Category Archives: History

Backpacking in Rome

I was able to capture this view by pushing myself against some nearby fence.

Rome’s Most Historic District

Imagine a week of sumptuous food and lodging… lavish coffee houses… and one-of-a-kind cultural exposure in one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Imaging again, where you’re booked in one of your favorite hotels, one built like a regal palace, where only loving and caring human beings who are so passionate about many of the same things you care about, are available there to serve you. And just for you, your special service is one that includes breakfast of freshly-baked croissant, a sesame bun still respiring pleasant aroma, and pancakes served with a garlicky sauce for dipping. Okay, enough. The next time, this is how I would want to spend any vacation in Rome, instead of being a buck, and just sitting there at home all day, watching… ho…how they call it, TV? Oh well, I would call it the ultimate idiot-box.

It was 8:21 a.m. in Rome, Italy, and my stay thus far, near the Rome Fiumicino Airport, about 27 kilometers from the site of the Colosseum and the famous San Benedetto Oligominerale Naturale, one of the oldest historical spots in the city, was ready to begin. Though Rome is relatively still a small city, I was about to find out how difficult it can be for anyone who wants to cover all the important points in one single day. I didn’t know that it would take several hours to complete Centro Storico, which includes some of the most puzzling architectural marvel still on the continent. But I felt very lucky though, for being there, because I could easily access important historical sites and the Altare della Patria- also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II- the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” built under the statue of goddess Roma, with the eternal flame on one side. The huge marble building itself stands majestically against Rome’s skyline, and it outshines all the nearby mansions in the area, and the Piazza Venezia. In short, the Altare della Patria is strikingly very attractive and easy to locate amidst the city’s many Church domes and rooftops.

I managed to get passed a female who stood guard at the entrance, cautioning impatient tourists about what and what not to do once they were on the premises. The first thing I did when I entered was by making sure that I was near at the top of the stairs to get a better view of the building’s magnificent designs and the many carefully carved statues which, I suspect are latter additions. Once I was up there, I leaned my backpack against one leg to grab my notebook– a Bible-size, brown writing pad I paid for back in Kolkata. I began to hastily write down notes, ignoring the stares of a uniformed guard who stood very nearby. It took me about fifteen laboring minutes to scrabble down the notes for this blog. A lot of my attention also went towards the fine outlines I saw in between the smaller statues. Statues of manor goddesses– those that are attached to the front of the great hall. When I was all done, I returned dear diary back to its favorite spot, the exercise was over. I was now ready to close that chapter. I have just been transfixed by one of Europe’s late 19th century Neoclassical architectural marvel!
After successfully taking and completing a visual art class, my appreciation for the Fine Art has transcended that of any culture or place. And this new sensibility only gets better with constant exposures to Hindu and pre-Buddhist temple architectures and Pagodas. The habit which began first briefly in Sri Lanka, as a mere admiration of temple designs–and then to a considerable degree in northern India, and Nepal, may very well explain this broad appreciation I now have for structures.

But it’s Rome’s rich history and the lay back lifestyle with its coffee houses and walk-in cafes which still fascinate me even more. The large, fancy street gatherings, solo street artists and coffee -houses have created a kind of stimuli that will keep Rome always as an intellectual and artistic society. No wonder why the country is so well known today for being home to some of Europe’s best artists. The “coffee house culture” has flourished here so much that residents may see them as “extended living rooms” to spend portion of their day. This makes city- life in Rome to remind me of ancient Greek philosophers spending much of their day socializing at the public gatherings. Athenians enjoyed the same lifestyle- organizing political meetings, performances, and lively discussions. Socrates was known to stroll through the Agora and question his fellow market-goers about life and philosophy.
On my way going food hunting I passed several street painters and street musicians on Via Dei Fori Imperiali– a principal street in the center of the city of Rome—. This street runs in a straight line from the Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum. I followed the course towards parts of the Forum of Trajan, Forum of Augustus and Forum of Nerva, parts of which can be seen on both sides of the road. I stopped halfway in the street to buy myself a bottle of San Benedetto mineral water for 1.50 Pounds. An hour earlier, I remember turning down the same battle of water right under the shadow of the colosseum for fifty Pound less.

