Greek Independence Day, March 25

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The event is March 25, Greek Independence Day. The actual story of how Greek wrested a nation out of an independence movement against the Turks is too complicated to recount here. It involves British, French, Russian, Austrian and Egyptian intervention, troops on the ground and warships in the straits, deals and negotiations that bounce around European courts. The British seem to be the deciding factor, as well as the latter stages of the Ottoman Empire that was in the process of slowly collapsing.

At any rate, the first move to independence was hampered by Greek infighting since there was no national consciousness or consensus in the early 1800s. To get local kingdoms to cooperate and share agendas that affected other parts of the islands was perhaps an impossible ideal. The federation that was cobbled together seems to have had enough commonality (and perhaps expediency as well, given all the hostile forces surrounding Greece) to persist and to have been reified over generations of schoolbooks.

But I wonder if they teach about the massacres of Turkish and Greek civilian populations that followed Greek declarations of independence? Do they claim credit for themselves or give thanks to foreign powers that intervened militarily and diplomatically on their behalf?

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The school kids of Hora town would be the ones to ask, but they are too busy marching in a parade that assembles first at the big church I visited last Sunday morning for the mass of the ascension. Each class/level has a flag bearer wearing traditional costume, flanked by several more kids in dress of the 18th and 19th centuries. Everyone else wears blue and white, shirts and trousers or skirts.

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What animates the event are the drum corps. I heard drums this morning at 3:30 a.m., moving around the town till 5:00. (!) Fortunately, Hotel Grotta is on the outskirts of town so the closest the drums got was the big church 10 minutes away. They pound out a strange halting rhythm that stops just as it builds momentum, then pushes forward to an end that loops back to the beginning. Mostly boys, a few girls hang in with snare drums and determination. The groups are not well-rehearsed, which adds a frenetic randomness to the soundtrack of the whole affair.

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First there is blessing in the Metropolitan Church, led by a high-ranking priest. There was plenty of church-state symbiosis at various points, but that is the way it is done in other countries as well. The blessing is not a mass and not very solemn in how people interact with the ritual, so there’s lots of coming and going, with most kids staying outside and the adults inside.

image There is horseplay, couples wandering off to smooch, drum corps itching to start their odd rhythms again, and general festive energies. I take lots of photos of people, including a couple classics.image

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From the church, the drums fire up again and everyone moves a short distance to a war-independence memorial ceremony. Here, local dignitaries place olive wreaths at the base of a marble monument on the edge of town closest to the Apollo temple.

imageimageThen the main parade starts, heading down the port road and over to a big parking lot. I don’t follow it but stay in one spot and snap photos of the kids (and a few adults) filing past. Sky is blue, wind nippy and persistent, and everyone participates to the extent of their interest.

imageI’ll post more photos below, WordPress willing.

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Naxos, the Old Town

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After two very beautiful and busy days of moving around the island, I feel a cold coming on. Is my body and immune system really this vulnerable? I thought at first that the longer I traveled, the tougher I’d become, but that doesn’t seem to be holding true. Or maybe that’s the case for one’s digestive and intestinal systems in Asia, where local bacteria move in and, if one is lucky, aid in digestion rather than wreck it. At least my minor health annoyances, save for the knee injury, have been above the belt.

The wind has kicked up from the north and gusts around 20-30 mph all day. I stay close to the hotel and enjoy my splendid room looking at town to the west, and to the north at the blue Aegean now flecked with whitecaps. I abscond with breakfast items (bread, cheese, ham, fruit, sometimes even a bit of cake or quiche–all in great variety and all delicious) so have no shortage of food during the day.

I finally visit some of the old city’s  back alleys, little courtyards, and churches–both Orthodox and Catholic. The latter is here because Venice controlled these islands for a century or so, and its local overlords fortified themselves in towers, with churches providing spiritual protection from the “heretics” of Orthodox Christianity.

