The Pure Essence of the Good Life (Chapter 5) “Food, Grandeur and Ways of Living” by Gary S. Smolker

The Pure Essence of the Good Life

Chapter 5

“Food, Grandeur and Ways of Living”

by Gary S. Smolker

LIVING LIFE VIVIDLY

I am 66 years old.  I recently went on a 17 day trip with my youngest daughter Leah.  During the trip (which lasted from February 7 through February 24, 2012)  Leah and I celebratred her 24th birthday in Istanbul, Turkey.

I am still digesting the extraordinary things I learned and saw and the delightful time I had during that adventure.

I have a new way of looking at the world that is now a part of me as a result of having been on that trip.

I lived life vividly by being engaged in non-stop sight-seeing in Istanbul, Cappadocia (Turkey), Vienna and Prague with my daughter Leah.

I learned the name “Istanbul” was derived from a combination of “Islambol” (“city of Islam” in Turkish) and “eis tin Polin” (“to the city” in Greek). Today, Istanbul’s population is over 13 million and increases constantly.  Istanbul is the cultural and commercial center of Turkey.

In Istanbul Leah and I visited architecturally and historically significant world-famous buildings and amazing shopping venues and enjoyed especially delicious, unique and exotic Turkish cuisine.

Cappadocia is a place in Turkey where Christians persecuted by Roman authorities supposedly lived in caves and created beautifully decorated churches in caves.

According to Leah, climbing mountains in order to get into mountain caves to see where ancient Christians lived and worshipped and taking a balloon ride were must do things in Cappadocia.

In Cappadocia, Leah and I mingled with busloads of college age students from Korea exploring the caves and saw skies full of balloons full of tourists. Leah and I took a one hour balloon ride ourselves.

Although Leah and I stayed several nights in separate hotel rooms that supposedly were caves in a mountain, based on the comparative price of a balloon ride to the price of two hotel rooms, the biggest money making service “industry” in Cappadocia appeared to me to be the “balloon ride industry.”

There was no escaping history on this trip.  In Vienna and Prague, Leah and I visited or walked around castles, churches and other famous palaces and saw many museums and old buildings in many sections of each city.

Traveling with Leah in Istanbul, Cappadocia, Vienna and Prague was non-stop going from one place to another ALL DAY.

A Trusting Pleasure

Leah, a recent graduate from the University of California in San Diego, flew in from Tel Aviv to meet me in Istanbul.  She decided where we would go, what we would see and what we would do.  She did not want anyone else to decide what we would see and was opposed to taking guided tours.

Before we met in Istanbul, Leah had read up on every place she wanted us to see and made a list of everything to do on this trip.  I knew nothing about any of the places she wanted to see and knew nothing about any of the places we saw.

Having Leah plan which places we visited and everything we saw was a “trusting pleasure.” It will take me months or years to digest the sights and sounds, and ways of living we witnessed and learned about.

A HEART STOPPING OCCURRENCE

Shortly after I met Leah in the airport in Istanbul, I hired a limousine company, located in the airport, to transport us to and from our hotel so that we could make plane connections to fly from Istanbul to Nevsetir (the airport nearest to Cappadocia).  The same limousine company was also hired to pick us up when we returned from Cappadocia to take us to our hotel and to pick us up early the next morning from our hotel in Istanbul to take us to the airport to catch our plane to Ankara (the capital of Turkey) which would connect with our plane to Vienna.

A limousine service representative was not there to meet us when our plane arrived in Istanbul an hour late from Cappadocia. We don’t read or speak Turkish. We didn’t know where our hotel was located or how to drive there.  After we went to the limousine company’s office in the airport we were driven to our hotel by the limousine company.

The next morning we were picked up at our hotel by the limousine company and driven to the same airport in Istanbul where we had hired the limousine company to catch our plane to Ankara.  We had no idea that there are two airports in Istanbul.

When we tried to check in at the check-in counter for our flight to Ankara, we were informed that we were at the wrong airport.

We were informed that our flight to Ankara from Istanbul was a flight which originated at another – a different – airport in Istanbul. There was no time to get to the other airport to catch that flight for which we had purchased our original ticket.

The people at the check-in counter told us to go to the ticketing office for their airline, that was nearby, to get new tickets for a flight leaving from the airport where we found ourselves.

The ticketing office exchanged tickets and told us we might not be able to catch the connecting flight from Ankara to Vienna because the flight from Ankara to Vienna left an hour after the flight we were now booked on from Istanbul to Ankara arrived in Ankara.

Turkish Airlines very efficiently handled the ticketing exchange which allowed us to fly out from the current airport.

A JAW DROPPING EXPERIENCE

I had many pleasant experiences on this trip.

I had one jaw dropping event during our travels.  This occurred in the Muayede Lounge in the Dolmabache Palace in Istanbul.

The 4.5 Ton Crystal Chandelier

My jaw dropped when I saw a magnificent crystal chandelier weighing 4.5 tons hanging over the largest one piece carpet in the world from a height of 36 meter from the imposing dome ceiling in the Muayede Lounge.

Thirty six meters is 118.1 feet (72% of the length of an Olympic swimming pool).

