The Moai Walked – Easter Island

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The Moai Walked – Easter Island

“It’s a toss up when you decide to leave the beaten track, many are called but few are chosen”. Somerset Maugham

No one can agree on the history of Easter Island. It was named Easter Island by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who landed there on Easter Day in 1722. They found a population of between 1,500 and 3,000 inhabitants and about 900 giant stone statues. The statues, called Moai, were carved from compressed volcanic ash and stood as high as thirty feet, weighing 90 tons.

The locals did not care to explain their significance or method of creation. Captain James Cook wrote in 1774. “We could hardly conceive how these islanders, wholly unacquainted with any mechanical power, could raise such stupendous figures,”

When did the first people arrive? Where did they come from? Why did they carve such enormous statues? How did they move them and raise them up onto platforms?

The missionary’s stories, the explorer’s diaries, the archaeologist’s shovel, the anthropologist’s bones and the Rapa Nui oral tradition have all revealed something of the story. No one agrees on any of the answers to these questions.

The Rapa Nui have a story. When the first king Hotu Matu’a arrived on the island he brought seven different races with him, which became the seven tribes of Rapa Nui.

All the Moai sites have names. It is believed that the seven statues at Ahu Akivi represent the original ancestors from the kings of other Polynesian islands. Most of the statues face inland guarding the island and protecting the inhabitants but these seven face the sea remembering where they came from.

The quarry is one of my favorite places on the island. It is on a volcano called Rano Raraku.

The steep path winds through an astonishing landscape of Moai – giant heads, broken bodies, some tilted and without order, some fallen facedown on the slope.

The astonishing discovery by Thor Heyerdahl of Kon Tiki fame was that these giant heads had giant bodies under the ground.

They say, when a statue was almost complete, the carvers drilled holes to break it off from the bedrock, then slid it down the slope into a big hole so they could stand to finish it. Eye sockets were carved once a statue was on the platform and white coral and obsidian eyes were inserted during ceremonies to awaken the moai’s power. I bought an artist’s model of the eye.

In some cases, the statues were adorned with huge cylindrical hats or topknots of red scoria, another volcanic stone.

The hats were made at another quarry that had the red scoria.

The faces of the statues look very human and more Peruvian than the current Rapa Nui. Thor Heyerdahl believes there were early Peruvians.

There is a lot of speculation on how the islanders moved the Moai from the quarry where they were carried to their many locations.

Archaeologists have proposed methods for moving the statues, using various combinations of log rollers, sledges and ropes.
In the Rapa Nui oral tradition, the Moai were infused with mana, a spiritual force from the ancestors and the Moai walked.

The Rapa Nui stories make just as much sense of the unknown as the scientific theories. There is no proof that it did not happen that way.

Fly safe,

JAZ

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Post 9/11 Florence, Italy

Post 9/11 Florence, Italy

“To see the sun sink down, drowned on his pink and purple and golden floods, and overwhelm Florence with tides of color that make all the sharp lines dim and faint and turn the solid city to a city of dreams, is a sight to stir the coldest nature.” – Mark Twain

My daughter had the opportunity to dance in Florence during the Easter Break following 9/11. Most people were scared to travel. Airport security was a mess with very long lines.  It was my first time going to Europe in fifteen years. I fight a daily battle with anxiety but doing something for my kids always helped me push through my fears so off we went.

She danced all day and I walked around for the first time anywhere by myself. Florence was crowded. There were protests, shopping, antisemitism, more shopping, a lot of art and a looming terrorist threat at the Duomo on Easter Sunday.  Police were everywhere.

We were trying on shoes and an anti-American protest walked by. They were burning the American flag and there were a lot of people walking and cheering. I had only seen that in movies. In the post 9/11 world, we knew anything could happen. We threw the shoes and ran back to the small hotel. The owner laughed when we arrived completely shaken up. “It’s Italy. They protest everything here. Tomorrow they will burn something else.” I had a lot of anxiety during this trip. Luckily, there was so much to see and do, I had no time to focus on it. 

This was not my first visit to Florence and my number one thing to see is the Uffizi Gallery. Art haters will not agree with me. The Uffizi Gallery is Europe’s first modern museum created by the Medici family in the sixteenth century. It is the best collection of Italian paintings in the world. I forced my daughter to go there at eight am before dancing all day. In my mind, you could not go to Florence without seeing Botticelli, Raphael and Titian. There are huge lines and it is the one museum to plan in advance for. Get tickets before you go.

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The second thing to do is gelato. Art haters might make it the first thing. I am not even a fan of ice cream but eating gelato every day in Florence should be on everyone’s to do list. Gelaterie are all over Italy but it is the best in Florence. Festival de Gelato on the walking street is a good one to try. If you do not go there try to find one where the gelato is made fresh on site and not from a mix. Brightly colored gelato probably has other things in it and is from a mix. There is a lot of pre made gelato these days so do the research. 

