Posts Tagged ‘travel’

From the Gentle Wind

January 21, 2019

Hopefully the slideshow will come through the second time around?? -fg

I’ve been back from Maui for just over a week now, but I still think about the sound of the waves, the feel of warm sunshine on my skin, the palms swaying, and the freedom I felt while on vacation there.

Two more blogs about Maui coming your way soon, I hope!

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I put together the following Slideshow Video with my photos from Maui. It is only three minutes long.  The video is set to a song called Kolonahe, meaning From the Gentle Wind, by the artists Ku’i Lei Awapuhi (vocals) and Keola Beamer. Thanks to Kelley for introducing me to this song! The song carries the rhythm of the island and goes well with the photos. It’s very soothing. Turn up your speakers!

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‘Twas Twain’s Maui

January 12, 2019

I’m back from Maui and my heart is happy to have traveled there. It was relaxing to bask in the sunshine, enjoy the warmth of the island, and marvel at the lava-red sunsets. I still have a few Maui blog posts to write and will write them and line them up for the next couple of days so you can travel vicariously with me! img_7310‘Twas Mark Twain whose heart was captured by the great beauty of Maui way back in 1866. Mark Twain was Missouri’s famed son. He was a quick-witted American writer, journalist, humorist, entrepreneur, publisher, lecturer, silver miner, world traveler, popular public speaker, and keen observer of life.  One of the most influential American writers, he painted word-portraits of the world he lived in.  He was only 30 years old when he traveled to Maui, Oahu, and Hawai’i Island.  Clearly, he had a great time:

Twain hiked through Hawaii’s beauteous jungle. He surfed naked on a wooden surfboard. He rode horseback across the plains.

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When Twain visited Maui, the Hawaiian Islands were a full 93 years away from American statehood.  Hawai’i wasn’t even a US territory when Twain traveled there. It became US territory in 1898 and became the fiftieth state in 1959.  Back in 1866, the islands were known as the “Sandwich Islands”, so named in 1778 by Captain Cook after the man who sponsored Cook’s voyage, the Earl of Sandwich.

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Twain spent five weeks in Maui during an overall four-month visit on the Hawaiian Islands and for the rest of his life, he longed to return.   I had prepared the following excerpts before traveling to Maui, hoping to share them with my fellow traveling friends on the day we went to Haleakala Crater and National Park.  I thought the following Twain quotes would be inspirational because Twain climbed the same crater we were at and described it as the “sublimest spectacle” he had ever seen.  However, sharing what I had prepared was not to be while in Maui, so I am now sharing my selected excerpts from Mark Twain below, along with some of my photos.

On the trail: Haleakala Crater

Haleakala National Park: above the clouds at 10,023 ft (3055 m) above sea level.

“I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five. I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place goodbye so regretfully. I have not once thought of business, or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness, and the memory of it will remain with me always.”

“The native language is soft and liquid and flexible and in every way efficient and satisfactory–till you get mad; then there you are; there isn’t anything in it to swear with,” he wrote.

No alien land in all the world has any deep, strong charm for me but that one; no other land could so longingly and beseechingly haunt me, sleeping and waking, through half a lifetime, as that one has done. Other things leave me, but it abides; other things change, but it remains the same. For me its balmy airs are always blowing, its summer seas flashing in the sun; the pulsing of its surf-beat in my ear; I can see its garlanded crags, its leaping cascades, its plumy palms drowsing by the shore; its remote summits floating like islands above the cloud rack; I can feel the spirit of its wooded solitudes; I can hear the splash of its brooks; in my nostrils still lives the breath of flowers that perished twenty years ago.
– Samuel M. Clemens (Mark Twain), Paradise of the Pacific, April 1910

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This is the most magnificent, balmy atmosphere in the world–ought to take dead men out of grave. -quoted in Mark Twain in Hawaii

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Maui Magic

January 5, 2019

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On our first full day here, we went snorkeling at Maluaka. It had been years since I last snorkeled. And that was back in Thailand.  So, when I entered the warm waters of Maluaka on Wednesday here on Maui, it took me a little while to get used to having a mask on and breathing into the little snorkel tube that juts up above the water.  Kelley led the way to the coral reefs.  Rick took off in a completely different direction.  Jack, thankfully, stayed close by me, until he was certain I felt comfortable using my snorkel equipment.  I’d say it took me about ten minutes to feel like the sea was my home and that the tube wasn’t going to fill up with water and cut off my oxygen supply.  Once I was confident, I entered a sea world where flying and swimming merge, where schools of colorful fish swim by, and where enormous sea turtles swim gracefully.

My buddy and protector of the day, Jack McHenry. Jack is also one of my dedicated blog readers. Mahalo, Jack!

