Feb 27, 2008

Traditional Mayan Textiles Guatemala

Does your clothing reveal where you are from? The traditional woven textiles worn by the Maya in the highlands of Guatemala define their regional identity. Woven and embroidered most often in cotton each pattern and color combination distinguishes a particular village or community.

Women wear a combination of garments. The most prominent is the huipile (a tunic) pictured below. This huipile is from Chichicastenango, which is famous for its market where Maya traders sell their goods twice a week.

The tzutes (a rectangular piece of cloth) in the following photograph are from Santa Catarina Palopó a village located on the shores of Lake Atitlán. In Santa Catarina they are worn over the shoulder. The blue and geometric pattern of this village is relatively new, dating from the 1980s. Previously the local attire was predominately red.

An excellent source for Mayan textiles is Nim Po’t in Antigua. I purchased the huipile from there. I bought the tzutes directly from a woman in Santa Catarina who was selling them during a festival we stumbled upon. I’ll write more about the festival later on.

Feb 25, 2008

Crusader Sea Castle Sidon Lebanon

The Crusader Sea Castle juts out into the Mediterranean off the coast of Sidon, Lebanon. But it is still within earshot of the call to prayer.


The castle sits on a small island where the Crusaders built it in the 13th century. To get there you must walk across a stone bridge. You can climb up the ancient stone stairs of its better-preserved tower for a good view of the port, Sidon’s Old City and the sea.

Sidon is not far from Beirut, about 40 kilometers, an easy day trip. The castle is open to visitors daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

Feb 22, 2008

Hollywood Boulevard Los Angeles California

What do Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square have in common? In the not so distant past they were seedy and meccas for the down and out. They have both been given a face-lift in recent years. Still, natives of both cities are unlikely to spend free time in either unless they have visitors in from out of town who want to see the sights.

Throughout good times and bad the Silver Four Ladies of Hollywood Gazebo statue has stood on the corner of La Brea and Hollywood Boulevard. The four ladies represent Dorothy Dandridge, Mae West, Anna May Wong and Dolores Del Rio. The gazebo they flank is the start of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Not far from it the boulevard will be lit up and the red carpet rolled out outside the Kodak Theater Sunday night for the Academy Awards. The writer’s strike ended just in time for the show to go on.

Feb 20, 2008

Rome’s Offbeat Archaeology Part II

A headless statue stands sentry next to traffic signs on a one-way street in Rome, Italy. Its manner is casual and I almost expect it to be smoking a cigarette, if it had a head of course.

Surrounding it are smaller remnants of sculpture. A nearby plaque commemorates renowned neo classical sculptor Antonio Canova. Born in the mid-1700s he trained in Venice and later moved to Rome where he set up a studio to produce his masterpieces.

You can find the statue and wall of sculpture pieces on the corner of Via Antonio Canova and Via delle Colonnette in the city center off of Via del Corso. Here is a map.

This is the second in a series on Rome’s Offbeat Archaeology. You can read part one here.

Feb 18, 2008

Laundry From Around The World

Why is something as mundane as hanging laundry so photogenic when traveling? At home it wouldn’t get a second glance let alone warrant a photograph. Perhaps the inspiration comes from the environment that frames it, like the narrow cobblestone alleys of Trastevere in Rome, Italy.


Or maybe it’s how these sheets have been artfully hung by the Dhobi Wallahs of Mumbai (Bombay) India.


The necessity of this scene caught my eye.


In an older neighborhood in Shanghai, China someone most likely living in a cramped apartment erected a clothes line across the sidewalk to dry their bed linens.

Feb 14, 2008

Alley of the Kiss Guanajuato Mexico

Like many of the world’s classic love stories this one is a tale of forbidden love that ends in tragedy. The legend of Alley of the Kiss (Callejon del Beso) in Guanajuato, Mexico begins with the daughter of a wealthy man who fell in love with a suitor her father did not condone. The over protective matriarch made plans to send her to Spain to marry a much older and well to do mate. The young suitor hatched a plan of his own and bought the house directly across from his love in the lane pictured on the right. This way he could be close to her and thought he could convince her father he was worthy.

The two star-crossed lovers committed their final act of love in the narrow alley. They leaned out of their windows and reached across to hold hands. Her father caught them, flew into a rage and plunged a dagger into his daughter’s chest. Some versions of the legend maintain her lover kissed her hand as she died, while others paint a picture of the two caught kissing.

Today tourists line up to take photos of the alley. Tour guides encourage couples to kiss on the staircase below the balconies where the ill-fated couple held hands more than 200 years ago.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Here is a previous post on Guanajuato.

Feb 13, 2008

La Merced Church Antigua Guatemala

After being destroyed twice by earthquakes the Merced Church in Antigua, Guatemala was resurrected in 1767. The yellow and white Baroque façade looks like an elaborately decorated cake.


Like all of the churches and cathedrals in Antigua the interior by comparison is modest. When Antigua lost its capital status to Guatemala City following another earthquake in 1773, its more decadent interior details were moved to a church in that city.

The Merced Church’s low, squat bell towers built to better withstand earthquakes are typical of Antigua.

Feb 11, 2008

Portraits: Caribbean Man

The light was perfect. I was engrossed in photographing a cobblestone alley in Old San Juan Puerto Rico when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I was expecting to turn around and see someone trying to get by. Instead this man was standing there smiling.

“What are you doing?” he asked. I explained that I was in town for a few days photographing the city.

He asked if I would mind taking a photograph of him, an offer I couldn’t refuse.

For previous portraits go here.

Feb 10, 2008

Travel Blogging Brethren

Travelers are kindred spirits. I’ve had the good fortune in the last week to discover some of my readers and was pleasantly surprised to find that one of them pens a blog I read regularly. I have been reading Primitive Culture for a few months. The author lives in Thailand by way of Los Angeles and Cape Town. The photographs are stunning, almost edible and the posts take me on journeys that keep me coming back for more.

And imagine my delight and surprise when Bella Mocha stopped by and introduced herself and included Escape From New York in her top 10 blog reads. Thank you Bella. I’m in good company. U.K. based Bella will be moving to New York soon.

Ever The Nomad is written by professional travel scribe Anja who just left Brooklyn to spend five months in Lisbon, Portugal. Her site is beautifully designed and the photographs gorgeous. I can’t wait to see what she gets up to in Lisbon.

I’d also like to say hello to the Tell-Tale blog. I’ll be stopping by for a visit shortly. The best part of all this is getting to know something about my readers through their blogs.

Meanwhile, thank you Travel Betty and Blissful Travel who chose my post on Beijing’s hutongs for inclusion in Travel Rants weekly blog carnival. Stop by all three to see what these bloggers have to say.

Happy Chinese New Year. Photograph: Hutong Beijing

Feb 8, 2008

City Icons—Casablanca Morocco

Casablanca’s icon is state of the art and a relatively new addition to the city’s landscape. Opened in 1993 to commemorate the former king’s 60th birthday the Hassan II Mosque has a retractable roof and a heated floor.

Designed by French architect Michele Pinseau it is the third largest mosque in the world. The interior can hold up to 25,000 worshippers.

The cost to build it was approximately half a billion dollars, which was funded privately. No detail was overlooked. A spa like hammam (public bath) offers a resort like atmosphere. When I was there last year the hammam was not open for use due to an ongoing management dispute.

Unlike most Islamic houses of worship non-Muslims are allowed inside although you must take a guided tour. Four of them run daily Monday-Thursday. They last about an hour and the first starts at 9 a.m.

You can read more of the City Icons Series here.

Feb 6, 2008

Rome’s Offbeat Archaeology

On the way to see the well documented sites of Rome, Italy you will casually encounter countless random antiquities. Some are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention or don’t know where to look.

Tucked in one of the city’s many narrow cobblestone alleyways is an enormous marble sandled foot. It is believed that the foot is all that remains of a temple statue of an Egyptian god. You can find it on Via del Pie di Marmo (Street of the Marble Foot) next to Santa Maria sopra Minerva in the city center. I wonder how many people trying to park their car have bumped it by accident.

Trivia: Do you have Roman feet? If so you are in the minority. If your second toe is longer than your big toe you have them. Go on take a look. Only 10-20% of the population has Roman feet or toes, which are also known as Greek or Morton’s feet. The latter was a podiatrist who classified said feet.

This is the first in a series on offbeat archaeology finds in Rome. Here is the second installment. Meanwhile you can find out about the city’s most famous talking statue here.

Feb 4, 2008

Hutongs Beijing China

The frenzied construction in the run up to the Beijing Summer Olympics is changing the landscape of the city. The result is the casualty of many hutongs, which are being torn down and replaced by large modern developments.

Hutongs are ancient alleyways lined by siheyuan, traditional walled courtyard homes. A part of the ancient architectural fabric that weaves Beijing together, these neighborhoods are tight knit communities—small villages within an urban setting. Many date back to the Qing dynasty sporting traditional tiled roofs while others are one-story concrete blocks built after WW II.

Walking through and getting lost in them is to step back in time. Enter one and the pace of this massive city slows down. Residents sit outside sharing gossip. Old men gather with their beloved birds in bamboo cages. Street vendors sell food. The clacking sound of a mahjong game and food vendors and garbage collectors calling out are common.

You can take a formal tour of hutongs. A popular way is via cycle rickshaws. You’ll find many drivers along Houhai Lake with its trendy bars and cafes. I suggest taking a short rickshaw ride to get your bearings followed by walking around on your own.

Another large hutong can be found across the street from the Lama Temple. It is less touristy.

If you want a more full on experience there is accommodation in these neighborhoods. In some hutongs homes have been converted into hotels and hostels.

Tearing these communities down and replacing them with modern high-rises is controversial. While the government protects some as historical relics many do not have indoor plumbing. Residents share crowded public toilets and showers. In recent years the more posh siheyuan have been bought by the wealthy and renovated into opulent gated compounds entered through large red doors.

Feb 1, 2008

Graffiti From Around The World

Graffiti. Most cities have it. In some contexts it’s art and in others vandalism. Sometimes there is a fine line. Opinions differ.

Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California offers up a wall on the beach for graffiti artists.
Would this rapper be amused to see his name splashed in Fez, Morocco’s ancient medina? Or would this artist lose street cred for misspelling his name?

Rome without Graffiti? Stranger things have happened. New York City’s subways have been graffiti free for years. Here someone has left his or her mark in Camp De Fiori.

In New York City, Brooklyn’s Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) was once a mecca for artists. It’s industrial buildings offered plenty of space for studios. Artists have since been priced out. Today most buildings have been converted into tony condos but street art still remains.