One of the most enjoyable aspects of travel for me is getting swept up in the ebb and flow — the rhythms — of a place that’s different from home.
I loved the feeling of that cultural beat recently on a recent trip to Mexico City. And it made me consider other places with a strong rhythm. Everyplace has its own beat, of course, but some places seem to have a stronger pulse. Italy. Norway. Paris. The Oregon Coast. Northwest Territories, Canada.
In Mexico City, the day began with birdsong. Then came the cooking smells — and the scent of delicious Mexican spices — that wafted up to my second-story flat. I could hear sturdy heels walking with intention on rough stones outside. Then, the softest pink light turned the orange and grey stucco walls red and deep brown. A cool breeze would lift the palm fronds.
A resident cat below would meow for its breakfast, followed by yipping of dogs and the sounds of street vendors and shop owners sweeping and setting up.
I realized by the next day that the scent of spices meant coffee would be waiting in the foyer and so I’d pad downstairs for a cup before taking a shower.
On my way out for the day’s activities, I’d have to step around wet, soapy tiles scrubbed clean every morning — place smelling delightfully like my mother’s Pine Sol cleaning binges on Saturday mornings.
In the evening, the sky turned darker pink and the sounds sharper. Dinner parties. Laughter. The smells of roasting meat and flower blossoms lifting in the warm summer air. Music and dancing, toasting of cool drinks, the harmonic crush of forks & knives. Finally, high heels on stones, wobbling their way home.
Then silence, mostly, until the birds and the spices signaled that coffee was near, the steady old globe turned fully around on its wobbly axis, the world made new once again.
What and where are your favorite world rhythms?
***Stay tuned: Citli Tours knocked my socks off while I was in Mexico & I’m looking forward to sharing their story soon!
Now and then I find myself explaining the background scenario of my work as an arts & culture writer. On social media, it can appear that I’m simply gallivanting around the world without a care.
The reality is that sharing the experience with a little bit of marketing skill through multiple social media channels is part of my job. Of course I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity through my background and experience and technology to be able to write about art, culture, photography and travel around the world, but you’d have to go back 36 years or so to middle school and high school writing and journalism classes & being inspired by my father’s photography to get to the beginning the path to where I am now.
Only about 25% of my time is spent on freelance assignments. I have a 30-hour-per-week contract with two nonprofits in Portland that is my base income. And the assignments aren’t typically handed out like candy. I have to work hard for them, pitching editors constantly. Every time I send a pitch to a new editor, I have to include a compelling cover letter, relevant published writing samples and a pitch that’s perfect for them right at that moment. It’s like applying for a job every time while also trying to hit a bullet with a bullet. The competition is fierce.
I’m currently in Mexico City and for this trip, I bought an inexpensive round trip ticket on sale ($300 RT from Portland to Mexico City via Delta and Aeromexico) and worked like crazy to build an assignment around five whirlwind days. (At other times, I build additional work and travel around an assignment). I left on a Wednesday and am returning on a Tuesday, so that I could still pop into my office in Portland a couple of days each week. I did a mad dash of research, connecting dots between people I know at home and abroad — friends, editors, colleagues and others — and created a trip that will result in six or seven assignments, plus material for my blog from this one short adventure. I got in touch with two photographers working here in the city who I found through research and connections, discovered a great B&B (The Red Tree House) that I’ll also be writing about & am touring with a guide service owned by amazing locals (Citli Tours) I found via a former co-worker when I did marketing for a bank in Vancouver, Washington.
I’ve toured the city, hunted down great restaurants, gone out Ubering on my own, conducted interviews in the courtyard of my B&B and chatted with fellow guests to keep the research pipes open & am looking forward to a day of people watching & photography today at Basilica de Guadalupe where at least 30 masses are held every day of the year. Who knows what could transpire there for yet another assignment.
Buenos días! I encourage everyone to follow their dreams, but don’t expect success without hard work, sacrifice & openness and constant adaptation to technology, cultural norms and work standards such as publishing expectations (ever changing writing guidelines).
Elbow grease, as they say, wins the day.
On a recommendation from our (highly recommended) Airbnb host, we walked towards Dublin city center from our flat in the suburban Rathgar neighborhood to a newish bar called The Bowery. “Rock & Rum bar in an old ship!” the description shouted. They had me at Rock & Rum, but the “old ship” aspect raised my curiosity.
