The Fall Equinox

 


This Fall Equinox was very special. We were honoured to host for lunch Air Marshal Manvendra Singh, AVSM, VrC, VSM, his wife Ambika and their elder son Abhijith. The Manvendras, proud grandparents, had come to Toronto to be with their newborn grandchild.


Air Marshal Manvendra is the highest decorated serving officer from our Course (61 NDA). He is presently Senior Air Staff Officer of Southern Air Command, Thiruvananthapuram. He has clocked over 6600 hours of flying and for him the glorious moment was on October 1, 2016 when he flew a MI 17 Helicopter with his younger son Flight Lieutenant Siddharth Singh as a co- pilot – a record of sorts.

After lunch as our esteemed guests left, on the social media I posted a photograph with a caption ‘Honoured to have hosted Ambika, Air Marshal AVSM, VrC, VSM and their son Abhijith for lunch on the last day of Canadian Summer – 22 Sep 2019.’ The response from our course mates was overwhelming. One read ‘The man speaks for himself. Some people need not be named. The whole world knows that.’

It was then that I noticed that I missed Manvendra’s name in my post. How did this blunder creep in? Like a good NDA course mate, I initially wrote ‘Manvendra (F/61)‘, but then some how felt that it was inadequate, as I thought that I got to honour his rank and his well deserved decorations. Finally, when I rewrote it, I missed the obvious – his name. So I was missing the proverbial woods for the trees. In Indian Army terms, my Minor Staff Duties (SD) was correct, but I missed out on the Major SD – a cardinal sin in military values.

You cannot take out the Indian Soldier in me despite 15 years of my Canadian citizenship. The virus lies inconspicuously, deep within, ready to erupt when you least expect.


The Fall (Autumnal) Equinox is when the Sun is exactly above the Equator and day and night are approximately equal all over the globe. It falls on September 22 or 23. The word ‘Equinox’ is Latin meaning ‘Equal Night.’ In reality, it isn’t exactly equal on an Equinox – for Torontonians the Sun rose at 7:04 AM and set at 7:17 PM. The spring Equinox is on March 22. Of course for those in the Southern hemisphere, the Spring/ Autumnal Equinoxes are reversed.

I love my astronomy – so let me elaborate. For most of us the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West. In reality it does so exactly in the East/ West on only two days in the year, on the two Equinoxes. The phenomenon of the apparent Southward/ Northward movement of the Sun is caused by the combined effects of the revolution of the Earth and the tilt of the Earth’s axis (the plane of the ecliptic). Ancient Indians called this apparent Northward/ Southward movement of the Sun as Uttarayanam and Dakhinayanam.

As the days progress to Winter Solstice marking the beginning of Winter on December 22 with the longest night, we lose daylight everyday. From now on every day Torontonians lose about 3½ minutes of daylight. The Sun will rise a tiny bit further South-East everyday until it reaches a maximum South-East position on the day of the Winter Solstice. Then on it will rise a tiny bit Northward everyday, commencing the Uttarayanam.  On March 22 (Spring Equinox), it will again rise exactly due East and we will experience nearly equal day/night. From then on the Sun will move a tiny bit North-West everyday until it reaches its extreme North-West position on the day of the Summer Solstice on June 22, a day when we experience the longest day and shortest night of the year.   Dakshinayanam commences thereafter.

There is a Chinese myth that it is easier to balance an egg vertically on its end on a flat surface on Equinox than on other days of the year. It is believed that the Moon and Earth are in exactly the right alignment on Equinox and the celestial bodies generating the perfect balance of forces needed to make it possible. In reality, it is a myth and the position of the Moon and other celestial bodies will vary from Equinox to Equinox. You can perhaps balance an egg just as well on any day of the year.


This loss/gain of daylight and the change of the seasons is less significant for those living closer to Equator like my kin from the God’s Own Country. In Canada and the extreme latitudes, the changes are very significant and results in daylight saving time setting, changing our clocks twice a year. The Autumnal Equinox marks the beginning of Fall with the leaves turning yellow, later red and falling off. In Canada the maple tree will assume different shades of yellow, orange, red and pink during the autumn as the photo depicts, before they finally fall off. This phenomenon can be experienced in Kashmir as well.

 

An Evening in Lisbon


After a sumptuous lunch and enjoying some Japanese cultural events, we set out to visit the Monastery of St. Jerome.  The monastery was populated by monks of the Order of Saint Jerome, whose spiritual job was to give guidance to sailors and pray for the king’s soul and success of many explorations the Portuguese explorers undertook.

