Rhenen, like Wijk bij Duurstede, is located on a branch of the Rhine called the Nederrhine (Lower Rhine). The town’s mooring is on the river just about a leisurely ten minute walk from the center. From the river you can not miss the large church tower.
Cunerakerk is a Late Gothic, stone-roofed hall church with a transept and single choir. The first church on this site, circa 11th century, was dedicated to Peter. The current church is dedicated to Cunera who, according to legend, survived a massacre of virgins by the Huns, then brought by King Radboud to his seat in Rhenen. She was beloved by the locals and then murdered by the jealous Queen. The church served as a center of pilgrimages for centuries, with Cunera’s relics as a major draw.
With the proceeds from the pilgrimages they built the current structure with its large tower from 1492 to 1531. Fires in 1897 and 1934 and then the bombardment 1945 severely damaged the church and tower, since restored.
Between 1630 and 1631 the Koningshuis palace was constructed at Rhenen for Frederick V. It was demolished in 1812. Part of the center of town was damaged by the Nazis in the 1940 invasion.
In a country loaded with charming towns, Wijk Bij Duursten’s fairyland castleputs it in the top ten. It also has an old windmill. ‘Wijk bij Duurstede’ means ‘Neighbourhood by Duurstede’. The castle is named Duurstede, where the bishop of Utrecht once lived. Dating from circa 1300, the town sits on the Nederrine, a branch of the Rhine.
The interior has been set up for dining. There are 4 dining rooms, reached by the original winding staircase or the modern fire escape, without which you’d be trapped by the narrow and steep stairs. A great setting for a wedding!
The weather continues to be chilly, but with a fair amount of sun. We hear cuckoos most days. The namesake clocks mimic the sound exactly. Their call adds charm to an already beguiling scene, if you ignore their cheating ways. They deposit their eggs in the nests of other birds, who become unwitting foster parents. Nature has many strange ways, doesn’t it.
On our last night on the Linge we were helped by a British man living aboard a well-worn boat, traveling with a friend who was towning him as needed. He told us about an event coming up in Vianen, a few hours up the canal and in the direction we were heading. As it turned out it was quite the festival. There were some 150 of these boats, called ‘sleepboot’ in Dutch, who came to Vianen to show off their boats. Almost all the boats have been beautifully restored. They date from the early 1900’s. The ones that old were originally equipped with steam engines. All have been converted to diesel. One we visited had a min-1940’s GM diesel. The owner said there were a lot of GM engines available at that time. (Note: ‘boot’ in Dutch is pronounced as ‘boat’ in English)
These boats are equipped with large engines designed for towing much larger vessels. The earliest ones towed deep water cargo sailing ships. At the beginning they were not equipped with engines so had to be manuevered to dock. These tug boats made that chore much easier in comparison to rowing.
Here’s a short video I compiled so you can see the boats in motion, and hear their old engines running. One of them idles at a mere 19 RPM!
The weather was near perfect. The locals and the visitors joined parties and danced to some mighty loud music. Alcohol flowed. I did not smell any marijuana, which is legal if you are a Dutch resident. So many people were coming to the country in large measure for the pot that the legislature was motivated to restrict its availability.
It’s called by many names. In Spanish it’s Paises Bajos, the Low Countries. It is most commonly referred to by a name that is part of the name of just two of its provinces. In English we refer to their language using an unrelated term.
Welcome to Holland (a word that originates with the provinces of North Holland and South Holland). In the country they spell it “Nederlands,” with a ‘d,’ a word unrelated to the country’s name. In English it’s “the Netherlands,” with a ‘t,’
We are here again.
The Dutch don’t complain about calling their country Holland nor their language Dutch instead of ‘Nederlands’ or ‘Hollandish.’ It’s more about the weather than any other topic. It’s May and they have good cause yet again. It’s been cold. In late April it was just below freezing on several mornings. It’s been rainy, and when not raining, it’s been very cloudy, with just a few nice days sprinkled in.
We made our way northwesterly on the Maas from this year’s winter harbor in t’Leuken. On our first night we moored just outside Lock Lith, arranged by Chris, whom we met last year in France. He arranged our overnight with the lock keeper, as overnights are not normally allowed. Chris was working just a ten minute walk downstream. We went there, staying with him as he piloted the ferry back and forth across the Maas. This privately run ferry is on a hydraulic cable powered by a small diesel engine. The operator has to raise and lower the ramp in addition to starting and stopping the cable. For Chris it’s a part time job as he’s retired, but likes doing. He takes the summers off to spend it on the boat with his wife, although this year they will be camping.
