Sunday, September 17, 2017

From ‘Cycling home from Siberia’ by Rob Lilwall

If you were to die right now, how would you feel about your life?
-          Brad Pitt, Fight Club

Even before the communist era, Siberia had a considerable history as the place where dissidents and criminals were sent…..Under Stalin, the steady flow of prisoners increased to a torrent. …..Hard-labour sentences were given not only for open criticism of the government, but also for even making a joke about it. Records show that men were sent to the camps for being late for work and women were sentenced for picking up grains from an already harvested field. The whole country became covered with a dark shadow of mutual suspicion, fear and complicity. …..The camps were spread across the whole of Siberia and the conditions were atrocious. But it was the Gulags in the hinterland of Magadan that were the most feared. Until the twentieth century, Magadan had been a small fishing-village outpost, but with the discovery of inland uranium, nickel and gold deposits… developed rapidly into a large port. Cargo ships fed the growing town with thousands of prisoners. In the worst places, life expectancy was less than a month and every kilogram mined was said to cost a life. There was a saying that ‘if you are sent to Magadan, you will never come home.’ …….at its height there were probably seven million people in the camps, about 10 per cent of whom died each year. Estimates of overall deaths mostly range between 10 and 60 million.

What I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think that there are no little things
-          Bruce Barton

It’s the job that never gets started that takes longest to finish
-          Samwise Gamgee

Be still and know that I am God
-          Psalm 46

I laugh in the face of danger. I drop ice cubes down the vest of fear
-          Edmund Blackadder

I alternate between thinking of the planet as home – dear and familiar stone hearth and garden – and as a hard land of exile in which we are all sojourners
-          Annie Dillard

The Russians love a man who suffers
-          Russian saying

Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive
-          C. S. Lewis

In the world to come, I shall not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I shall be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?’

Like many Russian men we met, he had a firm handshake and a welcoming smile…..

We walk away from our dreams afraid that we may fail, Or worse yet, afraid we may succeed
-          Sean Connery, Finding Forester

One kind word can warm three winter months
-          Japanese proverb

In contrast to the drivers in Russia, who stared, stopped and offered us vodka, the drivers in Japan looked straight ahead and pretended not to notice us.

In Siberia, our lavatory experiences had been bottom-numbing; in Japan, our lavatory experiences were to be relished. Inside the spacious cubicle, the toilet resembled a small spaceship.

…Japan….The towns then became ever more regular and it started to feel as though we were riding through a continuous corridor of convenience stores and vending machines. …….this group of islands flung out on the eastern edge off Asia, of which only 20 per cent of the land area is habitable, which had virtually no natural resources and plenty of natural disasters and which had been totally devastated in a war less than 60 years beforehand, should have been able to recover and become the world’s second-largest economy in just a couple of decades?

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community …let him who cannot be in community beware of being alone
-          Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The nationalistic writer Yukio Mishima described the Sea of Japan as ‘the source of all my unhappiness, of all my gloomy thoughts, the origin of all my ugliness and all my strength ….a wild sea’. Riding alongside it for two days, with angry waves lashing the cliffs, and hailstones, rain and bitter winds beating my face, I begin to understand what he meant.

Tokyo …..Men in business suits burst in and out of tall buildings. At night, I sometimes see them getting so drunk that they fall down in the street, still wearing their suits and ties.

Once, as I was pedaling nowhere on a computerized bicycle, I thought of Kierkegaard’s comment that the knowledge of one’s own death is the essential fact that distinguishes us from animals. I looked around the exercise room wondering just how distinguished from the animals we modern humans are. The frenzied activity I was participating in at that moment – was it merely one more way of denying or postponing death?
-          Philip Yancey

Japan was far removed from anywhere I had been before but despite all these experiences I felt I was only skimming the surface. I joined the ranks of foreign visitors who have found the Japanese culture somewhat inscrutable. Perhaps, one person told me, this was because of the Japanese distinction between honne (one’s personal views) and tatemae (the opinions demanded by your position within the group or society).