ImageAn archaeological museum spread over two floors of a Venetian-built castle has very early pottery (3000+ years old), grave goods, even “Cycladic Figurines” that may or may not be fertility divinities despite their fairly featureless bodies and blank faces. A bit haunting to look at them and imagine the kind of power they were supposed to embody.

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(photo from flickriver.com)

This whole town of Hora/Chora–now so picturesque and photogenic– is built around the dream of defense and protection. “We’ll be safe if we leave no space between houses for attackers to access; our walls and a maze-like network of streets will save us!”

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Who knows if the design worked for local threats like pirates and bandits, but it certainly did not deter all those navies, armies, empires and regimes that targeted Naxos. Its olive groves, marble quarries, and meager agriculture have contributed to millennia of forced compliance by one dominating regime after another. Imagine being ruled by Ottoman Turks for 350 years (15th to 19th centuries) or Persians for 400 (3rd to 1st c. BCE). This history reminds me of how recent the cultural identity of “Greece” actually is. A national holiday celebrating its independence will take place on the 25th, and I’ll be here to see it.

Naxos, Second Ramble by Car

imageThe next day I have the car another 24 hours. Drive south to sunny beaches and find a grassy hill above dramatic rocks at Agiassos, reached by some dicey dirt roads. As if entering an inescapable gravitational field and then hustle over the fields full of the little white daisies to reach the shoreline. One big rock sticks out from the hill and provides the right angle to see the sun refracted into little stars dancing on the waves. It is mesmerizing and transcendent in the same way mountain lakes in the Sierra can be…

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I get out the flute and play a few tunes to honor the spot and Poseidon, lord of the deep blue sea, wondering if Odysseus rounded this point, or if a battle played out here, or if legions of summer tourists wear clothes at all when sunning on these shores.

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I give it a try, going in up to my waist, but the water is just too cold and I’m worried about coming down with something since my body and its immune system is somewhat compromised. Too much thinking! (I pay tribute to my thick-skinned Dutch friend Geert Hendriks who would fearlessly swim in beautiful water whatever the temperature.)

Drive then to Bazeos Tower for a lunch in a shady corner of a field terrace, the whole expanse a mix of white and yellow daisies.  I try to get a photo that does justice to the place and have to hunker down in the dirt and grass to get the camera positioned just-so (see the first photo)

I pick up a coffee in Halki, then head up the valley to Moni and a hike to a high chapel atop a rocky spire. While I like the view back to Halki and Filoti further up the valley, the view west is compromised by centuries of marble excavation from mountainside quarries. The mountains look ravaged and despondent and are depressing to view.

On the return, I stop at the church of “Drosiani Virgin” w/ original Byzantine wall paintings still visible, impressive, and decaying rapidly. An old woman caretaker watches me like a hawk, waiting for me to take out my camera so I can be scolded. But the camera comes out later when I discover the old walking path from Moni to Halki, a high wall on the uphill side and a lower one heading down, all awash in daisies and violet lupines.

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I take a different route back to Naxos town (Chora) via Potamia village and its access trails to the fort I will visit later on. A sign says “ancient Mycenaean burial site”, 8th c. BCE. That gives me something to think about on the drive back to the hotel.

The next morning en route to returning the car, I drive to a temple dedicated to Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, and of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. The site is nothing much to look at and hard to imagine a series of major temples stood here that were revered throughout the islands. But it is the only place I saw in Greece or Turkey that had a cool plexiglas descriptive guide, with images of how the temple once looked.image

