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JoeRohde.net

 

I was on the island of Borneo, in Sarawak, up a river in a sweaty Dayak longhouse. It wasn't much to look at, planks laid over a handhewn frame, a wobbly floor, and a tin roof.  Of course, there was some minimal electricity, as there is almost everywhere now, and although it was daytime and the sun was beating down on the clapboard wall to my back, the lights were on, such as they were. This was because there was going to be a dance. An old man came forward, his body covered in esoteric tattoos. He carried a narrow wooden shield and a wicked-looking parang, or fighting knife. It's sort of a machete that's been fancied up with extra curliques and zigzags. Traditionally, this weapon was used for headhunting. But the Dayak no longer took heads, so now, it was just a dance implement. I didn't expect much of the impending performance, as he was just a stringy, leathery scarecrow of a guy with corrugated, horizontal wrinkles across his tattooed stomach.  But when the music started, his war dance was filled with vigor and strange menace. The sword, gleaming in the half-light would spin, slip, flip, and swerve over his arm like a bandleaders baton. His footwork was complex and confusing. He must have been eighty, and I realized that at his age, he would have lived through World War Two. It's rumored that the Dayaks, traditional headhunters, were encouraged to take up their old habits as a kind of insurgency against Japanese occupation. If so, this fellow was right in the age bracket to be reliving some serious noggin-harvesting. It was clear that he did not give a damn that anyone was watching. His dance was his, in honor of his ancestors, who knew who they were, and what their world expected them to do.


Most of the time, having a big collection of tribal earrings hanging from the side of my head is no big deal. I don't really notice them, and pretty much forget that they are there. For the most part, I only hear about people staring from others who are with me and notice it. I am almost never aware of being stared at. Once in a great while, someone will act towards me in an antisocial way that I assume is commonly experienced by marginalized people: refused service, pushed off sidewalk, aggressive or openly insulting remarks, beer cans thrown at you from moving vehicle, but this is very rare. So rare that it always surprises me. Otherwise, I might quit. I don't want to upset people, even intolerant dicks.

 However, the earrings do not just attract human attention, negative or otherwise, and the attraction they have for non-humans is, in a way, more dangerous. The earrings are shiny. Certain creatures really like shiny things. When they encounter these shiny objects, such creatures, like this conure, try to take them. This is usually done with mouth parts, since most creatures who might end up near your shoulder don't have hands. The mouth parts of a conure, like other pssitacines, parrots, macaws, cockatoos, etc. are really strong and sharp. I have come very close to having my entire earlobe nipped off. This photo was posed, and not posed for long either. By the way, this problem occurs when snorkeling as well, and could be really disastrous, as my earrings are about the size of a lure one would use for a good sized, fast-swimming game fish,

Iike a barracuda.

I was in the Hagia Sofia last summer. It's big. For those who don't know, it's the giant, famous, domed building that defines the skyline of old Istanbul today, along with two mosques whose forms are derived directly from it, the Blue Mosque and the Suliemanye Mosque.

After the fall of the Western Roman empire, in 476, the remainder of the dwindling empire was administrated from Constantinople, modern Istanbul. Of course, with the loss of the fertile provinces of Gaul, Germania, Hispania, Britannia, indeed the loss of the entire Italian peninsula, and the tax revenues these regions would have provided, the empire had to make due with less. Yeah. So they built an entire new capital full of giant palaces, surrounded it with a "wall" which is more like one endless Tower of London stretched forty miles long to surround their capital, and in it, built the biggest grandest structure ever yet constructed on earth, the Hagia Sofia. Poor guys. It's tough making do with less.

The Hagia Sofia was a church, of course, because these particular Romans had, a couple generations earlier, made Christianity the State Religion of the Empire. One of the reasons Emperor Constantine moved the capital from Rome was to avoid cranky, old money families who were loyal to the ancient religion. So he, and his heirs, the Emperor Justinian specifically, were out to prove a point with this structure. Rome was still in the game, just, a new game.

This giant monster of a building was completed in five years, which, for an old hard-hat hound like me is remarkably similar to any really big civic scale project today. After Constantinople finally fell, a thousand years later, to the Turks, it was made into a mosque, and after the Turkish Empire fell to Kemal Ataturk's secular revolution, it became a museum. It is many things; sacred, storied, mystical, impressive, but chiefly, it is simply huge. The dome, which is itself really huge and golden, sits supported by four equally huge half domes, also pretty much golden, which sit above a set of huge golden arches. People walking around on the floor are to the dome, about what those little green plastic army men are to your living room ceiling. Nowadays with indoor stadiums and all, we are often inside larger spaces, but ours are all built with steel and fancy modern materials. Hagia Sofia was built of bricks and stone by guys walking up and down on wood ladders. Take it from me, it feels different to walk around under two football fields worth of fifteen hundred year old masonry.

A recent post from my Instagram profile (@joerohde) So... Once upon a time, I got caught between Calais, France and Dover, England, without a passport. Long story, involving thieves, a spur-of-the-moment road trip, inattentive douane, and a hovercraft. In any case, I was finally allowed into Great Britain after a long grilling and a huge fine joyously levied onto the French Customs Office. However, my new passport was issued from the embassy in London, and was out of style with those issued in the US. The weirdness of my passport, my dissolute appearance in the photo, and my unusual travel patterns led to a decade of "random" detentions, and at least three full-on strip searches. So watch your stuff when checking out of the hotel. 

A recent post from my Instagram profile (@joerohde) 
Kebab skewers, just one of the many things in store in a distended earlobe, but not for long.

This earring is Frankish. So I was told. I bought it from a man who dealt in prehistoric cave bear fossils, claws, teeth, skulls, whole skeletons. He had a thick German accent, or at least, German to me, could have been Austrian or even Swiss. This was at the Tucson Gem and Fossil show, which is worth a story in itself. Dealers from all over the world descend on the desert town, taking over hotels, motels, and convention centers to sell everything from Burmese rubies to entire stegosaurs. I was in the converted bedroom of a Best Western Motel, surrounded by full-sized mounted cave bear skeletons and their assorted disartculated bones. I have learned that often the best deals are little abandoned tchotchkes that  the seller doesn't specialize in, so I asked about the damaged earring sitting among a scattering of patinaed pins, buttons, and brooches. "Daht iss Vrankish, Sevenz  Zentury, from Aachen." He was a bit put out that I might wear it in my ear. "But, it iss Vrankish!" I told him that was the point. There is a big hole in the earring. I suspect that this is because the earring was ritually killed before being buried with its original owner. That kind of thing is not uncommon in pre-Christian warrior graves, objects being partially destroyed so that they can go on to the afterlife with their owners. It has seen things and places that it's original owner could not imagine. Someday in the far in the future, it may lie on another table surrounded by fragments of a vanished past and someone will say, "It's from ancient Pasadena, along the western coast. I found it with some others."

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