Monday, January 31, 2011

London, England, UK

A staple of street life in London has been the Evening Standard. Most afternoon papers have gone defunct, but not this one. How did it survive? It became free and doubled its circulation. In case you think vendors like this immigrant might be out of a job, remember that touts are still needed to force it into your hands. [2005]

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sofia, Bulgaria

That's a Bulgarian Orthodox Cathedral in the background and a collection of icons for sale in the park out front. What would you buy? Jesus and Mother Mary to show your allegiance to universal Christianity? St. George and the dragon as a symbol of pan-European identity? Or, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the patron saints of your tribe, the Slavs? [2010]

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lucerne, Switzerland

Make a scarce resource less scarce and you will command the loyalties of the people. Bring a necessity of life close to home and people will say thank you. Take the ordinary and dress it up, and everyone will feel good about the place where they live. On the other hand, just count the eyes that are watching as you go about your daily routines. [1984]

Friday, January 28, 2011

Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

A new city is built every year on the Plains of Abraham. It's built of ice as a venue for the Quebec Winter Carnival. Outside of town, there is even an ice hotel. The festivities begin today with the arrival of the Bonhomme, whom you met last month. [2005]

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aleppo, Syria

We all need a little help now and then, and we all need friends. Throughout the 'Arab world,' people seem to have more time to spend on both: helping out and enjoying camaraderie. Skills honed as children on the streets of Aleppo carry into adulthood creating the strong social networks that characterize all Arab cities. [1993]

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Abu Dhabi, UAE

Dhows are traditional Arab trading vessels of the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Each of the sheikdoms had a creek where they moored. On the west side of the Arabian Peninsula, trade went by land; on the east side, trade went by water. Today, dhows are a symbol of national identity, especially in the United Arab Emirates. [1992]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jerusalem, Israel

The Dome of the Rock was built 1300 years ago to enshrine the place were Muhammad departed for the heavenly realm. Its architecture (the dome of heaven), geometric design (eternity of tessellations), and calligraphy (the words of Allah in his chosen language) carry the message to the masses. [1996]

Monday, January 24, 2011

Casablanca, Morocco

The Moorish arches repeat just like the tessellations on the floor, ceiling, and columns of the Hassan II mosque. The repetitions seem to go on forever. In fact, that's the message of geometric design. It mimics the cycles of life on earth and the eternity of life in heaven. It also reflects the orderliness of God's universe. [2005]

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

A gathering of Vietnamese immigrants outside the Queensland Parliament calls attention to the 'lost democracy' that was Vietnam. The Republic's flag pre-dates the Communist take-over of the North and eventually all of all Vietnam. You will never see the red and yellow flag in Vietnam, but you will in Australia. [2006]

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Shanksville, Pennsylvania, USA

The bike:  it watched a little girl growing up, offered her freedom, waited for her patiently, got to know her friends, and overlooked the many times she asked for a new one (and then a car).  Now it shares the spring with lilacs, the summer with black-eyed susans, and the memories of childhood with passers-by.  [2010]

Friday, January 21, 2011

Samana, Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic ranks fourth in the flow of fresh flowers to the United States. Here's what you should think about when you look at liatris like this: how much you pay for a floral arrangement and how much of that expenditure ends up in this young worker's pocket. [1992]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Angangueo, Michoacán, Mexico

I wonder where she is going.  To a birthday party, perhaps?  Piñatas represent a fusion of tradition (Indian clay pots enshrouded in feathers) and popular culture (new shapes from the 'funnies').  For kids in the U.S., piñatas often provide a very positive introduction to Mexican culture.   [2008]

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kjosfossen, Norway

Can you find Kjosfossen in this picture? If you wonder what a glacial trough is, you are at the bottom of one, looking up at the heights from which you have just descended thanks to Norway's Flåmsbana, the rail connection from Myrdal to Flåm. The same feature looks quite different at different scales. [1984]

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kjosfossen, Norway

The most majestic rail trip in Norway takes 12 miles to descend 3000 ft to sea level. It's a switch-back line that gives you a close-up view of Kjosfossen. Foss means waterfall in Norwegian. Here water falls off the edge of a high-elevation hanging valley into the glacial trough that will carry it to the sea. [1984]

Monday, January 17, 2011

Riga, Latvia

Just imagine getting married in a church where couples have been espoused for going on 800 years. That's almost forever! And the parishioners of St. Jacob's have been singing the mercies of the Lord for the whole time. With the fall of Communism, church weddings became popular once again. [2003]

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Koper, Slovenia

How many windows have you looked out today? Did any give you a new view of the world? The engineer of this train has seen it all a thousand times, but the young Slovenian boy who joins him for a moment at journey's end gets a chance to frame the world anew. [2008]

