Sunday, June 30, 2013

VISITING THE BLUE MOSQUE: A moment of transcendent light!

COURTYARD OF THE BLUE MOSQUE. This is the courtyard of the Blue Mosque and it is as large as the mosque's interior. We tourists have just been escorted out of the mosque as Muslims were called to prayer. Only those who have come to prayer are admitted through the main door. (photo by Tony Martin)

Hallelujah for the Blue Mosque! Hallelujah for seizing the day and traveling to Turkey to one of the most magnificent cities in the world—Istanbul!
DAZZLING INTERIOR OF THE BLUE MOSQUE.  The prayerful men are separated from us tourists but we may respectful look on and around the interior of the Blue Mosque without disturbing them. If you notice, I am wearing a head scarf. All women are asked to cover their heads when entering the mosque. I brought my own scarf. For those who didn't the Blue Mosque provides them.(photo by Tony Martin)
To step into the dazzling light streaming through windows in the Blue Mosque in the ancient part of Istanbul was the fulfillment of a dream of mine that begin in my ESL classroom almost twenty years ago.  Turkish students inevitably write papers or give presentations about this architectural holy wonder that was built by architect Mehmet Aga to compete with the awesome Aya Sofya located close by.

Better yet, although the Blue Mosque is open and free to visiting tourists, it is still an active place where Muslims pray five times a day. One of the most thrilling aural experiences is hearing the call to prayer, which is played on microphones and projected out over the entire city. At this time of prayer, tourists are escorted out hurriedly, and the courtesy scarves and wrap around skirts lent to women to politely cover themselves are collected.
WOMEN'S PLACE OF PRAYER. In Islam, women and men prayer separately. Here in this photo, women are emerging from a private shelter in the back of the Blue Mosque. Men pray in the open space (See above where I am wearing a head scarf. You can see the praying men.) (photo by Hallelujah Truth)
The crowd’s hustle and bustle combined with its genuine respect for this sacred space is overwhelming! I am reminded of how much the spirit of creativity and the sophisticated execution of human imagination can elevate us to something transcendent.
TRANSCENDENT LIGHT. (photo by Tony Martin)
This exquisite mosque was constructed a thousand years after the Aya Sofya between 1606 and 1616 and has 260 windows and thousands of blue tiles that give the Blue Mosque its name.

Being there was like experiencing an explosion of transcendent light!

Hallelujah for the Blue Mosque! Have you dear pilgrims visited this LIGHT HOUSE TO THE SPIRIT? Or a similar place (if one exists)? SOUL BLOG with me at Coffee with Hallelujah and tell me about it!

ACKNOWLEDGMENT: Thanks to my Chiboogamoo, who is my steadfast companion and world traveler. I love you! What a wonderful life we have visiting these amazing places in the world! Here we are in Turkey in front of the Blue Mosque facing the Hippodrome! (photo by fellow tourist)

Friday, June 14, 2013


NOT APING AROUND. Part of the charm and grandeur of the Natural History Museum is its stone décor, including depictions of recognizable animals, such as snakes and monkeys. At some point, the artist in Paleontologist Barbie compels her to stop and admire some of this handiwork. “I would not be ashamed to have this monkey as my ancestor,” she says as a nod to Thomas Huxley (1825-1895), quickly followed by her explaining how humans are evolutionarily more closely related to apes than monkeys. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)
One year ago, pre-2012 Olympic Games, Paleontologist Barbie visited the United Kingdom (U.K.) in May. Near the top of her list of places to see there was the Natural History Museum in London, with its many displays of fantastic fossils, and some of which have historical significance in the science of paleontology. The following interview is a result of just a small sample of what she saw and learned while there with Anthony Martin, Emory University’s paleontologist, and his wife (me) Hallelujah Truth

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM OF LONDON. This magnificent structure built in Victorian England was completed in 1883. (photo source)

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Why is it that you wanted so desperately to get to England and especially to the Natural History Museum of London?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Much of paleontology of today started right here in England with Mary Anning. Many of her great fossil discoveries are in the Natural History Museum of London, along with those of other paleontologists of her time in the 19th century. This was like visiting sacred ground!

CONSIDERING GEOLOGICAL TIME...Paleontologist Barbie is excited to see a sign telling museum visitors about the LONG relationship between humans and dinosaurs. "Well, not that LONG. I mean, 150 years--that's NOTHING in geological time" (snorting)! (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Can you tell me something more about the history of British paleontology that interests you specifically?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: The United Kingdom is where the word "dinosaur" was invented. Richard Owen invented the word which literally means "terrible lizard." And because it was Victorian England, "terrible" at the time meant "awesome"! There were other notable paleontologists, too, such as Gideon Mantell who discovered Iguanadonand his wife Mary, who discovered fossils with him and then illustrated many of them.

