Still

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.  And so do we.  It was over a hundred degrees, and the sun blazed down from a cloudless sky.   The plaza was nearly deserted as we approached Batalha Monastery, and I was wilting.  Still, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we couldn’t miss it.

Batalha Monastery, the ‘Monastery of Battle’, was begun by King Joao I to commemorate his victory of the Portuguese over the Castilians in the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

I was glad I came.

In the cloisters, time stands still.  The view hadn’t changed in six centuries.

Inside the church the stained glass softened the harsh sunlight.

A dramatic tomb for King Joao and Queen Phillipa of Lancaster depicted the royal couple with joined hands, symbolizing the alliance between Portugal and England.  Surrounding bays contained the tombs of their four younger sons.  I’d already seen so many tombs that week, and couldn’t muster the energy to snap a shot, although I was moved to photograph the stillness of the Royal Cloister.

I found the symmetry soothing.

And then I stepped into The Unfinished Chapel, where rests the tomb of their eldest son, King Duarte and his wife, Leonor of Aragon. Their final resting place was less monumental, and still uncompleted, without even a roof.  Their chapel too was designed to house the tombs of their descendants, but that hadn’t happened either.  Duarte and Leonor were its sole occupants.

Duarte’s story was also less remarkable than his dad’s.  His reign was short, troubled, and plagued by poor choices.  He preferred writing to war, and was likely better at it.  He began The Art of Riding on Every Saddle“…in accordance with the saying that writing books is an endless task, which I do for my own relaxation and entertainment…I am going to write…with the objective of improving the riding skills of those who decide to read my writings in good will…”

That book, like his chapel, was also unfinished.  Duarte died young, swept away by the plague, leaving his wife to mourn.  From that day on, she signed her name “the sad queen.”  She lived only a few more years, her short regency also plagued with conflict.  Sadly, she died in exile.  But she rests beside her husband.

Their tomb, their accomplishments, and their lives might have been less glorious than those of their victorious parents.  But their unfinished tomb is open to the sun and the breeze, the infinite sky.  The sad queen and her husband, in gentle and loving repose, seem less a statement of diplomatic alliance than a forever snapshot of a loving couple, still tenderly holding hands after all these years.

I think I’d rather be remembered for my pen than my sword, and would rather be successful in love than in war, or even in my writing.

Still, plague notwithstanding, I’m going to finish my damn book.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck
Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Stillness.

A Celebration of Fenestration

The Latin word for window is “fenestra.”  The old English word for window, “eagbyrl,” means “eye-door.”   Just like a door, it can be used for peeking out…

…or peeking in.

Whether you are looking in or out, there are so many things to see, just behind the glass.

The earliest windows were holes in a wall.

Narrow slits, to let in a bit of light with the cold air or to shoot an arrow through.

The ancient Romans were the first to use glass.

Then came windows of animal horn or hides, cloth, and in the Far East, even paper.

The Inuit people say, “Don’t let the window of your home be so small that the light of the sun cannot enter.”

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said people are like stained glass windows.   They sparkle and shine when the sun is out…

…but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed.

In the Ukraine they say you don’t really see the world, if you look only through your own window.

And what a world there is out there to see!


There is another old saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul.”

…and one that says a smile is a window on your face to show your heart is at home.

The world on either side of your window can be sad…

…distant…

…daunting…

…and scary.

All the more reason to let the light in.

Let your window’s light shine like a beacon…

…and reflect upon the beauty of our world.

All the windows of the world!

All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Narrow.

Benchmarks

A bench is like an old shoe.  Whether in use at the moment…

…or long since abandoned…

…its former occupants leave their mark.

All over the world, these are the true thrones of the people.

They provide company…

…entertainment…

…a sense of belonging…

…a place to rest…

…to reflect…

…to escape the worries of the workaday world…

…or not.

Oh, the stories they have heard…

The sights they have seen…

Those benches have been warmed by the flesh and blood of people who have loved…

…and sometimes lost. Who’s to say?


But the next time you see one, sit and rest a spell.  As you take the bench, and watch the world go by, don’t judge too harshly.

Listen to the stories it has to tell.  They won’t be so very different from your own.

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of Travel Words Bench Series#9.

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Travel Theme: Benches.

The Many Degrees of Spooky

There are so many degrees of spooky.  There is silly spooky fun, much of it tasteless.

Well, actually this one tasted pretty darn good!

So did these guys, but you know what I mean.

In the real world, mildly spooky is a vicious ATM that eats your cash card five minutes after landing in a foreign land, and then being forced to use your rusty high school Spanish to try to get it back over the phone from a bank where no one speaks English.  To no avail.  The machine can smell your fear, and the voice on the other end of the line really doesn’t care.  But you know you’ll survive.

Or how about when your staircase remodel is taking far too long, and every night you build a barricade of chairs and boxes around the gaping opening, and you realize you’re telling your children, “Don’t fall in the stair hole!” as often as you’re saying, “I love you!”

We visited a 16th c. chapel in Portugal made entirely of bones. Over the doorway a sign says,”We, the bones that are here, await yours.”  That’s kind of creepy.

But, hey, it’s the bones of monks long dead at the time of construction; they wouldn’t have minded anyway.  And it did happen a long time ago.

But how’s this for scary?  This memorial reminds us that not so long ago, in our parents’ lifetime, a Holocaust happened in which, not just six million Jews were systematically slain, but blacks, homosexuals, the disabled, the mentally ill, anyone without a protector, and anyone who spoke out for them.  Still we ask ourselves, “How could that have happened?”  Or even, “How could we have allowed that to happen?”

Our country was founded on the groundbreaking principle that all men are created equal.  Many have fought and bled and died to extend that right to include all humans.  But there are legislators and candidates trying, step by step, to demote and disenfranchise homosexuals, minorities, and women.  And talk about spooky!  In our wealthy country, they want to slash humane assistance and every kind of safety net, including social security and medicare, for widows and orphans, the disabled, the elderly, the ill, and others who have no voice, no resources, and no options.  Public school funding has been cut to the bone, undermining a poor child’s means of improving his life.  Even if they have declared that corporations are people, why does a multi-billion dollar corporation like General Electric make huge profits but pay zero taxes, while real people are scraping to pay 39 percent of their income?

I’m asking myself, “How did this happen?” and “How did we allow this to happen?”

Yeah, it’s spooky, and I’m scared.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Creepy.

For other interpretations of Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Spooky, just click here.

All words and images copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck

One Village

In my travels I prefer a village setting to a big city, and will bypass London for thatched roof country, or head straight out of Rome to explore the ancient villages of Umbria , Tuscany or Ligurnia.  All over the world, they are so different.

On the little island of Aeroskobing in Denmark…

…or above the clouds high up in the mountains of Switzerland.

At sea level in Iceland…

….or at the foot of a Norman castle in Ireland.

In the shadow of Cesky Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic…

…or on the shore of a fjiord in Norway.

Beneath an ancient Roman aquaduct in Spain…

…or on a little cobbled street in Dorset.

Each has its own unique story and history…

Tastes…

 

Traditions…

Colors

And characters…

All so different and yet so familiar.

Almost like family.

Copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck