Looking Back. Burma/Myanmar

I took this picture of a young monk in a monastery in Thanlyin, Myanmar. His warm smile made it all happen.

Looking Back: Burma/Myanmar

I took this picture in Thanlyin, Myanmar, of a bicycle parking stand. I remember the days when many people in India also got around by bicycle and cycle rickshaw. Cities like Delhi and Agra were quite clean as a result. Now automobiles have made the air unhealthy to breathe. In the small towns in Myanmar, cars are more and more common every year. Soon they, too, will be choking in the exhaust and the roads will be too dangerous for the bicycle, one of history’s greatest inventions.

Looking Back: Burma/Myanmar

A display of Bohdi tree leaves. This is the type of tree that the Buddha was said to have meditated under when he gained enlightenment. Its connection to the event is found in its Latin name, ‘ficus religiosa‘, a type of fig. Open air market Thanlyin, Myanmar.

Looking Back: Burma/Myanmar

The gilded pinnacles of stupas surrounding the main stupa at Bago, Myanmar. A stupa is a Buddhist shrine, often domed or bell-shaped, that holds within it a sacred relic associated with Buddhism. The gold leaf honours the relic and the Buddha, as do the symbolic ‘umbrellas’ over the spires. The main stupa is the 114 meter high Shwemawdaw Pagoda (stupas are often called pagodas in Burma). Buddhists claim that the original stupa here was very ancient, but this is a common claim. The original stupa houses two hairs from the Buddha’s head, and in the middle ages one of his teeth was added to the mix. Apparently the Buddha had hundreds of them. Teeth, not hairs.

Looking Back: Burma/Myanmar

This picture needs no explanation. A small group of Buddhist monks are walking along the street, with their begging bowls in hand. The colours of the robes were so vibrant, the types of saturations that seem to exist naturally only in Asia. The leader demurely put his fan up to protect himself against the presumptuousness of my lens.

Looking Back: Yangon, Burma

I took this picture from the decks of the wonderful ship Nautica, which belongs to the Oceania fleet. I was working as a lecturer on a 35-day cruise from Bangkok to Rome. Needless to say, a spectacular trip. We stayed a couple of days in Burma/Myanmar, and the several of the posts above are from there. This woman was rushing to work along the docks, with her umbrella shading her from a sun that was already becoming intense in the morning. The colours and the lines of the railway tracks made a nice composition.

Jazzy John

Every once and awhile, while teaching or going through my image collection, I’ll come across something and I’ll think: ‘that should be on the blog’. So here’s a recent one, a detail from the early 13th century mosaic of the Deisis in Hagia Sophia, of St John the Baptist. The subtlety in the range of colour and use of the tesserae (the little bits the mosaic is made up of) is really remarkable. I can’t wait to get back to Istanbul. Maybe 2019.

Livia’s Love

The wife of the Emperor Augustus, Livia, had a large room decorated in frescoes depicting a lovely garden in their villa at Prima Porta in Rome, which was constructed around the 40s CE. All four walls are sumptuously decorated with scenes of trees, bushes, and birds flying and alighting on branches. Lemons, roses, and pomegranates predominate (see image below). Two thousand years old, they are a celebration of the love of nature and the pleasures of gardens.

Livia’s Garden

Another detail from the fresoes of Livia’s garden at Prima Porta (see above).

Hellenistic Hermaphrodite

One of the most eye-opening and sensuous sculptures in the world is in the Museo Nazionale delle Terme in Rome: the Hellenistic marble sculpture of a Hermaphrodite (see below for other view). A gender-bending icon, it’s probably the most photographed artifact in the museum. There are a few versions of this work. The first, and probably the oldest version is in the Louvre. Another version, also ancient, was found in 1781 and is in the Villa Borghese. This one was discovered in 1880, and probably dates from around the 2nd century CE.