SOME OF THE FIRST IDENTIFIED DINOSAUR FOSSILS. While avoiding accidental trampling from children in the Dinosaur Hall of the museum, Paleontologist Barbie is thrilled to see fossils that were among the first recognized dinosaur fossils: teeth and a thumb spike from Iguanodon. Gideon and Mary Mantell found these fossils in the 1820s; Iguanodon, named in 1825, was only the second formally named dinosaur at the time. “See, little things can be very important,” she says a little self-consciously. (Incidentally, the caption says, “The original teeth and thumb spike found by the Mantells. At first the spike was identified as a horn on the end of the nose.”) (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: What did you think about the exhibits at the Natural History Museum of London?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I really enjoyed that we could walk above some of the skeletons of the dinosaurs, and I was thrilled to see the original specimen of Baryonyx. This was the first dinosaur interpreted as a fish eater, although I'm not sure whether or not it just ate fish on Fridays (giggle). The robotic dinosaurs, I didn't like so much. I'm more of an old-fashioned paleontologist. Give me dinosaur bones. Give me dinosaur tracks. I want to study fossils, darn it to heck!

FOSSIL MARINE REPTILES. Paleontologist Barbie had already seen most of the species of dinosaurs in the Dinosaur Hall, so she ran straight over to one of the most awesome displays in the museum, the Fossil Marine Reptiles Hall. “Ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and crocodilians – oh my!” she exclaims excitedly. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: I know that you and my husband Chiboogamoo make a special effort to go to natural history museums wherever you travel. What surprised you the most at this particular natural history museum?
PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Three words: MARINE REPTILES HALL! I was in awe when I looked down that hallway and saw that the walls were stacked with incredible marine fossils from the Mesozoic Era. My jaw dropped. My face froze in a permanent grin, and I felt like I couldn't move. It was incredible.

SWIMMING WITH THE ICHTHYOSAURS The Fossil Marine Reptiles Hall has an incredible collection of marine reptiles from the Mesozoic Era, many of which come from the “Jurassic Coast” of southern England. Among these fossils are complete skeletons of ichthyosaurs, a group of marine reptiles that lived in the world’s oceans about 245-90 million years ago. Because ichthyosaurs, like dolphins, had bodies well adapted to swimming in the oceans, these animals are often used as examples of convergent evolution, in which unrelated animals evolve the same body plans. “Forget swimming with the dolphins,” she says, in a direct rebuke to New-Age-type people. “I want to swim with the ichthyosaurs!” (P.S. “Eat my dihydrogen monoxide, Michael Phelps!”) (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)
LIVE REPTILE BIRTH IN THE MESOZOIC. One of the more incredible fossils on display the Marine Reptile Hall is of a mother ichthyosaur that must have died while giving birth. Fossils like this gave evidence of live birth in reptiles during the Mesozoic Era, showing ichthyosaurs were fully adapted for living in marine environments, and did not have to come onto land to lay eggs, like sea turtles. “Wow, that’s, like, totally different from an oviparous mode of reproduction in marine reptiles that require nest building,” Paleontologist Barbie observes nonchalantly. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)
COMMON DESCENT EVIDENCE. Paleontologist Barbie poses here in front of a plesiosaur's swimming paddle. “Why, look: it has homologous limb bones consistent with those of a land-dwelling reptile, showing common descent!” she correctly points out. “Good thing I’m in the U.K. - I couldn’t get away with saying that in parts of the U.S., especially the ‘homologous’ part,” she laments. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)

SHELLED CEPHLAPODS NOW EXTINCT. “An ammonite! About time we saw some invertebrates!” she says upon seeing a gorgeous specimen of one. Ammonite were shelled cephalopods that lived in the world’s oceans from the Devonian through the Cretaceous Periods, but went extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs, about 65 million years ago. “Hmmm, is that an equiangular spiral I see?”, she muses. As a skilled mathematician, Paleontologist Barbie enjoys applying her quantitative skills in paleontology whenever possible. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: What was one of the most exciting things that you saw during your visit at the natural history museum?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I was left speechless when I came upon the fossil of Archaeopteryx, the oldest known bird...(tee hee)...or some dinosaur. Whatever. I just love science! 
IS IT A BIRD? OR A DINOSAUR? Probably the most thrilling fossil in the museum for Paleontologist Barbie was the counterpart slab of Archaeopteryx, the oldest known bird. Or some dinosaur. Whatever. Anyway, the London specimen was discovered in 1861 in Late Jurassic rocks of Germany, and is one of only ten known to science. For once, Paleontologist Barbie is speechless. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: If you could spend an unlimited about of time studying and asking questions in the Natural History Museum of London, what would you pick? Why?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I would love to learn more about mammoths. So much of my background has been more in fossils from the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Eras, yet I'm living in the Cenozoic Era! And we live with elephants today, but what were elephants like ten thousand years ago? It would be really great to learn about those elephants and how similar to or different they were from from modern elephants. I also love returning to my roots--geology! And the U.K. is so important in the history of geology!
BIRTH PLACE OF GEOLOGICAL SURVEYS. Within the museum is the British Geological Survey, which was the first national geological survey anywhere in the world. Many basic principles of geology were founded in England and Scotland, and English geologist William Smith made one of the first geological maps in 1815. “I love geology!” shouts Paleontologist Barbie. “You Brits make the horizontal bedrock!” she exclaims. Fortunately, she is ushered away just before declaring her affection for low-angle thrust faults, which likely would have caused an international incident. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)

