Thanksgiving Special – For What Am I Thankful?

We’re not that big on holidays. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an immigrant household, in the awkward place of not really being able to fully appreciate the holidays of our origin, for lack of public acknowledgement and others with whom to celebrate, nor those of our new home, which were foreign and unfamiliar to us (I think every immigrant family must have a story involving its first Halloween). Or maybe it’s because from college to law school to clerkship to working abroad, we’ve moved around so much, and often been far from our family and friends with whom we would wish to commemorate a special day. Whatever the cause, routinely we see holidays come and go, marked only by an office function, perhaps, or a day off and an excuse to get out of town. Thanksgiving for us for a few years meant a time to go up to Canada for the weekend, where things would be open. This year, the time of Thanksgiving dinner passes on a bus, bound from the Malian border with Senegal to Mali’s capital, Bamako.

Thanksgiving on the road

Our Thanksgiving lunch (no Thanksgiving dinner)

For what am I thankful? However contemptible I feel for feeling it, and however nonsensical it is, while traveling in Sub-saharan Africa, it’s easy to feel a sense of relief for not having been born here. The conditions on this continent can be so challenging, that to my spoiled first world eyes, they seem almost impossible to endure. To live in 40 degree Celsius weather with no accessible place air-conditioned, to be constantly pestered by flies and mosquitoes that in addition to causing the usual itchiness carry disease, to have to keep myself and my clothes clean without water much less hot water on demand, to have to work so hard for so little and be appreciative for having any job at all… Of course, had I been born here, or were I really forced to live it, I am sure that I would adapt and make do. But I was not, and I am not.

Backpacking is, from the most cynical perspective, a voyeuristic “slumming it.” Backpackers travel to countries that are, generally, cheaper and poorer than the places we come from. In doing so, we sleep in airports and train stations, in hotel-cum-brothels, in dorms with shared bath; ride in minibuses, share-taxis and boats crammed full with freight and humanity; grow disheveled, with scruffy faces, patched and dirty clothes and grungy backpacks; exert ourselves, carrying our loads on our backs, taking 24-hour bus rides and hiking hours between villages. Why do we do this? Why not just travel in the developed world? In part it’s cost, but it’s also because we want to see the less developed world, in part because it is less developed, to see things that no longer exist (never existed?) back home. The contrast between places such as Africa or India and the world we come from, whether New York or Hong Kong or Paris, is so great that it is almost unbelievable that such disparate places exist at the same time in the same world.

So I am thankful for the incredible privilege of seeing it all. For the ability to travel from Venice to Dakar in 24 hours, at an expense that is manageable for me. For having a job back home that allows me sufficient money, and time, to do what I am doing. At no point in the history of the world has travel been so easy, so accessible, to so many (though of course still only a tiny sliver of the world population). With the advent of discount airlines, the proliferation of guidebooks, the rise of English as an international lingua franca and the ubiquity of the internet and ATM machines, with a bit of money and time almost no destination is beyond reach. And despite the homogenization and globalization of the last fifty years, fascinating differences, truly exotic (to us) locales, still exist. To experience more than it seems one person has a right to experience, for that I am thankful today.

Religious Education in West Africa

An African notebook, to be wiped and reused

Islam, like the other great religions of the world, has a long and rich tradition of teaching and learning. Universities in the Islamic world, such as those of Fez and Cairo, are among the earliest anywhere, and Muslim scientists contributed much to many disciplines, especially during Europe’s so-called dark ages (see post of 6.13). In addition to general learning in the Islamic world, however, there is of course also Islamic education–religious education–which takes place in the madrasa, or Islamic religious school. A prejudiced western mind might imagine that the Islamic world is full of madrasas, of mullahs and imams and eager bearded students. Well, it’s possible that Islamic religious education in the east is more popular than Christian religious education in the west (one reads that seminaries are gravely empty these days), but, in this modern age, it is most definitely secondary in prevalence to secular education, to the fields and disciplines, from the humanities to the sciences, that are more likely to contribute to someone’s livelihood. Even as tourists who seek out mosques, it was not that common an occurrence for us to run into crowds of madrasa students in the Middle East. Which is why, traveling through Senegal, we have been astonished by the visibility of large numbers of religious students, called talibes, in the country.

Talibes are an interesting phenomenon. For the most part, they seem to be quite young children who come from all over the countryside to learn from religious leaders called marabouts. The students finance their education–feed themselves and pass along money for their upkeep to their teachers–by begging for alms, which in addition to being their only possible source of income, given that most come from poor families and are too young to do most kinds of work, is intended to teach them humility and give fellow citizens an opportunity to fulfill their religious requirement of charity. In a city such as St. Louis, the old French colonial capital where we are now, the little kids can be found by the dozens, carrying around their characteristic empty tin cans or plastic buckets and begging for money and food.

The easiest comparison, and a very apt one, is to the boy monks of Laos. Just like the Buddhist monasteries of Laos, the madrasas of Senegal provide kids who may not otherwise be able to afford much of an education with essentially free lodging and tuition, and the system of begging and almsgiving provides a way for the community (and generous tourists) to support their schooling. The kids beg, yes, because they are poor and have no other source of money, but the religiously-sanctioned nature of the begging is intended to give the process a dignity and meaning that keep from turning the kids into mere beggars.

Almsgiving, Laos

This comparison, however, reveals the strengths of the Laotian system over the West African one. While I recognize that giving alms is one of the five pillars of Islam, it is problematic that the talibes are begging in countries where extreme poverty and reliance on begging are all too common. In Laos, there is almost no begging, and so there is no mistaking the boy monks, clad in saffron robes, for homeless beggar children. In Senegal, talibes are poorly clothed and often dirty, indistinguishable from child beggars found in Senegal or other poor countries around the world. In Laos, almsgiving is ritualized to an extent (performed at certain times of the day, in a regular procession, with regular donors) that there is no mistaking it for “regular” begging. The citizens and tourists giving alms kneel to place themselves lower than the monks, showing that the almsgiving is not an indication of greater wealth or status on the part of the giver, but an offering recognizing the higher spiritual status of the receiver. In Senegal, there little of this ritual, and it is all too easy (especially to the casual tourist) to mistake the student children as mere homeless street urchins, and one wonders how the begging might affect their sense of dignity.

A further concern I have is the type of education that the West African talibes receive. While Laotian monasteries are extremely basic, with the teaching done largely by the older students, the curriculum consists of a wide range of subjects, from English to mathematics. Visiting Laos, it is hard not to be surprised by the apparent ambition of the monks, many of whom come from extremely poor rural families, and their hunger to learn English by practicing with tourists (some monasteries set up regular chatting hours to encourage such language practice) or to gain experience using computers by visiting the local internet cafes where owners give them discounts or even free usage. One particularly adorable little monk in Luang Prabang explained to us that he wanted to be a computer programmer, which seemed to us sadly unlikely given local resources, but epitomizes the drive and hope of secular success that these students have, and that they hope their monastery educations will make possible for them.

In Senegal? Admittedly we did not converse much with these children (who speak no English and little French), but the curriculum seems to consist mainly of Islamic studies and Arabic. What of their futures? For what jobs is such an education suitable? It is hard for me to say with the little background that I have, but we were told by a Peace Corps volunteer from West Africa that, in their village, young people study in madrasas to become imams, because imams make good money attending births, circumcisions and other life-cycle ceremonies, uninvited, and receiving honoraria for their religious guidance. According to the Peace Corp volunteer, the local youth saw it as a good career choice, a way to make a decent living in an impoverished African village. (Meanwhile, the villagers complain that there are too many imams, too many people to pay off come ceremony time.)

Waiting outside of the mosque at sunrise

A typical secular liberal viewpoint, and one that one may be skeptical of for its commonness, is that lack of education and economic opportunity drives people toward religion–this argument is tested true from our experience and learning about madrasas in West Africa. If the public school system were more effective or better financed, perhaps children would have more opportunities to get an education outside of the madrasa. If French- and English-learning opportunities were more readily available, perhaps Arabic would not be as appealing a second language (although I do acknowledge that, to Muslims, some knowledge of Arabic should be considered essential and that learning Arabic could open some opportunities in North Africa or the Middle East). If there were more jobs in the public or private sectors, more economic opportunity, young people might not be dreaming of becoming imams (nearly no-one in the west these days wishes to become a Christian cleric, as the churches’ recruiting problems show–indeed, first world countries now import Christian priests from Africa and Latin America, showing that the same phenomenon plays out with the Christian faith and seminaries as with Islam and madrasas).

Most West Africans certainly don’t look like fundamentalists, and I do not doubt that the brand of Islam being taught in these madrasas is quite moderate. And, no doubt, along with the Quran and Arabic come a valuable education in literature, philosophy, ethics and so forth, which would be valuable in any field. But religious education and the religious life, even if sometimes called a vocation, is a choice. In the west, particularly in Europe, it is a choice that fewer and fewer people are making, because there are so many other (more appealing) life choices. This in turn is making much of the western world less and less religious, and less driven by religion. In West Africa, it seems, the trend may be in the opposite direction.

Inside a madrasa in Dakar

NOTE: I have left out of this post the fact that many of the talibes are in fact receiving little to no education at all, but simply being used by their so-called marabouts as a source of income–a troop of semi-enslaved children to go begging for them, with beatings for children who do not bring home specified amounts. This is of course appalling, but I have left it out of my discussion above to focus on more general thoughts.

Traveling Rich and Poor, or From Venice to Dakar

Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Street scene, Senegal

Travel is not only about transporting yourself across space, from one set of latitude and longitude coordinates to another. At its most magical, travel simulates movement in other dimensions as well. One of the most intoxicating examples is time. Whether crossing the moat of Angkor Wat, inspecting remnants of a Christian fresco at a Crusader castle in Syria, watching rural life in an ancient Chinese village, walking the alleys of Quebec City’s basse-ville or admiring Shanghai’s Pudong skyline, travel allows us to transport ourselves, if only in our minds, to a different century. Another example is personal freedoms. When an Iranian woman boards a plane to France, or a young lesbian leaves Kansas for the lights of the big city, she sees before herself a world of different possibilities, new horizons unrestrained (see also posts of 6.08 and 11.08).

In this post, I wanted to share some thoughts on another dimension along which people travel: in socioeconomic class and material comfort.

We are by no means rich, but any first world traveler, by going to a poor, developing country, becomes richer, at least relative to his surroundings. I can afford more and better goods and services in, say, Indonesia than I can in the U.S. In Bali, I can easily eat in some of the best restaurants or pay for spa services–every day if I wanted. Even if traveling in more expensive, developed countries, some people, knowing that travel time is a limited resource, may choose to “live it up,” spending what it takes to buy comforts that they might not usually allow themselves at home–eating in top restaurants in Paris or staying at an extravagant resort hotel. All of this, I would term traveling “rich.”

There is also traveling “poor.” No matter how cheap things may be in some countries, that they are less developed will often mean that standards or comforts will not be at the levels a first-world traveler is used to back home. I may be able to hire a car and driver in India, but the vehicle is certain to be much older and in many ways less comfortable than what Avis would give me at LAX. Almost regardless of what one spends, there can be hardship with travel. But budget is also a critical consideration. As a long-term traveler, I am without an income, and have to be careful about expenses. Back in the “real world,” I might enjoy a big evening out, and know that my next paycheck will be able to cover the credit card bill. If I had such special nights frequently while on this extended trip–it’s not like I have to work the next day–I would eat up vast sums of money. Were I on a vacation from my job, I could stay in comfortable hotels, knowing that it’s just a matter of maximizing my enjoyment of limited free time. For 365 nights? I cannot prudently afford it. Every day, I have to pay for a hotel room and two or three meals, in addition to transportation and numerous other expenses. Given the constant choices I have in expenditures, I have to budget wisely, and this sometimes means having less comfort than I would have back home, or even spending less than I can realistically afford, in anticipation of future expenses. Traveling “poor.”

The way we travel, and the way that many others travel these days, involves frequent transitions between traveling rich and traveling poor. We get off business class plane seats (redeemed with miles) to cram into minibuses for the ride into town from the airport. Surprisingly often, we’ll eat a meal that costs more than the hotel room we happen to be staying in that night. We’ll opt for a $15 room instead of a $25 room one night, for sake of cost, to spend hundreds of dollars on an eco-resort the next.

This topic came to my mind because we experienced in the last 48 hours or so a particularly dramatic example of travel in this dimension. Yesterday, we left our Venice inn overlooking the Accademia Bridge to travel by express train to Milan’s Teatro alla Scala for an opera. After the opera? We suffered into the wee hours outside in the cold at Milano Centrale train station waiting for our 4:15 AM bus to Malpensa airport, and after our flight we are now settled into a hotel-cum-brothel in Dakar, Senegal. After such a dramatic shift, from Venice to Dakar, from sitting at a box in La Scala to huddling for heat on top of a subway grate, from a charming Grand Canal-side inn to an African brothel, we could only look at each other and ask what went wrong in the last 48 hours for us to end up where we are. But of course, it was all deliberate, each choice thought out. In the case of Milan, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see an opera at La Scala, but we also didn’t want to pay for a full night’s lodging (much less at euro-denominated, first world big city rates) for the few hours between our show and our flight. In the case of Dakar, we just found local hotel rooms to be such poor value that we decided to stay in the cheapest acceptable option–which apparently also rents by the hour.

We could be criticized for “slumming.” But it’s not some sort of morbid curiosity that drives us to travel poor sometimes. (As a matter of fact, there are actual “slum tours” that tourists can take–and I must disclose that I’ve been on such a tour, of a Rio de Janeiro favela–but even these I would argue are healthy and valuable, a unique way to see a neighborhood that you could not visit on your own.) Nor do we consider ourselves to be “rough” or “hardcore” travelers on the basis of a few nights at a cheap hotel when we know that we can eventually retreat into a more comfortable one if and when we need it. But just as traveling rich has its obvious advantages–such as comfort–traveling poor often has its advantages. One American tourist (one of few we’ve come across on our trip) suggested to us over a (relatively fancy) hotel breakfast that we “get to meet more people” by traveling poor. But it’s much more than that. If you wake up every day in a comfortable hotel on a hill or in a ritzy suburb, you miss out on a lot of things, including experiencing or sometimes even realizing the hardships of the local people that you see around you. Your air conditioning and sealed windows keep out the swarms of mosquitos and the sweltering heat, or your heater allows you to forget how cold it is outside. You’re more likely to eat bland tourist food with other tourists. You could come to have little idea of how people in the country that you’ve come to see really live, how they get from place to place, what they eat.

But, generally, when we travel rich and when we travel poor, we’re not moving between rich and poor for the sake of doing so, but doing what feels right in the circumstances and what our budget permits. We are just trying to find the best value and make optimal use of our resources while getting as much out of the experience as possible. In some places, that is “rich” travel–one would be a fool to pass up a body scrub in Ubud–in others, lower end.

Travel is not only about the jets that whisk us from the rarefied relics of Venice to the markets of Dakar, within a space of hours. Just as it’s hard to believe that it only takes a few hours to travel from Hong Kong’s frenetic urban lifestyle to the watery floating markets of Vietnam’s Mekong delta, traveling rich and poor in quick succession, experiencing that shift in class and economic development–it brings to the fore the magic of travel. Travel, to us, is a mode of living in which we can seamlessly transition, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, from sitting down in a Venetian restaurant for dinner with wine to eating from a street vendor in Senegal; from sharing a box at the opera at 9 p.m. with a wealthy couple in formal dress to chatting outside the train station at 3 a.m. with African immigrants warning us about drug dealers nearby; from taking vaporettos on the Grand Canal to walking across downtown Dakar, backpacks fully loaded.

La Scala *and* a Dakar brothel? In some sense, it would be surprising that those two experiences were available at all to a particular person over his entire lifetime–but we experience them in a matter of hours, in sequence, almost in the blink of an eye. Seeing the highs and lows of the world, from both high and low vantage points, all of this is afforded to us by travel.

Venice, Entrepot of the East

When traveling in the more exotic parts of the world, such as India or Bali, we sometimes arrogantly wonder how people could want to travel to places like Western Europe–how bourgeois, how boring, we think. We know of course that some of the world’s greatest travel destinations are in the developed first world, but we tell ourselves that we’ll save them for when we’re sixty. We figure that they’re unlikely to change very much between now and then (unlike, say, China), and so we may as visit them later, when we might be less keen on enduring the hardships of traveling as backpackers in the developing world. In traveling to Milan to catch our cheap flight out to Senegal, however, we found ourselves passing through Venice, and couldn’t resist. We’d never been, and, well, it’s Venice. Not only did we expect that it would be beautiful, but our historical curiosity was also piqued, for the city-state’s role as Europe and the western world’s connection to the Levant and the East, from the time of the Crusades to Marco Polo and beyond. We knew Venice was known as something of a tourist trap–a city often with more tourists than residents and in some ways more of a museum than a real living place–but having visited New Orleans just months before Hurricane Katrina, we also reasoned that Venice is not one of those places we can wait to visit when we’re old–it could cease to exist. And so, weather warnings aside (late fall/early winter is supposed to be Venice’s dreariest season), we booked ourselves at the Hotel Galleria and spent three days in Venice.

