This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.
Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture. He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.
His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon). This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough. Here is our 2015 review of it.
Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography. We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.
Don’t believe in miracles? Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that. You can find a complete list of his articles on RI here.
Located in the Kaluga Region just south of Moscow, Optina Pustyn is among the most venerated and beloved of Russian monasteries. Part of the appeal is its favored natural setting in a majestic pine forest overlooking the small Zhizdra River.
Popular legend says that the name derives from Opta, a brigand who renounced his mayhem, accepted the monastic name of Makary and formed a forest hermitage in the late 14th century. “Pustyn” is related to the word for “wilderness” and is often used for small monastic communities in forests.
In the 15th century, the retreat accepted both men and women who lived in separate areas, but were led by a common spiritual father. This practice was banned by the Russian Orthodox Church Council of 1503, and the Optina community was reconstituted for men only as the Holy Presentation Optina Pustyn Monastery. Tenuously surviving in the 16th and 17th centuries, the monastery was destitute by the early 18th century and briefly closed in the mid 1720s.
For centuries the monastery consisted of log structures. Work began in 1750 on a new main church dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin, yet the monastery continued on the brink of destitution, exacerbated in 1764 by Catherine the Great’s secularization of monastery holdings.
By the end of the 18th century, however, the monastery and its attractive location gained the attention of a church hierarch, Platon, the Metropolitan of Moscow and Kaluga. His support led to a revival, including the construction in 1802-1806 of a large bell tower and flanking cloisters.
Throughout the 19th century there followed other churches, chapels and monastery buildings, including a large refectory with imposing murals and ceiling paintings that have survived.
Of special significance was the monastery’s hermitage, or skete (retreat), devoted to a more strict form of spiritual observance. Dedicated to John the Baptist, the skete at Optina Pustyn was established in 1821 at its own compound a short distance to the east of the main monastery walls.
The center of the skete remains the Church of the Nativity John the Baptist, built in 1822. Surfaced with red plank siding, the attractive wooden structure is accented with a white neoclassical portico.
Other buildings at the skete include small residences and a library housed in a graceful structure that served as a museum during the late Soviet period.
During the 19th century the hermitage became widely known for its sages who achieved the designation starets, or “elder”. Although the concept of starchestvo was brought to the monastery by the church hierarchy in the 1820s, the starets designation came primarily through popular respect for certain monks who led an ascetic existence at the hermitage and in whom charisma merged with deep spiritual wisdom. The church venerates all 14 monks known as “starets” at Optina Pustyn.
The Optina Pustyn Monastery attracted all levels of society, including Russia’s intellectual and artistic elite. Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, the brothers Ivan and Konstantin Aksakov, Konstantin Leontiev – these are but a few of the major artists and thinkers who visited Optina Pustyn. But the monastery is best known for its encounters with Fedor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy – encounters that in each case involved a severe personal crisis.
The events leading to Dostoevsky’s visit occurred during a particularly stressful time in his life. In Spring 1878, he had begun work on The Brothers Karamazov – his final, triumphant masterpiece. In mid-May, however, his beloved younger son, Alyosha, suddenly became ill and died from a seizure at the age of two years and nine months.
Seeing her husband’s unfading anguish, Anna Grigorevna Dostoevskaya turned to their friend, Vladimir Solovyov, himself a profound writer and mystic philosopher. She noted that Dostoevsky had long thought of going to Optina Pustyn, and the essential moment had come. Solovyov agreed to take Dostoevsky with him to the monastery in late June.
Dostoevsky hoped to arrive on June 24, which was the feastday of the Nativity of John the Baptist as well as the 40th day since the death of Alyosha. (The Orthodox church places special emphasis on remembering the deceased at that point.) They arrived, however, on the 25th, and Dostoevsky requested a memorial service (panikhida) for his son on the 26th.
Dostoevsky remained at Optina Pustyn through the 27th, and during that time he sought consolation from the venerable starets Amvrosii (Ambrose), known for his compassion and penetrating intelligence. Dostoevsky subsequently conveyed these qualities in the figure of Father Zosima, the starets who appears in The Brothers Karamazov.
Father Zosima’s consolation of the woman who had lost her son (in the chapter “The Believing Women”) likely derived from Dostoevky’s encounters with starets Amvrosii – in particular, their private conversation at his modest cottage near the entrance to the skete. Anna Dostoevskaya noted that her husband returned from Optina Pustyn a different person, at peace and no longer crushed by grief. He resumed his work on The Brothers Karamazov with a new spiritual strength.
