Beneath the first hill of Istanbul lies the Basilica Cistern. During our reporting trip to Turkey last summer, we visited these extraordinary caverns built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 532.
Arranged in 12 rows, 336 columns from ruined structures support the massive cistern. Two of the columns supported by upside-down Medusa heads (pictured above) are tucked-away in one of the corners. The cistern supplied a massive amount of water to a palace and surrounding buildings via aqueducts for hundreds of years. But then the cistern was forgotten. As Lonely Planet explains:
“Enter scholar Petrus Gyllius, who was researching Byzantine antiquities in 1545 and was told by locals that they could obtain water by lowering buckets in their basement floors. Some were even catching fish this way. Intrigued, Gyllius explored the neighbourhood and discovered a house through whose basement he accessed the cistern. Even after his discovery, the Ottomans (who referred to the cistern as Yerebatan Sarayı) didn’t treat the underground palace with the respect it deserved and it became a dumping ground for all sorts of junk, as well as corpses. It has been restored at least three times.
It’s a treasure not to be missed.
Photo by Nikolai Vassiliev/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Samuel Huntington was correct in looking toward culture as the boundary between Western and Eastern societies. But boundaries are ever-changing and values cross over between cultures by osmosis. To assume cultures are autarkic and unchanging is as erroneous as to assume that cultural distinctions are invariably resolvable. The truth about culture lies in the middle; values are transposable, which is why identity is most enthralling when they are tethered the least.
From a 2011 Pew Research Center report, a graphic showing the median percentage of Muslims across seven Muslim countries who say each of these traits describes people in Western countries and median percentage of non-Muslims across the U.S., Russia, and four Western European countries who say each of these traits describes Muslims.
I highly recommend reading Michael Young’s op-ed “What Does Muslim-Western Relations Mean?” that gets at these ideas about values, characteristics, and identity.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A Nigerian Easter in the Midwest
From the front door she calls, “He has risen!” Her children respond, “He has risen indeed. Let’s eat!”
I dodged church Easter Sunday this year. My mother Gbeme, however, worshipped at the Baptist church she’s been attending twice weekly for the past 20 years.
Raised Catholic in Nigeria, my mother’s Easter begins the seasonal swap from heavy wools to floral prints and pastels. She wears a beautifully vibrant gele — an intricately fashioned tie around the head worn by Yoruba women — and iro and buba — the matching outfit traditionally worn by Yoruba women — to church. She exchanges compliments with the other congregants about their upbeat clothes and steady health. For two hours the pews fill, the choir sings, and for the larger Easter crowd, the young new pastor delivers an especially rousing sermon. Soon thereafter, church dismisses. Time to eat.
For many Americans, Easter is synonymous with the egg. But in my bicultural household, creamy frejon is the signature Easter week delicacy. The bean soup is made of smoothly blended brown beans called ewa ibeji and steeped coconut, then sweetened with cane sugar to taste.
In the mid-1980s, my mother left metropolitan Lagos to attend college in rural Wisconsin — and made necessary modifications to the original frejon recipe. Back then international foods weren’t as integrated. In lieu of traditional Nigerian dishes, my mother observed her first few Easters amid sweet friends, sweet rolls, egg salad, and hearty Midwestern casseroles. After she graduated, she moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota, reuniting her with city dwelling, a dense Nigerian immigrant community, specialty grocers, and Easter frejon.
Aztlan, Anew: U.S. Latinos Leave Catholic Church to Seek Ancestral Heritage
“What we’re doing is praying with our feet, with our bodies.”
Centzi Millia, a 31-year-old Aztec dance instructor prepares for an afternoon class, wrapping her long blonde dreads into a bun and gathering small children into a circle. “We honor the Mother Earth with our bare feet, and the vibrations we create — the Mother Earth as a living being feels those vibrations.”
The dance starts in a flurry of drum beats and the bass jangling of Ms. Millia’s chachayotl, the thick anklets of Aztec danzantes made of rattling seed pods.
