Lessons From Myanmar

Life on the Water

Life on the Water

Home on The Lake

Home on The Lake

A very common site to see while in Burma are people smoking both long and short truncated cigars called cheroots. Rudyard Kippling mentioned them in his famous, “Road to Mandalay” as he described his Burma girl:
“An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin white cheroot, an’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s feet.”

Burmese Woman Rolling Cheroot

Burmese Woman Rolling Cheroot

The color of cheroots can vary from green to black and are made with a mix of tobacco leaves and pieces of bark. The smoker may enjoy a distinctive sweet taste when honey, star anise, tamarind and jaggery are added into the tobacco mix. (Being from Philadelphia, I had no idea what jaggery is but discovered that it comes from the sap of palm trees and is mixed with sugar cane juice. We just have the Liberty Bell, not many palm trees!). Cheroot filters are made from small corn husks and it is all rolled together in thanal-phet leaves with sticky rice acting as the sealant. In the midst of stilted villages, floating gardens, fishermen balancing on one foot and small havens where cultural traditions are still carried on, the Inle Lake region is a must see for any traveler wishing to get caught up in the magic of Burma. We saw girls sitting crossed legged, hands moving at lightening fast speed as they separated the spices and rolled the leaves of these subtle fragrant cheroots, following in the footsteps of generations before them.

Woman In The Fields Taking A Break

Woman In The Fields Taking A Break

Having A Good Laugh!

Having A Good Laugh!

Love That Smile!

Love That Smile!

Twinkling Eyes

Twinkling Eyes

Reflecting and Relaxing

Reflecting and Relaxing

Here Comes Another Smile!

Here Comes Another Smile!

Often, older, older women whose faces have been deeply etched by the forces of nature are photographed puffing on cheroots with smoke snaking around their serious faces. We are so drawn to the wizened crone characteristic and the stories that lie beneath those many lines and wrinkles. Actually, there are 98 photographs of these women on Google Images (I counted!) So many photographs are both striking and compelling but I noticed that there were only 8 where the women were smiling. If this is an enjoyable past time, I wondered why such an absence. I will probably never know the many back stories to those photographs but I would like to share my experience with these women. Let me begin with a quote. An 18th century German composer, Robert Schumann stated, “The artist’s vocation is to send light into the human heart.” David Heath and Win Kyaw Zan are two men I hold in high esteem as true artists. I was so fortunate to have their mentorship throughout my recent trip to Myanmar. There is such an obvious brotherhood between David and Win. It has been forged during their 16 adventures together, documenting life and traditions hidden away from the Western world for so very long. I was thrilled they brought me “into the fold” and made me feel like family… but then that is what I saw them do time and time again with many others, which brings me to the main point of today’s post. Sitting in thatched huts or out in fields, we too were drawn to photograph these brown skinned, weathered and wise women enjoying a good smoke! We could have photographed with a long lens, never making our presence known while in a way stealing something from them and or we could respectfully enter into the intimacy of their world and not miss out on an amazing opportunity. David and Win went for the latter. Outgoing and fun loving, the camera went down while their smiles, introductions, compliments and jokes brought about quick friendships. We all lingered and laughed and loved every minute! The Burmese women easily allowed us to photograph them. They showed us the pensive look, but now they also flashed those wonderful smiles that were definitely contagious! The “strangerness” melted away into that “light being sent into the human heart” and we were family, connecting continents, cultures and hearts. I was so fortunate to travel with two masterful photographers. They encourage and challenge me to truly be mindful of the artist’s calling. May we all discover that vocation and pass it on now…it is so needed and our children are watching.

Watching with Hopes and Dreams

Watching with Hopes and Dreams

Philadelphia Has Another Number One!

We arrived at 4:45 pm thinking that would be just fine. It was a gray day with the type of cold that goes right through you and takes up residence. Of course, no one would be standing outside in line! Oh so wrong! There were 6 people in line ahead of us and they arrived before 4:30. I guess when an eatery receives the anointing of “The Best Pizza in the United States” – yes, the entire United States, from Bon Appetit , bad weather doesn’t stop pizza aficionados. My curiosity and craving had to be vanquished. With the best that close to me, how could my friends and I resist?!