Naxos, First Encounter

imageMarch 18 The Blue Star Ferry leaves Pireaus port at 7:30 a.m. and takes 5 hours to reach Naxos. The ride is steady and the boat full of people on a Wednesday. It’s too cold to be on deck, too much cigarette smoke in the outdoor areas protected from the wind, and too noisy in the common and reserved areas due to the f.ing tv that runs nonstop. Ugh. I try to listen to music via headphones and answer some emails, keeping my eye on the passing waves. When Naxos appears, it is every bit as dramatic as I hoped for. It took a couple evenings of research and homework to find an island that had the combination I thought would serve me well at this point of the trip: ocean views, country trails, some historical sites, and rural villages with character. As it turned out, Naxos had all of these features, each of high and enduring quality. Image The photo taken from the ferry as it approached the harbor of Naxos’ main town called “Chora/Hora,” shows the northern edge of town where my wonderful hotel, the Grotta, turned out to be. It’s the gold-colored building in the lower right corner. The doorway to an ancient 5th c. BCE temple to Apollo is in the lower foreground. On the mountain slope behind the hotel is a large Greek Orthodox monastery, as well as a smaller chapel built into a natural crevice in the rock. imageGabriela Alvarez and Carlos Martinez also got off the ferry at Naxos and into taxis picking up Hotel Grotta guests. At breakfast the next morning, I overheard them discussing a car rental and so offered to join in and share costs. From 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., we end up seeing much of the central and north part of the island, and find we are compatible in many ways. I was a little unsure of my social skills after so much time alone in Turkey, but they put up with me in a very compassionate way. There is too much to write about each place we visited, so the photos will guide the recollection:

• temple to Demeter, the same female deity of agriculture and grains whose temple ruins were so compelling at Priene (Turkey); here they look out on a vast fertile valley ringed by high mountains (1000 m.) to the east and north, and smaller ones to the west. Gorgeous. image • Zeus cave reached by 20 min. walk up rocky stream valley, with Mt. Zeus towering overhead at 1001 m. Given all there is to see, I realize I won’t make it up there on this trip but hope to return again in the spring.   image • centrally-located village of Halki walked thru, around, and enjoyed for a Greek coffee at a central plaza

 

• we did a long drive to an east side port and the possibility of lunch by the shore, but all is shut and poor Carlos is beyond hungry; we share a number of items pilfered from the breakfast buffet, but these hardly substitute for a freshly-caught fish cooked up right

 

• we drive to Appolonas in the far north, which relieves me of the idea of staying there; nothing would be open and it’s too hemmed-in; might return for a hike to a fort overlooking the town

 

• head back to Hora along northern coastal road and find a nice spot for the sunset, seen from a small chapel built above the beach; I try to scramble to a scenic overlook and could have made it were it not for a thicket of spiky bushes I’m smart enough to avoid.image • end the day with the 3 of us having a big fish dinner at a port side restaurant recommended by Nicoletta at the hotel. 3 types of fish, big salads, /2 L. of wine; a fitting finalé to a memorable day shared with lovely people.

image Carlos is a general practice physician, and Gabriela a social mediator dealing with immigrants and refugees trying to enter Spain through the sovereign Spanish state of Melilla, located along the central Moroccan Mediterranean coast. It’s a tiny strip of land but they have friends, things to do, and seem to be happy there for now.  They head to Santorini and then Crete after two days on Naxos.  (For more on the immigrant situation, and the storming of fences by hundreds of people determined to get to Spain, see http://www.euronews.com/2014/03/28/hundreds-of-migrants-scale-barrier-between-morocco-and-melilla-/)

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Turkey Reprise via Hotel Nisanyan

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I see that in my rush to catch up with these reports, I neglected to highlight one of the truly sublime and delightful places I stayed on this trip: Hotel Nisanyan in the village of Sirinçe. (My iPad won’t permit me to add a circumflex under the “s”, but “Nishanyan” is the proper way to pronounce the name.) I mentioned it briefly on the first day I visited, but then moved on to other topics. So let me be “fair and balanced” in describing its charms and location.

Its founder is Sevan Nisanyan, a writer of Armenian descent who is a well-known linguist, political commentator, and human rights activist. The Turkish government sent him to prison last year for 4 years because he built a 60 square meter hut in his own land which he already donated to the philosophy village that he founded. He was arrested and carried out of this hut, as seen in the photo. Of course, the hut arrest was just a pretext to silence an outspoken critic of the current government, an agenda it pursues with increasing aggressiveness since it has now silenced Twitter and one feature of Google.

