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.
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!
Last weekend as I pulled into the parking lot of the Camden County Correctional Facility, I have to say I was a bit nervous not knowing what awaited me. Would the prisoners mind me holding up a camera to photograph their every move? Here I sit a week later and my reflections lead me to say that it was truly a heart warming and cherished experience.
I have met the most incredible and dedicated people on this journey of filming the many chapters in the Team Foster story. The beginning unfolds with Nick Liermann, the founder of Team Foster dedicated to honoring the spirit and sacrifice of Captain Erick Foster who was killed while engaging enemy forces in 2007 in Iraq. This organization took flight with the mantra, “No Hero Left Behind”, as they raise the much needed funds to provide service dogs to veterans suffering from combat-related disabilities. Nick’s vision, leadership and tireless work is truly an inspiration. Continuing with the unfolding of the story, there have been a few chapters which took me into the beautiful home of Sonny and Roxanne Wimberly with their service dog named Juno and to the gyms of schools where together with Brandon Holiday and his service dog Dyson, this dynamic team share so unselfishly with students, athletes and the general public about the enormous contribution a service dog can make to a wounded veteran. Dogs are trained to open doors, retrieve phones and call 911 (yes, you read that right!), wake up someone in the throes of a terrible nightmare by turning on the lights, pulling off covers and kissing them awake. These dogs are able to sense when someone is going into a diabetic shock and so much more. They are constant companions of the highest calling for those who followed another calling of protection and service.
The story continues to be packed with the thrilling action of unselfish giving. The setting is now in the Camden County Correctional Facility. In the parking lot, I met Marissa Corbett who I will never be able to figure out how she manages to accomplish as much as she does in 24 hours. Marissa is the owner of Above and Beyond Dog Training and is totally committed to the work of Team Foster. She radiates kindness! It was Marissa who approached the CCCF and with the innovative administration of the CCCF they worked to start a program which enables the inmates to train the dogs and prepare them as service dogs.
The inmates sign up for this and choose to all live dormitory style with the dogs 24/7 rather than remain in a cell for two. Needless to say, it is tight and can be trying but what I witnessed was only the strength of bonding. There are two men per dog and they work in teams training the dogs on countless commands over the course of a few months. Officer Murphy, a woman who seems to only see the best in everyone, is assigned to work with Marissa and the two are definitely impressively capable. As I watched them, their belief and positive energy was contagious to us all. The gentle men were all laughing, joking, and so very kind to me when I had to ask for retakes or repeats to get the action in stills and video. They allowed me the privilege of capturing them on film when most people would try to hide any incarceration. These men are focused on the power of the bigger picture and helping others. While I was interviewing each one, there was a seriousness that entered into the interaction because they were so intent on getting across the transformational power of this program. During this time of looking ahead to Thanksgiving and looking back on Veterans’ Day, one man stated that he felt so very grateful because he was now able to give back.
Without a moment of nervousness and only excitement, I look forward to returning next month to film the graduation ceremony where the dogs will leave the tender care of the gentlemen and lovingly take their leave on the next journey of faithful companionship. My sincere and heartfelt gratitude to Nick Liermann, Marissa Corbett, Officer Murphy, Lt. Clifford Kareem for making this filming possible and to the men who have committed to this program and making a positive difference, thank you so much for allowing me the honor of raising my camera to capture your smiles, your intensity and the tender moments shared with the dogs.
“A hero is somebody who is selfless, who is generous in spirit, who just tries to give back as much as possible and help people. A hero to me is someone who uplifts people and who really deeply cares” (Debi Mazar). I have met many heroes along this journey!
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.
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
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!
“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!
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.
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.
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!
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”.
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.
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.
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.
From darkness into light…from monochrome into vibrant color… from winter into spring, an emerging opening and flow rather than a fighting. There is a gentle stirring of one’s spirit with words like hope, light and resurrection because they emerge from a dying. Intertwined within this are rituals and traditions which ground us, give meaning and create bonds of friendships and identity.
In the Greek Orthodox religion, the Easter season is one of the most profound and holiest times of the year so I decided to experience and get a glimpse into the rituals and symbolism of the Good Friday service. First, when I walked into the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Elkins Park, PA, the 6th oldest Greek Orthodox community in the US, established in 1901, I was struck by the hospitality and warmth of the women who welcomed me. I was a stranger and they wanted to make sure I felt comfortable, giving up a front row seat for me, explaining what would be happening. This hospitality was as beautiful as the gold Byzantine icons surrounding me. There was a sacred richness mixed with that Greek love for life and I was totally caught up in it! A key for me was when I couldn’t tell which child belonged to which mother…all the women there were their mothers, hugging, kissing and tugging on clothes and fixing hair. I need more Greek friends!
In the front of the church was a richly decorated and elaborately carved canopy called a Kouvouklion which represents the tomb of Jesus. The women had spent over 3 hours that morning decorating it with spring flowers of white, red and purple. The ceremony began with readings from the bible, ethereal chanting from the cantors and incense flowing freely to remind everyone that their prayers flow freely to God. Then, gathering around the image of Christ on the cross, the men reached up to take away the nails while young girls (representing the women at the feet of the cross) held the white cloth waiting to receive the wooden representation of Jesus in death. It was then taken behind one of the three doors separating the nave from the sanctuary and referred to as the Iconostosis. An elaborately decorated tapestry with the image of Christ prepared for burial, referred to as the Epitafio, was then brought out and carried around the church as all present bow in veneration.