Leo Tolstoy’s encounters with Optina Pustyn were more frequent, but ultimately without spiritual resolution. After visits in 1877 and 1881, he returned for a meeting with starets Amvrosii in 1890, the year before Amvrosii’s death. The meeting was evidently tense and difficult for the elderly monk, who was wearied by Tolstoy’s pride.
By this point Tolstoy had publicly broken with the Orthodox Church and had attacked basic tenets of Christian dogma. Nonetheless, he returned to Optina Pustyn in 1896 at the urging of his sister Maria, who in 1891 had entered the nearby Shamordino Convent. During that visit he met with starets Joseph, whose calm generosity of spirit brought a temporary measure of peace to his existence.
But Tolstoy’s turbulent spiritual quest would not be eased. His final existential crisis led him to flee his home in the early hours of October 28th, 1910. Accompanied by his physician, Dushan Makovitsky, Tolstoy arrived at Optina Pustyn toward the end of the day.
During the difficult trip he asked frequently about the elders at Optina Pustyn. Despite his refusal to reconcile with the church, his anguish apparently led him to seek the wisdom and solace that they might provide.
After spending the night at the monastery, Tolstoy approached the hermitage on the morning of the 29th. At this critical moment he was beset with doubt and the fear that he would not be received. Instead, he made his way to his sister Maria at the Shamordina Convent and even mused about staying nearby for a period of time.
But the arrival of his daughter Alexandra (Sasha) on the 30th again roused him to flight. Together with Makovitsky, they made their way on the 31st to Astapovo Station, where Tolstoy died a week later.
In a final turn of the tragedy, Tolstoy’s retreat from the hermitage quickly became known at Optina Pustyn, which received the news with dismay. Starets Varsonofy journeyed to Astapovo but was not allowed in the presence of Tolstoy despite repeated requests. Tolstoy’s closest associates had no interest in such a meeting.
In the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Optina Pustyn was closed in January 1918. Dispersal, executions and exile ensued. During the Soviet period, most of the religious artwork was lost or destroyed. In 1931, the skete became a rest home, and the monastery housed various enterprises.
The darkest page in the monastery’s history occurred in the fall of 1939, when some 5,000 captured Polish officers were sequestered there in what was called concentration camp Kozelsk-1. Walled monasteries were frequently used as prisons during this period. In 1940 this group was sent to Katyn and shot in a mass execution.
Following a brief period as a military hospital, the monastery was used in 1944-1945 as an NKVD “filtration camp” for Soviet officers repatriated from German camps. In later years the territory served as an agricultural school.
The Presentation Optina Pustyn Monastery was finally returned to the Orthodox Church in 1987 and services resumed in 1988. In 1990 the John the Baptist Skete was also returned to the monastery.
Thus began a process of restoration whose results are so impressively visible today. Like the Solovetsky Monastery in the Russian North, which also witnessed tragic events during the Soviet era, Optina Pustyn has experienced a revival that each year attracts thousands of pilgrims and visitors.
Egypt: Excavating the archives of the man who uncovered Tutankhamun’s tomb | Culture
It is rare to travel north in search of Tutankhamun. The young Pharaoh’s tomb is actually to the south, in Luxor, Egypt, as is his mummy, while the vast majority of artefacts buried with him – the famous “wonderful things” that include treasures such as the gold mask – have traditionally had their home at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. But there is another treasure linked to Tutankhamun, less glittering but also fascinating, in the shape of the archives of the late Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb.
The documents compiled by Carter include maps and plans, detailed records of the thousands of artefacts – 5,300 to be exact, photographs, drawings, slides and both personal and excavation diaries, as well as other materials, such as private letters, telegrams and press clippings, all of which give the discovery context and are an exceptional source of information.
Donated to the center for Egyptology at Oxford University’s Griffith Institute by Carter’s favorite niece and heir, Phyllis Walker who died in 1977, the collection is now the subject of a timely exhibition at Oxford’s Bodleian Library, with additional material from other sources such as the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Open until February 5, 2023, Tutankhamun: Excavating the Archive, invites visitors to “see beyond” the golden treasures of the young Pharaoh and explore the complexity of the discovery as it unfolded. A celebratory centenary exhibition, it recalls the moment on November 26, 1922, when Carter and his sponsor Lord Carnarvon looked into the tomb for the first time, breaking a seal that had held for over 3,000 years and beginning the excavation of the only untouched ancient Egyptian royal burial site to be found in the Valley of the Kings.
