FASHION A Burqa Is Not Always A Burqa …

Look at the five kinds of Islamic Couture and learn the difference

Burka

The veil is an interesting couture ...

EVERYTIME I SAW A VEILED MUSLIM WOMAN, I thought: „Hey, another one in a Burqa!“ I was mistaken by 80 %. Because muslim women are forced to wear (but some hide their beauty voluntarily) five different outfits, depending on the grade of religiosity of their husbands (well, and their own, I guess). I present them here from left to right: 1 Heedshab – Colored shawl, hair, ears, throat, neck and shoulders must be covered, but the face is visible. 2 Shimar – A colored mantilla-like veil, reaching down to the waist, the face is visible. 3 Chador – A mostly black vail, covering the whole body except the face. 4 Neeqab – A mostly black veil, covering the whole body, including the face except the eyes. 5 Burqa – A black or blue veil, covering the whole body, the eyes gape through a tight grille. – What they wear underneath is up to speculation, but erudite christians who are familiar with the tales of „Thousands and one Nights“ tend to enjoy a very wild phantasy …

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HOTELS They Say, It’s A Paradise!

The Villa Treville in Positano, hideaway of the stars ...

Treville

The Hotel on the cliff ...

Treville

… a coastal view from a suite's window ...

Treville

… and a private garden with pool

Treville

… and VIP guest Gwyneth Paltrow

HOLLYWOOD ACTRESS GWYNETH PALTROW HAS JUST STAYED THERE with her sweetheart, many celebrities before her – and the didn’t tell, they kept the secret. Well, in a way, because all the 15 suites of the „Villa Treville“ are named after famous temporary inhabitants, like „Tosca Callas“ after the legendary soprano Maria Callas. The ***** Hotel lies on a cliff near Positano in Southern Italy (on the coast of Amalfi), with an endless view over the Mediterranean (each suite has a balcony and its own garden) and the dramatic but still idyllic coastline.  There is a small, more or less private beach & harbor around the corner (with the typical grey sand of the region). For 35 years the famous movie director Franco Zefirelli lived in the hotel, a man of delicate taste, and today the „Treville“ is so exclusive, that it needs some efforts to succeed in booking a room: Business is so good, they won’t take everybody and the VIPs always got first choice. But as La Paltrow mentioned later: „I think I have been in paradise!“ An expensive one, as is to be expected, because the room rate for one night starts at 1340 Euro, but they won’t give it to you just for 24 hours! But still … – I haven’t stayed there, I was just shown around, and must say: If I were Zefirelli, I would also spend the rest of my life in this hotel! And if I were younger, I would call it „The perfect lovebird’s nest“ …

Adress: Via Arienzo, 30, Positano Internet: www.villatreville.it Email: info@villatreville.com Phone: 0039 089 812 24 01

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ANIMALS The Eastern Puma Enigma …

Is it really extinct – or may we suspect a conservation trick?

Puma

What a beautiful cat …!

FASCINATING, IF IT’S TRUE! That the Eastern Puma (Puma concolor cougar in Latin), well known and loved, feared and hunted in the eastern part of North America, is still alive, but officially declared extinct in 2015 – to protect it! No doubt, that the subspecies is rarer than the Florida Panther, that hardly anyone has seen, not to speak of photographed, an animal since the 1960s. Or did sightings happen? Were the news suppressed? Suspicion is lurking around many corners, and if you ask the experts, you won’t get an answer. To be declared extinct, so they hope, will discourage hunters and poachers, hinder sheep and cattle farmers to set traps and discourage amateurs who roam the (probable) habitats in search for a sighting. I hope the trick works, but if it does I’m still in doubt, if there are enough survivors to safe the species. Which, on the other hand, only a very experienced expert can distinguish from the other seven subspecies of the Puma, Cougar or Mountain Lion.

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TRAVELS In The Land Of The Catharists …

… from castle to castle, from fairytale to fairytale in France

Katharer

… Montsegur on a camelback ...

Katharer

… Peyretuse can be visited ...

Katharer

… Queribus, just a huge tower ...

Katharer

… and Usson in good shape ...

Katharar

… and here you will find the castles ...

