“As above, so below…” This is the name of a 2014 horror film and also the name of a song on the debut album of the Tom Tom Club. In actuality though, the quote has it origin in the ancient writings of the Hermetic Principles, studied by philosophers, scientists and spiritual leaders throughout history. The next line in the quote is, “As within, so without.” Without going off on an esoteric monologue, suffice to say that these powerful but simplistic words speak to a unifying and dynamic energy connecting all. The sky and the heavens are reflected on earth. The way one is feeling and thinking radiates outward with rippling effects able to lift up or tear down.
At Inle Lake, Myanmar, I was mesmerized by the brilliant patterns and impressionistic reflections on the lake. Light, color, design, vibrancy, “As above, so below” …”, it all danced together so beautifully and I felt totally alive to be brought into this oneness.
A very common site to see while in Burma are people smoking both long and short truncated cigars called cheroots. Rudyard Kippling mentioned them in his famous, “Road to Mandalay” as he described his Burma girl:
“An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin white cheroot, an’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s feet.”
The color of cheroots can vary from green to black and are made with a mix of tobacco leaves and pieces of bark. The smoker may enjoy a distinctive sweet taste when honey, star anise, tamarind and jaggery are added into the tobacco mix. (Being from Philadelphia, I had no idea what jaggery is but discovered that it comes from the sap of palm trees and is mixed with sugar cane juice. We just have the Liberty Bell, not many palm trees!). Cheroot filters are made from small corn husks and it is all rolled together in thanal-phet leaves with sticky rice acting as the sealant. In the midst of stilted villages, floating gardens, fishermen balancing on one foot and small havens where cultural traditions are still carried on, the Inle Lake region is a must see for any traveler wishing to get caught up in the magic of Burma. We saw girls sitting crossed legged, hands moving at lightening fast speed as they separated the spices and rolled the leaves of these subtle fragrant cheroots, following in the footsteps of generations before them.
Often, older, older women whose faces have been deeply etched by the forces of nature are photographed puffing on cheroots with smoke snaking around their serious faces. We are so drawn to the wizened crone characteristic and the stories that lie beneath those many lines and wrinkles. Actually, there are 98 photographs of these women on Google Images (I counted!) So many photographs are both striking and compelling but I noticed that there were only 8 where the women were smiling. If this is an enjoyable past time, I wondered why such an absence. I will probably never know the many back stories to those photographs but I would like to share my experience with these women. Let me begin with a quote. An 18th century German composer, Robert Schumann stated, “The artist’s vocation is to send light into the human heart.” David Heath and Win Kyaw Zan are two men I hold in high esteem as true artists. I was so fortunate to have their mentorship throughout my recent trip to Myanmar. There is such an obvious brotherhood between David and Win. It has been forged during their 16 adventures together, documenting life and traditions hidden away from the Western world for so very long. I was thrilled they brought me “into the fold” and made me feel like family… but then that is what I saw them do time and time again with many others, which brings me to the main point of today’s post. Sitting in thatched huts or out in fields, we too were drawn to photograph these brown skinned, weathered and wise women enjoying a good smoke! We could have photographed with a long lens, never making our presence known while in a way stealing something from them and or we could respectfully enter into the intimacy of their world and not miss out on an amazing opportunity. David and Win went for the latter. Outgoing and fun loving, the camera went down while their smiles, introductions, compliments and jokes brought about quick friendships. We all lingered and laughed and loved every minute! The Burmese women easily allowed us to photograph them. They showed us the pensive look, but now they also flashed those wonderful smiles that were definitely contagious! The “strangerness” melted away into that “light being sent into the human heart” and we were family, connecting continents, cultures and hearts. I was so fortunate to travel with two masterful photographers. They encourage and challenge me to truly be mindful of the artist’s calling. May we all discover that vocation and pass it on now…it is so needed and our children are watching.
The Sacred Arts Tour is traveling throughout the US this year and it was very powerful experience to take in. Buddhist Monks came to Bucks County Community College for one week to share their art and wisdom.
