Friday, March 27, 2020

A bit of speculation after the Passion Play reschedules

The Passion Play has been postponed until 2022
(Courtesy: GNTB)

OBERAMMERGAU, GERMWNY — Coronavirus continues to dominate the headlines as the world anxiously awaits the sound of the all-clear signal.

Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have been affected while major hospitality players such as hotels, airlines and cruise lines have suffered dramatically.

Now the country of Germany has announced the postponement of a 400 year tradition that has its roots linked to Europe's first epidemic, the Black Plague.

Citizens of Oberammergau prayed for plague relief in 1633
(Courtesy: GNTB)

In the great scheme of the multiple economic and medical outcomes resulting from COVID-19, perhaps the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the Oberammergau Passion Play is a minor consequence but from a cultural perspective the announcement is huge.

The Passion Play is only performed every ten years, and it is because of its rarity that pilgrims from around the world make long range plans for their visits. Since the first performance in 1634, the only other time the play was not performed as scheduled was in 1940 because of World War II.

Church interior today
(Courtesy: GNTB)
According to legend, after 80 deaths in the tiny village of Oberammergau in 1633, the citizens of the town made a sacred pledge that every ten years they would perform a "Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ" if God would protect them from further ravages of the plague.

Actually, the initial promise was to perform on an annual basis, but the range and scope of the production were so large that it was impossible to carry out the logistics on a yearly basis, so the ten year interval was adopted.

Following the vow, not a single person came down with the plague. Perhaps even more miraculously, everyone who was afflicted with the disease at the time of the oath survived.

Rendering of Oberammergau
(Courtesy: The Newberry)
True to the promise, the passion play was performed for the first time during Pentecost in 1634 and has fulfilled its agreement every ten years since.

The first performance took place in the cemetery next to the parish church on the fresh graves of victims of the plague. The stage was little more than a simple wood construction.

In 1830, the stage relocated to the northern edge of the village with a layout plan which offered space for 5000 spectators. Today the permanent Passion Play Theatre seats 4,700 people.

To participate, actors must be residents of Oberammergau. The cast consists of about half of the 5,000 residents whose otherwise every day lives consist of working as doctors, shopkeepers, teachers and the like.

You must be a resident or be born in Oberammergau
in order to participate
(Courtesy: GNTB)
All the main speaking parts are filled by actors who have lived in Oberammergau for at least 20 years or by people who were born there.

To illustrate why the logistics of a yearly performance are prohibitive, at times there are as many as 700 actors on stage at once.

  • Playing Christ requires endurance so three different
  • actors play rotate the role
  • (Courtesy:GNTB)

Due to the physical stamina required for "Christ" to be on the cross for 20 minutes during the Crucifixion scene, three different actors rotate in the role of Jesus.

Due to the uncertainty the coronavirus is creating globally with constantly changing data and schedules, Germany has  announced the rescheduling of this year's production to 2022.

"The municipality of Oberammergau and the directing team of the Passion Play around Christian Stückl had to make this decision to protect the health of participants and spectators. The premiere is re-scheduled for May 21, 2022. "

At times there are 700 actors
on stage
(Courtesy: GNTB)

All of that said, in a world where speculation is frequently more newsworthy than actual events themselves, I am taking this opportunity for a bit of personal speculation regarding the temporary setback created by the COVID-19 nemesis.

Prior to the pandemic, the US economy was rocking along at a record-breaking pace. Suddenly, almost overnight, and with very little warning, Americans found themselves sequestered in there homes for largely precautionary reasons and guess what...we don't like it.

Americans are an active, busy society. We are forever on the move. We are doers.

Where people in other parts of the world take six weeks of vacation, Americans get two, maybe three if we're lucky. So don't mess with our free time.

Oberammergau's Passion Play is a cultural extravaganza
:(Courtesy: GNTB)

True, the hospitality industry is reeling, but it's a global phenomenon that is affecting us all and when this is over, the bounceback is going to be of unprecedented proportions.

I personally believe that springtime cabin fever will strike with tsunami-like results.