I thought of that while riding a bicycle
-          Albert Einstein (on the theory of relativity)

South Korea felt instantly different from Japan. Even before the ferry docked I observed a middle-aged man talking loudly and jovially to his wife. Then, to my astonishment, at the culmination of their conversation he slapped her cheerfully on the bottom and they both burst out laughing. This, I thought to myself, was a seriously un-Japanese way to behave in public.…..The roads were not as smooth as in Japan. There were sizzling, greasy food stands and gritty street stalls, mixed in among the glass-fronted shops and restaurants. When I asked for directions, the people were more boisterous and less formal. …..Korean drivers were not as careful as the Japanese.

When whales fight, shrimp get hurt
-          Korean proverb

….the Yoido Full Gospel Church. With more than 700,000 official members, it was the largest church in the world. We were sitting in an auditorium, packed with 16,000 people, and every seat was occupied. ….Eleven of the 12 largest congregations in the world were in Seoul. ….the most notable features of the otherwise bland skyline were the dozens of red neon crosses emblazoned across it.
I later read that nobody really knows why Christianity has thrived there. Missionaries did not arrive until the 1780s and by the start of the twentieth century Christians still made up less than 1 per cent of the population. But in the 1950s, the trickle of growth turned into a flood. By 1960 the Protestants alone had grown to over 100,000. By 1990 they were over ten million. In attempting to explain the growth, sociologists have suggested that similarities between Christianity and some of the traditional Korean beliefs gave a natural point of contact on which to build. They also highlight the significance of the Christian relief agencies that provided essential help, both during and after the war. Perhaps most important…..was that, unlike in other Asian countries where Christianity was seen as the religion of the imperial Western oppressors, in Korea Christianity became associated with the causes of liberation and freedom. Traditionally the greatest enemies of the Koreans were not the Europeans but the Japanese, and it was often the Christians who showed most courage in resisting them. ……..There is undoubtedly some merit in these theories

…..the most heavily militarized border in the world. North Korea begins less than 40 miles north of Seoul.

Mandarin is a tonal language, with four distinct tones. The meaning or comprehensibility of every word is dependent upon using the right tone

…..He warned me that the drivers in China were crazy….Chinese driving is among the worst I have ever seen……Everyone is in a hurry, and there is no such thing as cruising – everyone swerves, brakes, accelerates and honks continuously.

….the Yellow River. It was dark brown and churning. In centuries past, the river had been known as ‘the sorrowful river’ because so many people drowned in its annual floods.

It is an unnatural business to find yourself in a strange place with an underutilized brain and no particular reason for being there and eventually it makes you go a little crazy
-          Bill Bryson.

……people under 18 were not allowed to go to church in China……worship was permitted only in the state-sanctioned (and thus state-monitored and state-controlled) churches. Prior to communism, China had been a popular place for Western missionaries. The growth of the church had been slow but steady, until Mao came to power and all missionaries were forced to leave.

God made man because He loves stories
-          Elie Wiesel

…..Philippines….the car pulls up outside a cemetery….street children…. ‘They’re  inhaling glue,’ Craig says, looking at them sadly. ‘Its cheaper than food and suppresses their appetite. It is a way for them to escape their pain, but over time it will destroy their immune system and give them brain damage. Drugs, crime and violence are daily experiences for these children.’………Rounding a corner of tombstones we see many more children, though these seem to be too drugged-up to notice us. Some of them are young, maybe five years old. Several are asleep, lying on top of the gravestones in the burning morning sun. A young teenage girl shares one slab with a pale, feverish-looking baby. …….in the cemetery they are usually undisturbed. He says that some are from very poor families whose parents have thrown them out, some are orphans and many have been so badly abused at home that they ran away.
Behind the graves, I see a ten-year-old girl sitting alone in the shade. Her elbows are rested on her knees, and she is staring forward into space. Her eyes are empty. Something about her gaze makes me think, not of a child, but of an 80-year-old who is tired of life. ……..There were over 50,000 street children in Manila …..