“It was actually at Knott’s Berry Farm, of all places, that I discovered the danza,” Ms. Millia says after class, sitting in the sunlight of Kuruvunga Springs, a remnant site of the ancient Tongva people nestled between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire. “My parents would say those were the dances our people used to do, but that’s as far as they would tell me.”
Eighteen years later, Ms. Millia is one of several Aztec dance teachers in Southern California. A child of Mexican immigrants, she represents part of a trend among Latinos in the U.S. who are shifting away from the Roman Catholic Church. Though the Church still holds sway among new immigrants from Latin America, the children of these immigrants have been turning toward forms of Protestantism or are choosing not to affiliate with any type of religion.
However, Ms. Millia and some of her second- and third-generation peers raised in traditional Catholic households have left the Church not to follow any alternate form of Christianity or atheism, but to pursue the spiritual paths of their pre-Christian ancestors. As she pursued dance, Ms. Millia’s elders taught her how it was reshaped and used as a tool by Spanish conquerors to lure the local people away from their native, or indigenous, beliefs and toward Catholicism.
Instead of dancing for Mother Earth, Ms. Millia says that dances became offerings to the Virgin Mary. The special days of celebration for the native people became Catholic holidays. These kinds of revelations pushed her away from the church.
Tuesday Evening Melody: “I & Thou” by The Daredevil Christopher Wright
by Susan Leem, associate producer
“I love exploring my own doubt, and how people have wrestled with the idea of understanding human motivation, purpose.”
~Jason Sunde, songwriter
Martin Buber’s 1923 seminal work I and Thou is essential reading for many a seminary student. And, the Wisconsin band The Daredevil Christopher Wright has rendered this classic namesake into song. And it’s got us reading and talking more about this Jewish religious thinker too.
“Every Thou in the world is by its nature fated to become a thing, or continually re-enter into the condition of things.”
~Martin Buber, from I and Thou
Our colleague Chris Roberts spoke with the songwriters for his latest story at Minnesota Public Radio. Listen to the audio (left).
In my ESL class I study with people from all over the world, not only learning English but simultaneously experiencing the beauty of other cultures. I have made new friends who are Hindus, Sikhs and Christians; and in the area where I live there temples, mosques and churches.
No country is perfect. But overall, I have been pleasantly surprised to see real examples of people living out tolerance, harmony and acceptance in my new home — and I hope that both Americans and Pakistanis can grow to better understand each other’s cultures.
Recall the reports in August about the well-intentioned woman who defaced this prized Spanish fresco in Borja? Well, according to this piece from PRI’s The World, it looks like Cecilia Jimenez’s botched restoration has now become an economic boon to the local community. Tourists are flocking to the town, filling bars and hotels. And even the Sanctuary of Mercy Church is cashing in:
“In the entrance to the sanctuary, custodian Jose Maria Aznar, tended the till, charging one euro to get in, and 12 euros for a lottery ticket bearing the image of the defaced fresco. Entry used to be free. Aznar said he’s not used to handling so much cash, and messes up people’s change all the time.
‘Usually in mid October we get about 20 visitors a day during the week,’ Aznar said. ‘Now, its 150. And on the weekends, we’re getting up to 1500 visitors. Everyone is really happy with what’s going on.’
The money, Aznar said, is being used to maintain the sanctuary, and to support an old folks home.”
Oh my, I sure hope this elderly woman’s intentions are paving the road to somewhere else. From the National Post:
Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) was a prized Spanish fresco — the pride of the Sanctuary of Mercy Church in Borja, near Zaragoza, where it has delighted parishioners for more than 100 years.
But after a botched restoration attempt by a well-meaning DIY pensioner, Elias Garcia Martinez’s 19th-century masterpiece looks more like a child’s finger-painting.
The unauthorized alterations were made by a Spanish woman in her 80s who had apparently grown upset over the worsening state of the painting. (Centro de estudios Borjanos)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor