Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Roman Empire

(I didn't realize this was actually a thing until someone made a comment on a facebook post about a book I'd read on the great fire of Rome during Nero's reign.)

How often do I think about the Roman Empire? I would have said very rarely, other than when I'm reading about it, which is also rarely, but when I got to thinking about it, I realized that wasn't remotely true.

I wouldn't say I spend much time thinking about the Roman Empire - its intricacies, the day to day, the individuals, the intrigue. But I must confess I do spend a fair bit of time thinking about the remains of the Roman Empire. I took photos of loads of it, so photos adorn my walls, my screens, my thoughts. 

The details of that time are historically interesting, but all in all, it was a pretty gruesome time. I might even argue that we'd be better off without it having happened, like many empires. I'm sure people would argue that there would be no progress had there not been a Roman Empire, or any empire, but is empire really necessary for progress? Even the progress we have now that is a result of modern borders, is it essential? I suppose it is if we want to keep poor CEOs fed and happy. But for the rest of us, do we need this constant and dramatic rush for the next big thing? Of course not. Do we need better wifi, more youtube videos, more influencers, faster cars, wider roads, bigger trucks, more precision weapons, more dumb weapons, more war, a wider wage gap, more drugs? No, of course not. Progress, however you define it, is inevitable, but does it all have to happen today? Are we conflating progress with a better life? Is our life better because of Twitter, Facebook? Is it better because a car has programmable seating positions or digital gauges? Is it better because you can read my thoughts on a blog? Not likely. We certainly have a broader reach, but with each step outward, it's fair to ask how deeply we can continue to feel, or think, or understand. More friends does not mean better friends. Thoughts and prayers on twitter are no match for someone to talk with when things are really tough. Birthday wishes don't hold a candle to a homemade cake presented to you by someone who loves you. Deeply.

Rey, what about air conditioning? Well, what about a city full of trees instead of concrete?

What about life-saving drugs? Maybe if we weren't inhaling the off-gassing of the chemicals that are present in everything, or my body absorbing all the microplastics in our food and water, we wouldn't need so many drugs.

Well, I'm getting broadly off topic now. My point is, empire doesn't interest me as much as the remains of empire. Walking through ancient cities makes me think about the past and the people who lived it. The average person, not the emperors or CEOs. Likewise, visiting old churches doesn't have me thinking about the pope or the archbishop, or the priest who presided there. It doesn't have me thinking about the dogma; if anything, I'll be considering the impact the church had through its narrow mindedness, which likely stunted a lot of natural growth and progress for a few centuries. It has me thinking about the regular person who worshipped there, and more often, the artist whose works adorn the walls. It has me thinking about the community that built the church/synagogue/mosque and supported its upkeep for centuries. 

It feels like walking through the ruins and buildings of the past helps bring me closer to history and the people who lived it, as opposed to the empire or the greater forces that shaped those times.

Here's a collection of some of my favourite photographs of Roman history.

Ephesus, Turkey

Afamea/Apamea, Syria

Petra, Jordan

Rome, Italy

Toledo, Spain

Palmyra, Syria

Jerash, Jordan

Volubilis, Morocco

Monday, March 27, 2023


We've arrived at a time I became convinced would never come.

Our dog Indi is no longer in the house with us, no longer the constant presence that added the exclamation point to our lives for the past fifteen years.

I didn't imagine in a million years (or at least fifteen) how profoundly her loss would impact me, but there is no denying the enormity of the hole that sits at the centre of my heart. I told some friends that it felt like the universe threw me a brick, and I tried to catch it with my chest. 

Her name at the Humane Society was Sunday, but I think we knew before we got there that any dog we came home with would become Indi. Our sweet India. Just a few months earlier, we'd returned from a nine-month trip around the world. Three of those months were spent in India, and the time there left a mark, due to its splendour, its colour, its warmth. Indi evoked all of that and a lot more in those first hugs she doled out to each one of us.