The water here is calm and clear, making it easy to observe marine life.  How I wished I had an underwater camera.  But I don’t, so my memory will have to hold the vivid colors of the tropical fish and my words will have to suffice to share what I saw during the hour and a half snorkel experience.

I saw Angelfish, butterfly fish, trumpet fish, yellow tang, sea urchins, wrasse, and reef triggerfish in these coral gardens.  The most exciting for me was to see the giant sea turtles swimming by or to see them burrowing or hovering on the sea floor. I also saw and learned the Hawaiian name for the Rectangular Triggerfish, which is Hawaii’s State fish:  humuhumukunukunuapua’a!

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a: Hawaii’s state fish

And a sad word on the coral reefs at Maluaka: they didn’t look good.  I look back on my Thai experience of snorkeling along the coral reefs there and clearly remember that the coral was vibrant and very healthy.  That was a long time ago. Perhaps it has changed there, too?  The coral reefs I saw on Wednesday in the protected marine area were clearly dying.  Much of the coral dying has to do with climate change as well as human use of chemical sunscreens.  People going into the water are encouraged to wear water-shirts or zinc or titanium sunblocks instead of chemical sunscreens. Even in small amounts, chemical sunscreens are highly toxic to coral and fish. How I wish there could be a world wide ban on chemical sunscreens!

And so you don’t leave my blog in a complete state of coral-despair, the next day, Thursday (yesterday), we went to Ahihi Nature Preserve for more snorkeling. This time I chose not to snorkel and instead did a solo walk on a lava trail so that I could focus on taking some photos with my Leica. Meanwhile, the others in my group went snorkeling and reported that the coral at Ahihi Nature Preserve looks much healthier than what I saw in Maluaka the previous day.

And here are a few photos from my lava trail solo time.

I have to include a foot-foto. Perhaps this type of photo proves I really walked this beach of black lava stones.  And you can be sure that I took my shoe off just for the photo and put it back on before walking on this rougher-than-pumice stone lava beach.

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Lava and Coral Collage with Shell Fossil in Lava Stone:

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Black lava in the foreground:img_7044

How in the heck did a caper plant and flower (photographed below) make it to Maui all the way from the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria?l1410143

Here in Maui, I see tropical plants, in their natural environment, growing to be at least ten times larger than when grown as indoor houseplants back home.

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Interesting how this photo of my lava cairn looks like a black and white photo when it is not.

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I will never understand why people feel the urge to carve their names into trees.  Aina, don’t you see?  You’ll be the death of this tree?

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Sunglasses, Sunhat, Frangipani (or Plumeria as it is called here in Hawaii):

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Slideshow from the Land of Fire and Ice

October 23, 2018

The following slideshow is of our recent yoga retreat in Iceland. It is a trip I hope to offer again and again.  The slideshow is set to the music of the Icelandic group Low Roar and the song playing is called Breathe In.  The words go well with the experience of being in the Land of Fire and Ice.  The melody seems to carry the mystery and stark beauty of the landscape.  Most of the photos in the slideshow are mine, but a few come from some of the other photographers in our group.  I believe all the photos capture the light that is unique to Iceland!  Being so far north, the sun’s rays hit at an angle, which, when captured by camera, makes every person holding a camera appear to be an extraordinary photographer.

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We did yoga every morning and every evening, though you will not find a single picture of our yoga sessions.  We immersed ourselves in our practice.  In our yoga sessions, we became warriors, molten lava, geothermal energy, and pure rays of northern light.

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It was a pleasure to see friendships deepen and new friendships forged.  As the week progressed, everyone in our group appeared to become more luminous. Was it the relaxing and cleansing aspect of the yoga practice?  Or was it the hot springs?  Or perhaps it was the hiking?  Could have been the pure spring-fed water we drank directly from the tap? It was probably a combination of all of these ideas and more.  All I know for sure is that the retreat was a great experience, one that I will never forget.

Turn up your speakers for this 6 minute slideshow of our retreat in Iceland:

Iceland: Yoga in the Land of Fire and Ice 2018 from Fran Gallo on Vimeo.

http://www.frangallo.com

 

Langjökull Glacier

October 16, 2018

Cold weather wears down batteries fast.  On the Langjökull Glacier, I was able to get one quick shot before my camera battery died. It is of Lisa and Rich walking in a near white out, walking to the edge of Iceland’s second largest glacier.

Einar guided us on our hour hike in the freezing temperatures. The snow and wind blotted out the place where you would normally see the edge of the glacier.  We followed the tracks of the snowmobiles and the occasional flag indicating the way towards the glacier.  The glacier visit was thrilling!

Actually, we were so bundled up that I don’t think anyone really felt cold. Under my layers, I was toasty warm.  Once we got back to the bus, I was able to get to my other camera and took a few more photos. The photos below are almost identical, but taken moments apart. You can see that the light changes constantly. One second it could be blizzard like conditions and the next moment, a blue sky peaks through the clouds.

