Conrad Louis Charles, In Memoriam

As photographers, we attempt to freeze moments in time…to try to hold on and connect with the people, the places and the feelings forever. We fight hard against the inevitable fate of endings and goodbyes. We constantly seek the light and examine the way it kisses everything on earth. I am writing this today with tears in my eyes and such sadness in my heart because I wasn’t able to stop time for a great friend and photographer and the light has dimmed. Conrad Louis Charles died suddenly last night due to complications from a surgical procedure.

Conrad and I met after I saw his work featured on Tewfic El-Sawy’s blog The Travel Photographer. I was so impressed and knowing we were both from the same area, I contacted him and we quickly became fast friends, living only minutes from each other. Conrad was the gentle giant. He had quite the presence in stature but was quiet by nature. He was deeply introspective which led to his unique and profound vision. This master photographer was always thinking about interactions and
interplays of life and Conrad could tell me every spec on the cameras and what would work for what. We would spend hours lusting over the latest gear and the places we could travel to with it. I would see the big picture while he could see the small details. We worked so well together. Conrad was moving into film making. That was his dream and everything he did was to learn more and to be more. We talked about the projects that took hold of his heart. He hoped to travel to Brazil for a few months, live with the local people and travel with them on their pilgrimages, documenting their faith and rituals which would add another component to his beautiful and sacred still images. I always was in awe of how he was able to take his 6 foot plus self and get so close to people to capture with intense intimacy their deepest moments in prayer without in anyway being an intrusion. I will never be able to do what he did even though he kept trying to teach me! I remember telling him how I was trying so hard to emulate him by photographing a couple at a restaurant but all I got was a hand signal recognizable around the world and it wasn’t good! Conrad truly just had a way and a style that was uniquely his. Hours would go by and we would consistently close our favorite restaurant as he shared his vision of documenting the events at the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Both places were home. With ancient roots stirring the rhythms of connectedness there, he felt a deep calling to tell the stories of the people and the politics. Dreams are those intangible life/light giving graces. Conrad may not have seen the completion but he put the spirit of his dreams into the universe for another to hold it close and carry it on.

Conrad was such a compassionate, gifted and sensitive visionary. He first touched my life with his images and then grew to profoundly impact me with his supportive friendship and mentoring. The space between us had been blessed. I will forever miss that wonderful deep voice calling me “Frances” rather than Francie. When he spoke, he honored. His curiosity and adventurous spirit led him to travel the world and come home with fascinating stories of other cultures that I could sit and listen to forever. He would do anything for the photograph. In Antarctica, the seas were thrashing and crashing. Many on board were sick. Conrad was just not happy that he didn’t get the type of shot he wanted so he asked to stay on the ship and go back again despite the horrible conditions. The second time was a charm.

He regretted not being a doctor at times, but he healed with his presence. Conrad deeply loved his family and I will hold close the rosary that he brought back for me from Fatima recently. He was so excited to take his mother there for her birthday with his sisters.

Pilgrim holding photographs of Francisco and Jacinta, children of Fatima, Juazeiro do Norte, Brazil

Pilgrimages always fascinated him…what was it that drew people to leave home and go on a journey with such deep faith… to enter into the unknown in search of mysteries and miracles that lie beyond us.

Pilgrim Praying. Juazeiro do Norte, Brazil

Conrad, may the pilgrimage you are now on bring you to a place where there is no more mystery. May you feel the welcome of perfect peace, light and love.
I am not able to stop time for you, but you will forever live in my heart. With the words we always spoke when parting, “Go gently my friend! I love you!”

To see more of Conrad’s work and legacy: Conrad Louis Charles Photography

Indian Independence Day Celebration

Sapna,The Cultural Leader
India Independence Day Celebration

The word “friend” is only one syllable and often times used so casually without reflection on its true power. I am certainly guilty of that! Today though, I was very appreciative of my friendship with Sapna Prasad. She seems to have at least 35 hours in her day for all that she accomplishes and of course, nothing is ever too much. Sapna has been inviting me to the most beautiful Indian celebrations: Holi, Diwali and today, The Festival of India. It was a celebration commemorating the 72nd anniversary of the day India became free from British rule. PECO sponsors this celebration as part of its Multicultural Series at Penn’s Landing located in Philadelphia. Sapna is the cultural leader for the Council of Indian Organizations. She got there early, checked everyone in and served as the very capable MC for the program.

The view of the waterfront was a spectacular backdrop to the beauty of the dancers. The energy of the music combined with the grace of movement brought huge cheers from the audience and I couldn’t click the shutter fast enough to capture all of the colorful vibrancy that I found myself in the midst of. This friendship has opened incredible doors and I thank all those whose hands I shook, who reached out to hug me and who allowed me the honor of photographing them today as so many came together to celebrate India’s strength and culture. Namaste!

Indian independence Festival

Dancers at the PECO Multicultural celebration

Dancer at the PECO Multicultural Celebration of India

Dancer for India Independence Celebration

One aside – Kerala, India has been hit with the worst monsoon in 100 years. As of today, thousands are still waiting to be rescued. More than 325 people have died over the past two weeks. There was a special part in the program today asking for collective help for the people of Kerala. Amazon and Flipkart have teamed up with NGOs engaged in relief efforts. If you wanted to help and connect with those suffering right now, here’s one way –
Log in to either of the apps and the flood relief banner will show up on the app’s home page. On Amazon, you will be led to a page with the registries of three NGOs — Goonj, Habitat for Humanity and WorldVision — from which you can choose the products you want to buy, which will then be donated to these NGOs. Thank you for the gift of your time in reading this and your consideration.

The Photographer Meets The Artist

Ink Drawing By Laszlo

I have been given a gift in my mid-life: discovering new family members I never knew existed. They have been so incredibly welcoming to me as we spend hours trying to catch up on years. We first met in May at a local “Open Studio Weekend”. My 2nd cousin Betty married Laszlo Bagi, a Hungarian born local artist and as I came to find out, an artist extraordinaire. As soon as I saw his pen and ink drawings, etchings and silkscreen prints, I was in awe of his talents and had to know more. Laszlo’s subjects ranged from his memories on a farm, a simple life with many siblings in a Hungary that no longer exists, a piece capturing his grandparents home with the path he had to walk each day to get water. There was a silkscreen of a large black and purple crucifix standing by a small road into his town which was a gift for his mother many years ago. Forests he explored and Philadelphia historical buildings all found new life through his touch. Back stories were pouring forth and I knew I needed to capture them on film. These were such precious memories that should not end up as fleeting ones.

Laszlo was most gracious as I became his shadow with a camera. The excitement I knew when I would watch images emerge slowly in the confines of a darkroom was the same as seeing the magic created in his studio. “I love to see the colors reach out, hold hands and marry each other”, he told me. I held the very first pen set that he ever owned and this oh so gifted man made sure I had a new sketchbook and a set of his watercolors to always have with me when I travel!

So many moments impacted me during out time together, but when I started to film the responses to my innately curious questions, it was then that I had a very profound appreciation for all this man had gone through and all he has given. As a teenager, he saw his beloved country destroyed and taken over. Leaving family and friends, he walked for 7 days to Austria to escape a fate of hanging only to walk into the fate of being a refugee and housed in a camp. Here I was interviewing one of the few remaining people who knew first hand of the atrocities of the Hungarian Revolution. Laszlo came to this country though the compassion of Eleanor Roosevelt. He went into the United States Army (101st Airborne) and was stationed in Germany where he met and married my cousin Betty who was working in Special Services for the US government. An immigrant to this country who has spent his life in the service of others and who each day feels compelled to bring forth something beautiful.

Today at times, we hear the word “immigrant” used in a decisively pejorative context. Hundreds of thousands of people are given that one word descriptor without deference to their own individual stories of life, love and hardship. Many are herded, judged and separated. Years ago, our former president’s wife interceded to bring those in the refugee camp to America heeding the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” I feel so fortunate to now know a man named Laszlo, my cousin! The name in Hungarian means “glorious ruler”, a name of honor and dignity. When we move past the word “immigrant”, we may be fortunate enough to come to deeply know a person by name and for me, it was truly glorious!

With special thanks to Betty for opening her beautiful home and generous heart to me day after day! Much love!
More of Laszlo’s work can be seen at his website: Laszlo Bagi.com

Laszlo Bagi: An Artist's Story from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

Chinese Lantern Festival

Walking Under Symbols of Luck and Good Fortune

Sitting two blocks from the Liberty Bell and under the Benjamin Franklin Bridge is a site not to be missed. Come sunset, the heart of Philadelphia is now aglow with 28 larger than life illuminated groupings of 1,500 individual lanterns created by artisans from China. Many beautiful cultural traditions have grown out of myth and legend and this is one of them. Centuries ago as the story goes, there was a beautiful bird who was favored by a god. This bird flew down to earth and unfortunately, a villager killed the bird by accident. The god was so angry that he ordered the entire village be burned in retaliation. As fate would have it, there was a very wise man in the village who hit upon an ingenious solution. He got the people to light torches, lanterns and set off fireworks to fool the god into thinking the world was already burning and then leave mankind in peace. Out of this legend over hundreds of years, the celebration of the Chinese Lantern Festival continues throughout major cities in China on the fifteenth day of the first month in the lunar calendar. They are held to gain favor of Taiyi, the god of heaven and invoke blessings on a fruitful harvest. In ancient times, the lanterns were fairly simple, and only the emperor and noblemen had large ornate ones. In modern times, lanterns have been embellished with many complex designs similar to those on view here in Philadelphia.

Brilliant Peacock

In China, artists designed the lanterns and they were then created by hand on over 50,000 square feet of silk fabric. They then transported all the materials by ship in 15 containers to Philadelphia. For one month prior to the recent opening, a 30 person team of artisans worked to build the steel frames, light them with over 15,000 LED lights along 16,000 feet of electric cables and finally stretch the silk over the metal. It is a massive feat of artistry and engineering and a truly wonderful gift from China to our city of Brotherly/Sisterly love. Last year, more than 89,000 people from 49 states and 17 countries visited the Festival.

Entrance of Koi

Dragon Head

Dragon

The festival location at Franklin Square is totally transformed into a magical, whimsical Chinese wonderland. Each light sculpture tells a legend or symbolizes an old Chinese story. Visitors first walk through a beautiful orange and red glowing koi fish gate. The design was inspired by the Chinese myth, “Leaping the Dragon Gate.” Legend has it that each Chinese carp would swim the Yellow River upstream to spawn, and those who could leap the waterfall at the Dragon Gate would transform into dragons! This metaphor is used to describe a person who works hard and diligently. A centerpiece is the glowing blue and white Chinese Dragon lantern which is longer than three school buses and weighs 3,000 pounds. Standing 200 feet long and 21 feet high with the head installed by a crane with a 15-person crew. The Azure Dragon of the East, the White Tiger of the West, the Black Tortoise of the North, and the Vermilion Bird of the South are four mythical animals said to have mystical powers that brought luck and happiness. Their stories have been passed down from generation to generation for over 2,000 years. One can walk through a Shark Tunnel that is 75 feet long and weighs 1.5 tons and a Time Tunnel with stars and moons and the heavens glowing in changing colors. One of my favorite displays was the beautiful fairy tree, a symbol of life and vitality. Its constantly sparkling and changing hues drew me into its magic and charm.

