Istanbul: Coming Soon…

Hello!

Happy New Year and Buon Anno! I’m having trouble downloading all of my Istanbul pictures to my computer, so for now, here are a few of my favorites I’ve been able to download so far.

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  1. I get excited when I get new stamps on my passport. It’s not as “fun” in Europe anymore when you don’t get stamps when you’re anywhere in the EU.

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2. Europe (our left), and Asia (our right)

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3. Not a great picture, but the inside of the Hagia Sophia. It was the place I wanted to see the most in Istanbul because it used to be a church built at “Constantinople” in the 6th century (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Istanbul in 1453 under “Mehmed the Conqueror” they converted it into a mosque (in 3 days!) – not really 3 days, but more to come. They covered the Christian mosaics with plaster (or something – I’m not good with materials). Muslims don’t believe in depictions of Mohammed, God, or holy people, so their mosques are decorated mostly with Arabic script and floral or geometric patterns.
It was changed into a museum in 1935 under Mustafa Atatürk, the founder of the current Turkish republic. He wanted it to be a more secular representation of the country.

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4. One of the mosaics that hasn’t been fully restored.

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5. The Blue Mosque from a window in the Hagia Sophia

That’s all for now. More to come!

Erica

P.S. For those readers who talk to my dad, he has pledged to come (to Europe) in the spring now that he has so much time as a retired person. 🙂 He came to Europe a few years ago when I was living in the south of Italy, and we had a great time in Germany together. Let’s put “pressure” on him to come again!

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Auschwitz-Birkenau, Part II

I feel like a broken record saying I have no idea how and what to say in these posts. I often don’t know how to start my writing (exhibit A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, etc.: my graduate school essay that still languishes 75% done but with no beginning or unifying theme), but clearly this is in no way the same. So I’ll again preface this: I cannot hope to come close to what has been written about this place, but I will do my best to share what I saw on that cold Polish November day.

So I obviously left off listing some of the “exhibits” towards the first part of the tour. Sobering and horrifying do the “displays” no justice. They don’t just speak for themselves, they shout in anguish. They scream, as if each pair of shoes, each stolen piece of luggage was determined to tell the story of their owner who never got the chance to. Never in a place of hushed horror have I heard such terrified, yet determined echoes. Really.

In one of the barracks, with its recreated conditions (more about this later), the hallway is lined with photos and “information” about people who never got to leave Auschwitz.

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This hit me hard, to say the least. The faces are like mug shots for “crimes” they committed like being Jewish or an “intellectual.” They wear the uniform “striped pajamas” as a novelist once coined the attire. The eyes. Not one of these people left Auschwitz alive. Not one of these people got to ever experience freedom again outside of the barbed wire fences. (Note: There were just as many pictures of females, I just happened to capture the men).

Sorry for the glare (you can see pictures of women in the “background”), but here are two examples: the first I took because (selfishly) like me and my dad, this man’s “crime” was the audacity of being a lawyer (an “intellectual”).

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This second person doesn’t even need a profession to be a “criminal” – he is a Jew. The black eye he has goes without saying.

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You can’t see it in the picture above, but all Jews had their Star of David stitched into their clothes above their prison number (below).

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The audacity of being born a Jew. How dare they.

Because there is too much for me to begin to write about, I will conclude this post with a sign outside this particular barracks. Only at Auschwitz would this be reduced to a mere sign. I took a picture of both the English and the Hebrew on purpose.

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Erica

Before Auschwitz

So. I’m writing this before on the ride there because I know I won’t have the words after – writing or speaking about this in a way that has not been said more truly or “elegantly” – and by that I mean horrifyingly – by hundreds of others.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is the German name for the Polish town Oświęcim, so that’s where I’m headed.

I’m searching for what to say, about how and why I got here, on this bus, at this time. I can reach back to the age of 7 or 8 when I first read the book Number the Stars in one night. I vividly remember going to the bathroom to wash my hands for dinner while reading the book, and laying down on the bathroom floor because I couldn’t put the book down. Or the countless hours spent at the public library in Green Bay searching subject categories for World War II biographies or Holocaust. Or the dog-eared pages of my parents’ World Book Encyclopedia volumes of “H” for “Holocaust” or “I” for Israel or “J” for Jew, and so on. Or how so many of the “choose your own topic” school projects or book reports were about this time, this place. Or when I went to NYC with my mom and my grandparents at age 10 and the Broadway show I chose to see was “The Diary of Anne Frank” (with Natalie Portman as Anne, I later realized).

I don’t know why I’ve been drawn to it for so long – since 7 or 8. It goes without saying that it isn’t a topic most kids younger than 10 are interested in. But I was, and I am.

I have been to two concentration camps before, Sachsenhausen and Dachau, but this, of course, is the “big” one, the one that seems to encompass all others. It seems to be the most horrifying, the most unbelievable.

I have “been” to Auschwitz in my mind hundreds of times through books and documentaries and movies. Even before I get there, I can see it in my mind’s eye, especially the entrance.