What do I know? Nothing. It's truly a mess, but I do believe that we are in uncharted territory that feels very different from similar disruptions in the past.

The Last Supper
(Courtesy: GNTB) 
Never before have we experienced sustained weeks without sports. Never before have major cultural events been postponed or canceled at such a concentrated level.

No, this time it's different and when it's over look out, because the wanderlusters of the world are ready to get up and go.

Friday, March 20, 2020

UNESCO's massive sundial in India at Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar is a collection of 19 massive mathematical 
and astronomical instruments that are nearly 300 years old
(Photo: peabod)

Jaipur, India — Recently a lifelong friend came by and delivered a book which could easily be classified as the "World Traveler's Bible."

Now in it's eighth edition, the weighty 960 page volume called simply as World Heritage Sites is a detailed journey to all 1073 UNESCO sites around the world.

Jantar Mantar entrance
(Courtesy: pixabay)
Arranged in chronological order according to their date of selection, World Heritage Sites are designated by UNESCO which judges them under strict criteria with the aim to reflect the world's cultural and natural diversity and are of outstanding universal value. Sites that no longer meet these criteria are delisted.

Combined with superb photography, several methods of listing such as by country or by cultural criteria such as historic or scenic etc., detailed maps and complete descriptions of the sites, this book is far and away the best UNESCO reference a globetrotter could possess.

As an example, let's look at one of the most fascinating sites in the world that you have probably never heard of; Jantar Mantar located in Jaipur, India.

Size matters at Jantar Mantar where bigger is better
(Courtesy: pixabay)

The Jantar Mantar is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments built by the Maratha Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II, the founder of JaipurRajasthan. Completed in 1734, it features the world's largest stone sundial, which is accurate to within two seconds.

The instruments allow the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye while the observatory is an example of the Ptolemaic positional astronomy which was shared by many civilizations.

 The name "jantar" is derived from yantra a Sanskrit word, meaning "instrument, machine." "Mantar" comes from  mantrana, also a Sanskrit word for "consult, calculate." Therefore, Jantar Mantar literally means "calculating instrument."

Giant Sundial
(Courtesy; pixabay)
When Jai Singh noticed that the Zij, an Islamic astronomical book that tabulated the parameters used for calculating the positions of the sunmoon, stars, and planets, did not match the positions calculated on the table, he constructed five new observatories in different cities in order to create a more accurate Zij.

The astronomical tables Jai Singh created, known as the Zij-i Muhammad Shahi, were continuously used in India for a century though they had little significance outside of the country.

It's  not known when Jai Singh began construction in Jaipur, but several instruments had been built by 1728, and the construction of the instruments in Jaipur continued until 1738.

The observatory has had several periods of significant success 
and abandonment 
(Courtesy: pixabay)

During 1735, when construction was at its peak, at least 23. astronomers were employed in Jaipur. Because of the rapidly changing political climate, Jaipur replaced Delhi as Jai Singh's main observatory, remaining his primary observatory until his death in 1743.

The history  of  Jantar Mantar is one of decline and restoration for the next 158 years.

From 1743 to 1750, the observatory lost support under Isvari Singh due to a succession war between him and his brother. Although some restorations were made to the Jantar Mantar by Isvari Singh's successors, when Pratap Singh took over until 1803, a temple was constructed, and he turned the site of the observatory into a gun factory.

Where science blends with art
(Courtesy: pixabay)
Ram Singh began the restoration of the Jantar Mantar, and completed restoring it in 1876. He even made some of the instruments more durable by inserting lead into the lines in the instruments, and restoring some of the plaster instruments with stone instead. However, the observatory soon became neglected again, and was not restored until 1901 under Madho Singh II.

The Jantar Mantar observatory consists of nineteen instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking location of major stars as the earth orbits around the sun, ascertaining the declinations of planets and determining the celestial altitudes.

The sundial is accurate to within two seconds
(Photo: peabod)
Among the instruments on display is Vrihat Samrat Yantra, the world's largest gnomon sundial which measures time in intervals of 2 seconds using shadows cast from the sunlight.