STRANGE ROCKS. Paleontologist Barbie continued to express her affection for geology as she went through the rock and mineral collections. One of the most impression specimens she saw was of a xenolith, which literally means “strange rock.” In this instance, what looks like a chloritic schist (a metamorphic rock, left) was included in a granite (an igneous rock), formed when hot magma broke through the pre-existing metamorphic rock and incorporated a piece of it. “Hey, don’t you think it’s gneiss that I know my schist, and don’t take it for granite?” she says, reeling off geologically themed puns with wild abandon. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)   

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Have you done research in the U.K.? Why or why not?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE:  No I haven't. But I think I would love to do it. Especially on the Isle of Wight. I have heard there are fantastic dinosaur tracks there and as you know, I love dinosaur tracks. Well! I just plain love any tracks, modern or ancient!
MODERN ANIMALS INFORM US ABOUT ANCIENT ONES. Of course, the Natural History Museum also has a vast collection of modern animals and animal parts on display, including this assemblage of bird feet. Paleontologist Barbie is impressed with this, and is eager to apply this newly gained knowledge to studying theropod dinosaur tracks in the future. “Whoa, check out the absence of digit II on that ostrich, dude!” she says to no one in particular. Nonetheless, because she’s in the U.K., people are amused at her mixture of anatomical banter and American accent. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: If you could work on any project you wanted to, what research you would like to do in the U.K.?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Hmmm that is a good question! There is so much there to study, I would have a hard time narrowing it down. Great Britain has great trilobites and lots of other Paleozoic fossils. Marine reptiles from the Mesozoic. Dinosaurs. Fossil plants. I mean, Coal Measures: Hello!

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Who is your favorite living paleontologist in the U.K. right now? Why?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Dr. Angela Milner, who is at the Natural History Museum, because she was the co-discoverer of Baryonyx. But you know who else is really cool? Dr. Jenny Clack, she wrote a great book about the evolution of fish into four-limbed vertebrates, also known as tetrapods. Look I'm a tetrapod! (Paleo Barbie extends all four limbs and laughs).

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: What speaks to you artistically having been to the Natural History Museum of London? 

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: When I was there, they had a great exhibit on natural history art connected to Captain Cook's expedition to Australia. That was very interesting to see because it showed the important role artists played in the documentation of and exploration of plants, animals, geology, and other parts of natural history. Explorers didn't have cameras then, so they needed artists. And you know what? We still need artists! 

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: And I would say scientists make excellent artists!

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE:  Why thank you (Paleo Barbie blushes, as she is also a practicing artist)!

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Do you see any art projects coming from this visit?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Hmmmm. I would like to do something to honor Mary Anning and Icthyosaurs. Remember the work that Robey Tapp did for Atlanta's Fernbank Museum of Natural History? Well I loved that, but I see myself going in another direction with how Mary Anning would reveal the ichthyosaur fossil piece by piece with each tap of her hammer on the outcrop. How did that really happen for her? Maybe her discovery should be done as a choreographed dance performance.

FIRST FEMALE PALEONTOLIGIST—MARY ANNING. A personal hero of Paleontologist Barbie is Mary Anning (1799-1847), who was one of the most important contributors in early 19th century paleontology in the U.K. She found many of marine reptiles in the museum collection, including ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, at Lyme Regis in southern England. “She sells seashells by the seashore, and plies plebeians with pleasing plesiosaurs!” says Paleontologist Barbie, wittily amending the original tongue twister inspired by Anning’s fossil collecting. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)
HALLELUJAH TRUTH: What other paleontological treasures did you enjoy while you were in the U.K.?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Of course, it was thrilling to see both Darwin's home, Down House, and Crystal Palace while I was in London. But I also enjoyed seeing fossils in some of the museums in Scotland. The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh had some great fossils on display, and then those fossils in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow were fantastic!

