—they are called, the Village covers it ALL!

Is this the primordial guu?

Why can’t the Gods just watch us? They need cameras? Damn, distrusting Gods!

Jesus came ...

and landed on the ceiling of this tiny church

You thought I made that up, didn’t you?

"The First Woman" this sign is titled. And it's about Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman cosmonaut, who went into space in 1963. If there was no woman until 1963, then where did all the men come from?

This museum is some of the most fun we had in Crete. And it’s easy to get to. As the directions say, “Do not ask where you will find us! We are in the road that leads you to Lasithi's plateau, just 1 kilometer before you get there.“

Buy your tickets now. You don’t want to miss this!