Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: Wanderlust

A distant mountain looms ever closer

The Buyuk Valide Sultan Han, Istanbul. This caravanserai was built in the 17th century by the mother of Sultan Murat IV. It's still in use today, though probably not selling silk or jewels. Photo by Sara Clarke.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Silk Road. Sometimes at night, if I can’t sleep, I imagine I’m not under an Ikea duvet in my Brooklyn apartment but instead bedding down in a caravanserai somewhere between Trebizond and Palmyra, circa 1350. For some reason, this always helps me drift off. It’s better than counting sheep.

One amazing thing about visiting Istanbul (probably the dorkiest amazing thing) was the fact that caravanserais still exist there. In Turkish they’re called hans, and a lot of them are still in use from the times when merchants crossed deserts on camels loaded down with silks and incense. Did I mention that Constantinople was the Western terminus of the Silk Road?

Nowadays the caravanserais are mostly used as home bases for far less exotic enterprises: in Turkey “han” is still the word for a sort of proto strip mall, a courtyard lined with shops selling headscarves or kitchen knives or knockoff Adidas sneakers. There’s usually an upper level for storage and whatever else you use the “back room” of a shop for anywhere else in the world. Once upon a time, back in the Silk Road days, merchants lived in these upper level rooms, and they watered their camels at a fountain at the center of the courtyard.

I did a little prowling around in some of the old hans of Constantinople, but it wasn’t enough. I think what I really want is to be a time traveler. Honestly, this is what all travelers to places like Istanbul probably want: to see an exotic old world that doesn’t exist anymore, if it ever really did.

And, thus, I am considering buying a PS3 in order to get this video game and make my nighttime daydreams a reality:

Screenshot from Journey, developed by Thatgamecompany. Image blatantly stolen from BoingBoing.

It’s called Journey, and it’ll be available March 14. My birthday is the 29th. Coincidence? Hey, it would be cheaper than getting me a spot on one of those fancy Silk Road tours that carefully shelters rich Westerners through the backwaters (backdeserts? backsteppes?) of Uzbekistan to visit the ruins of places like Samarkand and Tashkent. Though I would also accept that as a birthday present, no worries there.

For true Silk Road dorks and ethnomusicology geeks, I highly recommend any of Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project collaborations (buy on iTunes if you want your fellow ethnomusicology dorks to eat dinner tonight). This is music for mental time travelers.

H/T Boing Boing for the thing about the video game.

Our Lady Of Wisdom

Photo by Sara Clarke.

A couple days ago I asked the question, “Is preservation always the right thing to do?”

Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia — or Ayasofya, as it’s known in modern Turkish — is a prime example of that dilemma.

On the one hand, it’s possibly the most beautiful building ever. It was built by the emperor Justinian in 537 AD, so it’s obviously of historical interest. As a church it was converted from the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople to a Roman Catholic cathedral from 1204 to 1261, and then in 1453 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet The Conqueror chose to preserve it as a mosque. So it’s also a holy place for people of various religions. There is no question that Hagia Sofia is worthy of historical preservation.

I’m going to ask that question anyway.

What if Ayasofya had been allowed to fester as Istanbul city life crept away from the old Byzantine center?

Photo by Sara Clarke.

What if Mehmet hadn’t been interested? (Which is a whole other architectural question, really, since the archetypal mosque structure used worldwide can be traced to Hagia Sofia, but let’s leave that for now.)

Photo by Sara Clarke.

What if Ataturk and the other founding fathers of the modern Turkish state had been a little more Soviet in their approach to religion and had closed it down rather than turning it into a museum?

Photo by Sara Clarke

What if they’d been a little more American in their approach and had let it stand as a mosque until attendance dropped and the building sank into disrepair, only to be turned into a shopping mall when Istanbul’s fortunes improved?

I guess the question I’m asking here is, how does the act of historic preservation affect — or maybe the right word is reflect — the march of history itself? What would Istanbul be in 2012 without Hagia Sofia, or with a Hagia Sofia that is still the mosque of Ayasofya, or the Mall Of Enlightenment, or a derelict site explored by intrepid travel photographers?

Steam On The Window Screen

M.I.A. makes me want to run wild. There’s an immediacy to her music, a whisper of an undertone murmuring, NEVER GROW UP. NEVER GET BORING. QUIT YOUR JOB. DRIVE FAST. LAUGH TILL YOU PEE YOURSELF. RUN!

