The original rose

I’ve seen the Himalayan wild rose all across the northern mountains. My hard drive has photos tagged “HWrose” taken over the last ten years in the eastern Himalayas (Bhutan, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh), the middle Himalayas (Uttarakhand), and from the western Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh). One of this last group you see in the featured photo. The bushes range in size from a little less than my height to somewhat taller than me. When I pointed this out to The Young Niece, she said “Really?” and smelt one of them. I’d not thought of doing that ever before, so I took a little sniff, and, sure enough, there was a faint aroma. Now a quick search told me that I should properly call this the Himalayan musk rose (Rosa moschata).

This rainy weekend was the perfect time to sit down and read about the history of roses. It is a complicated history, with lots of characters, and many twists and turns. The first suspects are the Chinese roses, with wonderful names like Old Blush and Tea Roses. But I found that the evolution of scent in these roses have nothing to do with the musk rose. So I changed track and decided to focus on Damask roses. These have been used for centuries in the production of attar; rose water (gulkand) is used in food, and the petals are often used in sweets. It is said that this came to India with the Mughals. Indeed the Baburnama, reputed to be the first autobiography in Islamic literature, speaks of Ferghana with its roses and Tulips. In Europe this rose is called the Castilian rose, but its likely origin is Central Asia. Indeed there are stories of Romans taking this rose to Europe, and also of European religious crusaders taking it back from Damascus.

From here the search quickly led me to a paper on the triparental origin of Damask roses. Through a wonderful series of observations and deductions, the authors of this study find that the Damask rose was cultivated through at least two hybridizations. The first step was the pollination of the ovule of Rosa moschata with the pollen of Rosa gallica. As a result, the bush and the leaves retain the form of the musk rose. Soon after this, the ovule of this hybrid was pollinated with pollen taken from the Central Asian variety called Rosa fedschenkoana.

The mountain rose which The Young Niece taught me to smell is truly the mother of roses: the rose of Babur, the roses of York and Lancaster, the roses which by any other name would smell as sweet.

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The center of Muenster

When we arrived at the vast marketplace in front of Muenster’s catherdral, two things were on my mind: there would probably be a Christmas market here in a few weeks, and there is probably a farmer’s market here on Saturdays. I said as much to The Family, and she said “Too bad then. This is just a Sunday in November.” The cathedral is also huge: more than a hundred meters in length. Every meter seems to be well documented in its Wikipedia page.

We entered through the narthex called Paradise, and found that the morning service was in progress. We waited for a while and looked at the Old Choir, which is in the Romanesque part of the church. I like the name “God’s rotary dial” which is sometimes used to refer to the small windows above the Baroque altar here. After a while we left, wandered across the stream called Aa which runs nearby, and came back much later.

The service had concluded, but we found that sections of the church were closed. A famous astronomical clock that we wanted to see could not be accessed. We walked around the huge church admiring the wooden statuary which is so common in these parts of Germany. The elaborate Epitaphs were not a patch on them. But I think what both of us liked was the doorbell in the shape of a dove; not terribly well made, but interesting.

The odd corner where the modern world was born

Even today, the basic laws of the modern world sound very radical: that states have the right to determine the system they live under, that minorities are protected within each state, and that states are sovereign. The small building called the Ratskammer (town hall) in Muenster looks similar to those around it, perhaps a few more decorative curlicues than the ones around it. Maybe a touch more gold. But in the mid 17th century the building in the featured photo was where diplomats representing 194 different European sovereigns gathered to hammer out a detailed treaty based on these principles.

We entered the building and saw many little groups speaking Dutch scattered about the long vestibule. We bought our tickets and walked into a little chamber at the end of the hall. The richly carved wood paneling was the only indication that this room was so important in history. A muted recording looped over a description of the historical events that happened in this room: the haphazard gathering of diplomats, the negotiations, and the signing of two treaties, one of which gave rise to The Netherlands.

I’d been here once more than thirty years back. Then, as now, I had a sense of alienation. Could the rules which govern the modern world have really been negotiated in such a small place? The Family walked around quite bemused. I busied myself taking photos of the wooden panels. Below them were hard wooden benches. I wondered whether the delegates brought their own cushions. Did they also bring their own food? The countryside around here must have been ravaged by a generation-long war. The room did look like the one in the painting by Gerard ter Borch, but that did not give the correct sense of size.