Now Pizzeria Beddia has some unique qualities…it is only open Wednesday thru Saturday from 5:30 until 10:30 or until Joe sells out of his 40 pizzas each day. Customers line up in close quarters at this tiny corner mecca and can choose from 3 variations…plain ($20.), seasonal($25.) and spicy ($25.)! Each person may only buy 2 at one time in order to be considerate of all the stragglers standing out in the cold who didn’t plan ahead! By the time we made it to the number one spot (5:45), we were told to come back an hour later. At 5:30, Joe, the chef extraordinaire, began to make and bake each pie individually so wait we must. The good news is that Fishtown, that part of Philadelphia named in the 18th century to honor the German-American fisherman who made their living from the shad of the Delaware River, has gone through a resurgence of “cool”! Philadelphia Magazine provided a must see guide to explore during the wait. A rum distillery right on site with French Press, Chemex and Yama Silverton coffeemakers are just some of what makes La Colombe a fascinating space to be in. It was one of those places that when we were leaving, we had already started to talk about coming back!

The time 6:45! Three large pizza boxes were right there for us but since there was no place to sit, nothing sold to drink, our taste test had to wait. I think they call this, delayed gratification! Anyway, at a little after 7 pm, I finally was able to enjoy the absolute best pizza in the United States! Now to be fair, there are still a few states I have yet to visit and I know I am a born and raised biased Philly girl,so I can’t say with total certainty that it is pizza supreme, but this alchemy of dough, sauce, spices and cheese was definitely worth the price and the wait! I will be back, but in the spring with more than just the IPhone camera!

The Master Chef

The Master Chef

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Rum At Its Finest

Rum At Its Finest

Brigadoon In Lancaster County, Pa

Gene Kelly and Van Johnson played two weary hunters who came upon the mystical village of Brigadoon. As the story goes, the preacher in the town invoked God to protect the townspeople against the changes and the influences of the outside world. His prayers were answered and for one day every 100 years, Brigadoon magically appeared amidst the rolling hills of Scotland.

Waiting for Renewal

Waiting for Renewal

The rolling hills of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania holds its own Brigadoon. On 14.5 acres of land, 190 small white cabins sit empty, alone and boarded up but for one summer week each year. The Central Manor Camp Bible Conference first opened on Thursday evening, September 7, 1892 with 19 tents under the direction of a pastor, Dr. MacDannald. He wanted a place where for one week, “Fundamental truths of the word of God are faithfully proclaimed.” This is an area with the strong influence of Evangelical Christians and Mennonites, so the rules were very strict. No noise after 10:30, women wore dresses, no tobacco and no alcohol.

Mennonite Sisters

Mennonite Sisters

United in Prayer

United in Prayer

Singing is very much a part of each service.

Singing is very much a part of each service.

Deep in Prayer

Deep in Prayer

Reading faith based newspapers.

Reading faith based newspapers.

Over a hundred years later, there is a “tabernacle” seating 1,000 people set in the center of the grounds with these white washed and very sparse cabins surrounding it. These habitats have basic electricity but no running water. There is no wifi and not one lap top or television to be seen. The cost of each cottage can be up to $10,000 and they are either passed down through generations or auctioned off at the end of each year’s revival. Basically, most have just beds, lighting and a fan in them. Curtains are used to partition off areas.There are three bath houses for men and three for women. Each family brings their own unique style to their home away from home…Ruthie raised a foster child who returned to her birth mother at age 13 only to end up dying on the streets of Philadelphia. The exterior of Ruthie’s “home” is a memorial to Heather while her daughter is fighting brain cancer and sits quietly quilting outside the cabin. A mother with 5 children found a pink light to soften the look inside and she created a shabby chic haven. One cabin was “pranked” with colorful postettes adorning the plain white. Flowers, streamers, crosses, bibles and books by Glen Beck can be found outside. There are “porch visits” that go on throughout the day for the purpose of “Christian Fellowship”. Some met here for the first time and are now sitting on their porch as a married couple. Others remember coming when there were only tents and now have their own cabin. RV’s are permitted on the grounds for $40. per night and do have water and electric hook ups.