Next, I crossed over a one way street to reach a mobile Food -Vendor. The guy behind the counter charged four pounds for a vegetarian sandwich. But I noticed there wasn’t much of anything– apart from a piece of slice tomato hanging out– to call it a sandwich. I grabbed my food and walked nearby to a bench and sat down to watch the traffic moving several feet away, along the grand Piazza di Campitelli. This place has a special significance in Rome’s history. One local resident who I stopped to ask a few questions, was kind enough to give me a short lesson into Rome’s medieval past. He explained to me that the location was important to many Italians because it has witnessed the birth of Rome.
While trying to find my way back to the metro, I stopped over at the Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano. I later learned that the site is a burial ground for Saint Cyril, Saint Methodius of Byzantine Thessalonica. I approached the building carefully at first but soon found out that there were people inside taking selfies. I stood around in there for a while and at some point, I even sat down on one of its long, wooden benches. I got up and joined the team and took me some holy-selfies.

The best part of my journey came almost at the end. I was heading for the airport and didn’t know which subway train to catch. I have just passed the Colosseum and had secured for me a subway- metro pass and was already on a train before realizing that I was on the wrong train. I quickly got off at the next stop. A lot of people were either too busy or were simply reluctant to help because of the language barrier. I was trying to find someone for help at this point when I ran into Gabriella, a professionally dressed, selfless young lady who helped me to find my way back into the metro and on the right train. I found her standing just at the top of the stairs, perhaps waiting for the light to turn green to cross the street. Gabriella, who is in the middle of her study to become a medical doctor, had no trouble abandoning her own duty to help me out. She followed me underground, and when my metro pass failed to work, she gladly passed on her own card, and even did so as if she runs into people like myself every day. Because of her art of kindness, I was able to arrive on time at the airport and was able to change my flight to an earlier one which was on its way to the Netherlands. Gabriella’s effort is a classic example of how to be a Visible Helper.
I arrived back here in Eugene several days before I was finally able to re-organize my cloudy brain to send a “Thank You” email to Gabriella. Her art of kindness really was a teaching moment for me.… Of course, I Love Rome and I am looking forward to going back there….
Video credit: Youtube Video:

Boudicca, a woman with heart of steel

 

 

 

Statue of Boudicca, warrior queen of the Iceni,

Boudicca was indeed a famous queen by all measures, and her fame she earned by virtue of her own will. She was shrewd, she was fierce and she was strong and bold. Boudicca’s rebellion was a crucial moment in early British history. This is especially so in light of Romans’ occupation- which she challenged- that radically altered its course over many centuries. Boudicca’s strong inclination to confederacy of Briton tribes had taken the placid Roman occupiers totally by surprise. The Romans, for their part, assumed that the “Celtic barbarians were far too disorganized to mount any insurrection.”

 

This open challenge by a female, on so many accounts, to me, was a huge defeat to the Romans honor in war- and to their titanic ego. Before this battle, the Romans have gone largely unchallenged in Britain since its conquering. And so, the ability and the military organizations of these tribes who were not even allowed to have weapons during Romans’ rule, and yet were able to rise up and sack three defended cities was astonishing. And through this amazing feat, Boudicca’s place in history was established, and thereby became a Visible Helper of her tribes.

 

“We British are used to women commanders in war, …. But I am not fighting for my kingdom and wealth now. I am fighting as an ordinary person for my lost freedom….”  Here, it’s evident that this was a fearless female commander giving a passionate battle-cry speech before her loyal army, and saying that she wasn’t going to war with the Romans for any other reason except for her own freedom. Thinking of that, how can such a lofty goal not be worthy of honor, even by modern standard?  “And Though she lost her battle and her cause, Boudicca is celebrated today as a national heroine and a universal symbol of the human desire for freedom and justice.

Boudiccastatue

Statue of Boudicca, warrior queen of the Iceni, London.

Boudicca’s war achievement should speak volumes about role of women in early British’s society. The fact that a woman commander was at the war-front, accentuate the great difference between these two opposing kingdoms. Boudicca’s’ version of history, however, could be what gave modern military planners any inkling to what role women are capable of playing in war. Overall, it might have set the precedence of what today we called gender equality in the civilized world. Tacitus writes that Britons made no distinction in the sex of their leaders but were used to women commanders in war.

