sunday post (on tuesday): from a distance

Tuesday, August 28:  Today is my last day in the USA for a year.  I was only here for less than a month, and it definitely wasn’t enough!!  Now, my vacation in Greece is calling and so is my work at the university in Oman, so I must return tonight. 😦

My plane leaves at 11 p.m. from Washington Dulles International Airport and will arrive in Muscat on Wednesday evening at 10:30 p.m.  It will be a long flight!  My friend Mario is due to pick me up at the airport, at which time we’ll drive to the university so I can pick up my car.  It will probably be 1:00 or 1:30 a.m. before I get home.

Jebel Akhdar.  Right now it's "from a distance," but in a short time, it will be up close and personal!
Jebel Akhdar. Right now it’s “from a distance,” but in a short time, it will be up close and personal!

Hopefully I can sleep when I get there.  Because on Thursday, I need to unpack stuff I’m bringing from the USA for another year, and pack for fun and relaxation in Greece.  I get on the plane again at 6 a.m. on Friday morning heading for Athens.

So, in response to Jakesprinter’s Sunday Post, I am posting a place that I can only see (or not really even see but just imagine) from a distance: Jebel Akhdar in Oman.  By the middle of September, I will be back there for work and will be able to see the lovely Green Mountain from up close.  But for today, here it is, from a distance.

Goodbye America and hello Oman!  And hello to Greece as well.  I will see you all in Oman for one day on Thursday!  Then I’m off again!

I hope you’ll come visit me in Oman: a nomad in the land of nizwa and in Greece: greek wanderings.  I won’t be taking my computer with me to Greece, so probably won’t post anything about my trip until I return back to Oman on September 14.

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To participate in Jake’s Sunday Post, see SUNDAY POST: From a Distance.  He writes: Distance Shots : A view in which the subject is a long distance from the camera or appears to be far away; also called a long shot.

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weekly photo challenge: urban ~ reston town center

Monday, August 27:  Today my son Alex and I venture out to lunch for some “togetherness time” at the Panera in Reston Town Center, a kind of “suburban downtown.”

Alex at Fountain Square

The Town Center is a planned urban area in the middle of what used to be a mostly rural area, between Washington, D.C. and Washington Dulles International Airport.  The idea was to create a space more vertical than horizontal, a downtown area for people who didn’t want to fight the traffic to go into Washington.

the Promenade

Reston Town Center was conceived in the late 1970s by Mobil Land Development. Construction of the town center began in 1988. The first wave of construction was completed in October 1990. Construction continued periodically into 2009, creating an ever-expanding downtown area rising up out of the planned community of Reston.

the corner of Market St. and Discovery St.

Reston Town Center is designed with open avenues and wide sidewalks. It is built around Fountain Square, an open area between the surrounding shops and restaurants. The main landmark in Fountain Square is Mercury Fountain, designed by Brazilian-born sculptor Saint Clair Cemin.  The 20’ fountain is crowned with a bronze figure of Mercury, the Greek Messenger God, with water flowing from bronze ‘trumpets’ along the column. Lush plants, low seating and broad steps make this area very inviting to pedestrians (Reston Town Center).

Mercury Fountain

Directly in front of Mercury Fountain is Market Street, and across the street is the Pavilion. The Pavilion doubles as a covered open-air ice rink during the winter and as a concert and event venue throughout the rest of the year.

the Pavilion and a colorful florist van

The center is surrounded by free parking that includes one-hour street parking and garage parking.

one of many parking garages and an apartment building

According to its official website, Reston Town Center combines elements of the ideal downtown, the “vitality of an Italian piazza and the diversity of a French boulevard.” The popular spot in the Northern Virginia suburb of Reston is the closest thing to a “downtown” in the area and continues to expand, attracting new residential and business clients.

Window shopping at Williams & Sonoma
a little taste of France in Reston

It now boasts more than 50 retail shops and 30 restaurants.  Many of the restaurants have outdoor seating under umbrellas or trees, giving the Town Center a bit of a European feel.