The Yantra Raj Yantra is a 2.43-metre bronze astrolabe, one of the largest in the world, is used only once a year to calculate the Hindu calendar.

The Vrihat Samrat Yantra, which means the "great king of instruments", is 88 feet high; its shadow tells the time of day and its face is angled at 27 degrees, the latitude of Jaipur.

 The Hindu chhatri (small cupola) on top is used as a platform for announcing eclipses and the arrival of monsoons.

In most cases, the instruments are huge structures, allegedly designed to increase their accuracy. The Samrat Yantra, (Great Sundial), for instance, can be used to tell the time to an accuracy of about two seconds in Jaipur local time.

Samrat Tantra as it appeared in the early 19th century
(Photo: British Library -- public domain)

The Samrat Yantra is one of the world's largest sundials, standing 88 feet tall. Its shadow moves visibly at 1 mm per second, or roughly a hand's breadth every minute, which can be a profound experience to watch.

The Jantar Mantar was declared a national monument in 1948 and at long last, finally restored to full capacity in 2006.

Switzerland may have Rolex and London boasts of Big Ben, but "for the time of your life" India's Jantar Mantar is like no other place on Earth.

Friday, March 13, 2020

More great tips for post-coronavirus travel

When quarantines end and "Cabin Fever" kicks wanderlusters
in the rear, here are some tips to ease the transition
(Courtesy: pixabay)

CHARLOTTE, NC -- With the travel industry reeling from coronavirus quarantines, cancellations and rescheduling, perhaps now is a good time to offer a new collection of travel tips. Not all of these will work for everyone in every case, but many of these neat little tricks can save lots of time and hassles during the course of a trip.

Flying Apples:  If you have a problem with clogged ears when you’re flying, bring along and apple.  When the plane begins to descend – about 25 minutes before arrival – eat the apple.  The chewing and swallowing will keep your ears clear.
If you had a deal that expired, try to renegotiate.(Courtesy: pixabay)
Grow a Pair:   Sometimes it just takes having a little nerve to speak up.  When travel websites offer really great deals for hotels, print them out and save them.  Even after the validity date has passed, you have a printed version of a previous offer.  If the hotel is not busy during a certain time, they might honor an earlier deal just to fill up the space.  It’s worth a try, especially for last minute arrangements.

Local Knowledge:  Ever been bothered by street merchants who keep pestering you to buy something?  Instead of saying, “No thank you,” in English, learn how to say the same thing in the language of the country you are visiting.  Sounds silly, but many times the vendor will get the message and think you speak his language and go bother somebody else.

Bad as it may appear at the moment, the pandemic
be relatively brief
(Courtesy; pixabay)

 Unique Christmas Tree:  At a loss to figure out what to do with some of those travel souvenirs you pick up and never seem to use?  Why not use them to decorate your Christmas tree!  The tree will be unique and during the holiday season when people stop by for a visit, it makes a great conversation piece.  Postcards, ticket stubs and disposable cameras add a quirky touch and exotic blankets or fabrics can even serve as a tree skirt.

Popcorn Break:  Why not carry two or three bags of microwave popcorn in your carry-on?  If you arrive at the hotel too late with no place to get something to eat, you can usually find a microwave in the guestrooms or the common area.  It can tide you over for a little while and you can also use the ice bucket as a popcorn bowl.

 Travel Gingerly:  Did you know that candied ginger is not only tasty but a preventative or remedy for motion sickness?  If you are prone to car, air or seasickness, a small supply might be very helpful.

Stay calm, keep cool and don't panic
(Photo: Public domain)

Rubber Band Safety:  Lots of people are wearing rubber band bracelets these days.  When you are traveling with children in a crowded place such as an amusement park etc., you can write your cell phone number or the name of your hotel on the inside of the bracelet.  If you get lost or separated, the kids will have a way to find you. 

