Wednesday, May 22, 2013

24 Hours in: Nelson County, Virginia

A travel writing assignment

Hey guys, I'm testing out a writing class and this was my first assignment. It's been a while since I've posted on here so I thought you all might be interested.

Here's a sneak preview, before you click through to the piece:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Street Art: Santiago, Chile

Earthquakes have toppled much of Santiago's historic, Spanish colonial architecture. Also, approximately 30% of the population is under the age of 20. For me, these two things lead to an unexpected conclusion: 

The most prevalent visual expression of the culture of Santiago, Chile, is street art.

I asked a native Santiagina how she felt about "all of this," my arm gesturing vaguely towards the painted walls. Body language goes a long way when you don't share a first language. She said for the most part, she liked it - her friend immediately interrupting to ask if she would like it on her walls. The response was, well, maybe not, but it is good in places "like this." I looked around and noted that we were in a very beat up, industrial-looking neighborhood.

Kind of like this.

I have a soft spot for street art... 

And honestly I'm not sure why. Quick tags (like above) don't really do it for me, but maybe that's because the time commitment is minimal and it's not exactly a well-developed vision. But sometimes craft and imagination come together to create something that is pretty darn neat to look at.

Maybe it's the fact that you're just walking down the street, living your mundane little life, when BAM! Art, in your face.

The floating eyeballs don't do much for me, but check out that dude!

I took something like 100 photos in Santiago of various tags and pieces, and have picked 30-some to share with you based on (what I think is) superior execution, an interesting style, extra playfulness, or if the overall photo tells a bit of the Santiago street art story.

For what it's worth, some things I see when I look at this stuff:
  • Use of line, outline
  • Color: how the colors relate to each other as well as the number of different colors
  • Letters: different "fonts," if you will
  • Shading (seems hard to pull off, given the media!)
  • Complexity vs. simplicity

And now, the photos

Little old men in newsboy caps are so cute!

Love the drips and little touches of black & light green

Reminds me of my first love, drawing with pencil, and the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series

Stay classy, Santiago

I was thrilled to see this guy on a trailer next to the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well. Love the energy.

How would you know it's me if I didn't include a picture of John?

Classic storefront graffiti 

Give The Little Prince a can of spray paint...

This is about 1/4 of a very large piece that wouldn't all fit in the photo

My favorite section. Love the lines in the face and that the little people look so different from the tree

"Punk is not dead" - el Elephante
Not sure if the dogs outnumber the tags or vice versa

Bubblegum pink is always the right choice

Downright exuberant

Spray can wielding koala bear? Um, duh

 Let us "be free!!!" and nothing else matters - José de San Martín

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Santiago, Chile: Street Art, Dogs, Structure Fires

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't written anything about Chile despite having been here for 26 days. Frankly, it took us quite a while before we actually started doing anything more interesting than working, cooking at home, and walking the dogs. We finally started getting out more and seeing the sights, and since it's a long weekend here in Santiago (for Easter) I figured I'd sit down and make a post for you all.

Yesterday, though, the neighbor's house caught on fire.

I would say that for average neighborhood fires, people gather around and watch as the fire department arrives and does their thing, and then folks eventually disperse and go on with their lives. That was not our day.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our Little Santiago Adventure

John and I ended up in Santiago, Chile, because of, a site that connects potential house-sitters with the folks who need them. We found a 30-something couple who wanted to take off for a month to go on their belated honeymoon and needed someone to take care of their two cute little dogs, water the garden, and keep an eye on the pool.

Mario - surfer dude good looks and hyperactive tendencies

Margarita - puppy-like coordination, cuteness, and
enthusiasm (esp. for food); actually old and deaf as a doorknob

We arrived, settled in, and our first couple weeks here were actually rather boring. We didn't go out much due to our daily schedule of working, feeding the vegan dogs three times, 30+ minutes of watering the garden, etc.

We're in Vitacura, a neighborhood with one of the highest incomes per capita in Santiago and, to be honest, not much flavor. All the houses have high walls around them and angry, barking dogs, and the nearest shopping is an American-style mall with only the most expensive stores. There's an Applebee's nearby.

The point here is Vitacura = boring. And squeezing in a 1.5 hour round-trip commute to visit the happening parts of Santiago just wasn't on our agenda.

When we finally started squeezing in some time to explore, things got interesting.

John's birthday is on St. Patrick's Day, and a half-Irish Santiagoan told me about an Irish Pub we might try. A little cheesy to go to an Irish pub in South America, but whatever. Turns out they were having four days of celebration.

Left to right: John, Oversized Leprechaun, Chris - a friend of the couple we're housesitting for

Plus they had a live Irish-ish band, Celtic and Scottish dancing, and
the best-named bagpipe ensemble ever: the Andes Highlander Pipe Band

Our trip to the gigantic vegetable market, La Vega, 

was when Santiago started to feel like a real place, instead of Disneyland.

Maybe the only photo you'll see of me

So here's a preview of a few topics I'd like to expand on in future posts:

Public parks: canoodler's delight

Street art: brilliant. Hoping to go into depth on this one.

