Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler

Ghost EmpireGhost Empire by Richard Fidler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ghost Empire ranks among the best books I’ve read this year. Richard Fidler brings to life the history of the Byzantium Empire. Many aspects of this history are mind-boggling and give the reader a deeper understanding of the present situation in Syria, Turkey, and the whole Middle East. Richard Fidler shows that, really, there is nothing new in the dreadful war situation there. The cruelty, the massacres, the subjugation of people were, it seems, always happening. Starting with Constantine who renamed Byzantium, Constantinople in his own honour in the year 330, right through to the sacking of Constantinople by the Ottoman Emperor, Mehmed, in 1453, thus bringing about the end of the Roman empire.

I originally heard about this book when Richard Fidler was interviewed (by Gillan O’Shaugnessy) on the local radio station here in Western Australia (ABC720). He explained how he and his son Joe, travelled first to Rome and then to Istanbul to follow the traces of the Byzantine Empire. How Fidler weaves the story of his travels with the history is masterful. Richard Fidler is, himself, an interviewer of note and there are many listeners who seldom miss his daily interview.

I recommend this book to anyone who may have even the slightest interest in the present situation and the conflict that affects nearly all of us one way or another.

View all my reviews

Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler

Feeling the fear

My last blog entry was not very long or interesting. However, in it I flagged a trek I did in Zimbabwe, New Year 1996/97. What is interesting (to me) is that when I had my astrological chart for 1996 drawn up, Gail told me that I would end the year on a physical high.

I was in Zimbabwe to do research for Honours. I stayed with family in Harare until Christmas and then at my brother’s farm.

After Christmas my brother and sister-in-law took me to Aberfoyle in the Honde Valley to spend New Year with a group of friends. The valley is beautiful, there are tea and coffee estates, mountains, cataracts and some pretty scary treks. The plan was to walk up to a waterfall on New Year’s Eve day. I have to say I was not keen. I’m scared of heights, snakes and rickety bridges and ladders. Nevertheless, I said, “Yes!” After all, what did I have to lose?

 

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A recent photo of Aberfoyle in the Honde Valley (thanks Fen)

Mozambique is a stone’s throw away. The countryside was (and probably still is) wild and woolly.

The first part of the path was not difficult but quite soon it became rugged, broken and uneven. The first crossing seemed to be reasonably easy … although, as you can see, I was a tad apprehensive (that’s me hanging back, arms akimbo, thinking about giving it a go). The bridge was wobbly but not as wobbly as some of the others that we crossed.

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Made it!

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This crossing was a question of balance and hanging on for dear life.

Then there were ladders that had to be climbed to get to the next level …

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There were cataracts to be crossed, wet and slippery and so damn exciting!

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The destination was an amazing cataract but I have to admit that by this stage my courage had deserted me so I waited on the other side while braver friends crossed over the final bridge and stood under the waterfall. I was, if I remember, shaking from the exertion and the adrenaline.

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Not forgetting that as we went up, so we had to come down again …

Later that evening we celebrated New Year and I danced until I fell down on the floor, totally exhausted. Someone took this photo of me and I’m grateful because how often do you get such a candid shot of yourself? And for those who thought I was dead and/or drunk – I wasn’t!

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And then most of us jumped into the pool and had a swim.

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Aberfoyle 1996/97

It took me days to come down from the high and I made a vow to myself that I would in future say “Yes” if these frightening adventures were offered. Life is too short (or too long?) to be sitting home and turning into a couch potato.

Unfortunately I have no way of crediting the photographers. My camera decided to stop working and never worked again, ever. I do thank you all for your photos and for my sister-in-law and my friend, Fenella, for passing on the photos to me. Twice. I lost the first lot and only found them again recently.

 

 

 

Feeling the fear

On being a …

Friday and I haven’t fulfilled my commitment to write up my blog this week. I made some notes through the week and had some ideas. Now, most of those ideas seem weak and not worth the effort.

I thought about when I was mugged. I decided that it brought back too many uncomfortable memories so I ditched that idea.

I thought of writing about being a dotty old woman (which I undoubtably am) but my stories of thinking of something new to do everyday – one of which included getting out of bed head first (and nearly knocking myself out) may be true but may not be credible. So, I ditched that idea.

