Jan 29, 2009

Paricutín - Mexico’s Pompeii

Paricutín could be described as Mexico’s version of Pompeii although on a much smaller scale. Think village instead of city. In February of 1943 a farmer ploughing his field was confronted with smoke coming out of a mound in the soil. He fled and soon after a volcano rose out of the ground. Within a year it reached 1,200 feet. The lava it spewed engulfed two villages. In February of 1952 the lava stopped flowing but not before covering a 10-mile radius.

Today the dramatic remains of a cathedral jut out of craggy moonscape of black lava. The altar of the church managed to survive and can be reached by carefully climbing over and between steep mounds of molten rock.

To reach Paricutín, located in the state of Michoacan, you must travel first to the rustic pueblo Angahuan which is an hour’s bus ride from Urupan. From there it is about a pleasant one-hour walk (less depending on your stride) through a pine forest. When entering the town tour guides offering rides to the site on horseback, if you prefer not to walk, will approach you.

Jan 26, 2009

Street Scenes: Mobile Temple Mumbai

There are certain cities in the world where you can stand in one spot and the constant stream of activity that passes by will keep you mentally and visually stimulated for hours. Or as long as you choose to stay. I live in one of them. Mumbai is another.

This temple on wheels rolled down one of Mumbai’s many busy streets. The images you see are of Shirdi Sai Baba, a saint who is worshipped by Hindus and Muslims throughout India and the Hindu Goddess Durga, the fighter of all demons. Worshippers make offerings to mobile temples, which you will see in many of India’s big cities. They often have loudspeakers playing religious prayers and songs.

Which cities of the world never fail to keep you mesmerized?

Jan 23, 2009

Strange Souvenirs: Ojamas

Inaugural souvenirs came in all shapes and forms in DC. People everywhere were wearing concert-like and bedazzled T-shirts with President Obama’s portrait (under warm coats of course).

But I wonder how many came home with a pair of Ojamas. The PJs are emblazoned with a replica of the campaign logo, in the shape of a “capitol” O of course.

Previous posts in this series:
Lucha Libre Masks Mexico
Autopsy Cell Phone Straps
Emirati Family Dubai
Cultural Revolution Kitsch

Jan 21, 2009

America’s Biggest Celebration And The Beautiful Sea Of Humanity

I got back last night after a whirlwind 24 hours in Washington DC celebrating with a few million people from around the country and world. Here are some of the highlights:

-The good natured metro employees and thousands of disembarking passengers at Capitol South station in the wee hours of inauguration day chanting back and forth Keep on Moving….Yes We Can! during the half hour it took to get out of the station because of the crowds.

- For me the celebration started at 6:30 a.m. on a cold winter morning in the Port Authority bus terminal. Hundreds of smiling and courteous people lined up at the gate hoping to get a seat on buses that didn’t seem to follow a timetable. Nobody complained. On the bus a couple from Belfast who were journalists interviewed people sitting nearby. One man they spoke to was picking up tickets only to return the same day so that his son who had to work Monday could attend the inauguration. “I figured my grandson would much rather tell his classmates that his dad attended,” he told them. When asked what this day meant to him he said that he never thought a man of his generation would see it. He was 69.

-The man sitting next to me started applauding when we pulled out of the station as did a few others. He booked a hotel last April hoping that Obama would win and saved for months to foot the $1,000 a night bill.

-Being in the audience of BET’s taping of its inaugural special Monday night only a few hours after arriving. I’m on camera a few times but you’ll have to guess who I am if you see it.

-Sharing an incredible 24 hours with my brother and friends. Many thanks to them for making this all possible at the last minute.

Other events of note include the hotel we stayed at hosting the Texas inaugural ball. Security was of the airport variety. Everyone had to go through metal detectors to get in but the security staff was extremely professional and courteous. Everyone was decked out in their black tie best and there were more than a few cowboy hats perched on the heads of tuxedo clad men.

Let us in!
After waiting in line for hours in the cold to get within half a block of the entrance gate I was among the many thousands of ticket holders that didn’t get in. Disappointing, of course. But right now what sticks in my mind the most is the energy of millions full of good will and happiness braving the bitter cold with smiles and the sound of everyone cheering at once. This is what I’ll remember most.

Jan 17, 2009

Inauguration Bound!

