Monday, December 10, 2007

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [SPANISH STEPS]

My tour group's last stop in the city of Rome was the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna), located at a short walking distance away from the Trevi Fountain.

It owes its name to the Spanish Embassy, the first to be permanently established in Rome, in Palazzo Spagna by Antonio del Grande in 1647.

The square was completed with the building of the Spanish Steps in 1725. Designed by Italian architect, Francesco de Santis, the project was financed by King Louis XV of France.

The steps consist of twelve flights of masonry steps of varying widths, leading up to the Franciscan Church of Trinita dei Monti at the top, from the Piazza di Spagna at the base.

Today, it is considered the longest & widest staircase in Europe.

The entire area surrounding the Spanish Steps is Rome's fashion haven & a shopper's dream come true.

The shopping streets - via Condotti, via Borgognona, via Frattina, via del Corso - ringing &/or criss-crossing the area are chic & trendy streets, home to antique dealers, art galleries, exclusive boutiques, & designer stores, drawing throngs of both locals & tourists alike.

Fashion is, after all, an universal language.

Immediately after the completion of the itinerary for the day, every one in the group disappeared into the surrounding shopping streets around the Spanish Steps.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [TREVI FOUNTAIN]

By the time the tour group had arrived at the famous Trevi Fountain, it was already quite late in the afternoon, just after 5pm or so.

The Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) became a famous household name following the Oscar-winning 1960's movie, 'La Dolce Vita', in which the voluptuous Anita Ekberg was shown frolicking in the water.

[In fact, the fountain was featured earlier in the 1953 movie, 'Roman Holiday' (with Gregory Peck & Audrey Hepburn), followed by the 1954 movie, 'Three Coins in the Fountain', about three American girls in search of romance in Rome, while working for the US Embassy. The movie's signature song won the Oscar for 'Best Original Song' in 1954.]

The fountain dates back to ancient Rome. It was rebuilt many times throughout the millennia. It was completed by Nicola Salvi in 1762.

[As you can see, the central figure is Neptune, flanked by two Titons, one trying to master an unruly sea horse, the other leading a quieter beast, symbolising the two contrasting moods of the sea.]

Today, the fountain represents the largest & most ambitious of the Baroque fountains of Rome.

The rushing waters come from the Aqua Vergine aqueduct, which was commissioned by Aguppa, a general of Augustus in 19BC.

The seemingly blue-green water cascades over the ornate Baroque stone figure of Trevi, making it a beautiful sight to behold.

The aqueduct transports the water from the Salone springs, 30 km from the city of Rome. It is named after the young girl who supposedly took Aguppa's thirsty soldiers to its source. The name Trevi (from 'trevium') literally means 3 ways: the fountain was constructed at the intersection of 3 streets.

Legend has it that throwing a coin into the Trevi Fountain will ensure a visitor's safe return to Rome. [About 3,000 Euros are thrown in the fountain daily & are collected at night.]

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [THE VATICAN MUSEUMS & THE SISTINE CHAPEL]

The visit to the Vatican Museums & the adjoining Sistine Chapel actually formed the principal highlights of the group tour to the Vatican City.

The Vatican Museums house one of the world's most impressive collections of arts, paintings & sculptures, embracing the period of every epoch.

According to the local tour guide, the museums consist of more than 1,400 rooms & 120 apartments, divided into five separate collections.

He said that touring the entire museums would take seven full days, not counting time just to pause at each exhibit.

As international visitors to the Vatican Museums, the group was shown only the primary exhibits, as follows:

1) The Room of Raphael;
2) The Gallery of Maps - really a cartographic fantasyland with all sorts of maps, charts & drafting tools!;
3) The Gallery of Tapestries;
4) The Octagonal Courtyard;
5) The Belvedere Torso;
6) The Sistine Chapel;

From the sculptures or fragments of sculptures to the very floors under our feet, & the walls as well as the ceilings high above our heads - they were a total infiltration of our senses.

The museums were originally intended to provide residence & protection for the Pope. In 1932, the private papal collections were open to the public as a way to generate financial means.