Katharer

… Padern n a steep cliff

THEY WERE A CHRISTIAN SECT in the 12th and the 13th century, all over Europe but mainly in the Southwest of France. A purists order, who hated the catholic structures of the church and the papal Rome, preached the simple life and lived in seclusion in fortresses on top of rocky cliffs and almost unreachable mountain tops. They build castles, mankind – up to this day – can’t understand how the did it, how they transported the material up into this heights, how they lived there like eagles in their nests, how they managed to leave or enter it – and were still so enormously popular for a while, that the Vatican staged a war against them (eliminating the Catharists in the end). And now you can enjoy this rarely opened page of christian history, so to speak – traveling from castle to fortress, from summit palace to sky-high monastery! At least 22 of those amazing buildings, coming in sight like the romantic dreams of a cartoon artists, stretching his phantasy to illustrate „The Sleeping Beauty“, „Cinderella“ or „Rapunzel“. Tour the region between Toulouse in the west, Castres in the north, Beziers in the West and the Pyrenees mountains in the south. Drive slowly, not because the roads are so steep and narrow (they are!) but because it might happen that you encounter, up in the firmament, five castles at once! All in beautiful ruins, all still in fairytale-shape, some accessible (drive up, buy a ticket, walk or climb the rest of the way), some for your eyes only, looking up. Have a snack (local cheese, bread and wine) on the terrace of a village inn and scan the horizon for the crazy habitats of the Catharists. I assure you: Never in your life will you have a similar experience! Just have a look at the five castles I show you here …

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ART THEFT … And Then came George!

The amazing story of an (unsuccessful) American sculptor

Barnard

The dealer in chuches and monasteries ...

Barnard

… and The Cloisters in New York

Barnard

… St-Michel-de-Cuxa ...

FIRST OF ALL – you might know The Cloisters in New York, this seeming- ly mispla- red roma- nic-gothic monas- tery on the nor- thern tip of Manha- ttan, overlooking the big city. Naturally, you called it a copy, as I did for years.Then you discover, that the Metropolitan Museum, only a couple of miles away, has those parts on exhibition which seem to be missing from The Cloisters: columns, capitals, arches, sculptured heads, gargoyles. And then, on the northern slopes of the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, 45 km or 28 miles west of Perpignan, you hear of the fabulous monastery of St-Michel-de-Cuxa, founded in the 9th century, you drive along the Tet river in a romantic valley, St-Michel pops up – and you find it restored to death! Because the best antiquities are missing! Hundreds of more than 1000 years old objects: columns, capitals, arches, sculptured heads, gargoyles. As I mentioned before. Suddenly you know: you’ve seen the missing parts in The Cloisters and the Metropolitan Museum! And how did it happen? Because in 1906 the unsuccessful American sculptor George Grey Barnard travelled in the region, stopped being an artist and decided to become a dealer, got in touch with collectors like the old Rockefeller and the directors of the leading museums in the USA, promised them the best romanic and gothic artifacts they had ever seen, took their money and bought literally everything. He emptied the monastery St-Michel-de-Cuxa and the churches in the vicinity, shipped tons over the Atlantic (including unshippable things like complete cloisters), made a fortune, build The Cloisters and a private museum with the leftovers from his trade, and was even sentenced to prison by the French government for the „illegal export of protected national treasures“. But Barnard escaped, came back, continued robbing holy places – and had no trouble at all, finding supplies and sources. The abbots and priests, bishops and mayors were only to eager to turn into cash the art in their power. Barnard was welcome with his dollars, he had now dozens of customers in the USA, it is estimated now that he transported about 100 shiploads or more than 300 tons of sculptured stone to New York, his base. On beliefs that 80 % of all romanic or gothic artifacts in the United States, on display or hidden in private collections, came from Barnard and were acquisitioned between 1906 and 1925. He died in 1938, being 75 years old and considerably wealthy. The French sellers of the national treasures never went to trial, the churches and monasteries in the Tet river valley are pretty empty now (but still beautiful) – and Barnard’s dollars have long ago disappeared into the clear sky over the Pyrenees mountains … – I strongly suggest to travel there, see the unbelievable with your own eyes and next time you are in New York, embrace the missing parts …

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QUESTION What Happened To The Bell Towers?

In Southern France they got wrought iron tops instead roofs ...

Türme

A typical bellfry in Uzes ...