They told us that she was about one year old, so we gave her a birthday to match - July 31, 2007. We had always wondered what her life was like as a pup wandering around rural Manitoba. That dog grew up with all of us, her wealth of energy spreading joy to everyone she met, including her dear friend and neighbour, Odin. All other dogs she despised with an intensity usually reserved for telemarketers and used car salespeople. 

She could play for hours, chasing whatever toy you threw, ripping apart any stuffed animal that appeared under the Christmas tree. Each year she bested her previous record for best time removing all the stuffing and the squeaker. But above all, her most favourite thing was Winnipeg's river trail. The sounds that she would make when she would see that trail, all that open space before her, was the sound of pure joy. The first winter she was with us was the year the trail went all the way from Assiniboine Park, to The Forks and south to Churchill Drive. Almost ten kilometres. She could not contain her excitement while I put on my skates, yelping at all those within earshot to take her running now! And then she would run. She would run as if her life depended on it, as if she knew that watching her run was all I ever wanted to do. For a dog of only thirty-five pounds, she had no difficulty pulling my two-hundred-pound frame around. When I chose to skate as fast as I could, I was only able to keep up with her for a short while.

Summertime was the time of the frisbee, and seeing that thing pulled out of the backpack when we got to the field was like unleashing a wolverine at a vole convention. Run, run, run, run. That's what it boiled down to. She wanted to run.

After a good ten years of non-stop action, Indi began to lose a step. I would encourage her to slow down on the skating trails, and she would often find shelter under the shade of a large tree after a few pulls of the frisbee. She became a dog who found a lot of pleasure sitting at our feet in the evening, and going for slow river walks during the day. When her hips gave out on her, I prepared for the worst, but she recovered with the help of anti-inflammatories and painkillers. And while the medication did the job of keeping the pain at bay, it could not stop the march of time. The ruthlessness of that march began to show this year, with ever more aches and encumbrances placing ever more limits on what she was able to do. Cushions were placed around the main floor to keep her comfortable. I moved my computer downstairs to do whatever work I could while keeping an eye on her. Keeping her company.

Eventually I just started reading to her, reading the book of our travels. If she wasn't able to tell us what she was up to during her first year, I would tell her what we were up to during her first year. And I finally clued into the fact that her birthday coincided with with the first day of our travels that began in Rome, on July 31, 2007. 

While she was exploring rural Manitoba as a young pup, we were exploring the world as a young family and it was an especially poignant thing to read to her about coming home. Home to meet her.

She will be in our hearts forever. What a dog.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Art and IQ

 If you own this type of art, your IQ is off the charts.

Photography - You are grounded in reality, love to see the world up close, and are captivated by the world around you. You possess a keen eye for finding hope in the way that things are, without unnecessary splash and dazzle.

Drawing - Your understanding of the value of labour makes you a patron of the proletariat. You recognize the patience and determination required to create such fine works because you see the finished piece as a reflection of yourself - a bold, strong, working class hero.

Watercolour - The ethereal nature of the medium is a reflection of your inner state of mind, a place of quiet perfection and delicate beauty. Channeling that beauty out and into the greater world will put you top of mind for all those seeking a life guided by human principles.

Acrylic painting - You are part of a forward-thinking group who is not afraid of change, not afraid of something new simply because it is different. This does not mean change at all costs, or throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it’s just the recognition that sometimes something different can be the right call. Knowing where and when to play that hand will keep you at the top of any game.

Oil painting - There is something to be said for centuries-old traditions, and nothing says that more than your appreciation of a good oil painting. Respect and loyalty for those traditions - and history itself - means that you are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. This confidence oozes from your pores, and is a beacon to those around you.

Portrait painting - Seeing beauty beyond superficial details is what separates you from the pack. Being able to see beyond what is just represented is a gift from the heavens, and helps you to be the kind of person people love to like. We are much more akin to icebergs than any instagram post would have you believe, so your intuition in this regard is invaluable.

Abstract painting - Your sense of self is not found in likes or hearts, nor in the banal of modern-day consumerism. The eclectic nature of your art collection tells a story that is uniquely yours, while still managing to keep your cards close to your chest. Continue to be yourself to lead the world away from its conspiracy-laden fundamentalists whose thoughts have no thinking behind them, and who therefore speak without saying anything.