The Bowery didn’t disappoint. The space opens up into what literally feels like being inside an old pirate ship, but not in the Disney sense. The bar’s port holes are from Irish Naval auxiliary ship L.E. Setanta, decommissioned in 1980. The Bowery’s floorboards were brought in from the demolished Boland’s Mill in Ringsend, and the wood paneling is from the former Little Sisters of the Poor convent.
It turned out every Tuesday is open mike night for poets and musicians. My husband Brad, a musician & poet and never shy about leaping onto a stage, quickly found a guitar to borrow from a sweet Dubliner named Ron.
Ron performed a song he’d written after a sniper terrorized Washington, D.C. “It’s the end of another American dream….” goes the haunting refrain.
Brad took the stage after a poem or two and referenced the stinking pile that is the current U.S. Administration. “I think the Irish might appreciate the metaphor,” he said. “Anybody know Louden Wainwright?” A couple of shouts went up from the small crowd. Brad then launched into Wainwright’s “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.”
While Brad was setting up, Ron said he was sorry about the disturbing state of affairs in the U.S.
“Pray for us,” I said. “Oh believe me,” he responded. “I do, every day.”
It’s easy to forget, in our American bubble, that the world really is watching.
People around the globe look to the U.S. for stability and leadership. Sure, we have a deeply mixed history, but in general, they’re looking to the past for a remembrance of hope and to the future for a glimmer of hope. The Irish, for example, haven’t forgotten that America was one country that took millions of starving immigrants during the great famine of 1845-1852. Here’s brief lesson about that bitter time in History: “As the crisis grew, British relief efforts only made things worse: The emergency importation of grain failed to prevent further deaths due to Ireland’s lack of working mills to process the food; absentee British landlords evicted thousands of starving peasants when they were unable to pay rent; and a series of workhouses and charity homes established to care for the most vulnerable were poorly managed, becoming squalid centers of disease and death….”
When we left the bar, Ron gave me a big hug. And on our way out the door, a couple of tough-looking locals gave Brad kudos for his performance.
We went to all of Dublin’s must-see sights around town as one must do when experiencing a place for the first time, from Grafton Street & Temple Bar to Trinity College, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Dublin Castle. We ate all the fish & chips and seafood stew we could stuff ourselves with at ancient pubs like The Bleeding Horse & the Celtic Bar.
We took the DART train to the seaport village of Howth, ate raw oysters & rode a rickety little boat around an island swarming with seabirds and seals. We took a coach tour to Northern Ireland and saw the gleaming countryside and explored Giant’s Causeway with a brief stop in beautiful Belfast. We spent an evening on a Guinness canal restaurant, sipping on wine while chugging slowly through what must be the world’s tiniest locks.
The natural beauty of Ireland is forever imprinted in my mind. I’ve never seen such well-kept and beautiful farmlands (I literally googled whether they have rubbish laws, because the countryside is that pristine – and they in fact do, but a Dubliner told that me pride is really what keeps the place tidy). And Dublin is one of the most colorful, artsy, literary & jovial cities I’ve traveled to so far.
But my favorite experience in terms of satisfaction – for fulfilling what travel is truly about and why I believe it’s important to see the world, was that sincere hug from Ron on an evening when we weren’t tourists, but simply people connecting through music, art and culture. People with shared dreams and goals who dare to hold out hope for this maddening-yet-wonderful and immense-yet-tiny, world.
“Greetings from the land of smiles,” is Bangladeshi photographer Noor Ahmed Gelal’s typical welcome.
But this simple greeting carries a lot of meaning as Gelal is dedicated to showing the world a side of Bangladesh that he feels is too often misrepresented – the beautiful, diverse and harmonious side of his country.
“Bangladesh is a land of cultural diversity,” Gelal says. “Though most of the people are Muslim, it is a country of communal harmony. Since I also love to work through travel and documentary photography, I want to represent Bangladesh as the culturally diverse land that it is.”
In 2015, Gelal’s image, “Congregational Prayer” won the Siena International Photography Festival’s “Open Color” category. The photograph (below) shows a congregation where a section of the Hindu community is preparing to break the daylong fast in one of the local temples at Swamigabag, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Noor said members of the congregation believe fasting will redeem their sins.
