The Remnants of an Empire

The Reception in Old Town

The Reception in Old Town


Venice was quite the operation back in the day. They had ships and everything. Here’s a brief history to get you up to speed if you’re not up to snuff on your Medieval powerhouses. The Venetians started out as a profitable little part of the Byzantine Empire, then the alpha dog in the region, but thanks to maritime operations and prime real estate (location, location, location) grew in strength and influence and only a few centuries in they sacked Constantinople, decimating their former masters, a blow from which the Byzantines would never really recover. The Venetians also stole these fine fellows four from the future Istanbul and put them on display in the finest drawing room in Europe, as Napoleon was wont to say.

The Venetian Empire lasted approximately a millennium. It was, by any stretch of the imagination, a good run. Lots of highs, plenty of lows. They fought in the Crusades. They ruled the seas. They battled the Ottomans for centuries, slowly declining in military influence as the years wore on, ultimately succumbing to the advances of Napoleon just before the dawn of the 19th century. And now it’s reduced to an irresistible tourist trap with great gelato that slowly sinks into the lagoon from whence it came. This feels like a metaphor for something, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Anyway, part of the empire’s conquests included the Dalmatian City-States, which includes the Bay of Kotor in modern Montenegro. The impressive fortifications the Venetians established are a sight to behold, but they don’t deserve all the credit. There were previous versions of the defensive line high above the bay stretching all the way back to the Illyrians in classical antiquity. The walls, which stretch about 3 miles in length, are still in visible if not quite working order high upon the cliffs gazing down upon the old walled city, which bears a striking resemblance to the old walled fortress of Dubrovnik, which is no big surprise, but with notably better food inside.

The ruins rising up to the sky

The ruins rising up to the sky


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Kotor is gorgeous. If you get away from Old Town it starts to become more the sort of small city you might expect to find in Montenegro, but still, just stepping off the plane it was a panorama of mountains and mist as far as the eye can see.
The view from the tarmac

The view from the tarmac


We stayed in Old Town, which made for a fun/easy trip since the walled city is the tourist highlight. The narrow passages, open courtyards, impressive architecture and historical sites all make for excellent wandering. It’s super touristy, yes, no question at all about that, but like Venice, it’s so good even the visitors can’t screw it up.
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The San Giovanni castel is at the very top of the upper town walls, way up high, and it would have been cool to set foot in it and take in the view. We gave it a go, despite the steep climb and intermittent but heavy rain that day. There is a long, winding path up to the top. We hiked up to the Church of our Lady of Health, which marks the halfway point, but made it no further. There was an intense downpour, and all us tourists on the way up and down huddled together in what little shelter the exterior of the church offered. The English speaking portion of the group exchanged a few stories and Ferda spent the time playing with a stray dog, which made me very nervous and the puppy very happy. The stone/rock/dirt/imaginary path leading to the very top was literally flooded and it was borderline impassable. We might have been able to make it, but this way there’s an easy excuse to come back and visit again. Ferda took a couple photos when the rain momentarily abated before we hiked back down.
I did twenty goofy poses and this was the best one.

I did twenty goofy poses and this was the best one.


We had a few days to roam around before catching a bus to Podgorica. Kotor is the perfect place for idle tourism, virtually everything is interesting and/or beautiful to look at. Stunning views and a great meal here, impressive architecture and a cappuccino there.

Ferda had recently finished a couple new designs, so we went out to take some photos on our last night with Kotor as the backdrop before heading out of town.
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Handmade by Ferda Emecen

Handmade by Ferda Emecen

To Live and Die in Eternal Hope

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Even casual observers are aware of the Chicago Cubs’ failure over the last one hundred plus years to win a championship, a level of accomplishment that has built up an aura of inevitability that welcomes suckers, gamblers, statisticians and romantics in equal measure. Writers far more tortured and elegant than I have written about the agony of cheering for the Chicago Cubs.

This legacy of ineptitude is somewhat misleading. The club was actually pretty good, all things considered, from 1903-1945. Since WWII? Only 5 seasons of 90 or more wins. Tampa Bay alone has equaled that mark, and not just from the franchise’s inception in 1998, which would be cringe inducing enough, but since the name change in 2008 from Devil Rays to Rays. Yeesh.

What can you do? Love is love. Trying to explain the why of it is as pointless as telling Don Mattingly why on-base percentage is important.
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Don Mattingly and the Tyranny of Math

Here stands a great hitter.

Here stands a great hitter.


I understand people who are resistant to placing their faith in numbers. It must be especially threatening to those who have built a professional identity through a lifetime of success either without the use of, or more likely, in direct opposition to analytics. To be told your entire life you are great, knowledgeable, or both, and to then have those core values, really your entire sense of self, challenged must be difficult. To value what you see, what you have done, everything you have been taught, well, this is a difficult thing to toss away, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
I was taught this was a rock. It's still a rock, right? It sure looks like a rock. I'll bat it leadoff just in case.