[The claim that this is the largest one piece carpet in the world is made in a book entitled “Dolmabache Palace” which I bought at the bookstore at the Domabache Palace.  ISBN 978-994-767-00-2.  Published by Dura Basim Yayin Reklamcilik ve Gida San. Tic. Ltd., Sti. http://www.durubasim.com.tr .  The copyright for this book is dated 2007.]

Palace records indicate this chandelier was ordered on April 9, 1852.

It was manufactured in England.

The chandelier arrived in 67 crates and was installed during the second half of the year 1853.

The chandelier was set up by two technical specialists from England who stayed in Istanbul for two months.

This marvelous chandelier has 750 crystal illumination elements.

It is equipped with four hundred and sixty original candle holders. The number of these has been increased by adding light bulbs to the inner parts of the chandelier, thus reinforcing its power of illumination.

Rectangular, lozenge-patterned cut crystal mirrors zigzag all around the chandelier on the first and third levels. The mirrors have been linked by crystal blocks.  There are thirty-two mirrors on each level.

At over 150 years, this colossal chandelier is the oldest crystal chandelier in the Palace.

Getting back to the Muayede Lounge:

Four Magnificent Crystal Candelabras

On the floor in the four corners of the lounge are four magnificent candelabras made of crystal.

The crystal candelabra at the four corners of the Muayede Lounge enhance the loftiness of the location with their design.

Each candelabrum stands on an octagonal pedestal of colored porphyry and has three levels. The pedestal is made of leaf-shaped cut crystals, oyster shells, geometric motifs and rectangular cut parts. A column made of joined cut crystal projects out from a plate of leaf-shaped cut crystals and tapers upwards. Plates of leaf-shaped cut crystal modules on three levels support the branches. These plates are encircled with large prismatic pendants while the candlestick dishes are surrounded with smaller ones.

The large plate on the first level has eight main branches, each of which is split into three smaller ones.  On the second level are sixteen smaller branches and on the third level are ten.  The candelabrum ends at the top with tulips and a prismatic crystal.

Each of these candelabra, of which there are only four in the palace, outshine most medium-sized chandeliers with their illumination powers and strengthen the light of the great chandelier from the four corners of the Muayede Lounge.

The lounge itself covers over 2000 square meters (about half an acre) and has 56 columns.

Here the sultan would receive the greetings of male members of the dynasty, the viziers and the deputies and chamberlains. The lounge was also used for official receptions and gatherings.

The grandeur of this lounge is difficult to describe and maybe even impossible without seeing.

DOLMABAHCE PALACE

Dolmabahce Palace was both the official and private residence of six successive sultans, as well as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century.

Throughout the Palace is displayed the best products manufactured by the most prominent names in the 19th century glass industry and the art of glazing.

Being in the Dolmabahce Palace is akin to being in a museum exhibit of crystal.

The Palace was built at a time of great financial trouble, during and shortly after the Crimean War.  The Crimean War with Russia took place between 1853 and 1856 and left the Ottoman Empire in a condition to be compelled to borrow money for the first time.

Sultan Abdulmecit, who built Dolmabahce Palace, and his family moved into the Palace in 1856.

While he was Sultan, he assigned the rule of the Empire to his viziers and did not interfere with daily and routine management issues.

The period of Abdulmecit is noteworthy not only due to the construction of this Palace but also due to the prodigality of his life in the Palace.

According to the book referred to above: “He tried to forget and ignore the troubles expecially about public finance by drinking heavily and in the arms of young and beautiful palace ladies. This ‘fast’ life resulted in being the father of many children (he had 23 daughters and 17 sons that we know of) …” 

Sultan Abdulmecit only lived for five years at Dolmabahce Palace.

He died in Istanbul in June 1861 when he was only 38 years old.  

The Sultans who lived in the Domabahce Palace were a colorful bunch.  They lived in the Palace during the decline of the Ottoman Empire.

A three dimensional photographic tour of the Palace may be taken on the world-wide web at http://www.3dmekanlar.com/en/dolmabahce-palace.html.

VISITING TOPKAPI PALACE AND DOLMABAHCE PALACE WILL CHANGE YOUR UNDERSTANDINGS OF THE STORY OF QUEEN ESTHER IN THE BIBLE, OF THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN ISLAMIC COUNTRIES AND YOUR PERCEPTION OF THE CURRENT IRANIAN NUCLEAR THREAT

Queen Esther’s name seems to betray a very assimilated background, sounding like the Babylonian goddess Ishtar.

According to the Bible, Queen Esther was a Jewish girl who won a beauty contest, married the gentile king of Persia, and ultimately (although she was a slave) used her position to save the Jews from a brilliantly conceived program of extermination.

Topkapi Palace was initially constructed much later, between 1460 and 1478, by Sultan Mehmed II, the conquer of Constantinople.

The Palace served as the home of the Ottoman Sultans and their court until 1856 when Sultan Abdulmecit moved his family into the Dolmabahce Palace which is located on the Bhosphorous.

It is one thing to know that the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople.

It is another thing to visit Topkapi Palace, to read about life (who did what) in the  Topkapi Palace and to reflect upon where the history of ideas in the mental tool box of Islamic “rulers” and their people will lead them.

Some of us live oblivious to the history of the Ottoman Empire and take for granted the idea that Islam does not have a history of tolerance of other people and the Rulers of Islamic countries do not have a history of not pitting one group against another.