Chanting with bells, cymbals ringing out and the steady rhythm of the drum beat served to consecrate the space and call forth the forces of Peace and Wellbeing. A puja table was set up by the window. Puja comes from Sanskrit and means reverence and homage. Items of offerings and devotion were placed on the table in front of a picture of the Dalai Lama. Bowls of water symbolized hospitality. Flowers symbolized samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Candles served to stir a desire for enlightenment while incense purified the air and symbolized that the teachings may flow out to all the world. Apples were placed on the table reminding all of our interconnectedness and the impermanence of life with the hope of cultivating gratitude throughout each day.
A blue square board was laid on the ground and the monks took out rulers, compasses and pens to design the sacred sand mandala that would occupy their total concentration over the next 5 days. This is incredibly exacting and can take up to three hours. Pots of millions of grains of brilliantly colored sand were laid out beside chakpurs which are narrow funnel tubes that when scraped together will cause sufficient vibration for the grains to trickle out. Being used together, they represent the union of wisdom and compassion.
The term mandala is an ancient sanskrit word meaning, “World in Harmony”. This ideal, multi- dimensional world where colors, lines and forms all have meaning, each is significant to fostering a heightened awareness of compassion. An intention for blessings is set as each grain is dropped into the design.
By day, monks sat crossed legged, huddled over the rasping sound of the chakpurs for hours. ( My knees and back would have been screaming out after the first 5 minutes!) White face masks prevented both breath or a stray cough from upsetting the meticulous design. Slowly, a lotus emerged in the very center of the sand mandala. Working outwards, white, yellow, red, green and blue petals took shape to represent faith, effort, memory, meditation and wisdom. Deities, walls, doorways, flames all slowly emerged throughout the week.
Just as the week began, it ended with a formal consecration session with the sounds of deep, masculine chanting. The ending was signaled by a simple ringing of a bell. Slowly, brushes began to move over the mandala. The colorful grains were swept into a mound of gray. Buddhism declares that in this world there is nothing that is fixed and permanent. Every thing is subject to change and alteration. As a photographer who tries to capture moments so they will live forever, it was so hard for me to see this beautiful work simply be destroyed knowing how much went into it. I think I have a lot to learn! They believe that suffering stems from trying to hold on to that which is impermanent and it is only through understanding and moving with impermanence that great changes can emerge. The end of life is usually accompanied by a burial, a return to the earth. The grains were placed into an urn and carried to the river. There they were poured out with the belief that the blessings placed in each grain would now flow out to the earth. So much to take away from this one moment in time. “Thanks to impermanence,everything is possible.” Thich Nhat Hanh
“Life happens” or in this case, “Synchronicity is magic.” Events unfolded that brought together a freelance photographer and the very gifted director of the Untours Foundation, Elizabeth Killough. As a photographer, I love a great story and Elizabeth has so many of them. Under her leadership and enthusiasm, walking in the footsteps of founder Hal Taussig, the Untours Foundation works to alleviate poverty by providing low interest loans to those creating employment, housing, valuable goods and services in economically challenged communities. Untours also fuels projects that are environmentally and economically pioneering thereby creating business models to emulate.
I feel honored to have her introduction into these worlds of creativity, insight and problem solving.
My Reflections While Photographing: “I have about 900 pounds to do today.”
“I have to be here.” Mildred was fighting a cold but she didn’t let that stop her. Her sense of responsibility and dedication have made her the first Employee of the Month for Wash Cycle Laundry. That morning, 39 bags filled with clothes, linens, sheets and towels had to be weighed, checked in on the computer, washed, dried, folded and put back into a clean bag to be returned within the 24 hour turn around time. The music was playing and Mildred started to dance as she went about this well organized process even though she didn’t feel up to par.
“Give me my music and I am good to go!”
There was an open Bible on a side shelf that I noticed. When I inquired about it, Mildred told me that some days she gets to read it and some days she never gets to it but she hopes that having it there and open will give everyone a “Blessed day!”
Tracey creates the same positive energy at the location on 1611 South Street. Being the manager means that she arrives a little after 6 each morning and could work for up to 12 hours. She wants to make sure that all laundry is done and delivered correctly on her watch. Tracey is part of the sandwich generation, taking care of her mother and daughters before and after lifting those heavy bags and taking them from soiled to clean and fresh, all with eco-friendly detergent. Nicole and Vicki were the staff that day. Nicole’s son is teething at the moment and she lights up talking about him and Vicki also works in health care but has a love and appreciation for art. The conversation and movements between the three women pointed to the connection forged by working together. In a small area, the process was like a dance. Tracey told me that “Gabriel sees the best in everyone and he has taught her to do the same.”