Commissioned by King Manuel I in 1501, to celebrate Portuguese voyages around the world and in particular to commemorate Vasco Da Gama’s voyage and give thanks to the Virgin Mary for its success.  The decorative style of stonework that incorporates maritime motifs such as twisted rope and the armillary sphere (a spherical framework of rings, centred on Earth or the Sun, that represent lines of celestial longitude and latitude and other astronomically important features).

The monastery lies on the site of a former chapel built by Prince Henry the Navigator and dedicated to St Mary where Vasco da Gama is thought to have prayed in 1497 before his epic voyage to India. Construction of this building took a century to complete.


We entered the monastery through the 32-meter high door in the center of the façade of the stunning and exuberant South portal.  The ornate stonework contains over 40 statues set into the pillars that flank the door which includes the twelve Apostles of Christ.


At the centre of the portal, between the two doors, on a pedestal stands the statue of Henry the Navigator.


The Madonna (St Mary) is on a pedestal on top of the arch doorway, surmounted by the archangels.


The Church is made up of three halls with a width of 30 meters of the same height united by a single vaulted ceiling supported by six pillars with a circular base.  This design enabled the church roof to withstand the 1755 earthquake which brought down many buildings in Lisbon.


Hailing from Kerala,  this was what I was in search of during my explorations of Lisbon city – the Tomb of Vasco da Gama.

Vasco da Gama, discovered the sea route from Europe to India, circumnavigating Cape of Good Hope and landed at Kappad near Kozhikode (Calicut), in 1498.  He died at Cochin (Kochi) in 1524, on the Christmas day during his third voyage.  He was buried at the St Francis Church. Kochi (at that time the church was called St Anthony’s.)  In 1538 Vasco Da Gama’s remains were taken to Goa and then to Portugal. This tomb in the monastery is the final resting place of Vasco Da Gama.


From the church, we walked into an open lawn in the centre of the monastery, covered from all sides by the two level of cloisters.. These covered halls of the cloisters were architectural masterpieces and full of so many sculptural details.


The cloisters are magnificent, with each column and arch differently carved with coils of rope, sea monsters, coral, and other sea motifs, representing Portuguese exploration at sea.


From the monastery, we walked on the road that ran along the river.  Here we came across this crane.  This crane is installed at the very site of the Air Base from where the Seaplanes operated to patrol Portuguese coast during World War II.  This was also the base from where two pilots Gago Coutinho and Sacdura Cabral departed in their Seaplane on March 30, 1922 on their first successful trans-South-Atlantic flight to Rio-de-Janerio.


As we walked another hundred meters from the crane, there stood a steel replica of the Seaplane ‘Santa Croz’ which flew the last leg of the trans-South-Atlantic flight.


We continued our walk along the river front to reach Belem Tower.  This tower was constructed between 1514 and 1520 as part of the Tagus estuary defence system. Years later, it was transformed into a lighthouse and customs house.  The tower has two distinct parts – the taller one a keep tower and the other with two artillery levels to house cannons.  There were pits in the lower level where the prisoners were thrown into.


On the western façade of the Tower of Belém, is a rhinoceros head.  How did this rhino find a place on a tower in Lisbon?.

In 1514 Afonso de Albuquerque, the Governor of Portuguese India wanted to build a fortress in Diu, governed by Sultan Muzafar.  The Sultan did not grant his wish, instead gifted a rhinoceros. Albuquerque decided to gift the rhino to King Manuel I.  The animal was shipped to Lisbon and it roused curiosity in entire Europe. It was the first live rhinoceros to be seen in Europe since the 13th century.  The King wanted to gift the rhino to the Pope.  A ship carrying the rhino left Lisbon in December 1515 but sailed into a violent storm and sank, killing the entire crew.  As the rhino was tied up it also died, however, its body was recovered.  The King ordered the rhino to be stuffed and sent to the Pope, as if nothing had happened.


How to convert a tuk-tuk into a piece of art?  A bird skimming on water, standing in front of Modern and Contemporary Art Museum.  This artwork caught my attention as we walked to catch a tuk-tuk from the Belem Tower.


We got into a tuk-tuk on our journey through Lisbon to Kerala Restaurant we chose for dinner.  Lisbonites advice that in case you wish to have a smooth ride, select tuk-tuk driven by a woman.  This ride did prove the saying.


We passed by Monsanto Forest Park, a municipal protected forest in the middle of  Lisbon covering 10 km2.  It offers a well diversified tree-covered area to the Portuguese capital and also acts as the city’s ‘air purifier.’