The museums see more than 30,000 visitors a day. In 2006, there were 4 million visitors.

Within the museums, there is the enormous Sistine Chapel (Capella Sistina). It is used for papal functions, including the conclave of cardinals (the election of the Pope).

The Sistine Chapel houses more than two dozens of distinct collections, any one of which could be a self-sustaining gallery.

For most visitors to the chapel, the masterpieces of Michelangelo, including his stunning frescoes of the 'Creation of the World' on the ceiling, & the 'Last Judgement' on the altar wall, form the most memorable & treasured experiences.

[Although the walls of the chapel are covered with beautiful paintings by a number of other Renaissance artists, including Botticelli, they became secondary in the company of Michelangelo.]

I have been to the Vatican Museums as well as the Sistine Chapel three times over the last twenty five years, & I am still amazed by what I had seen.

The Vatican Museums truly represent the testament to the power of papal patronage & curatorial talent.

By design, each & every itinerary in the Vatican Museums culminates in the Sistine Chapel.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [THE SQUARE & THE BASILICA OF ST PETER'S]

The vast dome of the Basilica of St Peter's is visible from nearly everywhere in the city of Rome. It really dominates the city skyline.

The Square of St Peter's (Piazza San Pietro) , with its fountains & semi-circular colonnades crowned with the statutes of the Saints frames the entrance to the Vatican City.

The Basilica of St Peter's, possibly the largest church in the world, is located on the site where St Peter was believed to be martyred & buried. [St Peter was crucified upside down as a criminal by Emperor Nero during pagan times.]

The first church was built on the site during the reign of Emperor Constantine.

Michelangelo deserves much of the credit for the massive reconstruction of the Basilica in its present form from 1546 when he was its chief architect.

Although it is not the Pope's official seat, it is most certainly his principal church as most papal ceremonies take place at the Basilica of St Peter's due its size, proximity to the Papal residence & location within the city walls of Vatican City.

Today, the Basilica of St Peter's holds the most beautiful masterpieces of Bernini, as well as the famous sculpture, 'Pieta' by Michelangelo.

[The 'Pieta' depicts the Virgin Mary holding the body of her son, Jesus Christ, after his death. Michelangelo, while he was still in his early twenties & relatively unknown to the world as an artist, was commisioned in 1498 to carve the two figures from a single slab of marble. It took him almost two years to complete.]

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [THE VATICAN CITY]



The city of Rome actually surrounds the Vatican City, which is the enclave of the Holy See.

[The Holy See refers to the Central Government of th Catholic Church, headed by a Bichsop of Rome, commonly called The Pope.]

Geopolitically, it is a separate sovereign state. It is considered the smallest independent state in the world.

The Vatican City hosts the St Peter's Square with the Basilica of St Peter's as its dominant structure.

Within the walled city, there are the prestigious Vatican Museums, with the adjoining Sistine Chapel, as well as the Vatican Library.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [CASTLE OF SAINT ANGELS]

Again, the tour group had only an orientation of this unique tourist attraction in Rome.

From a distance, actually sitting inside the tour coach, it looks like a huge cylinder block.

This towering structure, originally known as Castel Sant Angelo, was built as a funeral monument to the Roman emperors. It began life in 139 as Emperor Hadrian's mausoleum.

The building was later incorporated as an output bastion during Emperor Aurelius.

During the 10th century, the building was again transformed into a castle. Today, it is a museum.

According to legend, it was a place of safety for the Popes during times of political unrest. A corridor reportedly links it with the Vatican City, providing an escape route for the Pope.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [VITTORIO EMANUELE II MONUMENT]

As part of the orientation tour of the city of Rome, the tour group saw this beautiful structure which was built in honour of the first king of united Italy, Victor Emmanuel. It was designed in 1895 but completed in 1935. It also holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame.

Interestingly, it was featured in the 2003 sci-fi movie, 'The Core', in which the structure had collapsed, together with the Colosseum, under lightning strikes as a result of an electrical super storm.















HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [ROMAN FORUM]

Frankly, my tour group had only an orientation of the Roman Forum, located only a short distance away from the Colosseum.