It did not disappoint.

Part of the pleasure of Venice is the pleasure of traveling anywhere in Italy, such as eating well and drinking coffee and wine (both, even with an expensive euro, much cheaper than at home). But mostly, the pleasure of Venice is for its sheer beauty and the uniqueness of it all, and the feat of human creativity and determination, and apparently power and wealth, that led to the construction of such a city on water. Within minutes of our arrival we understood the cause of the city’s fame, why so many canal cities around the world would want to think of themselves as “the Venice of” whatever, why the Las Vegas Sands Corporation modeled casinos on the city, why, when a character was near death in the Simpsons Movie, he would say, “But I haven’t seen Venice!”

Venice captivates: Macau’s Venetian.

We cannot imagine anybody disliking Venice, although the unseasonably beautiful weather (blue skies, no heat, no canal stench) and relative lack of tourists must have weighed in our favor. So do yourself the great favor and go.

But this post isn’t just “Venice appreciation.” In my first post of this trip, I noted that places are generally by their nature connected. And so it is with Venice. We are traveling through Venice because it currently lies, by rail, between Istanbul and Milan, but one could generalize Venice’s historical role to state that it has always lain between the Muslim east and the Christian west, making it in some ways an essential stop on our Islamic journey.

First and foremost, Venice was a commercial power, using its location on the Adriatic, easternmost in the Latin world, to become the primary entrepot for goods from the east, which during the period of Venice’s height meant the Islamic world. Venetian traders and ships operated all over the eastern Mediterranean, and Venetian (along with other Italian) traders were very active in the Levant. In Aleppo, a city that has come to be known in the west through the obviously Italian form of its name (in Arabic the city’s name is Haleb), we saw a caravanserai that once housed the Venetian consulate. Marco Polo, one of the most famous Venetians of all time, purportedly traveled through Bukhara as far as Beijing.

Secondly, Venice became an important military power, from the time of the Crusades on. Venice led the campaigns of the Fourth Crusade, an invasion by Latin Roman Catholics of Greek Orthodox Constantinople, and looted the city, in the thirteenth century. During Venice’s height Crete and Cyprus were among its Mediterranean possessions, although it would eventually lose both to its greatest adversary, the Ottoman Empire. Venetian advisors could be found as far east as Esfahan, where they were helping the Persian Safavids harass the Ottoman Empire’s eastern border.

Tomb of Henricus Dandolo, the Venetian commander of the Fourth Crusade, in Istanbul’s Ayasofya

Some of the loot from the Fourth Crusade, now found outside St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice

Note the similarity of the cross carvings at the base of the columns above to the carvings in the photograph below from Istanbul’s Ayasofya.

Venetian bridge built to facilitate caravan trade, Cyprus

Venetian walls built in a failed attempt to protect Nicosia, Cyprus, from Ottoman conquest

But Venice’s relationship to the Muslim East was not always a hostile one. Back during the Christian Crusades, the Venetians continued trade with the Islamic world, until prohibited by the Pope. Although the Ottomans were in many ways the Venetians’ greatest foes, they were also their greatest trading partner, and at most times the two governments were at peace. There are numerous examples of economic and cultural interchange between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, including many tangible examples to be found in Venice.

The Fondaco dei Turchi, the commercial center of the Ottomans in Venice

Mosaic from St. Mark’s Cathedral depicting the theft of the relics of St. Mark from the city of Alexandria in now Egypt, then part of the Arab Empire. The remains were supposedly smuggled out in a basket filled with pork–the Muslim examiners, disgusted by the pork (see post of 11.12), did not bother to examine the basket too thoroughly, and the relics of the evangelist were successfully brought to Venice. Though acquired by deceit, the relics were held by the Venetians to enhance the city’s religious prestige.

The history of the Campo dei Mori (Field of Moors) is unknown, but sculptures outside a nearby palazzo point to the residents’ extensive dealings with the Islamic world.