After it was placed on the Kouvouklion, people young and old then began to line up with gestures symbolizing a deep and abiding faith. The sign of the cross was made followed by bowing to kiss either the feet or hands of the icon. The priest stated the generally, one does not kiss the face of the icon. Once again, the sign of the cross was made and then many people got down on their hands and knees and crawled through the bottom of the Kouvouklion to symbolize their willingness to enter unto death with Christ.
These rituals become the pathway to enter into a mystery of God and visibly show a faith and belief. Even though there are many paths, an abiding commonality is that there is hope in the face of fear, that there is life in the face of death and that love holds us, heals us and carries us forth to ignite the world with kindness. I am so glad that I stepped into this new experience and am so grateful to all the women who so graciously gathered around me and made me feel at home and to Fontina Moller who first taught me the meaning of Opa, I held you in my heart as I walked through your church. Now on to Easter!
Yesterday, I received a message from Facebook reminding me that on this day last year, I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. March 25th seems to be a day of bridging and making connections because yesterday I attended the Philadelphia Travel and Adventure Show and was able to cross worlds and cultures… Tibetan prayer flags, trains and planes, new friends from Morocco and becoming more acquainted with all that exists so close to home.
The celebrity travel speakers were Adam Richman, Rick Steves and Peter Greenberg, Russell Hannon and Angel Castellanos. “99 Ways to Cut Your Travel Costs – Without Skimping” was where I started off of course! Russell Hannon of breakthetravelbarrier.com suggested using the following on line resources: airfarewatchdog.com, farecompare.com, yapta.com to find less expensive fares. Airlines have started to set up bidding for upgrades now. Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic hold a bidding session at the gate using cell phones. Things are a changing!
Tingo.com for hotels and autoslash.com for car rentals will constantly search for better fares after you book and alert you when they find lower fares for the identical itinerary with an option to cancel your existing reservation and rebook at the lower fare at no extra charge. Hopper crunches historical data specific to a flight you want and show you the best price you can get now, whether it is likely to drop, when and by how much. One should try to avoid ATM fees and the Charles Schwab Investor Plus checking account is a no-fee account with a minimum 1 penny balance. The account includes unlimited free ATM cash withdrawls and reimburses you any ATM charges by third part backs. Gasbuddy.com is a GPS integrated app that shows all the nearby gas stations with prices by fuel grade and directions. I walked away from this talk with Russell’s book and started downloading new and helpful apps right then and there.
Johnny Jet spoke about how to travel like a movie star without movie star money. His website holds so many tips and tricks and he was so informative. He suggested taking bags of Hershey Kisses and giving them to those who check you in as well as the flight attendants. Don’t we all love getting surprises!? He suggested signing up for the following newsletters (besides his ): Pointsguy, Scott’s Cheap Flights.
After armed with so much useful information to feed my obsession for travel, I was off to travel the aisles of the convention center. Three local areas I must get to are the Hudson Valley Region of New York, Gettysburg and Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands
I have new best friends, Sharon and her husband, Ishmael who I spoke with at length for a possible photo tour through the exotic and amazing land of Morocco. (If interested, let me know!).
Travel for Impact is a unique and powerful new enterprise which arranges trips to Botswana that provide opportunities for the visitor to work side by side with locals on community initiatives and the women sell their art and crafts to further these initiatives. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful black and white beaded bracelet!
Going off to new lands to experience new adventures may sometimes be overwhelming. Tours By Locals.com has 1977 hand vetted guides in over 158 countries to help you customize your experience with 24/7 customer support.
As a plug for an excellent travel agent who can also set up the experience you are looking for, may I suggest to those who live in and around Philadelphia, Debbie Ryan of Springhouse Travel. She can provide a full service travel and leisure experience and is totally dedicated to providing excellent customer service!
If you are looking for a very unique experience in Europe may I also suggest, Untours.com .Untours pioneered apartment-based independent travel and has provided unique cultural vacation packages since 1975. They support the work and mission of the Untours Foundation, which funds green projects that fight poverty around the world.Use their vast knowledge base to design your own trip or allow one of their expert Culturists to give you a hand.
Throughout the day, there were presentations on classical Indian Dance, South Pacific Island dance, Bahamas and Botswana movement and music. From information, to new discoveries and immersion into global beats, the Philadelphia Travel and Adventure Show had it all.
Now I am off to see Rick Steves at the Keswick Theatre. The Montgomery County Libraries are the sponsors and Rick’s topic is: “Broadening Your Global Perspective Through Travel” … a topic I totally embrace!
While walking through fields, traveling the streets and boating down lakes and rivers, I fell into the easy harmony of the day. Myanmar is a feast for the senses. I was alive to all that was around me. The light and the beauty became a part of me while photographing and in Myanmar, both are exquisite. Temples, markets, traditional crafts passed down from generation to generation are the sites to become immersed in. Everywhere I wandered, I was welcomed into homes and hearts. There is nothing better than laughing right out loud with a person who was a total stranger the day before. Shared memories gratefully tucked away that continually stoke that flame of wanderlust!