The Night To Shine around the world
Sparkling gowns, suits and ties
Bejeweled in huge smiles and fresh flowers,
The finishing touches.
Aligned with the divine, church doors unconfined.
White stretched limos, red stretched carpets
Outstretched hands of greeting, guidance and alliance.
Heralding the elegance of greatness,
The splendor of spirits simple and pure.
Shining into this night.
This night to shine.
In the giving is the receiving.
I am enlightened, enlivened by the radiance of sheer and unbound joy,
The brilliance of being totally in the moment,
The moment of movement and music,
A rapture with physicality
Adorned with vitality.
Acceptance without judgement.
To dance! To live life! To love life!
To shine with Life!
On this night, volunteers and family gathered near from far.
I am enlightened, enlivened by the generosity
The grandiosity of talents and time.
Family members who live the art of nurture
Tonight receiving the nurturing.
Delicious dinners and luscious desserts
The DJ with high hertz.
In the giving is the receiving.
Open hearts with open hands,
Happiness in the helping.
Honoring both singleness and anotherness.
A night to shine
With sparkle to sustain into the dawning.
A night to shine.
A way to live.
Last week, over 32,000 travel lovers poured into the Jacob Javits Convention Center. It was heaven on earth for me! In one location there were over 600 exhibitors, over 10,000 travel professionals all making up North America’s Largest Travel Show and Trade Conference. When there is this many people together with the shared excitement and passion for travel, the energy truly is like baptismal water, washing away winter doldrums as a new life of adventure rushes in. The press pass I am given each year is coveted as I get to wander through aisle after aisle, continent by continent. First up, meet up with good friends – Mr. Prebuddha Jaysinghe from Sri Lanka Holidays.net . He arranged the most wonderful trip for me and I always look forward to catching up with him here and always expressing my thanks to him.
Then it was time to truly explore and begin to learn about all things travel. The Travel Pirates , are a group I had not seen before. They offer great prices combined with quite the variety of experiences. The Antarctic is on my go to list and Oceanwide Expeditions are the pioneers of polar travel! Teppy can be a new travel companion providing a pocket sized Wi-Fi hotspot that keeps you connected to the internet in over 100 countries and in-flight Wi-Fi. I had to tear myself away from The Trans-Siberian Train experts and the guides speaking of the 12 epic road trips in California. One lifetime just isn’t enough!
Down the escalator to a world of learning the inside tracks and the latest and the best. Why not start with the best, Pauline Frommer. Her recommendations for 2019 are the following: (1) Collioure, France, a tiny Mediterranean sea town so far undiscovered by foreign travelers. Visit before the rest of the world discovers its charms. (2) New York State in 2019 is a banner year for the wide-ranging, head spinning diversity. (3) Singapore with its sweeping shots of the world’s largets rooftop infinity pool and 160 foot supertrees planted with vertical gardens inspiring people to visit this futuristic hotspot. (4) Bulgaria has long been at the crossroads of civilizations. Plovdiv is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities and this year, it is designated as one of two European Capitals of Culture.
Ms Frommer also spoke of changing trends:
-If one visits Japan, if the tourist has a tattoo, they will not be able to go into the famous baths. Japan has become a very popular place to explore.
– Due to the huge spike in Chinese Tourism, January and February have become popular months to travel in due to the Chinese New Year and the Golden Week.
-Food experiences and getting to know the locals are now the type of experiences people are planning. Country Walkers and the Traveling Spoon.com where you can book a private meal or a cooking class with the best home cooks around the world. Foodietrip.com Airbnb.com/experiences
has branched out in order to take guests to local places and have the best local experiences. Untours, a favorite travel company of mine has been setting up travelers with locals for years before Airbnb and will provide a person on the ground to suggest but not overwhelm.
Short Term Work to Travel:
Timing is Everything:
- Book on a Sunday (17% savings). Don’t book on a Friday (price up 12%).
- February is the least expensive for international flights while December is the most expensive month.
- September is the least expensive for domestic flights; June is the most expensive.