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I didn’t know any of this when I checked in and then stayed five days. His former wife and partner is now in charge of running the Inn, which she does with style and a sense of mission. She said to me once I found out about Sevan’s situation that she “didn’t want to burden me with this heavy information.” There is a petition to free him on change.org (a link which I will provide in case anyone wants to support his cause: https://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/free-sevan-nişanyan-sevan-nişanyan-a-ozgurluk-president-of-republic-of-turkey-abdullah-gül-grant-amnesty-to-sevan-nişanyan-of-his-sentence-for-4-years-for-building-a-hut-in-his-own-land).

Hotel Nisanyan proved to be the sanctuary I needed at this time of my trip. A comfortable and stylish room combined with a hugely compelling view out over the village and countryside helped me deal with lousy weather that was not conducive to much of anything, and a backlog of reading, writing, and thinking. Each morning I could sit and get very still and focused, following my breath with good concentration and attention. Sometimes a donkey would bray just down the hill from the hotel, adding another dimension to the present moment.

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The physical highlight of my stay was an afternoon walk to a distant temple carved into the side of a cliff, visible from my room-with-a-view. If a temple, it seemed too dramatic to have escaped guide books and so I was already a little skeptical upon approach. But the afternoon of my second day was sunny and glorious, a rare respite from the high tide of clouds that just kept coming from the east.

To commemorate this big walk, I stopped along a ridge and found a spot out of the wind against an old stone terrace. Surrounded by a million little daisies and a few red poppies, I got poised and present, floating the rest of the way through the flowers and sustained “sunshowers” as I approached the cliff.

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Standing right in front of the two pillars and carved lintel overhead, I could see a pile of chips that indicated recent construction–and yet there were dramatic cracks, seepage holes in the stone (onyx? marble?) that had been expertly worked and carved. Where a door should have been to an inner burial chamber, or perhaps an altar, there was only chipped stone, flanked on two sides by the profiles of foxes. Above the main portico, a rounded female face seemed to be emitting flowery rays. At the base of the monument were golden mustard blooms that complimented softly the rust-colored tone of the cliff.

I climbed up a challenging four meters to actually be inside the columns of the monument. A big pile of owl or hawk poop was front and center, so at least all this work has some tangible utility. More likely, it is a work of “ancient art” designed for the residents of the “Mathematica Village,” a planned community of architecturally-harmonious homes, cottages, and other buildings that look directly at the cliff and surrounding mountains. From the monument, the view is wonderfully scenic, even poignant; evocative of older civilizations and people who probably wanted some of the same things we do: good health, notable accomplishments, safety, a stable food supply and political system, and some sense of control over the complexity of our lives and surroundings.

After this walk, I was laid low by yet another cold, and managed only brief walks into the village for dinner or to buy water or some other little errand. As friend D. mentioned in an email, a long trip and constant adjustment to new surroundings takes a gradual toll on the body. One of the highlights of Nisanyan were these fantastic breakfasts that had all the food I needed until early evening. I could always fill my pockets with bread, cheese, walnut-cheese spread, apricots and etc. and have tasty snacks during the day.

The staff at Narayan were very thoughtful and even protective of me–perhaps because of my cold or because of my 8 day old beard full of white hair. Yikes. I started it to be a little less conspicuous in a Muslim country where almost every man has varying degrees of facial hair.

Most memorable of the staff is a young German woman, Anjuli, who traveled in India and Nepal w/ a friend for about 5 months prior to arriving in Turkey 3 months ago. She even rented a motorcycle and learned how to drive it, traveling over 1000 km in the Goa and inland areas. Her hair was blonde and bleached almost white, just like her skin and eyebrows. She had a beautiful smile and charming way of speaking, with the kind of presence that, when entering a room, everyone (men and women alike) sits up and notices. She had a boyfriend on site named Fayed, who was Turkish but lived in Germany for several years and so spoke with her fairly smoothly. I liked them both and waited until the last day to tell them about my books and other work.