Two of the walls were covered with portraits of the diplomats at the peace conference. I saw many Dutch names, some Spanish, some French, and others whom I could not map on to a modern country. I’m not a historian, after all. We looked at the portraits and tried to imagine the people behind them. I must report utter failure; these were people from a different world who could see that something new was needed, but never lived in the world that they created. What political compromises did they have to make?

Over the centuries a place like this collects other things. One case contained a golden cockerel which predates the negotiations. Apparently it can hold about one bottle of wine. This was offered to important guests of the city as an honour. Muenster was a Hansa town, and could presumably afford these small indulgences.

The really weird stuff was in a different case: one of a pair of slippers and a severed hand. There are no real explanations about why they are there, just a bunch of stories. Eventually you figure out that they are there because no one can make a decision to move them elsewhere. They just make the room look a little more odd. To think that absolutely revolutionary changes were made in a room where such small decisions cannot be made!

A grisly church

The headless figures above a trough near the entrance to St. Lamberti’s Church in Muenster (featured photo) seemed all of one piece with the bloody history of this town. The aggressive bicyclists in this university town probably channel the violent history of religious wars which swirled around this region in the 16th and 17th centuries CE. The spire of this church still has three empty cages where the bishop of Muenster had the tortured bodies of Anabaptist rebels left to die.

A St. Lamberti’s church has been here from before the first recorded reference to it in 1189 CE; some say as early as 1000 CE. The present structure was about 75 years in construction, and was completed in 1450 CE. The tower had to be demolished in 1881 and rebuilt. The three cages were hoisted on to the new 90 meter tall tower on its completion in 1898. The bombed church was partially restored already in 1949, and the restoration was completed in 1978. If you have the misfortune to be selected as the Tuermer by the city, then you have to climb the tower every half hour between 9 PM and midnight to mark time by blowing a trumpet. The first woman to be struck by this bad luck is the current incumbent, Martje Solje.

The stone dove near the headless statues was altogether different in nature. I couldn’t find any references to when this sculpture was installed. From the style it seems to be modern, and could well have been placed here during the post-war restorations. This would make it contemporaneous with the modern German pacifist tendencies.

The inside was surprisingly bare. The main decorations were the wooden statues which are common in Westphalia. I looked at the gilded statue of St. Anthony of Padua and thought that anyone who keeps smiling as a child pulls at his scant hair deserves to be called a saint. I could sympathize with Anthony, but I preferred the expression on the face of St. Peter.

We came out of the church and walked around to the main entrance from the square. This side of the building has wonderful Gothic windows and many sculptures. There was a greatly detailed panel which depicts the family tree of Jesus (image above). Apparently, the mid-15th century piece was made in sandstone which eroded in less than four hundred years, and had to be replaced in 1913. The statues of saints also were replaced at the same time. An interesting story about the four evangelists (photo above) is that the restored statues show Goethe as Luke (extreme left) and Schiller as John (extreme right).

I wondered a little about the spikes around the heads of some of the statues. Medieval torture or stylized halos? It took me a while to understand that it was neither, just a utilitarian device to keep away pigeons. The relationship of this church with pigeons is worth pondering. Some saints have pigeons thrust on them, others have spikes driven into their heads to keep pigeons away. Does the city realize how confusing this can be for a foreigner?

There’s a fountain in the square in front of the church. Historically this was the graveyard of the church. Statues of a Westphalian farmer’s family decorate the well. I could not find a dating for this statue, but by the weathering you can see, it may need replacement in another hundred years.

Commoners take over the Court

Shaniwar Wada in Pune was the seat of the Peshwas in the declining years of the Maratha empire. The palace complex was built in the first third of the 18th century CE, and burnt down in 1828. A Peshwa was originally the prime minister of the Maratha king, but during these years became effectively the head of the empire, and the position became hereditary. Although the empire was not as strong as it was in the beginning of the 18th century, a large part of India’s politics was transacted in this complex. This former place of power is now effectively a walled garden for Puneris.

As we entered the main gate of the palace, I saw this middle aged man relaxing near the entrance. I wondered whether he was retired and found this a good place to get away from home and do some people watching, or whether he’d had a tiring day at work, and was just sitting here for a while before making his way home. It didn’t look like he was planning to stay here long.