Back at the cabins, we pet Orvar’s elderly dog, the sweet Dexter! After eating a late lunch, we soaked in the hot tubs and then did yoga.  I have not taken a single yoga photo, but Kevin got this shot of our yoga space.Kevin also took this shot of our cabins:

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I read the following poem (and a few others after yoga today). I am not sure of the Icelandic author’s name:

Storming Weather

Boisterous cold wind

Frozen sun fully exposed

Advancing snow storms

Summertime in the Midwest

August 13, 2018

It’s been a while since my last blog post! You may be wondering what happened. What happened is that I have a newly designed website and it took many intense hours to pull it together. I’m hoping this blog post will reach my subscribers. (I’m also hoping you will have a look at my website frangallo.com). I was disconnected from my subscribers for a month and so my wish is to be reconnected with all of you! We will soon find out if all is back to normal when I hit the heart-pumping PUBLISH button.

And I just got back from Indiana, where I was born and grew up. Going to Indiana is like going back to the cradle. My sisters, brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, and cousins welcome me back wholeheartedly. Every day with them feels like a celebration.

August in the Midwest seems like the worst time to have competed in a duathlon with my nephew, but there you have it. That’s exactly what I did in Chicago. We cooked up this plan last October and we followed through with it last Sunday! And I got to spend a few days with my nephew, his wife, and his adorable kids at their house.

Jake-the-Bombay-Kitten. Panther-like in so many ways, he playfully stalks the children around the house. I love this cat!

Prairie flowers welcome me at Chuck and Erin’s house!

Summertime in Chicago and NW Indiana is hot and humid. The day of our race was no exception. Having lived in Seattle for the last 27 years, I have lost my tolerance for the humidity of the Midwest.  Even so, taking part in the triathlon was a great experience. I was so thrilled and proud of myself to have done better than I expected. I had imagined the possibility of blacking out in the 96 degree heat, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I finished the race with some new wisdom: never ever doubt what you can do.  The triathlon started at 7am and I finished before 9am. The strong heat of the day had not yet begun. I loved riding and running with my nephew and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Nephew Chuck and me below. We are 14 years apart:

Sweaty and Over-Heated Champs!

After the triathlon, I headed to Valparaiso. There are many strip malls and mega-stores in NW Indiana, but there are also vast acres of cornfields. Valparaiso is a university town. It has a thriving downtown area with some handsome historical buildings, very nice restaurants, wine bars, breweries, and shops. Downtown has an outdoor public area for summer concerts and winter skating. As we drove along country roads in my sister’s convertible, our hair flying wildly in the hot summer wind, we passed old farm houses and new subdivisions, and thin stands of black oaks. Weeping willows dot the landscape and drape across lush green lawns. I notice the lawns are perfect and I think perhaps the lowly dandelion has been eradicated in this part of the world.

I sat in my sister’s screened-in porch late at night and watched the fireflies light up the night sky. Lightning bugs is what I called them growing up. I have always loved them. Late into the night, we talked. It seems there is no end to our family stories, our memories of mom, dad, and Jeanie. Every year adds to the volumes of memories lived and cherished. Together, we pulled up the old Sicilian words and expressions mom and dad used to say. Together, we remembered them. “Cuatolati! Bundle up!”, mom would say to us in the winter as we got ready to confront a blast of cold arctic air.

It is soothing and healing to be with my sisters who have known me since the day I was born and who have always loved me. “I am so lucky” I kept thinking to myself as I sat with my sisters, feeling their love, watching the pink sunsets, listening to the cicadas and crickets singing deeply into the night.

Nora and John’s screened in porch.

Indiana! There are the dunes of Lake Michigan, the bursts of summer rain showers, the lightning and thunder loud enough to shake the house and wake me up from a deep sleep! Cardinals, finches, and swallowtail butterflies flit across my field of vision. Conservative folk, friendly folk, church-going folk, working-class folk, next-door neighbors with a ferocious fenced-in barking dog and plastic flamingos that light up at night, the fabric of this tapestry is colorful. This is the Indiana I know and admire. It has not changed very much since I lived here so long ago. I have changed, but I am still warmly welcomed.

Black-Eyed Susans, Rose of Sharon, hibiscus larger than my head, yellow prairie flowers, and sunflowers dazzle the eye. The farmers’ market is filled with the sweetest watermelon and gorgeous squash. The watermelon makes me think of my mother, who craved it when she was pregnant with me. The squash reminds me of my father, who grew so many in his garden that he had to give most of them away to his lucky neighbors.

