The second half of 2017 and 2018 so far have been a whirlwind. I had the chance to live in California for ten months, and to teach at a university there. But I am back- and ready to resume blogging. For fun, I created a video on an older blog post – “Travelling on the Cheap”. Here is a link to the video on YouTube:
This is a re-post from the PriceTags blog, contributed by Sandy James. If you’re planning on visiting Korea, this sounds like a wonderful place to visit.
Price Tag readers made some very good comments about how New York City’s High Line is markedly different from Vancouver’s Georgia Viaducts which are scheduled for demolition if the funding can be found. The High Line was an unused railway between a few kilometers of warehouse buildings. But a better parallel is the newly opened […]
We all love a festival, right? We do–except when it feels as though the same event gets trotted out year after year, with the same displays and activities, just reinvented for a different theme. My shorthand for this type of festival has become the grocery store tent festival- where the same small group of corporate sponsors has their flimsy set of tents and single staff person on hand to buoy up the proceedings. And because the rest of the event is so thin, the grocery store tents seem all the more prominent (hence my label).
Of course, even when a festival is slicker, and has more going on, it doesn’t always make the event any more authentic. I was reminded of this dilemma last weekend when we had a chance to experience two festival events: The Victoria Busker’s Festival and the Moss Street Paint-In, sponsored by the Art Gallery of Victoria. Both events had been held in prior years, and both acted as a magnet for large crowds. We left the car at home, and cycled to both. While neither felt “perfectly” authentic, I felt that the Moss-Street Paint-In had far more of the right ingredients than the Busker’s Festival. Why was that? Especially since there were ways for people with little or no income to participate in both (buskers and the gallery asked for, but did not require, donations).
In sum, the paint-in felt more real because it was:
- in a residential area, further aware from the city’s more overtly touristy district, and thus felt more like an event attended by, and catering to, locals (even though there still may have been a number of tourists there too);
- quite varied, and yet far more laid-back, allowing people to drift in and out of displays, without being on a schedule, and without being urged to clap and cheer every five minutes to buoy up the buskers’ spirits;
- trying hard to be participatory (full of happy volunteers, and complete with events for kids and dogs);
- a place where people with a range of art budgets could find something to take home (lots of art cards from $2-$5 were on sale at most of the booths- a nice way to take home a memento of the larger art work if you couldn’t afford it);
- directly linked to raising awareness of the gallery as a civic resource; and
- physically linked to a weekly farmer’s market, that brought some of the same people, but also a few others who might not have otherwise attended the art event.
Where I was disappointed with the paint-in related mainly to the mainstream nature of the art displayed (and the fact that fewer than 10% of the artists seemed to be under age 50). While I felt that all of the art was beautiful and took talent to produce, I didn’t feel particularly challenged by most of the art, even though the gallery itself is not shy about pushing the envelope. Still, this event has been a staple of Victoria’s art calendar for several decades, and I hope it continues. I have gone in past years, and this year’s felt like the most fun and diverse yet. Click here for more detail.
Interestingly, the Buskers festival was also anchored by another event – the market at Ship’s Point which sells arts and crafts, but of the variety one sees in a tourist attraction gift shop. This market overtly caters to Cruise Ship passengers who typically get to spend no more than 24 or 32 hours in the city, tops.
While I’m glad that Victoria hosts both events, I would love to see more emphasis on the types of event that interest locals and more discerning tourists. In fact, had cruise ship visitors been aware of the paint-in, they might have enjoyed it as much as the rest of us.
Ideally if you’re someone reading one blog, you have several that you follow. Again, this is summer laziness on my part, but I am a big fan of the blog site Moss and Fog. Here is one of their latest (and highly enjoyable) photo posts:
Summer has found me terribly lazy, and so today’s post is actually a link to another post I wrote for a blog on planning and authentic communities. It addresses links between countercultural expressions and authenticity. Enjoy, and happy June!
I decided to write this posting when the camellias on the bushes outside my house just started shedding their blooms. They were still at what I call the “poetic stage”, meaning that the dying blooms on the grass looked both beautiful and tragic at the same time.
Looking at the camellias gave me a sense of enchantment, and regular followers may recall some of my past writings on the link between authenticity and enchantment . Following in that vein, this post looks at three sources of enchantment found in poetic landscapes -landscapes that combine beauty with a thread of tragedy.
