“Is Paris Burning?” Hitler reportedly asked the question on 25 August 1944. He had given orders for the French capital to be torched as Nazi forces retreated in order to spite the Allies. The Wehrmacht commanders defied Der Fuhrer’s order and Paris was preserved.* Today, however, one of the great monuments saved from insanity in 1944 is in flames.
As Notre Dame burns, I—like anyone that has experienced the magnificent cathedral—am filled with sadness and reflection. Many others are already holding forth on the cultural loss and meaning of the church. Rather than presume to add meaningfully to that dialogue, I’ll share some of my pictures of the monument in happier times.
am very thankful that Mrs. Ancient Dan and I decided to invest in giving our
children the experience of travel and, hopefully, an appreciation of cultural
treasures and a global outlook. One of the things they enjoyed in person was
Many of my visits to the cathedral were during long layovers at Paris’ CDG airport while leading student study-travel programs to Mediterranean countries. If I had six hours, I felt it was possible to take a train into the city (about 40 minutes), see a couple of sites, and make it back and through security to catch the flight on to Turkey, Greece, Jordan, or Israel. Notre Dame was always on the itinerary. Some thought I was crazy to try it; but in retrospect the risk was rather worth the reward—especially now that the cathedral is un-visitable (at least for the near future).
So . . . I have not named the General who defied Hitler’s order to burn Paris. This is intentional, because he did carry out other orders from on high and liquidated the Jews of the city during his tenure as occupying commander. That certainly stains his memory. But I am thankful to him for preserving the city and thus Notre Dame to be appreciated for nearly an additional 75 years.
* The story is well told in: Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, Is Paris Burning? Penguin Books, 1966. This engaging book was later made into a motion picture.
I was considering some sort of “seasonal” post relating to
that hazard of early Spring in the USA: the looming April 15 tax deadline. I
have not dealt with my complicated tax situation for 2018 yet and need to get
on it. Anyhow, my consideration of a tax theme turned to resolve at University
Baptist Church this morning; a result of the New Testament passage (Matthew 22)
and related sermon on the question posed to Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar.
More about the connection below, but stay with me . . .
In the heart of Rome one can visit the preserved remains of the ancient Forum. Near the center of the Roman Forum lie an often overlooked and nondescript ruin. It is the foundations of the Temple of Divus Julius; that is, the Temple to the deified Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, while exiting the Senate Chamber. At his public funeral in the Forum, Marc Anthony’s famous speech incited the crowd who then took over. Instead of the planned pyre on the Campus Martius, Caesar was cremated by the crowd across from his office as pontifex maximus (chief priest) at the Regia. A monument was hastily constructed there with an altar, but this was removed by the anti-dictator Liberator party. But two years later Caesar’s heirs (Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus) decreed that a temple would be built on the spot. Thus, Julius Caesar was officially deified and a cult established in the name Divus Julius.
The Temple’s size (with 40-foot columns on a high platform)
is belied by the meager ruins today. Like other Forum monuments, it suffered from
robbing and spoilage by the building programs of later holders of the title pontifex maximus (the popes). The entire
superstructure and almost all original cut stones of the podium are now missing.
A round altar (perhaps a rebuilding of the original crowd-sourced altar) in a
recess of the podium is now closed in by a later wall, through which you must
pass to view it. Despite its obscurity to the average tourist and somewhat
hidden nature, however, I have never seen the altar without fresh floral offerings
on top. Caesar was, and remains, a popular figure.
What does all of this have to do with tax season? Above, I note that Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Most people don’t know that date, but many can answer the question “when was Caesar killed?” with the well-known day, “the Ides of March.” The Romans counted days of months differently than we do. The “Ides” was the middle day of the month; so, the Ides of March was March 15. The Romans also generally specified due dates for financial obligations by the Ides and, since they allowed a quarter to get previous years’ corporate debts to the government, March 15 was the day such debts were due. It was, essentially, “tax day.” Ironically, this became true under Julius Caesar as he instituted the “Julian Calendar,” which moved the traditional New Year’s celebration to January 1 from—even more ironically—March 15! While it is true that Caesar was supposed to depart Rome on the 18th and the Liberators had to act before then, what better day to choose than the one on which former happy celebrations were now replaced by debts due to the victim? The day very well may have been planned to minimize public retaliation (somewhat akin to issuing unpopular notices at work on Friday afternoons). Certainly the days after the assassination were used by both sides to curry public opinion, as in Antony’s speech and—on the other side—in a coin issued by the famous Liberator Brutus extolling the day’s act.
