Posts Tagged ‘travel’

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

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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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Chiseled Town

January 10, 2018

We have been in Mamallapuram, also known as Mahaballipuram, for the past two heavenly days. With much reluctance we have to move on today. This going to another city brings a slight amount of dread (why must we leave the comfortable known, this elegant seaside hotel, the gentle breeze, the happy flocks of friendly South Indians?). However, moving on also invites an element of excitement because the India experience is one grand surprise after another. Just when we think nothing can surpass a given meal or a given temple or a given historical site, we are served up another unimaginable delight!

By Indian standards Mahaballipuram is a small town with a population of 8000 people. Back in 2001, my first visit here, the town was a quiet gem and, as I walked around, all I could hear was the consistent pleasant clink-clink-clink of stone masons and sculptors chiseling and chipping away at slabs of local granite. The sculptors’s hut-studios lined the streets and the artists magically rendered rock into statues of Ganesha and Shiva. Clearly, it seemed the chiseling artist’s job is to release the trapped bulls, monkeys, tortoises, and deities from the stones.

Today the town is bustling with masses of pilgrims visiting the temples and other holy sites of this town, but it is still charming as ever. Below are photos and descriptions of this wonderful town with its UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Monolithic Stone Temples carved from the existing granite. These 1,400 year old stone-sculpted temples are on the shore and vulnerable to tsunamis and rising sea levels.

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The temple is surrounded by many bulls. The sculpted bulls were all found in the sea and you can see how eroded they are. The details of the faces are missing in these bulls. No one knows how old they are ( they pre-date this 1,400 year-old temple), exactly how many temples have been washed out or taken over by the sea, or what other treasures remain buried at sea.

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Our lively guide for the day, Stalin. Presumably, his parents were communists and gave him this name.

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Arjuna’s Penance below. Here, my fellow Catholic- raised readers, penance refers to “meditation”, a profound meditation Arjuna took on to seek wisdom and answers to difficult questions ( perhaps I can write more in this later). This incredible bas relief is carved into the immense live stone wall.

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Beautiful little girl

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My yoga Challenge continues I’m on day 46! Only 10 more days to go.

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And, always a delight to lead my fellow yogis in yoga practice  yesterday, we had “International Yoga Day”. The lifeguard joined us, as did a French woman and a very lovely Irani-British woman.

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Krishna’s Butterball. Krishna loves butter so this extraordinary rock, sitting seemingly precariously on the side of a steep hill, is named with Krishna in mind. Scientists cannot explain how the boulder got there.

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Local Bus To Sayulita

December 23, 2017

I exit the Sayulita airport. “Taxi? Muy barado!” I speedwalk past the taxi drivers excitedly touting their cheap taxi services. I have one mission in mind: to walk across the pedestrian overland bridge to catch the local bus.

It is already dark out. The air is warm and heavy with humidity. My hair instantly doubles in volume. The palm trees are more lush than ever. It is rush hour, it’s Friday, and Feliz Navidad is only a few days away.  There is no specific bus schedule. The bus will arrive when it arrives. I need agua so I find a roadside shop selling bottled water. Outside the shop I see a handwritten sign that says, “Relax! You are now on the other side of Trump’s Wall.”  My tense muscles relax and go into vacation mode.

Manana-land, here I am.

And the bus, a worn-but-clean Mercedes bus, arrives. It is overflowing with humanity. I squeeze in with my luggage. There is a festive atmosphere on the bus. Everyone is either wrapping up a long workweek, a long work day, or done with their Christmas shopping.

A kind elderly man taps my arm and offers me his seat. I decline his generosity. After all, he may have worked all day while I sat in flight. He seems embarrassed because I don’t accept his kindness.

The driver is loudly jamming some American tunes, mostly rock. I hang tight as Santana, Rolling Stones, R.E.M., Bowie, Credence Clearwater, and Pink Floyd help me ease on to the other side of the wall. My confused body slowly adjusts from Seattle’s 34 F degrees this morning to Sayulita’s 80F temperature this evening.