I was tightly embraced in Indiana’s arms. The summer heat melted away months of tension in my body. Together with my family, I ate, I drank, I laughed. We reminisced and the memories we drew upon quenched my thirst. We enjoyed each others’ company. And then, I came back to my other home, my home of 27 years, Seattle.

Valparaiso murals. The postman in this mural is my sister’s postman!

Nora’s table laden with desserts, ready for our cousins to come over for a visit.

Sicily in Film

May 5, 2018

I love Italian films and attend Seattle’s Cinema Italian Style fiIm festival every November.  My only regret with the Seattle’s film festival is that I have to teach during the week and I miss out on viewing many of the festival’s featured films. And I can’t stay up late at night to attend the film festival because I have to be up at the crack of dawn during my work week.

I seek out films that were shot in Sicily.  I made a list of films I have watched which were set in Sicily for this blog post. And before writing this blog, I checked on line to make sure I wasn’t leaving any films out and I now feel overwhelmed with the number of films that have been filmed in Sicily which I have not yet seen.

Yesterday’s blog post was about Sicily in Literature.  Some of the movies mentioned below are based on novels written by prominent Sicilian writers such as Leonardo Sciasica, Luigi Capuana, Federico De Roberto, Ercole Patti, Elio Vittorini, Vitaliano Brancati, Gesualdo Bufalino and Luigi Pirandello.

In this blog post, I will include films I have watched and would recommend.   Please note that this list is NOT a complete list of movies filmed in Italy.  The blog post would be too long to include them all! Also, note that I am not a professional film reviewer.  I just know what I like and would like to share this list with you.  Perhaps you, my readers, have watched these films or would like to watch them.  Many are available on Netflix and others are available at the public library.  Sometimes the films are found with their English titles, sometimes with the original Italian titles.

Angela

This film was directed by Roberta Torre and is set in Palermo. Donatella Finocchiaro plays Angela, a woman trapped in the Mafia lifestyle.  It is based on a true story.  For more info: link  

Baaria

Directed by Tornatore.  The film had a lot going on, sort of chaotic, reminded me of a Fellini film. Shot in Bagheria and Tunisia. I found it hard to follow.  I mention it here because so many people really liked it.

Caro Diario (Dear Diary)
1994 Directed by and starring Nanni Moretti.
This semi-autobiographical film, for which Nanni won Best Director at Cannes, reads like a diary and is divided into 3 episodes. Link

Cinema Paradiso
This is a great film! Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1989 Academy-Award-winning film is a romantic look at growing up in a remote village. The filmmaker returns to his Sicilian hometown, Bagheria, for the first time in 30 years and looks back on his life. This film has become an Italian classic. The director, Tornatore, was born in Palermo.

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Diario di Una Siciliana Ribelle (first film, a documentary, I did not see)

The Sicilian Girl (Second film is based on the above documentary. I watched this and it is really good. Based on the true story of Rita Atria, who went from devoted daughter to mafia informer.)

1997 Marco Amenta.
The first film is is a documentary of Rita Atria, a 17 year-old daughter of a mafia don who gives her diaries to the authorities to avenge her father’s death. Her evidence and work with Borselino and Falcone proved extremely valuable in the exposure and convictions of many important gangsters. Bravely told, director Amenta was so captivated by Rita’s story that he made a second film, The Sicilian Girl (2008) to explore Rita Atria’s psychological and emotional journey. The rest is history. Filmed around Palermo.

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Divorzio all’Italiana (Divorce, Italian Style)
Pietor Germi’s 1961 comedy had Marcelo Mastroianni as a Sicilian aristocrat seeking a divorce when divorce in Italy was not legal.  Filmed in Catania, Ispica and Ragusa Ibla.

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film version of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel.  Set in revolutionary Sicily in the mid-1800s, the film stars Burt Lancaster as a Sicilian prince who seeks to preserve his family’s aristocratic way of life in the face of Italy’s unification by Garibaldi.  Filmed in Palermo, Mondello and Ciminna.  The costumes are incredible and it is said that a fortune was spent on making this film. The cast also features Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli.

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Il Postino 

Michael Radford’s ultra lovely romance set in a small Italian town during the 1950s where exiled Chilean poet Pablo Nerudo has taken refuge. A shy mailman befriends the poet and uses his words to help him woo a woman with whom he has fallen in love. Filmed in Procida (Bay of Naples) and the Aeolian Island of Salina. Some scenes were also filmed in Pantelleria. The main actor, the painfully shy postman played by Massimo Troisi, was having heart issues at the time of filming so they moved the filming to Procida to be near hospitals. Sadly, he died before the end of the film, but enough scenes had been filmed in order to finish the film.

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Johnny Stecchino

(Comedy, translates to Johnny Toothpick) 1991 comedy directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. Stecchino (Mr. Toothpick) is a hapless bus driver who is believed to be a snitch for the mob. Filmed in Bagheria and Capo Mulino.