Fairy Tree

Sichuan Opera

Besides the 28 larger than life illuminated groupings to wander through and enjoy, shows are presented daily highlighting the special skills of an acrobatic performance of plate spinning on 3 foot bamboo poles. The spinning plates resemble lotus leaves in the breeze and butterflies flying among the flowers. Contortionists showcase their skills of extreme physical flexibility, balancing a variety of items and twisting and turning towards the sky. The acrobats visiting from China are Yuhan Song, Lun Huang, Xiaoqi Zeng, Xiaoqin Tang, Shihue Wang. Each night, visitors are privy to one of the most fascinating Chinese cultural performances associated with the opera in the Sichuan Province for over 300 years. Ms. Aibi Chen has been practicing “Face Changing” or “Bian Lian” for the past 10 years. With a twist of the neck and flip of the fan, Aibi changes masks in a split second and morphs into another character, capturing other emotions. The technique is a treasured secret and passed down from one generation to the next. These performances with the unique lighted backdrop certainly enhance the wonder of a visit to the Lantern Festival. Before leaving, stop by the artists booths and have your name painted with images of dragons, mountains, birds, flowers and animals to spell out your name. It is believed to bring good luck and is often given as a gift on very special occasions in China. Stand and watch these craftsmen create butterflies from melted sugar and just like the Face Changing, painting beautiful scenes from the inside of the bottle is another art passed down through the generations and one wonders how they ever can do that! I was truly in awe at the intricate designs appearing before my eyes.

Plate Spinning

Painting with Melted Sugar

Name Painting

The Chinese Lantern Festival is being held at Franklin Square through June 30th. The Festival opens to the public at 7 and tickets cost $18.for adults, $12 for those age 17 and under and $15 for seniors and active military. Timed tickets are required for Friday and Saturday nights. Parking can be easily found close by under the Constitution Center. I went back twice recently just because there is so much to take in and I just loved learning about the myths and legends and experiencing the wonders and the beauty of the Chinese culture. I am so grateful to Stephanie Zhou for her great generosity of time and knowledge. Now I want to visit the Sichuan Province to see how it all begins! At a time when we hear about levying tariffs and being involved in trade wars, ART always uplifts and transcends and it is in the sharing and appreciation that the magic is found.

Video Highlights of the Festival

Chinese Lantern Festival from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

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Dionysus Is Alive and Well in Alsace, France

The most famous Wine Route in France proudly reveals its medieval châteaux, colorful half timbered and Renaissance houses. Cobblestone paths lead to flowery lanes in charming villages. Alsace, France is a land of tradition and wine, offering a very unique and memorable experience for the visitor. This route was established as a tourist route in 1952. It winds through sloping valleys along the foothills of the Vosges Range which is home to traditional gastronomy and travelers along the way are invited to sample the excellent cooking in the region’s many farm inns. Meandering through 70 wine growing villages and fortified towns such as Eguisheim, Kaysersberg Ribeauville and Riquewihr this is definitely a unique, “put it on the list” trip. The vintners organize wine and harvest festivals featuring folklore entertainment, processions and wine-tastings from April to October.

Wine Route

Cheese and Local Products

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” On my recent trip to the Alsace region at the end of March, the gray clouds and rain were constant companions but I felt privileged to be where a subtle mystical alchemy beneath the earth was taking place. Filling our senses was an exhilarating petrichor and the site of rich colors evenly lit by clouds acting as a natural diffuser. The entire wine route was on the verge of spring transformation yet one could only see rows and rows of thousands of dormant brown stalks and arched vines. Each appeared to have arms spread wide to receive the gifts nature bestows. I was in total awe when I learned that each and every branch along this vast route is pruned by hand. From December through March, there are several pruning systems employed. Two of the training systems I saw used were: Simple and Double Guyot depending on the type of grape and the variety of wine desired. The preferred method seemed to be the Double Guyot method which means that branches are pruned leaving only two n shaped branches with 8 – 12 “eyes” which are tied to horizontal steel wires in order to carry the fruit bearing shoots. There is a true wisdom and art involved with pruning. Done correctly, it will increase light distribution where the ratio of leaves to fruit bunches is maintained. It also serves to provide the control needed for the production of the highest quality of grapes. According to the Wine Doctor, “The vine’s vigor is not wasted on superfluous growth.”

Chapel on the Hill

Wine Route, Alsace, France

Heavens Reaching To Earth

Pruning

There are over 1000 wine producers offering tastings and tours. The French word frère comes from the Latin word frater which also means “brother”. Walking into the Bott Frères, we immediately felt like family with their warm welcome and hospitality. We shared stories, culinary interests and tasted the many different delicious pairings. Of course, all in the name of in depth research! The Bott Frères Alsace wines are imbued with knowledge acquired over nearly two centuries, an exceptional terroir, high quality grape varieties, and the Ribeauvillé microclimate. Generation after generation carries on the dedication to producing the finest of wines and after meeting several of the family members, it is easy to see why so many recommended this experience to us. Throughout the year, Bott Frères organizes events in harmony with the seasons. At 2:30 every day (except Sunday) visitors can take the tour to experience the magic of its cellars and hear a presentation relating how winemaking has changed over the years.

Bott Family Winery

Wine Label, Bott Winery

While I would love to see this famous wine route in the summer and fall, in early April I was able to understand the deep dedication and care that goes into wine growing in this region. I could clearly see the row after row of thousands of stalks and vines left to carry on an important legacy, all tended to by hand. When the grapes burst forth in the fall, they too will all be plucked off their vines by hand… hands strong and weathered but definitely the tools of the artist. As Ernest Hemingway said, “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”

route des vins d'Alsace from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

How to Get There
If you would like to add this to your itinerary of explorations, flights go into Strasbourg, France. Rent a car right outside the station and take in all the quaint villages along the Wine Route. Cycling or walking tours also provide another interesting way to see these beautiful sites. Untours Travel specializes in trips to this area. Stay with locals and travel at your own pace.