I thought of writing about earning a doctorate. That is plain boring. Ditched.

Then I thought of an amazingly wonderful trek I did in Zimbabwe some 20 years ago. Yes! Bingo! That would work, but I’m not going to do that because I can’t find the photos. It was New Year 1996/1997 and I was in the Honde Valley with my brother and sister-in-law. I will write about this, but not this week.

Watch this space

 

On being a …

Astrology, fortune telling and real life

Blogging is quite difficult. Short blogs seem better than longer ones but sometimes longer blogs are required.

Next week I will have been married to the same man for 53 years. In anyone’s book this is a long time. A life time. I could witter on for quite a long blog but I’m not going to. Here’s a photo of the bride and groom. So young, so callow …

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Years ago, in Australia, I went to a Chinese astrologer. This dear old man told me that, because in Chinese astrology I was a monkey and Roland was a tiger, there was no hope for our marriage. He then asked for our Western astrological signs – a bull and a scorpion. Even worse! He was flabbergasted when I told him how long we had been married. I think at that stage we had been married about 25 years. Oh well, you can’t be right every time.

In South Africa, a Greek lady once read my fortune in coffee grounds. She was quite accurate about my history – possibly because her daughter was a friend of mine. I can’t really remember what she had to say about my future and, in the event, it would all happen as it happened anyway.

Even further back I had a reading done by a strange man who was more concerned with how I pulled faces when I spoke (I do, I know I do). He was also concerned that I should pay him immediately. I remember nothing that he said but I do remember that he was pretty creepy.

There was one astrologer I visited annually, here in Western Australia. She would draw up my star charts and her readings were usually excellent. She would tape the reading and give me the tape. Her readings for the year ahead were quite specific and accurate. I was sorry when she stopped her work as an astrologer and went to uni to do a psych degree. I imagine she would have excelled as a clinical psychologist.

Many of the times I visited soothsayers, astrologists, fortune tellers and the like was when I was in a state of flux. When I was at the crossroads, so to speak. I can remember sending a friend a cartoon of myself standing at the crossroads with signs pointing north, south, east and west. This last weekend when I was at a mindfulness retreat I drew a picture of myself with many pathways leading who knows where. In my drawing I’m heading off the page following a magpie. You’d know it was me because of my purple top and dark sunnies.

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I’ve learned now that life keeps on whoever I consult. I make decisions which may be right and may be faulty but I do what I do.

Astrology, fortune telling and real life

After the horrendous tragedy in Manchester, United Kingdom, I find it difficult to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for my weekly blog. The enormity of the crime brings me to tears and anything I write seems inconsequential.

I read that we are wired to focus on dangerous and fearful things. It is something about being human, about our survival instinct. According to research conducted by psychologists Marc Trussler and Stuart Soroka, at McGill University in Canada, “… it isn’t just schadenfreude, but that we’ve evolved to react quickly to potential threats. Bad news could be a signal that we need to change what we’re doing to avoid danger.”

Nevertheless, the Manchester atrocity is the stuff of nightmares and my heart goes out to all those affected. My admiration goes to the Mancunians who have stepped up to the mark to assist and strengthen the resolve of the people to rise above this act of terrorism. This is the Place is the stirring poem by Tony Walsh (aka Longfella) that he read at the vigil for the victims.

 

 

 

 

The Nullarbor Plain: the world’s largest limestone karst landscape

Preamble for this week’s blog: on a scale of one to ten I suggest that this blog sits at about 3.

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So, this instalment is about a road trip across the Nullabor Plain. The Eyre Highway stretches along the coast from Ceduna in South Australia and inland to Norseman in Western Australia. This road is the Eyre Highway. We made the crossing in the early 1980s. Our road trip actually began in Hobart, Tasmania, not counting the ferry across to Melbourne on mainland Australia. From Melbourne to Perth is 4,320kms.

The little blue Ford Laser was loaded to the gunnels and Kath was squashed into the back seat with not much room to move. Not far from Melbourne I wanted to stop in beautiful Ballarat – to live there. Fortunately Roland talked me out of that idea. We found out afterwards that it gets extremely cold and I’m a child of the tropics.