I just found out a few hours ago that I’m going to the inauguration! A dear friend hooked me up with a ticket and all has fallen into place. My brother will be in DC on business related to the event so I have a place to stay, something that would have been impossible to secure at the last minute. I think I may have booked the last bus tickets available to get there and back. I’ll have plenty to post when I return.

You are probably wondering what the above picture has to do with the inauguration. It is of a small café in Uruapan, Mexico where a decadent piece of cake was being a washed down with café con leche. Catherine and I and another buddy stepped out of the hotel after watching election coverage to grab a bite to eat thinking there would be hours to go before it was clear who won. A big screen television played in the background. We knew who won when a group of about 10 men sitting at a table next to us began to cheer.

Jan 14, 2009

Street Scenes: Pedestrian Rome

The back streets of Rome that connect its many piazzas are pedestrian friendly. There are few if any cars on the cobblestone lanes and alleys. Vespas circumvent those on foot.

Camp De Fiori pictured here is a neighborhood where getting lost is a pleasure. Many of its streets are named after the generations of artisans who toiled in them for centuries. It is possible to take in day to day Rome without being over run by hordes of tourists.

Related Posts:
Campo De Fiori Market

Jan 11, 2009

Tai O Village Hong Kong

For most Hong Kong doesn’t typically conjure up images of ancient fishing villages. Tai O is a world apart from Hong Kong Island’s Central financial district and the tai-pans who make it tick.

A fishing village on Lantau Island Tai O is connected to a smaller island by a steel pedestrian bridge. Also known as the Venice of Hong Kong it was settled hundreds of years ago by the Tanka (boat) people from mainland China.

Its inhabitants live in stilt houses built over a waterway, a big attraction for the waves of foreign and local tourists who visit it on weekends. They come to wander its alleys and sample the seafood restaurants. In 2000 a fire burned sections of the wooden stilt homes. Many have been rebuilt with aluminium. Tai O village also has a seafood market and three temples.

How To Get There
Tai O is located on the western tip of Lantau Island. It’s a nice way to take a break from the crowds and the journey is enjoyable. To get there you can catch a ferry from the outlying ferry pier in Central to Mui Wo on Lantau. The fast ferry takes about 30 minutes and the slow ferry about 50. Try and take the slow ferry at least one way so you can sit outside on the open deck which provides spectacular views of the busy South China sea and Hong Kong harbor. From Mui Wo catch a bus, a scenic ride that takes about 40 minutes. Buses are outside the ferry terminal and clearly marked.

Jan 7, 2009

Published Photographs: Harlem Edition

Harlem is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Manhattan to photograph. I typically head there to update my files in the spring after the dismal winter sky has left. The wide boulevards and avenues and rows of brownstones allow ample light to filter down to the streets unlike the concrete canyons in other parts of the city. It is also one of the last neighborhoods in Manhattan where people still commonly make eye contact and say good morning to neighbors and strangers alike. A sense of community still exists.

There is plenty of material to document, from classic brownstone and townhouse architecture to institutions such as the legendary Apollo Theater, Lenox Lounge and Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant included in the photos above. They have appeared in advertisements, magazines, travel brochures and textbooks.

Jan 4, 2009

Casco Viejo Panama City

Panama City has reinvented itself more than once. After the original city was destroyed by a Welsh pirate it was rebuilt a few miles away in the San Felipe district also known as Casco Viejo, Casco Antiguo or the Old Part.

Casco Viejo is like a village or small town within the city. The architecture is a mix of Spanish and French colonial. Many of its narrow streets are paved with cobblestone.

It is undergoing a major revitalization with ramshackle buildings next door to those that have been carefully restored. The faded grandeur of buildings still inhabited but not yet refurbished is often compared to Havana and parts of New Orleans.

UNESCO declared Casco Viejo a World Heritage Site in 1997. Following gentrification trendy restaurants and bars have opened making it a fashionable destination for a night out. It’s a great place to wander and stumble across several squares, including Independence Plaza, the epicenter.
Plaza Bolivar is a good place to sit under the shade of an umbrella and order a cold drink. There are also several museums and a promenade along the ocean that offers beautiful views of the city’s skyscrapers.

For a memorable dining experience in Casco Viejo check out what Anne of Pret a Voyager wrote following her recent trip to Panama City.