The Hamsa and the Evil Eye


A hamsa

The Hamsa and the Evil Eye

I’ve just returned from St Louis where I was for 6 weeks to help my daughter with a new baby. While there I remembered that we had bought her a hamsa from a shop in Old Jaffa (www.adinaplastelina.com ) while we were in Israel last year. It’s very pretty—a pendant on a ribbon—and I started reading up more on what its significance is.

These days, with so much strife and discord around the world, especially in the Middle East, it seems to me that it would be a really good thing for people to find similarities between groups, rather than differences. It seems the hamsa could be one such agreement.


Hamsa pendant


Typical Turkish-style “Evil Eye”

According to the leaflet that came with my daughter’s hamsa: “Known in Islamic societies as the Hand of Fatima, and in Jewish lore as the Hand of Miriam, the hamsa serves as an ancient talismanic way of averting the evil eye or, more generally, of providing a “protecting hand” or “Hand of God”. Some sources link the significance of the five fingers to the five books of the Torah, or to the five pillars of Islam. In recent years some activists for Middle East peace have chosen to wear a hamsa as a symbol of the similarities of origins and tradition between the Islamic and Jewish faiths.”

This idea of protection from “the evil eye” is common in many countries in the Middle East, especially in Turkey and countries where the Ottoman Empire ruled, such as Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia. The concept is the same—wearing, or having, some talisman that will protect against bad things, or ward off evil—but the actual amulet is very different. The typical Turkish one is a flattish bright blue circular bead with light blue and white inner circles and a darker blue center, like an ‘eye’. They are made into jewelry, or into beads that hang in cars, over doorways etc. People have them in kitchens, on baby strollers, on motorbikes etc. We have bought quite a number over the years, in Turkey and more recently in Bosnia.


This kitchen is protected by a Mexican folk skull and a Turkish evil eye


This kitchen also has an evil eye

Here’s a short discussion about the Turkish evil eye:


For a more extensive history and meaning of the evil eye, see here:


How can we all rally, and have some kind of hamsa, or evil eye, or other protection from the evil in this world? A symbol that would bind people together? I’m just being idealistic, I know, but it doesn’t hurt to dream!




Magnificent Murals


Sign on the sidewalk: North Adams is very much an “art” town


Only a part of the eye-catching mural inspired by Egyptian stories


Another section of this huge mural

Beautiful Murals in North Adams, Massachusetts

As you know by now, I love public art of all forms and we were happy to find lovely murals on our trip to the Berkshires recently. I’ll mention four, although we did see a couple of others.

The town of North Adams in the Berkshires has become an art friendly environment, as artists (both local and international), many local businesses, and the city government try to preserve this old mill town. Many of the old Ebigbirdmill buildings and warehouses are now converted into galleries, shops selling vintage items and plenty of restaurants. Street art has popped up on many of the brick walls too, especially after the public art projects—DownStreet Art, and the Mural Project (2012)—were started. This project was designed to revitalize downtown North Adams, by harnessing art organizations and events already in the city and changing vacant and open spaces into art destinations that make locals proud and attract tourists. Well, they certainly did attract us. We were only in town for a couple of days attending a family wedding, but we managed to find many of the fascinating murals.


Alaa Awad is obviously a very talented artist


EanimalsJust down from Public Eat and Drink (a great place to eat) is a long wall of eye-catching color. It’s a nearly 60-foot-long mural on the base of the Route 2 (Mohawk Trail) overpass—it’s beautiful and amazingly detailed. Egyptian artist Alaa Awad created it and gave it as a gift to North Adams. Awad has painted street art in Asia and Denmark and has had exhibitions and murals in Germany and throughout Egypt. This North Adams piece, though, is his first commissioned work in the USA. It was unveiled June 26, 2014. His work is inspired by historical


A giraffe—I think

Egyptian tomb paintings, and his mural is covered in stylized figures of ancient gods, chimeric beasts, animals and people.

Awad aims to celebrate humankind and make Egyptian heritage known as a source of pride for Egyptians, and instill ideas such as “peace, mercy, justice and balance.”

Awad is a graduate and a faculty member of the Luxor Faculty of Fine Arts and Egypt, and he teamed up with fellow artists to use art to protest censorship, social injustice, and civilian lives lost during the revolution in Tahrir Square in 2011.

On the opposite side of the street is another large bright mural, this one very abstract. It was done by Maya Hayuk in 2012.


Much more abstract

And on the back of the Mohawk Theater nearby is a huge colorful mural by Spanish art collective Muralismo Publico. It seems to have a flamenco/Spanish dance theme.





In MassMoCA

In the lobby of MassMoCA (and therefore free to view) is a fascinating 120-foot-long mural by Barbara Takenaga, called “Nebraska”. She presents an image of the wide-open plains of her home state. Pulsating lines of white dots, repeated 14 times, radiate out from a horizon line, making us think of neat rows of corn extending as far as the eye can see, and an infinite canopy of stars above.





Deer on a wall near Renee Restaurant


Monkey on an underpass pillar





Setting for the labyrinth

labMore to Clinton, NY, than initial impressions suggest

Picturesque and peaceful, Clinton reflects its New England heritage, with its attractive village green and tree-lined streets.

Clinton is in up-state New York, about 5 miles from Utica. The population is around 2,000, but there are other villages adjoining it, so actually the population is a bit more than that.

The reason we were in Clinton in October last year (2015) was to visit new family after a family wedding in the Berkshires in neighboring Massachusetts. I was only in Clinton for 2 days, just enough to begin to get a feel for the area. We enjoyed it and realize it would be very easy to return here and explore more.


Walking the labyrinth

labwalking2We ate at home with the family, and at a couple of restaurants in other nearby villages, but we did visit two really interesting local places: The Labyrinth, and Clinton Cider Mill.

The Labyrinth is on The Path at Sunset Hill, in an area called The Clearing. It’s a simple construction of grass and gravel, based on a Celtic design, and is largely the work of George and Pinny Kuckel, wonderful local citizens. They felt that the area could benefit from a feature like this and put a lot of effort into making it happen. We drove there with them one morning, and found the labyrinth in a very pretty setting, in a clearing on a hill overlooking woods and a distant valley with more hills beyond. At the time, the fall colors were not totally over, so it was really lovely. We walked the whole labyrinth and it is indeed very peaceful and meditative.


Denise S at the labyrinth center

labsignWe’ve seen the famous labyrinth at Chartres in France, and a couple of others in France, plus our town in Illinois recently developed one too, close to a big hospital. I’ve been meaning to learn more about the power of these labyrinths, so this visit has inspired me to do so.


Clinton Cider Mill


A beautiful entrance door

The Clinton Cider Mill is open every year, daily from early September through Thanksgiving weekend, so we were lucky to be there when it was open. As we walked through the front door, we were immediately enveloped in a wonderful fruity, apple-y aroma. The mill has a long history; it opened in 1903 with a screw press powered by a steam engine. In 1927, a new hydraulic press was installed. Since then, although the mill changed hands in 1998 (now owned by the Fehlner family), the cider-making process has stayed the same, with the addition of screening and refrigeration.


The apple press

millpress2Sometimes when the press is running you can watch them press the apples making the juice (cider). But, the mill shop offers other goodies too: fresh apples, cider donuts, fruit pies, cookies, apple butter, bread mixes, salsas, maple syrup for example.

Some fun cider facts:

—There are 100-125 apples in a bushel (to be honest I still can’t slushconceptualize what a bushel is!).

—One bushel makes 4 gallons of cider.

—The mill makes their cider with a blend of fresh local NY apples, such as Empire, Macoun, Ida Red, Cortland, Northern Spry and others.

—Their cider has no additives at all.

Lots of details on their good web page;



Apple butter

 Where to stay: The Artful Lodger B&B, right by the Village Green, a pretty place in the center of the village, with a fountain and various places to eat and drink and relax nearby.

It’s a very pleasant B&B, run by Tim and Susan Sweetland, offering a full breakfast, parking and free wifi.


maplesyrupBrief History of Clinton:

A small town that boasts a pretty big history. Clinton was settled in 1787 by pioneers from Connecticut led by Capt. Moses Foote, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. It was named in honor of George Clinton, the first governor of New York State. In1843, by then the hub of the growing Town of Kirkland, it was incorporated as a village.

Clinton is the home of Hamilton College, third oldest in the State. Founded in 1793 as Hamilton-Oneida Academy by the Rev. Samuel Kirkland, a missionary to the Oneida Indians, it was chartered as a college by the Board of Regents in 1812.

Hematite ore was discovered early in the area, and until the late 19th


Apple bread mix

century (when deposits of iron ore were developed in the Lake Superior region) Clinton was the center of a thriving mining and manufacturing industry.

For almost a century the hematite ore was mined and converted by local blast furnaces into ingots, which were widely used in the production of stoves, scales, and other cast iron products of the day. The last mine closed in 1963, its production at the time used mainly in manufacturing red paint pigment.

Clinton is also the original home of the nationally known Bristol-Myers Company, which got its start in the second floor rooms of a West Park Row building on the village green in 1887. The Town also once boasted mineral spring activity as well as several textile mills, the largest being Clark Mills.



Maastricht’s Grand Cafe Momus



chairVrijthof’s Carnival Theme

One side of Maastricht’s huge Vrijthof Square is lined with lovely old buildings, now cafes, bars and brasseries. One, roughly in the middle, is a bit more ornate than the others. It’s the Grand Café Momus and it used to be the Carnival Hall. Their logo is still a carnival mask, which features on the chairs and menu.


RodtableWhy Momus? And what’s the significance of 11, which we see on menus and signs? Momus is named after the Greek god of lunacy/craziness/jesting. The Momus on Vrijthof used to be the Carnival Hall and has a sculpted jester on the façade. There was a Carnival Council of Eleven, nearby cafes had a breadth of 11 meters, and 11 was the number of the Lunacy god. The “season of lunacy” officially starts on November 11th, but actual carnival is just before Lent.


During carnival people really dress up and bands parade around. You’ll see all kinds of amazing costumes, and beer and jenever flow freely. Even the salted herring sellers might be costumed (traditional carnival fare). All a lot of fun, I’m sure.


Fish dish

One night we decided to eat at the Grand Café Momus at Vrijthof 8. It is a grand old building on the square and their décor with purple is very pretty. Tables are attractively set and it has an inviting air. Their logo, on everything, is a masked person, because of the link to the name Momus and to carnival.

Service was friendly and they brought snacks with the wine (olives and a


Tapas plate

kind of garlic-cheese spread on soft toasts), but sadly the food was rather ordinary—it looked much nicer than it actually tasted. I had cod and another small whole fish on a kind of curry sauce with a few purple potato chips and a dish of curly fries. Rod’s tapas dish was okay—spicy spare ribs, chicken skewer, 3 fried calamari rings, a small bowl of olives, a small bowl of tuna/anchovy/red onion, and fries. Not really what we expected for tapas! The food wasn’t bad, just rather unimaginative, and my fish a bit dry.

So, sorry Momus, but I don’t think we would return, not to eat anyway. Perhaps to relax with a beer or a glass of wine.

Carnival Statues in Maastricht



Viv M with the baton bearer

As many people know, we love public art/outdoor art, whether it’s sculptures, statues, beautiful fountains, murals, or special gardens. The art can be large or small, traditional or quirky, it doesn’t matter.

So, Maastricht was very interesting, as it boasts many unusual outdoor sculptures. I’ve mentioned a number earlier here in the blog, and here is another rather unusual group of figures—these connected to the famous Carnival.


Viv M greets the drummer (I think)


St Jans Kerk as backdrop

Maastricht’s main square the Vrijthof has a strong connection to Carnival. Besides being one of the main venues for carnival activities in the city, it boasts several permanent carnival reminders. On the SW corner is a group of 5 colorful and oddly-shaped figures of different sizes. They depict players from a carnival marching band and we can see a drummer, a trumpeter, a tuba player, a cymbals player, and the biggest figure is the one holding a baton topped with a skull mask. They are perhaps depicting actual creatures/animals, but that is open to discussion.


Cymbals, perhaps?

tubaIt is called ‘T ZAAT HERMENIEKE, by Han van Weterine 1993, and is named after the first carnival orchestra in 1959. They are made of hard resin and constructed in a rough way with bumps and bulges. According to our guesthouse lady (the Haas op het Vrijthof Guesthouse is just behind the statues), people either love them or hate them. Some say they are ugly and have no place here. Others say they fit into the carnival theme perfectly—during carnival, the stranger, the more colorful or the more outrageous the costumes, the better. During carnival people really dress up and bands parade around. You’ll see all kinds of amazing costumes, and beer and jenever flow freely. Even the salted herring sellers might be costumed (traditional carnival fare).


St Servaas as backdrop this way

Whatever the locals feel about these statues, they are certainly a magnet for all visitors, who take pictures, stand by the statues, or touch them. It is also a real mix of the old and the new, as the backdrop to these statues is the ancient St Servaas Church and St Jans Kerk.

Maastricht’s Vrijthof Square


The enormous Vrijthof Square


One side of the square is lined with very nice cafes

Maastricht is the charming capital of the province of Limburg, right in the south of Netherlands. It has many narrow picturesque streets and small squares, and lovely old houses, many from the 16th and 17th centuries. You also see remains of the old fortifications and old city walls, testament to the town’s strategic importance at a European crossroads and that it withstood 21 sieges over the centuries.


St Jans Kerk, St Servaas Basilica, and the Hoofwacht on the far side of the square


The churches lit up at night

Most of its squares are small and enclosed, which is why the Vrijthof comes as a bit of a surprise. In the heart of the city, it is very large, a huge open space lined on three sides with trees, and on one side by lovely café terraces. Many pedestrianized shopping streets radiate out from it. It’s dominated by the vast and ancient Romanesque St Servaas Cathedral, and behind that the St Jans Kerk from the 12-15th centuries.


Spanish Government House


Emblem on Hoofwacht

On the south side is the old Spanish Government House (was the residence of the Dukes of Brabant and the Spanish kings), now the Museum of the Vrijthof and painted bright red/pink. On the west is the Hoofdwacht (1700s), once a guard house and now a military headquarters.

On Vrijthof, you can almost forget you’re in the Netherlands. When you stand in the middle and look around, it doesn’t look or feel like other Dutch squares, as it’s enormous and is the cultural heart of the city. It’s usually wide and open, but also hosts jam-packed events: from Carnival; to becoming the beautiful backdrop for the concerts by local favorite Andre Rieu; to the Preuvenemint, the Netherlands largest food festival.


The cafes in early evening  light

What’s in a name? According to one tradition, the name means “free place” or “sanctuary”, but it more likely derives from the German for cemetery, two of which were known to have occupied this site.

The square was built on the marshes of the River Jeker. The area was


Note statues far left, and the fountain front

originally unsuitable for building but by medieval times was used as a military parade ground, an execution site and a pilgrims’ meeting place. Every 7 years, the Fair of the Holy Relics attracted pilgrims, craftsmen and traders to the lively square. Something of this spirit is recaptured in Vrijthof at Carnival time these days.


St Servaas as backdrop to 2 of the Carnival statues

The square’s connection to Carnival is strong. Besides being one of the main venues for carnival activities in the city, it boasts several permanent carnival reminders. On the SW corner is a group of 5 colorful and oddly-shaped sculpted figures of different sizes. They depict players from a carnival marching band (see details in an upcoming post).

Close by is a small fountain, whose 5 bronze figures depict masked carnival figures dancing hand-in-hand. Called “Hawt Uuch Vas!” by Frans Gast, 1976.


One side of the square is lined with lovely old buildings, now cafes, bars and brasseries. One, roughly in the middle, is a bit more ornate than the others. It’s the Grand Café Momus and it used to be the carnival hall. Their logo is still a carnival mask, which features on the chairs and menu.

We ate there one evening—see an upcoming post.


“Hail to the Sunrise”


hailsignHonoring the Mohawk Native Americans

Reaching out with Hope

When we attended a family wedding in the Berkshires this October, one of the things I was determined to do was visit the “Hail to the Sunrise” Statue on the Mohawk Trail. Luckily we were staying nearby, so it was quite possible. And we were not disappointed.

The Mohawk Trail is a 63-mile winding road stretching east from the Massachusetts/New York line, close to Williamstown, to Millers Falls on the Connecticut River, just beyond Greenfield in Massachusetts. It runs through part of the well-known Berkshires, and is especially beautiful to drive in fall when the fall colors are truly glorious.


You can just see the Chief directly behind the circular pool

chiefRodThe Mohawk Trail began as a trade route for the Native Americans of the Five Nations and connected Atlantic tribes with tribes in Upstate New York, hundreds of years before European settlers arrived. They used it to pass between the Connecticut and Hudson Valleys. It followed the Millers River, Deerfield River and crossed the Hoosac Range in the area that is now northwest Massachusetts.

Hail to the Sunrise” is a lovely monument just outside the town of Charlemont, Mass, about halfway along the Trail. The Monument consists of a prominent statue of a Mohawk Indian and a reflecting pool, and is the main feature of Mohawk Park, a roadside park on the Mohawk Trail. It was sponsored by The Improved Order of Redman, and Degree of Pocahontas.


The monument honors the peoples of the five Mohawk Nations that inhabited western Massachusetts and New York State. The Mohawks who traveled this trail were said to be friendly to while settlers. Today the monument is a reminder of the area’s Native American heritage.

The bronze statue depicts a Native American man in traditional garb


Note the arrowhead-shaped inscription stone

looking eastward across the Deerfield River with his arms uplifted in supplication. He faces the direction of the rising sun and is greeting the Great Spirit. The bronze statue, created by sculptor Joseph Pollia (1893-1954), rests on a 9-ton boulder. It was unveiled in October 1932, attended by more than 2000 people. The arrowhead-shaped tablet on the base of the statue reads: “Hail to the Sunrise—In Memory of the Mohawk Indian. The Mohawks of the Five Nations began to settle in New York State in 1590 and for 90 great suns they fought the New England tribes. The New York Mohawks that traveled this trail were friendly to the white settlers.”



One of the inscription stones

The pool is lined with 100 inscribed stones from various tribes and councils from throughout the US. The grounds are open to the public and the park is a welcome stop along the scenic highway. It’s a great place to stop and contemplate Native American culture and history and how these peoples were so badly treated overall by the white settlers. For me, the man’s pose gives cause for hope, like he’s reaching out for a better future.

Charlemont is an old town, first settled in 1749. Every summer, the Mohawk Trail Concerts take place in the old, acoustically-perfect Charlemont Federated Church. They have been held here since 1970, founded by Arnold Black, a violinist.


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