I was taught this was a rock. It’s still a rock, right? It sure looks like a rock. I’ll bat it leadoff just in case.


So when I write that Don Mattingly is an idiot, please understand it’s done with affection, understanding and compassion. He was a great, great player. He’s from Indiana. But idiot he is.
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The Greatest Lines in B-Movie History

Yor: The Hunter from the Future

Yor: The Hunter from the Future

As a child barely seven years of age, I saw this delightful and highly influential piece of trash in the theater when it was released out into the world in 1983. It’s one of my earliest movie memories and gives proof to the notion that there is no film so awe-inspiringly awful that it will not still beat the pants off the outdoors during an Indiana summer. Attendance wasn’t by design, mind you. My mom was out running errands and had made the classic mistake of taking her young children with her instead of leaving them alone in the house to fend off potential burglars, and she was desperate to get out of the heat. The timing was fortunate, in a way, I’m not even sure air conditioning had been invented before the 80’s.
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An Open Letter To My Alma Mater

Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Hobart and William Smith Colleges


Dear Idiots,

Thank you for the recent letter updating me on all the goings on and whatnot at HWS, signed by the President of the Colleges but likely written by a number of administrators, detailing the current state of affairs at the institution where I managed a BA in history, won a chess tournament, broadcast the 1997 women’s soccer division III national championship game (which we lost 1-0) and was threatened with expulsion by the dean, because apparently every movie about a crusty dean threatening students is based on reality.


Anyway, back to the massively insulting/disgusting letter, mostly a bunch of banal blah that is likely cut and pasted from previous versions sent to alumni, in which you include the following paragraph:
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LAX – SEA – AMS – IST

Seattle

Seattle


I have amassed a pretty respectable number of frequent flyer miles over the years and decided to take them out of mothballs and use 60,000 in exchange for a ticket to Istanbul. I’ve spent precious little time in Istanbul in the summertime, and by precious little I mean none. This was a wrong that needing righting. The only downside was the only flight available from Delta included a seven-hour layover in Seattle followed by another seven-hour layover in Amsterdam. Still, no reason to sit in an airport when reliable public transportation can provide me all manner of entertainment. I’d start with a Sunday afternoon baseball game, move on to a favorite restaurant and close it out with a visit to an antiquated relic of the 19th century.
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Intruders

Celebration in Sarajevo

Celebration in Sarajevo


It was roughly twenty years ago that Bosnian Serbs, with arms and the direct support of the Serbian military and government, laid siege to Sarajevo for almost three years. It was part of a Serbian nationalistic effort to lay total waste to an entire people through organized rape and murder. I have no vested interest in Balkan politics save for a general concern over the state of humanity and/or flooding disasters, but as an exercise in short-term memory, holding grudges and skewed perception it’s hard to beat. I still can’t help but think about Serbian atrocities whenever I watch Novak Djokovic play tennis.

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The Ancient World and Enemies Lists

The Temple of Zeus in the Ancient City of Euromos

The Temple of Zeus in the Ancient City of Euromos


Halicarnassus, better known as Bodrum, was the birthplace of unofficial first historian Herodotus. I found the city intriguing as a tourist destination for the origin story alone, but others appreciate this modern-day resort town in southwestern Turkey more for the vacationer’s paradise it has evolved into. It’s nestled against the Aegean, with stunning vistas, calm blue water, sun, sand, culinary delights (provided you enjoy seafood) and numerous historical treasures.
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Well, That Didn’t Take Long

So you're saying there's slightly less of a chance.

So you’re saying there’s slightly less of a chance.


It was reported today that Luke Hochevar is out for the season, due to undergo Tommy John surgery. This is manageable given the depth of the Royals bullpen, but will still likely cost the Royals one win this season, dropping their expected win total to 88.
Kansas City Royals 2014 Preview
Injuries are a reality for every team, but the Royals have almost no margin for error, which is to say I really hope a little extra firepower is added to the team at some point or at the very least that James Shields and Greg Holland are driving to Kauffman stadium in one of these.

Wait, there’s a dark side to corruption?

USA! USA! USA!

USA! USA! USA!


I gave soccer a chance as a spectator sport in 1994 during the World Cup and I’ve been infatuated with it ever since. It’s a wonderful game, though anyone who’s suffered through the unbearable tedium of teams collaborating for table position with listless passing in the midfield on the way to the inevitable 0-0 yawnfest knows it is not without risk. At the core of the game is an idea, though, the sort of core sensibility that pervades all great games, and that is the ingrained element of possibility, of something meaningful arising from out of nowhere. Not just some notion that anything can happen, since this is true about every single moment of every single thing that will ever happen in life, but rather that something spectacular and wholly unlikely can arise from the mundane and banal.

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