The next day we landed in s’ Hertogenbosch at Lock 0. We’re very close to the center of town. The center is lively, with lots of restaurants and bars, as well as fish trucks and cheese stands in the central square. We had a lekkerbek, a breaded and deep fried cod, and some great fries. At a restaurant we ordered the mighty bossche bollen, a cream filled chocolate covered pastry that is knockdown heavenly. One is enough for two unless you have just it for dinner, which I was tempted to do. These are made by just one company, delivered to eateries around town. I have never seen one elsewhere and I’ve been all over this country. You can find recipes on the internet.
s’ Hertogenbosch is also known for being the birthplace and lifetime residence of Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450 – August 9, 1516), whose family produced the kinds of paintings for which he is famous. His often bizarre religious themed paintings are well known, held in collections around the world. For him heaven is a place of free love, where nudity and sex is everywhere to be seen and enjoyed. He is also known for his disturbing representations of life in hell,
The museum is in a converted church, a common arrangement in the country as church attendance often does not justify the expense of building maintenance. There are no original paintings, just excellent reproductions. Each is described in a lovely booklet with well written and translated commentary, Dutch and English, which includes the painting’s current location. There are also some 30 of his drawings, showing his portrait, figure and fantasy drawing skills absent any distracting context.
In the Conjurer, below, we have a secular scene. A conman distracts with the cups while a co-conspirator picks the pocket of a unsuspecting woman. As in the first painting, this one clearly demonstrates his figure drawing and painting skills. His paintings show us his intellect and imagination, albeit at times bizarre, all complex, with multiple figures robed and otherwise.
The town also is home to an impressive church, now a Catholic cathedral, having passed back and forth with the Protestants in centuries past. This Gothic structure was started circa 1240, and finished about a century later. The third restoration began in 1998, in 2010 completed at a cost of more than 48 million euros. I can not imagine the Roman Catholic Church affording this amount so I did a bit of research on the matter. Indeed there was some funding from the government of the Netherlands.
Walking about town is a pleasure, with its large central plaza, narrow side streets, bike lanes and many small shops as well as the usual chains. I can never figure out how these small shops, especially clothes shops, manage to stay in business. They do come and go to some extent, I believe, but here they still are, displaying more upscale choices, and in something new there is now the occasional vintage clothing shop.
There’s a marijuana shop near our mooring. It’s called the Grass Company. I figure its pot as there is no need to help the Dutch grow lawns. We have read that purchasers must be Dutch residents. Amsterdam in particular is getting so many visitors just coming for the pot, staying on to party to excess, disturbing the peace and presumably crowding the jails. We saw none of that in this small town. People go to the bars and drink at home, and if they toke a joint it does not lead to raucous street parties. What they do in private it’s hard to tell, given the absence of noise coming from their houses. I often wonder if everyone in a town has died as I walk around at night in the residential areas.
Leonardo is called da Vinci because he was born in a small town near Florence of that name. Michele Angelo da Caravaggio (1571-1610) is called Caravaggio because he was born in a small town of that name, located just outside Milan. He became a major figure in art and, as art was so fundamental to the times, he is a major figure in history. His dramatic use of light and his controversial presentations influenced all or nearly every artist since, from Atremesia to Rembrandt and well beyond. His aggressive behavior lead to an early death at the age of 39. We lost the opportunity to see what other innovations he might have developed.
He painted his principal subjects in shafts of light, contrasting the heavy use of shadow and darkness. He painted directly onto the canvas without the usual multiple drawings. He used live models, often the same ones. Some of his versions of religious figures were controversial, showing them as more earthly than the mores of the time allowed, such as his Madonna dei Palafrenieri (Madonna of the Groom). It was rejected by the Church, and ended up in the hands of Cardinal Scipione Borghese. Notice that Jesus is uncircumcised, suggesting Jesus was not really Jewish, but of course he was.
We took a stroll with Guru Walks, our second walking tour in Rome with this group, which is tip based versus a fixed fee. It was billed as “Who Killed Caravaggio.” The guide took us past scenes of his violent acts and into churches where you can see some of his 100+ paintings.
The church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome has three famous Caravaggio’s, all about Saint Mathew. These paintings were Caravaggio’s first major commissions, which to our lasting benefit set him on the path to the work we see today.