 

Yes, the Romans’ only disadvantage might had been of the size of their small army. Still, the Romans had the strategic advantage- they were better equipped with powerful machineries of war. Plus, they, too, were geared up by the same kindred spirit that powered their opponent against them. And so it may be arguable to say that the Romans fought the war out of national pride and with great technology in defense of something still higher which they held most precious. The Romans were also encouraged by ideas about the afterlife. Boudicca and her people, on the other hand, had all the right reasons to go to war! They fought for their freedom. They fought for their honor. And like any other noble race of that generation, they stood so firm before the most formidable army of the day, to defend their own. And, for them, these reasons were enough that they became the moving force which powered the Britons’ army to do battle.

 

Though the Romans might have had a better and well-armed fighting force, when it came to spirituality, I believe that the Romans were not superior to those of the mysterious tribesmen, the Celtic.  Especially the Druids were no strangers to the doctrine on transmigrations and to the secrets of nature. Some Celtic’s value, by degrees, I believe, became Romans’ values. The Druids, as an Order, is still more related to the Egyptians in the mystery than are the Romans, to it. Therefore, the Druids or Celtic people couldn’t have been inferior to Romans morally. And though the Romans were more or less sophisticated technology-wise, I see them not as far apart as it appears.

Israel and the Two-State Solution

 

Israel Security Image

Image Credit: New York Times

Samuel Collins

Israel built security fence in the West Bank to barricade itself from Palestinian suicide bombers, but such effort has been met with as much resistance as you would expect. Both Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews claimed entitlement to Jerusalem, and to the West Bank. The city is important to three of the world’s major religions; Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And for centuries, all parties to the dispute have been unable to come to any peaceful understanding. The U.N. and many western nations, including the Obama administration argued that the Two-State Solution would be the only viable pathway to a peaceful coexistent. Many Jews however, remained skeptical of the idea of a Two-State solution. They fear that if the idea is fully put into practice, it would result into Israel’s insecurity, and that in addition to that, Israel might risk losing its unique Jewish identity.

There are several ‘bedrock demands between the two parties that, in practice, often appear to be mutually out of touch.” For example, on border issue, there is no agreement about where exactly to draw the line. Palestinians demand that any negotiation regarding the Two-State Solution must include provision for Israeli military to withdraw entirely from the West Bank, in order for such negotiation to gain legitimacy. But the Israeli government do not have any obligation to do so, they argued that these territories were won over during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, and during other arm conflicts in the region.  They insist that the State of Israel is for these reasons has no legal obligation to give back lands it once captured. As of this writing, Israel is still building Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and in other areas– an action that many analysts, including some far-right Israeli citizens feel may stall the peace negotiations and make it much more difficult to reach any agreement.

 Security concern: To the ordinary Palestinians, security means an end to the Israeli military occupation. For the Jews however, security means not abandoning the West Bank, for fear that the vacancy would be immediately occupied by rogue group like Hamas, and this would then threaten Israel’s national security. Each party to the conflict remains firm about what it wants.

Many western experts also believe that the current security wall which Israel built to contain the violence from the Palestinian side, would do little to address Israel’s longtime security needs. According to Mr. Fisher, a Jerusalem-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, told me last year, “perpetuating the status quo is the most frightening of the possibilities,” by which he means, that by maintaining the border wall in the West Bank, is only worsening the problem.

Today, as a direct consequence of the ongoing territorial dispute between Israel and the Palestinian, the people of Palestine are states-less people. They have no independent access to electricity, no hospital, no army, no credible institution of learning. Many Palestinians suffer from depression, according to inside sources.  But nothing remains more needed than is peace for the Palestine people.

As the only country that practices democracy in the Middle East, Israel thus strategically becomes a geo- political advantage to the U.S. and to other major democracies around the world. Israel’s very past is one that’s marked by constant land disputes and wars with nearby countries. But despite these challenges, the country had emerged as a modern industrial nation– equipped with a full army, and a thriving economy.

Israel ranks 37 on the Transparency scale, and its past record shows that, as a country, Israel seems to be moving back and forth on the scale. Between 2012 to 2014, she moved from 60 to 51 on the Transparency scale and back to 60 again. She however, maintains the 37th place.

This report is just one of many examples that shows what is going on around the world since the twentieth century with regards to land-border conflicts. Like the Palestinians, the Kurds, too are State-less people. They don’t have full control over the resources in places where they inhabit.  Many research analysts on internatinal crisis and conflict zones have come to the realization  that great and powerful nations are conquering weaker nations without the use of force.  They are using the forces of their economies  to gain powerful influence over relatively economically less powerful countries. For example, take a look at Mongolia and China. See what type of relationship is going on between the two. One TED Talk speaker described it as the “Chinese style” refering to those particular methods which China is using to spread out influence.

