South Africans were gifted with surprising snow near Karoo, so I invite you to a Christmas in July with fresh images of snow, a Christmas tree from Bucharest and some magical doors for Thursday Doors.
While we enjoy a morning as sunny as an ice cream up here, near Pretoria, with temperatures of minus 1 degree Celsius (it is winter after all), further in the south of South Africa Antarctic pulses surprised us with snowfall.
These images were taken by members of our (very) extended South African family and we thank them for sharing the magic with us, special thanks to Cobus Pretorius.
Oudtshoorn is a town in the Klein Karoo area of South Africa’s Western Cape, some 1200km south of Pretoria. Karoo is derived from the local Khoisan language, meaning ‘land of thirst.’
One would imagine that mermaids belong to the sea, and their legends are to be forever rocked by waves. It is not so.
Mermaids, Watermeid, are said to inhabit ( have inhabited?) the rock pools between the Klein (Little) and Groot (Great) Karoo. That’s less than 50km from Oudtshoorn, and along the Meiringspoort mountain pass. Here, charming mermaids with alabaster hair cascading over their shoulders snatch, not lure, travelers, pulling them into their underground water holes. And ancient Khoi-San rock paintings still illustrate this legend .
Further up to SwartbergPass (Black Mountain Pass in Afrikaans) the road twists and turns, as these mountains mean business, shielding the Little Karoo to the north.
SwartbergPass is located between Oudtshoorn in the south and Prince Albert in the north. This time, only the bravest shall pass through the foggy snowfall.
A car door covered by a layer of fluffy snow. Hard to resist the urge of tracing a Christmas tree on it, isn’t it?
It reminded me of a past winter holiday we spent in Sighisoara, Romania. Here, a century old house with a dragon emblem on it. I particularly like the glass bricks embedded in its door:
Another winding road, one that’s best to take on foot, as it snakes among medieval homes, and still standing (see the Historical Monument badge on the blue home?) in the upper fortress of Sighisoara:
And since we celebrate surprising snow over Karoo and a Christmas in July, here’s a Christmas tree from Bucharest:
Today the Palace of Agriculture and Domains, the edifice you see above and below was inaugurated in 1895 after the plans of Swiss architect Louis Pierre Blanc, the main building designed in the French Renaissance style. End of 19th century was a time of modernizing Bucharest.
I like this architect quite a bit as he also designed the main building of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy Carol Davila, Bucharest, where I studied (in a different lifetime). And a gorgeous place it is too – down to the basement where the dissection labs were buried.
For Dan Antion’s exciting Thursday Doors – weekly challenge for door lovers from all over the world hosted over on his incredible blog No Facilities.
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Let’s see how Hope Has Multiple Faces, 100 words story, for each one of the plebeians, the free inhabitants of the (once) vast Roman Empire., after we saw the results on the Roman Empire of Greed, the Roman Kind.
Hope Has Multiple Faces
Life under Roman ruling offered another face to each new civitates.
To Rescuturme, a brave Dac soldier’s widow, it meant marriage to a Roman colonist, new traditions, and peace, finally.
For Comosicus, village priest, a new worship service, sung in Latin.
For Zoutulas, recruited to serve in Egypt, the hope of an adventurous life joining an eternally winning army.
For Agripina, who birthed seven to see two into adulthood, a winter alone. Her youngest, Dadas, had turned, ripping the rewards of a now flourishing wine-trade. Her eldest, Daizus, was lost to the evergreen woods, laying in waiting; the upraising bubbling.
Civitas, plural Civitates, citizenship in ancient Rome.
The plebeians, also called plebs, were, in ancient Rome, the general body of free Roman citizens who were not patricians.
Rescuturme is a Dacian name that translates to ‘brilliant splendor’
Comosicus was a Dacian High Priest and King who lived in the 1st century BC
Zoutula, together with other Dacian names, were recorded in Egyptian ostraca (shards of pottery) after the Roman conquest has recruited many Dac soldiers who were later stationed in East Egypt. Perhaps the ostracon was the very first military dog-tag.
NEW: A – Z, 100-Wors Stories are inspired by Transylvania’s history, from the Paleolithic Period to WW1:
The Oldest Christmas Story. Enjoy! Merry Christmas! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
It had snowed on the Gray-Haired Mountain that December and the winter’s icy breath had rolled down along the valleys of the Judaean Mountains, covering them with a white blanket that dissipated as soon as one set foot on it.
Some might not even call these mountains such, but rather nests of sleeping turtles for their soft curvatures, yet they all agree that it is these mountains here, as old as the first thought, that God uses to describe His omniscient and constant presence to His people.
It had snowed that December and the air smelled clean, like a white linen that’s been washed and set in the sun to dry. And this, some say, it wasn’t by chance.
It was a time when ambitious, assertive republics became empires and a time of skilled, yet overlooked nations. It was a time when the Roman Empire reached its peak, stretching westwards across Hispania, eastwards across Pannonia and Dacia, and even over the big sea, Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) how Romans called the Mediterranean, and all the way to the African continent, and to Judea.
