Archive for the ‘Study Leaders’ Category

Another Kind of Peace

Friday, May 17th, 2013

80_image140A Smithsonian Study Leader since 1992, Dianne Konz has led several Smithsonian groups to Spain and Portugal. She has taught Spanish literature, language, and civilization at the University of Texas at Austin and at George Washington University. She has also lectured and published studies on Spanish and Latin American literature, and Spanish culture. Dianne’s enthusiasm for Iberia grew from her experiences living and studying in Madrid. Her particular passion is the integration of the cultural arts in the context of their time. She approaches art and architecture, literature, music, and gastronomy as a reflection of a country’s history, politics, and geography. Dianne’s teachings of Spanish history and civilization include the Moorish and Islamic periods—invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iberia, and the rich cultural heritage of the Islamic presence in Iberia.

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It is cold and sunny when we dock at Caen and begin the pilgrimage to D-Day. Crisp, clean air sharpens our anticipation of a visit to beaches where men poured out of ships to face the full arsenal of Nazi bunkers dead ahead, in a massive effort to change the course of war.

Traveling through the gently undulating countryside of Normandy, lush green fields belie the violence they have seen. The softly curved thatched roofs of farmhouses–half-timbered this one, the next a smooth pastel—sit warming in the morning sun. Narrow country lanes spread away from the road; thick green hedges mark small pastures dotted with sheep, cows.

So peaceful, now.

Pointe-du-Hoc

The wind is strong and bracing, carrying away the silence. White paths lead to forbidding bunkers with slits that look to a sea once filled with thousands of boats and determined souls. What fear and awe must have filled those peering out! Jagged rods poke from the thick concrete that took the concussion of raining shells. Deep craters all around–now green, some flowering–betray the violence of exploding bombs.IMG_2402-515

We reach the edge and view the impossible.  From where did they summon the courage to scale those forbidding cliffs?  From where, the strength to haul their heavy packs upward, hand over hand, on ropes left dangling by fallen comrades? IMG_2404-515

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Omaha Beach

Like a vast lunar landscape, the broad beaches reach into the sea–no quarter here, no place to hide. We are told it was heavily strewn with mines, jagged ‘hedgehogs’, and other menacing obstacles–an eternity to cross with heavy gear. Today, the sea air is good, cleansing. IMG_2428-515

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The American Cemetery and MemorialIMG_2445-(3)-515

The crosses and stars of David stretch before us, seemingly reaching to the sea that brought them here. So many singular lives, and yet together numbering only a fraction of those who perished on the beaches of Normandy. It is a different kind of peace one feels here–solemn but hopeful, somehow reassuring.   IMG_2462-515

We walk to the stunning memorial, where some members of our group will place a wreath in a special ceremony. We listen quietly to the respectful tribute, then turn to face the flags flying high over the cemetery, for the national anthem and taps.

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Finally, the veterans in the group are asked to step forward around the soaring statue. Surprisingly, there are many. And then we realize that they are survivors not of this war but of subsequent ones–Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. This place is for all of them.

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To learn more about our European Coastal Civilizations tour click here.

Springtime in Italy

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Trego-Kris140Kristine (Kris) M. Trego is an assistant professor of classics at Bucknell University who received her Ph.D. in classics from the University of Cincinnati. Kris has been working in Turkey as an underwater archaeologist with the Institute of Nautical Archaeology for the past eleven years, and her archaeological research focuses on the crews’ equipment aboard ancient Greek and Roman ships. Additionally, Kris lectures and publishes on narrative and rhetorical techniques in ancient Greek and Roman authors. Kris looks forward to sharing stories of history, adventure, and discovery in Turkey with tour members.

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Capri

Capri

Springtime in Italy: Is there anything that can so delight all the senses? Cool breezes fragrant with intoxicating citrus blossoms, verdant hills covered with bright poppies, sunlight twinkling over the blue waves, and melodic bird song fill each day. The sun glimmered brightly off the beautifully carved limestone churches of Velletta, Malta and made the sandstone temples of Agrigento, Sicily glow like hot embers against the blue sky. The days were filled with natural and architectural landscapes that summoned from us small gasps and serene sighs and the evenings were spent in convivial conversations over fine dinners aboard the Tere Moana.

Group Photo at Temple of Concordia in Arigento

Group Photo at Temple of Concordia in Arigento

While one day would offer us the opportunity to walk the ancient streets of Pompeii before cruising over to the isle of Capri to wonder at the sapphire light within the Blue Grotto, the next would bring us to the vertical towns that cling to the cliffs along the Amalfi Coast, where we were at leisure to explore the cobbled passages of Positano, lined with galleries and cafes. Whether the pathways we travelled were millennia or centuries old, each brought us to timeless vistas and cultural immersions that enrich far more than the days on which the paths were traversed, but will forever leave traces within ourselves.