Kaos (Chaos)
Directed by the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani and released in 1984, Kaos tells four stark powerful tales of old time Sicilian life based on stories by Luigi Pirandello. Filmed with haunting and mesmerizing music around Pirandello’s hometown of Agrigento. On Netflix under “Kaos” the Greek word for Chaos.

L’Uomo Delle Stelle (The Star Maker)
1995, Giuseppe Tornatore
This film, from “Cinema Paradiso” director Giuseppe Tornatore, is about a con man from Rome who, posing as a Hollywood talent scout in post-war Sicily, travels with a movie camera to impoverished villages, promising stardom – for a fee – to gullible townspeople.

To follow the locations of L’uomo Delle Stelle (The Star Maker) you need to move from one end of Sicily to the other. One can recognize: Monterosso Almo, an old village in the heart of the Iblei Mountains, and Ragusa Ibla, the old Benedictine convent just outside Gangi, in the Madonie Mountains, and the little fishing village, Marzamemi; the rural area of Casalgiordano, also in the Madonie, near the Petralies; the Gurfa Caves, a rock settlement in the territory of Alia (Palermo province), the Morgantina archaeological area and the ruins of the village of Poggioreale, destroyed by the 1968 earthquake and today used as a setting for a lot of films. The locations included in this movie inspired Theresa Maggio’s book The Stone Boudoir.

La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles) (very old film, depressing, but a classic)

Luchino Visconti’s 1948 adaptation of Verga’s I Malavoglia, the devastating story of a fisherman’s failed dream of independence. Originally a failure at the box office, the film has emerged as a classic of the neo-realistic movement.  Filmed in Aci Trezza. (on Netflix under the Italian title)

Mafioso, 1962 Mafioso is a 1962 Italian mob black comedy film directed by Alberto Lattuada.

Malena
2001 Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Set during WWII and filmed in Messina, this is the story of the life of beautiful Malena, her husband’s absence, a boy’s obsession, and angry townspeople. Shot in Siracusa.

Mid-August Lunch

2008 Filmed in Rome and not in Sicily, this film shows the influence Italian mothers have over their grown sons. Gianni di Gregorio writes, directs, and acts in this film! Humorous.

Nuovomondo (The Golden Door)
2006 Directed by Emanuele Crialese
It is the turn of the century and these poor illiterate farmers want to emigrate to the land of opportunity, America. This is their story, the story of old customs, courage, fears and the importance of the homeland.

Respiro
2002 Directed by Emanuele Crialese
A story of family, mental illness, and misunderstanding. Filmed on the island of Lampedusa.

 

Rocco & His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli)

A 1960 Italian film directed by Luchino Visconti, inspired by an episode from the novel Il ponte della Ghisolfa by Giovanni Testori. Set in Milan, it tells the story of an immigrant family from Sicily and its disintegration in the society of the industrial North. The title is a combination of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers and the name of Rocco Scotellaro, an Italian poet who described the feelings of the peasants of southern Italy. The film stars Alain, Delon and Claudia Cardinale, in one of her early roles before she became internationally known.

 

Salvatore Giuliano

1961 Directed by Francesco Rosi
While exploring the Sicilian world where politics and crime exist in a turbulent marriage, Rosi sets this film in the 1950’s western Sicily. The city of Castelvetrano, the piazzas of Montelepre, the mountains, and the small villages are scenes of the life of the Sicilian Robin Hood, Salvatore Giuliano, one of Italy’s most beloved criminals. This dark Neo-Realist film tells the story of how his passion for an independent Sicily brought him to be murdered at the age of 27. The story is so captivating that Mario Puzo wrote The Sicilian a dramatized version of the story in 1984. It was subsequently made into a film in 1987. An opera entitled Salvatore Giuliano by Lorenzo Ferrero premiered in Rome in 1986

Sedotta e Abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned)

1964 Directed by Pietro Germi
With Lando Buzzanca and Stefania Sandrelli
A masterpiece of a comedy narrating the grotesque story of a beautiful girl that is, as the title says, seduced and abandoned. Set in Sciacca, this satire on Sicilian society, focuses on the importance of saving honor.

Stromboli, Terra di Dio (a classic)

1950 Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Roberto Rossellini filmed this classic on the Aeolian Islands in 1949. Stromboli, Terra di Dio marked the beginning of Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman’s highly publicized affair.

Terraferma, directed by Crialese Drama

A Sicilian family deals with the arrival of a group of African immigrants /refugees on their island. Based on a true story and the African woman in the movie played herself and is the very person this story happened to! Very interesting and very much a current issue in Sicily since Sicily is  so close to Africa.