Desiring to know how many subjects he ruled over, ravenous Roman emperor Caesar Augustus gave a decree that everyone be counted. But not in the places where they lived, where they had business and had built homes, but in the place where the head of each family had been born. Be it where it may be.
And so the people packed up their families, provisions to last them the entire journey, and traveled. The wealthy ones in carriages, the poorest ones by foot, others with the aid of donkeys. None thought to fight the Emperor’s authority, for in those times, much like now, people recognized and obeyed the tradition of authority.
So did Joseph and his wife Mary who traveled for ninety long miles (about 144 kilometers) in a cold winter, along dangerous roads littered with pirates of the desert and robbers too. For a whole week.
They started their journey from their home in Nazareth, perhaps after a rushed breakfast of dried bread, and followed the flat bed of Jordan river heading south along the water. Its gushing waters would have made them feel, at first, as if they too advanced at great speed. Yet soon after the first excitements of a trip wore off the path, too, somehow went uphill, then downhill again, uphill and downhill. And the journey soon became a tiresome one.
Especially for Mary, who was with child.
And where a traveler would have covered 20 miles in a day (as much as 32 kilometers), Mary and Joseph could only do half. Yet Joseph did not push Mary, and Mary did not complain. They drew strength from each other and they put one foot after the next. Through rain and sleet, for winter days are rainy in Judea, and winter nights turn frigid. One foot after the next, thinking of the end of their journey. Of the birth of their child. Hoping for a healthy babe, and a safe return back to Nazareth. To their life as they knew it.
Maybe Joseph’s feet turned wet and cold. Maybe Mary’s hands became stiff on the reins, her back aching. Joseph would have walked by her side, one hand supporting his heavy wife. Mary would have caressed his beard. And they would have found the strength to smle at one another.
And when they stopped for lunch, they probably shared some oil with bread that Mary had packed for their trip. And in the evening, they probably devoured more bread, this time with herbs and oil. A traveler’s frugal meal.
Thus Mary and Joseph traveled that December, overcome by the long journey ahead and by the heavy woolen cloaks on their backs, but shielding an ember of hope in their hearts. It was this hope that saw them through the next part of their journey, through the forests lining the Jordan River, forests where bears, wild boars and even lions made den.
Finally, they made it to Bethlehem, but with so many people returning here to be counted, and with Mary and Joseph arriving late, the two could find no space at Joseph’s distant family, nor in an inn, where Joseph asked, although their money was tight.
Some space, a dry roof, was finally found in a manger, by a busy tavern. And since it was time, and Mary had been traveling for a whole week, the babe was born that night.
Donkeys and a sheep or two were also nearby, sharing the dry barn, their breath warm, smelling of hay, their bodies radiating heat. And perhaps that other travelers were also taking shelter in that small space, and the women would have helped Mary, for it is human nature to help those in need. Maybe Joseph even went to find a midwife, as it was custom at the birth of a baby.
The baby was born, healthy, surrounded by love.
And all was good in that stable, all was good in the world.
The ember of hope that Mary and Joseph had carried in their hearts was finally there, and it is said that a star just as bright, maybe even brighter, shone that night above the manger.
Why was that?
God had a grand plan with His special Son. And He wanted all to know of His birth, yet He did not tell the Emperor of Rome, nor the King of Judea. God was a God of all people, so this is whom He let know first.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” said He, through an angel to three shepherds – and their woolly dog – who were watching their flock on a field not far from the manger. The shepherds were not wealthy in money, nor had they many sheep, but they had faith. And so they were not scared by the sight of the angel, their woolly dog did not bark, yet they rejoiced, feeling God’s presence, and immediately left for Bethlehem, to see this special babe. And, soon after, to tell others of the great happening. And to show them the star.
Yet humankind was not quite ready to accept the authority of such a tradition without proof. God knew it, Jesus knew it too.
Had Mary, the mother, known it as well, in her heart?
Had she know that her smile for her newborn son would have been her last smile? That securing her baby in her arms, in that rugged barn, would have been the last time she’ll ever be able to keep him safe?
The tapestry of the oldest Christmas story took centuries to weave and it needed many hands to be finished, so that we can enjoy its story and its meaning today, an ember to treasure in our own hearts.
Scholars may argue here and there. 🙂 But I do hope that by reading this, the Oldest Christmas Story, some peace will come upon you this December.
Merry Christmas! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (The Gospel According to St. Luke)
As we saw it from our yard tonight, the Christmas Star or the Star of Bethlehem:
The Christmas Star, or the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Astronomers call it Saturn’s planetary dance. The two planets appear to be separated by as much as the thickness of coin, when actually they are 400 million miles apart!
Jupiter and Saturn line up every 20 years or so, but this year they line up in December .
And we also spotted a Christmas tree made of clouds:
Not too long ago, at least comparing to the time that separates us from the Paleolithic Period, when traveling was part of our everyday life but so was war, World War II to be exact, a 33 000 years old fossilized human skull was discovered, purely by accident. By a team of miners.