The Roman Forum was the very centre of political, religious & commercial life in ancient Rome.

Today, it is one of the world's most important historical sites. It features the rostrum where Anthony made his impassioned speech over the dead body of Julius Caesar.

In reality, today it remains a vast ensemble of ruins that echo the grandeur of a vast empire that at one time embraced most of the known world.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [THE COLOSSEUM]

The Colosseum is one of the greatest of all Rome's historic monuments.

In fact, it was the largest amphitheatre ever built during the Roman Empire, representing the greatest work of Roman architecture & engineering.

Plan-wise, it is elliptical in shape, 189 m long & 156 m wide, with a height of 48 m for the outer wall.

The enormous arena with its imposing exterior once featured 76 numbered entrances, marble seats & subterranean passages. It had an original seating capacity for 50,000 spectators, & was used for gladiatorial combats & public spectacles.

Its construction was started between 70-72AD under Emperor Vespasian, & was completed only in 80AD under Emperor Titus.

Unlike earlier amphitheatres that were built onto hillsides, this one was an entirely free standing structure.

I read that very few knew that it was partly built with the loot of the destruction & sacking of Jerusalem by Emperor Titus. Jewish slaves were engaged to work on its construction.

According to historical records, gladiatorial combats lasted until 404 AD & animal combats were stopped toward the middle of 6th century.

Interestingly, in the 1972 movie, 'The Way of the Dragon', the legendary Bruce Lee fought Chuck Norris in a deadly showdown at the Colosseum.

The fight sequence was replicated in the 1997 movie, 'Double Team', during which Jean Claude van Damme (played counter-terrorism expert, Quinn) fought Mickey Rourke (played international terrorist, Stavros) in the Colosseum. The movie setting also featured a booby-trapped mine-field, plus a ferocious tiger.

The movie also starred bad boy Dennis Rodman, as Quinn's side kick.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [RIVER TIBER]

The River Tiber is the third longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine mountains of Tuscany region & flowing over 400 km through the Umbria & Lazio regions, to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Historically, the river has achieved lasting fame as the main watercourse of the city of Rome, founded on its eastern banks in 753BC.

Today, there are numerous modern as well as ancient bridges, most of which have already been confined to pedestrian use, across the River Tiber.




HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME [CHURCH OF ST PETER IN CHAINS]

The first stop after the group's pick up at the airport upon our early morning arrival in Rome was a nondescript church located a few blocks north of the Colosseum.

The Church of St Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) owes its name to the precious relic it hosts: the chains used to fetter St Peter during his prison days in Jerusalem & in Rome.

The original church was dedicated to the Apostles & was built in the 4th century. It was completely modified in the 15th century, which was further modified during the following century.

According to traditions, when the two chains were brought together, they were united miraculously.

In the exterior, the church has a portico with five arches. It has a plan of a basilica, being divided by twenty ancient marble columns in the interior, with a beautiful fresco painting on the ceiling.

Inside the church, at the end of the right aisle, is the complex of statutes created by Michelangelo. The Statute of Moses, a masterpiece of the Renaissance, is located right in the centre.

HOLIDAYS IN ITALY: ROME

[continue from the last post:)]

To complete all the remaining snapshots & postcards of my recent holidays in Italy, I am now arranging all the belated posts that will follow, according to the following major tourist attractions in Rome, which my wife & I had seen (orientation, i.e. sightseeing from the bus without stopping, in group tour lingo) &/or visited (walking tour, in group tour lingo) on the first day:

1) Church of St Peters in Chains;
2) River Tiber;
3) The Colosseum;
4) Roman Forum;
5) Vittorio Emanuele II Monument;
6) Castle of the Saint Angels;
7) The Vatican City;
8) The Square & The Basilica of St Peter's;
9) The Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel;
10) Trevi Fountain;
11) Spanish Steps;

I should have completed these posts much earlier.

[Upon completion of the city tour of Rome, & after one night's stay at the outskirts of the city, the group proceeded with a new coach, on the next morning, to the lost city of Pompeii.]