The Italian Americans  (I have not watched this yet)
2014, John Maggio Productions
The Italian Americans is John Maggio’s film about the Italian immigration experience. This four part documentary is intelligently done and while exploring how they evolved, helps to dispel many misunderstandings about Italians. It can be seen on  PBS video, purchased, or rented through Amazon. (the whole series is on Netflix…on my DVD queue…have not watched it yet)

Italian TV SERIES available at the library: Inspector Montalbano (Il Commissario Montalbano) 1999, based on the detective novels of Andrea Camilleri. Very popular in Sicily. Filmed in Ragusa. Try to watch at least one of the episodes and meet the cunning Inspector Montalbano, the famous commissioner with his Sicilian riddles.

January 23, 2018

A Palace, a Temple, A Garden, and An Island on Lake Pichola were all part of yesterday’s highlight visits in Udaipur.  The air here is clean. I keep mentioning that because the air was not clean in Delhi.  Never take your clean air for granted. The mornings are crisp. The daytime temperatures warm and comfortable. The dry heat of Rajasthan and the way the sun feels here is very pleasant.  This morning sky is pink and Kelley is already out birding.

This post comes out as we get ready to leave Udaipur.  We experienced many beautiful places in Udaipur so hoping the photos below and short commentary will help you, my readers, to travel with us vicariously.

We spent much of the morning at the opulent Udaipur Palace. It is the largest palace in all of India. It was only when we were out on the boat on Lake Pichola at sunset, that I saw the immensity of the palace.  From a distance, we got perspective. The palace looks like a city within a city.  It is gorgeous.  At one point, while out in the vast courtyard, a golf cart came whizzing by and our guide said, “Look, there is the princess!” I looked and saw a little girl, about 7 years old, looking like any other little child that age, being carted to an area of the palace on the electric golf cart.  She was the youngest member of the family who still lives here in one section of the palace.

Our group!  I asked them to act a little wild:

IMG_3092The Palace of Udaipur (largest palace in India!):

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ceiling art:

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Room of mirrors:

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Pink Glass looks out over the court:

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A visit to the ancient Shri Jagadish Temple (built in 1651).  Beautiful ornate columns throughout the temple:

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Kathy and Lisa taking the three wheeler over to the Garden of the Maidens.

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Below is a photo of Sahelion-ki-bari, “the garden of maidens”.  This garden was built by Rana Sangram Singh for his wife the queen, her 48 attendants (which were part of her dowry) , and her royal female friends. The garden is walled in and a green refuge filled with pools, gardens, marble pavilions, lotus ponds, sculpted marble elephants, and fountains. 

As per the legends, the garden was designed by the king himself, built from 1710 to 1734, and he presented this garden to his queen. Actually, the Queen was accompanied by 48 maids in her marriage. To offer all of them pleasurable moments away from the political intrigues of the court, this garden was made. This patterned garden used to be the popular relaxing spot of the royal ladies. The queen with her maids and female companions used to come here for a stroll and spend their time in leisure.

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Waiting for the late afternoon ferry to take us to the island in the middle of Lake Pichola.  These two young Sikh men are checking their iPhones before boarding.  Not sure if you can see their traditional shoes.   IMG_3165
Neelesh, our wonderful guide:
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The most amazing facts I learned about the island on Lake Pichola:
  • The island was built first and then the man-made Lake Pichola was filled in.
  • Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal as a tribute of love for his wife, sought refuge here. He hid here for a while in order to save his life from his blood-thirsty and warring family members.
  • While hiding out on this island, he fell in love with the unique Indo-Islamic architecture found on this island. It was from this island that he drew his inspiration for the architectural design used for the Taj Mahal!

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A couple were there celebrating their first wedding anniversary.  I photographed her henna hands:

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Another view looking towards the palace from the island:

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And a note on yoga!  Yoga every day has been so inspirational: this environment, this group, the sunrises, the brisk mornings all add to the power of our daily yoga practice.  The yoga practice grounds us and keeps us healthy and present.

 

Spicin’ It in Kerala

January 16, 2018

Written yesterday:

Yesterday we went to the Spice Plantation. Our guide was so informative. We walked around and he showed us the various spice plants. He taught us remedies and recipes to make the most of the spice’s healing properties. He also identified birds, which were flying overhead, hanging out in the trees, and singing boisterously. At one point, an elephant strolled by. The elephant was a working elephant and was giving tourists a ride. Our guide explained that Kerala elephants have working rights. Only female elephants (male elephants go into musk and can be dangerous and aggressive) can be employed for tourism and their work hours are limited. In the past, the elephants were used for logging. Today no hard labor is allowed at all.