The exhibition features Carter’s first written mention of the find in one of the Lett’s Indian and Colonial Rough Diary pocket notebooks he used to record his activities during the eight months he spent each year in Egypt: “First steps of tomb found,” he scrawled in pencil, conveying irrepressible enthusiasm. The entry takes up the entire page for Saturday, November 4, 1922. It was the fourth day into the last sponsored excavation, as Lord Carnarvon had finally decided to stop paying for the concessionary rights to the Valley of the Kings.
The exhibition goes into the details of the sensational find and how it developed for better and worse, with recognition of the fact that Carter and Carnarvon lied in order to smuggle several small objects out of Egypt. It also explains how the discovery coincided with the proclamation of Egypt’s independence from Britain and the change in the country’s policy regarding its antiquities; and it mentions the infamous “curse” associated with the tomb. Significantly, it acknowledges the shortcomings of European colonial archaeology during that era and hails the essential role of the overlooked Egyptian professionals and laborers in the investigation.
The Egyptians, including many child laborers, appear in numerous photos of the excavation without being identified, reducing them to little more than exotic extras. They were rarely mentioned, and their role was underestimated in official reports. Now, archival research “is making it possible to restore the Egyptians’ role in the excavations,” and to “address the error.”
Donkeys instead of cabs
The exhibition also flags up the neglected role of the women who participated in the venture, such as Minnie, the wife of photographer Harry Burton, author of the famous photos of the excavation, who helped her husband and kept a personal diary that is a valuable source of information. In one passage, she recalls the excitement of visiting the tomb while it was being emptied and how Carter sent a donkey to fetch her home like someone might send a cab.
Coming to Oxford with the sole purpose of seeking out Tutankhamun lends the city an incongruous air of Egypt, even if arriving by bus rather than donkey. The kites spotted en route over the English countryside bring to mind the birds that fly over the pristine skies of Luxor, which are represented in pharaonic temples and tombs as divine creatures. These same birds are also present in Carter’s paintings, such as the 1895 watercolor of a falcon in the chapel of Anubis in the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari. Carter was an excellent draughtsman who came to archaeology precisely because of his artistic ability.
The Bodleian exhibition occupies the treasury room of the library and is small, like Tutankhamun’s tomb, but equally full of documentary wealth, though it requires immersion and the determination of an archaeologist to extract the information from the 20-odd showcases fittingly shrouded in gloom and mystery.
In a preamble, data is given on the reign of the young Pharaoh. For example, it is emphasized that his death was unexpected, and his burial consequently improvised, which explains many of its unusual characteristics. It is also mentions that the tomb remained substantially intact despite being visited by thieves shortly after first being sealed – they did not gain access to the mummy and the tomb was again rearranged and resealed so that what Carter encountered was virtually untouched. While it is written on a vaulting that the body of Tutankhamun is still in the sarcophagus, it was, in fact, removed from the stone coffin years ago and is exhibited in the same enclosure, but in a modern heated urn installed in the antechamber.
Obsession with the tomb
The tour begins with the climax of the discovery noted in Carter’s diary, before delving into the background of the discoverer himself, who was a complex personality who never married and had no children. A photo shows him at the age of 19, the same age as Tutankhamun when he died. An 1892 letter from the great Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, who took him to Egypt, offers this insight: “His interest is in painting and natural history (…) He is of no use to me as an excavator.”
There is then a space dedicated to “the long search” – a period that began after a proclamation in 1913 by excavation sponsor Theodore Davis that the Valley is exhausted; enter Carnarvon, who hired Carter, as he was obsessed with the idea that there was still a tomb to be found. It is thrilling to actually see a map drawn by Carter’s own hand with the excavations between 1917 and 1922, when the tomb was not yet located, lying concealed beneath the remains of the ancient workers’ huts from the neighboring tomb of Ramses VI. And then, the great moment of the discovery and the first actual foray into the tomb, around four o’clock in the afternoon on November 26, by Carter, Carnarvon, his daughter and several others.
A page from Carter’s excavation diary contains the account of that Great Moment in his own handwriting. The hole in the door, the candle inserted, and Carnarvon asking: “Can you see anything?” The answer, Carter noted, was not the famous “yes, wonderful things” which he later claimed in subsequent records, but the less dramatic “yes, it’s wonderful.”
