India: a Cow’s Paradise?

Dear Reader,

If you think about it, the life of a cow is something incredible to describe.
If you’re in the American continent, central and southern Europe, then I would say ‘poor cow!’… Inevitably, beef is part of our delicious diet. Go to Argentina and you will find that eating beef is a religion just as important as soccer.
Good for us but sad for them. Short life, lived in a farm if lucky, fed with chemicals most times and then slaughtered for our pleasure on a plate.
Now imagine for one second, dear Reader, as a cow going from this…

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At Parrilladas El Gaucho you will find a beautiful map of a cow’s body. Each part of the cow has its special taste and obvious difference in price. I came here for lunch with my colleagues few years ago.

… to this

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A woman worshipping a decorated cow during a Jainist festivity.

You’d probably think the second option is best for a cow.
In Hindu tradition, a cow is honoured and worshipped for many reasons: due their agricultural uses like tilling and fertilising the fields, due to their gentle nature, because they are a major source of dairy products. In a way, cows represent a form of caretaker and maternal figure for Hindus.

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As a result, cows are found literally everywhere you walk in India, ambling unmolested in traffic-choked streets, stationed at crossroads, stationed in front of markets and stores completely undisturbed.

In case of car accidents resulting in a injured cow, normally the latter should be taken to a hospital if a vet is not nearby. Truth is, most times they are left to die or starve.

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Fond of this pond. Water buffalos enjoy just as much pleasure as their bovine cousins.

 


Calves, cows and bullocks may enjoy similar privileges but only the cow is sacred.
For example, bullocks are a minority and they are fed well because of that and used for agriculture purposes and mating as well as to preserve their inferior number. However important calves will be at some point, they are not useful until they reach maturity.
Healthy cows have to starve or feed on rubbish. Bullocks, not so sacred, are fed because India has too many cows and not enough bullocks.

However sacred these animals are, there are times where you really question it.

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These are cows I saw eating garbage. Most of cows in Rajasthan, i.e., are owned by dairy farmers who let them loose in the streets to look for free food instead of feeding them regularly. Some family can afford feeding their cattle only once a day. This way they ingest plastic bags, rotten food and garbage, resulting in a potential reduction in their milk production ability, poisoning and even death.

This is the reality. Can we really call it paradise?

 

 

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How to Enjoy Mexico: understand its background first!

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost three since I moved to Mexico and I don’t feel I have fully explained this wonderful country. I wrote several posts on it and it will probably take several chapters to even slightly envision what Mexico is and it’s worth doing so. I want you to feel it as if you were here with me exploring this remarkable land.

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The beautiful and shining Guanajuato town.

It sounds so basic and futile when you think about it, as if by reading the title the imminent thought would be “oh come on, no need for guidelines”. But believe me, there is a science behind the enjoyment of a new city or even country, especially one you hope to survive without stress and melancholy. You might also think that all it takes is to join a tour or simply read about it on a travel guide.

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Learn how to make tacos. It’s fundamental in order to understand how delicious they can be…

Let’s take Mexico as an example. Mexico is a huge country full of colours, culture and above all contradictions. They say that here in Mexico you will find four stories: the one the Government wants you to believe, the one academic institutions want to teach, one that foreigners want to explain. And the last one, the one you have to discover yourself. And this is mine.

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Cute little restaurant in Mexcaltitán, the Venice of Mexico

Certain beliefs and conceptions of reality characterise some populations more than others, and Mexico recalls images of ancient civilisations, plundering Spanish conquistadores and moustachioed revolucionarios. The many contradictions of this vibrant country lie in its unique history and are deeply reflected in the character and personality of the people. The expansive friendliness of norteños (Mexicans from the northern states) compared to the more defensive and rebellious southern Chiapanecos (people from Chiapas state). Mexicans can be intensely fatalistic, resigned even. And when the mood takes in, they are hedonistic and carefree. A reserved poker face will suddenly give way to astonishing warmth and familiarity.

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Indigenous children from the sort of forgotten state Chiapas

We know Mexico’s first hundred years were bloody while the last eighty-five years have been at peace; it shares a long land border with the United states and yet they couldn’t be more different.
When the Spanish brought Catholicism, the missionaries took a very pragmatic approach to it and incorporated many beliefs from earlier religions. That’s why there are so many religious festivals here like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Muxis (gay/transgender divinity festival), the Guelaguetza and many others that blend Catholic celebrations with indigenous rituals.

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Mexico is dual.

It emerged from its bloody history and claimed its place in the modern world. And now globalisation and free trade is altering Mexican society once again.

 

Did you know…

Assassin is a Persian word?

Dear Reader,
could you believe that so many words came from old Persian language?

This time I will enlighten you about the word Assassin.
Commonly mistaken as an Arabic word, Assassin as we know it comes from old Persian hashashin (حشاشین), originated in the Alamut region of Iran. It has nothing to do with modern ‘hashish’.
The Assassins were a much-feared fighting group in the late 11th century. But what was their origin? And what did their name mean?

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An assassin was a ‘person who was energised to kill’ on the account of the king.

When a king or high hierarchy old man wished to kill someone, he would enlist a young man and promise him a return to Paradise if he entered his service and followed his instructions or even died in his service. The first man to ever do so was Hassan-i Sabbah, founder of Alamut. He trained men to become highly deathly weapons to use against his enemies. Some modern Muslims believed he would drug these young men in order to subject them, but let’s see what happened…

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If you read Hassan-i’s accounts and the many tales of Marco Polo, you can easily understand that Hashash was not a substance used to drug people. Here is why:

The word hashashin was phonetically very close to the Muslim hash-ishiyun, which means “hashish-smokers”; some scholars thought that this was the origin of the word “assassin”, which later became a terrifying word in most European languages…

However, dear Reader, the truth is quite another. According to texts that have come down to us from Alamut, Hassan-i Sabbah liked to call his disciples Asasiyun, which in Persian means ‘people who are faithful to the Asās’, meaning “foundation” of the faith.