Paolo’s outdoor seating
Clyde’s outdoor seating
Uno’s

In addition, Reston Town Center has a 13-screen cinema and a Hyatt Regency hotel.

the multiplex cinema

Since the most recent phase of construction in 2009, Reston Town Center, has also become a desirable location for businesses and residences. Among brand name companies who now have offices at Reston Town Center are Google and Rolls-Royce North America. Meanwhile, luxurious high-rise condominiums have led to an influx of young professionals, creating a city-like downtown atmosphere (Wikipedia: Reston Town Center).

my shopping paradise: Anthropologie

I have frequented Reston Town Center for years, since it first opened in 1990.  I have seen the little “downtown” expand over the years to increasingly resemble a real city.  There are now too many great restaurants to count, some of my favorites being Paolo’s and The Big Bowl.  Some of my favorite stores are here as well, including South Moon Under, J. Crew, Anthropologie, and Banana Republic.

one of my favorite stores: South Moon Under
Mercury Fountain from outside the Town Center looking into Market Square

This post is in response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge:  Urban. The idea behind urban photography is to photograph your city and the streets where you grew up as they are. Unlike the photoshopped pictures to which we are accustomed nowadays, urban photography presents a more direct, unaltered view of life. It is about documenting urban living space and how people adapt their environment to certain needs and vice versa. Urban photography shots provide cultural, social, economical, and ecological context all at once, and can capture social tension.

Think of urban photography as a complement to street photography—it provides the context in which street photography unfolds.

Share a photo that means URBAN to you!

getting in the mood for ethiopia at sheba… & hope springs

Saturday, August 25:  Tonight Mike and I go out to eat Ethiopian food at a restaurant in Fairfax called Sheba.   We’ve eaten Ethiopian food before, usually in Adams Morgan in D.C., but it’s been a long time.  Since I just bought a ticket to go to Ethiopia from Muscat during the Eid at the end of October, Mike thinks it will be fun to put me in the mood for my first trip to east Africa.

Inside of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant

The restaurant is small but cutely decorated with colorful Ethiopian basket-tables.  A beautiful painting evokes the real Ethiopia.

Ethiopian basket-tables
Ethiopian artwork

One of the virtues of Ethiopian food is that you can eat with your fingers — no utensils provided. Instead, food is served on injera — spongy, slightly sour flat bread, traditionally made from fermented teff, an iron-rich native grain. Injera serves as both platter and utensil.

Sheba

We order the vegetable combination, with servings of all the side dishes— mild and spicy lentils, beans and carrots, cabbage, and collard greens served on a pizza-sized round of the bread with extra injera on the side.  We tear off a piece of injera and grab some vegetables, using the injera much like a pair of soft tongs.  With each bite, we eat a piece of the bread, so we get full very quickly.  Mike keeps telling me that the spongy bread will expand in our bellies during the course of the night, so we will feel like blown-up balloons!

the vegetarian combination with injera
Mike enjoys a taste of Ethiopia

We meet the owner and manager, Azeb Gide, who checks on our happiness level and tells me places I should visit in Ethiopia.  The waitress is excited to hear I’ll be going to Addis Ababa, where she is from originally, though she hasn’t been home in 16 years.

the Ethiopian owner, Azeb Gide, and me

After we eat our dinner, we go to Cinema Arts Theatre, which is in Fair City Mall right across the street from the strip mall where Sheba is located.  We watch the movie Hope Springs, with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.

Kay (Meryl Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) are a middle-aged couple whose marriage of 30 years has gone down the tubes.  They sleep in separate bedrooms and show no affection to each other.   They basically live parallel lives that intersect only in routine ways. Their marriage is basically dead, even though they haven’t made any formal arrangement to end it.  Incredibly frustrated, Kay signs up for an intense counseling session with Dr. Feld after reading his book about mending marriages.  Arnold, being the curmudgeon that he is, doesn’t want to go because he sees nothing wrong with their marriage; however, he reluctantly agrees to go on the expensive excursion that Kay has paid for with her own income, probably because he gets an inkling of what he might be on the verge of losing.  What follows is an insightful experience as Dr. Feld struggles to help the couple understand how they have emotionally drifted apart and what they can do to reignite their passion. It seems a difficult, if not impossible, task, especially with all the baggage this couple is carrying deep inside themselves.

Interesting movie, especially in light of my situation and my marriage.  Mike and I are now in the midst of our 6th year of being separated.  Who knows what the future holds?  An intense counseling session with Dr. Feld?  Or a divorce attorney?   The only thing we’ve decided so far is that we will work on our friendship.  Which I believe we already have…  🙂

a little gallery of mosaics and holy cards from the franciscan monastery

Saturday, August 25:  Here’s a little gallery of colorful mosaics and holy cards that I found in the Franciscan Monastery in Washington.

Patroness of the Americas

Click on any of the pictures below to see a slide show.

catacombs & crypts of the franciscan monastery

Saturday, August 25: The catacombs in the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. are “faithful copies of those in Rome,” according to a publication by the Monastery.  Many scholars have written that the Roman catacombs came about to help persecuted Christians to bury their dead secretly.