From the ramparts I looked down at the front apron. Families were milling about, each trying to take a photo against the walls of the palace. As I watched, this girl positioned her family behind her and took a selfie. It took a couple of tries, but the one she’s examining in the photo above seemed to satisfy them all.

I positioned myself in front of this arch because the doorway and the stairs behind it made a nice picture. The photo would come to life when someone came down the stairs. I was lucky, the first people to descend were this young couple. I saw many couples like them in the complex. The seat of the Peshwas has now become a garden for couples to spend time in.

This lady was clearly determined to have a little time by herself. She was in a rather nice sari, sitting alone on the bench (it was very pleasant in the shade). She was quite relaxed while watching people around her. But she noticed me taking her photo and stiffened.

In 1818 the Maratha empire lost their final battle against the British forces in Khadki and Koregaon, not far from this palace. Just a short hundred years later, three or four generations, almost in living memory, the court of the Peshwas has become the playing ground of commoners. What could happen in another hundred?

Bricked-up doors

The Shaniwar Wada of Pune was briefly the center of political power in India: from its construction in the 1730s to the end of the Maratha empire in 1818. Strangely, only the northern wall of palace complex is built of stone; the other three walls are of brick. Walking along the walls I was stopped by the sight that you can see in the featured photo: an enormous arch which has been filled up, leaving a smaller off-center arched door which is now barred.

I peered through the locked grille, and found signs of more arches and doorways having been blocked. When were these changes made? The largest arch looks like a ceremonial entrance, large enough to admit an elephant. In the unsettled century when this palace was in use, it is conceivable that such a grand gate became a liability, and was successively reduced into smaller more defensive entry corridors. What we see today is probably the last defensive measure. The corridor behind the grille must be still accessible, since it is relatively free of litter; it was probably cleaned a month or so before I took the photo which you see above. I’m sure there are enough contemporary documents to enable someone to write an architectural history of the complex, although I’m not aware of such a book. Here is niche history waiting for an author.

Food on the go

If you need variety in food when you are traveling, then Kerala seems to be the place for you. Perhaps it is the relative prosperity, or perhaps it is the history of trading across the Indian Ocean, that brings so many small eats to Kerala. The little coffee shop that you can see in the featured photo springs from the legendary smuggling feat of Baba Budan. The story that I know is that 500 years ago this pilgrim to Mecca brought back to his home seven beans from Mocha hidden inside his clothes. This is the origin of the Arabica coffee for the cultivation of which the British laid waste to the Nilgiris 300 years later: converting one of the world’s most bio-diverse rainforests into plantations. This roadside shop, with its lovely kitchen, is just one of the modern links in a deep history which began with the cultivation of coffee in Ethiopia more than a thousand years ago.

The humble idli and vada, which, to most of Northern India, is the epitome of Southern Indian food, also seems to have a storied origin. Wikipedia predictably traces the idli back to Hindu kingdoms from 1100 years ago, but admits that most of the modern ingredients of idli are missing from these ancient recipes. The addition of rice, the day-long fermentation, and the steaming are processes inseparable from today’s idli. I found an old book review in The Hindu which claims that the idli, in its modern form, is a hybrid of steamed rice balls brought by early Arab traders to the Malabar coast, and the old tradition quoted by Wikipedia. It is possible that, as K.T. Achaya proposes, the far-eastern trade also brought in the technique of fermentation of food, which got added to this amalgam. The neat little breakfast served on a banana leaf has such a wonderfully mixed parentage!

Jaswant Thada

Jaswant Thada lies on the way from Jodhpur to Mehrangarh. This cenotaph for Jaswant Singh II, ruler of Jodhpur, was built in 1899 by his son, Sardar Singh. The white marble building with its profusion of domes stands above a tiered garden built with red stone walls. We passed the super-sized equestrian statue of Jaswant Singh II, and walked past Devkund before we saw the warm glow of the marble structure in the morning sun.

We were early enough that there were very few other visitors. The place is full of whimsical touches. We passed a memorial to a peacock which is supposed to have flown into the funeral pyre of the king. We walked around the mausoleum and peered into its main hall. There is a silver throne in the middle of the hall, and portraits of the Rathore rulers hang on the walls. Pigeons roost everywhere, passing through the exquisitely carved marble jali. We descended into the small but well-maintained garden to see the three other memorials. There was a great view of Jodhpur from the far corner of the garden. As we walked back towards the entrance we had a great view of Mehrangarh.