This week for Thursday Doors I have included an edited extract from my WIP calling itWinter Story for Thursday Doors. The doors featured here are from Brasov, Romania.
🙂 For Dan’s Thursday Doors blog feature over at No Facilities – do visit and you can participate too by creating your own blog post celebrating a world of doors. 🙂
A Winter Story for Thursday Doors
“The little man shook hands. Left, then right. He introduced himself and bowed in turn, first towards the girl, then towards the boy.
The girl felt a wave of heat spreading over her cheeks and thanked the stars for the hat covering her ears. She stomped her feet and exhaled with force hoping that the steam will remind all that it’s the middle of winter, enough to explain her red face. She’d been so shallow to call the old man ‘a jacket cladding a dwarf’, while all he did was dragging his body along the street, each step a wrestle with the fresh snow.
Yet she hadn’t been that wrong, had she? She lowered her gaze, her eyes sweeping over the woolly coat standing in front of her. It covered everything from above the man’s ears to the ground. Its hem was trimmed with white from having being pushed and pulled along the snow-laden streets, while its collar was lifted and secured in place by a scarf so wide that it covered both nose and mouth. But a pair of smiling eyes met hers – had he seen her studying him? – proof that a human being did live inside that coat. The eyes and the shopping bag on wheels left half a meter behind, in front of an arched red entrance mirroring the one they had tried to gain access to, were her proof of life.
Once again that morning they found themselves in front of a metal gate with an arched top and a small door carved into it. Above it rose a centuries old stone building that offered little protection against the weather to anyone trying to get in.
The small man retrieved a set of keys and began searching for the right one, a slow job given his thick gloves that hid arthritic fingers. Behind him, the boy scanned the names on the building’s door buzzer. Three all together. He did a quick math: two windows per apartment. They must be tiny.
‘Do you know when your neighbors open for business?’ the boy was back and had bent his knees to stoop low near the short man, his voice echoing far in the narrow street. He’d spoken loud on purpose. Aren’t all old men kind of deaf? The girl pushed her hands hard into her pockets and looked at her feet, wishing she could hide in the snow, with her toes.
The little man held up a key, shaking it like a prize. ‘Found it!’ his eyes smiled left, then right.
Ignoring the snowdrift, the boy strode around the old man, aiming for his other ear. ‘Your neighbors,’ he called pointing across the road, and more steam poured from his mouth.
The old man kept smiling and nodding, waving his gloved hand left and right, the tip of the key sticking out like a present.
The boy pressed his hands against his hat and slowly pulled it over his face. The girl turned, her eyes lingering across the road. Her eyes, big like a child’s on Christmas morning when he finds no presents underneath the tree.
The old man made four small steps towards the red gate, then stopped. ‘Come, come,’ he called and his voice, although not loud, carried well. Yet the steam remained behind the scarf, trapped. ‘We’ll have tea, warm up and talk.’ Then he added, in a softer tone, ‘we’ll talk about my neighbors too,’ while his eyes narrowed on the girl, the way a grandfather would to sooth an upset child. And he smiled again, lifting his hand that still squeezed the shiny key, like a prize, while his other hand closed slowly on the handle of his bag on wheels. Yet the bag didn’t yield. The old man shook its handle in distress, as if now he was the child. The wheels held, frozen in the ice masked by fresh snow.
The boy jumped to the rescue and freed the shopping bag pulling it towards the red metal gate, his head tilted, astonished by its unexpected weight. And the girl followed.
The first thing that changed was the snow underfoot. It remained outside the red door as they crossed its threshold. On the other side ancient cobble stones paved the ground and their pattern opened in a half a circle, shaped like the vestibule that welcomed them. Rather large, so large.
As soon as the little door closed behind silence enveloped them, only the muffled echo of their footsteps resonating against the ancient walls. The space, wider than either of the visitors expected, was equally shared by the three families living in the building, as was the small Christmas tree placed in the middle and decorated with hand made paper snowflakes and tin stars.
The ozone rich air, too dry in the icy winter to carry any scents, fell in a strong embrace with the homely scents of Christmas. It smell of pine, and of wood, but above all of vanilla and cinnamon, the warm scents of freshly baked goodies, cozonac, sweet bread, summer’s sunshine trapped in winter.
The small man parked his trolley in what seemed to be his side of the hallway and busied with his bunch of keys again. So many, thought the boy, and only one to open the door to his apartment. The girl remained behind, frozen by the Christmas tree, her attention on one decoration in particular. A hedgehog fashioned out of slender paper cones trimmed with silver foil. A thin string was threaded through each cone pulling them together to shape a hedgehog. Googly eyes and a bead for a nose completed the face. He was white and silver, as if covered by snow.
‘I had one just like this when I was small,’ she said and her words lifted in surprise.
There was the noise of a key turning in the lock again and of a door swinging open. And they all went inside the old man’s home.’