The Martyr’s Crypt in the catacombs is a  circular chapel much like those found in the maze-like hiding places of the early Christians.  Here the relics of St. Benignus, brought from the Roman Catacombs, are encased in the wax figure beneath the altar.

the relics of St. Benignus, encased in a wax figure

From this crypt, a short passageway leads to the Chapel of Purgatory.  This chapel is dedicated to the faithful departed and is meant to remind us of the fleeting nature of this life.  The paintings and decorations are symbolic of death and of the life to come.

a relief decoration on the alter in the Chapel of Purgatory

Here the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered for the souls of those “who have gone before with the Sign of Faith and who sleep the sleep of peace.”

Death depicted as mosaic skeletons
close-ups of the mosaic skeletons

Beyond the Purgatory Chapel are  two chapels typical of the larger ones of the ancient catacombs — those dedicated to St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr, and St. Sebastian, Soldier and Martyr.  Both have altars which house faithful replicas of statues found in Rome.

the altar with St. Sebastian

On the walls of the chamber between these two chapels are some beautiful paintings.

the painted chamber between St. Sebastian’s Chapel and St. Cecilia’s Chapel
more paintings in the central chamber

We end our time inside the Monastery catacombs in the Nativity Grotto, faithfully reproduced here as it exists now in Bethlehem.  The altar in the center niche is like that of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Mosaic of the Nativity over the altar in the Bethlehem Grotto.

Beneath the altar is a silver star which commemorates the spot where Christ was born.

a reproduction of the silver star that marks where Jesus was born in Bethlehem

The Bethlehem Grotto is hung with garlands from Christmas; the guide tells us that people who have been to Bethlehem and who come to this grotto say it looks just like Bethlehem, except without the garlands.

the Bethlehem Grotto hung with garlands

Finally, we climb out of the catacombs and explore the church on our own.  It’s difficult to get a good photo of the beautiful stained glass windows, but I finally get one that’s passable.

stained glass windows in the church

St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, is the patron saint of animals and the environment and is one of the two patrons of Italy, along with Catherine of Siena.  He is also known for his love of the Eucharist, for his sorrow at the Stations of the Cross, and for the creation of the Christmas Nativity Scene.

St. Francis, born around 1181, was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi and lived the high life as a young man.  When he went off to war in 1204, he was directed in a vision to return to Assisi, where he lost his taste for the worldly life.  On a pilgrimage to Rome, he begged with beggars at St. Peter’s and decided to adopt a life of poverty.

A statue of St. Francis with a wolf in the gardens at the Monastery

St. Francis believed that nature itself was the mirror of God. He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters,” and even preached to the birds.  He was known for his great love of animals and he had a deep sense of brotherhood that led him to embrace those for whom Christ died.  It’s argued that, more than any other man, he imitated the life, and carried out the work, of Christ in the footsteps and manner of the Savior.

He called the Holy Land the “Pearl of the Missions,” since Jesus was born, lived, ministered and died there.  In 1217 the Province of the Holy Land was established, which included then and still includes today Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and the islands of Cyprus and Rhodes.  St. Francis visited the Holy Land in 1219, during which time he tried, unsuccessfully, to convert the Sultan in Egypt.   In 1224, he received the stigmata, making him the first recorded person to bear the wounds of Christ’s passion.  He died in 1226 while preaching Psalm 141.

The Franciscans have succeeded for over 750 years in the conquest and preservation of the Holy Places in the Holy Land.

Home of the Franciscans in Washington, DC

the franciscan monastery church

Saturday, August 25:  At 1:00, we get a tour of the Franciscan Monastery Church which turns out to be surprisingly stunning inside.  The general architectural outline of the church is Byzantine, after the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople (Istanbul), with some modified Romanesque influences..  The layout follows the lines of the Five-fold Cross, which formed the coat-of-arms of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.  The large cross constitutes the main body of the Church and the small crosses the Chapels.

The Franciscan Monastery Church

The Chapel of St. Joseph is dedicated to the memory of the foster-father of Jesus.

St. Joseph’s Chapel

The Chapel of the Sacred Heart features Jesus enthroned as the “King and Center of All Hearts.”

The Chapel of the Sacred Heart

The Altar of Cavalry is a replica of the original in Jerusalem.  In the large Crucifixion panel, the disciples are to the right of Jesus.  St. John and the Blessed Mother stand beside the Cross, while Mary Magdalen kneels at its foot.  The penitent thief looks pleadingly toward the Savior.  To the left of Jesus are his enemies and the unrepentant thief, shadowed in darkness.  In the background is the Holy City of Jerusalem.

the Altar of Cavalry

According to our guide, the Altar is built at the exact height of Cavalry in Jerusalem.

