Venus Transits in 1032 and 2012

Venus transit on June 6, 2012, Tromsø. By courtesy of Bert Olsen.

As readers may have noticed, I am a moon watcher. Eclipses of either the sun or the moon had been a sort of passion throughout my life, ever since my late father woke me up at 3 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, December 19, 1964 for a total eclipse of the moon. I was just 9 years old and bought my first small telescope the next year from saved pocket money.

Legendary were my unsuccessful huntings of solar eclipses in 1999 and 2019, while lunar eclipses were much easier to observe.

When living in the Middle East, moon watching became even more important for me as I tried to understand the Muslim calendar, in patricular the beginning and end of the holy month of Ramadan.

There was one remarkable occasion, on March 29, 2006, when a partial eclipse of the sun occurred in Kuwait. I had manufactured a simple camera obscura from a cardboard box which produced an image of the sun, already partially covered by the moon, on the tiled floor in the entrance hall of Kuwait University’s FOD. I showed the image to my friend, the former Dean of the Faculty, who was surprised as the light was not dimmed in the slightest way by the moon.

On June 6, 2012, a rare Venus transit occurred very early in the morning, which was best to be seen on the disc of the midnight sun in the Arctic. So, I was in Tromsø and I was well-prepared to observe it with the aid of my cardboard box. In the woods close to the building where I lived I looked for a proper place but I had forgotten one important tool: a white piece of paper for projecting an image of the disc of the sun through the little hole in the cardboard box. I realized that the forest floor wasn’t suitable for that. So, I did not see the transit and, honestly, I doubt whether I ever would have been able to see it with this primitive camera obscura.

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Insights Into Shi’ite Islam

I have come across this book by photographer Hans Georg Berger, Einsicht – Drei Reisen in die innerste Welt des schiitischen Islam (Insight – Three Journeys Into the Innermost World of Shi’a Islam, edited by Boris von Brauchitsch and Saeid Edalatnejad, Kehrer Verlag, Heidelberg Berlin 2017) when ZEIT online published a brief article about it. Not more than an announcement for an exhibition of respective pictures of the book in Berlin. Unfortunately, with numerous mostly hostile comments condemning the mere fact of displaying pious seminarians and teachers as blunt propaganda for a murderous regime where mollahs are willful oppressors.

Quite a sensation is not that Berger had collected, during his travels in Iran between 2000 and 2005, intimate portraits of young seminarians and their teachers at theological centers in Qom, Isfahan and Mashhad and how they interact in intense discussions. The contrast (or should I say, actually the lack of it) with century old early photos is, in fact stunning. These pictures had been taken by two court photographers of Qajar Shahs, Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar (r. 1848-1896) and his son Muzaffar al-Din (r. 1896-1907), who accompanied them on visits to the holy shrines of Shi’te Imams in then Ottoman Iraq. In particular, Nasir al-Din got interested in photography very early in his life, as crown prince already, as his father Mohammad Shah Qajar (r. 1834-1848) had received, as gifts from QueenVictoria and Czar Nikolaus I, two daguerrotype cameras.

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Tropical Nights in Tromsø

When temperatures fell to just 21°C in a summer night in 2018 (July 29), it was reported in the news the following day. The first time in recorded history, Tromsø, about 350 km north of the Arctic Circle (69° 40′ 58″ N), had experienced what is called (at temperate latitudes) a tropical night: the temperature would not drop below 20 degrees. (The former Dean at Kuwait University FOD sighed when I told him that we call, in Germany, these nights “tropical”. In Kuwait, during summer months, temperatures usually hover around 33°C.)

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Grace and Humility

I am grateful that the French/German channel ARTE provides footage of the concert of Brian and Roger Eno at the Acropolis in Athens of August 4. The circumstances, in times of Covid, the most terrifying heat wave in Athens since 1987, and even more terrifying bush fires which had reached the outskirts of the Greek capital, must have been extraordinary. Peter Chilvers who was part of the, well, familiy band, wrote the next day, on the Manafonistas blog,

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A Significant Emotional Event

Significant emotional events you won’t forget. Nor where you’ve been and how you felt. I remember as examples 9/11 and Kennedy’s assassination, Princess Diana’s funeral, my father’s passing and maybe a handful further events, the last maybe the disclosure of Abu Ghuraib.

It may be amazing that my very first recollection of a historical event, deeply emotional, was that of August 13, 1961, exactly 60 years ago. I was just five years old. I remember a wonderful afternoon in a nearby park, Essen’s Gruga park, together with my parents, my mother’s sisters and spouses and possibly several of my cousins, all younger than I.

My parents had always an open house. So, the whole party met afterwards at our home, certainly for cake and coffee, smoking cigarettes and having a glass of cognac or beer.

As my parents did not own a TV then the news were received by radio. The Eastern German regime had started building a wall in Berlin, separating Westberlin from Berlin (Ost), later called (by the SED regime) the Antifascist Barrier (“antifaschistischer Schutzwall”).

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