Saturday, May 31, 2003

The New Moon occurs this afternoon at 1:16 pm Mongolian time. I must say it has been a very interesting lunar cycle. Now I am gearing up for the Summer Solstice on June 22, 4:11 pm Mongolian time. I am sure all of you pagans are aware of the significance of this . . .

On this day in the year 1057 Tax protester Lady Godiva made her famous naked ride through the streets of Coventry. Sorry, no photos; they didn't have digital cameras then.

And for all you PA-ers, also on this day was the famous Johnstown Flood of 1851. Here is the start of the New York Times story about the Flood:

"Pittsburg, May 31 -- An appalling catastrophe is reported from Johnstown, Cambria County, the meagre details of which indicate that the city of 25,000 inhabitants has been practically wiped out of existence and that hundreds if not thousands of lives have been lost.

A dam at the foot of a mountain lake eight miles long and three miles wide, about nine miles up the valley of the South Fork of the Conemaugh River, broke at 4 o'clock this afternoon, just as it was struck by a waterspout, and the whole tremendous volume of water swept in a resistless avalanche down the mountain side, making its own channel until it reached the South Fork of the Conemaugh, swelling it to the proportions of Niagara's rapids."

This is still the only thing Johnstown is famous for (excluding scumbag accountants). Curiously Pittsburgh was mis-spelled in the dateline: seems the NYT was flubbing even back then.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

For all of you who have been wondering what the date is according according to the Coptic Christian Calendar: today is the 21th day of the month of Pachons, in the year 1719. According to the Viking Calendar - for you die-hard Vikings - it the 26th day of the month Gaukmanabr, in the year 1049.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Monday, May 26, 2003

Newly Carved Statues near Terelj, north of Ulaan Baatar

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Mongolian Countryside
Message to Big Al: Don't put the word "nookie" in the subject line of an email. Many junk mail filters will reject it. Fortunately your message and attached photos did get through. I'm impressed!
Have just returned from a weekend jaunt to see my friend Zevgee and his family on the upper Kherlen River in Khentii Aimag, a roundtrip of 264 miles. I have now traveled a total of 24488 miles by jeep through Mongolia . . .

Zevgee, right, and his son Sanja

Zevgee's wife, right

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Back in Ulaan Baatar but still digesting my European wanderjahr: here is a photo from the Egyptian Museum in Berlin (Germany, not PA).

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Took the train from the Franz-Josefs Train Station on the northern side of Vienna to Krems am der Donau about 45 miles upstream on the Danube River. This town in at the western end of the in the part of the Danube River valley known as the Wachau. For about 25 miles upstream from here the river winds among steep hills and mountains on either side. At Krems am der Donau I took another train to Durnstein, just four or five miles further on.

The Danube upstream from Durnstein

This tiny walled village is famous for its castle where Richard the Lion Hearted was held captive after he was seized by the Austrians on his way back to England from the Third Crusade. (I am referring here of course to the Crusades of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and not the current Crusade led by George “Hulagu” Bush.) As you will probably recall from reading about these crusades, Richard was one of the European leaders who recaptured Acre in 1191. He and the French King Philip II decided to split the booty between them and froze out the other European participants in the battle. When the Austrian Duke Leopold V tried to raise his flag in captured Acre, Richard tore it down and threw it in a ditch. Unfortunately, on his way back to England his ship wrecked in the Adriatic Sea and Richard had to travel overland through Austria. He tried to disguise himself, but he was not the kind of person who could travel inconspicuously. He threw around a lot of money, wore fancy cloths (especially gloves), and was legendarily handsome, which of course caught the eye of the ladies and outraged a lot of jealous swains. He was eventually found out in Vienna, taken captive, and placed in a cell at the Durnstein castle.

The Castle where Richard the Lion Hearted was held, from the village of Durnstein.

Here the famous minstrel known as Blondel, who had formerly been a companion of Richard’s, sashays onto the stage. According to one account he was searching up and down the Danube for his master from whom he had earlier become separated. Then when he was passing through Durnstein he starting singing one of his old songs which he and Richard had once sung together. Amazingly a voice from the cell of the Durnstein Castle took up the refrain. Thus alerted to Richard’s presence, Blondel hurried back to England and raised a ransom for Richard’s release. Richard finally did make it back to England.