The seats are filled with workers, families and people trying to get home or going out for the  evening. A pregnant woman, who looks as if she just might have her baby now, rubs her belly and closes her eyes, the bus her lullaby. Three young beautiful women sport dazzling tight dresses, one in pink, the other in red, and the last of the trio in teal. Another young woman wears a t-shirt that says in English, “One world, my world, your world, our world.”

Some faces on the bus are illuminated by the odd glow of the ubiquitous iPhones.

As we leave the madness of the city and continue North to Sayulita, a seat opens up for me. I sit, cramming my luggage between my knees. A fan cools my face.  People continue to squeeze into the bus. Grocery bags filled with food, Christmas gifts, boxes, and enormous plastic bags filled with who-knows-what accompany them.

Eventually the bus arrives in Sayulita.

Here I am

without my lap top!

Yes, somehow I forgot to pack it!

Blogging for the first time on my iPhone,

no quick tap tap tap of the fingers.

Time to relax.

Feliz Navidad from Sayulita!

 

 

Enticement

May 29, 2017

Japan Autumn Tour with Daily Hatha Yoga

OCTOBER 29-NOVEMBER 12, 2017

I recently made a slide show for the  Japan trip coming up Autumn 2017 and found myself marveling at the various photos depicting a place and a people very dear to my heart.   Below are a few of my Japan photos I choose to share today with a description of why these, in my mind, are such enticing photographs.

Registration is now open for the Japan Autumn Tour with Daily Hatha Yoga.  Please check out my website and join me if you can!  Meanwhile, enjoy the photos:

Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island.  We visited this peaceful healing place after a day in Hiroshima. We felt heavyhearted as we left the historical horrors of Hiroshima and, by contrast, coming to this place was like listening to soothing music.  The island is considered sacred to the Japanese.  Docile deer roam the island and add to the gentle island atmosphere.  Deep red shrines punctuate this precious island, which seems to embrace its visitors. The green of the forests makes for relaxing sleep, something everyone needs when traveling.

The main shrine on Miyajima Island.

The main shrine on Miyajima Island is photogenic at all times of the day.  Here it was sunset and the tide was out.  The Japanese have a strong esthetic sensibility.   Japan is a photographer’s paradise.

And yet another from Miyajima.  I guess you'd think this was my favorite spot.  There were many favorite days, places, and activities.  It's just that Miyajima possessed a certain varying enticing light at all times of the day, making it a very photogenic place.

And yet another photo of Miyajima. I guess you’d think this was my favorite spot. There were many favorite days, places, and activities throughout the trip. It’s just that Miyajima possessed a certain varying enticing light at all times of the day, making it a very photogenic place.

This musician played the koto for us in Kyoto.  The music is so ethereal.  She was so lovely, too, and so accomplished.  Her English was nearly perfect. Plus she did yoga three times a week!  She blushed when she told me about being a yoga practitioner!

This musician played the koto for us in Kyoto. The koto music is so ethereal. She was so lovely, too, and so accomplished. I love her kimono.  Her English was nearly perfect. Plus, I found out she did yoga three times a week! She blushed when she told me about being a yoga practitioner!

Mossed over lanterns at a shrine in Nara.  The shrine was full of these ancient lanterns.  Once a year, these lanterns are all lit up. It was delightful enough for me to see the lanterns within the wooded shrine. I walked the ancient path and felt as if they were already illuminated.

Mossed-over lanterns at a shrine in Nara:  The shrine was full of these ancient lanterns. Once a year, the lanterns are all lit. It was delightful enough for me to see the lanterns within the wooded shrine. I walked the ancient path at dusk and felt as if they were already illuminated.

Land of tenderly tended gardens.  As soon as you walk in a Japanese garden, you lose yourself to the paths, the carefully placed and pruned trees, the ponds and reflections. The scent of earth and pine envelope you and let you know you are imperfectly perfect just as you are.

Land of tenderly tended gardens:  As soon as you walk in a Japanese garden, you lose yourself to the paths, the carefully placed and pruned trees, the stones,  the ponds and reflections. The scent of earth and pine envelope you.  The gardens let you know you are perfectly imperfect just as you are and that life is ephemeral.