We then drove through the Alcantara valley passing by the Aqueduct.  Built in 1746 to supply clean drinking water.  This 58 km aqueduct is made up of 109 stone arches, which were the tallest stone arches in the world when they were built. Luckily, it too survived the 1755 earthquake.


We landed at the Kerala Restaurant and we were in for many surprises.  We were ushered in by Thrineesha, co-owner and wife of Chef Vijeesh Rajan.  She is an IT Professional who works during the day, pursuing her higher studies and assists her husband in the restaurant in the evenings.  Every aspect of the restaurant – from decor to the food being served – had her signature.


It was in fact after a long time that we from North America had authentic Kerala food – we had to travel all the way to Portugal for it.  We really enjoyed our dinner and bid goodbye to Thrineesha and Vijesh.

We returned to pack up our belongings and prepare for our return flight to Canada.

The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.”  Tony Robbins, American author, philanthropist, and life coach.

 

Harvest Moon


Today is September 13, 2019, Friday.  You must have read in my earlier blog about ‘Triskaidekaphobia’ the fear of number 13 (from Greek tris (‘three’), kai (‘and’), and deka (‘ten’), and ‘Paraskevidekatriaphobia’ is the term used to describe the fear of ‘Friday the thirteenth’  – (Greek words paraskevi (‘Friday’) and dekatria (‘thirteen’) with –phobia as a suffix to indicate ‘fear’).

There is another astronomical significance for this Friday the 13th  – it coincided with Full Moon.   Last time a full moon appeared on Friday the 13th was in October of 2000.   This Full Moon is also called a ‘micro-moon’  because it is at its farthest point from Earth  – also known as its apogee.  Being at the farthest point, the moon appeared  around 14% smaller than usual and much dimmer than a normal Full Moon.

As this Full Moon fell immediately before Fall Equinox, It is called a Harvest Moon.

The term ‘Equinox’ comes from Latin meaning ‘equality of night and day.’   It occurs twice in a year – one in Spring (22 March) and one in Fall (22 September), that is when the Sun crosses the celestial equator, causing day and night to be of 12 hours each.   In Canada, Fall Equinox marks the beginning of Fall season.

‘Harvest Moon’ is an old European term applied to a full moon that rises closest to the beginning of fall.   In the earlier days when the farmers could not illuminate their farmland, the bright light of the moon facilitated farmers to work a little later into the night to bring in their crops well before Fall set in.

As if to facilitate harvest, the harvest moon rises 10 to 30 minutes after the sun sets, whereas most moons rise approximately 50 minutes after sunset.  In Toronto,  on September 13, the sun did set at 7:31 PM and the moon rose at 7:46 PM. This time gap between sunset and moon-rise was even shorter as one moved closer to the North Pole.

The next Full Moon on a Friday the 13th  will appear in August 2049.

Discovering the City of Discoverers


On the morning of June 22 we decided to explore the Tagus River front of Lisbon.  We walked to the Vasco da Gama Garden on the Northern bank of Tagus River. The garden is a lovely green space situated in one of the noble areas of cosmopolitan Lisbon.  The garden features a wave-shaped lake on the lower level of the garden and a fountain with waterspouts.


The most prominent landmark visible from the garden is the 25th April Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Europe. The 2277 meter long bridge has two levels, the top level with six lanes is for cars and the lower, which was added in 1999 carries double electrified railway tracks.  The bridge was inaugurated on 06 August 1966 and was named Salazar Bridge, after António de Oliveira Salazar, dictator of Portugal until 1974. After the Carnation Revolution that took place on 25 April 1974, Salazar’s regime was overturned, the Bridge was named 25th April Bridge.


On the Southern bank of the river is the municipality of Almada and there stands Cristo Rei, one of Lisbon’s most iconic monuments. This statue depicts Christ with open arms raised, blessing the city.  Its construction commenced in 1950 in reverence for Portugal being saved from the horrors of World War II.  Lisbon’s Cristo Rei has many similarities to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, and the Brazilian statue was the original inspiration.


In the centre of the garden stands the Monument to the Discoveries, originally built for the 1940 World Exhibition.  It commemorates the achievements of explorers during the Age of Discoveries and the creation of Portugal’s empire.  The monument was only built as a temporary structure and it was demolished a couple of years after the closure of the exhibition.  The monument of today is an exact replica of the original one. It was built in 1960 on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death.  Henry the Navigator was a driving force behind the overseas exploration and he financed many of the Portuguese expeditions.