Returning  to the Hotel:  Many times locals do not pronounce words in their language the same way we do.  In a country where language can be difficult, take a hotel business card with you when you go out.  Then when you need a taxi back to the hotel, just show it to the driver and you can save yourself a lot of aggravation, and possibly money as well.

Taking License:  Next time you rent a car, check the license plate to see if it's from the same state you are in.  Many times police officers prefer to give traffic tickets to a driver with out-of-state tags rather than their own state.  It’s no guarantee but it might help.

Cruise lines have been hit hard by coronvirus
(Courtesy: pixabay)
A New Kind of Postal Service:  Want to make sure your cabin steward or maid gets a message when you are out of the room while on a cruise?  Take some post-it notes and leave the messages on a mirror when you want more ice, Kleenex, extra towels, etc.  Believe it or not, it works!

Let There Be Light:  Do you ever need a flashlight but just can’t find one?  How about using your cell phone!  Most of the newer phones have powerful little displays that are bright enough to light the way down a dark staircase or help you find some item in a dark corner.

Fresh as a Daisy:  Take two or three bars of your favorite soap and put them in strategic places in your luggage.  They make everything smell better and they also come in handy in places where soap isn’t furnished.

Travel is taking a hit now but it will return with a vengeance
(Courtesy: pixabay)
Lighten Your Load:  Many people abandon old clothing at the end of a trip rather than lug it all the way home.  Some hotels do not allow the cleaning staff to take things from wastepaper baskets.  In fact, some hotels even mail the discarded items back to you.  Next time, just leave a note on the basket stating your desire to leave them and that they are available for anyone who wants them.  Case clothed.

Cozy Up:  Those insulated foam can holders make great little storage places when you are traveling a long distance in a car or van.  They’ll store pens, notes, glasses, receipts, coupons or any other little items you might want to keep track of.  No wonder they call them cozys.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Coronavirus in Italy: The other side of the story

Victor Emmanuelle Monument in Rome
(Photo: peabod)
ITALY There used to be an expression in local television news that said "If it bleeds, it leads."

By the same token, in the south in the United States any meteorologist who mentions the word 'snow' knows immediately from the moment that word leaves his mouth, it's only a matter of hours before it becomes virtually impossible to find bread or milk at a local grocery store.

In many ways, the semi-pseudo hysteria over the Coronavirus (Covid-19) in Italy is having a similar effect. That is not to say that press reports are inaccurate or that information services are lying or even distorting the news.

Artist's rendering of the interior of St Peter's Basilica
(Photo: public domain)
On the other hand, media outlets are in the business of reporting current events, so it's to their advantage to perpetuate a story for as long as possible.

Putting it another way, as said by former Barack Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and Winston Churchill before that, you should "Never let a good crisis go to waste."

Covid-19 caught Italy
by surprise
(Courtesy: pixabay)
When Covid-19 caught Italy by surprise a few weeks ago on the cusp of the heaviest part of the upcoming tourist season, it set off a mini-panic that continues even now.

But there are usually two sides to every story and, to date, the Italian tourism viewpoint has gone largely under-reported or distorted in many ways.

For starters, nowhere in the American press has it been mentioned that in the outside event that a visitor to Italy does come down with Coronavirus, the country is highly regarded throughout Europe for the quality of its healthcare and medical professionals.

Second, and again not reported, is that Italy provides free healthcare services for foreigners.

While it has been explained that the initial reports came out of Lombardy and the Veneto in the north of Italy, and Covid-19 is, for the most part contained within that region, the media has been less inclined to report that the largest at-risk group for the disease is seniors who are already dealing with some form of respiratory ailment.

Seniors are the largest
at-risk group
(Courtesy: pixabay)
As of this writing there have been 3,089 documented cases of Coronavirus in Italy with 276 cases that are closed. Thus far, since the outbreak began in Italy, 107 people have died.

Compare that number to the average DAILY toll of more than 90 motor vehicle deaths in the U.S. Do those significantly higher numbers prevent you from driving your car? In fact, has statistic like the one above EVER even crossed your mind before you got behind the wheel of your car? We're guessing the answer is 'no.'