TAKING ANOTHER SHORT BREAK FROM BLOGGING

My wife & I will be bringing & leading a bunch of our silver-haired buddies - twelve of them, making 6 couples - to Vietnam from 15th to 21st December 2007. Vietnam is my wife's homeland.

Besides visiting the city attractions & the Mekong Delta, the group will spend 3-days/2-nights in Dalat, a mountain resort.

However, my wife & I will leave earlier for Ho Chi Minh city on Tuesday 11th December, so that we can finalise the itinerary for the group.

We plan to stay back in the city after the group's departure as we want to spend our Christmas & New Year holidays in Vietnam.

We are scheduled to be back in Singapore on 4th January 2008.

So, from tomorrow onwards till 4th January 2008, I will not be writing my blogs for a change.

Upon my return, I will share the group's first time adventures in Vietnam with readers. Please stay tuned.

FUN PIX #2 FROM AROUND THE WORLD


TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; & when you realise that you are wrong, correct course very quickly."
(Andrew Grove, the brain behind the phenomenal success of The World Most Powerful Chip Company, Intel Corporation;)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

FUN PIX #1 FROM AROUND THE WORLD


AS I UNDERSTAND: ACCELERATED LEARNING

As far as I know, 'accelerated learning' has its origins from the work of a Bulgarian psychologist, Dr Georgi Lozanov, during the sixties & early seventies.

Dr Lozanov did not use this term, but instead, he coined the term 'Suggestopedia', probably at the University of Sofia, where it all started in 1967.

He apparently used his seemingly 'secret' methodology to teach members of the Bulgarian Foreign Service (& subsequently as well as probably including those from the USSR, during the Cold War days - it's natural to deduce that these people were part of their international spy network across the globe) to master the English Language within an accelerated time frame.

His pioneering work was first hinted in the book, 'Psychic Discoveries behind the Iron Curtain' in the early seventies, & then highlighted in more seemingly 'specific' details in the follow-up book, 'Superlearning' in the mid-eighties or so, both by Sheila Ostrander & Lynn Schroeder, two enterprising journalists from the United States.

The work of the journalists were always doubted since day one, as it was unbelievable that they could have easy access to the interviews & discoveries behind the Iron Curtain at that time.

In the seventies, Dr Georgi Lozanov was brought to the United States by the now-defunct Burklyn Business School based in Vermont, California, USA, to share his teaching methodology, known as 'Suggestology' by then to a group of business people.

As far as I know, the people who were apparently behind this venture was Marshall Thurber, Bobbi dePorter & Eric Jensen.

As most readers may already know, Bobbi dePorter went on to establish the 'SuperCamps' for students, while Eric Jensen started 'Turning Point for Educators' (now known as 'Jensen Learning Corporation') to teach the many teachers & educators across the United States, in the early eighties. The latter is the prime mover behind the 'Learning Brain Expo'.

Of course, there were many competent others that took off with different paths, but probably remained true to the early philosophy of 'accelerated learning', as originally conceptualised by Dr Georgi Lozanov, despite the many variations in approach.

Subsequently around the same period of time, one of major 'spin offs' was the advent of the Society of Accelerated Learning & Teaching (SALT, as it was called in short).

Today, SALT has been reorganised to form the 'International Alliance for Learning'.

I reckon most of the learning experts & research scholars in the United States continued to doubt that Dr Georgi Lozanov had actually shared his many 'secrets' on 'accelerated learning & teaching'.

I personally believe that much of the innovative work in 'accelerated learning & teaching' as it appears today actually has its vast intellectual inputs from the early pioneers in the SALT movement.

I began my initial personal interest in 'accelerated learning' after reading the foregoing two books, when they were first published.

Out of curiosity, I went on to search for & read more books on the subject. I also joined SALT in USA as well as SEAL in UK as a member.

I also subscribed to a lot of related organisations e.g. 'New Horizons for Learning', 'Consortium for Whole Brain Learning', as well as newsletters, journals & magazines. The 'Brain/Mind Bulletin' was one of the widely acclaimed newsletters I had subscribed.