Türme

… the one in Gordes ...

Türme

… this I saw in Carcassonne ...

Türme

… and a bellfry in Perpignan

WHEN TRAVELLING BETWEEN AVIGNON AND PERPIGNAN, you encounter churches with silly looking wrought iron construction for bellfries. On some enormous towers sit delicate metal tops, much too small in appearance, compared to the towers underneath, holding a bell (or two) and almost invisible from a distance. Why didn’t they finish the church towers properly, why were they crowned with these architectural compromises, looking like medieval table bells to call the servants? I tried to find it out, but in vain. No art historian seems to have found my observation interesting enough for a study. A pointed roof or a square end in the sky aren’t a problem anywhere else – why in Southern France? No, there can’t have been a problem, they must have done it intentionally, otherwise 90 % of the churches in this region, most of them from the 12th or the 13th century, wouldn’t have got these open-air-bells, swinging from rusting hand-bent metallic carriers. These construction look like a temporary arrangement, like a forgotten „ersatz“, just have a look at my four photos, but I could have shown you dozens of almost identical towers. To come to an end: If somebody knows the answer, please let me know (axelthorer@yahoo.de).

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BUILDINGS The Old Prison Is Like New …

Here I suggest the most terrible visit in (the ancient) Rome!

Rome

The location in ancient Rome ...

Rom

… the modern entrance ...

Rom

… stepping down to the cells ...

Rom

… one of the horrible cells ...

Rome

… the consul Lentulus ...

Rom

… and Vercingetorix

IT’S CALLED „CARCER TULLI- ANUS“, was built around 300 B.C. and was used for more than a 1000 years – in all of its ancient cruelty, unchanged and with a horrifying reputa- tion. You find it right in the centre of the Italian capital Rome, on the edge of the le- gendary Forum Roma- num (in the map look at the lower righthand corner), covered by a 16th century church with the name San Guiseppe die Falegnami (hiding the Carcer as a Christian sanctuary). Some years ago the prison was closed to the public for an urgently needed restoration (and to accommodate more tourists), but in the summer of 2016 it opened again – and I promise you a genuine shudder should you climb down the still moldy step, touch the historical iron bars, feel the menacing, feel light- and almost airless atmosphere  and visit the cells who weren’t altered since the time old Ceasar and Cicero were  murdered. The Carcer Tullianus (also known as the „Mamertine Prison“) housed – as the most famous of its prisoners –  the apostles Petrus (crucified later) and Paulus (who survived it), the first Roman consul Lentulus in 63 B. C. (executed) and the Gallic hero Vercengetorix (also executed) in 46 B. C. One routine down there was as follows: If you were a Roman citizen – imprisoned, possibly tortutered and killed. As a foreigner – imprisoned, tortured,  shown in Triumphal Processions, back to the Carcer and strangled by the executioners hands with a piece of rope. The corpses were brought up to be displayed publicly and later thrown into the Tiber river. And I wouldn’t wonder if some poor souls were held there during the German occupation in Wold War II. So if you love the splendor of the Roman Empire (and Peter Ustinov as emperor Nero), you should also see its shady side. And I tell you: This Carcer Tullianus, even renovated, is very, very shady – some cynics might even adore its coolness in the hot Roman summer …

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MONEY Ever Seen A Zero Euro Banknote?

I got one – on the summit of a mythological mountain ...

Euro

Cyclist near the summit of Mt. Ventoux ...

Euro

… and famous buildings in France

I WONDER, WHY THIS IS NOT FORBIDDEN! This nonsense banknote looks so genuine, that you could just add a 1 to the 0 and go shopping with it. The paper is mor or less the same, the graphic design confusingly similar, a silver thread is woven into the paper and it even got the signature of some important European personality. Only if you look closer, you detect pure phantasy: A cyclist climbing the 1912 m / ca. 5800 feet high Mont Vertoux in Southern France, the barest, windiest elevation I ever encountered (having just conquered it by car). From time to time it is the finish of a stage of the legendary cycling event Tour de France – and the competitors hate it (some even died). There on top is a restaurant, and in a corner there is a odd machine. Because if you put a 2 Euro (roughly US$ 1.80) coin into it, you get this 0 Euro banknote! Freshly printed, crispy and confusingly valid looking. A fine souvenir from Mt. Vertoux, the „Zauberberg“ (Mystery Mountain) of Italy’s medieval poet Petrarca. And not a bad business, to pay with a 2 Euro coin for 0 Euro banknote …

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ARCHITECTURE No Styrofoam In The Windows!