“Countless passions in my life are travel and photography,” Gelal wrote to me by email.
“A photograph tells millions more than a sentence. I do believe this from the core of my heart. Despite having eye-soothing natural beauty, hardworking happy people and colorful cultural festivals, Bangladesh is not well-represented in the global arena. I try to capture the intricate social fabric represented in people’s work, culture and lifestyle through my photography. I am trying to showcase the positive Bangladesh to the international community.”
I hope to travel to the Land of Smiles one day and experience authentic, diverse, beautiful and culturally rich Bangladesh for myself one day.
Thank you to Noor for sharing his images and for being an incredible cultural ambassador.
Go to Noor’s website at http://noorgelal.photo/ to learn more about him and his stunning photography.
“A free man can live on fish. Independence is better than meat.”
― Halldór Laxness,
I once asked a National Geographic photographer if he had a favorite shooting location. “The place I’ve haven’t been to yet,” he said, is always his favorite. I feel the same way, except for a few places. Iceland is one of them. Sometimes it’s as satisfying to find a foreign place where one feels connected and at home, as to discover something new.
My favorite moment in Iceland is at the end of the long shuttle or taxi ride from the international airport in Reykjavik to the lodging destination, when the door opens, and I get a first breath of arctic air — sharply sweet in winter with a certain bite — like the mineral taste of snow licked from a mitten — and sea-salted & soft, but refreshing in summer. There’s something about that taste of sky, sea and earth all at once — foreign and familiar — that excites me. It feels precious, rare, exhilarating and fulfilling.
The joy of travel is simple and doesn’t require extravagance. A walk to your own mailbox can be considered travel if done right. And independence, like that first breath in a special place that imparts an exotic sense of home, is priceless and worth a whole lot of sacrifice.
More about Iceland coming up.
Independent People, by the way, is a must-read.
In 1942, amidst the fuel rationing of World War II, great American photographer Ansel Adams attempted to get some sleep on a bench at the train depot in Livingston, Montana with 280 pounds of camera gear piled next to him.
He was on his way to Yellowstone National Park and was forced to take public transportation between U.S. National Parks instead of driving his own car due to the lack of gasoline.
Adams was 40 years old and working under contract with the U.S. Government to document a series of National Parks, from Crater Lake in Oregon to Yellowstone in Wyoming.
His images, of course, helped bring crowds to the parks in future years. By 1948 on a return trip to Yellowstone, he expressed his frustration with the resulting crowds and garbage.
But for Italian photographer Andrea Giandomenico, walking in Ansel’s shutter steps during a recent photography tour to Yellowstone, the Grand Teton Mountains and surrounding areas with professional photographer Alessandro Beconi (creator of http://grandiviaggifotografici.com/), was the experience of a lifetime.
He said the journey was so inspirational and satisfying that he left a piece of his heart behind in the American West.
Giandomenico said the trip was exciting and adrenaline-filled, but also exhausting as the group got up at the crack of dawn and averaged about 350 kilometers per day on the road. On the first days after arriving in the U.S., temperatures were below freezing, with about 20 inches of snow on the ground.
One of the experiences that impressed him the most was that of photographing a newborn elk calf and its mother.
“It felt like I was part of a nature documentary on television, but it was all wonderfully real,” he said in an interview with Picchio News about his current Yellowstone exhibition at Il Bicchiere della Staffa, a restaurant in his home town of Montecosaro, Italy. “We arrived when the baby was only ten minutes old and we photographed the scene for three hours hours as the mother cleaned him and ate the placenta….until the baby began to stand on his own feet and take his first steps.”
He also had the thrill of spotting a Grizzly bear, black bears and other wildlife.
Giandomenico said he is a self-taught photographer who first began making images in 2013. He prides himself in capturing nature, landscapes and moments in time with little post-processing. “I like real photographs that have a soul,” he said.
He said his dream is to become a professional photographer in the future, while understanding it’s not an easy business.
Meanwhile, he is satisfied practicing his art and traveling the world as much as possible, with hopes of a return to the U.S. And his images certainly reflect his passion for nature and the art of harnessing light through the lens.
As Ansel Adams himself said, “millions of men have lived to fight, build palaces and boundaries, shape destinies and societies; but the compelling force of all times has been the force of originality and creation profoundly affecting the roots of human spirit.”