In the far distant past, Ottoman Sultans with brilliant emotional antennae constructed elaborate legal codes in order for all people in their domains to be able to live in harmony with the many different cultural and religious minorities that inhabited the countries which the Ottoman Sultans had conquered. Through laws enacted by these sultans legally required ways of living harmoniously integrated the culturally and religiously different groups that lived in their wide flung domains.

Those Ottoman sultans wanted their subjects to prosper; they understood that the real seedbeds of prosperity are communal trust and law and order.  They did not pit one identity group against another.

TOPKAPI PALACE

Topkapi Palace is huge.

Topkapi Palace covers approximately 700,000 square meters, 173 acres, 7,535,000 square feet.

The Palace is surrounded by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus, and the Golden Horn.

[The Bosphorous is a narrow strait forming a boundary between the European and Asian parts of Turkey and connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Mamara which is connected by the Dardanellas to the Aegean Sea, and thereby to the Mediterranean Sea.  It has been an important trade route since ancient times.  It has become particularly important to the oil industry: Today, oil from Russian ports, such as Novorossyisk, is exported by tankers to western Europe and the U.S. via the Bosphorous and the Dardanelles straits.

The Golden Horn is a natural harbor on the Bosphorus.  It was the ancient harbor of Istanbul during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods.]

On the land side, the Palace is surrounded by 1,400-meter-long [.8699 , miles-long, 4,593 feet-long] high encircling walls — known as the “Royal Walls” — while on the side facing the sea it is surrounding by Byzantine walls.

The basic design of the Palace is centered on various courtyards and gardens around which are offices in buildings devoted to state business, building and pavilions serving as the residence of the sovereign, and buildings set aside for court employees who lived in the Palace.

The Imperial Kitchens

 The Imperial Kitchens served the Ottoman royal family as well as the thousands of palace employees.  Food was prepared for at least five thousand people per day, and even more on special occasions.

All of the pots used to cook food in the palace kitchens were made entirely of cooper. These pots were quite big, with diameters of 1.97 to 3.45 feet (60 to 105 centimeters).

In the confectionery section of the Imperial Kitchens an entire company of workers including six master chefs and up to one hundred apprentices sole duty was to prepare candies, halva, baklava, pastries, syrups and a gum like candy called macun.

As a precautionary measure, food prepared in the Imperial Kitchens was tasted first by the cooks and then by the royal taster.

Some sixty types of food were typically served to the sultan.  He did not eat them all: some he would only look at, while others he would taste, and whatever was left over would be given to other dignitaries to eat, according to rules of protocol.

Under the statue of laws set forth by Sultan Mehmed II between 1477 and 1481, establishing the organization of the empire, it was specified that sultans would eat alone. This law was strictly adhered to until the time of Sultan Abdulaziz , who once dined with Crown Prince Edward VII of the United Kingdom.

The Harem

At Topkapi Palace are Harem Apartments where the sultans lived together with their families.  The apartments are secluded by means of high walls from the more public courtyards and sections of the palace where government business was conducted.

The Harem was under constant supervision. The Harem Eunuchs checked who went in and out and made sure no one unwanted was allowed in.

By the end of the 16th century the duty of guarding the Harem had fallen exclusively to Black Eunuchs.  Black children from Central Africa, and from Abyssinia would be chosen for this position, taken to the palace and educated according to a strict regimen.

The Harem Apartment Complex is quiet large.  It contains more than 300 rooms, nine hammams (bathrooms/Turkish baths), two mosques, a hospital, dormitories and a laundry.

In the Harem young girls (concubines) between the ages of 5 and 16, who had been taken from their families, were trained for state service.  Most of the girls in the Harem were Circassians from the Caucasus, through there were Arab and black concubines as well.

They were first taught taught Turkish and the etiquette of the palace.  The majority would be trained as servants to work in services related to the laundry, the hammam furnaces, the pantries and meal service.

Those deemed pretty and intelligent would be trained by experienced women according to their aptitudes, learning such things as reading and writing, sewing, embroidery, music and dancing.  The highest ranking women of the palace bore the title Kadin, meaning “woman” or “lady.”

The concubines who became “favorites” or who bore the sultan a child would be raised to the status of wife or favorite wife.

Not all of the children (concubines) chosen and educated for the sultan would be taken permanently into the Harem; some of these girls would be given in marriage to men of importance and would live outside the palace.

SLAVERY

Slavery was part of Ottoman society.  Slavery had centuries of religious backing and sanction.  As late as 1908 women slaves were still sold in the Empire.

The Tressed Halberdiers

Tressed Halberdiers provided firewood to the Harem.  The Tressed Halberdiers wore collars high enough to obstruct the wearer’s sight on both sides, preventing him from seeing his surroundings while working inside the Harem.

Educational Institutions in the Palace

The rapidly expanding Ottoman Empire used skilled subjects to manage the Empire.

Inside the palace are two chambers which served as the palace’s educational institutions for boys.  Here, the brightest and most attractive Christian boys from among those conscripted for state service under a system known as Devshirme (which means child-gathering) would study the arts of statecraft, literature, Turkish, Arabic and Persian, Islamic sciences, rhetoric, and calligraphy as well as receiving physical education.