Wash Cycle Laundry is proving that bikes are commercially-scalable alternatives to trucks for intra-metropolitan freight. Over 3 million pounds of cargo are hauled across Philadelphia and Washington DC since the company began in 2010. Jason, Steve, Nivan are just a few of those who could haul up to 300 pounds of laundry by bike…in all kinds of weather! These guys are in great shape!!! Their work day starts in the wee hours of the morning. They come in and check the computer and their app listing the names, addresses, number of bags etc. so they are always tracking all laundry from beginning to end.
Jason has been working for WCL for two years with no thoughts of leaving. “Where else could I get paid for riding my bike?”
Gabriel Mandujano created Wash Cycle Laundry to merge his experience and passions with job creation, economic development, and sustainable transport. He believes in not stigmatizing people and does look for that spark, that desire to begin again and establish a life of success. Approximately 50 jobs have been created and over half filled by driven adults re-entering the workforce after overcoming a period of incarceration, drug addiction, homelessness, or welfare dependence.
WCL is a triple-bottom line company with a mission and commitment to serve the critical needs of individuals, the community and the environment.This is definitely a growing social enterprise both locally and nationally…with a slightly improbable delivery method!
Throughout Christian Churches today hundreds of thousands of people around the world heard the words,
“Joseph bought a linen cloth, took Him down, wrapped Him in the linen cloth and laid Him in a tomb which had been hewn out in the rock; and he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.”
A tomb, the final resting place where the epitaph is forged into stone, concrete and marble trying to bring a sense of permanence when confronted with the stark reality of impermanence. In late 1835, a grieving father John Jay Smith, noted that “Philadelphia’s living population has multiplied beyond the means of accommodation for death.” One year later, Smith with partners Nathan Dunn, Benjamin Richards and Frederick Brown conceived of Laurel Hill Cemetery. Three design concepts influenced every part of this new endeavor. It had to be situated in a picturesque location well outside the city; there would be no religious affiliation; and it must provide a permanent burial space for the dead in a restful and tranquil setting. It became the nation’s second major rural cemetery with a rolling landscape of 78 acres, horticultural plantings and eclectic architecture and sculptures. Laurel Hill was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. Names such as Rittenhouse, Widner, Elkins and Strawbridge are just a few of the Philadelphia magnates buried here. General Meade and 39 other Civil War era generals reside here along with 6 Titanic passengers. Picnics, strolls, carriage rides and sightseeing were popular pastimes in Laurel Hill’s early days. This site continues to draw history buffs, ghosts hunters, joggers, bicyclists, nature lovers, sketch artists, and photographers. It has become a must see destination for tourists…Rocky came here often to visit his beloved Adrian! So on this day, I wondered down landscaped paths, camera around my neck, intrigued by ways tombs may provide a glimpse within.
The tomb of William Warner is both striking and unique. It was created by Alexander Milne Calder, the son of a Scottish tombstone carver who went on to sculpt more than 250 pieces for Philadelphia’s City Hall as well as the colossal bronze statue of William Penn that crowns the tower. This dramatic sculpture lying atop of the tomb depicts the soul escaping from the coffin and is often referred to as a prime example of American Victorian funerary art. Lions were used to signify the qualities of those laid to rest as well as serving to symbolize an eternal vigil. Ivy stands for eternal life. When I came upon a broken column, I knew a life was taken too soon or suddenly. Draped urns topped off headstones relating a permanent state of sadness and mourning for the family left to carry on. Obelisks and mausoleums with Tiffany stained glass windows attest in death to a life of wealth with the richest closest to the river. Angles were believed to protect people on earth and guide them to heaven. One gravesite definitely provides a glimpse of its inhabitant… with a large microphone and two seats from Veterans Stadium, one can sit for a moment to remember all the years of listening to the Philadelphia Phillies announcer with that distinct voice, the memorable Harry Kalas! ( I wonder if they can make a camera that large!)
When I came upon the bronze epitaph of General Hugh Mercer, I became very curious about the man in the tomb. It read, “A physician of Fredericksburg, Virginia, was distinguished for his skill and learning, his gentleness and decision, his refinement and humanity, his elevated honour and his devotion to the great cause of civil and religious liberty.” Words connected us… the living with the dead, the present with the past.
