October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, focusing on strength, fearlessness and coming together. In my book, “Living Namaste Photography and Spoken Word Poetry“, I wrote about Marilyn who embraced all of these characteristics and so much more because she touched my life in such a profound way. While receiving chemo, she played her harp for all and created such calmness for everyone. Here is the excerpt from the book and here’s to you Marilyn!
While I was in Ireland, I was fascinated with all things castles, cottages and cemeteries. They hold the spirits of greatness, intimacy and connections. Since my DNA was gifted to me from those born in Ireland many years before, there was a strong pull to the cemeteries. (It is said that my ancestor was King Brian Boru but I will save the castles for another time!). The cemetery was where I could stand on the dark sacred ground joined in some way with those who came before me. In quiet, I could connect and try to hear the stories being whispered into my soul.
On our first full day in Donegal, the rain was pelting and pouring down with the wind whipping. We were staying with Joe and Noreen McFadden, two of the most wonderful people you could ever meet who could write the definitive book on Irish Hospitality As A True Art Form! They told us that this was Cemetery Sunday. A first for me since I never heard of it before growing up in the states. Throughout Ireland, each Catholic Church that has a cemetery attached chooses one Sunday in the year to hold an outdoor mass and those with deceased family members buried there come together to honor, remember and reconnect. Did we want to come? I couldn’t think of anyplace I would rather be!
The teeming rain was no match for the love and dedication of the people. Cars were backed up for miles to park. Once in, the greyness of the cemetery was enlivened with the colors of flowers and umbrellas. Each person would decorate the family grave and stand by the headstone during the mass. If someone knew that a family member would be away and there would be no one to tend to a grave, others made sure they would decorate and stand in. The beautiful bouquets were not only in the flowers but also in the offered kindness of others. Through the music, prayers and affection shown, this bit of earth was transformed into a sanctuary of an invisible, unending communion. The cycle and connectedness of life were palpable as the fathers’, mothers’, sisters’ and brothers’ stories were told and as the living stood with the dead.
All during the mass, people were huddled together in support and then gathered together after it was over. As I was photographing the groups of people, I looked up to see a young man who had walked up to the end of the cemetery. The wind and rain were pelting but he was just looking out onto the sea, alone with his thoughts. It was all so striking to me…the rhythm of accompanying and letting be, the need to gather together and then the need for each person to go off and in the aloneness, try to hear the love being whispered into their soul. I had never experienced anything like it and yes, there was no other place I would have wanted to be.
PS…Lorla and James, you could also co-author the book! Heartfelt thanks!
How our new book has been waiting for this moment in time!
As a young girl, I always was enamored with the ways of the world. I was fascinated by people who did not look like me, who celebrated different festivals and who lived lives in far off places.
Then transformative events happened within the magic of Christmas day, the day we celebrate light and new life. When I was 13, my Aunt and Uncle gave me a subscription to National Geographic. I was the only one in the family who ever received a magazine subscription as a gift. How did they ever know their choice would have such a profound impact on my life?
Three years later on Christmas morning, my Mother gave me my first “real” camera. With 5 children, money for gifts was tight but somehow she found a way. She knew how much I hoped for it and how much it meant to me. This woman, my mother was truly my Auntie Mame, Pied Piper and Peter Pan all rolled into one. She (and my strong, quiet father) gave me the security of deep roots while encouraging me to spread my wings, try new things and go to new places. For years on Wednesday nights, my parents would invite anywhere from 10 – 25 people into our home for dinner. My mother told me that the work would always be there but the people wouldn’t and the more the merrier! One of the greatest gifts my parents gave to me was the name of Frances. It was my dad’s idea to name me after my mother. Within my name also lies my calling. I only had my parents for 26 years and now I find myself trying to honor my mother’s legacy of welcoming and connecting, generously giving while living life with openness, appreciation and exuberance. I try to live up to my name but she set the bar high! My mother gave me my first camera so it has become very important to me to do as much good as possible with my photography. All of this has woven its way into the desire for this book to make its appearance to the world today on June 15th – what would have been my mother’s birthday and also on the weekend we celebrate Father’s Day. I hope my work makes them proud!
We are surrounded by images of violence and words that belittle and divide. Alysa and I wanted to counter that with images and poetry that hopefully would uplift and honor humanity. I have been so fortunate because no matter where I travel to my experience has always been that of kindness and acceptance from the people I have met around the world. A heart felt inspiration called me to reflect upon the first words spoken. Greetings from around the world are both powerful and beautiful and if we allow those words to enter deeply into our consciousness, we honor the space between. There is harmony and the experience becomes poetry. I started living in the spirit of Namaste and it has totally changed my life. A practice so simple and yet so profound. We both put pen to paper and birthed, “Living Namaste – Spoken Word Poetry and Photography sharing life lessons and wisdom. It would be our hope that the words and images cross borders and boundaries to bridge and heal. Therefore, partial proceeds from the book will be given to Doctors Without Borders and The Untours Foundation. We have also made the decision not to post our book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.com because that would add $7 more to the cost of each book. We would rather have money going to the charities and keep “Living Namaste” affordable. We are hoping that people will enjoy the book enough to spread it’s existence by word of mouth so that we do not need the Amazon platform.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read the journey of this creation from the heart. If you would be interested in purchasing, here is the link:
Each year in Lancaster, Pa. the bond between the Amish, the locals and the firemen can be witnessed. Starting on the last Saturday of February, each township holds sales and auctions in order to raise the much needed money for the local fire company. It is community caring at its best. These events run into April and with weeks of spring precipitation, the mud follows and hence the name “Mud Sale”!
The Amish live very simply without technology and electricity. They are a very close, traditionalist Christian based community. Their dress is very plain and they travel by horse and buggy, trains and boats but never planes. The children attend school until the age of 14 when their education is complete and Rumspringa begins allowing the teens to experience technology and fashion. After two years, if they decide to get baptized they return to the simple living and begin a family. Many come from all over the world to attend these sales and be a part of a unique gathering of cultures and life styles all in the name of supporting the local fire companies.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
“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!!!