Yet another unreported fact is that most of Italy's Coronavirus victims have received treatment at home without need for hospitalization.

One contributing factor that perpetuates the idea that things are worse than they are occurs when the press reports a preventive program that can easily be misinterpreted. For example, earlier this week Italy took pro-active measures to further isolate the disease by closing all the schools in the country. Though the measure was positive, it is easy to perceive it in a negative light.

View of Rome from Hotel Hassler
(Courtesy: Hasslee Roma)
As hotels and other hospitality businesses outside of northern Italy scramble to reassure visitors that external perceptions are having a major impact that is not as severe as it appears, many experts believe that the arrival of warmer weather will significantly diminish the Covid-19 threat.

Roberto E.Wirth, owner and general manager of the Hassler Roma, one of most prestigious hotel properties in Rome, is among those who are highly optimistic. Wirth tells fellow Italians to "ignore alarmism and to follow the protection rules issued by the Ministry of Health."

For travelers, three simple precautions can prevent a high percentage of potential future problems:
·      Wash your hands frequently
·      Keep your away from your face as much as possible
·      Use Clorox Wipes to clean airplane tray tables etc.

Hassler's Lush Palm Court
(Courtesy: Hassler Roma)
The travel industry is always filled with countless variables. The best, and most positive, thing travelers can do to avoid knee-jerk reactions and to spend a little more time than usual to get the best possible current information.

Avoid hearsay and media-based websites because they may be misleading. It's better to rely on government internet links on both sides of the Atlantic to obtain the most accurate and up-to-the-minute information.

It is also wise to contact your hotel to speak with the concierge or someone in management. They will answer any questions honestly because they know only too well that possible business may be directly impacted by their input.

The Spanish Steps at dusk with Hotel Hassler just beyond
(Courtesy: Hassler Roma)
Such research requires a little more effort for travelers than usual, but it will pay off in the end.

Be vigilant. The absolute best situation, whenever possible, for travelers and suppliers alike, is to let the status remain quo for as long as possible.

Changes can have a negative unanticipated domino effect that ultimately could be worse than your original itinerary.

They don'r call Rome "Eternal" for no reason and she 
will outlive Covid-19 too
(Photo: peabod)
That is not say you should not consider any contingencies  but rather to warn against being too quick on the trigger with a "ready, fire, aim" approach to your travels.

A little homework might be a bit time consuming, but in the final analysis, if it's possible to keep your original itinerary planned, you will likely come out ahead financially and less aggravated in the long run.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Germany celebrates 250 years of Beethoven in 2020

Germany is celebrating the 250th birthday of
Ludwig van Beethoven in 2020
(Photo: Public Domain)

GERMANY Germany has been celebrating what will amount to a year-long tribute to the life of Ludwig van Beethoven honoring the 250th anniversary of his birth since December 16th of last year.

Widely regarded by many as the greatest composer who ever lived, Ludwig van Beethoven dominates his era of musical history as no one else has before or since.

Town Hall in Bonn
(Courtesy: pixabay)
Born in Bonn, Germany, Beethoven exhibited musical prowess at an early age, prompting his father and teacher Johann van Beethoven to be a severe and intense mentor, who believed that a stern disciplinary approach would enable his son to become a child prodigy like Mozart.

Beethoven, like many people of superior intelligence in a given field of endeavor, was a complex individual who was further influenced by the onset of deafness. At the age of 44, the great composer was completely devoid of the ability to hear, thus making his frequently irascible personality even more confrontational than ever before.

Close friends and academic sources often confirmed Beethoven's disdain for authority and social rank. At times, if the audience chatted amongst themselves or afforded him less than their full attention in the middle of a program, Beethoven would stop mid-performance while at the piano.

Other times at soirées, he refused to perform if suddenly called upon to do so.

Eventually, after many confrontations, the Archduke Rudolph decreed that the usual rules of court etiquette did not apply to Beethoven.