PAYING HOMAGE TO CHUCKIE D! A life-sized statue of Charles Darwin beckons, and Paleontologist Barbie stops by it to reflect on Darwin’s vast contributions to science as a biologist and geologist. After doing all of that voyaging on The Beagle, Darwin lived with his family south of London in Down House, only a couple of train and bus rides away from this spot. “I’ll be dropping by soon for a spot of tea, and you can bet I’ll be minding the gap when alighting on the platform!” she says, ably picking up the local idioms. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: I know that you are a wild child when it comes to having fun, in addition to fulfilling your paleontological interests. What else did you do in the U.K. for pleasure?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I have to say the highlight of the day after visiting Darwin's home was to also stop by his pub. That's right! Darwin's bar still exists. So it was thrilling for me to sit down at the bar where Darwin had a beer, and think about natural selection while I naturally selected my beer. Of course, I should add that I always drink in moderation and that I took public transportation to and from Down House. It's very important to be responsible with your fun. I guess the 'wildness' you're talking about is my spirited enthusiasm for learning science!

PALEONTOLOGICAL CONNECTION BETWEEN U.S. AND U.K. At the end of her visit to the Natural History Museum, Paleontologist Barbie looks down on “Dippy,” a cast of the Late Jurassic sauropod Diplodocus. This skeletal cast, a gift from Andrew Carnegie and coming from the U.S., was the first full-sized sauropod skeleton shown anywhere in the world. It has been in the museum for more than 100 years and symbolizes a paleontological connection between the U.K. and U.S., being renewed with Paleontologist Barbie’s visit. She also sees the many people enjoying the museum and all it has to teach them about natural history and the history of science, especially paleontology. “Thank you, Great Britain, for being such a scientifically awesome country!” she says with genuine gratitude. (photograph and caption by Anthony Martin)

HALLELUJAH TRUTH: Can you sum up what you learned from the Natural History Museum in one sentence?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I would love to! Here goes: The earth has a history, life has a history, and our history connects with both of those! Wooooooo (she says laughing)!

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: First and foremost, I want to acknowledge Paleontologist Barbie for her ongoing enthusiasm for all things paleontological! She is an absolute inspiration! Then I want to profusely thank Denise Drake for hosting us while we were in London. Her warm home, companion Ian, happy puppy, and good food fueling intense conversation supported our exploration of this vast urban U.K. city. London is fantastic! As always, without the persistent levity and intelligence of my Chiboogamoo, these Paleontologist Barbie interviews would not exist! I love and admire the creativity of this scientist, writer, and playmate that I live with!

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE'S COLLEAGUE, DR. ANTHONY MARTIN.  My Chiboogamoo was delighted with the Natural History Museum in London. And to share this experience with the spirited keen-witted Paleo Barbie made it all the better.  We paused a moment to pay our respects to Charles Darwin and the beauty of this museum's splendid architecture. (photo and caption by Hallelujah Truth)

Paleontologist Barbie Explores Crystal Palace Park: South London Treasure of 19th Century Dinosaur Sculptures, Questions Art Depictions. One of the delights of Paleontologist Barbie's holiday in the U.K. was viewing some of the first depictions of dinosaurs as sculptures in Crystal Palace.

Paleontologist Barbie Vacations By Doing Bike Ichnology on Jekyll Island on the Coast of Georgia. Paleontologist Barbie loves patterns as they appear in the neoichnology on the beaches of Georgia's Barrier Islands. How fun to spend Thanksgiving looking for traces!
Paleontologist Barbie Willingly Sacrifices Her Winter Holiday to Deepen Emory Students' Understanding of the Concepts of Uniformitarianism on San Salvador, Bahamas at Gerace Field Station. Paleontologist Barbie gets a kick out of snorkeling in modern reefs in the morning and looking at fossil reefs in the afternoon and much much more...

Paleontologist Barbie Pursues Professional Development at 2011 Society of Vertebrate Paleontologist (SVP) Meeting in Las Vegas, Utah, USA. 
Paleontologist Barbie sees exciting tracks and a really cool dinosaur sitting trace in addition to exchanging knowledge with fellow colleague paleontologists. "Professional development is more important than Halloween parties," Paleontologist Barbie was heard saying out in the Utah desert.
Paleontologist Barbie goes to St. Catherines Island to examine reptile burrows.
Paleontologist Barbie explains her understanding of evolution by looking at the "Selections" art exhibit at Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Georgia. Specifically, she provides her interpretation of the importance of art done by Chiboogamoo and Hallelujah Truth.
VASTNESS OF THE MARINE REPTILES HALL. Here I (Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter) stand amazed in front of one of the most incredible collections of marine reptile fossils anywhere. I wish we could have spent days absorbing the presence of these ancient animals. (photo by Anthony Martin)