This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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The Duomo in winter

duomoThis was my first visit to Milan without visiting the Duomo. No time, you see, as I only passed it while walking to dinner. I am not a religious person, but I quite like the ambiance of this church, especially during Sunday mass.

In summer, the square is crowded and people wait in zig-zagging lines to enter a security control. In winter there is no security control, nor masses of tourists lining up. The church is still the same. As it took the best of 600 years to complete into its current state, hopefully it will still remain the same for another 600 years to come. Unless tourists of the future only care about virtual reality representations and tours.

(Milan, Italy; January 2019)


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The Pantheon

rome-6“Pantheon” means “of all gods”. Was this really a temple of all gods? Or many gods? One would like to think it was once a site of inclusion of faiths, not exclusion. But perhaps the Romans just had so many gods they built one to serve the most important ones?

This is how Rome could have looked like still today if people had continuously found use for the buildings once erected. Even 1900 years later the Pantheon is still fully functional – and admired by throngs of visitors every single day.
rome-5(Rome, Italy; September 2018)


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Rome after the rain

rome-10There was rain throughout our meeting. And right before our walking guide gave up the sky cleared up just a little, enough for a stroll around.rome-9At the age of eighteen I spent one day in Rome. During these two days I saw less of Rome than back then. And what I saw now was mostly the same sights as twenty years ago. rome-4But twenty years is nothing for the Eternal City. Two hundred years may cause a few major collapses, such as the one of the Colosseum. Two thousand years is possibly half of the age of Rome, if one adds the Roman population we know from history books to the Etruscans and other tribes who originally inhabited the seven hills of Rome. rome-3Today many of the ruins are under scaffolds. Either Italy has cash enough or it just seems so as in the city of endless ruins there is endless restoration work to be done. And sometimes new buildings are erected, too, such as the monument for the first king of the unified Italy: the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument from 1935 (also more fondly known as “the typewriter”). Today this humongous monument looks nearly modern. Perhaps two thousand years in the future it will be a heap of pillars and ruins, and a virtual reality as good as new.rome-8(Rome, Italy; September 2018)


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All the temples on Bali

batukaru-9On Bali, every building has a place and every item, even a flower placed, has significance. Balinese homes are built according to a certain layout, and so are towns. The underlying logic is that upstream means pure where as the further downstream you go, the dirtier becomes the use of the water or a place. And on an island littered with volcanoes, the highest upstream one can go is to the flank of the volcano. batukaru-8Thus, the temple for the god Brahma (pura puseh) is best located on the highest end of the village, facing a sacred volcano (usually Mt Agung). In the middle of the village one can find a pura desa, the temple for Vishnu and for local village deities. And in the lower end of the village, preferably furthest away from a sacred volcano and most often near the cemetery, lies a pura dalem, the temple of Shiva and death (and rebirth). batukaru-6The sea is a frightening might and requires special attention. Thus sea temples are special (like Tanah Lot and Uluwatu). On the island, water is sacred and necessary for the Balinese, especially for rice cultivation. Water temples are special, too. Like the “temple by the lake”, Danu Bratan; as well as the Batukaru temple, located on the foothills of the eponymous volcano.batukaru-5Our little bemo minivan drove a bunch of us curious tourists up to the doors of the temple. We were fortunate: it was open for non-worshipers.

Not every temple on Bali has a job to shield the island from evil. Only nine most sacred temples have this all-important task. Also, it is not every day an important temple renews the roofs of its pagodas, the meru. Thus a celebration will be in order – once the ladies are finished with putting the last touches of palm fiber on the new roofs. Tomorrow there will be curries, barbeques, fresh fruit, and coconuts: a real feast.
batukaru-4(Pura Luhu Batukaru, Tabanan, Bali, Indonesia: August 2018)


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Growing a green city

marinabaysands-2European cities may have a few large, designated parks and many small green patches squeezed in later between the houses and streets. In Singapore, urban greeneries and jungles are not inserted here and there after the city is planned and built. Instead, since 1967, they have been consciously included in the plan as the city grew. Surprisingly large areas of green have been retained, such as the Botanic Garden and the Gardens by the Bay. Access is free from dawn until late, in some cases until midnight. My local friend spends most of his weekends in the Botanic Gardens with his wife and baby, discovering new things every time.

Because this is Singapore, “conventional” is not a word used in the urban planning office. The Gardens by the Bay include huge mushroom-like structures of steel towering above the treetops, connected with canopy walkways. There are many theme gardens with colorful sculptures, and two huge, air-conditioned glass domes: the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest.

The city is littered (or “decorated” if you prefer) with tiny parks, and each park is a carefully constructed piece of art, with surprising sculptures or a decorated walking path. Such attention to detail and imagination only happens when two aspects are met: enough affluence to invest a little extra in every structure being built; and a strategy to consciously incorporate greenness into city planning.

Only this way are there people employed to really rethink the greenness of spaces planned, before they are built.
marinabaysands-1(Gardens by the Bay, Singapore; July 2018)


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In the cloud forest

cloudforest-4If it is too hot to enjoy gardens outside, why not build a hollow mountain with a cool cloud forest on the outside, complete with mist, underneath a huge glass dome?cloudforest-1The Cloud Forest consists of a large, hollow, man-made “rock” planted with flowers, ferns, mosses, and climbers. The entire construction is misted every two hours, and this is the main attraction: visitors time their visit to enjoy the cooling sensation of mist on their skin while strolling the 6 stories of criss-crossing walkways in the skies. Because this is Singapore, one can naturally ride the elevator all the way up. cloudforest-3But the best surprise awaits the one who makes it all the way down and still has eyes for more beauty: the waterfall cascades down into a clear pool lined with the most interesting ferns, mosses, epiphytes, and climbers. Oh if only I had a private garden in a cool, shady area – this and a few trees would be the gorgeous landscape. Who cares if there was no sun, as long as there are ferns, mosses, and no mosquitoes?
cloudforest-2(Marina Bay Sands, Singapore; July 2018)