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not our Laser but ours was just like this

We navigated our way through Adelaide fairly easily, albeit with Roland cleverly reversing my directions. I get confused between left and right so when I said, “ turn left” he’d turn right and vice versa thereby finding the correct route. So, only another 2,790kms further to drive to Perth.

Crossing the Nullabor is an adventure any time. At this stage we did not know where we were and neither did anyone else. There are roadhouses but they are few and far between. Fuel was expensive and we were not really prepared for the distances. Yes, we had driven vast distances in Southern Africa but there was usually a dorp (village), town or even a city along the way. The vast and treeless plain of the Nullabor – the long, long stretches of straight road, and the huge road trains that rode up close behind us were something new and strange. Places marked on the map we were using (I’d found it in an old copy of The Australia Women’s Weekly) turned out to be water tanks.

There was a lot of road kill all along the highway. Wedge-tail eagles live on the carrion and often become carrion themselves as they gorge to the point of not being able to take off when a vehicle approaches and runs them down. Much later, friends told us of a car towing a caravan that ran over a rotting kangaroo corpse. The caravan had to be abandoned because someone had left a window open and the inside was covered with stinking, rotten gunk.

At the border between South Australia and Western Australia is the Quarantine Station where we had to throw out all the fruit and vegetables we were carrying.

One day I’d like to do the trip again, albeit more consciously. I’d like to visit some of the spectacular coastal cliffs and the deep caverns. I wouldn’t like to do it again carrying most of our worldly goods in a small blue hatchback.

The Nullarbor Plain: the world’s largest limestone karst landscape

Back to civilisation and being responsible parents again

Now that we were back on the mainland we stayed a couple of days in the fishing town of Vilanculos. One memory that has stuck were the delicious, juicy crab claws that were supplied as ‘bar food’. So, we’d sit at the bar in the evening and eat our way through bowl after bowl. I don’t even like crab but these were different. Fresh mussels were also available.

Somewhere, I think in Inhambane, we watched the African women collecting mussels off the rocks. When the tide was out, the women would walk out in stately single file. Picking their way across the rocks, with heavy metal buckets balanced on their heads, as a wave came in the women would throw their skirts up so as not to get them wet. As they did not wear underclothes, this was cause for much merriment for Wendy and me. I rather think Roland and Cliff either didn’t notice or were too embarrassed to laugh. Anyway, we bought a bucket of these mussels and I can remember how mouth-wateringly yummy they were.

Another treat in Mozambique were the cashew nuts. You could buy a great big square tin for next to nothing. I remember we were going to take a couple of tins back home but ended up eating the whole lot.

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So, from Vilanculos we headed toward Lourenco Marques, now called Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Slowly but surely we were moving back toward civilisation.

Not long after we arrived in LM, I noticed that a wound on Kath’s heel was looking very red, swollen and lots of pus. Soon a red vein appeared running up her leg. I panicked. I knew this was a sign of blood poisoning. With no knowledge of the Portuguese language, we weren’t confident we could manage the hospital and doctor in LM. Roland and I decided to leave and head for my sister’s place in Rhodesia, near the Limpopo River. We bid a tearful farewell to Cliff and Wendy and off we went.

We went through the border between Mozambique and South Africa at Komatipoort. I remember very little of the trip, just wishing the Land Rover could go faster. We crossed from South Africa into Rhodesia at Beit Bridge – border crossings were not a problem in those days. Soon, we were on the ranch where my sister, Win, lived. Win and I decided to take Kath back over the border to the mining town of Messina (now Musina) to see the mine doctor.

In the event, Kath was given an anaesthetic – chloroform – administered in the old fashioned way, on a cloth. The nurse was the anaesthetist and assistant. Once she was anaethetised, the doctor started probing into her foot. It seemed to take hours and hours. He eventually found a small grain of coral deep in the flesh and plucked it out with tweezers. Coral poisoning is dreadful. Win and I stayed in the room all the time. Before Kath had even come round from the anaesthetic, we were on our way back to the ranch. We had to make the border at Beit Bridge before it closed. We scraped through but only because the officers knew Win.

I don’t know if I ever told my sister how grateful Roland and I were for her help that day. She is truly the hero of the story.

On the way back to the ranch, driving through the bush, we saw an aardvark.

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Back to civilisation and being responsible parents again