In the Calling of St Mathew (1600), Jesus inspires Mathew to become a follower. The painting dramatically, brilliantly both figuratively and literally depicts the story from the Gospel According to Mathew: “Jesus saw a man named Matthew at his seat in the custom house, and said to him, “Follow me”, and Matthew rose and followed Him.” Matthew 9:9) The hat wearing (it’s not a yarmulke) Jesus is largely obscured by another figure. Jesus sports a trimmed beard, hugely unlikely to be what any Jewish man of that time displayed, and probably the only such portrayal in the history of art. The outfits are hardly Middle Eastern, except perhaps the one but even it has the man wearing a black shirt beneath the robe.
In The Inspiration of St Mathew, Mathew is listening to an angel as he writes his version of the story of Jesus. Mathew is awkwardly posed, as if he was about to sit down, ready to write, when his visitor appears, catching his attention, pen in hand and book (and not scroll) at the ready. The background is in darkness, the table lightly illuminated, focusing your attention on the figures. Plenty of robes in this painting.
People at that time believed, as many still do, that the Gospels were written by four apostles. It was not until the mid-1800’s that Christian scholars determined that the books were written in Greek by educated people, whereas both Jesus and the apostles spoke Aramaic and were unable to read or write, according to Paul. You’d think that if Jesus could write he would have, that he did not write himself and did not find someone to write for him a la Mohammed suggests further his inability to read and write. Christian scholarship also shows that the earliest of the gospels, Luke, was not written until after 50 CE. The Gospels themselves do not claim authorship at all. The titles were added around 200 CE, and only Luke claims the use of eye witnesses, but gives no details. See for example World History. org
Madonna (literally “My Lady”) of Loreto depicts a barefoot Mary holding a large baby Jesus before two peasants. Not kings, but peasants! Barefoot! Peasants! Mary is almost always depicted wearing a crown and some pretty fancy duds befitting of the mother of Jesus. The room is bare, which is also unusual. The model he used was a known prostitute, well known locally and commented upon at the time. Caravaggio certainly was not constrained by tradition, at least not entirely.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo (St Mary of the People) at the Piazza del Popolo was also on our itinerary. According to the ancient tradition, after his death sentence was announced, Peter requested that he be crucified upside down, saying that no man is worthy to be killed in the same way as Jesus. This is a strange thing to say, it seems to me, as many were executed exactly as Jesus was, including the two hanging right next to Jesus. Crucifixion was a common method the Romans used, allowing the body to rot as a way of further intimidating the locals.
Here we have Caravaggio’s brilliant rendition of the horrendous scene about to unravel. Peter looks more like the poor fisherman he and most of the disciples were, continuing Caravaggio’s predilection for portraying the famous actors as ordinary, common people. The shadowing across his body is nothing short of brilliant. One figure seems to be wearing robes, the other shirt and trousers as they try to lift the heavy cross and body. Peter is dressed as Jesus normally is on the cross. He is trying to keep his head upright, delaying the rushing of blood to his head.
The Conversion of St Paul is a more genteel scene, although falling from a horse is no laughing matter and can be fatal. Caravaggio shows he can paint horses, this one with his hoof in the air, suggesting it is still in motion, obscuring the thorax of Paul’s groom. His clothing reminds of a Roman soldier, his sword and helmet lying on the ground. The figures are surrounded by darkness, presumably due to the storm whence came the bolt of lightning, leaving him isolated and vulnerable. No wonder he heard voices.
Saul is the Hebrew version of Paul. Paul did not change his name.
We finished on the steps of this church (aside from Caravaggio the small church also contains works by Raphael and Bernini among others) with the mystery of who killed Caravaggio.
Caravaggio was often fleeing from one part of Italy to another, near the end to Malta, then Sicily and then Naples. Reports show bizarre behavior in addition to much violence. While in Naples he was attempting to negotiate a pardon with the Cardinal Scipione Borghese, offering a painting in exchange.
He died on the way to Rome, but the cause is unknown. There were rumors that the powerful Tommasoni family of Rome, whose son he killed causing him to flee Rome, or the Knights of Malta had him killed, and also that he died of syphilis. Painters until modern times used white paint with lead in it, and other paints containing toxic substances, which might have contributed to the strange and violent behavior in contemporary reports, and could also cause death. There are reports of wounds from a sword fight in Naples leading to sepsis.
So the mystery remains with us, along with his fabulous works.
The Jewish ghetto of Rome sits adjacent to the ancient Teatro Massimo. The ghetto is located over a giant facility owned by the family of Augustus Caeser, which extended over a kilometer. It was occupied after his death by his sister Octavia, where she resided until her fourth husband’s death. We still can visit what remains of the Porto di Octavia.