Ruthie Remembers and Honors her Foster Child.

Ruthie Remembers and Honors her Foster Child.

Creating

Creating

Color Splash

Color Splash

Love Grows During the Week

Love Grows During the Week

Sharing from the Heart

Sharing from the Heart

Pink Lights and Shabby Chic

Pink Lights and Shabby Chic

This year’s small booklet listing the speakers and program related the Statement of Faith as the following:
“We believe that the Bible is the Word of God.”
“God is a Triune God.”
“Jesus Christ is the only savior of men.”
“Man in his natural state is totally depraved. Man is sinfully enslaved in transgression, and without the provision of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, is eternally lost.” These tenets have remained the same since the founding by Paster MacDannald. What has changed is the operating budget which is now approximately $74,000.

The day begins at 6:30 with the ringing of the bell. 7:30 is family worship and no recreation may take place during times of worship.
There are speakers each day at 10:00, 2:30 and 7:00 pm. Snacks can be purchased or meals can be taken in the dinning hall with two seatings of 400. The menu basically stays the same from year to year. Saturday is always chili for “dinner” at 11:45 and chicken barbecue for supper at 5:00. There is supervised recreation. Saturday is “Parade Day” and the “Peanut Hunt” in the afternoon. The purpose of the recreation program is to “develop attitudes and behaviors that exemplify the Lord Jesus Christ.” Activities include quoits, street hockey, volleyball and basketball. Crafts are held Monday through Friday at 2:30 – 3:30 each year and crafts for women are at 1:30 pm on the days announced. At 10:30, there is the ringing of the bell, signaling the end of the day and all to be in their cottage. No smoking or alcohol is permitted and no soda is served.

A Parade of Balloons and Smiles

A Parade of Balloons and Smiles


Bathing In Sinks

Bathing In Sinks

Feeding the Multitude

Feeding the Multitude

A Pop of Color

A Pop of Color

For one week each year, there is a continuity of faith and family. Just as in Brigadoon, there is a type of shielding from the influences of the outside world that is embraced by generation after generation. On August 16, 2015, the Central Manor Camp was brought to a close…it saw its moment in the sun and now has returned to its stark waiting stillness.

Sources: “123rd Annual Program of Central Manor Camp and Bible Conference”
“Central Manor Campmeeting Celebrating a Memorable Century 1892 -1992

Japanese Tanabata

Tanabata Festival

Tanabata Festival

According to legend, Orihimi (weaving princess) wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (The Milky Way, “The heavenly river”) but was so sad because she could never fall in love and marry. She had to work day and night. Her father took pity on her and introduced her to Hikoboshi (cow herder star) who lived and worked on the other side of the river. They fell instantly in love and became husband and wife. Orihimi no longer wove for her father and her husband allowed all his cows to roam all over heaven. Tentai, the father, was so angry, he separated the two lovers across the river. Orihimi was so despondent at the loss of her husband but her tears moved Tentai to acquiesce and allow the two to meet but one day each year. On the 7th day of the 7th month, if she finished her weaving, Orihimi and Hikoboshi would be reunited. But since every good story/legend has more than one conflict, Orihimi and Hikboshi found no bridge to cross the river. The young bride cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata (the 7th day of the 7th month), the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.

In Japan, people celebrate this day by writing wishes on small pieces of colorful paper known as tanzaku and hanging them on bamboo with other colorful decorations which is known as the “Wish Tree”. Long streamers with Tanabata star ornaments and paper cranes are hung for good luck.

In Philadelphia, in the midst of city noise and frenetic movement lies a serene sanctuary that should not be missed. Philadelphia Magazine named Shofuso Japanese House and Garden the best hidden tourist attraction in this city of “Brotherly (and sisterly) Love”.Shofuso in its present incarnation was built in Nagoya, Japan in 1953, using traditional materials and techniques, exhibited at MoMA as part of “The House in the Museum Garden” series and moved to the temple gate site in Philadelphia.