If we don’t offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull… we wake up one day and find that we have lost our dreams in order to protect our days
-          Kent Nerbur

I always felt anxious when crossing borders that were off the tourist routes. The less significant the border, the more likely the immigration officials were to have delusions of grandeur

…Papua New Guinea….five of the world’s top 20 most poisonous snakes lived there ….malaria….The disease was endemic ….deadly. Research in 2003 showed that 30 per cent of the population had come down with the illness that year, and hundreds had died from it…..most people had no protection at all………a French Malaria researcher…..told me that the Papua New Guinean people…..did have something in their immune system that made them suffer far less than people elsewhere in the world, even Africans…..English is widely spoken, owing to its legacy as a British colony… famous for its linguistic diversity. Although its population is six million, there are over 800 distinct languages spoken. ….The most common language used to communicate… therefore a kind of combined, multi-sourced pidgin language…..Although much of Papua New Guinea is mountaineous and difficult for crops, here on the coast it is extremely fertile…. ‘If you stick something in the ground here, it grows.’

Papua New Guinea is a land of misfits, mercenaries and missionaries
-          A saying about Papua New Guinea

Out of 130 cities surveyed, Port Moresby was found to be the least liveable in the world
-          The Economist, 2006

Work as if it all depends on you, and pray as if it all depends on God
-          St Augustine

…Port Moresby combined a reputation for danger akin to Johannesburg with a setting almost as stunning as Cape Town.

To get back my youth, I would do anything in the world except take exercise, get up early or be respectable
-          Oscar Wilde

…..a remote-control-sized gadget called a Dazer II. When you press the button, it emits a high-pitched noise. This noise is inaudible to human ears, but unbearable to dogs, and thus it is a brilliant way to prevent dog attacks. I would later use it to good effect against the big, angry dogs of Tibet.

The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind
-          G. K. Chesterton

A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ship are built for.
-          Grace Murray Cooper

Two years previously, 40 per cent of global pirate attacks had occurred in Indonesian waters, sometimes resulting in the kidnapping or murder of the crew.

…I was nearing Tibet, as well as famously colossal mountains and notoriously ferocious dogs….

Man’s greatest step is between the warm bed and the cold floor.
-          Anonymous

In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher
-          The Dalai Lama

People don’t take trips…trips take people
-          John Steinbeck

Live to the point of tears
-          Albert Camus

Do one thing everyday that scares you
-          Eleanor Roosevelt

Outside there was no sound but the scraping of the pine trees in the wind. Danger was cumulative, of course, it crept up step by step, half-noticed as your journey took you deeper. Until you woke up at night in a place beyond help
-          Colin Thubron

…..Balkh……the circle of massive mud buttresses around us. It was impressive, even today. Thirty-five centuries ago, Balkh had been known as ‘mother of all cities’. Twenty-six centuries ago, according to many historians, it was the birthplace of Zarathustra, founder of Zoroastrianism. ….The beginning of the end for Balkh, like so many other great cities of the Islamic world, had been the passing hurricane of Genghis Khan. In 1220 he had destroyed every building of note and butchered its thousands of inhabitants. Timur had sacked it again about a century later. But in the end it was malaria and water-supply problems that sealed its abandonment and led to Mazar-e-Sharif becoming the new capital.

A country with more portraits of the President than road signs has surely taken a wrong turn somewhere
-          A. J. Humphreys

For centuries Turkmenistan had not been such a safe place. Bandits had hidden in hollows beside the road and attacked the Silk Road caravans as they passed. It was eventually the Russians who had tamed the land and suppressed the people in the late nineteenth century.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is facing a great battle
-          Philo of Alexandria

…..the Caspian Sea, the largest completely inland sea in the world…..

….Philip Yancey’s analysis of the complex issues of Islam-West relations ……:
In determining morality, American society tends to apply the bottom-line principle, ‘does it hurt anyone else?’ Thus pornography is legal, but not if it involves explicitly violence or child molestation. You can get legally drunk as long as you do not break a neighbour’s window or drive a car, endangering others. Violence on television is okay, because everyone knows the characters are just acting. Whereas we define ‘hurt’ in the most physical terms, Islamic societies see it in more spiritual terms. In that deeper sense, what could be more harmful than divorce, say, or pornography, or violence-as-entertainment, or even the cynical depiction of banal evil on television soap operas? It is from this vantage point that the US has gained its reputation as ‘the Great Satan.’