“Overlooking the river, there is a stone sculpture capturing the tenderness of a mother for her children. Henry Dmoghowski Saunders, a polish sculptor whose work is on display in the U.S. Capital poured his grief into this piece. The Mother sits holding her babies overlooking the river where they drowned in 1855 and she joined them in death two years later. All repose together. After completing this very sad monument, Henry, the father and husband of this family, returned to Europe and never returned to America.
Death becomes a teacher of life if we listen to the messages in silence. On this monument was the inscription: “We should count time in heart throbs. He most lives who thinks most. Feels the nobelest. Acts the Best.”
On this day of quiet reflection those who were laid in the tomb reminded me how I want to live!
Laurel Hill Cemetery “The Hot Spots and Storied Plots” tour is presented monthly – 4th Friday and 2nd Saturday tour series. It is a very informative overview of the cemetery’s long and colorful history.
To the right is everything US and to the left, Europe and Asia await! The world all in one spot with thousands of enticing brochures, raffles for free trips and expert advice. This is definitely worth the price of admission! I decided to go to the right, feeling the need to explore further what is in my backyard. The Civil War remains a defining moment in our nation’s history. Many consider the Battle of Gettysburg to be the turning point because the Union victory placed the Confederacy on the defensive and ended Gen. Lee’s most ambitious attempt to invade the Union territory. The people at the Gettysburg Foundation booth were more than happy to help me plan my future trip to a part of Pa. that sad to say, I have never been to. Summer is approaching and I can just hear the laughing, shouting and splashing as the Whitewater Challengers take people on their wild and scenic rides through the rapids of the Lehigh River Gorge, the Hudson River and the Black River for a day, a weekend or a week. Then why wait for Halloween, I want to explore the Haunted History Trail of New York. “On a quiet, meandering creek one may be joined by ghosts of Native Americans.” The trail caters to the paranormal-curious at one of 60 locations. If ghostly themed events don’t strike you, there is always a cruise on the Chesapeake Bay right as the sun is setting. Cruise Annapolis had representatives discussing their half day and full day sails. This show presents inspiration and destinations for all those who whose spirits follow that wanderlust path.
CBS is not the only place Peter Greenberg can be seen. His no nonsense approach to travel was shared with a packed house. Surprisingly, he shared that only 37% of Americans and only 42% of the House of Representatives have passports. His sage advice is as follows:
-Search on line for the best price airline ticket but then book it on another computer. Twice he wanted to book passage and within an hour of checking around, the price increased…”Big brother is watching! – or at least the internet programing!
-When booking a hotel, have a conversation. Call and ask to speak to the MOD (manager on duty) since they are the most aware of what is available. This presents the opportunity to ask questions..”Is there free wifi?” “Is there free parking?” One time, Peter was told there would be free parking and when he was checking out, he heard everyone else being charged. He had taken down the manager’s name and was free to go!
-This is the first time in 40 years that the US dollar is strong and he tried to attenuate fear stating that in 28 years, 707 US citizens have been killed by terrorists and yet as he put it, we are living in a culture of fear and worry.
– Now seems to be the best time to visit Cuba. The infrastructure in Cuba may not be able to handle all the US tourists that will be arriving in the next few months.
– Always buy travel insurance from a third party and Medical evacuation and repatriation is a must. Travel Guard was a group he recommended.
– There are two types of luggage: check in and lost! He suggests using Fed Ex and shipping your items down several days before travel.
– www.petergreenberg.com is updated every 18 hours and offers many other tips.
The author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die”, Patricia Schultz spoke next. Her words and images were captivating as she took us all on a world tour. I have 983 places to go…happily! I had the opportunity to speak with her after and I loved the sparkle in her eyes and the kindness in her heart. She embraces the world and every individual who crosses her path.
I wanted to end with a statement from Peter Greenberg. When asked what place he enjoys the most, he responded with “The place I sleep the best because when I sleep well, I can think the best, process the best and learn the best!” Oh so true! Pleasant dreams!
