Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Midsummer celebration

I just received my copy of Lonely Planet magazine where one of the articles is about midsummer celebration in Sweden. Has anyone been to a midsummer celebration in Scandinavia? The article intrigues me a lot that I'd like to go, maybe next year. It's a time when people go out to the island countryside, to dine al fresco, dance, make music, weave flowers in their hair and carry on. I just checked summer airfares and they are prohibitively expensive. The only to afford it (barely) is to travel on Wednesdays or Thursdays. While these pictures are not in Scandinavia, one gets a general idea, there'll be wild flower meadows everywhere. This is spring time in the Peloponnese, Mystra, to be exact.
This is one way how I plan my trips, I see a magazine article that intrigues me and the next opportunity I have, I'm there. I watched the movie, 'The passion of the Christ', loved the location and the next year I was there, in Matera, Italy where the film was shot. Matera is also one of my all time favorite places.
(Click on the pictures to expand it)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Living in a Muslim cemetery

 'The city of the dead' is a cemetery but there are people living here and hence the name 'city of the dead'. It's a whole city of people living in this cemetery. It is not such an unusual phenomenon. There are similar such cities all over the world. Muslim cemeteries are usually large and has apartments in them because Muslims do visit their dead family members and sometimes have overnight stay over. When the apartment is not in use, it can be rented out. We had the opportunity of visiting with this family. Our taxi driver brought us there and we happened to see this family outside. He asked if we could come in and see their place. They allowed us, we left them some money before we left.

It is always interesting to see how people live all over the world. We never pass up any chance if we could do it. Sometimes the human stories are so life changing. I come home with greater appreciation of my life and work here. Sometimes I push myself extra hard thinking that these people would have loved the same opportunity I have of working. Hard as my life is, there are millions in the world who wouldn't think twice to switch life with me.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Living in a cemetery, Christian

 I'll never forget our trip to Cairo 2 years ago before all the turmoil. I want to return to Egypt. It is such a place of contrast, the modern squalor and the glorious antiquities makes it an incredible place to visit. I pray that whatever government takes over that the Coptic Christians would not be persecuted and slaughtered. Here we were in Coptic Cairo visiting the Christian cemetery. It had wide boulevards and I notice just as in the city of the dead, there were people living here too.

 We met this nice young man who invited us to his ancestral grave where he and his father lived. He was handicapped and cannot work. His father wasn't there, we presumed he went to work. This guy spoke some English. These are disturbing pictures, the squalor is so unsettling. I'm used to squalor like this having grown up in a third world nation and grown up dirt poor. Even now I work in skid row in Los Angeles and it resembles a third world nation. I've made a good living working here.

He was soft spoken and sweet. We gave him some money before we left. We have to be thankful everyday of what we have. Clearly if we live in a Western country we must exploit every opportunity there is. There are none in Egypt, for Christians anyway.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Evening in Palermo

 After the afternoon siesta, the stores started to open again and traffic was flowing again. Here we at the Quattro Canti in Palermo a few years ago.

The dome of the church of San Guiseppe Teatini one of the buildings that is at the Quattro Canti. I love this church, the interior of which is so baroque and so playful. It was San Guiseppe's day and the church was busy with everyone coming to pray to St Joseph. If I never left the US, I would never know the importance of this and so many other saints in Sicilian church life. Not only that I would never have tasted the incredible pastry that they make to honor San Guiseppe. I don't always plan to be in such and such a place for such and such a day. I spread out my vacation throughout the year so I am not in the US for much longer than 6 months or else I get bored. The humdrum life can get anyone really depressed, to work, come back, what to eat for dinner, grocery shopping, put gas in the car, watch a little telly, go to sleep...... no wonder the mental health status of Americans are in the dumps. So when I'm in a place that I'm visiting and it's a saint's day, it becomes an added bonus. It is expensive to travel but with rigorous budgetting trips can still be made. It takes a lot of work to travel independently, without the help of tour groups but the effort is worh it because you pick the places. This is evident in our 2 trips to Sicily a few years ago. How else would you get to spend an evening in Palermo?
"Palermo, once experienced, never forgotten" How true. That is the promotional slogan for Palermo. This was during our second trip to Sicily and it was on this trip we went to Villa Palagonia in Bagheria 20 minutes by train from Palermo.http://socalgalopenwallet.blogspot.com/search?q=villa+palagonia

Friday, May 27, 2011

Of course, I'll just go

 A baroque high church
a church covered with dazzling mosaics
 a highly sculptured church
Whatever they believe in, is not half measures. Everything is over the top and gloriously so. I'm writing about Palermo, Sicily. Byzantine churches mixed in with Baroque ones, Sicily was its own master and the Sicilians, while being part of Italy are different. I read from Sicilyscene that the Sicilian dialect is going to be taught in Sicilian schools. That's wonderful news, its always sad that some languages in the world are going to die out. Just as with endangered species, some languages are endangered. While the written Chinese language is the same, the spoken dialects are different. Someone speaking Cantonese will read the Chinese characters in Cantonese while a Mandarin speaker will read them in Mandarin. It is the most amazing thing. Its written the same but spoken in different dialects. Cantonese is common in Southern China while Mandarin is common in the North. I read somewhere the North Mandarin speakers have trouble communicating with their Southern counterparts. When we first went to Sicily, I was so intrigue by the fact that Sicilians have their own travel documents and it is recognised in Europe.
I remember when we first told friends that we're going to Sicily, everyone was surprised, 'why Sicily, they asked?' It's as if there isn't anything in Sicily. How would they know, they haven't been there? The right thing to say is, 'why not.' Why not Sicily. I guess all anyone know about Sicily was the poverty and how so many of them left to go to America. But Sicily hasn't always been poor. There were a time when Sicily was so very prosperous as evident in the glorious churches, palaces and villas. And the wonderful thing is they are all still there for visitors to go see. This reads like I'm paid to promote Sicily. No, I'm doing it for free. I'll just keep on going, keep on traveling.
I just checked the Turkish Airlines website, we're all set to go to Turkey for the second time next month. To Eastern Turkey this time. A friend in Istanbul just emailed for us to be careful, there might be PKK activity there, they kidnap tourists. I told one of my nephews who will be traveling with us, 'hey, if that happens, there'll be a book in there...' PKK are the Kurdish separatists movement fighting for a Kurdish state.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Not every church needs to be adorned

The very bare and stark interior of San Cataldo in Palermo, Sicily. Notice there is a film crew outside when we visited. Most people would have seen the church with the three red domes. It was the only church with paid admission. It is special because this was the church of the crusaders, they stopped here on their way to the Holy land  when they pray for victory and a safe return. On their way back they give thanks that they are still alive to make the trip home. There was nothing in the church, just bare walls and ceiling but it was here that I was most moved. There was nothing to detract our attention, just quietness to comtemplate the meaning of our faith and to think about the men before us who went to the Holy land to keep it safe for pilgrims, which was the original intention of the crusades. Whenever I'm asked about my most favorite place in the world, I always say, 'Sicily.' After all these years and all the places I've been to, I still say 'Sicily.'