If you take that whisper and combine it with her global outlook, it’s not surprising that setting images to her music makes me Want To Go To There. Even when “there” is a the roof of a train speeding across the Indian countryside or an Arabian desert seemingly empty except for a few beat-up cars.

Also, the fact that M.I.A. dances like a seven year old standing in front of a mirror singing into her hairbrush makes me endlessly happy. Terrible dancers unite!

Here’s some footage of the Saudi car stunt trend — called Hagwalah — featured in “Bad Girls”. While there are some cool moments in the first minute or so (check out the 360-degree spin through traffic past a schoolbus full of kids!), if you fast-forward to the two minute mark you get a good stretch with some rad middle eastern background music. Around 5:40 you get the in-vehicle perspective, complete with bitchin’ Arab pop soundtrack.

Three Things I Like Right Now

Design*Sponge visits The African Queen. I’m kind of dying to install a mosquito net over my bed. As a teenager I thought it would be incredibly romantic, and when I traveled to India it was everything I thought it would be and more. Not that dengue fever is romantic, of course.

Speaking about India, did you know there are psychic robots there now? What I want to know is, when are these coming to Queens?

Speaking of the borough I happen to be sitting in right now, this Das Racist video gives me hope for humanity:

Das Racist | EK Shaneesh from Stephen Boyle on Vimeo.


Dream Of The Traveling Life

One City, Five Hours: Mexico City

Check out these beautiful illustrated maps/walking tours/infographics by Oliver Jeffers.

He also makes childrens’ books, wallpaper, sculpture, and it turns out he created one of my favorite travel-related images of recent years:

Seriously y'all I really want this thing.

(Via cartophile.)

What Makes Art Foreign?

Shi Le Seeking The Way, Fu Baoshi ca. 1945.

I was combing the internet looking for ideas for a quick post. Provençal street art? Indo-Caribbean miniature painting? Some ridiculous band? I thought I’d found an idea — apparently the Metropolitan Museum has a retrospective on modernist Chinese lanscape painter Fu Baoshi. The work is haunting, seeming to exist in the space between tradition and innovation, classicism and globalist fusion. Fu painted during the Maoist era, which is obviously fascinating.

I clicked over to the the Met’s website to see what else is going on there that might be worth a look-see. Except for a revonated American Wing, all the current exihibitions feature art from far-flung locales. There are shows about Renaissance portraiture and the notion of the heroic in African art. The Persian and Central Asian collections have been revitalized. And yet the only show that screams EXOTIC PLACES to me is the one about China. (There’s also an exhibition on narrative forces in Japanese art which seems equally exotic, but I saw the Fu Baoshi retrospective first.)

Portrait of a Young Woman, Lorenzi di Credi ca. 1490

Why is that? Why is European art “home” to me, and Persia and Africa not really worth a mention? Why do I mentally go to Asia if I want a post for my blog about art and travel? Frankly, very little of the art in the Metropolitan Museum is of New York. Museums like this were opened as great curiosity cabinets, windows on foreign lands so far away they were inconceivable.  Nowadays I’m not sure we see them that way. European art is “ours” — we learn about it in school and put posters of it up on our college dorm room walls.  Egypt, Greece and Rome are part of the same mythological continuum.  For an American it goes something like Egypt -> Greece -> Rome -> Charlemagne -> Renaissance Italy -> Shakespeare -> British Empire -> USA. We don’t think about how foreign all of that is. I was born in Louisiana.  My genetic ancestors are from the French-German border and Sweden by way of Scotland and Ireland. Why do I feel like anything Chinese is worthy of a travel blog post, whereas Renaissance Italy is not?

Wanderlust and Retail Therapy: False Eyelashes Edition

Holy shit, people. This exists:

They’re false eyelashes. In whimsical forest shapes. Apparently the company also does other designs, like “under the sea” and peacock feathers.

I’m not a false eyelash kind of lady, but wow. Jesus. I mean, I know, I live in Lady Gaga’s hometown. This shouldn’t surprise me. But any old person can buy this from Sephora for under $10. I sort of want to get them and frame them. Or use them in some kind of origami decoupage craft project.

If you’re curious about what they look like on a person, sephora supplies this image:

I mean, can you even imagine? I wonder if this makes you feel like you’re wandering through a mystical woodland? It would make a great addition to the costumes for an art film based on the myth of Daphne and Apollo.

(This post was shamelessly cribbed from The Hairpin’s “What To Do With Your Allowance This Week” post from January 20, 2012). I do not officially endorse people buying these puppies, but if you want to, I accept that.)

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