It was the beginning of an amazing scientific adventure that would last until December 1932, the 10 years it took to empty the tomb. Carnarvon died on April 5, 1923, without seeing the opening of the sarcophagus and the mummy of Tutankhamun, which was not examined until November 11, 1925. A letter from Carter to Egyptologist Alan Gardiner describes some of the emblematic artefacts observed in the antechamber: carts, beds with strange animal shapes, two life-size figures of guardians… “So far, it is Tutankhamun,” he writes.
Burton’s photos displayed in the exhibition are “the most famous archaeological images ever taken,” and these, together with the drawings of the different rooms of the tomb and the artefacts as they were discovered transport us to the key moments of the discovery. The exhibition also explains the conservation challenges faced by the archaeologists and the solutions they came up with to preserve the objects. Then there is documentation of the complex system of rails used to transport the tomb’s contents in wagons to the river to be shipped to the museum.
Particularly moving is a large portrait of an anonymous Egyptian boy photographed in 1927 by Burton wearing one of Tutankhamun’s necklaces, demonstrating how it would have been worn. Years later, Hussein Abd el Rasul, a member of the local Qurna family, identified himself as the sitter. The exhibition points out that “many stories have been told about the image and who the boy was and his role in the excavation.”
A group of Egyptian schoolchildren stopped in front of the photo the other day listening very attentively to the explanations of their teachers. Despite the lack of recognition for the Egyptians who worked on the tomb’s excavation, some names have nevertheless been salvaged thanks to the gratitude Carter expressed in his writings, such as the name of the foreman, Ahmed Gerigar and his colleagues Gad Hassan, Hussein Abu Awad and Hussein Ahmed Said.
Besides criticizing the patronizing attitude toward the Egyptians involved in the excavation, the exhibition flags up the pursuit of profit, especially Lord Carnarvon’s. It suggests that the origin of the famous curse on those tampering with the tomb mentioned in a delightful yellowed telegram in 1923 to “Carter Tutankhamun Thebes” from Dublin warning that if trouble continues he must reseal the tomb, was partly revenge by certain media angered by the aristocratic Carnarvon’s exclusive contract with The Times.
Curses and criticism aside, public excitement at the find was such during the 1920s that it inspired a boardgame and a rash of songs. Meanwhile, the archive, which continues to be enriched and has been digitized for open access (www.griffith.ox.ac.uk), is invaluable to the study of the tomb’s material, a work that Carter left unfinished.
For those whose appetite for “wonderful things” is not yet sated, the Ashmolean Museum close by houses an extraordinary collection of Egyptian antiquities, such as the large statues of the god of fertility Min who appears excited at the sight of a sensual bust of Antinous, Hadrian’s lover who drowned in the Nile; an impressive stone head of a crocodile; the precious coffins and the mummy of the Theban priest Djed-djehuty-iuef-ankh and the Amarna pieces, which are closely linked to Tutankhamun as they represent his family, Akhenaten, Nefertiti and the princesses, as well as to people and places he saw during his lifetime. The ostraca collection compiled by Gardiner, who collaborated with Carter, is also on display there.
Hollywood: They have it all, and take it on the road, too: These are the luxury RVs of the stars | Culture
RVs have long been considered a fairly modest means of travel, an option that combines transportation and accommodation and that allows you to enjoy a more affordable vacation – bearing in mind that the comforts that they offer have little or nothing to do with those of a five-star hotel. However, this image has evolved in recent years, and the alternative of touring the world with your house in tow is gaining more and more followers, including some movie and music stars. Some use them for tourism and others to move between cities while they promote something or as a dressing room during shootings or tours, but they all have a few things in common: their enormous dimensions, their luxurious amenities and their million-dollar price tags.
At the beginning of July, all the details of Dolly Parton’s mansion on wheels were released. More than an RV, this one is a bus. Dubbed Suite 1986, it is 45 feet long and Dolly has traveled more than 300,000 miles and visited more than 60 American cities in it. It houses all kinds of luxuries and personal belongings of the country music star — a display case for her wigs, a wide bed with pink velvet sheets, or a Parisian-inspired dressing table, among other things — and it is available to rent from $10,000, with a two night minimum stay. The Dollybus is part of the hotel complexes offered under the Dollywood label, the universe created in her image and likeness, which also includes a theme park inspired by Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, numerous hotels and spas and a water park.