- 2 Sites for the BEST airfares: Momondo and Skyscanner.net
Best Car Rental:
- Autoslash.com was the only one listed since there hasn’t been any other found that is better
Best Price for hotels:
The New York Times is definitely the best spot for all things travel. There is so much more information that I will pass along later after I sift through all the colorful brochures. For now, I would encourage anyone with a yearning for travel to watch for the 2020 dates! It will definitely not disappoint!
Also, if anyone is interested in seeing the vibrancy, the rich cultural blend of Arab, Berber, European and African influences and fascinating heritage of Morocco…check out our photographic trip … the more the merrier!
Men and Women across our country came together today to speak messages of change, inspiration and hope. May the young girls of today facing their future as strong women of tomorrow, benefit from those who came before and paved the way for equality, justice and respect.
Who Shall I Become?
Philadelphia is well known for its historical contributions… THE Bell, THE Declaration of Independence, THE first White House, just a few of the highs for the Founding Fathers!
After last year, Philadelphia came into the spot light for its tenacity, rise from the underdog status and the entire city shouting the E-A-G-L-E-S fight song. Yes, we do know how to party so it is only fitting that the oldest folk festival would be held here in the city of Brotherly and Sisterly love every New Year’s Day for the past 118 years. We know a good thing when we find it! Who wouldn’t love dressing up in the wildest outfits, dancing, singing and making merry while strutting down the city’s main street?
We here affectionately refer to this mass of color, humanity and music as the Mummer’s Parade. Think Carnaval of Venice and New Orleans meeting Halloween hitting Broad Street. For this post it is only fitting that there be less talking and more photographs to convey the spirit of revelry, abandon and just all around fun craziness! I hope you enjoy!
Mummer’s Parade 2019
Stay tuned for more of Philadelphia if the Eagles win on Sunday! I am sure we can send green jerseys, cheesesteaks, soft pretzels, Tastycakes and hoagies anywhere in the world!
We are so fortunate when life brings people into our path who accompany us and who inspire us. Yesterday, I had the good fortune to be with people who inspired me. I am working on a video for Team Foster. This organization honors the spirit and sacrifice of Captain Erick Foster who was killed while engaging enemy forces in 2007 in Iraq. Erick was a warrior, a leader, and an inspiration. He pushed himself and those around him to be better—to go a little farther, to give a little more. And that’s what Team Foster does.The U.S. military nor the VA nor the government provide funding or support for service dogs for veterans. While service dogs are vital tools in rehabilitation and recovery, they are also expensive and resource intensive. One service dog can take two years and more than $25,000 to properly prepare to partner. Team Foster raises money to provide trained service dogs at no cost to local veterans with their motto being “No Hero Left Behind”.
Yesterday, I met a true hero Sonny and his lovely wife Roxanne. They are people who once you meet them, you want them to be your new best friends! Married over 40 years, they definitely have the secret of how to create a long and happy marriage! Sonny went off to Vietnam before he even turned 20 and was severely injured there and a wheelchair provides the needed mobility for him. Over the past few years, he was diagnosed with MS and the couple lost a daughter only 6 years ago to an pulmonary embolism right after she found out she was pregnant. All of these things together would overwhelm most. Not this couple! They are meeting life head on, reaching out to enjoy moments and experiences, participating in many wheel chair sporting events and taking on speaking engagements to uplift others sharing what is possible. Through it all, Sonny and Roxanne have Juno, their service dog, right by their side! Juno has been trained to find Sonny’s phone when lost and bring it to him. This amazing service dog is able to push the handicap button to open doors and it recognizes the EXIT signs as a way out of a building. It can shut doors and follows more commands than I could count. Juno sleeps next to Sonny each night and they are constant companions by day. Sonny and Roxanne reach out to help so many and it was wonderful seeing how Team Foster was able to reach out to them and bring Juno into their family. A win win all the way around! A protector of life for a protector of life!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Gallery and Sales
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Gallery and Sales
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.
My recent trip was to Alsace, France. Dodge Amaral, (firstname.lastname@example.org ) 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.
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!
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.
“When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.” (Joseph Campbell)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!!!
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.