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Travel Like I Have Never Experienced Before

A fairy tale village

One may never know the many people touched by a life well lived. The rippling effects can be far reaching into the future. In 1973, Hal Taussig gave his car to a hitchhiker and from that time on, he rode his bike to work. He was a giant of a man focused on living simply and forging connections across continents. He received a doctorate in education from the University of Penn. During the last phase of his teaching career, he traveled with his wife and youngest daughter to Europe for a sabbatical. He was able to stretch the family’s extremely tight budget by renting apartments in small villages in Switzerland, Germany, and France. At home in rural mountainside communities, he became an avid hiker, learned German, and made lifelong friendships that altered his worldview. By traveling close to the ground, taking local trains, shopping in the markets and getting to know a series of friendly hosts, he found what he considered a more meaningful and enlightening mode of travel. This cross-cultural connection prompted him to write his book “Shoestring Sabbatical” hoping to inspire others to travel this way. Before the “one click find it on the internet” and Air B&B, Hal being a true visionary, started “Untours” with his wife Norma in the 70″s. A company to offer a mode of travel that Hal pioneered: apartment stays in local communities in Europe that give travelers a more genuine experience and understanding of a place, its people, and its culture. This man from Media, Pa who died in 2016 and who I never have had the privilege to meet has opened new worlds for me.

I have been traveling since I was 18. Seems like only yesterday! I have traveled with groups and I have jaunted out into the world alone. There is very little thinking and leg work involved when with a group. All is set in place – times of arrival and return are given, sights to see or not see. When alone, it can be at times somewhat nerve wracking maneuvering through new worlds with much time spent researching and making reservations. Happily, now I have found the perfect blend of the two with Untours. This was my first time traveling with them and I am so excited to share my experience with those who may have that wanderlust spirit but like to be grounded securely.

Lunch with Vivianne

Alsace Dessert

My recent trip was to Alsace, France. Dodge Amaral, (dodge.amaral@untours.com ) was wonderful in setting the stage, sharing his vast experience and knowledge of the area, putting all the logistics in place and I went off with all tickets in hand. I received such a valuable guide book to the area covering everything from cultural etiquette, suggestions for things to do, how to handle tips etc. that we referred to many days. Untours provides that best of both worlds travel package. A representative in France is ready to meet the arriving traveler, “hold their hands” while obtaining the rental car and driving to the apartment “home away from home”. Rather than staying in a hotel, with hundreds of people, here in the beautiful town of Ribeauvillé, we had our own spacious apartment within a local villa all to ourselves. Marie Lauth and Dominique were our hosts. They greeted us with their own homemade apple cider, a bottle of wine and much kindness. There was so much attention to beautiful detail for us. Dominique was an architect and Marie Lauth is a talented artist with her work hanging on the walls. Beautiful drapes and table linens came from the very famous Beauville Linens (so much more on that to follow). Travel books were there for us to read each evening in our lovely living room. The kitchen had all the amenities we needed when we would return home each day with fresh baked bread, cheese, local wines and fresh fruit from the market. Towel warmers and huge down comforters easily took away the chill of the day and each morning we looked out to their lovely garden and vineyard awaiting the birthing of spring. They were there for us if we had any questions and we felt so comfortable coming and going at our own pace. We shared lives, countries, photographs in frames and photographs on the phone with this wonderful couple who fast became our friends. Vivianne Beller was the UnTours representative in France. We met with her over lunch and thank heaven the French take two hours for this meal because she was a fascinating companion. She was an American living in France after marrying her husband and she related and conversed so easily, guiding us along with suggestions to make the most out of our trip. She is there for all Untours travelers and will plan a lunch meet up to help everyone in that same way. I loved the freedom of planning where we would go each day and doing it our own time. If we got lost on a country road or took several hours to totally enjoy the French cuisine, no one was waiting on a bus for us. We set our itinerary. We meandered through the beautiful and quaint towns in the Alsace region in our own way and knew wonderful locals were just a phone call away if needed.

One of the oldest family run vineyards in Ribeauville, France

At the time of Hal’s death, he was an accomplished businessman, a fervent booster of Fair Trade, an activist for socially responsible business, and an early micro-enterprise investor before micro loans were really even thought of. His Untours Foundation, created with the profits of his successful tour company, has lent over 7 million dollars to small startups and businesses around the world to create jobs and economic opportunities for those most in need. In 1999, Paul Newman and John F. Kennedy Jr. awarded Untours with the title “Most Generous Company in America.” He was given the Spirit of Philadelphia Award in 2007 and at the following year’s Philadelphia Sustainability Awards, Hal was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his ongoing commitment to social justice. I never met Hal Taussig but this man’s vision, ideas and ideals have very much touched my life and now the way I travel. Thank you so much Hal!

Home in Colmar, France

The World in One Place: The New York Times Travel Show

Every year, there is a certain date that I try very hard to reserve and this year it was January 27th. Last Saturday, I found myself in the midst of over 550 exhibitors representing more than 170 destinations around the world. The New York Times Travel Show is such a vibrant showcase connecting over 30,000 travel enthusiasts with industry leaders. At a time when some people are so focused and vocal about differences, borders and insular country-centric thinking, it was an enlivening breath of fresh air. This show was truly a celebration of the beauty and wonder of the fascinating diversity of a global society. There were experts describing expeditions through the massive white, silent Antarctic Peninsula, trips to experience Malta’s underwater crystal clear grottoes, the Tsar’s Gold train ride beginning in Beijing and traveling through to Moscow. Attendees could avail themselves to virtual reality, Indonesian Massage techniques (this woman was probably the strongest woman I have ever met!), Olympic gaming and Bonsai tree trimming.

The New York Time’s Travel Show has over 100 cultural presentations and over 75 informative sessions such as: “Taste the Cultural Mosaic Of Israel”, “Savor the Mediterranean”, “Sustainable and Socially Conscious Travel”, “How Technology Can Enhance and Elevate Your Vacation”, “L.G.B.T.Q Travel, “The Best Travel Gadgets of 2018”, “Travel Writing and Photographing Tips”, and they all stroked my continuing passion to learn and travel our amazing earth with a camera. Some of the interesting websites mentioned were: wwwtoursbylocals.com, messynessychic.com, wirecutter.com, Atlasobscura.com,www.angelstravellounge.com.
I was able to catch up with friends from Sri Lanka Holidays.net and I met equally fascinating experts from countries I hope to explore in the year ahead. The beauty of this show is that in just one spot, I learned about hundreds of destinations around the world. It is a day/weekend not to be missed. It is tentatively scheduled to be held in January next year. Stay tuned to mark your calendars.

Turkish Airlines says it so well. “There are many experiences waiting to unfold, to hear, to smell, to see, to taste, to touch cultivating our curiosity and finding delight within. The New York Times Travel Show shares those amazing experiences waiting to unfold.

Invited into the Light of Diwali

“When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.” (Joseph Campbell)

Sharing the Light

It all began with the strike of a match in the midst of total darkness. People were waiting anxiously and the excitement was building for that one moment…that moment of “ahhhhhhhhh” when one could breathe out the stress of the past and open to the sheer wonder of the present…the freeing that comes with a new year.

Standing In The Glow

I was thrilled to be asked to photograph Diwali, the Hindu festival of Lights this past Thursday night. It is celebrated every year here in the northern hemisphere between late October and early November, depending upon when the 15th day of the Hindu month, Kartik falls. The festivities go on for typically 4 or 5 days with each day rooted in its own legends and myths and serving to illuminate one’s spirit with the brilliance of joy. At the center of each legend is the victory of good over evil, wisdom over ignorance, light over darkness and hope over despair.

Living With Light Through The Years

Holding Onto The Light

Aartis or devotional hymns are sung eulogizing Goddess Lakshmi with sweets and fruits offered to her. Homes and businesses are illuminated and new clothes are worn as a sign of respect and thanks to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.

Passing the Torch from Parent to Child

Families, young and old all gathered around outside the Bharatiya Temple At 7:30, the night sky was totally lit up with brilliant colors surging high into the air, released from their pent up containers. Fireworks ignite that spirit of wonder no matter how many times we see them! According to one belief, the loud explosive sound is the way to let the gods know of the people’s thanks and joy from the earth.

Diwali Festival of Light

While the fireworks were going off overhead, people were passing around sparklers, sharing that dancing, popping light from family to family. It was all such a spirited celebration. Everyone was smiling, hugging and sending along well wishes. This was the first time I had the privilege of attending a Diwali festival and the brilliant joy that each spark gave off was totally enveloping. I loved photographing on this night, even though the exposure and color were challenging, it led to interesting blur, lighting so blown out and brilliant that I just went with it to capture the mood and the essence.

Light and Movement

As Joseph Campbell said,”…then comes the new life and all that is needed.” It is believed that, “Diwali is an opportunity to cultivate and connect with eternal bliss.” On Thursday night, I did!

Synchronistic Ways of the Universe

Sri Lankan Woman in Tea Fields

Last week I celebrated my birthday. Rather than count new wrinkles and gray hairs, I try to give thanks for the tremendous friends and opportunities I have in my life. The past 12 months turned out to be an amazing year of travel. I photographed in Burma during the fall and summer. Roads I traveled took me to meet tribes that have never seen Westerners before. These people were hidden away high up in mountains with no hospitals or doctors. They have been relying on the ancient wisdom passed down through generations cultivating the healing power of nature’s gifts and it must have been working because they took us to meet the elders who were in their 80’s and 90’s! In Sri Lanka, I was taken to a truly verdant forest that was heavy with rain. Here the Shamans grow and study the power and secrets in plants, herbs and trees. I was led into a hut with a dirt floor and a table. A young woman proceeded to use the power of touch and specially made oils to sooth my tired muscles. There wasn’t one knot left and like an American, I wanted to buy the oils but they were just made for that moment in time. Here, I also had the most delicious tea made from leaves that had just been picked that morning. There was a very powerful sense of respect and living in harmony with the earth.

I then returned home and was hit hard with the flu and pneumonia that the doctors thought I contracted on my flight. This is where the universe weaves in new paths and curiosities and sometimes uses difficult situations to get interesting messages across. Antibiotics gave me thrush and then the medicine to deal with the thrush was terrible on my stomach. I was getting worse, not better. So, I took myself off the medicine and a friend started me with the natural medicine of essential oils. Here I was again, learning and healing from the gifts of nature from a bed and not a hut! It was a year of many, many connections…connections with ancient tribes, wisdom and the energies of the earth. The words, “Respect”, “Harmony” and “Communion” all come to mind. I never had a year like this. In all of the years of travel, I have never gotten sick! Why now? One of my loves for travel photography stems from a deep calling, a vocation to tell stories and create bridges and here I find myself called to learn everything I can about the power of these healing oils from wonderful and wise modern day shamans who wear diamond studded t-shirts that say, “There’s an oil for that!” I am so grateful that I live in a country with access to incredible medical facilities and hopefully, our government will continue to provide low cost access to health care for all but now, I have been led to a new path, off the beaten road for the most part and am learning about ways to enhance my health care. Life just keeps getting more and more expansive and interesting. “Roots and Wings” – travel the world and dance with the earth. Now I carry canons, tripods and vials of lemon, lavender and frankincense! Now I have so many more love stories to tell and I am thrilled to be sharing and selling these natural medicines! Doterra is the company I am working with because of their commitment to the environment, growing plants indigenously, replanting and paying the farmers very fair wages, establishing educational, nutritional and loan programs enriching the lives of many. The company uses strict scientific testing procedures to ensure the highest quality and potency. So along with stories and photographs of travels, I hope you will not mind if I also share the stories of a bit of the amazing biodiversity that surrounds us. My other website is now:
http://mydoterra.com/francesschwabenland Please stop by and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. If you would like to hear more, just let me know. I get so excited about sharing and I promise I won’t talk too long!!!

A Simple Glimpse into the Kayaw and Kayan Tribes of Myanmar (video)

We were able to spend a brief time with these fascinating people and I had the video camera rolling! The traditions and cultures are fading as the modern world is encroaching upon these indigenous people. It would be our hope to raise enough funds to be able to go and live among the people and create a documentary which would capture how daily life is interwoven with tradition before the elders pass on.

A Glimpse: A Day Spent With The Kayaw and Kayan Tribes of Myanmar from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

The Kayah Tribe and My Journey of Ascension

It was another day I seriously thought about taking stock out in dramamine while I regretted the fact that I didn’t at least bring more. Again, we went in search of tribes hidden away high up in the mountains of Myanmar. Over the past two years with the military rule giving way to democracy, the government has been trying to build roads to connect all of it’s people. The one road in and out was very narrow as it snaked along the side of the mountain. Rather than a very long drop, it remained a scenic vista thanks to the skill of our driver.

Village View

When we were about 20 minutes away from our destination, we stopped at a small village for a man to jump in the van with us. He was our “Wayfinder”. He was going to accompany us and introduce us to the tribe at our final destination. As far as we knew from Clement our guide, no Westerners had ever journeyed here before and we had the distinct honor of being the first. Be still my heart!

Our first sign of village life was looking up to see three beautiful girls high up in the hills working with the planted crops. As we approached, they didn’t stop but continued putting hand to the earth. They were in the moment and so were we!

Women In The Mountains

Hand To The Earth

When we arrived at the village of Daw Ri Dar, without asking, we were again taken to the elders. Imagine 4 total strangers, unlike anyone you have ever seen coming right into your home with cameras all around their necks…this is exactly what we did. A shaky wooden ladder led up into what many would consider to be an impoverished hut but I found the criss-cross design of the reeds on the walls expressive of a wonderful artistry and attention to detail. The hut was basically open. There were no doors to lock or windows to close. There was no reason to keep anyone out, all were and are welcomed in. The first women we met was a huddled over 98 year old woman. She was sitting looking out on her world. When she saw us, she folded her hands in the prayer of welcome. I was the only woman in the group and the first Western woman she had seen. We did not know each other’s language, but she tenderly stroked my face while I held her hands in mine. She was very animated with us and her family all gathered around enhancing the sincere hospitality we felt. Presence was their true gift. It was difficult for me to take our leave because I just wanted to stay with her, to somehow keep her with me longer knowing that we may never see each other again. Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey, an Hawaiian anthropologist and the first female National Geographic fellow eloquently said that, “Every time an elder dies, a library burns down”.

The Blessing of Welcome

Moment of Laughter

Engaged

Family Portrait

We then were introduced to a centenarian whose eyes were very tired and red. One of the other photographers I was with had eye drops to ease the soreness. It was quite something to watch her totally trust him as he put the drops into her eyes. She had never been through this experience before and yet she was totally open as she was blinking away. Her granddaughter wanted them also! She suffered from a goiter but had been unable to get any kind of medical attention.

In many cultures and religions, one goes to the elder before a journey, in illness or a special occasion to receive their blessing. We were then told that one by one, each of us would receive her blessing. We walked up to this our elder with our wrist extended. She then said a blessing of protection and good health over us and tied a cotton thread around our wrist. The white thread serves as protection from misfortune and evil and to ensure the blessing stays with the person. In a small wooden hut, a profound moment of grace and a bit of healing.

Looking Into The Face of Wisdom

Look Into My Eyes

Grandmother and Granddaughter

Traditional Dress

Throughout the day, there were several other older women wearing the black and blue dress adorned with shells, beads, coins and ear lobes elongated from the weight of the traditional silver earrings. This may be the last generation to carry on this tradition of beauty and identity. While they all wore the head wrap, it seems that T-shirts are making their appearance on the younger woman. These elders we met are the true wisdom keepers of ancient ways.

Traditional Ways

On The Path from Tradition to New Ways

Modern Day Mother With Child

The ascension metaphor became my touchstone. For me, it is so much easier staying at sea level. My knees don’t take to climbing very well but yet, in the rising, I saw sights few others have seen. I learned about the magic of presence, an openness to new experiences, meeting someone who looks differently with curiosity, interest and welcome rather than fear. I learned that somehow a common language can be found even it it is just in touch or a blessing. I saw what trust truly looks like and when I looked deeply into an elders’ eyes I saw an acceptance of life with all its joys and sorrows. I saw the knowing of the bonds with tradition from generations passed. This day and its people who crossed my path truly elevated my body, mind and spirit. My hope is that my photographs in some small way serve to provide a testament to these female elders of the Kayah tribe.

The New York Botanical Garden

The New York Botanical Garden is an iconic living museum, a major educational institution, and a renowned plant research and conservation organization. Founded in 1891 and now a National Historic Landmark, it is one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world and the largest in any city in the United States. It is distinguished by the beauty of its diverse landscape and extensive collections and gardens supporting over one million living plants. In the heart of the Bronx, it is truly an oasis.