We both enjoyed the zesty charm of the Italian people, though their casual approach to driving felt almost as dangerous as the mad-cap drivers of India and Iran.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

From ‘Loitering with Intent. Diary of a Happy Traveller’ by Ritu Menon

Of the 25 million hectares of teak plantation in the entire Asia-Pacific region, 15 million are in Myanmar….how refreshing to be in a country that hasn’t yet been penetrated by globalization, where cities are free of high-rises and flyovers, where roads are safe, and crime negligible. Where ordinary people are unaggressive and helpful: where the air is clean and you can still see stars in the sky

….Angkor Wat ……the whole concept of a mountain temple is unique to the Khmer – there are none in India ……..Jacques believes that Angkor Thom is actually a far more important site than Angkor Wat because it is a whole city, conceived, visualized and laid out in a complex grid of streets, water channels, ponds and residential areas that suggest a sophisticated urban sensibility.

….in Yogyakarta. Prawirotaman is in old Yogya…..Everyone is unfailingly courteous, even the touts are polite and helpful (unlike in India where they are aggressive and overbearing)…..….it is not possible to have an interfaith marriage in Indonesia – you have to convert. There is no secular civil law that legitimizes a marriage between Muslims and non-Muslims….with Borobodur, the siting is also dramatic, with the stupa sitting atop a hill which rises from a flat plain; you see just its silhouette initially, imagining the rest, the seven levels rising up to the concentric circles of stupas, and then the crowning stupa…….Borobodur was built over a hundred years, from AD 750-850 by the Sailendras. ….And yet, and yet. The power and glory of the Bayon in Angkor Thom, it seems to me, far outstrip Borobodur.….Could it be the environment, jungle and overgrown foliage, as distinct from flat plain? Or is it that Angkor has so much more, so very many temples, so many extraordinary built structures, such impressive barais that you have a sense of the civilization, and their combined impact is far greater. I don’t know ……….Have never been one for Javanese or Balinese dancing – really, its much too slow and stylized for me……What struck us again and again is the absence of any overt poverty in both Yogya and Bali. No beggars, no obsequious hustling, nothing shifty or shady about any of the tourism ancillaries that we encountered. Its obviously not a rich society …….Clearly salaries are low, the money made from tourism doesn’t really benefit the locals ……so how do people sustain themselves? ……Government Batik Arts Centre which has students of batik …….the paintings were exquisite and you realize just how crude and undeveloped our batik is in India. No comparison. We saw such fine examples of Javanese and Balinese, but especially Javanese, batik that we were filled with awe and admiration. …….Ubud …..lives up to all the superlatives used to describe it. …stuns the senses and fills you with delight. Its just so gorgrous (The fruit on the other hand, is surprisingly tasteless. You’d think the pineapple and papaya and watermelon would be sweet and flavourful, but no. Only the bananas are good.) It reminded me of the best of Coorg and Kerala ……..its the only place in the world we’ve been to where the farming takes place at your doorstep ……There’s no real distinction between ‘town’ and ‘country’, between inside and outside. It makes for a marvelous continuity and, I do believe, is one major reason for the great feeling of tranquility one experiences. ……the really nice thing about Ubud is that homes and temples and shops and cafes are all part of each other. Many cafes have a temple right next to them ……….the Balinese are preoccupied with the ritual and ceremony of Hinduism, not its philosophical or intellectual content. …..Bali ….Its a remarkably homogenous society, and a remarkably religious one …there’s virtually no crime in Bali, and should anyone be caught stealing, they will almost certainly be done to death by the community. …There’s no pick-pocketing, you’re completely safe on the street, and all doors are kept open. Its very possible that this is one reason why the Balinese have been able to resist the tourism assault of the last twenty-five years. …..And there’s no stigma attached to any kind of labour. (In fact 90 per cent of the population is Sudra, so there are none of the caste hierarchies of India on the island.) And because there’s no separation between farm and non-farm, a man may, if he wants, drive a taxi in the morning, work in the rice-fields in the afternoon ….and wait at a restaurant in the evening…..the gap between the very rich and the modest sections of society is not that great, or visible…..

