Marking territory -Part 1

Authentic travel includes getting to know the people living in your destination. Talking to locals is a start. But with only a few days or weeks in a place, building understanding can be a challenge. That said, other telling details that can help. Among the most fascinating: how people mark out (in an attempt to claim or conquer) their territory.

What territory says

Architectural details, public art, fencing, murals, landscaping details, signs, hedgerows separating out farmers’ fields – these items say many things.  They speak of what people value; what they fear; their sense of humour and/ or curiosity.  Marked territory can tell you about how locals lead their lives, and who benefits (or fails to benefit) from flows of power.  The photos below are all examples of local territory marking.  They speak to me of who (at least some of) the locals are and how they relate to each other.

Examples

Bank of Hawaii building, Honolulu.  Author photo, February 2016

The above photo shows how a bank operating in a multi-cultural city like Honolulu celebrates the locals who descended from Chinese settlers roughly a century ago. In my  part of the world, which has attracted more contemporary Chinese migration, the  features shown above tend to speak less about current migrants and what appeals to them.

I love how, in the photos below, the business operator is surreptitiously and temporarily claiming territory, without making the same type of investment as someone in a conventional store.  Perhaps rents are far too prohibitive- or maybe the owner just prefers this transient approach.  You see her/him trying to legitimize the mobile business as it takes up a parking space for just hours at a time. Judging from the quality of the sign, it seems to have been working.

Silver Lake neighbourhood of Los Angeles. Author photos, February 2016

Claiming space doesn’t just happen with businesses.  Parking is a big focus of space-claiming.  While on-street parking is typically public, North American city dwellers often view the space in front of their homes as their personal (private) property- particularly when parking becomes a more scarce resource.  Unknown cars parked in those locations may be told about their transgressions through windshield notes- or even more aggressive acts.  But driveways are less clear, and are sometimes used or blocked by others, resulting in conflict and a need for the homeowner to mark that territory as his or her own.  The example below is also from Los Angeles:

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Silver Lake neighbourhood of Los Angeles.  Author photo, February 2016

And, of course walls and gates are obvious territory markers. They can be beautiful or whimsical. Sometimes the beauty is offered as an apology for space claiming. It may also be an indicator of some shared neighbourhood territoriality- a contribution to the larger public realm even as the individual space is claimed.

Some of my own neighbours in Vic West achieve this by offering of floral bursts beside or through their fences:

claiming territory_Vic West fence_LTate photo
Victoria, British Columbia.  Author photo, June 2016
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Victoria, British Columbia.  Author photo, March 2017

And here are some other examples of fence appeal, one by a business, and another by an art gallery/ centre:

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Houston, Texas.  Author photo, November 2015
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Mendocino, California.  Author photo, June 2016

So here is my challenge to you: on your next trip, try to find and photograph as many interesting or appealing territory markers as you can. I guarantee that it will get you thinking about your destination, and the relationships between inhabitants, in new ways. Territory markers are a rich topic for exploring further. Watch for another posting on this topic, and please suggest your own in the comments section of this blog.

 Conquer

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A morning walk, Mexico

At the risk of seeming lazy, I must share another blogger’s wonderful post of various Mexico City vistas- mostly murals and wall art. Sharing because others should see these lovely photos. Enjoy!

Equinoxio

IMG_4190Being a bit short of time today, I just put together a few shots from my morning walks in Tlalpan, the new neighbourhood we live in Mexico city. Good news: Spring IS here. It will reach you soon. February-March mark the blooming of Jacarandas. Some years the city turns all mauve. I thought this year would not be a good one, jacaranda-wise, because of the cold (relatively) January-February we just had. But I was wrong. Jacarandas are superb. 🙂

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First time I saw jacarandas was in Kenya, a long time ago. I don’t quite remember the season. The tree seems to originate from tropical central and south America. Though it has now been planted in Asia (Nepal) and Africa, East and South. A question to my South African friends: are your jacarandas blooming now?

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“Here lies an open heart”. Or broken? Is that a lemon tree growing…

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Enchantment, Part 2.5

Enchantment is such an   important ingredient of authentic travel.  Besides visits to spaces that are themselves enchanting, how else can we encounter the lush joys of enchantment?  Here are three quick ideas for your next trip.

1. Take something beautiful home with you as a memento

Obtain a beautiful object, and treasure it in your daily life.  It could be an attractive pebble you keep in your pocket to remind you of the wonderful day you spent at the beach with your family.  It might be a piece of art for your home, a hand-made journal, or a piece of jewellery.  But it should be something that will ground, or re-ground you to the place that you visited- far into the future.

Here’s what I mean.

I lived and studied in Montréal  for three years, at a really pivotal time in my life in my twenties, in the late 1980s.  (Yes, I am that old.)  My experiences there were life-changing.  But after moving back to British Columbia (on the opposite side of my country), it took several decades before I would eventually return.  When I finally did go back, I felt an incredibly strong mix of joy and nostalgia.  I can even recall one day, standing in the streets of Vieux Montréal (the city’s historic district), when I felt a wave of anguish about having absented myself from that place for so long.  And, later in the day while in that very district, I bought some ornate silver earrings with the city’s symbol-an abstract flower.  Something about that felt very right- I knew on the spot that the earrings would be an important memento of my earlier life there as well as of my return.  Whenever I wear them now, I re-live my love for Montréal, with fond memories of all my times there.  I also get ideas about my next trip back.

My Montreal earrings! Worn while writing this post. Author photo, March 2017

2. Do something that scares you but that others enjoy 

I’m not talking about taking crazy, unsafe risks.  Think of this as a prompt for a micro-risk.  We all have irrational fears that hold us back.  Is yours a fear of heights?  Of looking foolish?  Of certain animals or reptiles?  Of boating?  A holiday is the best time to try one of these things, because you typically have fewer stresses on vacation.  Go for that hot air balloon ride, that jungle excursion, or that silent meditation retreat.  (Note that I have listed that as a scary thing to do, because the idea of not talking for three days frightens me.)  I am slightly afraid of heights, and so whenever my mountain goat of a husband wants to climb up an historic tower to get a better view of the city below, I gulp a few times, agree, and then feel exhilarated once I’ve climbed back down.

Tower in the Czech republic that I had to climb. Author photo, July 2015.

3.  Be generous

Everything your parents told you about being kind, and how generosity ultimately makes the giver feel incredible is true.  We all know how to be generous- the one thing I would add is that generosity is about ensuring that what you give will be helpful (rather) than harmful to the recipient.  This means thinking about the cultural context and, sometimes, about where the need is greatest.  While travelling in Mexico recently, we certainly ran into many people with low incomes, whose daily lives contained a lot of struggle.  But we also knew that we weren’t sufficiently grounded in the community to know who best to help, or in what way.  And so, we did not give to anyone begging for money on our trip, but on our return home made a donation (much larger than what we would have given in aggregate to the individuals in need who we met—and yes, we did follow through!) to a charity whose work we had learned about while in the community.  The key thing here is that the charity was directly linked with local people who knew best what their community needed.

This post has suggested three active ways that might help you achieve a sense of enchantment on your next holiday.  It is certainly not the last word on this topic, as there are many more ways that you can do this.  Please feel free to suggest your ideas as well!

Lush