Courses in history, geography, geometry, poetry, belles-lettres, music and astronomy, as well as military training were also provided.

Devshirme was the practice by which the Ottoman Empire forcibly took boys from Christian families who were selected to be enrolled in an imperial educational institution.  The primary goal of the Devshirme system was to select and train the ablest Christian children for leadership positions either as military leaders or as high administrators to serve the Empire.  Their social fabric was based on the idea that effort leads to reward.  They were bathed in an atmosphere that encouraged human-captial development – books, discussion, reading, questions, and conversations.  They knew that high skills lead to economic and social success.

Ottoman society instilled these achievement values.  The sultans understood that learners learn and skill begets skill, so educational investments have big pay-offs.

Personal development and social mobility were at the heart of the Devshirme’s vision of a great society.

At their education in the palace these children were also trained to properly serve and behave in the palace.  To this end, students were taught court protocol and etiquette.

These Christian children were required to convert to Islam and were brought up as Muslims.

The Palace schools had two tracks: one (the Madrasa) for Muslims and one (the Enderun) for non-Muslims.

The Madrasa educated scholars and state officials according to Islamic tradition.

The Enderun was a free boarding school for the ablest non-Muslims conscripted by the Devshirme process.  The students who thrived in the Enderun went on to become the “ruling elite” of Ottoman society and top military leaders.  Their drive for worldly achievement was fulfilled.

New sultans were always chosen from the sons of the previous sultan.   Ottoman princes were educated in the palace before being sent to govern in the provinces.  The strong educational system in the Palace was geared towards eliminating unfit potential heirs.

Clothing As A Status Symbol

In the Ottoman Empire, clothing was not merely functional or aesthetic, but also served as a symbol of the wearer’s profession, ethnic, and social status.  When sultans appeared before the public during ceremonies, they would typically wear a type of brocade woven with gold and silver thread visually expressive of their power and majesty.  The garment itself became a metaphor for the power and authority for the Ottoman sultan.  A high ranking court official did not kiss the sultan’s hand, as was the custom in Europe, but kissed instead the hem of the royal robe when entering or leaving the royal presence.

At audiences at which ambassadors presented their credentials to the sultan, the aim of the sultan was to dazzle the eye and impress the viewer with the power of the empire by means of a stunning show of wealth and opulence.  At such audiences the sultan’s throne would be covered in priceless fabrics onto which were sewn gold plaques studded with rubies, diamonds and emeralds.

For all the Ottoman court, the royal gift of a robe marked official recognition of one’s services and renewal of one’s appointment, if not promotion. Ottoman ministers referred to their renewed appointment as “wearing the robe of continuance in office.”  Foreign delegations could quickly access their current political and commercial standing at court by the number and quality of the robes given by the sultan to their entourage.

The cost of such honorifics swallowed up a sizable portion of state revenue: in 1690, it amounted to almost half the amount spent on all clothing for the janissary regiments.

The janissary were an elite corps of Turkish troops who owed undivided loyalty to the sultan.  The Janissary corps was organized in the 14th century and abolished in 1826.

CONTROL

In the Ottoman Empire all power radiated from the sultan and everything was purportedly under his control.  The court sought to regulate matters pertaining to social life, trades and crafts, ethnic and religious minorities, and markets.  The court also attempted to regulate the distinctive dress of different segments of society and imposed limits on style, quality and colors worn by the various religious communities.

The court’s meddling in the way people dressed was not limited to non-Muslims.  Chronicles of  the years 1755 – 1769 contain the following entry: “An imperial rescript prohibited servants and tradesmen from wearing furs of ermine and lynx, from dressing in floral-patterned kaftans and robes, and from using cashmere cummerbunds and commanded that women also dress according to their husband’s rank and station.  The quantities of cashmere, gold braid, and silk tissues and fabrics and furs and broadcloth imported from abroad were reduced on the grounds that the treasure of the Ottoman state should not be going to other countries.”

Garments worn by a sultan were so valuable they were preserved and stored in the royal Treasury at a sultan’s death.

IMPERIAL GATE

On the inside side of the main gate into the Topkapti Palace is inscribed the following statement: “Help from God and speedy victory.  Give thou good tiddings [O Muhammad] to the believers!”  This was also the verse recited by the Janissary marching band prior to a charge.  This inscription was seen on the the Imperial Gate as one left the grounds of the palace.

Above this gate, built as the main entrance to the palace, is an inscription, in Arabic, which reads in part: “Enter in peace and tranquility.” This inscription was there to be read by all who entered the palace.

Another inscription above the Imperial Gate, which one can see as they enter the palace grounds through the Imperial Gate, reads as follows: “By the grace and assent of God and with the aim of establishing peace and tranquility, this auspicious citadel was built and erected in the blessed month of Ramadan in the year 883 [November – December 1478] at the command of the son of Sultan Murad, son of Sultan Mehmed Khan, the sultan of the lands and the emperor of the seas, the shadow of God extending over men and djinn, the deputy of God in the East and in the West, the champion of the water and the land, the conqueror of Constantinople and the father of that conquest Sultan Mehmed, may God make his reign eternal and exalt his abode above that of the highest stars in the firmament.”