What's in a cup of tea ceremony's green tea?  Thousands of years of culture, sensitivity, the art of hospitality, kindness, beauty, and serenity.  From the sound of water slowly being poured and the swoosh of the whisk bringing the tea to a froth, to holding the ancient cup made by a master potter, my hands warm to the cup and my heart warms to the soul of Japan.

What’s in a cup of tea ceremony’s green tea? Thousands of years of culture, sensitivity, the art of hospitality, kindness, beauty, and serenity.  From the sound of water slowly being poured and the swoosh of the whisk bringing the tea to a froth, to holding the ancient cup made by a master potter, my hands warm to the cup and my heart warms to the soul of Japan.

Koi and reflection of leaves on the water.  How lovely the Koi of Japan.  Embracing longevity and smooth transitions in life, the koi swims silently across the water. Time stops still for a moment.

Koi and reflection of leaves on the water. How lovely the koi of Japan. Embracing longevity and smooth transitions in life, the koi swims silently in the water. Time stops still for a moment.

Rooftops are so pretty that they don't look real.

Rooftops are so pretty that they don’t look real.  Waves and waves of tiled roofs give shelter to a culture steeped in history.

A tea house reflected in the water.  What I love about this tea house are the two people enjoying their tea.

A tea house reflected in the water. What I love about this tea house are the two people enjoying their tea!  I’d love to know what they are discussing.  How did they plan this day? “Let’s wear our kimonos tomorrow and go have tea at the tea house!”  Did they know they would be reflected in the water, photographed by this American woman, their collective dreamy image brought back home with me so I can forever dream their dream?

These little dippers at every shrine seem to purify my heart as well as my thoughts.  I enter the shrines clear of worldly concerns.

These little dippers at every shrine seem to purify my heart as well as my thoughts. I enter the shrines clean of worldly concerns.

Transformed!  Every group has an energy, a way of clicking together, a way of forming a family-like bond, if only for the precious time together, sometimes some the bonds formed go beyond the time the group is together.

Transformed! Every group has an energy, a way of clicking together, a way of forming a family-like bond, if only for the precious time together, sometimes some of the bonds formed go beyond the time the group is together.  I look at this photo and my heart leaps with joy.  Such a fine group of people!  We all experienced the Japan journey together last year. 

Chiaki, our guide, is certainly a great part of this experience.  The reason why I am so late in getting the word out about the trip is because I was waiting to be sure SHE would be our guide.  I would not want to do the trip without her.  She is simply amazing.  Her English is excellent, her love of her country, her work, and people she works with is evident, and her knowledge of history is profound.  She is entertaining and she is REAL.  She is honest and hardworking.  I cannot sing her praises enough.  Suffice to say, those going on this trip are LUCKY.  Chiaki holds us all and guides us to all fall in love with Japan and with her.

Chiaki, our guide, is certainly a great part of this experience. The reason why I am so late in getting the word out about the trip is because I was waiting to be sure SHE would be our guide. I would not want to do the trip without her. She is simply amazing. Her English is excellent, her love of her country, her work, and the people she works with (us!) is evident, and her knowledge of history is profound. She is entertaining and she is REAL. She is honest and hardworking. I cannot sing her praises enough. Suffice to say, those going on this trip in 2017 are LUCKY. Chiaki holds us all and guides us to all fall in love with Japan and with her.

Experience Japan for two weeks October 29-November 12, 2017.

DETAILS and TO REGISTER: http://www.frangallo.com

Sicily 2017 Slideshow

May 13, 2017

Was it one week or two?

It was one hundred lifetimes lived in a single day.

Warm sun on my skin

Within days, my skin goes brown, my eyes grow bright.

A gentle breeze floats in from the sea.

I am surrounded by beauty

and smiles.

How will I ever go back home?

This ancient land clings to my feet, tugs at my heart.

I am trapped by an invisible seaweed netting.

Cherry tomatoes burst with flavor. The local markets display mounds of dried wild herbs and mountains of colorful fruits and vegetables, which will taste as beautiful as they look.

Every morning and evening, we practice yoga to the sound of birdsong

and to soft lapping of waves.

The fragrance of the zagara flower is intoxicating.

Orange blossoms perfume the wall-less outdoor yoga studio.

Mt. Etna lets out a steady stream of smoke, steam, and dreams.

