31 December 2010

Time Is

Watch, Salvador Dali 

The New Year is a fluid concept if you live, as I do, mostly in the 15th century.  For the Byzantines, it is 1 September.  For the Venetians, it is 1 March.  When I am working on Cyriaco material, the New Year begins on Christmas Day.  The monomania of the media with its lists of bests and worsts and deaths for the year and the decade, and predictions for the next year, forces me to attend to the Roman calendar with 1 January.

This is the 147th entry in two and a half years, involving 177,000 words, and 500 or so pictures.  I have two different counters recording visitors which at the end of the year suggest an average of 120 a day.  I am recognizing quite a few of them -- of you -- now.  When there is a new post, the first readers to show up are usually a gracious woman in Texas or a correspondent from South Africa, followed very soon by correspondents in London and Athens. A few show up, briefly, almost every day.  Most visitors come briefly and never reappear.  Reasonably.  There are at least 112,000,000 blogs tangling the interwebs.

Ever since it was posted, The Lion in the Cloister has been the most-read entry. Readers in the Philippines -- with a single exception -- seem to read only Nick the Greek posted more than a year ago, and the picture of Magellan's ship has been downloaded more than any other this year. Otherwise, the most popular picture is of Byzantine trumpeters, and then one of the Magi -- the tracker counts the last 500 downloads.  A higher percentage of readers in Arabic-speaking countries than of readers in the West is interested in the post with a bare-breasted woman and links to other such.  Bosnians, Serbians, and Russians show a strong predilection for posts on the Palaiologues, and Albanians most often read entries mentioning stratioti.  The Villehardouin entries are most often read in France and Belgium.  I can tell when someone is planning a visit to Nauplion: the same IP address will show up through the thirty or so entries on aspects of Nauplion.  This summary is, of course, a simplification  of casual impressions. What puzzles me is when someone -- most recently from Slovakia on 21 December, is recorded as making 66 entries, over an hour and 15-plus minutes.  Something like this happens several times a week. I can only wonder: is there not something more enjoyable, more profitable, that someone could be doing in life?

The search terms that bring people here often seem unlikely: "Greek wemon," "forked beard after Exodus," "gold ark of the covenant Mycenae," "paintings of Apollo," "Pesaro caged cherubs" -- I am quite sure I have not used any of those phrases; "inside room" -- possibly the studioli in the entry on St. Jerome which has been the most read of all 148.  Whoever was looking for "Diana's Hats" or "Diana's Shoes" must have been disappointed, as were those who were looking for restaurants with various Greek and Albanian names.

This year, the largest percentage of non-American visitors have come from Greece, and a gratifying number of Greece-based blogs link to this one.  I am immensely pleased, and grateful, because Surprised by Time is in part the living out of a love affair with a city and country and culture.  Quite a few readers have written privately to ask questions -- a couple of these questions have forced new considerations in my own research, and several have sent me remarkable information, books, PDFs, and images I could not have found for myself -- thank you, Brigitte, Galo, Tim, Pavlos, Babis, Ersie, Voula, Tom, Keith, Nick.  The number of visitors in 2010 has doubled from 2009, with 15,889,  to the 32,333-plus for 2010, with more than 51,500 since I began in the summer of 2008. I have never been able to take the breadth of the internet for granted.  It is exciting to discover  readers in Kossovo, or Alexandria, Odense, Mumbai, Lamia, Jerusalem, Rawalpindi, Cape Town, Sarajevo, Tasmania, Costanta. Costanta is Ovid's Tomis.  I went around all day saying, "I have a reader in Tomis!"

When I am writing or researching or translating, Time Is, calendars dissolve, and I am present witness.  I finished translating the sack of Smyrna in tears, so closely did the event of 1472 and my visit there in May 1979 blend into a single present. Our first night ever in Turkey was in Izmir -- asking the taxi driver for a cheap hotel in the old city has always worked wonderfully for me, the weather was gentle, and the streets were lined with barrows heaped with plums and cherries.  We wandered through the streets of the old city, sticky with juice, saying "Merhaba," constantly as people handed my daughters more plums and cherries.  We bought water from the man who carried glasses and a tank of water on his back, and pastries from the pastry carts, rubbing the crumbs off on our jeans to enter yet another little green-painted mosque.  One evening we rode in a carriage up and down the waterfront.  First we saw cafes with old men smoking hubble-bubbles, and then after a certain street, the cafes had women in chic black dresses and cigarettes, and men with cigars.  The French and English and American fleets were in port, and the admirals of two were guests of the admiral of the third.  The ships were brilliant with lights, everyone was in white dress uniform, and as our carriage came abreast of the third flagship we saw the visiting admirals piped aboard.

We had to get up at four in the morning for our flight to Istanbul. There was a full moon and as we leaned out the window to look at this pearl-colored city held in the generous bowl of the hills, the calls to prayer began -- not perfectly synchronized -- so the moon-topped minarets called back and forth to each other, gently echoing in the great bowl.  I have always felt that if some power had said to me, "You will stay in Izmir for the rest of your life," I would have been perfectly content.

Thank you for coming here and spending time with me. I wish you a good year, an interesting one, one in which you will encounter joy, one in which you will be generous.


  1. Happy New Year to you Diana! What a wonderful post, a poetic reflection of the past (of all stripes). May this year be even better than the last.


  2. I can not remember how I got here but I am glad I did. Happy New Year.

    Best regards,



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