It is a nice and peaceful place, and we got in a little unexpected birding in the lake behind the mausoleum. More about that in a future post.

Written in the blood

Fanciful analogies between cities and animals often talk of roads as the arteries of a city. The metaphor is deep enough that if I wrote about an arterial road, you would read on without pausing. So, when I see a plaque set into a path in the center of Dortmund, I could think of it as what’s in the blood of the city. And clearly, as you can see in the featured photo, Dortmund has football in its blood. No matter which records get broken, Timo Koneitzka’s achievement will remain unmatched, because, as the plaque says, he scored the first goal ever in the Bundesliga.

We were in Dortmund on a Saturday to meet The Family’s family and friends. The moment we set foot there, we realized by the number of people in yellow jerseys and high spirits, that the other thing which is in the blood of Dortmund (or, at least, of Dortmunders) is beer. It was the day of a Bundesliga match between Borussia Dortmund, Timo Konietzka’s club, and Bayern Muenchen. Munich is, of course, the giant amongst German clubs, as you can see if you look at the records of the Bundesliga. But Dortmund is no pushover. It is reputed to be just behind Munich in terms of the money it raises, and is one of the most successful clubs in the Liga.

Hopeful vendors stood around selling scarves of the two clubs. While Achim explained the Bundesliga standings (Dortmund’s eternal rival, Schalke 04, stands well above in this year’s league tables) to The Family, I wondered whether there are reversible scarves. No. Club loyalties are too deep. In a little open square with a fair, I found the Dortmund supporters clustered around tables in a pub (photo above). Across the square, another pub was awash in the red of Munich supporters. There is no fraternizing.

Other information is also carried in the blood. A few days before, we’d met someone who went to university in Luebeck. While talking to her about the city, we’d also talked a little bit about the Hanseatic League. My memory of the Hansa was that it included trading towns along the south coast of the Baltic sea: Luebeck, Rostock, Bremen, Hamburg, Gdansk. I didn’t think of Dortmund, Cologne and Osnabrueck as part of the Hansa. When I looked it up later I was flabbergasted by the reach of this medieval trading alliance, both in time (from the 12th century to the 17th) and in geography (from the Baltic inland to Cologne and Berlin). Dortmund turned out to play an important role as a regional capital of the League in the 15th century. Plaques set in roads and pavements are nice ways of reminding people of the history of a city.

The most beautiful square in Berlin

When you read tourist guides to Berlin they tell you that Gendamenmarkt is the most beautiful square in Berlin. The reason, as we gathered, is that it is flanked by two churches with beautiful domes. What you see in the featured photo is the one called the French church. This apparently belonged to the Calvinist French called the Huguenots, some of whom found refuge in Prussia from persecution under Louis XIV of France. The statue in the foreground is that of the German polymath Friedrich von Schiller. The church was built in 1701, the square built in 1773, and the statue erected in 1871. The companion German church, which was undergoing restoration on the day I was there, was built at the same time as the French church. The main difference between the two was the language the service was held in. The Huguenots used French, whereas the Calvinists and Lutherans across the square had their service in German.

The statue of Schiller stands in front of the concert house. When the former National Theatre was destroyed in a fire in 1817, it was replaced by this building. It’s not very often that you find the statue of a lioness in front of a building, but this had gender balance: with a lion and a lioness guarding the steps. I was able to trace discussions of gender equality in the Prussian parliament to 1902, but maybe these guardian statues tell us that there was discussion of this issue outside the Landtag before that.

We walked around the square. It was destroyed in the war and rebuilt by the 1970s. I followed The Family in window shopping, until we came to a chocolate shop on Charlottenstrasse, just behind the square. I think I was the first through the door! It is a great relief to have a box of good chocolates with you on a day when you intend to walk across a city. As soon as we stepped out of the shop we saw that the clear skies of the morning had given way to threatening clouds. I stood in an archway on the street and took the photo of the other side of the French church which you can see in the photo above.

There was a lot of activity on the roof. I’d never seen anyone trying to replace roof tiles on such a steep slope. We watched the activity for a while, without figuring out whether two people walking across ladders was some kind of safety measure. I’d checked the weather in the morning and it had promised a sunny day. As soon as we left the arcade from where we’d watched the work, it began to rain. It was just two blocks till Unter den Linden, but we were pretty damp by the time we turned the corner and walked into a cafe! So much for weather predictions.