Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Tradition Mixed With Archaeology

The sterling cuff links in the Cosmati style using authentic green porphyry are back from the jeweler. I think they turned out well, and I’ll be giving them as a gift for one of my stone suppliers. Before giving them away, I have to confess that I wore them out to dinner one night recently. I might have to hire Wendy Brandes to come up with a more inventive design so I can have my own pair?

All this talk about gifts makes me stop for a moment and consider the real meanings of the holiday season. Of course there is obviously a religious reason for Christmas, so here I will awkwardly bridge a gap between the secular and traditional.

St. Nicholas (aka Santa), was a bishop in 3rd century Roman controlled Myra (in modern southeastern Turkey). Legend has it that he was the son of a wealthy family who gave gifts to help the poor. He’s not my favorite though, because he is reputed to have destroyed the Temple of Artemis rather than converting it to a church as they did with so many other pre-existing structures back then. In a recent Archaeology magazine, they had a good write up on him and the town of Myra.

Here are some old photos of Santa.

Santa living in southeastern Turkey in the third century actually raises more questions than it answers. Might it be possible that the North Pole was actually located in Turkey instead? Has the earth’s axis changed in a mere 1700 years?
Could this beautiful church have been Santa’s workshop, an astounding 1700 years ago???

Well, at least we can answer the age old question of whether St. Nick is real, as attested by these bones lying in the Archaeological Museum of Antalya. Apparently, his remains were stolen out of the Myra church and taken to southern Italy. Later, in the eleventh century, these bones were returned to Turkey.

Maybe it takes quite a bit to frighten you all, but I think I might be terrified if a skeleton were to climb down my chimney, either with toys for me or not.

More interesting reading on St. Nick:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Merry Christmas (Buon Natale)

In the late nineties, way back before the turn of the century, I was friends with some professional musicians around the Dallas area. Todd and April were brother and sister playing bass and drums respectively in a popular alternative rock band.

One day going to lunch, Todd queued up a song with Dennis (the frontman singer in their group) and a girl he had just started going out with. If I recall, it was the song 'Whole New World', which was a duet between Dennis and his new girlfriend who was singing her part exceptionally well.

I only seem to have three super powers, and on this occasion I invoked the first one. My first superpower is the ability to recognize a singing voice of anyone that I've heard singing before regardless of the context. This is in fact well documented among my friends. And it works on the hard to identify singers, not just the easy singing voices like Sheryl Crow or Gilbert Gotfried.

Anyway, the woman's voice I recognized as Lisa Layne from Vince Vance and the Valiants. It was quite exciting since Lisa some years earlier had recorded my favorite Christmas song ever. Click on Lisa's link here to see the video in case you might have been living in Myanmar helping the poor for the past 15 years, or perhaps in a coma.

Here is the video.

Dennis and Lisa eventually parted ways and she is now in Branson, Missouri. Other artists have tried to recapture the magic of the original recording, but to me the clarity of her voice and production values of the first can't be matched. I told her as much in an email, and she got a good chuckle out of that. Maybe I can get my friends on city council to hire her for an acoustic set for the tree lighting next year? I'll put in more than my fair share.

I hope the season is good to all of you, and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


In a very minor way, tonight I took a few small footsteps in the journeys of the great Cosmati. Who were the Cosmati, you might ask? If you answered 'the secret society in the film Tomb Raider', that is not correct, however you get extra credit for making me think of Angelina Jolie in shorts with pistols.

The Cosmati were families of artistic stone workers sharing the name 'Cosma' around 1000 years ago. Several generations of people in the family made very mathematically complex mosaics. Many of their works are geometric styled with triangles, circles, parallel-o-grams, and yes, even rhombuses.
Some typical examples of their work...

Not only known for just architectural mosaics that had the effect of showing you what you see when you rub your eyes way too hard, but they were also well known sculptors and art dealers.

The wealthy and powerful revered their work in the early and even late middle ages. Well heck, even now if I count myself, right? For example, Pope Iulius II had his logo done in their style (he was the 'warrior' pope who layed the first brick of the brand spanking new 'St. Peter's Cathederal' in Rome around 1500).

All manner of medieval palaces used their flooring, for example Ca d'Oro in Venice, not to be much outdone by St. Marks cathedral, had a nice Cosmati styled floor put in on their canal entrance.

An art mosaic project I'm working on requires traditional stones that the Cosmati used once upon a time. I have had some tiny pieces of green serpentine left over, so I've made some of these into triangles like those typically used in the pavements of the Cosmati. I was thinking of making a replica Ca d'Oro floor, but for now, I will just use these triangles for making some 'Cosmati' cufflinks.

That's the kind of thing Bored Neoclassical Guy would do, right?