Category Archives: Photograph


I’m not sure if I saw the first transatlantic TV broadcast, which took place a few days after my eighth birthday, but I do remember watching a TV segment (from Rome, I think) prefaced by a network anchor saying, “we’re waiting for the satellite”.

I took this yesterday morning on my deck, edited it on the phone, and a few hours laterĀ somebody in Poland “favorited” it on Flickr.

The difference in technology, then vs. now, is enough to make a person feel old.

I too

“Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India”

William Dalrymple

Dalrymple profiles nine Indians who participate in the several religions — Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, etc. — of India in different ways. It’s an interesting peek into the colorful but opaque-to-oustsiders worlds of Indian faith and practices.

I read this before my recent trip to India, and I may reread parts now that I’ve experienced the country.

“Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi”

Piers Moore Ede

Varanasi (formerly Benares) is a city on the Ganges in northern India. It’s an ancient city, continuously inhabited for thousands of years, and is considered a holy city by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. The previous sentence is a pretty dry description; this book — which I read before visiting Varanasi — reveals a lot about the life of the city. But nothing can compare to being there: it’s chaotic, colorful, dirty, loud, and beautiful. From a boat on the Ganges you see people doing laundry, people engaged in ritual bathing, and cremation fires, all over a fairly short distance. I’d recommend “Kaleidoscope City” to anyone with the least interest in India or its religions. Now that I’ve been to the city, I may read the book again.

“Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World”

Roger Crowley

This is a good, not-too-detailed book about the struggle between the Ottoman Empire and the Christian West between the Siege of Rhodes in 1522 and the Battle of Lepanto in 1572 as it played out in the Mediterranean. To me the story of the Siege of Malta of 1565 was the most interesting part of the book, not just because it’s a dramatic tale of victory despite overwhelming odds, but because I read it just before visiting Malta.

Ft. St. Angelo (center across the water), which played an important role in the Great Siege, as it looks today.

“War and Peace”

Leo Tolstoy

This might, along with “Moby Dick”, be the Mount Everest of novels. The BBC mini-series was a good base camp for the assault on the summit, which took weeks. The effort was well worth it. I enjoyed it immensely and was amazed at how much of life Tolstoy put into the book.

It would be foolish of me to even try to summarize it, but I’ll mention a couple of things that struck me. All the characters, admirable, pitiable, and deplorable, have their reasons. Tolstoy’s Kutuzov reminded me of Ulysses S. Grant in that he had a vision of a goal that he doggedly pursued in the face of criticism. The essay-like sections on the nature of history, on cause and effect, and on historic contingency were as striking as the fictional parts.

I read Book 9, Chapter 1, on the day after I had spent a day touring the WW I battlefields of Flanders, the location of events so horrific that being there felt more like my visit to Auschwitz than any battlefield visit I’ve ever made. Some of the text from that section, which in the book refer to Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, practically leapt off the page:

…an event took place opposed to human reason and to human nature. Millions of men perpetrated against one another such innumerable crimes, frauds, treacheries, thefts, forgeries, issues of false money, burglaries, incendiarisms, and murders as in whole centuries are not recorded in the annals of all the law courts of the world, but which those who committed them did not at the time regard as being crimes.

…an incalculable number of causes present themselves. The deeper we delve in search of these causes the more of them we find; and each separate cause or whole series of causes appears to us equally valid in itself and equally false by its insignificance compared to the magnitude of the events, and by its impotence- apart from the cooperation of all the other coincident causes- to occasion the event.

Without each of these causes nothing could have happened. So all these causes- myriads of causes- coincided to bring it about. And so there was no one cause for that occurrence, but it had to occur because it had to. Millions of men, renouncing their human feelings and reason, had to go from west to east to slay their fellows, just as some centuries previously hordes of men had come from the east to the west, slaying their fellows.

The actions of Napoleon and Alexander, on whose words the event seemed to hang, were as little voluntary as the actions of any soldier who was drawn into the campaign by lot or by conscription. This could not be otherwise, for in order that the will of Napoleon and Alexander (on whom the event seemed to depend) should be carried out, the concurrence of innumerable circumstances was needed without any one of which the event could not have taken place. It was necessary that millions of men in whose hands lay the real power- the soldiers who fired, or transported provisions and guns- should consent to carry out the will of these weak individuals, and should have been induced to do so by an infinite number of diverse and complex causes.

British soldier’s grave, Tyne Cot cemetery, Flanders. One of almost 12,000 graves in this cemetery, of which fewer than 4000 are identified. It’s also the site of a memorial containing the names of almost 35,000 missing.