Opening To Life and Magic

Dale Chihuly is an American artist who has mastered the translucent and transparent qualities of ice, water, glass and neon, to create works of art that transform the everyday experience. He is globally renowned for his ambitious site specific installations in public spaces as well as exhibitions presented in museums and gardens worldwide. From April 22nd through October 29th, CHIHULY, an exhibition at the NYBG spotlights this artist’s bold innovations. The Garden’s dramatic vistas become living canvases for work created specifically for NYBG and it showcases signature organic shapes and brilliant colors.

Sapphire Star

The Garden is also a major educational institution, teaching more than 300,000 people annually – among them, school children, teachers, and Bronx families – about plant science, ecology and healthful eating through its hands-on, curriculum based programing. Inspired by the works in the CHIHULY exhibit, children in grades K-12 from all over New York, New Jersey and Connecticut entered poems into the NYBG Poetry Contest that was developed in partnership with Poetry Society of America. The winning poems are displayed alongside Chihuly’s sculptures.

Sparkle Rock


The spikes sparkle in the way of the sun
The spikes sparkle on the logs
The logs are in the way of the water
The water is calm
The rocks might wobble
Ducks come in and quack
Let’s all shout – water!

Author: Ryan Corey, 1st grade, Setauket Elementary School

Float Boat

Beautiful Coexistence

Blue Herons

Sol del Citron

This past Tuesday, the sun was far behind clouds, the rain did some misting and some pouring…but light has so many moods and textures that it presents to a photographer. On this day, the colors were deep and rich. The exhibit is infused with a magical energy, showcasing the dynamic and poetic interplay of art, light, form and reflection. After sunset, the atmosphere takes on a heightened drama and luminous quality of Chihuly’s colors and forms when it is lit under the evening sky. There is also an evening jazz summer concert series. For the first time, Grand Hyatt New York, Metro North, and the New York Botanical Garden are partnering to provide visitors with a seamless trip to the Garden. This exclusive package offers a discounted rate if you use the code NYBG at the time of booking at the Grand Hyatt, admission to the Garden, shopping and dining discounts at NYBG and round trip tickets on Metro North. The end of summer is drawing near but walking through a beautiful garden in any type of weather, during any season enlivens the senses and calms the soul. AHHHHHHHHHHH!

Mystical Magical Colors

Dancing Interplay

The Kayan Tribe of Myanmar

When I think about photographing the Kayaw, Kayan and Kayah tribes of Myanmar, an hour glass comes to mind. The constantly flowing sand reminding me of the passage of time and once gone, it cannot be regained. Setting out on the second day, in each village we visited we were taken right to the elders and usually the elder women. These are the ones embracing traditions of the past while the Western world starts to slowly enter in with new ways of life. It was obvious that those who accompanied us into the village were so proud of them. The women were in their 80’s and older so it was a true honor to be able spend time with, laugh with, learn from and photograph these wise women whose hearts are rooted in the past and whose eyes look out on the future.

Clement’s Auntie

Clement, our guide extraordinaire, took us to visit his Auntie in the village of Hwa Ri Ka Ku. Her lineage is that of the Kayan tribe. As soon as we pulled up, Daw Mu Nan came right out to greet us. Clement’s huge hug enveloped this tiny woman and I was so happy I had the video running. I was able to capture her giggling with us and later when Clement started to sing, he coaxed her into dancing. I love family reunions!!! To me this moment was priceless! I focused on taking still portrait photographs to hopefully capture a bit of her spirit as she looked out and took everything in and then video to capture her explanation of wearing the brass coils, her heritage and her enjoyment of rice wine! (video to come later). The sands of time are passing and every time I hold my camera up to my eye, I realize the importance of the calling and how very fortunate I am!

Clement’s Auntie, Kayan Tribe

Clement’s Auntie

We then went to the Daw Klainlin village. The women here do not wear the brass but wear shells, beads and coins. They also wear threads made from cotton with a type of liquor around their knees.

Woman At Work

This woman is a member of the Kayan Kagan tribe. We were able to photograph her after working all day and then she transformed herself into the traditional dress. I love seeing her different expressions! The adornments only compliment the beauty within!

Laughing With Us

“Oh You Are So Bad!”

The Kayaw Tribe of Myanmar

Kayaw Tribe in the Mountains

It was definitely a two dramamine day! We left the beautiful comfort of the Loikow Lodge and ran into the arms of misting rain, a very sturdy van and Clement, our brilliant guide. The goal for the day: photograph the Kayaw tribe in the very remote village of Ya A Pra. It was approximately a 2 – 3 hour drive, with hair pin turn after hair pin turn high up into the mountains. I think I got in an entire rosary on the way up since looking down was not good for my heart!

Dress of the Kayaw Tribe of Myanmar

It wasn’t until approximately 2012 that foreigners were finally able to gain access to some of the ethnic groups of Myanmar, previously closed off by the military regime. Still, few outsiders have made their way here. Needless to say that we were the only moving vehicle for most of the trip. On a very muddy road (path) feeling isolated looking out on a washed gray color blanketing the landscape, we all suddenly became attentive to a beautiful burst of bright pink as we came around a corner. Pulled over to the side of the road was a motorcycle driver with a Kayaw woman as his passenger. The driver had his pink plastic rain cover but not his passenger and the skies were threatening a downpour. Clement came to the rescue and we all got out, made our translated introductions and welcomed her into the van. I was so taken with the alchemy of beauty, brightness, ruggedness and guts that radiated from our new guest…my kind of woman! She was as quick to show us her machete as her jewelry!

