Walking into the Past in New York

In one of the most sophisticated cities of the world, we went millions of years back into history. For three days, we listened to fascinating talks about Dinosaures, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first Cunaiform writings, Mesopotamien culture, and the speed of change and time  in the modern world. We were able to visit artist lofts and see how they live and work. All this was possible because our good friends Patty Barnes and Thomas Houlon scheduled a New York trip with their organisation, “Spirit of the Senses”, in a time when we could be there too.



Group of  “Spirit of the Senses”members in the library of Yale University  (photo by Patty Barnes)




In visiting the American Museum of Natural History near Central Park, one of the leading experts of Dinosaurs ( Mark A. Norell)  explained the current research findings that our birds originated from dinosaurs.  In this sense, dinosaurs still live with us. I found this thought very intriguing. Being in his office with a view to Central Park was stunning.




Office view to Central Park



He showed us dinosaur bones found from all over the world. He himself travelled 300,000 miles last year. The airlines contacted him because of the danger of radiation exposure.





Museum of Natural History  (photo by Patty Barnes)





The fossils of a dinosaur looked similar to me to a skeleton of a crane. Both have hollow bones.





Research Center of the Natural History Museum with Dr. Norell to the right




The origins of our Western civilisation were discussed by Prof. Benjamin Foster and the associate curator of the Babylonian collection in Yale, Agnete Lassen.  The day before these talks, we visited the Babylonian wing in the MET and got a good feeling for this time.





One of the rooms in the MET






Every Babylonian palace was guarded either by winged bulls or winged lions. The photo above depicts a winged lion (lamassu), a protective spirit.





Detail of the wings






Detail of a sculpture holding a bundle of plants



It was fascinating to hear Agnete Lassen speak the following day about ancient Mesopotamia and her newest findings. Yale University possesses 14,000 clay pieces and seals covered with Cuneiform writings.  To her, the tablets become alive, speaking about ancient life. She translated tablets of cooking recipes and  cooked the recipe with a group of other scientists.





Clay tablet with cooking recipe





These clay cones were put into the foundation of a building, stating the name of the king as the builder. Often, another king just added a cone to claim the construction.






We were able to hold some ancient clay pieces. Round tablets were used to teach writing on an elementary level. There existed a high literary level – in nearly every house, tablets were found. In 2000 BC, the Akkadian Cuneiform was the lingua franca of this region.






A seal made by a cylinder seal.





The oldest epic in Western culture is the epic of Gilgamesh, originating in Mesopotamia. The written form dates back 5000 years.  Yale possesses one of the many tablets of the Gilgamesh story.  Prof. Benjamin Foster of Yale spoke about his translations of the Sumerian and Akkadian Gilgamesh epic and his new findings.  One of the new found tablets describes the Cedar forest Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu had cut down after killing Humbaba, the protector of the forest. Gilgamesh used the wood for building a gigantic entrance gate into the city of Uruk and new temples.


The destruction of the natural world described in the epic of Gilgamesh is continued today. By the end of the century, it is forecasted that the Cedar forests in Lebanon will vanish because of global warming (New York Times article, November 27, 2018). The story of Gilgamesh is still as valid as 5000 years ago.




Clay tablet of Gilgamesh at Yale University


Gilgamesh also was the builder of the city wall of Uruk, the first city wall recorded in history.  It is the beginning of the megacities of today.

“What made him a hero?” I asked Prof. Foster. “When ordinary people do something extraordinary, do something really great and then fail, that is the story of Gilgamesh!” What a great answer!

After the death of his friend Enkidu (caused by the punishment of the Gods), Gilgamesh went to look for his friend in the Underworld and also searched for his own immortality. The journey was a journey of suffering and finally of failure. He had to accept mortality and vulnerability. He became a real human being.




It was fitting to the theme that we heard the next day about the meaning of hell from Prof. Scott Bruce, professor of medieval history at Fordham University. The talk was in the artist’s studio of Will Cotton. We saw one of his art pieces in a gallery near the High Line.



Art of Will Cotton with Patty and Thomas. I was intrigued by this innocent girl standing beside a dead body and looking up to a witch





In one of the artist’s lofts in Chelsea (the studio of the artist Ena Swansea), Mark Taylor spoke about  problems in our modern world. As a professor of Religious studies at Columbia University, he covered a wide range of topics. He connected philosophy with today’s way of life and warned about the effects of the virtual life, expressed through incredible speed. The speed of money transfer is beyond our understanding. Money based on gold is replaced  by numbers without physical reality.





Professor Mark Taylor with Thomas Houlon introducing the speaker



The speed of money transfer was especially visible in the auction house, Christies. There are two major contemporary art auction weeks at Christie’s each year. We were just there before one of the art auctions and got a tour through the collection by Christie’s specialist Caitlin Forest.  The collection we saw was better than art exhibited in most art museums.

At the auction several days later, an unknown bidder paid for  David Hockney’s “Pool with two figures”  80 million dollars (with fees, 90 millions). The world of art and the amount of money spent on art is a world hardly any human being can relate to. In the words of the Washington Post:

“We often cherish what we think of as a private relationship to art, even art that is owned by other people or that hangs in public spaces. But when a work of art is suddenly known to the world not for its content but its price tag, it feels like a betrayal of our private relationship to the piece”.


David Hockney,”Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” reaching the highest prize ever for a living artist.


Although there were many extraordinary art pieces in the auction house, I felt especially related to the owl by Pablo Picasso. It seemed to really see what is going on in the art world today and express the astonishment and also disgust about it.




Pablo Picasso, “Le hobo gris”, bidding price between $1,500 000 and $2,500 000



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Born and raised in a village along the Danube in Austria, Traude Wild soon ventured out into the world. After a two-year program for tourism in Klesheim/Salzburg, she spent nearly a year in South Africa and Namibia. By returning back to Austria, she acquired a Master of Economics at the University of Vienna. After moving to the United States with her four children, she studied Art History at Arizona State University and stayed in the United States for fourteen years. Here, she was teaching Art History in several Universities like Webster University and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Now, she lives partially in Arizona and Vienna and works together with her husband for the University of South-Carolina, Moore School of business as Adjunct Professor organising and leading Study tours in Central Europe. She also teaches at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna. Since 1999, she is practicing Zen meditation in the lineage of Katagiri Roshi. She loves to hike and to write and is a student of Natalie Goldberg. During her often many weeks long hikes she brings her awareness into the Here and Now, describing her experiences in an authentic way. She loves to walk pilgrimages. The longest hike so far was the 1,400 km long 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan in 2016.

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  1. I love this … you captured so many wonderful details of our trip!
    It was so much fun being with you and seeing NYC through your eyes too!
    much love,


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