Close-up of the ruins of the castle

Friday, May 16, 2003

Now in Vienna. First stop: my favorite bookstore in Austria, Shakespeare & Co, in a alley off the Holhmarkt.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Now in Munich, or Munchen as the locals call it. Came here yesterday from Nuremburg, after a weekend in Berlin. Got into Berlin on Saturday and took the U-Baan to Rathaus Steglitz where there was a meeting scheduled for seven o’ clock in the evening with Alexander Berzin, the author of Taking the Kalachakra Initiation and a well-known translator of Tibetan texts. I was standing in the hall of the small Buddhist center there when who should walk in but my friend Ms. T. from Paris. Oddly, I was at first not at all surprized to see her. It was like, “Oh, there’s Ms. T.” Then about two seconds later it struck me: “What a minute! What is Ms. T. doing here in Berlin? She lives in Paris.” Ms. T. soon explained. While in Freiburg I had sent her a message mentioning that I was only 30 kilometers from the French border – I had last emailed here from Mongolia - but that unfortunately I was unable to come to Paris because that weekend I had to be in Berlin. So it turns out that Ms. T. also planned to be in Berlin that weekend. She emailed me and said we should met. Unfortunately I did not check my email before going to the Berzin meeting, so I did not know she was in Berlin. I had mentioned to her that I was going to the meeting, however, and there was a link on my website to Berzin’s website. She checked Berzin’s website and got the address of the meeting and came to met me, bringing in tow her friend Herr F. I had last seen her when we parted in the airport at Chengdu, China after our trip to Lhasa, Tibet for the New Year’s Eve.

Anyhow, she did not want to stay for the lecture from Berzin, so we agreed to meet in downtown Berlin at 10:30 later that evening. At the meeting we recited one of the Kalachakra texts and then Dr. Berzin made a lengthly commentary on a few of the key lines. I hope to have more on this on at Legend of Shambhala soon. He ended up talking until almost 10:30, and then I showed him some Tibetan texts which Lama Gombo had given me in Ulaan Baatar. They turned out to be various commentaries on the Kalachakra Tantra written in Tibetan by Mongolian monks, plus one short guidebook to Shambhala, also written by a Mongolian.

I did not get back downtown until 11:30. Ms. T. had been to my hotel and left a note staying we should met in the morning. Sunday morning we had breakfast at the Potemkin Café in Charlottenburg (a district of Berlin for you non-Berliners) and then Ms. T.s friend, Herr F., was kind enough to drive us to Potsdam, outside of Berlin, where of course Frederick the Great had built his huge palace and garden complex. So we spent most of the afternoon strolling around the grounds, along with several thousand other people. Potsdam is probably best known now – at least to Americans- as the site of the post-war Potsdam Conference held in July and August of 1945 beween Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Harry Truman.

Sanssouci (“Without Worry” in French), built in 1745, was the Prussian King Frederick the Great’s first palace at Potsdam.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The Kaiserburg, the old fortress overlooking the city of Nurnburg. The original parts of the fortress date back to the eleventh century.

From Berlin I took the train down to Nurnburg (Nuremburg), next to Freiburg the nicest city I have visited in Germany. Here is the Haupt Markt, with the steeples of St. Sebaldus in the background.

The Chinese Tea House at Potsdam. Built in the 1750s, the statues are supposed to represent Chinese people as depicted in contemporary travel accounts.

The Neues Palais at Potsdam

Spent most of Sunday afternoon at Potsdam, the digs established by Frederick the Great just outside of Berlin.
My apologies to the people of Berlin: the Severed Head Story mentioned below was datelined Berlin but it actually happened in Uebach-Palenberg, a small town near Aachen, and not in Berlin as I intimated. In fact I had a great time in Berlin, details to follow . . .

Friday, May 09, 2003

Despite the entry below I am on my way to Berlin. Left Schluchsee this morning, spent two hours in Freiburg, then caught a train to Nuremburg, where I am now. Will be in Berlin tommorrow. It's a helluva world we live in when a guy can't go out for a beer and a bratswurst without stumbling over a severed head . . .