The Ottoman Empire prospered under the rule of committed and effective sultans and became one of the largest and longest running empires in history.  At one time the Ottoman Empire controlled most of Southeast Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.

The Ottoman Empire was, in principle, tolerant to Christians and Jews (“People of the Book” according to the Koran).  In 1492, when the Muslims and Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II sent his fleet to save them and granted the refugees the right to settle in the Ottoman Empire.

Under the Ottoman legal system, non-Muslims people were considered subjects of the Empire, but were not subject to the Muslim faith or Muslim law.  Jews and Christians and other ethnic minorities were allowed to manage their own affairs with substantial independence from central Ottoman control.

The Ottoman Empire had three court systems: One for Muslims, one for non-Muslims (involving appointed Jews and Christians ruling over their respective religious communities) and the “trade court.” These court categories were not wholly exclusive. For instance, the Islamic courts could also be used to settle a trade dispute or disputes between people of different religions.

The civil legal system was administered and organized around a system of local jurisprudence which permitted the integration of culturally and religiously different groups into the Empire.  The entire civil legal system was regulated from “above” by a means of pre-Islamic administrative law.

LASTING SIGNIFICANT AND IMPORTANT ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE AFTER 1530

Some people claim that the Ottoman Empire did not contribute anything of lasting significance after 1530.  That is not true.  Listed below are some of the areas in which Ottoman accomplishment after 1530 have been of lasting significance.

1. Art:

  • The amazingly beautiful tile work of the Ottoman Turk’s on display in Topkapi Palace spread throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean to Spain and from there to Mexico.
  • For a period of about two centuries, Ottoman silks – principally velvets and brocades – were in great demand throughout Europe because of the high quality of design, materials and workmanship.  This foreign demand became so great that at times the Ottoman textile industry was incapable of meeting it.  Exportation of silks was frequently banned unless domestic demand had been completely satisfied.
  • Turkish silks were always expensive. This led to the development of foreign textile industries in which weavers attempted to copy Turkish designs. Examples of garments made from such fabrics can be found in the Kremlin Museum and in cathedral treasuries around Europe.
  • Taste for Turkish fashion in music, literature, and art in Europe remained influential for nearly two hundred years culminating in the Orientalist painters of the  middle and lat 19th century.

2. Food: Modern Middle Eastern cuisine was perfected under the Ottomans and spread throughout the Empire and into neighboring countries.

3. Architecture: The marvelous designs, especially of Sinan – the court architect of Suleiman the Magnificent who perfected the typical Ottoman style mosque of billowing domes and half-domes framed by pencil thin minarets. Ottoman Istanbul was the inspiration for Venetian architecture.

DOES GOD DWELL IN HAND-MADE TEMPLES?

Leah and I went from Turkey to Vienna and from Vienna to Prague.

The most noticeable and impressive landmarks we visited in Prague were the Old Town Square, Prague Castle, the Municipal Building, and the Old Jewish Ghetto area.

During our time in Prague, I got the impression that God was not present in the significant magnificent quaint and cute buildings (castles, municipal buildings, churches, synagogues, houses) that I saw.  Nothing in any of the old or ancient magnificent buildings that I saw celebrated the nobility of man or uplifted me.

I was struck by differences between what Americans living in the United States are surrounded by as their built environment (architecture and signs) and the traditions culture and mine-set reflected in public buildings in those parts of Istanbul, Cappaddocia, Vienna and Prague that we visited.

For example, the Prague Castle is a big thing in Prague.

The entrance to the Prague Caste is through a gate called the “Giant’s Gate” that has two pillars. On top of one pillar (a post) is a gigantic figure of a man stabbing another man to death with a knife. On top of the other post is a gigantic figure of another man beating a man to death with a club.  This gate leads into the first courtyard of the Castle.

In front of each pillar is a sentry dressed in full military uniform with a huge hat on his head, standing at attention, holding a rifle at his side.

Prague Castle has a long history, that began in the 980s when prince Borivo of Bohemia founded the first royal palace here.

In the 20th Century, when the Czech Republic came into came into being, the Prague Castle was chosen as the residence for the President.  President Vaclav Havel initiated the restoration of many of the rooms and areas that had long been neglected and inaccessible.

The buildings around Old Town Square in Prague are quaint and charming in a Disneyland kind of way. The architecture of these buildings range from the Romanesque and Gothic to the rococo. Seeing the buildings there was breath-taking.

One of Prague’s most famous buildings, the Tyn Church borders on the Old Town Square.  It has has two spiky, cartoon-like towers, which are visible from all over Prague.

The church building was originally erected in the second half of the 14th century. The northern tower was built in the 15th century.  The southern tower was built in the 16th century.

The towers of this 1350 church are topped with a multitude of ornately baubled barbs. This church dominates the Old Town Square.

Old Town Hall Tower also is on the border of Old Town Square.  An astronomical clock built by Master Mikulas of Kadan has been mounted on the lower part of the Town Tower since the beginning of the 15th century. Figures on the sides of the upper face of the clock represent vanity, greed, death and lust.

The history of the Jewish people in Prague is a grave warning of what can happen when hatred of “others” dominates thinking and actions.

The first Jewish settlements in Prague appeared around the 10th century.