Museums: closed on Mondays! Like everything else - but no one tells you that, do they?

Plaza de Armas: old stuff, performers, artisans, soapboxers yelling about Dios

And that brings us to our most recent adventure,

The Fire

Don't remember signing up for this.

I'm afraid I don't have any photos of the towering flames to share with you because we were too busy scrambling to get the dogs outside and grab our most important possessions.

But we had a GREAT view of the flames through the upstairs windows.

Yep, that view right there. Post flames.
The firemen in the foreground are actually standing on our building.

Frankly, our house probably should have caught on fire. John and I were certainly acting on that potential. The house on the left was less lucky.

Things that might have helped:

  • it was cooler and damper than most mornings,
  • the hodgepodge roofs of both buildings are metal where they meet,
  • it was daytime so someone noticed the fire early enough, and
  • John and an unknown man turned the hoses on the roof, after the dogs and I made it across the street ( ♥ ) 

The landlady was out of town(!) so her son and ex-husband came over.

Someone came in to help us turn the gas off. 

The shopkeeper two doors down watched our bags (with laptops, cameras, passports, a small amount of clothing - whatever was in arm's reach) while I took the dogs to the nearest park to get them away from the excitement and John hosed the roof and kept an eye on the house. 

Chris, from the Leprechaun photo, came over to act as translator/moral support until we knew everything was okay. 

Belén, our very vegan local friend we also met through the folks we're sitting for, called and asked if we needed any help as soon as she saw the smoke-filled photos I posted on Facebook. 

And no one next door was hurt. And they have family here.

Me and Belén: goofy tourist photo FAIL

So while it was a nerve-wracking and stressful several hours (with much lingering tension), we were lucky enough to be spared needing to find last-minute dog-friendly housing in a city we don't know, using a language we suck at. 

And fires seem darn good at bringing folks together.

But I can't even describe how it feels to see these poor people's house every time I go upstairs.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Soooo... hopefully my next blog post will be much less exciting, but I'm curious - which topics are you guys actually interested in hearing about? 

No sense in subjecting you all to a long treatise on local high-schooler fashion (though it might be fun for me to take photos of the kids) if you'd rather read about the local raw vegan food scene (also a subject I have access to), or any of the aforementioned subjects...

Let me know! Either comment or shoot me an email/Facebook message. Thanks ♥

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Hindu Wedding in Panamá

So it seems I have a few more things to touch on before I'll feel satisfied and can move on from Panamá. A fun one:

The reason we started our adventure in Panama City 

is because John's good friend from college, Gerald, and his fiancée, Piali, decided to have a destination wedding in Panama. Gerald's father was stationed at the Panama Canal back in the day, and Gerald's mom is Panamanian. I only first met G&P the day before they got engaged, but I was (am) lucky enough to be John's +1, so I got to enjoy the festivities too.

We stayed at the resort where the wedding was being held for three nights, as it was John's last chance to we hang out with his friends for who knows how long. A couple of them I knew (and loved) already but meeting and hanging out with more was great. I haven't been to too many weddings outside my family and was a little relieved to feel so welcomed by Gerald and Piali and the Madison Motorsports gang (the club that "the boys" were all part of/founded at JMU).

I'm having trouble not turning this into a novel with all the potential backstories!

The resort, Playa Bonita, was quite fancypants and our room had an exceptional view:

On the horizon you can just make out cargo ships waiting their turn to go through the Canal

Oh yes.

But the WEDDING, now that was cool. 

My sisters both had nontraditional weddings but this was my first time at a wedding that was solidly grounded in a different culture. Soooooooo interesting. I didn't take a picture of the program (stupid!) but it was an abridged Hindu wedding - apparently the traditional version lasts all day.

The officiator did a really good job of translating into English and explaining things, but in the end I think I'd have to read a 1000 page book to start to get a sense of what all the different parts signified, as an outsider to the culture. For example, Piali had to step on and break seven(?) "bowls." In her bare feet. Clearly these were special bowls. And there were a lot of water offerings for various things, which from my vantage point looked like dipping a flower in water and then flicking the flower to make the water come off. Don't see that very often in the part of the world I come from. Why a flower? Is the flower significant or is it just a pretty thing to dip in the water?

My favorite part was the water offering for universal peace. Universal peace! What a noble goal for a wedding ceremony! Suddenly it's not only about family and community coming together to support two people, it's about everyone and everything. How ridiculously cool is that? Why don't we have those?

Maybe some day I'll be lucky enough to get to see a full length wedding (after reading up on it!), but I have to say I was rather relieved I wasn't transformed into a freshly boiled lobster by a full day in the hot Panamanian sun.

And of course, in keeping with longstanding wedding tradition John and I were scrambling at the last second, and I forgot to bring a camera. Fortunately, John had his phone and we did get a few photos.

Piali's Mom placing a garland of flowers on Gerald 
Breaking the bowls?

I am grateful I had the opportunity to be there, and they're a good match (very lively, nice couple) so I wish them many many happy years together.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I might need to do one more Panamá post before I can dig in to Santiago, but that's a good thing because I haven't been here long enough to do anything worth talking about!

Until next time - ciao!