 

Etruscan Tombs at Cerveteri

Etruscan Tombs at Cerveteri

Positano

Positano

Theater at Tauromina looking toward Mt. Etna

Theater at Tauromina looking toward Mt. Etna

To learn more about our Voyage of Ancient Empires cruise click here.

Deeply Moving Senegal: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

richard-kurinDr. Richard Kurin serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its museums including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and others including the soon to be built National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also oversees research and outreach programs, including the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Channel, and the Smithsonian Affiliates—a network of 168 museums across the U.S. Read More»

Dr. Kurin is currently leading a group on an around-the-world tour of some of the world’s extraordinary cultures and will be sending regular updates from abroad. Come back regularly to follow along!

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We crossed much of the African continent flying into Senegal, seeing both the richness of the landscape and the horizon-filling flat plain of the Sahara Desert.

Dakar is the capital of Senegal, the former capital of French West Africa and still the thriving cosmopolitan city of the region. It has grown huge since I last visited some two decades ago, the charming old French colonial quarter overwhelmed by the urban expanse. But development under this long-lived democratic government seems to have taken hold—as we saw new, modern, well-built roads, good housing, schools, public buildings and markets and a wide variety of amenities. We settled in at our hotel on Dakar’s peninsula which juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Our big visit was to Gorée Island, a short ferry-ride from Dakar’s port.

Travelers dancing to a Senegalese beat

Travelers dancing to a Senegalese beat

We were welcomed to the island by a percussion band whose rhythms and beats were infectious. Social dancing in Senegal is commonplace. Though the country is some 95% Muslim, the orientation of the multi-ethnic population is quite ecumenical and tolerant. Music and dance are ingrained into cultural traditions and even used by various spiritual brotherhoods. Men and women, Senegalese and American joined in, and soon our whole group was moving with the beat. The music helped create a strong communal feeling among us, and between us and our Senegalese hosts, and I couldn’t help but think about our initial drum circle with Mickey Hart back in Seattle at the start of the trip. There are simply things, like music and movement, that bring people of diverse backgrounds together as human beings.

Gorée  is a tiny island, settled by the Portuguese and then used by the French; its colonial buildings, church and layout are all very charming, until you realize that for some three centuries this island was used as a way-station in the slave trade.

A choir performance at the House of Slaves

A choir performance at the House of Slaves

We visited the incredibly evocative House of Slaves. Here was the building in which 150 or so slaves at a time where kept in cells, chained and auctioned, and then shipped out through a “door of no return” onto slave ships sailing for the Caribbean and the Americas. A choir of teenage girls and boys sang hymns, familiar to many, and set the mood—both somber and uplifting. It was here in this building that man’s inhumanity to his fellow man reached its crescendo. At Gorée, and similar way-stations like it, scholars estimate that some 20 million enslaved Africans were separated from their families and their homes, walked through similar doors of no return and shipped across the seas. Again, as in Rwanda, though we were much affected by the history of the place, we celebrated with the Senegalese the resilience of those who survived—both in the Americas and in Africa. As Gorée now reminds us, the shackles of slavery were eventually broken.

Peering through the Door of No Return

Peering through the Door of No Return

We visited the various museums and artisanal workshops on the island, bargained at its market, enjoyed a meal and the ballads of a local griot—or singing storyteller.

Playing the Griot on Goree

Playing the Griot on Goree

As the group headed back to the hotel, Johnnetta and I broke away for meetings with the Senegalese Ministers of Culture and Tourism. We reviewed with Minister Mbaye the history of Smithsonian programs with Senegal, including a landmark 1989 program at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, as well as the current efforts of our National Museum of African American History and Culture to cooperate with Senegal’s Musée de l’Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN) on the archaeological heritage of slavery on Gorée. We are also involved in initiatives to help train professionals in museological work.  Our meeting with the Minister of Tourism is a special treat, for the incumbent is Youssou N’Dour, the famed world music star. He is very interested in encouraging educational, cultural tourism to Senegal and working with the National Museum of African Art and the Smithsonian in doing so.

Dr. Kurin with Cole and Youssou N’Dour

Dr. Kurin and Johnnetta Cole with Youssou N’Dour

The evening program included a wonderful briefing by Kristin Stewart, the public affairs officer from the U.S. Embassy and a film and discussion with Senegal’s most prominent sculptor Ousmane Sow. The National Museum of African Art has one of his most important sculptures as a signature piece in its collection—Sow’s rendition of Haitian independence leader Toussaint Loverture comforting a freed slave. It is a remarkable sculpture, and Sow captures the emotion of the moment in his larger-than-life mud-sculpted figures. He’s a charming and delightful creative soul, and he joined the group for a fabulous dinner and engaging conversation demonstrating by word and art how he uses African history, tradition, and its very soil to mold aspirations of future and universal value.