I had followed the work of Bobbi dePorter, Eric Jensen & many others in the field quite closely.

In the early nineties, I left the corporate world to start my own little entrepreneurial venture, involving a small retail outlet, aptly called 'The Brain Resource', a newsletter to track my personal exploration in the field, entitled 'The Left-Brain/Right-Brain Newsletter', & a strategy consulting firm, under the trade name of 'Optimum Performance Technologies'.

I like to take this opportunity to share with readers my learning explorations in 'accelerated learning'.

[Next: Accelerated Learning II]

LESSONS FROM THE MOVIES: THE KARATE KID

The Karate Kid, starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Martin Kove

I had watched this entertaining movie during the late eighties or probably the early nineties when it was first released to the movie theatres.

Subsequently, I had watched it several times on cable television, as well from videos.

I had recently watched it again from a DVD, as I thought it offered wonderful life lessons.

First of all, it had a very straight-forward story.

A young boy, Danny (Ralph Macchio) & his mother had relocated from the East to Los Angeles. In search of new friends, he bumped into a bunch of ruffians from a local martial arts school.

Naturally, there was also this beautiful lady (played by Elizabeth Shue), whose deliberate presence in the movie seemed to complicate matters for him.

During one painful encounter with the ruffians, he was beaten up, but luckily was eventually rescued by an elderly handyman, Miyagi (Pat Morita), working in his apartment complex. Miyagi seemed to be well versed in unarmed combat.

Intrigued, Danny wanted to learn martial arts from Miyagi, even though he discovered than the old man was more adept in clipping bonsai trees & catching flies with chopsticks.

Miyagi reluctantly took Danny on & immediately delegated him to carry out a host of domestic chores, like sanding the floor decks, cleaning/polishing the cars & painting the fences. Unwittingly, they sparked off some sort of a father-son relationship.

These apparently inconsequential activities certainly reminded me of those compulsory routines, like sweeping floors, chopping wood & carrying water, that were often carried out by young disciplines of the Shaolin Temple in ancient China.

Danny was obviously very disappointed.

The story continued with Danny’s quest to take part in the local martial arts tournament.

What I like about this movie is the valuable lessons it offers to young people in search of their personal vision.

In this case, Danny wanted to become a martial arts champion.

For an instructor, Miyagi was obviously an unorthodox master. He taught Danny, to his chagrin, how to envision success by asking him to trim a bonsai tree.

The old man said: “Just trim the tree!”

Danny replied, “What if I don’t do it right?”

The old man told him: “ Close your eyes, picture a tree, & then, as soon as you have the tree, think of nothing else. Open your eyes & trim the bonsai tree to match the picture.”

Once again, Danny replied: “How do I know it is going to be right?”

The old man responded gleefully: “If it comes from inside you, it is right!”

It began to dawn on Danny that the real secret to martial arts laid in the mind & the heart, & not in the fists.

Once he realised the lessons he had learned from Miyagi - the hard way -, Danny became empowered & went on to beat the hell out of his seemingly stronger opponent in the martial arts tournament.

The fight sequences, especially the ending segment, in the movie were beautifully as well as spectacularly choreographed, but the principal message of the movie was very clear:

The compelling vision of where you want to go & the vivid image of achievement come from deep inside you!

TODAY'S VIP (VERY IMPORTANT POSE)

"That was rough.... Thing to do now is try and forget it.... I guess I don't quite mean that. It's not a thing you can forget. Maybe not even a thing you want to forget.... Life's like that sometimes... Now and then for no good reason a man can figure out, life will just haul off and knock him flat, slam him agin' the ground so hard it seems like all his insides is busted. But it's not all like that. A lot of it's mighty fine, and you can't afford to waste the good part frettin' about the bad. That makes it all bad.... Sure, I know - sayin' it's one thing and feelin' it's another. But I'll tell you a trick that's sometimes a big help. When you start lookin' around for something good to take the place of the bad, as a general rule you can find it."
(from the 1950's movie, 'Old Yeller', starring Dorothy McGuire & Fess Parker, about the great frontier adventure of a young boy & his yellow mongrel;)