May circumstances and time align that I can return to Sirince and Hotel Nisanyan in the foreseeable future.  I’ll add a few more general photos of the village.

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Athens Return

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It only took me 35 friggin’ years to get back to one of the countries and cities I enjoyed most during my previous world tour. Funny how that works–but graduate school, family, parental health issues, change of jobs, publications, research, etc. etc. all claimed their share of my life.  No regrets, so being back is icing on the cake.

The contrasts with Turkey are both subtle and profound: Greece is definitely Europe, with all the positives and negatives of an integrated economic system. People in general are furious at the coercive measures taken by the EU to make Greece’s economy more in line with general practices (including a standard work day, something Spain is struggling with as well).

The wealth of the city is evident (as it was last time, even when the military junta ruled in 1978) and the grind of serving the economic system that has caused so much strife and austerity in recent years is reflected on the faces of 9-5 workers I see on the bus into town from the airport. Everyone looks exhausted and somewhat forlorn…but that’s probably my projection.

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The airport bus deposits me at Syntagma Square, facing the parliament building, and all I have to do is ask a newspaper vendor for the street leading to the Athos Hotel, and zoom, in 5 minutes I’m there. Made it just as it got dark, so relief (and fatigue) is tangible.

From my 3rd floor room, sandwiched between two 1970s era super ugly buildings, I can see the Acropolis and Parthenon’s eastern façade, as well as the old temple to Athena facing to the north. Scaffolding and a giant crane are still in the picture, and will probably remain so for the next 20 years at least.

Even a cursory read about the history of this site is humbling for all the things I don’t know regarding the many civilizations that, one by one, ruled the area and left an impact or legacy. Early settlements date back to the 8th century BCE and are attributed to the Mycenaeans, the same people who conquered Minoan culture on the island of Crete and whose hybrid legacy includes the story of the Minotaur, Theseus, King Minos, and the legend of the lost city of Atlantis.

The Myceneans were in due time overtaken and integrated into the Ionian Greek tribe. Their golden age was rather short lived, lasting from the 5th to 4th century before the Persians sacked the city and destroyed pretty much everything. But this was the time of Sophocles and other philosophers, of the great playwrights Aeschylus and Euripides, and of the demos or “rule by people” that became the idea for democracy later on. Only men with property and good standing could participate in civic deliberations and vote on juries, but it was a dramatic departure from rule by despots and kings.

Alexander then came along in the late 4th century, rallied the noble families into an alliance, and created a vast empire, but it was not sustainable and collapsed not long after his early death at age 33. Hollywood and a respected director, Oliver Stone, tried to put his life (and immense ego) into a film but it didn’t work for some reason. Maybe just too much time has passed for contemporary audiences to feel much interest in an ancient conquerer.

Then it was Rome’s turn. The resources, materiel, manpower, and urban renewal and expansion they brought to the area was simply phenomenal. I think I enjoyed (what is today) a park-like area, the Agora, where the actual heart of the city was located at the foot of the Acropolis more than anything else I saw.

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It was the site of trading, government, learning, worship, and entertainment all in a fairly limited area. About a kilometer distant was the original gate to the city where two major roads–the “Sacred Way” and the “Path of Graves”– converged (and where Plato had his academy on a side route). Supposedly, this is the place where a 5th century BCE inscription first attests to the “immortality” of the soul, but I think the Egyptians were already promoting that idea in their burial and mortuary culture several centuries earlier.

(this is the monument to the individual who talks about immortality)

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The area became Christian from about the early 4th century CE, but the city never recovered from sacking by the Goths in 287 CE. Churches were built from the ruins of earlier temples but these too came under attack by the Ottoman Turks in the 1400s. The Parthenon, built originally in the 5th century BCE, was converted first to a Roman temple, then to a Byzantine church, then to a mosque, and finally a munitions depot, which exploded spectacularly when a cannon ball was lobbed into the center of the building by besieging Venetian troops in 1687.