In the middle of the 18th century Maria Theresa of Hasburg decreed that the Jews should be driven out.  Later that same century, the Emperor Joseph II had the walls of the Jewish Ghetto demolished, and restored the Jewish quarter itself and its administrative status.

The period of Nazi occupation in Prague (1939-1945) was deadly for the Jewish community.  Jews were persecuted and deported to gas chambers.

It is estimated that 90 percent of Bohemian and Moravian Jews were killed during the Second World War.

During the few days I was in Prague, I did not find any Jewish Delis or other forms of active Jewish life in Prague, except for one Jewish restaurant in the former Jewish Ghetto.

Prague’s former Jewish Ghetto is now one of Prague’s most upmarket shopping areas.  It is full of very charming multi-story old residential buildings that now have high-end retail stores on their ground floor including Dunhill, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Gucci, and Dior.

Tickets must be acquired in order to view the existing (but unused) synagogues and/or to visit the Old Jewish Cemetery in the old Jewish Ghetto.

The once vibrant Jewish life in the Old Jewish Ghetto is now dead.

The group of buildings that make up the Old Jewish Ghetto and the old Jewish Cemetery have been transformed into a kind of large open-air museum.

The Klaus Synagogue built in the 17th century now houses a collection of prints and manuscripts. The High Synagogue built in the second half of the 16th century is used for exhibitions by the Jewish Museum; Pinkas Synagouge built in the first half of the 16th century in the 1950s became the seat of the Memorial of the 77,297 a monument erected  in the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.  Maisel Synagogue built in Renaissance style at the end of the 16th century, Spanish Synagogue which owes its name to a community of Iberian Jews who came to Prargue to escape persecution and Jubilee Synagogue built during the early years of the 20th century are still there.  The Old-New Synagogue originally built in the 13th century is still used for religious services.

Prague has one of a kind museums (the Mucha Museum, the Kafka Museum and the Museum of Torture) which Leah visited.

I  visited the Mucha Museum and the Franz Kafka Museum in Prague.

Mucha was Master of Art Nouveau.  In the words of one critic: “Alfons Mucha’s is an art of seduction.  His graceful women, delicate colors and decorative style add up to an unashamed act of temptation.”

Mucha is one of the greatest and most internationally recognized Czech artists.

Mucha’s posters and decorative panels are considered to be landmarks in the history of modern graphic art.  He also designed fantastic jewelry and furniture.

Franz Kafka is the famous Jewish Czech author of  “The Trial” and “The Castle.”

One of Franz Kafka’s letters, written to a girl-friend and on exhibit in the museum, indicates that Franz Kafka never got married because he felt his dedication to writing was incompatible with the emotional nourishment and time commitment to another that should exist if one were married.

COMBINING BEAUTY, SERVICE, CREATIVITY, ENTERTAINMENT, GOODNESS, GOOD WILL AND GOOD CHEER CREATES A GREAT EATING EXPERIENCE

FOOD CAN BE VERY SEDUCTIVE.

We ate many great dishes and had many great meals during our adventure.

WEIN RAUM

At the Wein Raum in Vienna (www.facebook.com/weinraum) Sommelier Osterreich Arnold Christian Harter introduced me to a marvelous hot dish: dried plum (prunes) surrounded by bacon.

The Wein Raum is located directly across the street from the “Josef Stadt”, the second oldest theatre in Vienna.  It is a place to eat (have wine and cheese or something else) before or after going to the theatre.  It is very quaint and very charming.

ALBURA KATHISMA CAFE RESTAURANT

The first time I ate dinner at the Albura Kathisma Cafe Restaurant (www.alburakathisma.com) in Istanbul’s old town (on the site where the Byzantine Magnauara Palace once presided), for my entree I had fresh monk fish slices sauteed in butter with baby onions, garlic, chili, mushrooms, finished with white wine and served in a wok over flames with a side dish of rice.

For dessert I had figs, cloves and cream.  The figs were soaked in syrup with cloves, married with Turkish clotted cream and ice-cream with fistik (chopped pistachios) on top.

That was a fabulous meal.

The menu at Albura Kathisma is fabulous.

I ate diner there more than once.

For an Aperitif I suggest you try a local drink, Raki (Anice), if you like strong liquor.

SIVA CAFE RESTAURANT

The service we received at the Siva Cafe Restaurant in Istanbul was unbelievable. On Leah’s birthday (February 12, 2012), the waiter came to our table balancing a birthday cake with lit candles on his head.

THE LICHFIELD RESTAURANT AND BAR AT THE AUGUSTINE HOTEL

At the end of our trip we stayed at the Augustine Hotel in Prague.

An “English Breakfast” at that hotel cost 700 Czech Krona which is about $US 35.

An English Breakfast” consists of:

Basket of fresh bread and pastries, butter, marmalade and honey

Choice of muesli, cornflakes, Special K, bircher muesli, all bran, oatmeal or rice krispies

Selection of plain yogurt, fruit yogurt, sliced fruit platter or fruit salad

Two eggs prepared any style with bacon, pork sausage, grilled tomato, mushrooms and baked beans

Freshly squeezed fruit juice and a hot beverage

While in Prague, I became addicted to eating that breakfast at the Augustine Hotel.