Christ’s enemies and the unrepentant thief
Christ’s disciples and the repentant thief

From the top of the Altar of Cavalry, I get a great view of the whole church and especially the main altar. This majestic altar, dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity, forms the nucleus around which all the other altars of the church face.  It stands exactly in the center of the church under the central dome.

the Church and the main altar with its gorgeous canopy

From the floor, I get a good view of the main altar and the canopy with its brilliant enamel design of the Virgin Mary and words of the Ave Maria on the inside.  She is shown praying to the Holy Trinity for mankind’s salvation.  This arched canopy is so tall that one can look through it from any side and see views of the altars and paintings in all of the various chapels and galleries.

the main altar from the floor level

Each of the four bronze pillars has figures of three of the twelve apostles.

the main altar and the canopy
the enamel inside of the canopy

Directly opposite the Altar of Cavalry, on the other side of the main altar is the Holy Sepulchre, a replica of the sacred tomb of Jesus as it is in Jerusalem.  Before this shrine is the Stone of the Anointing, a replica of that which marks the place where the body of Christ was anointed before his burial.  According to the guide, this Stone of Anointing is placed at the exact distance from the Altar of Cavalry that the same stone in Jerusalem is placed from the real Cavalry.

The Stone of the Anointing looking toward the Altar of Cavalry
The Stone of the Anointing ~ looking toward the Holy Sepulchre
The entrance to the outer chamber of the Holy Sepulchre, the replica of Christ’s tomb
Into the inner chamber holding the replica of the tomb of Christ
Incense burners inside the first chamber of the Holy Sepulchre

Up a double staircase that goes up either side of the Holy Sepulchre is the Chapel of the Transfiguration, a great relief panel that represents Christ’s transfiguration on Mount Thabor.

The Chapel of the Transfiguration, as seen through the canopy over the main altar

The Chapel of the Holy Ghost is surrounded on the left side by Christ sending out his disciples two at a time to preach the Gospel and on the right by St. Francis of Assisi sending out the Friars to preach.

The Chapel of the Holy Ghost, with the Holy Spirit represented by a dove, adored by angels

The Chapel of the Blessed Virgin has a beautiful statue representing the Mother of Jesus.

The Chapel of the Blessed Virgin

The guide tells us that normally, when we see statues or pictures of the Virgin Mary, she is stepping on a serpent.  After the stones were laid for this church, near the base of the altar of the Virgin, a stone with a fossil of two snakes was found.  The Franciscan Friars insist it was not purposely placed there, but the guide says it seems to have been “providentially” placed there.

the serpent fossils which were “coincidentally” laid at the base of the Virgin Mary’s altar…

The Church is magnificent and I’m thrilled to have come to this place today.   I never knew there was a Church with so many replicas of Holy Land shrines right here in Washington, D.C. !

the franciscan monastery in washington: gardens & shrines

the franciscan monastery in washington: gardens & shrines

Saturday, August 25:  Inspired by Ailsa, an Irish girl who is currently traveling in America, I visit today the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C.  I follow Ailsa’s blog: Where’s my backpack? and I was surprised when she wrote a couple of posts about the Franciscan Monastery.  I’ve lived in the Washington area for well over 20 years, and I never knew it existed!!  It’s funny how sometimes when you live in a place, you don’t notice the things that are right in your backyard!

The entrance to the Franciscan Monastery

The Franciscan Monastery Memorial Church of the Holy Land sits on a quietly secluded hillside in the Brookland suburb of Washington.  Following the example of Franciscan tradition, the Friars selected a hill for the site of their Monastery, naming it Mount Saint Sepulchre, in honor of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  (Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America)

The Monastery and its shrines were conceived by the Reverend Father Godfrey Schilling in 1897 for three purposes: 1) to train the American Franciscan missionaries to preserve the Shrines of the Holy Land and perform other charitable works in the Holy Land; 2) to provide a place in the USA for people who don’t have the time, money or health to visit the Shrines of the Holy Land or the Catacombs of Rome; and 3) to provide financial support through charitable contributions for the charitable works of the Franciscans in the Holy Land.  The Monastery was completed in 1899.  What was once 100 acres, is now a 40 acre complex, replete with gardens, the church and the Catacombs.