This is the word that so often is misunderstood by many foreign travellers as its sound is so similar to “hashish”, the substance that many people enjoy consuming.

Persian Peacock Domes

Dear Reader,

This picture portrays what I found to be the most beautiful mosque dome I have ever seen: the peacock dome of the Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, in Esfahan, Iran.

 

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So beautiful and wonderfully coloured, I think is one of the domes I spent more time staring at… Notice the peacock-themed patterns in blue and yellow motifs?

In the millennial Persian culture, symbols have endured and carried on their legacy in present times even when Persia underwent major and different political and religious regimes. Throughout history, the ancient Persian symbols have always been magnificent, mystic and ever present.  The fact that these symbols are used all over the country signifies the importance of these over time…

The peacockpeacock is one of the most culturally significant birds in Iranian culture; it appears in art and poetry from the Medieval period onwards with great regularity.

Most literature regards the blue peacock being of Indian origins, others link it to the Greeks, however, in Persepolis I also found that blue peacock images might have been originated in the area in Achaemenid time.
Either way, for all them the blue peacock was a symbol of immortality because the ancients believed that the peacock had flesh that did not decay after death.
Since the bird changes and replaces its feathers every year, it also came to be a symbol of renewal and resurrection. For the Imams, this was meant to represent the ever presence of their prophet Alí. And finally, with the Qajar era, the peacock also symbolised royalty and power.

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The Day of the Dead in Mexican Style

Dear Reader,

Have you met Catrina? no?!
This is her:

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Ladies and gentlemen, this is Catrina.

Catrina is a tall, elegantly attired female skeleton sporting an extravagantly plumed hat. She is the creation of print maker José Guadalupe Posada, dated back in 1910, a time where calaveras (Spanish for ‘skulls’) images were wielded as political and social satire, poking fun at human folly. La Catrina has everything to do with the Mexican Revolution elements and she is also the main character of the curious Day of the Dead Mexican festivity.

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Unlike in many other countries, Mexico has a different view of the Dead. Even though this holiday coincides with the Catholic holiday called All Soul’s & All Saint’s Day, the indigenous people over here have combined the traditional Catholic ritual with their own ancient beliefs of honouring their deceased loved ones and celebrating their return among the living. That’s right, dear Reader, they believe that the gates of heaven opened at midnight on October 31 and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 1 and 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them. This is what gives this holiday a very curious and yet unique touch.

It is a festive, joyous time of celebration in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is probably one of Mexico’s most important holidays, and this means that people invest a lot of time and money into celebrating it, more so than any other holiday.

Ok, so Travel Buddy and I went to the core heart of traditional Jalisco state, a little town called Tlaquepaque because we literally wanted to immerse ourselves in the Day of the Dead festivity.

The entire town looked glorious and colourful

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When you walk along the streets you notice many little altars which honour parted loved ones. Some of them will even have some of the things they loved, such as their favourite drinks, objects, dishes.

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Sometimes the dead person is a child, or many in fact. One specific altar, dedicated to the fire which killed 38 of children in Sonora in 2009, was filled with toys and pictures of the children.

Catrina is without a doubt the representative of this holiday. So much in fact, that everyone wants to look like her!

Children

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Adults

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And even waiters in a restaurant will join the spooky folklore

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Stanito and Travel Buddy could not be exception to this rule

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Here I am sitting between a lady skeleton and her male companion

While Travel Buddy took it even further when he sat down and played cards with another skeleton gentleman

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In the end, why should the remembrance of our beloved dead ones be a sad event?

Hagia Sophia: Islamic Calligraphy Roundels

Dear Reader,

Turkey is an astonishing country filled with cultures blended together and marked by wars and empire atmosphere can still be felt in the air.

Where do you see this majestic blend? Basically everywhere you walk although my favourite place still is the Hagia Sophia.
This temple was once a church, then mosque and then museum is known as Church of the Holy Wisdom or Hagia Sophia (Άγια Σοφία) in Greek, Sancta Sophia in Latin or Aya Sofya in Turkish, is a former Byzantine church and former Ottoman mosque in Istanbul. Now is mostly a museum and is globally acknowledged as one of the great buildings of the world.

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This is a photo I took of the interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements on the top of the main dome which are called Roundels.

It is truly breathtaking and decorated with mihrabs, portals, domes, mosaics and urns.
Inside the monument I found 8 beautiful hanging medallions which are in fact known as Roundels. To me these medallions, added in the 19th century, represent a strong contrast with the Christian mosaics giving us an idea of how these religions blend in one place.
These roundels have Arabic calligraphy signs painted painted wooden plaques that were added in the 19th century as part of the restoration ordered by Sultan Abdülmecid and supervised by the Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati. The calligrapher is Kazasker Izzet Efendi and the roundel I show above is the name of the Muslim Rashidun Caliph Uthman Medallion written in in Thuluth Arabic calligraphy.

Italian Myths and Truths

What happens when most people hear you’re Italian:

Foreigner A: “Ahh buongiorno Tonino!”

Foreigner B: “Ah I love cheese”

Foreigner C: “Ah pasta, I love Italian pasta, I’m sure you eat pasta every day, lucky you!” Continue reading “Italian Myths and Truths”