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Novosibirsk, Russia

These young folks, on Lenin Square in Novosibirsk, never grew old and crumbled like their political party.  At one time they symbolized the high aspirations of the 'new Soviet man.'  Behind them is the largest opera house in Russia, where the lightness of Prokofiev's The Love of Three Oranges contrasted with the seriousness of the statuary outside.  [1999]

Friday, January 14, 2011

Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

There has been no more spirited architect than Antoni Gaudi. He may be gone, but his spirit remains behind in his creations. It is part of the genius loci of Catalonia. Gaudi's church of the Holy Family, under construction for well over 100 years, was proclaimed a minor basilica last year. Gaudi's genius has become the genius of Barcelona. [2005]

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

The spirit of place finds succor in formal as well as informal landscapes. Nothing could be more formal than the Basilica of St. Louis, the oldest cathedral in the United States. It may be the house of God, but it is also the house of Genius Loci. Pagan, but true. [2009]

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Owls Head, Maine, USA

Where else could you be but along the coast of Maine? We should all look for local opportunities to build nests for the 'spirit of place.' Here, the spirit finds a home in a nest of buoys. At one time they marked the locations of lobster pots in the Gulf of Maine. Today, they give voice to the name of the lane. [2008]

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pigeon Point, California, USA

The most perpendicular of days occur this year. 1/11/11 is one of them: Perpendicularis Minor. So, let's look for a lighthouse. Lo! the perpendicular Pigeon Point on the Pacific coast of California.[2007]

Monday, January 10, 2011

Madrid, Spain

In every city there are microworlds. In Madrid, the Plaza Major is one of them. It is a step back in time and offers some rare urban resources: uncluttered open space, the absence of autos, and a taste of tranquility. Many of its landscape elements are ephemeral, like the painter and his easel. He begifts to Madrid another scarce urban resource: trees. [2010]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Athens, Greece

Here's Athena Parthenos presiding over Omonia Square: 21st century version. The pose and visage seem so perfect for the city of the Parthenon. From her Upper City perch above it all, she keeps watch over the citizens, servants and metics of the Lower City. Which one is he? [2006]

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Orange fever is at no time more evident than on the Queen's birthday, April 30. From head to foot, the Dutch turn patriotic orange. Problems? First, April 30 isn't Queen Beatrix's birthday (it was her mothers). Second, the Principality of Orange was in southern France. [2004]

Friday, January 7, 2011

Amsterdam, Netherlands

It was the House of Orange that liberated the United Provinces (known to us as the Netherlands) from Spanish rule. If ever a nation was built around a color, it is the Dutch. They even took a pale, edible taproot and bred it to be orange: what we know as the carrot. Then came orange bikes. [2004]

Thursday, January 6, 2011

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City

Jesus said to Peter: "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." And Peter still has them. So do his successors, the Popes of the Roman Church. Although rarely pointed out, St. Peter's Square is shaped like a keyhole. Visiting the basilica? Then, you will pass through that keyhole as if the door to heaven had been opened unto you. [2002]

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Aleppo, Syria

You enter the national museum in Aleppo through a relocated Neo-Hittite Temple that dates to about a thousand years B.C.  It was excavated at Tel Halaf near the Turkish border.  Meet two of the temple guardians, but don't drown in their eyes.  Are you convinced they see everything you do and are obligated to report it to the gods?  [1993]

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Marrakech, Morocco

For freshness sake, every neighborhood in the traditional Moroccan city has its own bakery. The Maghrebi variety of flatbread (influenced by the French, hence different from the Mashreqi variety) is picked up from the ovens and distributed to nearby retailers, soon to be sopping up steaming-hot stews. No protective plastic or Purell here. [2005]

Monday, January 3, 2011

Amman, Jordan

If you pour watered-down honey and melted mozzarella over shredded wheat, then sprinkle with pistachios, you have something like kanafeh, a favorite dessert in the Arab world. Little boys are never too 'young' to peddle kanafeh, and push carts allow them to keep beat with the changing rhythms of the day. [1997]

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Göreme, Turkey

Cappadocia offers the traveler a fairy-tale landscape of caprock mushrooms, underground cities, early Christian cave art, and tufa pinnacles that punctuate the horizon.  Many rock formations are inhabited (by people, not pixies) and some have been turned into hotels.  Tufa is a consolidated volcanic ash that is easily eroded and easy to excavate.  [2007]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Chartres, France

Hello, 2011. Bonjour, from the most magnificent of all Gothic cathedrals. May the year ahead be as colorful and uplifting as the stained glass windows of Chartres. The north transept window tells the story of Mary. To the illiterate masses of the Middle Ages, the cathedral was their Bible: 'The Bible of the Poor.' [2005]