 

 

Swedish Immigrants- A Bumpy Stay

By Samuel Collins

Utopia Challenged.  Sweden's Relationship With Refugees

 

Rinkeby, as they call it, is a small suburban immigrant enclave, located somewhere near the Mediterranean Sea, just 13 km northwest of Stockholm, and about 18 minutes subway ride to center city. Here, more than 80% of Rinkeby’s residents are immigrants from places like Iraq, Syria, Somalia, South America and Eastern Europe. But the once lovely immigrant community has become notorious for crimes, riots, police brutalities.  According to Mr. Hoge, a resident, just a mere mention of the name Rinkeby, would get people to shrink back.

 

A Pew Research Center study conducted in “2016 found that over 46 percent of Swedes believed that refugees are responsible for most of the crimes than other groups,” even though an earlier study carried out by a popular local newspaper, the Dagens Nyheter, analyzed crime statistics in the same area and came to the conclusion that refugees were responsible for only 1 percent of all incident. For a country like Sweden, where unemployment rate has alway been almost non-existent, the unemployment rate remains high within the Rinkeby immigrant neighborhood , and this is just one of many indications that immigrants in Sweden are being targeted with workplace discrimination and other related issues. Most residents from this community connect the high unemployment rate there to direct public reaction to the presence of refugees and other migrants  elsewhere in the country.

 

The city of Rinkeby has a population of approximately 48.700, with roughly even male and female residents.  The birth rate here is 16.1%, and the death rate is at 4.9%. The population pyramid of Rinkeby displays almost a perfectly shaped beehive structure, with relatively many children and adolescents. The city has a high working population between the ages of 21 to 64, and less age-dependency of people between the ages 65 and 79, and between the ages of 14 and below- all of which are positive signs that residents here should be thriving economically. For refugees, however, the recent Syrian crisis has brought enormous stress upon the country’s ability to host refugees.

 

Looking at the Rinkeby story carefully, one would see that there are a number of correlations between what happened here in the U.S. in the 1800s, during the first and second waves of Irish and Chinese immigrants. For example, the methods used here in the U.S, which included race-sensitive immigration laws which were meant to keep in check Chinese immigrant workers from becoming U.S. citizens, appear to look much like what the Swedes seem to be implementing. For instance, in Sweden, immigrants are always immigrants. If you’re an immigrant, this attitude completely ignores whether you have received your citizenship, or whether you were born in the country, they still see you as either a migrant or an immigrant.  By being born in Sweden doesn’t confer citizenship status to children of foreigners.

 

REFUGEES_Syria_pra_3431874k

Getty Image

With world population on the increase, and globalization rapidly uniting every corner of the world in ways that our ancestors couldn’t have imagined,  rich and powerful countries would have to  preparation for these types of cultural diffusions which are often the result of wars, natural disasters.  And it’s made more urgent due in part to fresh crisis now erupting throughout the world.  These new problems, in their term help to supply a constant flow of refugees from  places like Asia , Africa, including eastern Europe.The newcomers then bring along with them their own cultural elements which before didn’t exist in their host country.

Italy  is added to the list of countries which have started to see increase in the number of migrants. The country has straight laws making it illegal to enter Italy without proper papers, but the law has so far done little to stop the number of illegal migrants from coming into the country.  Unlike Sweden, which has mostly legal immigrants, and well-vetted refugees, Italy has high illegal migrant population, and this has become a subject for debate in Parliament. Critics of the new law argued that the law is in violation of basic human rights. Some politicians argued that majority of migrant workers are honest people who are willing to work for lower wages which in many cases, Italian citizens are not willing to do for the same amount. Some low income families in big cities in Italy rely heavily on  migrant workers to take care of  their ailing relatives.

And the country’s rapidly aging population has opened up a new area of employment which most migrants seek.  Still, most Italian citizens continue to exhibit strong prejudices for people of immigrant ancestry, and this gives us just one more reason to believe that hatred against people of color is alive and well on the European continent. In Mr. Hoge’s story; “A Swedish Dilemmas: The Immigrant Ghetto” he writes about how “the town has become stigmatized in Sweden as a haven for welfare cheats and a center of criminal activity.” Even though this seems to not be the case, based on credible sources.