While the Liberator conspirators’ act ultimately backfired and resulted in the deification of the one they wanted to eliminate, the whole affair highlights the political business of public perception. For more on that, and the connection to Jesus’ answer to the question posed to him on paying taxes to Caesar, stay tuned for the next post. For now, I have to go work on my taxes . . .
BTW; “tax day” in the USA used to be March 15 (from 1918 to 1954), but was extended to the “Ides of April”—April 15—two years before my birth. At this moment I am glad.
Mrs. Ancient Dan had always wanted to visit Ireland, mainly
because her dad had related accounts of his Irish ancestry. I was raised with a
Protestant British distaste for the Irish, but with a suppressed knowledge of
some Irish blood (revealed by the scattered red hairs visible when I allow my
beard to grow). But I, too, wanted to see the place. So, we planned a trip for
May of 2016.
Totally unexpected and traumatic things happened 9 days before the planned journey—events that completely disrupted our life and, perhaps worse, seemingly confirmed my cynicism about humanity. Our world was shattered. Nevertheless we decided to go to Ireland anyway, now more for escape from reality than anything else . . . and with dour hearts.
What we found there was a people of considerable politeness, kindness, and civility; just what we needed for encouragement. Mrs. A.D. and I had debated over what the “prototypical” Irish person would be (I argued for a red-headed girl). We were both right . . . and both wrong. I now think of the Irish in terms of temperament rather than outward appearance. And I thank them for challenging me to examine the way I treat others.
Oh, and Ireland itself is pretty nice too. We also “argued” over the “prototypical” Irish scene. We were both right, again. I’ll let pictures tell the story for the rest of this post.
Ireland is a great place to see things and think about life. So, I left there glad to have visited in troubling times and resolved to be conscious of how I treat people and react to circumstances.
BTW, we did DNA tests for Christmas and it turns out . . . I am more Irish than Mrs A.D., much to her chagrin (and my surprise)! Perhaps that is why , for the first time ever, I wore green for St. Patrick’s Day today.
I was asked to give the “spoken reflection” at tonight’s Celtic Worship Service at University Baptist Church, and thought I would post my reflection here with a couple of pics. The focal passage is the famous “Good Samaritan” story in Luke 10, which I find very thought-provoking in light of the increased divisiveness and media focus on racism of late in our society. I have done a great deal of introspection on these topics in recent months and even thought of making an Ancient Dan blog post entitled “Confessions of a former Racist.” But my wife and daughter wisely advised against it. The “Good Samaritan” story, I think, provides a way to express my thoughts in a better way.
First, a quick look at the “Good Samaritan” account as I see
it. Jesus tells the story in response to the question, “and who is my neighbor?”
in the context of discussing the Jewish Law. In it, a man is assaulted by
bandits and left for dead along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. The
geography is important here, as it is a desolate road through unoccupied desert,
where there were no neighbors.
As Jesus narrates, a priest came along the road and we expect
that this religious man will help our unfortunate victim. But, alas, on this
road a priest would be headed up to Jerusalem where he would serve his
week-long rotation in the Temple. It was the highest religious duty in the
Jewish Law and could not be compromised by uncleanness imputed by blood from
the victim or—worse—contamination by his corpse should the man be found dead or
die whilst receiving aid. The priest crossed to the other side and passed by.
And the hearers of this story—all Jews—were not in the least surprised or
judgmental. All the same logic was true for the Levite that happened along
next. None of those listening expected that he would stop either. What crummy
luck; our victim was having a really bad day. But then in Jesus’ telling there
is another who appears and nears—a Samaritan! While we now think of “Good
Samaritans” or even just “Samaritans” as helpers, this notion destroys the gist
of the story. To the Jew, a Samaritan was the worst of rivals. Jesus’ listeners
no doubt expected this “bad” (by their definition) Samaritan to stomp on the
victim’s head and finish the job. The bad day, they thought, was now the worst
of days. He of course, as we know, demonstrated the proper action of kindness.