Mongibello stands tall, shrouded in purple at sunset, pink at sunrise.

What do you call the blue of the Sicilian sky and sea?

Flamingos, not yet fully pink, are feeding at the marsh.

Are there words to describe such insane raw beauty?

At night, I wonder how my parents ever left?  I wonder if I  carry the scars of their pain?

Quarry stones, hewn perfectly, stand witness to ancient history and warm today’s cat.

With the click of my camera, I capture the wild red poppies growing in a field of yellow daisies and I offer the poppies’ perfection to my lost friend Adriana.

We do yoga in the ruins of the tuna fisheries.

I feel the solidity of ancient stone under my feet, the mass suffering of the giants of the sea, and the beauty of the moment.

I watch my friends, long-time friends and new ones, do yoga on this ancient island. I lead them in a yoga sequence and I feel  Madre Terra’s energy coursing through us all.

Mother Earth and the Sicilian Sun nourish our spirits.

I breathe and I am renewed.

Fran’s website: http://www.frangallo.com

Turn up your speakers and enjoy the slideshow below (about 8 minutes long):

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

Greek Sicily

May 1, 2017

Who has time to write when in Sicily?  So photos will have to do.

And yes, the weather has suddenly turned very warm and perfect.

The Greeks left their mark here!  Sicily was a Greek Colony and has the most beautiful Greek ruins.  We spent yesterday in Siracusa with Eleonora as our guide.  Enjoy a few photos from yesterday.

A roadside shrine to Mother Mary:

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Below: Temple of Apollo.  Perhaps this was one of the most significant temples in ancient Greek times.  The pillars in the photo below are monolithic and it is short of a miracle that they are still standing because most of the area was leveled to the ground during the great earthquake of January 11, 1693. The earthquake was one of the biggest to ever hit Italy.  It destroyed at least 45 cities and killed more than 60,000 people.  Catania was hardest hit and two-thirds of the people of Catania lost their lives.  Many of the towns including Siracuse and Modica had to be completely rebuilt.

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The main cathedral in Ortigia is my favorite.  It was a Greek Temple whose ancient pillars are perfectly preserved because they were filled in with walls for a church.  In the photo below, you can see the Greek Temple pillars embedded in the exterior walls.  These columns, thousands of years old,  are even more beautiful from the interior.  From Greek Temple to Mosque to Catholic Church, this cathedral is remarkable.

Perfectly preserved Greek Temple

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Sicilian girl sitting on the steps dating back to the the ancient Greek temple-turned Catholic Cathedral

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Poster promoting a traditional puppet show in Ortigia

Our group!

Our group!

Rain Follows Me

April 21, 2017

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We woke up to birdsong and a great big blue sky.  Our morning here consists of breakfast on the rooftop and Peppa’s beautiful smile and great sense of humor.  Peppa works at this B&B San Placido Inn and prepares breakfast for us in the morning.  She is from Bulgaria, talks a million miles per minute in Italian, and is ever so funny.  Rick is very intrigued by her since he has met very few Bulgarians and is eager to ask her questions and engage her in conversation.  She is extremely friendly and has a lot to say in answer to Rick’s hungry questions. Guess who gets to be the interpreter at 8am?  Ecco la!! So I listen and translate and do my best to catch up with these two eccentric minds whose ideas bounce back and forth as if in a fast-play tennis match.

And Mt Etna this morning from our rooftop breakfast. You could really see the billows of cloud-like eruptions from the mountain. It's really something to see! The wind picked up again and it was rather chilly out today. Well, it was the same temperature as Seattle. I looked. Seattle was 50 degrees and Catania reached a high of 52. People had their coats and hats on. I could see them shivering as they walked by!

And Mt Etna this morning from our rooftop breakfast. Last night’s winds chased the clouds away! You could really see the billows of cloud-like eruptions from the mountain this morning. It’s really something to see! The wind picked up again after breakfast and it was rather chilly the rest of the day. Well, it was the same temperature as Seattle. I looked. Seattle was 50 degrees and Catania reached a high of 52. People had their coats and hats on. I could see them shivering as they walked by!