Of course, with trade also comes ideas. The decorative motif on the top of the Doge’s Palce (first picture below) is said to have been inspired by the modified merlons on Cairo’s Ibn Tulun Mosque (second picture below).

The windows in many Venetian palazzos and the second floor of the Doge’s Palace (see the first picture in the post) are identical to those found on the Koutoubia minaret of Marrakesh, Morocco (below).

After a treaty signed with Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, the Doge of Venice sent artist Bellini to paint the Sultan’s now-famous portrait. Link to Britain’s National Gallery

PS. Soon after we left, Venice had some of the worst flooding ever. November is supposed to be one of the worst months to travel to Venice, but we were lucky with almost completely blue and clear skies, pleasant cool temperatures and crowds reduced from summertime highs. But I guess the flooding that’s supposed to happen in early winter sometimes does. Link to BBC Article

Persistence of Iconography

It’s amazing how some images persist through the centuries and are reused again and again, sometimes in entirely different contexts and with totally changed meanings. In this post, I thought I would show you some symbols we have run into on this trip, repeatedly and unexpectedly.

Caduceus of Hermes

The caduceus (or wand) of Hermes is a symbol of somewhat uncertain origin of the Greek god, and it is still used as the astronomical symbol for the planet Mercury (and sometimes mistakenly in place of the rod of Asclepius as a symbol for medicine). We saw this image in two odd places on our trip.

The first, the Roman-era catacombs in Alexandria. Alexandria, founded centuries earlier by Alexander the Great, remained a great center of Greek culture for many centuries. This tomb complex is believed to have been built by the resident Greeks; however, it was built largely in Egyptian style, showing that local Greeks had to some extent adopted Egyptian art and forms. Here, the caduceus is shown (on left) with a snake wearing the pharaonic crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The second, Mount Nebo, Jordan. Mount Nebo is an important pilgrimage site for Christians (and presumably Jews, although we did not see any Jewish pilgrims), who believe that it was the spot from which Moses saw the Promised Land (and passed away). On this spectacular vantage point are located ruins of Byzantine churches and an active Franciscan complex of worship. Why a caduceus? No clue.

Four Evangelists

It is believed by some that the popular depiction of the four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, John and Luke) as four “animals” (bird, bull, bear and human, respectively) is derived from ancient Egyptian funerary tradition, in which bodily organs were placed in four canopic jars of which the lids depicted four Egyptian gods (Imsety, Hapi, Duamutef and Qebehsenuef) in four animal forms (human, baboon, jackal and falcon, respectively). If so, Egyptian Coptic depictions of the four Evangelists in animal form–here they even look like canopic jars–must be some of the earliest.

Chapel, Monastery of St. Paul, on the Red Sea, Egypt

An illustration of the animal forms of the four Evangelists from the medieval Irish Book of Kells

All-seeing Eye

The “all-seeing eye” or “eye of providence,” the cyclopean eye at the apex of a truncated pyramid, is one of the best known of icons and features prominently in some of the most persistent conspiracy theories. Here is the all-seeing eye on the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation in Ljubljana, Slovenia and the U.S. one dollar bill.


Part of the all-seeing eye is of course the pyramid. The pyramid form has been used as tombs from the 26th c. BC on, as other examples from the 4th c. AD and 19th c. AD below show.

Red Pyramid of Dahshur, the first true Egyptian pyramid

Pyramidal Byzantine Christine tomb at al Bara, one of the Dead Cities of Syria

Tomb of sculptor Antonio Canova inside the Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice, Italy

Why are these images and forms used again and again? In part, I think it’s becuase they’re what artists know how to draw and are used to drawing (or, in the case of the pyramid, a shape of simplicity of stability to which architects may be attracted). But mainly I think it’s because the new tradition (whether the Franciscan priests in Jordan or the Catholic Church in Slovenia looking to ornament their place of worship or the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing brainstorming designs) wants to latch on to the talismanic power that such icons have derived over centuries of use, to base their images on ones that are accepted or believed to be powerful, the grafting of a new idea on an older tree, the same reason that religious sites are so often re-used (see post of 11.10) and ancient stories (from Isis to Mary and the flood of Gilgamesh to the flood of Noah) are incorporated into newer faiths.