The Chinese New Year celebration began on February 8th. Philadelphia’s Chinatown put on a grand street parade today which included a performance by the very colorful lion dancers. The lion symbolizes courage, stability and superiority. The loud noise of the firecrackers going off and a mirror on the head of the lion frightens away the evil spirits. The Lion goes in search of the lettuce hung above doors. It “eats” the lettuce and a rolling crescendo from the drums, cymbals and gongs is heard as the lion spits back the leaves. This symbolizes a fresh start and a blessing upon the business. The movements of the tail of the lion is meant to sweep away the bad fortune from the year before. Hidden within the lettuce is a red envelope containing money from the shop owner thanking the lion for the blessing of luck and prosperity in the New Year. Oranges are also given and seen as a symbol of luck. There is usually an actor dressed as a fan bearer with a huge smile to remind us to approach the future with good humor and flexibility.
2016 is designated as the year of the Fire Monkey. Chinese Zodiac.com covers all the interesting facts related to personality, health, career, relationships and compatibility with other signs.
The Monkey is mischievous, lively and energetic…can you see me smiling?!!!
Happy New Year!
Of course what would a visit to Chinatown be without eating?! The Nan Zhow Hand Drawn Noodle House Inc. located at 1022 Race Street in Chinatown is by far one of my favorite restaurants. If you visit their web site, be sure to read the interesting history of the pulled noodles and check out their vast menu. Ending our visit with the wonderful staff, the delicious noodles topped with peanut sauce and a large take out bag was a perfect finishing touch for this day celebrating vitality and fun! The first of many!
Some of the synonyms for “Magnificence” are splendor, grandeur, beauty and greatness. I would add many more but one definitely being breath taking after standing by two of the largest waterfalls located along the South Coast of Iceland. The Seljandsfoss Waterfall (seen in the Amazing Race 6) drops approximately 200 feet and it has a well developed loop trail that allows for up close and personal views from behind the falls. The Huffington Post Travel just posted beautiful photographs of the Falls during the spring if you would like to get that perspective. I however, was there when a late night snowfall blanketed all in site and the temperature dropped so many degrees below zero. (I stopped counting – when it is below zero, it is all relative!). The winds and freezing temperatures quickly turned the path behind the falls to ice. Since I didn’t yet have my strap crampons with me to ensure that my cameras and I would remain upright, I was only able to capture the views from the front of this powerful work of nature.
Skogafoss (SKOH-ga-foss) Waterfall is also located in the south of Iceland. There is a hiking trail enabling visitors to climb alongside the cliffs to get a stunning view from the very top of the falls and the Atlantic Ocean as well. The thundering water cascades 200 feet down and has a width of 82 feet across. This was one of the sites used for the film. “Thor:The Dark World” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”.
The freezing water hitting my face…the thundering sound of falling water, every sense heightened while feeling so very small against this backdrop of sheer wonder and magnificence.
Just as light shapes, water follows suit. The icing created unique, constantly changing abstract designs.
I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but for glorious light and/or an interesting adventure, I am there. (Most times!)
This weekend on the East Coast is the largest summertime hot air balloon and music festival in North America, The Hot Air Ballooning Festival in Readington, NJ. Lift off of over 100 balloons takes place twice a day on Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 am & 6:30 pm.
Visitors can buy tickets to the fair grounds or sit on the outside and simply look up for this breathtaking view. Many special moments are over so quickly but this is a well orchestrated event with 5 to 6 balloons rising at at time so the sky is filled with multi colors and multi shaped forms floating at all different heights. On the fair grounds, there are also rides, food and family entertainment. Each evening, concerts (tickets needed) with a special Balloon Glow are held.
The very first balloon flight took place in Versailles on September 18, 1783 and was launched with a duck, a rooster and a sheep in the basket…all were happily unharmed. However, as time went on, manned balloons were attacked by land owners with stones, clubs and pitchforks as they landed so the French aeronauts found that they could bring about friendships by offering the landowners a bottle of champagne to thank them for the use of their land. To this day, a champagne toast takes place after each flight and I offer you the Balloonists’ Prayer which I thought was such a beautiful and peaceful ending after the flights I was fortunate enough to be a part of.
“May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God
joins you in laughter and sets you gently
back into the loving arms of Mother Earth”.