Three traditional types of Japanese gardens comprise a 1.2 acre site: a hill-and-pond style garden which is intended to be viewed from the veranda; a tsubo-niwa, or courtyard garden in the style of an urban 17th century Kyoto garden; and a roji, or tea garden, which is a rustic path to our tea house. Visitors can immediately feel the expansive and collective “Ahhhhhhh” as they dwell in pristine beauty and elegant simplicity of design and style. This past weekend, Shofuso celebrated Tanabata with families by sharing the legend and having old and young create colorful wishes to decorate the bamboo trees. It is fascinating to take time out to become immersed in another culture and another world. I am presently working on a series of short videos highlighting out of the way and interesting places Philadelphia has to offer and I can’t resist the opportunity to return for the the tea celebration this weekend …let’s hope the sun shines on the 7th day of the 7th month so that the magpies can work their magic for Orihimi and Hikoboshi!

Japanese Gardens

Tanabata Festival

Tanabata Festival

Japanese Legend

Japanese Legend

Japanese Garden

Japanese Home

Come and Visit

Japanese Beauty in Simplicity

“Feeling It” Series

Dreaming

“Dreaming”

Her hands in steaming hot water and surrounded by dirty pots, one can only wonder what this Amish woman is thinking about as she gazes out the window. Is there contentment in her heart or longing…or a bit of both?

Feelings, Mood and Taking a Different Path

Childhood and Summer

As a photographer, I have spent years trying to master the technical and will happily continue for many more if I am lucky… it is a constant! When I am able to get that tack sharp image I am thrilled. In fact, that type of image was one of the aspects which first drew me to photography many years ago. So often I would look at an image and discard it if it wasn’t in focus. Creativity though is thinking out of the box, trying different things, playing and having fun, going down that overgrown path. So I decided to do just that…to create an image that is more about the mood and the feeling…the universality of feelings in a very simple image. Abandonment!

My first image is an attempt to capture the moments we are able to just stop, enjoy and just get caught up in curiosity and exploration…here’s to summer and childhood!

Victor’s Cafe, South Philadelphia Landmark

 

I just love being a travel photographer…I go in search of new and interesting people, places and things.  I always have a camera with me for that unexpected find which happened this past week.  Victor’s Cafe is a landmark restaurant in South Philadelphia.  It is housed in two brownstones located at 1303 Dickinson Street, Philadelphia and it was my first visit and definitely not my last.

Victor’s has a very interesting history :

“One hundred years ago a young Italian immigrated to America bringing with him little more than a great love for classical music and grand opera. It seemed only natural that his way of living would somehow include that love. John DiStefano settled in Philadelphia in 1908 and in 1918 opened his first business: a gramophone shop. Here, friends and neighbors came and enjoyed an espresso and spumoni while they listened to newly recorded operatic arias, symphonies and popular music of the day. DiStefano’s Victor dealership became a meeting place not only for the musically inclined but also a nexus for companionship and advice.

John often took the South Street Ferry to visit the directors of RCA Victor, located just across the river in Camden, arranging auditions and making suggestions of selections to be recorded. Because of his broad knowledge voice and vocal repertoire he earned the respect and trust of those at RCA, and established a lasting relationship with numerous budding artists, some of whom went on to musical renown.

His efforts to bring together artist and recording studio are well documented by the signed photographs and operatic memorabilia which literally cover the Café’s walls. The collection includes thousands of the family’s considerable collection of 78 rpm recordings, treasures of another era. Many discs are rare, out of print, or never published but still earn their keep. A larger-than-life replica of Nipper, well-known canine mascot of “His Master’s Voice” fame, stands sentinel at the front door, mute witness to a century of devotion to an ideal.”

Sylvester Stallone and the production crew filming “Rocky” decided this would be the perfect restaurant to transform into Adrian’s, an Italian eatery.  Throughout the filming cast and crew hung out here and it was the place to come for dinner every Saturday night.