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Berlin this happens: Man Arrested with Severed Head Says Was Provoked. "A man arrested after walking through town swinging the severed head of his sister-in-law by the hair told police she had provoked him, German prosecutors said on Wednesday," reads this story in part.
Took the train up into the Black Forest. Passed through the highest train station in Germany, Feldberg-Barantal, at 3204 feet. The highest mountain in the Black Forest is the nearby Feldburg, at 4882 feet. Continued on to Schluchsee, located on a glacial lake several miles long. It a highly developed spick and span little place chockablock with hearty German tourist types. Lots of gravel-paved hiking trails - actually roads, cars could travel them with no problem, with informational signs about every 300 feet. Despite this most of the hikers are in full “Alpine Hiking” regalia, heavy books, two hiking sticks, day packs bigger than I would take on a 28 day trek in the Himalayas. The women all seem to have legs like Olympic shot-putters.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Caught the 10:10 flight down to Stuttgart, 50 minutes flying time, then caught a train to Freiburg, two hours traveling time. Was in Freiburg, in the heart of the Black Forest by 3:15. Whew! Yesterday morning I was in Ulaan Baatar. Walked from train station to the Munsterplatz, the square in the middle of town. In the middle of the square is the the Munster (cathedral), an immense redstone pile with an incredible bell tower which art historian Jacob Burckhardt called “The greatest in all of Christendom.” I don’t know how high it is; It certainly rivals or exceeds the south bell tower of St. Stephans in Vienna (known affectionately as "Little Steffl" to the locals), which is 484 feet high. The church itself is over 800 years old and, like St. Stephens, miraculously survived World War II bombing which flattened areas just hundred of feet away (they did not have “smart bombs” in those days). Checked into an inn right on plaza, on the north side, with a great view of the church from my window.

Are Berliners really nuts? We report, you decide.

Old Berlin and New Berlin

This is the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche (for you non-Teutons, that’s the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), dating from the late 19th century. It was heavily damaged in a British bombing raid in November, 1943. The remains have been preserved as a war memorial. Berliners, who seem to have an nickname for everything, call it the “Broken Tooth.” The new tall building next is it is bell tower, replacing the now-missing bell tower of the old church. Berliners call this the “Lipstick”. There are always a lot of street musicians playing around here, including the ubiquitous Peruvian flute players (apparently Peru’s biggest export) and Black rap singers.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Well, I really have a hard time staying in any one place for more than a month; three months is the absolute max. I had been in Mongolia for almost three months so it was definitely time to wander. Yesterday I took the plane to Berlin, Germany. I thought I might head south and do a little hiking in the Black Forest around Freiburg. It’s about a six hour flight to Moscow, where the plane makes a stop-over. Not much new at the airport, although I did notice that now you can buy vodka in three-foot long bottles shaped like rifles. You pour out of the barrel. These might impress somebody, perhaps Chechen warlords. From Moscow to Berlin is 2 hours 18 minutes. Beautiful spring day, gorgeous blue skies in downtown Berlin. Strolled down the Ku Damm (the main shopping street, although in Germany almost all stores are closed on Sundays) and checked out what may be the world’s biggest internet café - over 350 computers, open 24 hours a day, seven days week, and with its own in-house Dunkin Donuts outlet. Is this Heaven or what? Signs at each computer terminal say, in English, “Your mother does not work here. Clean up after yourself.” By then I was suffering from jet lag – seven hours time difference between UB and Berlin, so at four in the afternoon it was eleven at night by my watch, and I had gotten up at four in the morning UB time. So I was bushed. Sat in a sidewalk café watching the crowds for a couple of hours and then hit the hay.

Saturday, May 03, 2003

Erdene Zuu Monastery, near current-day Kharkhorin, built on the site of the old Mongol capital of Kharkhorum. The monastery was founded by Avtai Khan, Zanabazar's great-grandfather, in 1586. Avtai's tomb is the small white building on the left; the white building on the right is the tomb of Gombodorj, Avtai's grandson and Zanabazar's father.

Just uploaded some new material on my biography of Zanabazar. See The Life of Zanabazar. Zanabazar was the first of eight Bogd Gegens who ruled in Mongolia from 1639 to 1924. In addition to his role as the leader of Buddhism in Mongolia Zanabazar was also a world-class artist and polymath. More to come . . .

Thursday, May 01, 2003

The new Idgaa Choizinling Prayer Hall, the purported venue for the big Buddhist lallapalooza taking place here in Ulaan Baatar starting June 1. Workers are frantically attempting to complete the temple on time.
Not only is Saddam Hussein alive, he is writing Letters to the Editor, at least according to the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, which has published a letter supposedly written by the erstwhile Iraqi dictator. And what is Saddam ranting about? Fluoride in Baghdad's drinking water? Not, he's back on his favorite beef: Hulegu, grandson of Chingis Khan and earlier reincarnation of George "Hulegu" Bush. Saddam: "As Hulagu entered Baghdad, so the criminal Bush entered, with great bitterness. They conquered you, you who reject occupation and shame, you who keep Arabism and Islam in your hearts and minds, only through betrayal."

OK, Saddy, the Hulegu thing happened, like, over 800 years ago: for God's sake, fella, get over it!