According to legend, Orihimi (weaving princess) wove beautiful clothes by the bank of the Amanogawa (The Milky Way, “The heavenly river”) but was so sad because she could never fall in love and marry. She had to work day and night. Her father took pity on her and introduced her to Hikoboshi (cow herder star) who lived and worked on the other side of the river. They fell instantly in love and became husband and wife. Orihimi no longer wove for her father and her husband allowed all his cows to roam all over heaven. Tentai, the father, was so angry, he separated the two lovers across the river. Orihimi was so despondent at the loss of her husband but her tears moved Tentai to acquiesce and allow the two to meet but one day each year. On the 7th day of the 7th month, if she finished her weaving, Orihimi and Hikoboshi would be reunited. But since every good story/legend has more than one conflict, Orihimi and Hikboshi found no bridge to cross the river. The young bride cried so much that a flock of magpies came and promised to make a bridge with their wings so that she could cross the river. It is said that if it rains on Tanabata (the 7th day of the 7th month), the magpies cannot come and the two lovers must wait until another year to meet.
In Japan, people celebrate this day by writing wishes on small pieces of colorful paper known as tanzaku and hanging them on bamboo with other colorful decorations which is known as the “Wish Tree”. Long streamers with Tanabata star ornaments and paper cranes are hung for good luck.
In Philadelphia, in the midst of city noise and frenetic movement lies a serene sanctuary that should not be missed. Philadelphia Magazine named Shofuso Japanese House and Garden the best hidden tourist attraction in this city of “Brotherly (and sisterly) Love”.Shofuso in its present incarnation was built in Nagoya, Japan in 1953, using traditional materials and techniques, exhibited at MoMA as part of “The House in the Museum Garden” series and moved to the temple gate site in Philadelphia.
Three traditional types of Japanese gardens comprise a 1.2 acre site: a hill-and-pond style garden which is intended to be viewed from the veranda; a tsubo-niwa, or courtyard garden in the style of an urban 17th century Kyoto garden; and a roji, or tea garden, which is a rustic path to our tea house. Visitors can immediately feel the expansive and collective “Ahhhhhhh” as they dwell in pristine beauty and elegant simplicity of design and style. This past weekend, Shofuso celebrated Tanabata with families by sharing the legend and having old and young create colorful wishes to decorate the bamboo trees. It is fascinating to take time out to become immersed in another culture and another world. I am presently working on a series of short videos highlighting out of the way and interesting places Philadelphia has to offer and I can’t resist the opportunity to return for the the tea celebration this weekend …let’s hope the sun shines on the 7th day of the 7th month so that the magpies can work their magic for Orihimi and Hikoboshi!
Rome is a city of incredible domes. The earliest masonry dome made of stone was the Pantheon and it is one of the best preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings. The Vatican dome is recognized world wide as it dominates the skyline. These religious and historical structures of amazing engineering feats, stir the metaphorical and literal response of ascension. Often, when people are in the midst of greatness, there tends to be silence while trying to take it all in. From an immovable structure, I felt a type of movement as my eye followed the flow from the arches and around the dome with seemingly no beginning or end. In the midst of enormity, there was a type of calming intimacy from being totally surrounded by and connected to beautiful artwork of heavenly visions…and again, in that silence, I wonder and question. How were these works of art ever created? Perspective, height, vision, tools, agility???? Lillian Smith said, “When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die.” I want to live forever!
While in Greece and Italy, I found myself in awe of the human spirit driven to continually seek higher ground combined with the engineering skills to achieve these vantage points…how in the world did they ever do that?!
Today the temperatures dropped to single digits and snow dotted the streets of downtown Philadelphia. Gray and bitter cold. Yet, it was one of the most invigorating and enlivening Valentine’s Day I have ever had. “Love”, “Connections”, “Heart to Heart”, “Meaning in Life”… all words on thousands of Hallmark cards but this past month, they were reality.
Students, staff, parents and grandparents at Sandy Run Middle School all came together to knit almost 200 scarves for the homeless. Bright colors, dark colors, multi-colored…all so very warm with a heart shaped message attached to each one. People were knitting during every free moment so that these harbingers of caring warmth could be delivered today, Valentine’s Day.
Sean, sitting on the street, was so grateful and asked for one for his girlfriend. One woman began to cry saying that it was so very cold today and the colors made her feel better. As the scarves were passed out, people who never met were now connected. Good wishes exchanged. The givers received and the receivers gave.
Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, located at 25 S. 11th Street has recently received attention from the Ellen Show and NBC Nightly News. Mason, the owner, left a job on Wall Street to open a pizza shop in Philadelphia. It has become the epitome of “Pay it Forward”. Customers buy a slice and donate $1.00 for someone who is homeless. The walls are covered with messages of love and thanks. Today, those who came in were given something to eat and a hand made scarf to lessen the biting cold. In Gwanko’s words on Rosa’s wall, “I’m so happy to get to see people coming together and really making a difference in the community!” What a wonderful Valentine’s Day today has been!
This week in the mail, I received my annual copy of “Southern Exposure“.
Snow is forecasted. Super Bowl festivities are underway and I am remembering a time 2 very hot summers ago. I met a woman who was weaving hammocks at the Kutztown Folk Festival. While I was photographing her art, I was curious about her background. She related that she lived at Twin Oaks Intentional Community (modern name for a commune) in rural Louisa County, Virginia. I was intrigued – what would make people choose this lifestyle? After several phone calls back and forth, Paxus Calta (Earl Schuyler Flansburg) invited us into this lifestyle. I travelled down with my friend Ann Lauder who is an excellent writer. I would photograph and she would tell the story.
Twin Oaks is referred to by the 100 residents as an ecovillage and intentional community. It was started in 1967 by psychology students studying “Walden Two”. Homes can have up to 26 members and possessions are shared to promote the greater good of the society. Clothes, underwear and shoes can be found in “Commy Clothes”. There was definitely a musty odor but certainly variety! Clothing can also be optional. Each member, whether married or not, has their own room. Bathrooms are open to all, locking doors is frowned upon. Unconventional and alternative lifestyles are as readily supported as conventional lifestyles. This is not a religious community and all denominations are welcomed.
There is car sharing and chore sharing, all very organized. Each member is asked to give 42 hours of service each week. A few examples are: washing dishes, child care, gardening or working in one of the three multi-million dollar companies the community owns. Twin Oaks sells hammocks, tofu, and heirloom seeds. For the work, a monthly stipend of $80 is provided. Residents are provided with all the basic necessities of food, shelter, health care, child care and education. Decisions must be made by the entire community, even as far as deciding if someone can get pregnant and bring a child into the community.
As much as possible is recycled. There are areas that appear to be filled with junk, but the items are just waiting for that creative touch. Even fecal matter is recycled into green energy. More and more, members are trying to live off of the grid and rely on solar energy. The majority of what is eaten is grown or raised right there. Cows, chickens and gardens supply members with a variety of food.
Some members left Twin Oaks and began “Little Acorn”. It has fewer members and decisions are made by the majority rather than the entire body. The focus of this community is on harvesting heirloom seeds for their “Southern Exposure” company. Gardens are totally organic and they make sure that the quality of the soil is preserved with absolutely no genetic engineering.
What are the positives of this lifestyle choice? In this economy, people do not have to worry about bills, shelter/food and loneliness. There is individual freedom in choosing how to spend time and what to work on. Residents can take pride in decreasing their carbon footprint. The negatives expressed had to deal with the lack of funds limiting the freedom to travel and the difficulties which can arise when relationships do not work out in such close quarters. While television is not allowed, access to the internet is. New members are now coming with lap tops and spending more time on their own rather than in community as it was before this technology arrival. While older members have been there for decades, younger members seem to stay only a few years and move on. Some said they came to learn entrepreneurial skills with the hope of leaving to start their own organic farms or small businesses.
We met a son of a former CIA agent, a former buddhist monk, teachers, artists, true hippies, political activists and those so very concerned about what is happening to our environment. In the rural hills of Louisa, Virginia one may definitely come across that “road less travelled”.
Just a short post today…thought I would do some organizing of the thousands of photographs on hard drives and came across these two shots from Cambodia. One was taken at an outdoor Buddhist Temple and the other at a Cambodian Mosque. Children can teach us so much. The little girl just instinctively gave me the peace sign and the others were just having such fun jumping from one prayer rug to the other…laughing and giggling the entire time. To me, this is the beautiful essence of religion…peace for all, enlivening and elevating with a few giggles thrown in to be sure!
The divine in simplicity and innocence.