It is simply not possible to describe the Cappadocia landscape…….There are rocks and there are rocks. And then there are the Cappa rocks. …….enter any one of the thousands of cave dwellings that dot the entire region, or you can stumble onto an ancient church, early Christian – or a Hittite home, prehistoric. ….At last count, there were 20,000 cave dwellings in Cappadocia and more are being found every year. They have been lived in for over 4,000 years by the Hittites, the early and later Christians, and by the Turks, till the government of Turkey took them over in the 1970s…….Cappadocia’s population is 300,000, of whom 50,000 are employed by the tourism industry ……..A region that had been more or less isolated for thousands of years, is now humming with tourism….The first humans in Cappadocia can be traced back to 500,000 years ago. The Hittites inhabited the region till the 1200s BC, followed by the Persians in the sixth century BC….Macedonians under Alexander replaced the Persians, then Julius Caeser, and after the Romans came the early Christians, fleeing the Roman armies. The caves of Cappadocia became their refuge, and Cappa itself offered a safe haven for the propagation of Christianity. …….Finally, the Turks from Central Asia conquered the area and brought in Islam….There are over 700 rock churches in all of Cappadocia, some just modest family shrines…..the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, and many of them fled east to Anatolia and the cave shelters of Cappa. It was in these shelters that the early monasteries were founded. ……we went to Kayamakly, one of thirty-six currently known underground cities in Cappadocia (there aer said to be almost a hundred more!), and one of the largest in the region…..was discovered in 1964 and is dated to the early Byzantine era. Underground cities were of enormous value in the early Christian era, as they provided shelter for extended period, to Christians who were being persecuted by the Romans. We were told that you could live in them for over two months at a time, with adequate provision of the four essentials: light, air, food and water…..Undergound cities were lived in from the earliest times – by the Hittites, who descended into them during the bitterly cold winter (the temperature in these cities remains an unvarying 11-17 degrees  Centigrade, year round); by first-century Christians who hid from the Arabs. ….As ventilation was crucial, the first things to be dug were ventilation shafts, some 70-80 metres deep. At the base of the shafts were wells for water, which would be transported up to the upper levels. ….these incredible air shafts that were the oxygen cylinders for these vast cities, capable of holding 4,000 people at any one time. Smaller cities might accommodate only 150 families, but Kayamakli and Derinkuyu, the two largest, held many more ……..You enter ordinarily enough at ground level …..then begin descending. Kayamakli goes down fifteen storeys……Each of the fifteen levels had ten ‘doors’ – massive stone wheels, weighing 300-500 kg each, that were rolled across the opening to prevent entry. Once in place, they could only be operated from the inside. ….An ingenious system of smoke signals and mirrors established on the higher levels warned inhabitants of imminent danger …..the more privileged families lived closer to the surface where the air was fresher. They fed on salted meat, dried fruit and nuts. Potatoes store very well in these underground temperatures ……Primitive and rudimentary these underground cities might have been, but you have to wonder at the ingenuity and skill of those Hittites and everyone who followed………Turkish jewellery design is definitely different…..more imaginative and artistic. Also very well made……..There are probably more Greek ruins in Turkey than there are in Greece, and Ephesus is certainly among the most spectacular…..I’m so glad we went to Aphrodisias after Ephesus……the stadium. We gasped in amazement. The only fully preserved ancient stadium extant, a perfect oval, 270 metres long, with seating for 30,000 ………We thought we had seen quite fantastic sculptures in the Ephesus Museum, but what we found in the museum at Aphrodisias was far richer and more extensive.

……Damascus, the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world……Syria has the oldest recorded history in the world, going back as far as 2500-3000 BC at least……

In Palestine…..90 per cent of your land is under the Israelis, and only 10 per cent can be claimed as your own – with their permission. When the colour of your Identity Card – blue for Jerusalem, green for the West Bank, brown for Gaza – determines your mobility within your own country, when there are 570 checkpoints controlled by the Israeli Defence Forces in the tiny area of the West Bank.