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Below is what our knowledgeable guide taught us during the spice plantation tour:

PEPPER grows on a vine and is native to Kerala. The vine can grow up any tree. The tiny clusters of pepper corns are green. I learned that red, black, white, and green pepper corns are all from the same vine. If you leave them on the vine long enough, they turn red and various shades. White pepper has the skin removed and tastes very mild. Most of the spiciness of the pepper corn is in the skin.

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One of the most interesting aspects of the pepper plant is that the pollinating agent is rain drops! Vasco da Gama brought the pepper plant back to Portugal with him and became a rich man! In his day, pepper was knows as Black Gold!

Cold and Sore Throat Remedy: Place 5-6 pepper corns, dry ginger, and basil leaves in a pot of water. Boil. Strain and add powdered coffee.

GINGER is related to cardamom and turmeric. All three are indigenous to Kerala. The Spice Plantation can easily be organic because, in general, insects do not eat spice plants. The only problem the plantation experiences is with the monkeys. Monkeys like to eat cardamom because it is sweet. They do not eat ginger or turmeric.

NUTMEG grows up high on trees. However, there is no need to climb trees to get the nuts because when they are mature, the nuts fall to the ground. The skin of the nut is red, is called mace, and is used in cooking in India. Nutmeg is the actual nut free of the red skin (mace). Many parts of the nut and tree are used. The shell of the nutmeg is pickled and the leaf is boiled in water and is used to reduce cholesterol.

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In order to grow nutmeg, both male and female plants are needed. Males can live within 3 miles of the female tree and pollination still occurs! The pollinating agent is wind.

Sleeping Remedy: 1 or 2 pinches nutmeg powder with milk. You are advised not to drink this more than 2x per week because too much nutmeg hurts memory power.

Reduce Cholesterol: Boil the leaf of nutmeg in water and drink as a tea. The leaf does not affect memory so you can drink as much of this tea as you like.

CLOVES grow on a tree. Our guide warned us that when you buy cloves, they should be brown and not black. Black indicates that they are dried out and have lost their oils. Clove should be oily. Clove is good for toothaches, but can damage enamel. Clove helps rid the smell of mildew. It has a shelf life of 6-7 years if stored properly. Clove powder only has a shelf life of 6 months.

Protect yourself from mosquitoes: Stick three cloves into a lemon or lime sliced in two and place as many of these clove studded lemons in your room or near your body to chase away mosquitoes.

CINNAMON tree has to be 15 years old before its bark can be peeled. After peeling the bark, it takes the cinnamon tree six months for its bark to grow back. The dried leaves of the cinnamon tree are used in biryani rice.

And yes, the tree smells like cinnamon!

cinnamon tree and bark:

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Cinnamon helps reduce high blood pressure and, when used in the winter, it helps keep you warm.

Below is a recipe/ way to use cinnamon to reduce fat. More than once, we asked our guide to repeat the recipe below…just to make sure we got it right.

Reduce Fat: Add half teaspoon cinnamon and half teaspoon ginger powder to one tablespoon of honey. That’s it. Don’t dilute it. Eat this every morning before breakfast for one month and, according to our spice specialist guide, you will see results in one month.

TURMERIC We also saw turmeric bulbs. The guide called them bulbs, but they looked like tubers to me. It is great for killing bacteria, for memory power, and in Ayurveda medicine, it is used medicinally to treat skin cancer.

Turmeric powder mixed with sandalwood and water, made into a paste and applied to the face is great for skin brightening and evening out irregular skin pigmentation and spots. This mixture also helps clear pimples and blackheads. In both cases, apply it as a facial masque, let it dry, the wash it off.

Fresh turmeric is used medicinally and dried is used as a food and spice. We learned that ginger is the complete opposite Fresh ginger is used for food and spice while dried ginger is used medicinally.

Seeing our great interest in weight loss remedies, our guide gave us the following additional ideas:

  • one or two pieces of 70% dark chocolate eaten daily every morning will help you lose weight ( of course we saw the cacao plant on the plantation).
  • Take a cup of warm water and add black pepper powder plus a few drops of lime or lemon juice. This is great for burning fat.
  • Take 2 or 3 tablespoons of cumin seeds and soak overnight. In the morning, discard the water and eat the soaked seeds. Do this daily for 20 days and you will see results.

We also saw allspice ( it comes from a leaf of the allspice tree), henna leaves used for hand design patterns here in India and hair color. Henna is always red in color though the leaves are green. We saw Indian borage, coffee plants, papaya (great for digestion) and banana trees, pineapple plants and jackfruit trees with their enormous fruit.

The list goes on and on. The variety of spice and fruit grown on the plantation was overwhelming.

The most expensive spice in the world is SAFFRON.

Number Two is VANILLA, the fragrant flower of a vine. Vanilla is native to Madagascar and grows beautifully in Kerala. Its pollinator is the hummingbird.