Beethoven statue
in Vienna
(Photo: Public Domain)
There was another side to Beethoven however, for he was also an artist, humanist, visionary, nature lover and a citizen of the world.

Indeed, Beethoven was revolutionary. He was visionary and  cosmopolitan, not to mention one of the most frequently played classical composers of his day to the present. Ludwig van Beethoven was an extremely talented artist whose music still unites people all over the world some 250 years after his birth.

For travelers planning to visit Germany in 2020, here's a partial list of events taking place throughout the country this year. Combined with Passion Play in Oberammergau, 2020 promises to be an ideal year for making a pilgrimage to Beethoven's homeland.

#DiscoverBeethoven is all about German destinations, scenery and visions that influenced the grand master. Take a stroll in Beethoven's footsteps. Throughout the year, you can be inspired by milestones in history, personal stories, outstanding events, innovative sound sensations and unexpected perspectives:

Beethoven concerts abound in Germany throughout 2020
(Photo: Public Domain)
NOW – Dec 17, 2020: Freiburg: The city of Freiburg is home to a remarkable variety of orchestras, run by students for students. Eight of the best student symphony orchestras will be performing a series of concerts featuring all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies. 

Mar 14 – May 3, 2020: Beethoven’s Mother’s House, Koblenz, My son Ludwig: This evocative play, performed in the house where Beethoven’s mother Maria Magdalena was born and where she died, features a pianist and the composer's music.

Apr 14, 2020: Osnabrückhalle: The German National Youth Orchestra begins its Easter session with Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica, along with a new work by Mark Barden that was specially commissioned for BTHVN 2020 by the German Music Council. 

Jun 12, 2020: Open-air opera at Schwerin Castle, Fidelio: For the Schlossfestspiele festival, Beethoven’s only opera is performed against the magnificent backdrop of this historic residence set in the middle of a lake.

Jun 20, 2020: A celebration of Beethoven in the gardens of Rheinsberg Palace: Distinguished ensembles and the up-and-coming young soloists of the Rheinsberg Chamber Opera perform in an outstanding event for the Beethoven anniversary year that links music and nature and features both famous and seldom-heard works.

Interior of the church in Oberammergau

Jul 5, 2020: MDR Summer of Music, Schloss Waldenburg, Young Talent 3
: Winners of the EnviaM music competition perform works by Beethoven and Dvořák with two MDR musicians, Vera and Norbert Hilger, at Schloss Waldenburg. 

Aug 14, 2020, Kurhaus Wiesbaden / Aug 15, 2020, Tauber Philharmonic, Weikersheim / Aug 16, 2020, Kongress Palais, Kassel: The German National Youth Orchestra and the World Youth Choir start their 2020 summer tour in Bonn by combining Beethoven’s masterpiece with the premiere of a work by Tan Dun.

Aug 30, 2020: The Ninth Symphony at the Festival Theatre, Bayreuth: In 1872, Richard Wagner conducted the Ninth Symphony at the Margravial Opera House to celebrate the laying of the foundation stone for the Festival Theater. There were further performances to mark the resumption of the festival in 1951, for the 150th anniversary of Wagner’s birth in 1963, and in 2001 for the 50th anniversary of the New Bayreuth. 

Sep 6, 2020: Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg: Heiner Goebbels: New Work. A cycle for the Ensemble Modern Orchestra (2020). 

Dec 17, 2020: Final Concert Bonn Opera House: Daniel Barenboim conducts the IX. Symphony with the West-Eastern-Divan Orchestra and the European Choral Association – Europa Cantat

Travelers interested in Beethoven the Man who do not wish to take in a performance or if your travel schedule does not coincide with a musical event may want to view a large collection of Beethoven's hearing aids, such as a special ear horn. The hearing devices can be viewed at the Beethoven House Museum in Bonn, Germany.

For more information contact the German National Tourist Board (GNTB)

Beethoven had to hear his music in his
head because he was deat
(Courtesy: Pixabay)
When it comes music, Ludwig van Beethoven was truly a sublime "symphony for the soul" in more ways than one.