The dinning room in which that breakfast is served has photographs (in good taste) of good looking women without any clothes on.  The bar in the Augustine Hotel also has photographs of women on the walls.  In one series of photographs a magnificent looking full bodied ballet dancer (who is not wearing any clothes) is seen dancing behind a gossamer expanse of see through thin fabric.

The atmosphere the hotel seeks to achieve is an atmosphere of  “casual luxury.”

In my opinion the interior decoration achieves that goal.

The restaurant manager James Miskimmin and his wait staff are charming, entertaining and articulate.

One of his wait staff, Server Jan Stasdny, described the soup I was about to eat for lunch one day (Cacciucco Soup) as follows: Piece of prawn, scallops, Saint Thomas muscles, Bongole, halibut and cod pieces served on a toasted piece of bread and then covered with a rich red fish stock. This is the soup that  fisherman make at the end of the day out of the fish that is left over from their catch. It is an excellent soup.  I enjoyed that soup very much.

The restaurant and bar at the Augustine Hotel combine beauty, service, creativity, and entertainment with good food to create a great ambiance and wonderful dinning experience.

HOTEL SACHER AND STARBUCKS IN VIENNA

The Hotel Sacher in Vienna is one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever been in, perhaps the most beautiful I have ever been in.  It is famous for its Chocolate Torte.

The coffee shop is a gathering place for beautiful looking and beautifully well dressed people.  The wait staff is extremely well dressed.  You can get a piece of chocolate cake and a coffee there for about $US10.

Directly across the street is a Starbucks.  I don’t know how much it cost for a piece of chocolate cake or a cup of coffee at that Starbucks.

The Starbucks takes up two floors and was full of people when I was there. But, the people/customers in Starbucks were not elegantly dressed nor was the wait staff.

The coffee shop at the Hotel Sacher was also full of customers, but the Hotel Sacher group of customers were much more lively (animated), more socially engaged with one another and much better dressed than the customers at the Starbucks.

The difference in the ambiance, decor and atmosphere in these two coffee shops was completely different.

None of the customers in the coffee shop at the Hotel Sacher were using lap tops or had a lap top on the top of their table.  Many of the customers at the Starbucks had laptops on the top of the counter of their table and were engrossed in doing something on their lap top.

Every customer at the Hotel Sacher coffee shop (with the exception of me) was with someone else. Many of the customers at the Starbucks were alone.

Leah was visiting a museum by herself while I was taking a break at the coffee shop.

THE CITIES THAT COUNT TODAY BY NUMBER OF BILLIONAIRES

Learn to perceive new ways.

Who cares where this or that King or this or that Prince or this or that Sultan lived or this or that Queen or Princes lived, or this or that Czar lived or a President or Premier lived or lives ?  According to Forbes, Istanbul has more billionaires than Los Angeles.  That makes Istanbul and Los Angeles very important cities today.

Do Vienna and Prague have any billionaires today?

New York and Los Angeles are the lone US cities among the top ten cities having billionaires.

Moscow leads the list of cities with the most billionaires.

Moscow boasts 79 billionaires.  That edges out number two New York with 59 billionaires and number three London with 41 billionaires.

Istanbul is number five on the billionaire list.  Los Angeles is number eight on the list.  Sao Paolo and Mumbia (formerly known as Bombay) are tied for number six with 21 billionaires each.

Three Chinese cities rank highly on the newest Forbes’ list: Hong Kong is fourth with 40 billionaires; Beijing, 10th with 19; and Shanghai, 13th with 16.

Money goes to money.  The cities named above  are where a lot of action is today.

REAL-WORLD CONSEQUENCES OF LIVING AND LEARNING HOW TO LIVE IN THE NEW CYBERSPACE WORLD OF SOCIAL AND BUSINESS NETWORKING, CELLPHONES, TEXTS, E-MAILS AND PREDATORS

 MAKE YOUR LIFE MORE INTERESTING. VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE.

Shortly after I posted this piece on my blog on March 19, 2012, I received a request from the web master of the Albura Kathisma Restaurant in Istanbul, Turkey requesting that I rewrite the first sentence of my recommendation to eat at the Albura Kathisma and to visit it’s web page as follows for reasons of “Search Engine Optimization.”

The first time I ate dinner at the <a href=www.alburakathisma.com title=”Albura Kathisma Restaurant Sultanahmet Istanbul” target=”_blank”>Albura Kathisma Cafe Restaurant</a> (www.alburakathisma.com) in Istanbul’s old town ….

I don’t know what “Search Engine Optimization” is, how it is achieved, or how or why rewriting the first sentence of my recommendation as set forth above will optimize the number of visits and visitors to the Albura Kathisma’s web site.

Be that as it may, I highly recommend that you visit the Albura Kathisma’s web site to find interesting inspiring dishes to try to make yourself because I enjoyed the meals I had when I ate them at the Albura Kathisma Cafe Restaurant in Istanbul. Hopefuly, what I have written above will help you get to the Albura Kathisma web site.

INVOLUNTARY PRISONER IN CYBERSPACE

 A very intelligent attorney who has two or three web sites told me the following story early this week.

He received a notification that he could have his name posted with a ranking on a web site that “ranks” attorneys if he would fill out a questionnaire.

