Japanese Tanabata

Tanabata Festival
Tanabata Festival

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

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

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

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

Japanese Gardens

Tanabata Festival
Tanabata Festival
Japanese Legend
Japanese Legend

Japanese Garden

Japanese Home

Come and Visit

Japanese Beauty in Simplicity

Pompeii, Walking on Sacred Ground

Paths of Pompeii

Pompeii Muted Colors

Remaining Artifacts from Pompeii

Person of Pompeii

Pompeii Unearthing

Years ago, I can remember being totally mesmerized when I heard the story of molten volcanic ash enveloping an entire city and its inhabitants. Approximately 2000 people living life were now preserved in their final moments for the ages. Mothers and fathers sitting at a table, little ones sleeping…these acts became their last on August 24, 79 A.D. EyeWitness To History.com relates an ancient voice from the past that reaches through time to relate these horrific events. The ash grew to be 16 feet and a once flourishing resort for the rich and famous of Rome with marketplaces, brothels, taverns, bathhouses and a 20,000 seat arena was totally silenced until 1748. The archaeologists found buildings intact, skeletons frozen in time, art and artifacts of every day life. Today, Pompeii draws thousands of tourists. One must past through about 15-20 vendors lining the entrance selling bottles of lemoncello, cameos carved from shells which may or may not be authentic and of course row after row of the famous winged penis which was the city symbol (who knew)! There was no McDonald’s in site though!! Despite all of the tourist trappings, every time I walk through Pompeii, it is truly one of those “pinch me now” moments. I wander through the homes, seeing mosaics and frescoes which are erotic and beautiful still visible after thousands of years. It is a bit surreal to come upon the few frozen remains still on display… the people who were so compelling to me years before. Many of the artifacts have been moved to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples and is so deserving of a visit. It is said that a third of the city still remains covered. In just a span of 4 years, I saw graves carved into stone that had just been unearthed. It continually gives me a reason to return so the story I heard sitting in a classroom may take on new layers of richness and intrigue.

Victor’s Cafe, South Philadelphia Landmark


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

Victor’s has a very interesting history :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Holiday Happenings

The holidays take on a deeper meaning through the customs and traditions families return to…a touchstone of identity. Visiting Wanamaker’s for the Christmas Light Show was always one of them for my family. Through the years, even though Wanamaker’s gave way to Macy’s, this Philadelphia tradition continues and each year provides a moment in time for people to get caught up in the magic of lights and music.

A new tradition to add to family holiday adventures is a trip to the Comcast Center . Visitors are given 3D glasses to view amazingly realistic holiday images on a 2,000 square foot LED screen. Snow scenes, floating dancers and children singing Christmas carols serve to lift everyone’s spirit. The show ends on a note of loud applause!

Philadelphia Flower Show

With 9 inches of snow here in Philadelphia, I could not pass up the opportunity to visit the Philadelphia Flower Show and be transported to Italy.  Flourishing gardens, villas, free flowing fountains and wine tasting…these sensual delights enabled me to experience the fullness of spring and know that the true fruiting of that promising time was not that long off.  Ciao!

The Largest Folk Festival in the US

If you are unable to go to Venice for the Carnival, the next best thing is Philadelphia on New Year’s Day!  The stage is Broad Street and it is transformed into a sea of sequins, feathers and over 10,000 comics and musicians carrying on a tradition which began in 1901.  If you would like to see more, my video is on You Tube under francesanne24.