Victor’s is known for the live performances of arias and instrumental solos which used to be performed by its patrons but now, the servers have taken over that role. Introductions were made and David Koh would be our server.  We learned that he was a doctoral student studying opera at Temple. After delivering our first delicious course, a small bell rang and Puccini would have certainly given his nod to the aria David began to sing to us…we were truly transfixed as his amazing talent  lifted us all. Throughout the meal, we were treated to two more operatic arias and while we dined on delicious homemade dessert, “Younger than Springtime” was one more gift David gave us.

I tried to be very respectful of the rule regarding no video but this was just too good !  I was grateful to receive the permission to film just a very limited amount in order to share this unique dining experience.  I would highly recommend Victor’s Cafe for a lovely, romantic dinner  as well as a wonderful evening out with friends. Experience the stars of tomorrow as they stand in the shadows of the great stars from the past…another of Philadelphia’s historic charms!

Just click on Victor’s Cafe to be treated to a bit of our experience.

 

 

New York City in a Weekend: The Foods of NY Tour

 

Chelsea Market Food Tour

I love New York and I love to eat so  the Chelsea Market/Meatpacking Food Tour for $52.00! (Thursday is a discounted day!) was perfect for a Saturday !

According to the website:
The Snapshot:
NYC’s historic indoor Food Market mecca plus a short walk on the old cobblestoned streets of the, now trendy, Meatpacking District & visit to the famous Highline – a park in the sky
The Full Description:
Tour NYC’s urban (indoor) Chelsea Food Market. Become a market insider while experiencing the sights, sounds, and flavors of this historic 112-year old landmark building which was the birthplace of the Oreo Cookie.
Learn the history of the Market, view original artwork and granite sculptures, and learn how the Chelsea Market has become the ultimate indoor food paradise (while tasting your way through).
Then step outside and take a stroll on “THE HIGH LINE”, New York’s only elevated outdoor park for great views of the Hudson River. Finish the tour with a sit-down food tasting at a restaurant in The Meatpacking District and learn all about this trendy area – NYC’s hottest destination for nightlife!
On this tour you will taste delicious specialties from seven “mom and pop” food shops in the Chelsea Market and one restaurant in the Meatpacking District. Also, get a glimpse inside one of two IRON CHEF RESTAURANTS made famous on the FOOD NETWORK: MORIMOTO or Mario Batali and Joe & Lidia Bastianich’s DEL POSTO!*

I am partial to the Reading Terminal Market here in Philadelphia which opened its doors in 1892 but I have to say that I loved the Chelsea Market! Darrell was our tour guide and his training as an actor certainly brought excitement, animation and great fun to our two and a half hour tour (Definitely ask for him!). We feasted on colorful and delicious cupcakes at Eleni’s , had the best chocolate milk I have ever tasted at Ronnybrook Dairy, tasted the legendary delicious preserves on hot muffins from Sarabeth’s Kitchen,
Lucy’s Whey provided a delicious cheese tasting experience. A warm and perfectly smooth quiche was brought out to the group in Buon Italia . We tasted salts,spices, vinegars and herbs all while laughing and listening to the history of the market, shops and surrounding area. The only problem was the fact that with so many restaurants, there was only one bathroom and the line was soooo long which could have been very painful for some! Darrell took us to the rest rooms in Morimoto (Unfortunately, no taste testing here!).  In all my travels I have never seen anything like it! Women would go in, shut the door and we would all hear exclamatory ooohhhsss and auggghhhhsss behind closed doors…all because of the heated seats, music, infinity glass art, and so many more amenities! Worth the experience if you are in the area!  This is the first time I have ever recommended a toilet experience! “Upscale”, “gentrification” were often used words in our group’s conversations. We numbered 12 from across the US and we all hugged at the end! Darrell brought that bonding about!