Another celebrity who likes to have a traveling home is Jennifer Lopez. The Bronx Diva owns a 1,200-square-feet trailer that is valued at $2 million and, like Parton’s, is also available to rent, for between $400 and $850 a night, when the singer is not using it. Its name is Baby Girl and, judging by the pictures, it has it all: in two spacious floors you can find amenities like a huge leather sofa, furniture made from materials like granite or marble, and all kinds of image and audio technologies, including everything from large TVs to state-of-the-art audio setups. An exclusive design by Anderson Mobile Estates, an American company specializing in this type of high-end vehicle, completely customizable to the customer’s taste.
The same company built Will Smith’s RV, known as The Heat, which the actor purchased in 2000 to use while filming. It is 55 feet long, has two floors and it is valued at 2.5 million dollars. It includes a projection room with a 100-inch screen and
capacity for thirty people, an ample lounge, a bathroom with sauna, first-rate materials like granite and leather, and technological devices everywhere.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s RV does not fall far behind: it is 52 feet long, with four modules that can be extended to further expand the space. Of course, it includes all the necessary amenities, with eccentric details like two fireplaces and a large recycled glass shower valued at more than $40,000.
Justin Bieber’s RV also has its fair share of eccentricities. In 2020, the Canadian singer purchased for $2.5 million a bus turned luxurious mansion that he takes on his tours and that he himself showed off in the American edition of GQ Magazine. Equipped to the last detail, it offers wonders such as underfloor heating, ceilings with LED lights, a steam shower, and an infrared sauna.
Other celebrities, after years of traveling with their house in tow, have decided to part with theirs. That is the case of Tom Hanks. The legendary actor auctioned off his RV last year: the trailer that was his home during the shooting of movies like Forrest Gump or Apollo 13 was sold for $235,200, an almost trivial figure when compared to those of his colleagues.
Among so much luxury on wheels, Chris Hemsworth’s RV is also surprising for its modest dimensions. It was made by the Australian company Lotus Trooper, and it is equipped for all kinds of terrain. Despite its limited size, it includes things like Italian leather sofas and a designer kitchen; with this vehicle, the actor who brings Thor to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe likes to enjoy family getaways, as he himself has shown on his social media.
Whether it is to go on road trips or as a place to rest between concerts or shootings, it is clear that the biggest music and movie stars cannot resist the opportunity to take all the comforts of home anywhere they go, preferably in rolling eccentricities that reinvent a concept popularized in the 1960s by the hippie movement – and look more fit for a Transformers movie than for an actual highway.
Writer Salman Rushdie attacked while giving a speech in New York | USA
Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie was attacked on Friday while giving a lecture in Chautauqua County, a town of about 140,000 inhabitants in western New York state. The first images of the event that have been shared on social networks show Rushdie on the floor, being attended by attendees and emergency services.
New York state police announced in a press release that the writer suffered an apparent stab wound to the neck, and was transported by helicopter to an area hospital. His condition is not yet known. An Associated Press reporter witnessed a man storm the stage at the Chautauqua Institution and begin punching or stabbing Rushdie as he was being introduced. The 75-year-old author was pushed or fell to the floor, and the man was restrained. The assailant has been arrested.
Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses has been banned in Iran since 1988, as many Muslims consider it blasphemous. A year later, on February 14, 1989, Iran’s late leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death. The theocratic Iranian regime also offered a reward of more than $3 million for anyone who killed the writer, who holds dual British and US citizenship.
Iran’s government had long since distanced itself from Khomeini’s decree, but anti-Rushdie sentiment has persisted. In 2012, a semi-official Iranian religious foundation raised the reward for Rushdie’s death from $2.8 million to $3.3 million.
Rushdie, an English-language writer and perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature, downplayed that threat then and said there was “no evidence” that people were interested in the reward. That year, Rushdie published a memoir, Joseph Anton, about the fatwa.
The 75-year-old author achieved international fame with the novel Midnight’s Children, which was published in 1980 and won him the Booker Prize, the UK’s most prestigious literary prize, the following year. The book sparked controversy in India for allegedly derogatory remarks towards the then prime minister of the country, Indira Gandhi.
With an overflowing imagination, his style has been compared to the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes, among others. He himself has recognized on numerous occasions his important links with Latin American literature. His latest book Quixote (2020) adapts Cervantes’ classic to the situation that the United States under the Donald Trump administration.
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