Traditional Dress

Beautifully dressed, Kayaw women have elongated earlobes with metal cylinders and adorning beads. Metal coils decorate both the neck and the legs and are worn in life and into death. Old Indian and British silver coins hang from the neck behind large silver and aluminum half discs. In the Kayaw culture, these represent the beauty of the shining moon. They were and are usually given by a groom to his bride to tell her, “You are as beautiful as the shiny moon.” Mothers also pass these down to daughters to tell them, “You are my beauty, as beautiful as the shiny moon.” It is a fascinating study that diverse cultures throughout the world have associated the moon with the feminine. Carl Jung’s collective unconsciousness is alive and well.

Adornments

When we finally arrived at Ya A Pra, sad to say, there were only 3 people around. The others were all off in the fields tending to rice, millet, beans, corn, pumpkin, cucumber and mustard even though it was pouring rain. With limited time to now photograph and get back down the mountain before darkness enveloped the road, we stayed with the 3 rather than going into the fields. Even though I pride myself on exercising regularly, my appreciation goes out to the three men I was so fortunate enough to be with for all their supportive words and arms as we slogged our way straight up a muddy mountain side…the zen mantra was one step at a time! At the top, we were rewarded with a man sitting weaving baskets in his hut. I was so grateful for his gracious welcome and total acceptance of us. Strangers walked in on his world unannounced and he promptly gave us shelter from the storm. It was humbling and quite the lesson on hospitality. There was very little in his hut except for a basic cooking area. Weaving was his creative contribution to his community. Life was simple, basic and connected. Clement explained to us that one of the customs of the Kayaw people is to make coffins for each person while they are alive. Death was prepared for and accepted. When we took our leave from this gentlemen we looked up to see a mother taking care of her baby. Three people we met on this day…the beautiful strong woman, a gentle man weaving away through the day and a mother loving her child…the people, the archetypes that transcend time and my world is so much richer for it!

Basket Weaver

Mother and Child

Also, my sincere thanks go out to Swe Yi, the co-owner of the Loikaw Lodge. With her husband, Jens, they not only created such a beautiful and environmentally friendly Lodge, but they are experts on the many Burmese tribes in the area. Swe Yi was so kind to help me find out the answer to the meaning behind the silver half moon jewelry. Jens is the author of “Marked For Life” which is a fascinating in depth look at the Chin Women and their facial tattoos.

Sri Lanka Veddas

Travel affords me so many amazing opportunities. Living in Philadelphia, there is probably very little chance that I will ever be able to meet a man with long flowing jet black hair, wearing nothing but a loin cloth, living in the midst of a dense jungle and moving silently through the trees with a bow and arrow and ax slung over one shoulder.

Vedda Man of Sri Lanka

The trip to Dabana, took us from modern roads, walking through a dense, verdant jungle squatting aside low hanging branches and insects to finally come upon a clearing and a dirt path calling us further into exploration. We had traveled back in time to see the few remaining aboriginal settlers of Sri Lanka, an island off the coast of India.

One of the last remaining Veddas of Sri Lanka

The Veddas as they are known, are reported to have come to Sri Lanka about 1600 BC and our visit was a rich and deeper cultural experience into this land of past and present. The clearing we were on opened to a few mud huts with thatched roofs which served as a type of a museum, providing a look into village life. Painted on the sides of two of the buildings were primitive stick people. One with a triangle seemed to symbolize a female and the other, just the plain form of a circle and lines for the males, a small letter m seemed to represent an animal. The origin of story telling for this group!

Hail to the Chief

Our guide took us further back on the path to meet the few remaining natives. In the 1970’s, the government census showed only 6,000 remaining Veddas left. As per the unspoken requirement, we were taken to first make the acquaintance of the chief, Uruwarige Wannila Aththo. Our shoes came off at the door and then the appropriate bowing to this older, gray haired man sitting crossed legged with only a loin cloth. It was a bit of a surreal experience because in the midst of this primitive existence, photographs of this leader meeting various dignitaries lined the walls. The chief sat down crossed legged and said nothing as we, confused and a bit hesitant to the protocol, took our seats on the perimeter inside the hut. We were very happy when 5 men in suits entered to break the awkward silence. The visit turned into a birthday party for one of the gentlemen complete with cake and candles, missing was the usual chorus of “Happy Birthday” though! The man who was the subject of the celebration told us that he held the chief in such high esteem as a wise sage and he wanted his blessing on this new year of life. We politely declined eating the cake being offered ( a good friend’s sage advice is to travel with the locals but eat with the tourists to avoid those pesty stomach issues).

Chief Must Accept Visitor
first

Birthday Blessing

We bowed our way out of the hut, leaving the greetings to the next set of visitors. Six native men in various degrees of dress escorted us out. Women were not permitted to be seen while outsiders were there so I have no idea the number of women who would be able to give birth to new baby Veddas, continuing this tribe.

Finding the Prey with a Bow and Arrow

Vedda Hunter Taking In Life

For thousands of years, the Veddas have been hunters and gathers. Their lifestyle has depended upon the natural world of the jungle, all that grows and all that moves there. A few years ago though, the government put into effect regulations against the hunting of certain animals. So this may be when survival and the modern world impeded upon this ancient way of life. Not knowing the language, we were somehow able to understand that in exchange for a bit of money, we would be treated to ritual dances, fire building and the skills involved in hunting with a bow and arrow. We were suddenly thrust back into the ways of the present and the influence of the “pay off”! However, as visitors observing these cultural rituals, we found it a validation to the calling of leaving the beaten path to discover the somewhat obscure. Making our way through a dense jungle brought us face to face with a tribe having a BC date of origin and a population that seems to be on the verge of extinction. Yes, we paid a small amount of money but our glimpse into the past was well worth it and who knows for how long this opportunity may exist for those who visit Sri Lanka.

Hunting Tools of the Vedda

Vedda Men

If you like this story, would you consider sharing this…spreading stories and connecting people across continents and cultures. Thanks and all the best! Francie