I could go on forever about it, and it doesn’t seem real that I’m finally going. Will it be so surreal it feels like a “movie set,” will I feel the 1 million lives that were silenced and ended there, deep in my bones like cement that weighs me down and makes not just my soul but my body feel heavy and stuck in nothing short of blinding horror? I don’t know.

All I can do is hope that by going there, by coming here, that I see it as clearly as is possible in the context of the decades of history I’ve basically studied this place, preparing for a place that no one is ever fully prepared to see. I hope that I can proverbially “bear witness” to this place that must never ever be forgotten, downplayed, minimized or even treated as a tourist attraction. It isn’t. It never will be. And I don’t come as a garrulous tourist to only gape at the horror, to see it without really seeing it. I hope I come here and do what little I can to honor and remember what happened here, not for myself, but for the people who came here and never left, and for the families they never got to meet or never got to have.

To those who are reading this whom I speak directly to, and you know who, I wish I had more eloquent words.

We’re getting close now. The sun is coming out from behind the clouds. How unfair that a place like this should ever see sunshine again.

Erica

On collecting paintings & my “relationship” with the Colosseum

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From inside the Colosseum, 2010.

I have a travel tradition of buying an original painting from an artist in the foreign city I’m visiting. I try to match the painting with the feeling the city evokes in me – my Sagrada Familia painting from Barcelona is made with the bright primary colors with which Antoni Gaudi painted the city itself. My picture from Prague (actually an original photograph) is of the city’s landmark Charles Bridge in mostly dark greens, black, and some faint golden light. My painting from Florence is in golds and rusty oranges like the color of the city’s duomo and Tuscany’s reddish-orange roofs. I don’t have a formula for picking the art I buy or the feeling I get from it, I just get whatever emotions the city calls up in me. And I don’t have one from every single foreign city I’ve visited because I have a rule for myself that I’ll only get an image if it shouts my perception of the ambiance of the city I’m in or feel I have to get it. Then I take it to get professionally framed (when I have the money or, recently, as Christmas presents to me from my parents). They then take up residence in my parents’ house to sit humbly in their basement until I (someday) (hopefully) have a place of my own to hang them. Sometimes, when I was living at home (the most recent stretch ended less than a month ago), on sleepless nights or nights when I felt particularly helpless, rudderless, and lost, I’d tiptoe into “my area” of the basement and look at those pictures. It’s as if I had to say to myself, “See? Here is proof there was once a time where you felt happy and alive (and not always just when you’re across an ocean!) with a future you had the privilege to choose.” Isn’t that one of the reasons we take pictures and buy souvenirs anyway?

But I don’t have one from Rome. Why, Erica? That makes no sense! You love Rome, and you’ve been here 7 million times! (My dad will tell you I can be prone to exaggeration, which might be true, especially here).

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The Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum behind it, 2010.

Rome has always been so sacred to me, so brilliantly magnificent and flawed at the same time, that I have never been able to decide what I want my Rome painting to be or depict. The Vatican? The Pantheon, Piazza Navona, or the Spanish Steps? Palatine Hill? The Colosseum? Oh, but the Colosseum is so cliche. It is a symbol of one of the biggest travel cliches (for very good reason, I would argue!) along with the Eiffel Tower or the pyramids (and yes, Egypt, I’m hoping to meet you soon) or the Statue of Liberty.

But how I love the Colosseum. My laptop must have an upwards of 200 pictures I’ve taken of it through the years. I’ve said it before, but it’s true that it still sends a shiver down my spine when I first glimpse it walking around Rome.

I am well aware of its bloody past; the exotic animals fighting slaves and gladiators from all stretches of the Roman empire. I know about the mobs that called for more and more human sacrifice for sport and their viewing pleasure. I have stood before it and tried to imagine the sheer number of lives lost here in pursuit of entertainment.

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From inside the Colosseum, 2008.

And yet I still love it. I love it as a symbol of Rome as a city that is still standing after thousands of years. To me, it is ruins of a once-great empire that is more beautiful than any gleaming new skyscraper in a burgeoning cosmopolitan city. The Colosseum and Rome itself are so comfortable in the seeming loss of their grandeur, in the beauty of their crumbling remains, that the world no longer regards these “tattered” structures as relics of failures and long-ago promise. The very wreckage that is a constant reminder of Rome’s fall(s) are also a testament to its staying power and ability to overcome. To overcome barbarians, to overcome wars, to overcome time, and even the ability to overcome the highest hurdle of them all – the flaws in itself.

I get that. In so many ways. And that’s what the Colosseum means to me.

I’ve finally decided what I want my Rome painting to be. I want a picture of the Colosseum with the ruins of the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill stretching out proudly in front of it.

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Ruins of the Roman forum with the Colosseum in the background, 2016.

Years from now people may see my precious painting of Rome’s Colosseum and ruins and dismiss it as a cliched representation of one of the world’s most magnificent cities. Let them. I know it means so much more. I understand, the Colosseum understands, and Rome understands. That’s good enough for me.

Erica