Super realism - Seeing the world as it is is a sign of contentedness, not of complacency. It’s a recognition that you understand the world completely, without the need for metaphor and moralizing to bring you to a higher plane of understanding.

Abstract/representational hybrid - You connect to a world beyond its present state, to a future, past, and present all at once. As such, your neural activity seats you in the top 5% of all beings on earth, not just the ones who exert their power for the benefit of self-satisfaction. Careful nurturing of this super-earthling ability will reward you with the worthwhile riches of the many universes you inhabit.

Architecture - You have a deep understanding of volumes and lines, of form and function, and seek a life of structure and foundational truths. These truths will gird your soul for all that this world throws at you, and leave you stronger while others fall. This is the steadfastness from which leaders are born, and will have you repeating that famous mantra of Simpson’s lore: “I am nature’s greatest miracle.”

When you are ready to fully materialize in your true form, find an artist that is right for you. Then slather your walls liberally with their art. You will thank yourself. Nay, all of humanity will thank you for your vision and good taste. The history books will write themselves, while your name be on every page. You do it not for the glory, but for the betterment of the world you inhabit, for the generations that follow (who will sing your praises (though you do not seek nor ask for such devotion)), and to see smiles on the faces of the children.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Fes Is What Makes Fes

I wanted to title this post, "What Makes Fes Fes" but that didn't sound right, so there you go.

Fes is by any measure an extraordinary city. For one, it is considered to be the largest car-free urban zone in the world. This may not sound like much, but when you realize that a hundred and fifty thousand people live in this specific area, it becomes clear just how big the area is.

A view from the rooftop of our riad

Fes is home to so many great doors, the simply amazing ones become commonplace.

There are all kinds of places to stay in Fes, at all kinds of price points. Even on the relatively budget end of accommodations, you can find yourself in a place like this.

The common room at Riad Laayoun in Old Fes

One of the many things I found fascinating about Fes was that half of it seems to exist underground. It's evolution over the centuries has given it an organic feel that is difficult to describe. Entry points from the outside take you through a time machine and down into a literal labyrinth of alleys and tunnels filled with all manner of shops. Crowds pack the spaces headed in every direction. Light from above makes an occasional appearance, and when you suddenly find yourself back on the outside, it's a bit like you can breath again even though you had no difficulty breathing to that point.

Note the fellow on the right who is ready to encourage us to give his restaurant a try.

There are several gates leading into (and out of, I guess) the city, all of them in the classic Moorish style, many with tile designs covering their surface.

Palais el Glaouis is a pretty spot to get away from the action on the streets and enjoy some of that intricate tile work.

Chouara Tannery was certainly unique for us. All the info tells you that it is the worst smelling place you will ever encounter and that the provided mint leaves are a critical antidote. This may be true if you've never left the city, are unfamiliar with farm life, and/or have never been to India.* The aroma was powerful, but was best enjoyed without the mint pressed over my nose.

And when you're done with all the actual sites, just roaming the streets is pure joy. It's a colourful, evocative city that will invigorate your senses and leave you with loads of fun memories.

Fes is easily reachable by train from Casablanca (and Rabat and Meknes), taking about three and a half hours. If you have some time, be sure to stop in Meknes along the way and take a trip out to Volubilis. We had originally planned to just stick around Meknes, but our riad owner Jean-Claude in Fes convinced us it would be enjoyable. We've seen tonnes of Roman ruins in the past, so it wasn't really a priority. Well, after a few days of close quarters in Fes, and then a little more in Meknes, we were glad to have this experience, completely different from the rest of our trip. Volubilis is in a nice setting on an open plain, with loads of extraordinary floor mosaics and some pleasant arches and pillars scattered about.

* Again, this is not meant to denigrate India; it's just that India is a country of extremes, for good or bad. If you've really experienced India, the tanneries of Fes will not take your breath away.