Don't make a mistake when you visit very old churches ...

Alabaster

A romanic window in Terrassa (Spain) ...

Alabaster

… in Modena ...

Alabaster

… and in Ravenna

YES, I MADE THE MISTAKE! Visiting churches which were built between the years 500 and 1200 in Nor- thern Spain, Southern France and Italy, I couldn’t identify with what material the romanic and gothic windows were filled. Glass? Definitely not! Dirty or blind glass? Neither! What else could it be but styrofoam? Modern plastic material, and since 99 % of those windows are placed high up on the walls, far out of reach, some hardly visible, why not? They are ugly, brownish streams running down the panes, sunlight has trouble to seep through, but nevertheless presenting the church interior with a soft and milky glance. These windows are never large, rather slits, since they didn’t need large windows in the chapels of the Medieval Times. I never saw these mysterious panes in the windows of the cathedrals, they are all made of glass. I thought: They got enough money to afford any restoration of broken windows. But the small chapels in the countryside, the tiny, almost forgotten houses of god, not used for services anymore (or on sundays only), their parishes are so poor that the have to patch up the panes with styrofoam. – Very wrong! These windows are a preciosity, a treasure, not made of plastic material, but of ALABASTER! A mineral, a variation of gyp- sum, cut into wafer-thin plates, a real artistry, and used instead of glass intentionally. Because they wanted this soft and milky light, the „see-through-effect“ was useless, so high up the wall, and the wanted, in some cases, to protect the frescoes, who tend to fade away in open sunlight. A young priest near Navarra disclosed the secret to me, cleaning a chapel from the 7th century along The Way of St James. So the next time you see an Alabaster window, don’t make the same mistake, now you know better …

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DISCOVERIES I Found An Oasis in Paris …

Well, it's a cemetery – but a totally unexpected one!

Paris

The official entrance ...

Paris

… the Cimitiere de Picpus ...

Paris

… the tablet with the victims ...

Paris

… and the French Revolution in progress

I TELL YOU: FOR HALF A CENTURY I VISIT PARIS, but I never came across the Cimetiere de Picpus. I didn’t hear anything about it, it was in none of my guidebooks, no Parisien ever told me about it (not even the all-knowing Mary Blume), I stumbled into it by sheer luck, reading Stefan Zweig‘s amazing last book, „The World of Yesterday“ – and I still got trouble to realize what I saw there. The facts: Between 14th of June and 27th of July 1794 Robbespierre, the cruelest leader of the French Revolution, had sent 1306 people to the guillotine, in packs of 40 to 50. They were priests, nuns, public servants, soldiers, ordinary people and 108 aristocrats, including a member of the highest German nobility, Reichsfürst Friedrich III. of Salm-Kyrburg. The corpses were secretly taken away (most with their heads), stored and in 1797 the Prince’s widow, Amalie Zephyrine of Salm-Kyrburg, bought a park in Paris, enclosed it with a high wall and buried her husband and the other 1305 victims of Robbespierre’s murderous frenzy there. All in secret, during the night. She had the enormous gates closed and guarded, initiates only knew about the place – and the owners, 12 families of the most prominent decapitated, who were officially registered in 1840 as the shareholder of the only private cemetery in the French capital. Another unbelievable fact: They own the Cimitiere de Picpus until today! And it’s the exclusive right of the members of these 12 families to be buried here. Well, there are some rare exemptions, for instance the famous French general and Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American War of Independence, got a grave at Picpus. But beware: It’s still private, it’s party accessible, but you shouldn’t just go there. It might be open from Thursday to Saturday for some hours in the afternoon. So an announcement at the portal promises. I tell you: The cimitiere is a gorgeous place, a calm oasis in the midst of Paris, with thoroughly tended lawns and century old trees. You are, unfortunately, not allowed to picknick there, and it might be possible, that the owners decide to close for some weeks on stretch. That’s their right. But note the address, because Picpus is definitely worth some tries: 35 rue de Picpus.

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