Ousmane Sow with our Smithsonian travelers

Ousmane Sow with our Smithsonian travelers

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Find more information about our Around the World Private Jet trips here.

Read Dr. Kurin’s previous dispatch from Rwanda: Renewal in Rwanda: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin”

Renewal in Rwanda: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

richard-kurinDr. Richard Kurin serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its museums including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and others including the soon to be built National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also oversees research and outreach programs, including the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Channel, and the Smithsonian Affiliates—a network of 168 museums across the U.S. Read More»

Dr. Kurin is currently leading a group on an around-the-world tour of some of the world’s extraordinary cultures and will be sending regular updates from abroad. Come back regularly to follow along!

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Flying from the arid and flat Rajasthani desert to the vegetative and volcanic Rwanda provides a strong contrast. Fertility in Rwanda is apparent up and down the hills surrounding Kigali, its capital, through the river valleys, and up along the slopes of its mountainous terrain. The rich black and deep red soils host deeply planted life.

The life-embracing environment of this land-locked country makes it all the harder to imagine the horrors inflicted here starting in April 1994, when, in a crazed 100 days, more than one million were slaughtered in a devastating, politically–induced, genocide.

The people we meet are all so nice, so humane, and so determined not to forget the genocide—when Hutu were set against Tutsi and other Hutu—but to draw lessons from it in what appears to be a national resolve to ensure nothing like it ever happens again. We visit the Genocide Memorial Center on a hillside in Kigali. Tens of thousands are buried under huge mass graves here. It is a beautiful, peaceful site that belies the terror with which so many men, women and children faced their deaths. The museum is masterfully done, exploring the roots of the conflicts in Rwanda and the region, the politics of colonialism and nationalism, the racism fostered within the population, and the evolution of the genocide itself. Exhibits compare what happened here to the Holocaust in Europe, Armenian, Cambodian and Balkan genocides as well. Our local guide points herself out in an exhibit photograph. She was only a few years old when it was taken. She and her family had sought shelter in a church when it was attacked, bombed and set afire. Luckily, she survived, and she reveals her scars—memories burned into her skin to show it.

The mass grave at the Genocide Center

The mass grave at the Genocide Center

What impresses all of us is not the scale of man’s inhumanity to one’s fellow man, but the ability of our guide and everyone else we meet to move forward with determination and grace, even forgiveness, and build a better future.  The resilience of the human spirit is amazing to behold, especially among people who have gone through so much.

A couple of young Silverback gorillas playing together

A couple of young Silverback gorillas playing together

Almost all the group journeys up to the northwest of the country, up into the Virunga Mountains and Volcanoes National Park on the boarder of Uganda and the Congo to see the mountain gorillas. Once reduced to under 500, they too have made a comeback and their number is on the increase. This is the area and the species made famous by the work of Dian Fossey. Fossey started out a primatologist, minutely observing the gorillas and seeking to understand their physical adaptations and forms of social organization and learning—which could provide insight into the roots of human action. Fossey did that, but she also became a conservationist, concerned about the survival of this magnificent species threatened by poaching, the encroachment of farm land, diseases spread by human contact and environmental degradation. Her work has inspired scores of others to study and preserve the gorillas and their environment, and now, because so many local folk benefit from the revenue tourism brings in—from trekking and performances, they have a strong stake in the gorilla’s survival.

A dance performance at the Mountain Lodge

A dance performance at the Mountain Lodge

Our group splits up into different lodges and in the morning sets out in groups of eight with guides, porters and trackers, to find “families” of mountain gorillas. Each family has an alpha male—a silverback gorilla, who leads the group, several attached mature females and child apes as well as other males—some of which split off to try to form their own groups or challenge the leader.

Silverback Gorilla

Silverback gorilla

After receiving our briefings about how to act in the presence of gorillas, we drive a Land Rover on a nearly un-passable rocky path to a fence that divides the tri-country gorilla reserve from adjacent farmland. We are led by men who cut a trail through the bamboo and jungle growth with their machetes, and accompanied by others with rifles. We move in single file up the slope of Mount Gahinga—whose peak at over 12,000 feet we cannot see given the foliage. Our pace setter is a vigorous 83-year old fellow traveler. Our trackers have been following the family of gorillas we seek and lead us to them. Luckily, our trek takes us less than an hour. Others have to walk three and four hours. But, all of a sudden, in a clearing we see first an adult male, then two females with their young, and then lumbering into a clearing comes a silverback weighing some 450 pounds.  Eventually, ten gorillas are a hands-reach from us, eating, playing, sleeping. We whisper; we do not eat nor make fast moves. Instead, we are all reverential, feeling privileged in the church of nature that we can share time with these beautiful and alluring creatures. Watching them is simply awesome. And the experience affirms again that we perhaps best realize our humanity when we see life is a treasured gift.