But this story is not about how to treat others; it is really about how we perceive them. I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about how I perceive others. I am a white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant heterosexual man. I was raised in a “middle-class” American home which, by any world-wide standard, was a life of privilege. So I am a potential poster-boy for racist and intolerant views. Nevertheless, I’ve always denied that I was bigoted or intolerant. In my extended family, I cannot ever recall having heard the “N” word used or any other racial or discriminatory epithet. BUT, that is a poor gauge on how I have perceived others. Like most folks, I learned from my youth to categorize people with labels like, “the black guy,” “the Mexican woman,” “the gay dude” or “the Alabama Crimson Tide sidewalk fan.” So this is not so much the confession of a former racist, but the admission of an unconscious tribalist.
I am convinced that human beings have an innate tendency for group identification, like the herd or pack instincts of other mammals. Unfortunately, in “civilized” human society it is somehow easier to identify one’s group by isolating those who are not part of it—through creation of the “other.” This is easiest with obvious differences like skin color, but the principle is the same for all discriminations.
Back to the “Good Samaritan.” The key for me is realization
that the lesson is not in the story itself, but in the question asked by Jesus
at the end, to the one who asked him “and who is my neighbor?” Jesus asked,
“which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among
It is sometimes observed that when the “lawyer” responded to
Jesus, he was unwilling to use the designation “Samaritan” because of his
disdain for that group. He responded, “the one who showed mercy on him.” The
Jewish-Samaritan divide was severe, to be sure, but it was not due to physical
difference. The Samaritans were—as an ethnic group—half Israelite. They were
the other monotheistic minority in the early Roman Empire period, worshipping
the same God as Israel and practicing circumcision like the Jews. The Romans
could not tell the difference between Samaritans and Jews that were naked and
talking about God. Tribalism and details of theology had created the schism.
It is true that the Samaritan demonstrates that all are our
potential neighbors. But I wonder if the lawyer really got it right with his
generic description. The main point may be how we perceive others upon first
glance or knowledge. Do I continue using categories and labels for people, or
can I see them generically, all capable of good and mercy. This is the
challenge, and Jesus consistently points me—and all of us—in the direction of
Several of the Fifth Dynasty (c. 2500-2345 BC) rulers of Old Kingdom Egypt had pyramid tombs constructed at Abu Sir, 11 km southeast of Giza where the more famous Fourth Dynasty pyramids are found. The Fifth Dynasty was dominated by the solar cult of the sun god Rē, and two of the kings built “sun temples” northwest of Abu Sir. The better preserved—and, naturally, harder to get to—is that of Niuserrē (“Delight of Re”). It is 1.6 km from Abu Sir, across the dry dry desert sands at Abu Ghurob. You don’t get this on the bus tour.
The sun temple complex featured a platform rather like a truncated pyramid surmounted by an enormous obelisk, the symbol of Rē. A hieroglyph in the pic above gives an impression of the now-ruined obelisk. The monument is surrounded by a courtyard with various cult buildings and a well-preserved altar. The altar does not get much attention but is cleverly formed by four limestone blocks with upper surfaces carved in the shape of the hieroglyph for “altar.” The Egyptians were great at word/picture play!
From the top of the ruins there is a great view of the altar, the Abu Sir pyramids to the southeast, the Giza pyramids in the distance to the northwest, and the very first Egyptian pyramid—built for Djoser in the Third Dynasty—which peeks over the horizon from Saqqara to the south.
It was well over 100° F at the site when these pics were
taken and I recall running out of water quickly. Still, it looks pretty good
from where I sit now.
To round out my “shipwrecks” POTD posts—of which this may be last, because I think I have run out of shipwrecks—I give you “The Rachel.” After Hurricane Camille in 1969, a mysterious shipwreck appeared on the Alabama coast five miles east of Fort Morgan. Reclaimed by the sea and sand, it reappeared temporarily after Hurricanes Ivan in 2004, Ike in 2008, and Tropical Storm Ida in 2009. Hurricane Isaac then exposed the wreck more than ever in 2012. Apparently, tropical cyclones with “I” names have a thing for this ship.
