All posts filed under: Books

Timeless in Tuscany

It’s 3 o’clock on a Saturday. Saturn-Day, as in Saturn, the great teacher. We’ve arrived. The grandfather clock behind the reception desk stands still, frozen at some previous, unspecified 4 o’clock. Looking closely, I make out the phrase on its face: tempus fugit. “Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus, singular dum capti circumvectamur amore”  Virgil, Georgics “Fugit inreparabile tempus” (It escapes, irretrievable time), wrote the poet Virgil — later expressed in English as: time flies. While time may fly, it can also stop for a spell. Also not flying on this day: our luggage — left behind by the airline along the way. We check in and then go to the center of this piccolo villaggio, hoping for a shop with swimsuits. Aha, a shop: Fata Morgana. This is the Italian name of the Fairy Morgana, the sorceress Morgan le Fay in Arthurian legend. Fata Morgana is also the name of a mirage of sorts, visible above the horizon, once believed to be fairy castles conjured up by witchcraft. Now known as an “optical phenomenon.” They are sometimes seen …

Kneipp*

Water always finds a way Have you ever wondered at how certain books seem to choose you, sliding into your life just when there is a specific longing and space for them, binding with threads of your destiny from the moment you choose them, too?  That’s how the young Sebastian Kneipp must have felt that evening when he returned from the library in Munich. It was at the end of the 1840s and he was trying to get through his university studies while suffering from a lung disease he couldn’t shake off. From a poor family, he had to rely on knowledge flowing to him from various, perhaps unexpected sources. Knowledge discovered. Knowledge earned by intellectual curiosity. And so one day in the library (was he trying to suppress his coughs in the studied silence of the reading room? Did he wander off into the stacks where nobody was, where he could cough into a handkerchief and not bother anybody?) he found a book by one Dr. Johann Siegmund Hahn — written a hundred years …

Architectural Quality and Culture: Practically Perfect

Is a utopia the opposite of a dystopia? Dystopia refers to “an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.” (New Oxford American Dictionary). Utopia calls to mind an ideal place – with all the desirable qualities for a wholesome human society.  Sir Thomas More introduced the term in his 1516 novel Utopia, about a fictional island society. And while that society was located in the south Atlantic Ocean, the word utopia translates from the Greek into English as “no-place”.  So actually, a “utopia” is, in its very code, a promise of perfection with an underlying belief that such a place cannot exist in the real world. Dystopia often calls to mind George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. But since that novel was published in 1949, dystopian science fiction stories and films have inundated the mainstream. Think of the stories that can be described as “utopian” – how many can you call to mind? Of course, an emphasis on dystopian patterns must have shaped the way that generations of people in western societies have consciously and unconsciously perceived …