The world’s third most expensive spice is Kerala’s indigenous CARDAMOM. It needs high altitude and is pollinated by bees. Cardamom is used medicinally for diabetes and it reduces high blood pressure and lowers cholesterol.

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FRAN GALLO | YOGA INSTRUCTOR
SEATTLE | OCEAN SHORES
http://www.frangallo.com

Inside a Hindu Temple

January 11, 2018

Between yesterday and today, we visited three Hindu temples. We are lucky enough to have two excellent guides, Arvind and Raja, to usher us into the temples, to lead us up to the Brahman priests who bless us and mark our foreheads with white ash or mark our brow center with yellow or red powder. Raja teaches us to offer the Brahman priests money with our right hands, to circumambulate the temples in the direction of a clock.  Raja leads us in mantra and meditation and he interprets the many symbols chiseled into a sculpture.  When we stand before a sculpture of a deity, he guides our hands to touch the exquisite and ancient work of art. Together Arvind and Raja tell us stories of Hanuman, Shiva, Shakti, Garudha, Brahman, Nandi, and Vishnu.

Arvind and Raja are windows to this intricate spiritual world we have entered.  They gently guide us into a realm that is so different from anything else we have ever experienced.  Meanwhile, flocks of people are all around us.  They are praying, laughing, meditating, hoping, sitting in circles, standing, walking.  Some are sharing a meal, using banana leaves as plates placed on the stone of the temple floors.  The Indian temple is simultaneously overwhelming, fascinating, mysterious, festive, colorful, frenzied, chaotic, noisy, and calming.  It is a spiritual and cultural hub.  It is the heartbeat and fire of the Hindu spirit.

Inside the temple I hear bells ringing and clanging, people praying and chanting and talking.  And everywhere, friendly people in colorful clothing want to shake our hands and take photos with us.  They want to know where we are from, how long we are staying, what site and which temples we are visiting.  The women, the men, the children are charming, playful, cheerful, and so beautiful.

To enter a Hindu temple, you must remove your shoes.  Arvind paid someone to guard our shoes.  Can you imagine being a guardian of shoes?  It’s a very serious job.  There are thousands of shoes and the person must make sure the shoes get returned to the correct person.  Two years ago, Arvind lost his shoes in the mountain of shoes.  Needless to say, it was a very unpleasant experience. This time around, our shoe guardian was just outside of the temple and her shoe-load was small and manageable.

Last night we went to the Bull Temple in Tamil Nadu.  It is a temple dedicated to Shiva.  It is enormous and very beautiful, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Our very lively, funny, engaging, and toothy guide Raja took us around the temple at dusk.  He had us chanting and took us into the heart and soul of the Bull Temple.  It sprinkled lightly all day so we were walking in our bare feet through puddles and over ancient stones.  After a while, you just have to let go of thinking about your feet being wet and dirty.  After all, I kept reminding myself, feet can always be washed thoroughly and scrubbed with the help of a pumice stone back at the hotel.

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Today we climbed the 454 steps to the top of the Uchi Pillayar Rockfort Temple. When we climbed the steps to this temple two years ago, we were in the thick of a heat wave and the stone steps were like hot coals under our feet.  But today, we had wet stones from last night’s rain.  One of the most touching scenes were the many people lined up along the sides of the steps, sitting, waiting.  They were lean and looked poorly.  I did not photograph them.  The time was about 11:40am and Arvind explained that they were waiting for 12:30pm to come around because, at that time, a free meal is served daily at the temple. Temples serve free meals daily to the poor.

The climb to the Rock Temple was not difficult because the temperature was comfortable and not too hot.  We had some nice views from the top.

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I took the most photos at our second temple visit today: Ranganathaswamy Temple in Srirangam.  How can I explain the experience?  It had just finished raining, so we walked barefoot over wet stones again.  We were surrounded by devotees, fervent in faith and prayer, walking among the statues of the deities.  Hands in prayer, eyes closed, they prayed and left offerings of flowers and garlands.  Inside the temple there are statues and paintings, sculptures and altars, incense burning, lit candles, and paintings depicting stories of love, justice, compassion, honor, and miracles of life.

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Umbrella Man:

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Holy Cow!

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And now I am writing from our very comfortable 5-Star historical hotel in Madurai. When we got here, I wanted to open the doors looking out over a vast balcony, but I was afraid of letting the mosquitoes in.  It’s been raining and so the dread mosquitoes are around.  I have worked myself into a tizzy over their presence.  Mosquito repellent is my best friend.  On the bright side of things, if I turn up the air conditioning and have the fans going (yes, both fans and AC), the mosquitoes don’t stand a chance and become inactive!

And there are wild peacocks and peahens everywhere on the hotel property, which sits up on hill overlooking a colorful town below.  One peacock perched on our balcony and I got this shot from inside the room:

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