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Piazza del Duomo is  good for people watching  but is the preferred hang out for pickpockets  so be careful.The two big sites here are the Duomo and the Baptistry. The set of doors on the Baptistry that faces the front of the Duomo was designed by Ghiberti in the early 1400s, and a young Michelangelo thought they were so beautiful that they could be the Gates of Paradise. The original panels are now kept in the Duomo Museum, but the replicas on the Baptistery are still gorgeous and attract a crowd. The Duomo’s relatively empty interior can be a bit of a disappointment  but most of the art was removed to the Duomo Museum after the 1966 flood.

If you feel like climbing and you don’t get vertigo or claustrophobia, climb up Brunelleschi’s Dome. You can also read the novel of the same name if you are interested in history or architecture. I opted for the novel and was not disappointed.

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Piazza del Signori is also a good spot for people watching and outdoor art. It is outside the Palazzo Del Vecchio and you can find the plaque where the monk Savonarola was burned at the stake in 1498.

Even if you are not a shopper, go to the leather markets. The one near San Lorenzo church leads into the Food Market which is always fun. There are also a lot of pickpockets here while you are focusing on gloves or olive oil so watch your things.

I don’t think there are any deals to be found  anymore for Italian designers like Gucci and Prada though filing for the VAT tax helps. There are interesting stores from young  designers that we do not have here that are more fun to look at.

I am fascinated by Dante Alighieri and I had plenty to see in Florence. There is a statue in his honor in Piazza Santa Croce, a museum dedicated to his life and works (including The Divine Comedy), and verses inscribed on various streets in the historical center.  Santa Margherita de’ Cecchi is  the church where  Dante fell in love with Beatrice which is the passion that is thought to have inspired much of his work. I spent Easter Sunday with Dante avoiding the crowds at the Duomo if the terrorist threat turned out to be real. It was not.

We had Easter Dinner at Il Latini, a famous Florentine restaurant known for its Bisteca Florentina. Ristorante del Fagioli is also good and it displays certification for sourcing the original Chianina breed of cattle, where bistecca fiorentina should come from. They are still among the best restaurants in Florence.

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The city is full of carbs. I ate either pizza, pasta or panini daily. Sometimes I had all three and I loved every second of it.  Since I walked all day long, I did not gain any weight. Don’t try this if you live in LA and sit in your car all the time.

Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance and  there are many famous people buried here. In Santa Croce, you can find Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Ghiberti and Michelangelo.There is an honorary tomb to Dante.

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Adjacent to San Lorenzo is the Medici Chapel. The wealthy Medici family sponsored the great artists of Florence and Michelangelo statues adorn the tombs. The Lorenzo Library with the great Michelangelo Staircase is also worth a visit.

Watch the sunset on the Arno from the Ponte Vecchio like the Medicis did or see it on one of the less crowded bridges.The Ponte Vecchio has survived floods and World War ll making it one of the oldest bridges in Italy.

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The Renaissance capital of the world  also has a lot of Modern and Renaissance street art so enjoy it as you walk around the city.

The Bargello Museum which is housed in a former prison has some incredible early Michelangelo works and Donatello’s David. It is much less crowded than the Uffizi.

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The Salvatore Ferragamo Museum  is a fashion museum dedicated to the life and work of Italian shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo. The museum has 10,000 models of shoes created and owned by Ferragamo from the 1920s until his death in 1960 The museum is housed in the historic Palazzo Spini Feroni, which was purchased by Ferragamo in the 1930s. If you like shoes and need an art break, it’s a fun thing to do.

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The Pitti Palace is a  very large Renaissance Palace  on the South Side of the Arno near the Ponte Vecchio.  It was started by Filippo Brunelleschi  for Luca Pitti but was eventually purchased by the Medici family and finished by other architects. Today, the palace and the Boboli gardens house the Palatine Gallery, the Silver Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Costume Gallery, the Porcelain Museum and the Museum of Carriages.

The collection of the costume gallery comprises six thousand items including costumes dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries, theatre costumes and accessories. It is the only museum of the history of fashion in Italy and one of the most important in the world. The Palatine Gallery has an impressive collection of Titian,Correggio, Raphael and Rubens. It is second only to the Uffizi.

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Piazza Del Michelangelo is where everyone takes their view of Florence  picture from. There is another fake David in the square.

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The real David by Michelangelo. is in the Galleria dell’Accademia and has a high entrance fee. David is the only thing worth seeing here. I had to see it but if you don’t, you can be happy with all the fake Davids around the city.

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No matter how much time you spend in Florence, it never feels like it is enough. There is always more to see and do.

Ciao and fly safe, (not my photos – mine are in storage.) 

JAZ