Despite speculation that the wooden ship might be a Confederate
blockade runner from the Civil War, Fort Morgan historian Mike Bailey is now certain
that the wreck is the Rachel, lost to
. . . you guessed it, a tropical storm in 1923.
Since the practice of naming storms by sequential alphabet letters had not yet
begun, we don’t know if that hurricane would have had a moniker beginning with “I”
(but I wouldn’t bet against it).
The Rachel has an odd
backstory. A Mississippian, Captain John Riley Bless McIntosh, was never able
to achieve his goal of owning a ship prior to his death. His daughter and heir,
Rachel McIntosh McInnis, took her $100,000 inheritance to the De Angelo
Shipyard in Moss Point, MS, to commission a ship in an attempt to fulfill her
father’s dream. John De Angelo at first refused to take Rachel’s money, knowing
that it was a futile investment. But with
hard times for business at the end of World War I, his sons accepted the job
and built a 155 foot 3-masted schooner named Rachel for Mrs. McInnis. It remained docked at her expense from its
completion in 1919 until her death in 1922. After that, the De Angelo brothers claimed
the ship for unpaid dock fees and sold it at auction.
The Rachel’s buyer
hired a crew out of Mobile to operate the schooner for hauling lumber (big
business in South Mississippi at the time). The first run successfully
delivered a load to Cuba, but ran into trouble—the storm, classified as a
hurricane—on the return journey. The Rachel
was driven aground near Fort Morgan, with no loss of life. The crew emptied the
unnamed light cargo and guards were posted to protect the impossibly beached ship
until an insurance settlement could be obtained. Unknown parties burned the Rachel down to near the keel after that,
presumably to salvage metal parts.
Thereafter, the charred hulk was lost to the sand and tide, to sporadically resurface
by the same forces that doomed her.
The Rachel was an odd and pleasant diversion on the Fort Morgan beach for a few years after 2012. It rests on private beach property, but was quite accessible from the beach. I have not seen the Rachel since August of 2014. A quick check of Google Earth reveals that the eroded beach has “recovered”—itself and the Rachel. So if you want to visit her, it seems you will have to wait for an I-named tropical storm to turn back the sands of time.
The southern part of mainland Greece is the large and important Peloponnese peninsula. The Peloponnese, in turn, terminates in three finger-like peninsulas pointing south into the Aegean/Mediterranean Sea. The central one is the Mani, whose tip is the southernmost point of mainland Greece. On the east side of the uppermost part of the Mani, there are two very nice straight beaches near Githio. As you come north over the hill from Selinitsa Beach, Valtaki comes into view, with an unusual feature — a semi-beached shipwreck. It is the Dimitrios (Greek Δημήτριος).
There are other and better-known shipwrecks around Greece, notably the spectacularly-situated MV Panagiotis, wrecked in 1980 on the island of Zakinthos at now-dubbed Navagio (“shipwreck”) Beach. I’ve noted its appearance in several commercials of late. Not accessible by land, the MV Panagiotis and its small cove is nevertheless mobbed by thousands of bathers a year, brought by tour boats in crowded masses.
The seldom-visited Dimitrios, on the other hand, is well-preserved and quite accessible if you know how to get there. And, best of all, You Don’t Get This On The Bus Tour (or the boat tour). I find it picturesque and eerily enchanting.
It is tempting to further my Shipwreck of State theme by noting that the Dimitrios looks as though its captain made a wrong turn and ended up aground. One could also compliment Plato’s Ship of State analogy with the biblical warning:
Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
— James 3:4-5
It turns out, however, that the Dimitrios’ story is more mundane and apparently lacks a boastfully inept pilot (Wikipedia has a good overview here). In late 1980 Dimitrios made an emergency stop at Githio, because the captain had a medical emergency. The crew was fired after financial disagreements shut down operations and the ship languished unattended. A year later it broke loose from the dock in severe weather and eventually washed up on Valtaki Beach. There Dimitrios was abandoned.
Come to think of it, the Dimitrios still offers a poignant object-lesson.