He filled out the questionnaire. His name was posted on the web site with the ranking 6.9.

He inquired about the ranking.  He was told all attorneys are given that ranking when their name is posted.  In order to increase his ranking it was necessary for other people to recommend and commend him.

He doesn’t want to ask his clients or friends to write recommendations or commendations.  He asked to be taken off the website. He was told he would not be taken off the web site and there is nothing he can do to have his name with 6.9 ranking removed.

CELLPHONE BILLS  (A POTENTIAL PERPETUAL SOURCE OF DIGITAL AGE FURY)

The March 25, 2012 edition of the New York Times has an article entitled “Beware of Cramming on Your Cellphone Bill.”

This article warns that texts inviting people to subscribe to various services are being sent out.  The author of the article reports that he received two such invitations and deleted both of those texts without  reading them and then when he checked his latest AT&T bill he discovered that he had been charged $9.99 for a month for both.

He was informed if he had opened the text messages he would have discovered in the fine print that he had the option to opt out of the default subscription.  The author warns that a lot of people never notice these charges and then pay them.

I believe California has a law to the effect that you can not be charged by default for not answering a sales solicitation; you can’t be charged for something you don’t ask for — unless you affirmatively subscribe to something or affirmatively agree to purchase something you cannot be charged for it.

The author reports that mysterious charges for an assortment of memberships and services have long been showing up on wire-line telephone bills.

HAPPY NEWS — GOOD PEOPLE STILL EXIST

Earlier this week a friend reported to me that she thought she had lost her cell phone, she thought she had left it somewhere in her house and could not remember where she left it.

My friend called her cell phone number.  A complete stranger answered her cell phone.

It turned out that my friend had left her cell phone on the roof of her car.  She meant to leave it on the roof of her car for only a moment.  She got distracted and forgot she had placed her cellphone on the roof of her car. She drove her car somewhere with her cell phone on the roof.  Her cell phone fell off the roof onto the street.  Another lady found the cellphone and answered when my friend called.

My friend drove her car to meet this other woman.  The other woman returned my friend’s cellphone to my friend when they met.

Another friend reported that he lost his cellphone.  He called his cellphone.  A stranger (a lady) answered.  She had found his cell phone in the supermarket where he had recently shopped.  When they got together (as strangers) she returned his “lost” cell phone to him.

ADVERTISEMENTS ON THE GARY S. SMOLKER IDEA EXCHANG BLOG

Early this week a friend of mine reported to me that there are now advertisements on the Gary S. Smolker Idea Exchange Blog (this blog).

I don’t know how those advertisements got there (here on my blog) or where they came from.

As I continue living and learning how to live and facing the real-world consequences of living in the new world of cyberspace business and social networking, publishing this blog and posting to this blog, I plan to continue posting articles, letters, book reports, movie reports, reports on eating experiences, personal adventure stories and missives on this blog.

The Pure Essence of the Good Life (Chapter 5) “Food, Grandeur and Ways of Living” was originally posted by me on this blog on March 19, 2012 and was updated on March 2

Copyright (c) 2012 by Gary S. Smolker

About Gary S. Smolker

PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY: No enterprise can exist for itself alone. Every successful enterprise ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others. Otherwise, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist. Imagination, open mindedness and flexibility are the most important factors in unlocking potential. Those who embrace innovation, improvisation, continuous learning, time management, are action oriented, high energy, passionate, creative, purposeful and intense individuals are best equipped to succeed. We all have ideas and the ability to make progress by sharing information and our ideas and also by changing our ideas when appropriate. We should always be on the lookout for teaching and mentoring moments. We hold time like water in our hands; however tightly we clench our fingers, it drips away. But, if it falls on a seed, a seed may grow to become something that will have a positive social impact. PERSONAL INTERESTS: I have a passion to learn, to innovate, to lead, to mentor and to teach. I seek to write things worth reading and want to do things worth writing about. I enjoy (a) driving a fast car, (b) having intense conversations (c) teaching/mentoring, (d) reading and (e) being involved in productive activity. PERSONAL: I believe in cultivating and backing passionate people, innovation, and old fashioned good ideas. I love making human connections and spreading good ideas. I am strongly motivated to achieve in situations in which independence of thought and action are called for. PERSONAL GOALS: I want to live life vibrantly, to be as sharp as a tack until my last breath and to change the world by being me. My personal goal is to be fully engaged in life, to lead by example, to set high standards and to continue to amass firsthand experience and knowledge in all that interests me. PERSONALITY: I love fun and mischief. I relish absurdity. I have an irreverent, facetious and satiric disposition. I dread boredom. I have spent a lifetime reading. I have no bias against people who have lived successful and/or complicated lives. I write to release tension, to get things off my chest. SOCIAL MEDIA: I post articles on the "Gary S. Smolker Idea Exchange" blog at www.garysmolker.wordpress.com, and "Dude's Guide to Women's Shoes" at www.dudesguidetowomensshoes.com. I also post images and comments on Instagram @garyspassion. CONTACT INFORMATION: Gary Smolker, Smolker Law Firm, 16055 Ventura Blvd., Ste 525, Encino, California, 91436-2609, USA. Phone 1-818-788-7290, e-mail GSmolker@aol.com.

Posted on March 19, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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