According to the brochure one receives at the ticket entrance, the “worst destruction” took place in 1806 when Lord Elgin got permission from the Ottoman Turks to remove huge portions of the sculptures, now exhibited in the British Museum as the “Elgin Marbles.” Since 1983, the Greek government has been committed to the return of these treasures.

Well, enough history. Even though mid-March is officially “low season,” there were still plenty of people heading up the single entryway to the grand entrance. Scaffolding is up here and there, along with a crane, as the government attempts a selective restoration that will last generations.
No hurry, mon!

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And speaking of occupying armies, here’s a memorable account: There is a Greek flag flying high over the northeast corner of the Acropolis. When the Germans occupied Athens in WWII, the sentry who guarded the Greek flag which flew from the Acropolis, was ordered by the Nazis to remove it. He calmly took it down, wrapped himself in it and jumped to his death. (This story may or may not be true)

“Nearby is a plaque by the flag commemorates Manolis Glezos and Apostolis Santas, the two eighteen year-old heroes who tore down the Nazi flag flying from the Acropolis on the night of May 30th, 1941. It is of particular interest because these names are known not only by Greeks, but by many Europeans, because this act of courage and resistance to Nazi oppression was an inspiration to all subjected people. Glezos, who became a member of the Greek resistance, was condemned to death for treason in 1948 and imprisoned for being a communist. He was later elected a member of the Panhellenic Socialist Party (PASOK).” (from http://www.athensguide.com/acropolis.html)

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Blogging and Broadcasting

It struck me just now as I posted yet another report that doing a blog reminds me of being on the radio.  Both send information into a kind of virtual reality where it can be picked up by just about anyone motivated to pay attention for a brief spell.

When I returned to the States after spending 1976-1978 in Japan, I traveled west (via Hong Kong, Thailand, Burma, India, Nepal, Greece, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and England, followed by arrival in Boston {where sister Anna and husband Paul were based}, a long ride to Chicago with a Harvard student returning home for spring break, then hitchhiking from Chicago to Kansas City and from there to Little River).  Going east from Japan to the U.S. would have been, the short route.  But after everything that had happened in Japan during those two and a half years–including a first trip to India in the winter of 1977–I couldn’t stand the idea of being back in Kansas so quickly and without some interim adventures.  Ten months later, I was saturated with experiences, chastened and humbled by many of them, and was ready for the heartland again in the spring of 1979.

While working on the family farm and helping out at the local bank started by my grandfather, I somehow landed a gig as a once-a-week announcer for a new, Hutchinson, Kansas-based affiliate of National Public Radio.  Thanks to my pal and mentor at the Univ. of Kansas, Fred Goss, and friends Bill Kats, Dave Hofstra, and Howard Klink, I had learned some of the basics about jazz and wanted to share some of that knowledge via the KHCC station.  

It was great fun but slightly eerie as well, that all the music, commentary, and announcements were going into this vast expanse of emptiness.  I remember entire evenings going by with not a single listener calling in to request, complain, or otherwise comment on some of the music.  

Blogging feels that way as well, but with an important difference.  I have no illusions that I’m providing any kind of public service, or that these reports fulfill any purpose other than a personal one to document, archive, remember, ponder, and otherwise make sense of a vast array of experiences.  After the dust settles and the “transmitter” undergoes an upgrade, I may see if there would be any editorial interest in publishing a version of this blog.  In my radio days, had there been technology to burn CDs easily (the medium became available commercially in 1982) I would love to have some “archives” of several evenings that highlighted the saxophone, trumpet, or piano.  I remember thinking as I left the station after midnight, “maybe someone’s life was changed tonight by the music they heard.”  I certainly don’t think that about this blog, and yet, who knows if a story, photo, or event sparks an interest in someone to travel and see for themselves a part of the planet they might otherwise never encounter.