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Find more information about our Around the World Private Jet trips here.

Read Dr. Kurin’s previous dispatch from India: “Culturally Rich India: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin”

Lisbon and Home: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

richard-kurinDr. Richard Kurin serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its museums including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and others including the soon to be built National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also oversees research and outreach programs, including the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Channel, and the Smithsonian Affiliates—a network of 168 museums across the U.S. Read More»

Dr. Kurin is currently leading a group on an around-the-world tour of some of the world’s extraordinary cultures and will be sending regular updates from abroad. Come back regularly to follow along!

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The flight up the west coast of Africa was instructive. Inland, to the east, lay the vast Sahara. The coast hosts even now, evidence of numerous forays by 15th century Portuguese navigators to sail around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and onto India. Those same voyages led to the settlement of islands on the Atlantic horizon—Cape Verde, the Azores, and Madeiras—and beyond, the “novo mundo,” or new world, of the Americas.

Lisbon, Portugal’s capital reflects the heyday of what became a world-stretching empire that included Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Goa, Macao, and Timor. It was seafaring that gave Portugal its wealth and ecumenical traditions in its cuisine, decorative arts, and music. Much of this is reflected in the Museo Medeiros e Almeida which we visited for our last group dinner. The astounding collection in a former private home, now a museum, includes an altar room, cabinets of watches and time pieces, King Louis furnishings, Dutch and Flemish masters, blue and white tile and Chinese porcelain, Persian carpets, and other treasures from around the world.

Cocktails at the Museo Medeiros e Almeida

Cocktails at the Museo Medeiros e Almeida

The ecumenical bent is also reflected in Portugal’s music—notably Fado. While the genre has roots in medieval Iberian tradition, it largely took form in the early 19th century around Lisbon’s port neighborhoods. It is a seafarer’s music, short poetic ballads filled with soulful longing. Fado means “fate” or “destiny,” and it is easy to understand how the uncertainties of sailing, of being away from home and family, and facing the unknown influenced the style. Typically performed by either a man or woman accompanied by a guitar and classical Portuguese lute, this musical balladry developed in bars, taverns, houses of prostitution, and other such establishments. It was also influenced by Portugal’s encounter with colonies such as Brazil and Cape Verde, where the musical and lyrical sensibilities of their sailors and workers melded with those of the Portuguese. By the late 19th century and certainly in the 20th, Fado gained increasing respectability and was professionalized—performed in restaurants, recorded, heard on radio, then television, and subject to study, elaboration and increasing theatricalization.

A Fadista performance

Our youthful fadista, during our Fado performance

Now Fado is Portugal’s “national music,” and we witness a fine performance interlaced with our dinner. The tunes are both melancholy and heartfelt—kind of like combining the blues with country and western music. But our youthful fadista, or songstress, entranced the group, and we enjoyed the spirit of our dinner together.

Our flight home to Washington, D.C. includes a final exam that Johnnetta and I have composed for our travelers—based upon more than a dozen in-flight formal lectures, all of our visits, informal presentations and so on. This is a group of high achievers, and everyone “passes.” The spirit is good—TCS & Starquest have done a wonderful job with the logistics and coordination; our Thompson Air flight crew has kept us steady, safe, and comfortable in the skies as we logged more than 29,000 miles on their jet.

As we headed home, I and others reflected on the trip. Just maybe it was Mickey Hart’s drum circle that got us off on the right note, but our group became more than just an agglomeration of 70 individuals—we became a community of sorts who traversed the planet and together shared a wonderful experience of the world. We got to know and appreciate each other. People looked out for one another. We each, staff and travelers, not only carried out our roles, but went beyond them in forming endearing friendships. It was a joy to be part of this.

We also learned a few things on the journey. The world does indeed host an extraordinary range of cultures which provide insight into the ways of how to be human. Everyone can gain insight and draw inspiration from each other. At the same time, there are ways of being humane—some of which may be deeply ingrained, others which have to be learned through difficult, sometimes horrific experience, that people everywhere can aspire to. In our journey, we were received and treated extraordinary well by Japanese, Balinese, Vietnamese, Nepalese, Bhutanese, Indians, Rwandans, Senegalese, and Portuguese; our group returned that welcome with a great deal of cultural appreciation for those we met and encountered. That kind of mutual respect is a pretty good recipe for succeeding on our shared planet.

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Find more information about our Around the World Private Jet trips here.

Read Dr. Kurin’s previous dispatch from Senegal: Deeply Moving Senegal: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin”