Mar 31, 2008

The Doctor And The Traitor, Mexico

The doctor opened the door of his home in Mexico to find a man with a knife standing there. What followed was terrifying and he barely lived to tell the tale. Here is his story told in retablo form:

“The day of the 9th of April 1937 was the day when the bastard came to Dr. Francisco and appeared in his doorway. And the said Doctor Francisco without weapons went out to challenge the traitor who stabbed him in the head, ribs and back. His sister called on the Virgin to cure and save him and begged her not to let him die. The so called Francisco full of faith recovered and presents this retablo in thanks.“

Retablos are a religious folk art form which give thanks for answered prayers. I picked up the above in Guatemala late last year. Below is further reading on and photographs of retablos:

Ex-Voto Folk Art Mexico—Booze and the Devil
Retablos Mexico—Running over an old woman

Mar 30, 2008

Dubai Bound

I’m off early tomorrow morning to catch a flight to Dubai where I will spend the next week exploring, photographing, haggling in the souks and consuming delectable Middle Eastern eats.

I have posts lined up for next week including a beautiful and potentially dangerous city icon in Guatemala and the tale of a traitor brandishing a knife in Mexico.

Thanks to Sheila of Family Travel for including my post on Rome in the latest Carnival of Cities and to Jon of The DC Traveler for giving it a mention as well.

Mar 27, 2008

Strange Souvenirs: Cultural Revolution Kitsch China

I wonder how may people traveling to the Olympics in Beijing this summer will come home with Chairman Mao-Era inspired souvenirs.

Walk through any major market frequented by tourists in China’s major cities and there is plenty of Cultural Revolution kitsch stocking vendor’s stalls.

Ceramic collectibles depicting followers are lined up like atrophied action figures with a post war color palette. Propaganda posters and wind up alarm clocks complete with a devotee waving the Little Red Book of Quotations are popular items. I’ve been tempted by the alarm clock on several occasions.

Stacks of the Little Red Book are also common. They are available in many languages. I saw French, Japanese and German to name a few.

Here are some of the places in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong where you can stock up on Mao Memorabilia:
Liulichang Beijing
Dongtai Road Antique Market Shanghai
Hollywood Road Hong Kong

Mar 25, 2008

Liulichang Street Beijing China

The architecture and atmosphere of Liulichang Street is a taste of Old Beijing. Buildings with classic sloping tiled rooftops line what is for the most part a long pedestrian lane, save a few bicycles and stray cars.

Centuries ago the area was a cultural center popular with scholars, artists and poets and its literary past remains today housing some of Beijing’s finest book stores. Liulichang gets its name (which means glazed tile factory) from kilns that once stood there producing ceramics used to build the Imperial Palace.

Liulichang is well known for its antiques and calligraphy shops as well. But there is plenty else to buy for all budgets including a wide range of handicrafts and curios that make great souvenirs or gifts. There are also some quality teashops. The western end of the street features outdoor vendors selling Cultural Revolution kitsch, Buddha statues, inexpensive ceramics and assorted bric-a-brac.

Bargaining hard is customary. Vendors expect it and prices tend to start higher here, as the market is popular with tourists. To get there take the metro to Hepingmen Station. If you take a cab ask the receptionist of your hotel to write the name in Chinese so that you can hand it to the driver. Most hotels have business cards written in Chinese and English and are happy to write your destination in Chinese on the back.

Further reading on Beijing:
Lama Temple
Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) Park
Door To Door Makeover Forbidden City

Mar 23, 2008

Lungshan Temple Taipei Taiwan

Taipei is a city with thousands of temples. One of the most visited is the Lungshan Temple. First built in the 1730s it has been destroyed several times. It was leveled by an earthquake in the early 1800s, wiped out by a typhoon 80 yeas later and hit by U.S. bombers during World War II. Each time it was carefully rebuilt.

The temple is dedicated to Kuanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. Devotees come from all over to pray here.

Also known as the Dragon Temple it has elaborate ceramic dragons perched on its rooftops. Although the temple complex is small, I was easily able to spend a few hours here admiring the architecture and taking in the all the activity of worshippers shrouded in incense clouds.

Lungshan Temple is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. To get there you can take the MTR to the Lungshan Temple station.

Mar 19, 2008

Annual Easter Parade New York City

Eccentric, artistic and downright flamboyant are not typically words you would associate with the Easter Holiday. But the annual Easter Parade in New York City is all three.

The tradition started in the 1800s when New York’s elite would don their finest on Easter Sunday while attending services at one of 5th Avenue’s grand churches. After they would stroll up the avenue in their designer duds, a 19th century Red Carpet of sorts, and the common folk would come and watch.

The Age of Innocence days are long gone and the tradition has since morphed into an event all are welcome to join. Those who do sport the most imaginative chapeaus possible. Some participants even have their designer pooches donning Easter bonnets.

It’s a casual affair, not a typical parade with organized marching. People amble up the avenue, closed to traffic, happy to stop, chat and pose for photographs.

The parade will be held this Sunday 10-a.m. – 4 p.m. on Fifth Avenue between 44th and 57th Streets. A good location to check it out is by Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, located between 50th and 51st streets on 5th Avenue.

If you attend keep an eye out for Oswaldo Gomez a local NYC personality, who is always accompanied by his parrot and poodle.

Mar 16, 2008

Strange Souvenirs: Hezbollah T-Shirts Lebanon

Most people can’t resist bringing home something from their travels. Some seek out beautifully made local handicrafts, while others bring back the edible (coffees, teas, spices). And let’s not forget the classic T-shirt or mug.

But some mementos are more memorable than others. How about T-shirts emblazoned with the Hezbollah logo, which include the silhouette of an automatic weapon? They were a popular keepsake amongst tourists visiting Lebanon’s Baalbek Temple complex.

Vendors just outside the temple had stalls with the garments, which featured one side in English, the other in Arabic: "Hezbollah The Victorious Party. Islamic Resistance In Lebanon." I wonder if those purchasing them wore them after they got home.

I’ll be writing more on some of the more bizarre souvenirs I have come across. What strange souvenirs have you found or bought when traveling?

Mar 12, 2008

Santa Barbara Mission California

California is earthquake country so the Santa Barbara Mission you see here is not the original. Founded in 1786 by Spanish Franciscans the mission still has an active parish. The original buildings, three in succession, were more modest. A major earthquake decimated the third in 1812. Its replacement was completed in 1927. The current building also got a major facelift in 1950. It’s referred to locally as the Queen of Missions.

The 10th mission built in California by the Franciscans its goal was to convert the Chumash to Christianity. There are still quite a few Santa Barbaran’s who can trace part of their heritage back to Chumash ancestors.

A California Historic Landmark the Santa Barbara Mission is open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Another architectural gem in Santa Barbara not too far from the mission is its municipal courthouse.

Mar 10, 2008

Chichicastenango Market Guatemala

Twice a week Maya traders gather to sell their goods in Chichicastenango at one of Guatemala’s premier indigenous markets. Crafts from the highlands, food stalls and every day items can all be found under the tarp covered stalls set up on a cobblestone square.

The market is a textile lover’s dream. Vivid, multi-hued hand woven blankets, embroidered cloth, and traditional clothing hang everywhere. There is also a large bustling indoor produce market on one side of the square worth checking out.

I suggest going early in the morning to take in all the market has to offer before it gets really crowded. Take a long lunch and return in the afternoon to purchase goods you have scouted out just before traders pack up. Prices are more likely to come down at the end of the trading day. Be prepared to bargain.

The market is held every Thursday and Sunday. Of the two days Sunday has increased activity on the steps of Iglesia De Santo Tomas. The church overlooks the square where the market is held. Rituals, the result of the religious fusion of Maya beliefs and Catholicism, are performed on the steep steps. Small fires burn and devotees swing small tin containers with smoking incense while they pray. If you are lucky you might see colorful processions of prayer leaders.

Mar 7, 2008

Pashupatinath Temple Kathmandu Nepal

The pagodas of the Pashupatinath Temple line the shores of the Bagmati River in Kathmandu Nepal. The Bagmati is to Kathmandu what the Ganges in Varanasi is to India - the most active and holy river for cremations. Funeral pyres burn on cremation ghats just south of the temple.

Pashupatinath is devoted to Lord Shiva and the most significant Hindu temple in Nepal. You’ll see plenty of religious pilgrims, including sadhus, holy men or ascetics, from India. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside but there is an excellent view of it across the river up on a hill. Keep your eye on the aggressive thieving monkeys who all but own this hillside. They have no problem grabbing camera lenses pointed at them or scrambling to snatch dropped sunglasses.

Mar 3, 2008

Listen Up: New Yawk City Accents

Pssssst, c'mere. You wanna here some local dialect?

How well tuned is your linguistic ear? No matter where you are from I bet you can identify where people live or grew up in your country or city based on their local accent.

In large cities accents can often be broken down by neighborhood. London and Boston come to mind. In New York City accents vary by borough. Gritty, old world New York accents still exist –dees, dem and dose (translation: these, them and those).

AM New York, a free daily newspaper, recently published an online interactive audio tour of different New York City accents in the five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island and Queens). You’ll find the link below.

Have fun! And please remember to turn down the volume on your computer if you are reading this at work.

AM New York’s Interactive Audio Tour of NYC Accents.

Photograph: Detail of Brooklyn Bridge.

Mar 1, 2008

Chopin Monument Lazienki Park Warsaw Poland

Warsaw is a city of many statues but a favorite of residents and visitors alike is a tribute to Poland’s beloved maestro. The art nouveau style monument to Frederic Chopin, composer and pianist, was originally erected in 1926. Designed by sculptor Waclaw Szymanowski, the statue was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. It was rebuilt in the late 1950s using a plaster cast of the original.

The Chopin Monument can be found in Lazienki Park next door to the Botanical Garden. It is a popular spot for concerts. Crowds gather to hear pianists performing his music on grand pianos set up next to the monument.

Chopin was born almost 200 years ago (1810) today. Bravo.