The fifty meter tall monument, shaped like a ship’s bow, stands where in 1493 a storm forced Christopher Columbus to anchor here on his way back to Spain after his discovery of the Americas and in1497 Vasco da Gama embarked on his voyage to India.  The monument has thirty-three statues of people who played an important role in the Portuguese Age of Discovery.  Each statue is designed to show movement towards the front (the unknown sea), projecting a direct or indirect synthesis of their participation in the events after Henry the Navigator.


At the tip of the bow stands Henry the Navigator holding a model of a Caravel.  The Caravel was a small, highly manoeuvrable sailing ship developed in the 15th century by the Portuguese to explore along the West African coast and into the Atlantic Ocean.

On the port side of the ship, behind Henry are King Afonso V who supported the exploration and colonization of Africa  and the explorers Afonso Baldaia who explored the coast of Western Sahara, Vasco da Gama, Pedro Álvares Cabral (discoverer of Brazil) and Ferdinand Magellan (the first explorer to circumnavigate the world). They are followed by navigators, writers, missionaries, a mathematician, a cartographer and other figures from the era of the discoveries.


On the starboard side, Henry is followed by Prince Fernando, brother of Henry, and explorers João Gonçalves Zarco who established settlements on the Madeira Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, South-West of Portugal.  They are followed by a Queen, a writer, a poet, a painter,  chroniclers and pilots of Caravels.


We entered the monument, and purchased the entry tickets.  The monument houses a museum, exhibition halls and other rooms spread over seven floors.  An elevator leads to the rooftop, but I climbed to the rooftop through the stairs.  The rooftop offered a stunning view of the city and Tagus River.


At the foot of the Monument to the Discoveries is a giant 14 meter wide marble wind rose embedded in the pavement – the Mappa Mundi – a gift from South Africa in 1960.  A map of the world at the center of the wind rose charts the Portuguese explorations.  The map shows the most important dates in the history of the discoveries and ships mark the locations where Portuguese explorers first set foot on land.


I was more interested in the exploration of India.  Calicut (Kozhikode), Goa and Daman find a place on the map so is Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  Portuguese led by Vasco da Gama were the first to land at Kozhikode, sailing from Europe, circumventing the Cape of Good Hope in search of spices.  I was fascinated more by the spellings of various places on this map.


We climbed down the stairs of the Monument to the Discoveries and walked to the East end of the Vasco da Gama Garden where the Japanese Festival was being held.  The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in Japan in 1543.  Now more than 400 years past that first sparkle of friendship, this event is held in June to celebrate the friendship between two countries and their cultures.  This annual festival is organised by the Japanese embassy and Japanese Trading Commission among others.

We enjoyed various cultural performances by Japanese artists while savouring authentic Japanese dumplings and sushi for lunch.

After lunch, we continued with our explorations of the city of Lisbon.

Quinta da Regaleira : A Mysterious Palace

After exploring the Moors Castle, we set out to the Quinta da Regaleira, an extravagant neo-gothic mansion – also a UNESCO World Heritage protected landscape. There is more to Quinta da Regaleira than its architecture. However, let us understand what is meant by Gothic and Neo Gothic in Architecture. Gothic architecture is from the later Middle Ages characterised by pointed arches, elongated vertical windows, and flying buttresses — the pillars or other supports outside the building to give its walls further lateral support and allow for greater height and larger windows. It originated in France in the 11th century and spread across Western Europe and subsequently petered out by the 17th century, when it was replaced by other styles. Neo-Gothic, also called Gothic Revival, is a resumption of the Gothic style, from the 19th century to the early 20th. It tries to imitate and idealize original Gothic architecture, or more correctly a highly romanticized version of it. The movement was in keeping with a general trend towards romanticism, as a reaction against the intervening centuries of the renaissance or enlightenment which celebrated Reason, science and logic.

The Quinta da Regaleira was constructed in 1910 by Carvalho Monteiro, an eccentric millionaire who made his wealth in Brazil exporting coffee.  The property consists of a romantic palace and chapel, and a luxurious park. Carvalho was fascinated by secret cults and mysticism, and filled the densely forested grounds of his mansion with symbolic religious icons. This includes the 27m deep Initiation Well, which was used for Knights Templar or Tarot initiation rites

Below the grounds are a series of grottos (a small cave or artificial cave mostly used for religious purposes) and passages, which symbolise a hidden underworld, and there is even a cave entrance concealed behind a waterfall.