The Franciscan Monastery from afar

As I enter through the arched gateway into the Monastery, I see a bronze statue of St. Christopher, the patron of travelers, bearing the Christ Child.  At this entrance I marvel at the beautiful setting of the Monastery with its ochre-colored walls and surrounding gardens and the cloister walkway.

Statue of St. Christopher, patron of travelers, with the Monastery behind

It just so happens that I arrive about 5 minutes before 11 a.m., right before one of two garden tours the docents give weekly.  How lucky is that?  The tour is conducted by a member of the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild, a volunteer organization that attends to more than 700 roses in the gardens.   The guild has funded new trees, azalea beds, camellia plantings and thousands of perennials.  They have also installed a Biblical herb garden.  Each winter they must dig out the banana plants and put them into the greenhouse, replanting them each spring in the gardens.

the gardens in all their glory!

In the center of a circle of colorful flowers stands a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, begging a little boy not to sell into captivity some doves which he holds.

St. Francis of Assisi and the Turtle Doves
the gardens and St. Francis
close up of St. Francis and the boy with the turtle doves

Behind St. Francis stands a statue of the founder of the Monastery, the Reverend Godfrey Schilling, OFM, holding a model of the Monastery.

The Reverend Godfrey Schilling with a model of the Monastery in his hands

Next we come to the small Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels built of rough-hewn stones. This chapel recreates the shrine near Assisi in Umbrian Italy, where St. Francis in 1207 established the Franciscan order.

the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels
inside the Chapel
the back view of the Chapel

Passing the Oriental Garden and the shrine to the Virgina Mary, we enter the Rosary Portico, also called the Cloister Walk, an open-air enclosure around the gardens.  Within the cloister walkways are signs with the “Hail Mary” prayer in as many as 150 languages.  The columns in the portico are made of concrete with an over-layer of agate stones.  This gives them the appearance of mosaics, while also giving builders the ability to shape each column differently.

the shrine of Mary
in the Oriental garden looking into the Rosary Portico
the concrete columns with their agate overlay
Looking out to the garden from the Cloister Walk
rose bushes and the Rosary Portico

Walking down a hill on the outside of the Cloister Walk, we come to the Grotto of Gethsemane, a reproduction of the original grotto in the Gethsemane Valley near Jerusalem, which tradition tells afforded shelter to Christ and his apostles.  It is dedicated to Christ’s suffering on the eve of his crucifixion.

a walk down the hillside to more shrines & gardens
the Grotto of Gethsemane
heart-shaped leaves outside the Grotto of Gethsemane

The Grotto of Lourdes is a copy of the same-named grotto in Southern France, where the Virgin Mary appeared in 1858 to St. Bernadette, a young peasant girl.

“In memory of the miraculous fountain of Our Lady at Lourdes”

The Chapel of St. Anne is dedicated to the Virgin Mary’s mother.  Beneath the house is a replica of the house in Old Cairo which sheltered the Holy Family during the exile into Egypt.  We cannot see this house today because it is under repair.

the Chapel of St. Anne

We pass by the outdoor Stations of the Cross, monuments to Christ’s passion and death.

one of the Stations of the Cross

The Chapel of the Ascension is like the one which the Crusaders erected over the place of Christ’s ascension on Mount Olivet.

the Chapel of the Ascension

We also come to a peaceful little pond, filled with water lilies and goldfish, created for quiet, reflective moments.

a little pond for quiet reflection
water lilies

We then take a walk through the farm and the greenhouse in the back of the Monastery.

inside the greenhouse
the greenhouse

At last we come upon the Monastery cemetery, where the Friars are buried.  Like at Arlington National Cemetery, all the cross-shaped gravestones are alike, no matter what job the Friars had or no matter what their social level.  Some of the stones were recently knocked over in a fast-moving, aggressive thunderstorm system known as a derecho that barreled through the nation’s capital one Friday night at the end of June, causing wind damage and extensive power outages throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.  I had never heard of a derecho before, but apparently it’s a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.

the cemetery with some of the headstones knocked over
Christ on the Cross in the center of the cemetery
This smaller cemetery is where Friars who died while serving in the Holy Land custody are buried. Some of the headstones were knocked over by the derecho.

After the tour, I’m left to wander about on my own for a bit while waiting for the 1:00 tour of the church and the catacombs.  More to follow about the Monastery Church and The Catacombs & Crypts…..

the Monastery Church from within the Rosary Portico

My inspiration from Ailsa of Where’s my backpack?
Travel theme – tradition
Catacombs and Old Byzantium I
Catacombs and Old Byzantium II