The ghetto was founded in 1555, and all Jews that were not already living in the area (they made up 80% of the residents already) were required to move there. The Jews were compelled to pay for the wall that enclosed them, in an area that was the least desirable in the city, subject to the flooding of the Tiber. Its gates were locked at night. The ghetto remained under the rule of the Pope until the Risorgimento of 1870 created the modern state of Italy. These 300 plus years is a story of trickery, humiliation, pressure to convert, prohibition of religious worship, and undue taxation and imposed poverty, culminating in the deportation of some 3000 of its residents in WWII, the zenith of the depravity of so called Christians.
Jews had no rights. They could not own property and their allowed occupations were strictly limited. They were allowed to be pawn brokers but otherwise their occupations were confined to the lowest paying. There was abject poverty as a result. When they left the ghetto they had to wear yellow clothes, the women a yellow vail, the same as prostitutes.
There were compulsory Catholic sermons on the sabbath. For this they had to stand in front of San Gregorio della Divina Pietà which sitsn the edge of the ghetto. On its facade is a quote in large letters on the exterior from the Hebrew Bible, out of context, where Moses condemned his fellow Jews for worshipping the golden calf.
They built the Synagogue in 1870, oversized in the hopes of an expanded population after the losses from disease reduced the population by half. Subsequent to the attack by Palestinians in 1982, the Synagogue is guarded around the clock by the Carabinieri, and per our guide, retired Mossad agents dressed entirely in black.
We walked with Guru Tours. Mircea, of Romanian, half Jewish and half Orthodox Christian heritage, also does tours at the Coliseo. We began at the steps of the Capitoline Hill, where Mircea commenced his barrage of commentary, very interesting, and accurate as near as I could tell.
All together, continued Jewish presence in Rome goes back some to 2000 years, he noted, likely making Rome the world’s oldest Jewish community outside the Middle East. Post WWII it’s population was boosted by Sephardic Jews from Madrid, who were in need of a larger community, finding one much in need of the economic resources the Spanish brought.
The current Roman mayor and council meets in the magnificent structure called the Campidoglio, officially still in Latin, Senatus Populusque Romanus. Its facade is by Michelangelo, overlooks the ruins of ancient Rome, and is flanked by the fabulous Capitoline museums, Santa Maria in Ara Coeli (supposedly containing the relics of the mother of Constantine) incorporates the temple of Juno Moneta, from whom we get the word ‘money,’ originally meaning ‘warning.’ From this building and from the Vatican came the edicts that controlled and manipulated the Jews of the ghetto.
Close by and down the hill towards the Teatro de Marcello, modified for housing in the middle ages and now rented out to upscale tourists, you come to the site where state executions occured in Roman times. Victims were thrown off the high wall to their death after being tried and walked across the capital grounds. From this we get the term “capital punishment.” More than one rabbi met his death here. They were not allowed to have services, and if found doing so, were put to death.
The Nazis raided the ghetto on 16 October 1943.Some 1020 people were sent to Auschwitz. Only 16 survived. There are commemorative plates in honor of those taken and of those who died in the 1982 attack, which included one child whose father was throwing grenades tossed by the attackers back at them.
On 13 April 1986 Pope John Paul unexpectedly visited the Synagogue, called the Great Synagogue. He came to pray and to apologize for the Church’s treatment of Jews. There have been various visits since. Mircea said the Rabbi he did not want an apology but an understanding of what it had meant to be treated as they had been.
There are several Jewish restaurants in the quarter. Nonna Betta is known for its deep fried artichokes, and another for its briskets. Ba’Ghetto has a large terrace where they servie falafel, lamb ragu, goulash and oven-roasted veal. I assume these and the others are kosher. Another set of restaurants are owned by the same people. One serves seafood, while another it’s dairy products.
Volare, oh oh Cantare, oh oh oh oh Let’s fly way up to the clouds Away from the maddening crowds We can sing in the glow of a star that I know of Where lovers enjoy peace of mind Let us leave the confusion and all disillusion behind Just like bird of a feather, a rainbow together we’ll find
Volare, oh oh E cantare, oh oh oh oh No wonder my happy heart sings Your love has given me wings Penso che un sogno così non ritorni mai più Mi dipingevo le mani e la faccia di blu Poi d’improvviso venivo dal vento rapito Ed incominciavo a volare nel cielo infinito
Volare, oh oh E cantare, oh oh oh oh Nel blu, dipinto di blu Felice di stare lassù E volavo, volavo felice più in alto del sole ed ancora più su Mentre il mondo pian piano spariva lontano laggiù Una musica dolce suonava soltanto per me
Volare, oh oh E cantare, oh oh oh oh No wonder my happy heart sings Your love has given me wings Nel blu, dipinto di blu Felice di stare lassù Nel blu, dipinto di blu
Written by: Domenico Modugno, Francesco Migliacci, Mitchell Parish
The song was recorded by numerous artists, among them Dean Martin, Bobby Rydell, Marino Marini (UK), Al Martino, David Bowie (in Italian), and more. It was played endlessly in the US in the late 1950’s.
Vesuvius devastated Pompeii and Herculaneum (8th century BCE) in the eruption of 79 CE. Pompeii’s 11,000 residents suffered the most. Even so most escaped, salvaging some of their belongings as pumice blanketed the town for the first 18 hours. By the end of the first day it was covered with three meters of ash, pumice and other materials. The next morning the 20 mile/33km column of ash collapsed, sending 250C/400F air and pyroclastic material through the town at high speeds, killing everyone who remained.
Amazingly we have eye witness reports. Pliny the Younger wrote two letters in response to an inquiry from the historian Tacitus. Tacticus had asked about the death of Pliny the Elder, commander of the fleet at Misenum. Pliny the Elder went to help people and to get a closer view of the eruption, and ordered the fleet to assist in evacuations.
Vesuvius has erupted many times since: 172, 203, 222, possibly in 303, 379, 472, 512, 536, 685, 787, around 860, around 900, 968, 991, 999, 1006, 1037, 1049, around 1073, 1139, 1150, and there may have been eruptions in 1270, 1347, and 1500, 1631, six times in the 18th century, eight times in the 19th century , 1906, 1929 and 1944, the last one. None have been of the scale of that of 79, one of the most powerful of all known volcanic eruptions. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted in the last 100 years. It is the most densely populated volcanic zone in the world, with 3 million in the area and 600,000 in the danger zone. It is one of a number of volcanoes in the zone. See Vesuvius on Wikipedia
Excavations began in the 16th century, well before modern methods allowed for better preservation of the discoveries and extraction of information. Of course with more modern methods we have learned more about the times.
The artwork and its state of preservation are impressive, whether in the form of frescoes, statues or mosaics andhave had tremendous influence. “Artists, architects, potters, and even furniture makers drew much inspiration from Pompeii… The stucco work popularized in England by the 18th-century architects James and Robert Adam used the same motifs. In France, the in Louis XVI style incorporated Pompeian motifs, and the apartment of Louis’s queen, Marie Antoinette, at Fontainebleau was decorated in this style, which became popular throughout Europe. Jacques-Louis David and his student Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres drew inspiration for their paintings from the excavations. Indeed, the Neoclassic stylestimulated by the discoveries at Pompeii completely replaced the Rococo and became the artistic style of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic period.” See Britannica
Achaeologists found bakeries with grinding stones and kneading machines. They found some ovens still with loaves of bread inside. Bread at that time contained bits of stone from the grinding process. This caused teeth to wear excessively. One fast food joint, called thermopolia, where hungry ancients grabbed quick meals. See the Smithsonian. From sewage pipes we’ve learned what was in the diet. See NBC News report The pipes are in such good shape that they could still be used.
The House of the Vettii is the largeset house in Pompeii. It reopened to the public after 20 years in 2015. Once again visitors can enjoy the stunning beauty of its art and admire the skills of the artists.
The House of Mysteries (2nd century BCE) is newly open to the public. There are exquisite frecoes in room 5 showing the initiation of a bride into a mystery cult. These are now the most famous of the frescoes in Pompeii.
Herculaneum was buried on the second day of the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 CE. Most of its inhabitants escaped death by leaving on the first day, as of its 4000 residents only some 350 skeletons have been recovered and few are likely to remain. In addition, because it was spared much of the damage caused by falling stone and then covered to a depth of 20 meters from six flows, we have much more of the perishable material: lintels, furniture, doors, carts and even papyrus writings survived the volcano’s wrath. Most of these are in the The National Archaeological Museum of Naples As a result of this preservation we learned a great deal about the daily life of its residents. For more information see What Was Normal Life Like In Pompeii Before Its Destruction? | Pompeii with Mary Beard
Herculaneum was named after Hercules. The town was home to wealthy residents seeking a summer beach venue. It dates from the 7thc BCE, when it was founded by the Oscans. The Etruscans took over until the the rise Greeks took over, and then came the Romans.
The Villa of the Papyri is the luxurious dwelling on the seashore. It may have belonged to consul Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, Julius Caesar’s father-in-law. The library that survived nearly intact, and has been digitized.