Medical services are free across Italy, whether or not you have insurance. Yet few among those in real need – immigrants, mainly – ever go to a hospital, because once they’re registered they’re on the government scanner and are likely to be deported if they’re illegal. A great number of Sicilian businesses and agricultural produce entrepreneurs employ such labour, primarily from Libya, Algeria, Tunisia ….But mainly Libya. The general hospital at Modica is one of the few in the country that protects the status of anyone who comes to it because it desists from reporting them…..all towns date back mostly to the eighteenth century, rebuilt after the great earthquake of 1693 when almost everything in Sicily was razed to the ground…..The seas have been fished to near-depletion now and…..many other Sicilian towns, is supported substantially by tourism.  ……Migration out of the country is fairly high, because employment is hard to find if you have skills that are marketable. And yet immigrants flock to the cities here, willing to do the menial labour that the locals wont……You think of Sicily as sparse – and poor. But the towns are densely packed, every available space built-up. The soil is rich and dark, volcanic, so very fertile, and the countryside now has miles and miles of plastic greenhouses ……..for export. Its true that there are large stretches in central Sicily that are dry and brown, where only the hardy olive trees survive (and thrive, it must be said) but even so, there must have been great wealth to support all those churches and noble estates. An extreme and resolute feudalism must have appropriated the greater part of this bounty, for there were no less than 750 feudal families on this small island…..the Mafia. As early as the fifteenth century, restrictive commercial opportunities were so stringent in Sicily that even the over-privileged feudals were forced to make changes in order to survive. They introduced a policy of resettlement that forced thousands of peasants off the land and into new towns. The feudals themselves moved to large cities, leaving the job of collecting rents to their bailiffs. The bailiffs in turn employed the early Mafiosi – small gangs of armed peasants – to do the dirty work. And although they were feared by the peasantry, they were also supported by them because they were destabilizing the feudal system by robbing the largest estates as well. This ‘common cause’ became the origin of the term Cosa Nostra (Our Thing), and the code of protection or silence (Omerta), the peasants’ way of protecting the Mafiosi from the police. …..Southern Italy and Sicily sent their poorest to the US and among them were the Mafiosi of Corleone and other depressed areas of the country……. Illegal migrant labour from North Africa is employed on all the greenhouse farms, working for little money and in conditions that no locals would accept……Sicily must be the sweets capital of the world…the varieties of scrumptious confections in its pasticcerias……It was all those nuns servicing all those priests and churches who exalted pastry-making to a fine art. They baked and baked, they trained new initiates, as well as children sent to their orphanages and convents, and they left a legacy of confectionery that flourishes to this day. ……….Its always seemed to me that there are more Greek ruins outside Greece than in it, so it was no surprise to find that the most perfectly preserved Greek temple is in Agrigento, a coastal town in south-western Sicily. The temple of Concordia perched on a hilltop, perfectly proportioned, ……Preserved because it was converted into a church in 600 AD ………..In the foreground an 800-year-old olive tree, still bearing fruit, and also in the foreground, a most stunning bronze sculpture made as recently as 2011 by Hungarian sculptor, Igor Mitoraj, of the fallen Icarus. Broken wings, shattered legs, lying on his side, but with the most beautiful face in repose that I have ever seen. Of such surpassing beauty as to be god-like. …….So many temples of sublime and lofty near-perfection on the island, and the one in Segesta, nestled in verdant forest….You rounded a curve on the hill road and there it was, supreme and magnificent in its isolation. … isn’t as if we haven’t seen mosaics. Istanbul, Ravenna, Venice, Damascus, but the wealth and extent of them in Sicily is something else. At the Villa Romana del Casale, near Armerina, we saw what must be the largest expanse of secular mosaics in Europe. Every inch of floor in every room it seemed, had been decorated with scenes of extraordinary detail and depth…….every aspect of life and living depicted, all in the span of twenty years, from 286-305 AD.
The villa was the country retreat of Marcus Aurelius, built when he was a co-emperor of Rome, with Diocletian. The villa itself is enormous ……After a twelfth-century landslide it was submerged under mud for 700 years, which …is why its so well preserved. ….it needed a massive and sophisticated restoration …opening for visitors only in 2010…..the Great Hunt, a 64-metre mosaic can be seen …..The skill of the draftsmen was exceptional and the colours……..Glowing with a subtle radiance even in the dim light……….I have really never seen such fluidity and movement in animals poised for flight or tensed for attack, nor faces of such mobility and animation, in stone. In chips of stone, whats more.
And then we saw the mosaics in the Capella Palatina in Palermo, and agreed that never before had we seen religious mosaics of such dazzling brilliance, as here. Not in Ravenna, nor in Istanbul, not in Damascus either. Even Venice. ….covered with the story of Jesus and every Biblical tale………And on the floors – geometric designs that are such a clear reference to Islamic art ……..