The exterior of the mansion is equally intriguing, with creepy wells, ornate pinnacles and gothic architecture.


The Quinta da Regaleira – a decorative 20th century residence is a grand house, split over five floors and has an ornate Gothic façade. The real ‘spooky’ attraction is to the rear with the enchanting gardens.


First, a bit of history. The property originally belonged to Francisco Alberto Guimarães de Castro, who bought it in 1715 when the Regaleira tower was all that occupied the land. In 1800, João António Lopes Fernandes acquired the land and owned it until 1830, when it was transferred to Manuel Bernardo.  A year later Ermelinda Allen Monteiro de Almeida, a wealthy Portuguese businessman bought the property and named the estate Quinta da Regaleira after she received the designation of First Viscountess of Regaleira. The estate was sold to Carvalho Monteiro, a wealthy Brazilian and heir to a successful coffee trade business who already owned land adjacent to the property.


The palace was constructed in 1904 by Carvalho Monteiro, which gave its local name ‘Palace of the Monteiro Millionaire’. The construction of the current estate commenced in 1904 and much of it was completed by 1910.  On the death of Carvalho Monteiro, the house was purchased by Waldemar d’Orey.  It stayed within the family until 1987, when it was bought by Aoki Corporation of Japan for private functions.  Sintra local government reclaimed this monument it 1997 and opened it to the public in 1998.


After purchasing the entrance tickets, we commenced our long trek to the hill top through a walkway adorned with many stone archways.  After about ten minutes of climb we reached one of the most fascinating features located in the area – a pair of wells known as the ‘Initiation Wells’ or ‘Inverted Towers’, spiraling deep down the earth.


The main well contains nine platforms, which are said to be reminiscent of the Divine Comedy by Dante and the nine circles of Hell, the nine sections of Purgatory and the nine skies which constitute Paradise.  At the bottom of the well is a compass over a Knights Templar cross.  Very little is known about how the wells were used and what exactly went on there, though it is evident that great effort went into its planning and construction.


We climbed down the stairs of the well and from the bottom of the well, we walked through a secret tunnel and arrived at the middle of the spiral staircase underground.  We were now at the bottom of a smaller well, called the ‘Unfinished Well.’  It all appeared to be a mysterious place that we thought could only exist in fairy tales.  Looking up we could see a patch of perfect circular sky through the well.


This well contained a set of straight staircases, connecting the ring-shaped floors to one another.  The wells were never used, nor intended for water collection. Instead, these wells were used for secretive initiation rites.  The wells left us bewildered about the events that must have transpired there. For a while we were transported to an ancient spiritual world of mystery and intrigue. One could literally sense restless souls moving about in the dark corners.


Walking through a tunnel from the unfinished well, we landed at the Cascade Lake in the middle of a garden.


From the lake we walked to the Portal of the Guardians, a highly dynamic structure composed of twin towers flanking a central pavilion under which is hidden one of the underground ways to the Initiation Well through the mouth of the Cascade Lake.


We were now greeted by main gate of the entrance of Quinta da Regaleira.


Next to the entrance is the Chapel of the Holy Trinity or the Regaleira Chapel.  It is a Roman Catholic Chapel that stands in front of the palace’s main façade. The interior of the chapel is richly decorated with frescoes, stained glass windows and lavish stuccoes  surrounded by pentagrams. Despite its relatively small size, the chapel has several floors.


Fresco above the altar in the Chapel depicts Jesus Christ crowning the Virgin Mary.  The Chapel is also adorned by scenes of the life of Jesus Christ.  The crypt is linked to the Palace through a tunnel.


We entered the palace through a grand archway with wooden double doors.  We were allowed entry into the first floor of the palace to explore.


The first room we entered past the main portal was the octagonal Dining Room.  A  massive fireplace that supports a statue of a woodsman was the main attraction. The mantelpiece depicts well carved hunting scenes.  Thus the room is also called the ‘Hunting Room.’


We crossed over the corridor to the Renaissance Hall, the drawing room of the palace.  The design of the room was inspired by the Urbino Palace of Italy.  Intricate wooden ceiling will caught our attention.


This Music Room designed for social and personal gatherings.  The paintings depict that it was more appropriate for a feminine type of elegant living.


Now we entered the Kings Room, formerly the billiards room.  Its ceiling is decorated with the portraits of 20 Kings and four Queens of Portugal and the Coats-of-Arms of Four Portuguese cities – Lisbon, Porto, Coimbra and Braga.

We bid goodbye to Sintra in the evening to catch the train to Lisbon.