The Gansevoort Meatpacking Hotel is luxurious and chic. We could not resist going up to the Penthouse (even though we were not staying there) for a breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view of the city with sunset views over the Hudson. There is a pool, bar and many comfortable couches to just relax. take in the views and momentarily dream!  It was so hard to leave but reality and the dinner bell brought us back to the streets and the Restaurante Italiano. Appetizers were all we needed but we received such attentive care even with a bill not in the triple digit range. Dining outdoors was wonderful for people watching. We met Frances the dog and his owner so you know I had to talk to the dog lover to find out the legacy of this name. Frances was Bill’s mother and sister so he not only bore “Frances” tattoos but named this stubborn little girl after them. A chance meeting that became another bonding experience! Gotta love a man with “Frances” across strong arms!

 

Spices and Tease

Spices and Tease

 

Darrell's Gift Ideas

Darrell’s Gift Ideas

Taste Testing

Taste Testing

Chelsea Food Market

Chelsea Food Market

Sarabeth's Specialty

Sarabeth’s Specialty

Sarabeth's Bakers

Sarabeth’s Bakers

Eleni's Cookies

Eleni’s Cookies

Eleni's Cookies

Eleni’s Cookies

State of the ARt Bathroom Experience

State of the ARt Bathroom Experience

Penthouse View

Penthouse View

 

View from the Penthouse

View from the Penthouse

 

Frances The Dog

Frances The Dog

 

Darrell and I

Darrell and I

 

Woodlands Cemetery and Mansion

The Woodlands _MG_6496

It is summer with red roses all around me  but until yesterday, I had no idea that the person who brought the red rose to the US lived right here in Philadelphia.  William Hamilton inherited 356 acres of land in West Philadelphia in 1766 and I made a visit to the venerable property yesterday in anticipation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book,  “The Signature Of All Things” (but more of that later). Erica Maust is the Program and Communications Coordinator and Jessica Baumert is the Executive Director and they could not have been kinder in sharing their vast and oh so interesting knowledge of the man, the mansion and the cemetery. (How wonderful to meet you both!)  Mr. Hamilton amassed over 9,000 species of native and imported plants in America…the rose, the hydrangea and the ginkgo biloba plant are just a few. He had friends in very high places and Thomas Jefferson made sure that he was one of three who were able to procure the seeds brought back by Lewis and Clark.  Sadly, with no children, his nieces and nephews were unable to afford the upkeep after his death in 1813.  The property was bought by The Woodlands Cemetery Company with the purpose of preserving this beautiful and scenic building and land in 1840.  Park like green space remained in the midst of a rapidly developing urban neighborhood.  Today, one can walk along the meadering pathways seeing the graves of notable persons, unique monuments and rare and unique trees in the arboretum. I visited the final resting place of Francis Drexel, as in Drexel University, Thomas Eakins, as in the painter of “The Gross Clinic“, Joseph Campbell (yes, those delicious soups!), Jessie Wilcox Smith as in the famous illustrator of children’s books and so many more with a weathered gravestone serving as the touchstone to once vibrant lives.  The largest funerary obelisk in the US stands so tall among the trees and marks the grave of  Thomas Evans who was Napoleon’s dentist  and the founding force behind the University of Penn Dental School.  Trust me, it is so easy to find!

And now,

“The Signature of All Things: A Novel” by author Elizabeth Gilbert will be coming out on October 1st. The story spans the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with one of the main characters becoming a gifted botanist, According to Amazon.com , “It is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.”
Elizabeth’s research took her to this mansion in Philadelphia. Since I am anxiously awaiting the release of this novel, I thought I would make the same visit and see what I could discover.   In order to capture a bit of this historical site with mood, I used the vintage movie camera app.

Also, if you visit and take this fascinating walk back in time and become very hungry, I would echo Erica’s and Jessica’s recommendation to eat at the “Gold Standard Cafe” right down the street – delicious food with the owners dedicated to enhancing the community.

Today, the cemetery, mansion and landscape all form The Woodlands National Historic Landmark District…”a site where Neoclassical and Victorian ideals coexist to create a visual, living history of Philadelphia and the United States.

 

Those Who Inspire and my attempt to honor them!