1. Giardini di Ninfa, just outside Rome
I visited these secret gardens when visiting friends in Rome, and was lucky enough to see them in May when the roses had just peaked. The gardens are built on the ruins of an papal estate, which was itself taken over by the Caetani family in the 14th c. By the 16th c. its castle was no longer habitable; but a Caetani family member commissioned creation of a garden on site, which also fell into ruin, until 1921. At that time, another family descendant initiated garden restorations. The last living descendant, Leila Caetani died in the 1970s. Upon her death, the garden became an Italian National monument. For more information on this amazing spot, a New York Times article from 2002 fills in some wonderful details.
I love these gardens for their beauty, tranquility, and spirit of reinvention. Of course, there is something poetic for me about the various incarnations this garden has had -and the fact that it belonged to a powerful family whose direct descendants died out. Its relatively reclusive nature adds to the poetry. The garden is only accessible 2-3 times per month to the general public. More information on when and how to get there is available from turismoroma .
2.New York’s High Line Park
This park was created from an abandoned elevated rail corridor in the heart of downtown Manhattan, beginning in what was once the city’s meat packing district. While heavily gentrified now, and starting to be a bit of a tourist attraction, this park still brings me enchantment (I’ve visited twice).
So many wonderful intimate spaces along this park:
For me three things make this a poetic, enchanting landscape.First, its origin story, which was a highly engaged and activist-led approach that began as a very uphill battle to save the elevated structure (it had fallen into disrepair, and was seen by many as an eyesore). From my perspective- the languishing structure itself is what gives the park its element of tragedy. Fortunately, the new park into which it has evolved adds so much beauty, while honouring its origins. Second, I love the God’s Eye view that you get of the city when you walk above the streets for a stretch of this many blocks. Third, it always has some sort of surprise in store for you, and this brings out something new in everyone who walks along it- either for the first time, or as a regular park user.
3. Olsany Cemetery, Prague
This lovely historic cemetery got its start with the Plague, as a burial place in what was at the time the outer edges of town. Today it has become a large and yet beautiful burial site, accommodating the remains of many famous writers and politicians.
We visited in the Summer with friends, and found it beautiful and humbling to walk through. Perhaps the most tragic of the graves we saw belonged to Jan Palatch, who set himself on fire to protest the invasion of his country in 1968. Prague does cemeteries with just the right amount of poetry. There is also an amazing Jewish cemetery there (which we only viewed from a distance). For more information on the site and why you might want to visit, Wikipedia has a great overview.
Landscapes are a rich source of poetry and enchantment, and these three spots are just the tip of the iceberg. This topic is one that I could write scores of posts on (so be forewarned). And it’s always wonderful when other bloggers alert us to other examples of these authentic places.
Just for something different- I also publish a monthly planning blog on authentic communities (distinct from, but related to, authentic travel). The latest looks at Yaletown, a gentrifying neighbourhood in Vancouver, rooted in a past of brick warehouses, extended loading docks (now converted into patios- you can see part of one in the header of this post), and an old railway roundhouse now used as a community centre. To get your urban planning geek on, check out this posting here.
I just got back a week ago from a short, spur of the moment trip to Los Angeles (LA). Poor LA can sometimes get a bad rap, especially from city planners (my profession) who complain about the excessive highways and regional sprawl. But it’s really growing on me. In fact, it’s on the cusp of blossoming into another, more interesting phase in its existence. This is my fourth time in Los Angeles, now. I find that the key to enjoying LA, and to connecting with real people who live there, is to stay in a residential neighbourhood (and yes, this typically means relying on a service like AirBnB). It can also involve my favourite hobby of riding a light rail/ subway line and getting off at different stops to explore on foot. While In LA this time, I stayed in Silver Lake, and spent some time cruising the Gold Line. A friend also introduced me to a well-kept secret, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.
Here, for your viewing pleasure, are some photos.
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.
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:
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:
And here are some other examples of fence appeal, one by a business, and another by an art gallery/ centre:
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.
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!
Being 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. 🙂
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?
“Here lies an open heart”. Or broken? Is that a lemon tree growing…
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