Saturday, August 30, 2014

Alchemy for beginners

(click on image to enlarge)
The Ascent of the Mons Philosophorum
Watercolour and Photoshop™
©2014 Charlene Brown

Alchemy was a medieval chemical science or speculative philosophy that aimed to achieve perfection. Its specific goals included the transformation of base metals into gold or at least silver, and the discovery of a universal cure for disease.

It evolved as an art - not as a science. Processes developed by alchemists never succeeded in producing gold or even silver, but they did produce building materials such as plaster and mortar, tar and asphalt, fuels for heat and light, artificial gems, medicines, soaps,  cosmetics, beer and wine. Many alchemical processes were discovered by accident, but once mastered, were passed on by an apprenticeship system.

The words ‘alchemy’ and ‘chemistry’ were used interchangeably during most of the 17th century. During the Enlightenment, however, a distinction was drawn because of the rise of modern science with its emphasis on rigorous quantitative experimentation and disdain for ancient wisdom… and the increasing disrepute of alchemists, who claimed through trickery, to achieve perfection – the ultimate goal of alchemy.

Using Photoshop, I have overlaid the sky with some popular alchemy symbols for metals, processes and measures – pounds, ounces and my personal favourite, the scruple. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

The most touristy part of the Dalmatian Coast

The Makarska Riviera
Watercolour sketch
©2014 Charlene Brown

Makarska is presented apologetically as the most touristy part of the south Dalmatian Coast… Compared to some Rivieras, it’s not bad at all. Though over 60 kilometers in length, the whole region is only a few kilometres wide, jammed picturesquely between the Dinaric Alps and the Adriatic Sea.

Monday, August 25, 2014

An oddly placed wall

Watercolour and crayon sketch
©2014 Charlene Brown

On June 4 we journeyed from Dubrovnik to Split, with a stop in the fortified town of Ston. The walls of Ston are considered to be outstanding examples of medieval fortification. Originally over seven kilometres in length, they form the second longest wall in Europe. (Yes, Hadrian’s Wall is the longest.)

The outer wall, shown zig-zagging up to the right in this painting, goes beyond the ridge and extends across the entire width of the isthmus of the peninsula on which Ston is situated.  This strikes me as the only part of the wall that makes sense, as it was intended to protect the valuable salt pans at Ston, as well as acting as a second line of defence for Dubrovnik.

Studying the rest of the wall for the fifteen minutes it took to start this sketch, I was unable to figure out why it was draped as it is in the cliffs above the town, so I read up about it when I got home.  I learned it’s laid out in what is described as an ‘irregular pentangle.’ They didn’t say why. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Maybe the most beautiful Islamic bridge in all of Europe

Mostar Bridge
Watercolour and Photoshop™
Charlene Brown

This is a reconstruction of a 16th century Ottoman bridge at Mostar, in Bosnia & Herzegovina.  The original bridge stood for 427 years but was destroyed in 1993 during the Croatian-Bosnian War. The rebuilt bridge opened in 2004.

It is probably well guarded now, but armed guards are not so much in evidence as a solid protective coating of tourists! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Croatia in time for Dinner

©2014 Charlene Brown

We arrived in Dubrovnik just after sunset, and the iconic view of the harbour from the approach along the cliffs looked about as serene and peaceful as any city could be.

(click on image to enlarge)
We got a quite different impression in the following days when we toured the fortifications and were reminded of the turbulent history of this part of the world – especially some very recent history.  Some of the now-restored buildings within the walls feature pictures of the night of December 6, 1991 when Dubrovnik was attacked and burned by the Serbian and Montenegrin Army. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Virtual Paintout on Kinmen Island

(click on image to enlarge)
Jinsha Township
Watercolour and oil pastel
©2014 Charlene Brown
The Virtual Paintout is on KinmenIsland this month. This island is part of a small archipelago administered by Taiwan. As such it is part of the Republic of China (ROC), but it is also claimed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This issue hasn’t been raised too vehemently lately, as far as I know, and all appeared calm when the Google car was making its rounds.
Here’s the link in Google Streetview to the peaceful scene I selected.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No longer on the 'Road Less Travelled'

The churches of St. George and Our Lady of Skrpjela
Watercolour sketch
©2014 Charlene Brown

Having filed through the narrow streets of the last couple of walled cities with a growing number of tourists, we knew we were no longer on the road less travelled… and when we headed for Croatia along the beautiful Boka Kotorska, we found ourselves on a route parallel to several huge cruise ships. We were all focused on a striking feature of this bay -- two churches uniquely situated on an artificial island created by sinking old and seized ships loaded with rocks.  According to legend, local seamen, keeping an ancient oath sworn after an icon of the Madonna and Child was found on July 22, 1452, would add a rock upon returning from each successful voyage, and the custom continues… Every year on July 22, local residents go out in boats and add some rocks to make Skrpjela just a little bigger.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Another day, another UNESCO World Heritage Site

Fortified city of Kotor
Watercolour sketch
©2014 Charlene Brown

Kotor is spectacularly situated on the fjord-like Boka Kotorska, beneath and surrounded by massive fortifications built during the Venetian Period (1420-1797 with intermittent Ottoman occupation). During the nineteenth century Kotor was ruled by the Hapsburgs and the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, then was captured by the British and eventually restored to the Hapsburgs. After World War I, during which Kotor had been one of the three main ports of the Austro-Hungarian Navy, all of Montenegro became part of Yugoslavia

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On to Montenegro...

Stari Bar
Watercolour sketch
©2014 Charlene Brown

On June 1, we traveled through Montenegro to Croatia, stopping at two spectacular and historic cities. The first was Stari Bar (meaning old Bar) an ancient city with a violent history.

Originally Byzantine, the town came under Serbian rule in 1054, later was in a brief union with Venice until taken back by Serbia, and was absorbed into the Ottoman Empire in 1571. The Montenegrins eventually got rid of the Ottomans by blowing up their own aqueduct in 1878, but then had to abandon the city when the re-built aqueduct was destroyed in an earthquake in 1979.

The new town of Bar was built and is flourishing far below on the coast, and restoration of Stari Bar has begun.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Islam in Albania

Tabakeve Mosque
Watercolour and CP
©2014 Charlene Brown

In Tirana, the capital of Albania, the Tabakeve mosque and lovely Islamic Tabakeve bridge are now situated amidst a deteriorating apartment complex, begun in 1959 by Russian engineers and completed by the Chinese government after the Soviet Union cut off aid to Albania. Multi-coloured panels were pretty popular everywhere at that time, but most didn’t age this badly.

After a walking tour of Tirana, we continued on to spend the night in Sckoder, where huge Catholic and Orthodox churches were also in evidence, but were reminded by our guide that Albania is the one country in Europe where Muslims form the largest faith group.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Hoxha Bunkers of Albania

Three of many thousands
Watercolour sketch
©2014 Charlene Brown

On May 31 we crossed the Albanian border and got our first look at a few of these odd structures, installed during the communist rule of Enver Hoxha (1944-1985) to protect Albania from its enemies. The people believed, with some justification, that their enemies were pretty much the rest of the world after Hoxha fell out of favour with the Soviet Union.

Almost three quarters of a million Hoxha bunkers were built, and their removal has proved to be economically impossible for this nation as it slowly recovers from all the years of repression and isolation from the world economy.  Most remain in place, concentrated along the borders and the Adriatic coast. A few have been repurposed as fruit or souvenir stands, and at least one has become an art installation in a park in Tirana, positioned with an equally-elegant piece of the Berlin Wall.