This will be remembered as the summer of inspiration for me. In the beginning of June, a former student showed me his power point presentation… a simple one with such a compelling message that frankly took me totally by surprise and truly touched me. In his brother he saw a hero. His brother is 12 years old and he can’t speak, can’t eat and has difficulty learning due to CDLS but Joe didn’t remain in the “can’t” category. He saw so much more and recognized all the lessons that his brother was teaching him. Joe created for his audience just a brief glimpse but this story to me, just called for so much more. He needed the tools to tell his story more fully and Kickstarter, a wonderful program that funds those with creative endeavors seemed to be the path we needed. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1262482929/my-hero-my-brother-a-short-film. I am so sincerely grateful for all those who have visited the Kickstarter site and I am happy to say that in less than a week, our contributions total over $600. My sincere thanks also extend to the Patitucci family, to Beth and Paul and Joe and Andrew for their gracious welcoming (and feeding me) as we try to birth a short documentary on the lives of teenage boys and the impact of CDLS on the family.

Last week, I received a call from a friend who invited me to a Tony Melendez concert and perhaps I would be interested in filming this! Tony was born without arms due to the thalidomide his mother took while pregnant. In Nicaragua, he developed his love for music. His family brought him to Los Angeles to be fitted with artificial arms which he wore until he was ten and then decided to dispose of them because he could use his feet for so much more! Tony has gone on to travel the world, stand next to two Popes, be gifted with the First Inspirational Hero Award from the NFL Alumni Association and asked to sing our National Anthem at the fifth game of the World Series in 1989. He had a desire to enter the priesthood when he was in high school but due to the fact that he didn’t have an index finger and thumb, he was rejected (I could go off on this but I won’t!) but he has remained faithful to his love of contemporary music that speaks to faith, courage and inspiration and has taken it throughout the world and this past weekend to St. Thomas Acquinas parish in South Philadelphia… a truly vibrant parish that celebrates the rich ethnic diversity of its parishioners. The church came alive and I certainly was thrilled that I was there to film this.

So this summer I have been given the challenge and the grace to reflect upon those who strive not let expectations and limitations hold them back and hopefully, when I have something difficult ahead of me, as Tony said, “Just think of me!” Thanks Tony, I will!

Philadelphia: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Drive Into The City

Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia Graffiti

Philadelphia Graffiti

Philadelphia Graffiti

Philadelphia Graffiti

IMG_2335

Baltimore has the Inner Harbor. New York has the High Line. Providence has Water Fire. On a recent drive down to the Philadelphia waterfront, the conversation centered on all of these other areas. There was a yearning, a longing from us all for so much more in our hood. The above mentioned cities all exhibit a cohesive, clear vision in city planning that Philadelphia is definitely lacking. First off, I95 runs right next to the waterfront, cutting it off from the city proper. There are parcels of land which are walkable and lovely. There are sections where restaurants have set up shop to buttress a few hotels, a casino and a skating rink but next to these wellsprings of life, lies abandoned factories and this decaying open air building that we stumbled upon which is surrounded by the water on three sides. The local graffiti artists have obviously found their canvas for expressive color and creativity but our city planners have yet to bring their creative talents to this prime waterfront property. We cannot be complacent with abandoned crumblings which speak of demise when we don’t have to look very far to find excellent models of vibrancy.

On a positive note, Philadelphia beat out NYC for America’s best coffee shop! US Today declared the Ultimo Coffee Shop as number one in the United States. After photographing the graffiti mecca, it was the perfect spot to bring the day to a close.

According to the news article, “We scoured for the best independent coffee shops and chains that have changed the way we drink coffee. Our criteria? The best quality in coffee and food, atmosphere, customer service, and the “unique” factor. (Case in point: a DeLorean car in the back of one shop. You just can’t top that.) We then asked our coffee experts — coffee bloggers, roasters, shop owners, baristas, and educators — to nominate the shops they loved. Our panel then voted on a list of nearly 150 coffee shops from coast to coast. In the end, we narrowed down our list to the most highly ranked (and most talked about) 33 shops and chains that are riding into the fourth wave of coffee and beyond.”

Maybe the city planners could meet here for some coffee before their next meeting to get into the energy of being number one.

First Communion in the Hispanic Community

First Communion

First Communion

First Communion

First Communion

First Communion

Last weekend I had the pleasure of photographing a First Holy Communion in the Hispanic community of Philadelphia. The church was filled with beautiful, excited children and proud families. I attempted to capture the simple beauty of the girls in a very different way.

The Experience of Community: The Amish and The Firemen

Amish Mud Sale

Amish Mud Sale

Amish Mud Sale

Amish Mud Sale

Amish Mud Sale

Amish Mud Sale

Amish Mud Sale

All week long we have seen images of people who in the midst of terrible tragedy ran towards the victims, ran selflessly into the danger with one purpose in mind: to help another and often times the other was a stranger. Stories of loss evoked tears to flow but the words, “Boston Strong” emerged as the community identity. We witnessed such solidarity of purpose and compassion… thunderous gratitude for all those first responders and tremendous concern for all those beginning a very long journey of healing.

In West Texas, we once again witnessed the immediate garnering of people to address so much pain left in the wake of a huge explosion but while these events rightly called for tremendous media coverage, there are so many places with supportive acts reflecting the true experience of community which go unnoticed.

The Saturday before the Boston Marathon, I spent the day in Lancaster, Pa. Over the past 45 years, the very private Amish community step into the public light to raise funds in support of their local Rawlinsville Fire Company. They want to show their appreciation to the heroic men and women who volunteer their time to ensure everyone in their community is safe and secure. A minimum of 180 hours of training are required but so many have gone above and beyond that. Learning how to carry frantic people down ladders while a fire is blazing is just one of the many emergency situations they must be prepared for. I would like to add my voice of gratitude to Chief Carl Strickler Jr., Deputy Chief Rich Fuhrman, Assistant Chief Kevin Boyer, Lieutenant One Aaron Neely, Lieutenant Two Matthew Watson, Captain Dave Walter and Fire/police officer Ray Scott for their generosity of time in providing me with interviews and how great you all were in helping me achieve different vantage points to photograph (a special thanks to Rich for great ideas and Aaron for taking the camera to the roof!)

Last Saturday, I was in the midst of true community spirit and during the week witnessed extraordinary collaboration and cooperation merging with dedication and commitment to each other.

Chinese New Year 2013

Philadelphia's Chinatown

The Friendship Gate

Woman in Waiting

On His Father's Shoulders

Store Owner Hoping for Good Luck

Lettuce, Red Envelope and Explosions

Preparations

Hoisting Up Hopes

Reflections

Mirror to Scare Away Evil Spirits

Little Buddha

Little One

All Set and Ready to Go

Going for the Riches

Explosions and Movements

Bringing in the New Year

The Crescendo

End of the Party

Firecrackers exploding to scare away evil spirits, lions dancing, the rhythmic beating of drums and lettuce symbolizing prosperity…The Chinese know how to do it so well; celebrating the New Year over 15 days and inviting everyone to join in this huge feast! February 10th was the start of grand scale festivities with the annual Lion Dance which dates back thousands of years. This creature signifies courage and stability. A mirror is placed on the face of the lion so that evil spirits will be scared by their own image and disappear. The movement of the tail sweeps away bad fortune. A procession starts at the temple and proceeds through the streets, going door to door to each business. Buddha teases the lion while gongs, drums and cymbals spur this massive animal on as it moves in a zig zag pattern (since everyone knows that evil spirits walk in a straight line)! According to Nations Online, “The dramatic climax of the Lion Dance is the “Cai Qing” or ‘Picking the Green’. The green refers to vegetable leaves which are tied to a piece of string which also has a red packet attached containing money. The string is hung above the door of the business, shop (or home), and the lion ‘eats’ both, the leaves and the red packet. Lying on the floor the leaves are ‘chewed’ by the lion while the musicians play a dramatic rolling crescendo. The lull is broken as the lion explodes back into activity, spitting out the leaves. This is a symbolic act of blessing by the lion, with the spitting out of the leaves signifying that there will be an abundance of everything in the coming year.
A shop, business (or household) being visited by the performers of the Lion Dance will have good luck in the year to come.”

May that be for us all!