The B&B has very interesting decor: antique books on Sicily, paintings and old sketchings of Etna in eruption over the years, ships and boat collector items such as rudders, oars, nets, fishing tackle, and this "weaving". I took this photo because this reminded me of my dad. On Palm Sunday, Sicilians take the blessed palms that are handed out during mass and later, at home, they weave crosses and baskets from the crosses. My dad weaved the most beautiful and intricate crosses for us. I never learned how to do it, but it was wonderful to watch him. He told us stories as he wove these for us. We kept them and treated them as precious gifts until the next Palm Sunday came around.

The B&B has a very interesting decor: antique books on Sicily, paintings and old sketchings of Etna in eruption over the years, ships and boat collector items such as rudders, oars, nets, fishing tackle, and this “weaving”, antique cameras and puppets, typewriters and a mishmash of antiques that are fun to look at. I took this photo because this weaving reminded me of my dad. On Palm Sunday, Sicilians take the blessed palms that are handed out during mass and later, at home, they weave crosses and baskets from the crosses. My dad would take the palms we received on Palm Sunday mass and, back at home,  he’d weave the most beautiful and intricate crosses for us. He’d always start out by saying, “Oh, honey…I think I may have forgotten how to make them!”  And then he’d make them.  They were more beautiful every year!  I never learned how to do it, but it was wonderful to watch him. He told us stories as he wove these for us. Stories about his mother and about his paternal grandmother, Mamma Luigia.  We kept the weavings he made for us and treated them as precious gifts until the next Palm Sunday came around.

We made a quick trip to the villa to have a meeting with the wonderful owner, Piero, and the caretakers. Very productive time. Then once back in Catania, we saw this unusual shop with gigantic candles made of bees' wax. These candles are about 6-7 feet tall and thicker than my arms. They are used for the bi annual Santa Agata's procession. Her golden statue used to be taken out only once a year, but after she stopped a major lava flow from coming pas the city palace in the 15th C, the faithful of Catania started taking her statue out for huge processions twice a year. The second day to commemorate how she answered the prayers of the faithful to stop the lava flow. By refusing to marry a pagan, St. Agata was tortured. Her rebuked pursuer ordered her breasts to be cut off. She then was burned in a pit. Witnesses say that she

We made a quick trip to the villa to have a meeting with the wonderful owner, Piero, and the caretakers. Very productive time. Then once back in Catania, near our B&B in the heart of the historic district, we saw this unusual shop with gigantic candles made of bees’ wax. These candles are about 6-7 feet tall and thicker than Rick’s arms (slight exaggeration!) ! The faithful buy and use them for the annual Santa Agata’s procession. This third century saint has an interesting (and gruesome) story. Her golden statue, made of gold, used to be taken out only once a year, but after Santa Agata answered the town’s prayers by stopping a major lava flow from coming past the city palace in the 15th Century, the faithful of Catania started taking her statue out for processions twice a year.  The procession in February is the one that goes on for days and has been happening annually for over 1,700 years. St. Agata had made a vow to God to never marry and to devote her life to God. When she refused to marry a man of wealth and power who had fallen in love with her, beautiful St. Agata was tortured by him. Her cruel and rejected pursuer ordered her breasts to be cut off.  She then was burned alive in a pit in the center of the city for all to see. Witnesses say she didn’t burn.  According to witnesses, the flames engulfed her, she died a martyr, but her pure body did not burn.

More on St. Agata’s story below and an interesting website that helps people locate where her statue is during the procession festivities:

“Saint Agatha lived during the 3rd century AD, and yet 1,700 years later the entire city stops for three days to remember a strong girl who said no to a man.”

“She was a teenager from a wealthy family who had decided to devote her life to God. When she refused the advances of a Roman prefect (Sicily was then under the rule of the Roman Empire), he had her tortured in many ways, including severing her breasts. This episode has even inspired a local sweet in the shape of breast, minne di Sant Agata (St. Agatha’s breasts).

The Feast of Saint Agatha is the most important religious festival of Catania, attracting many people from the surrounding areas and tourists – it is estimated that up to a million people line the streets of the city during the three-day festa.

“For a few days, people forget their problems, their differences, their social class and  just focus on venerating Saint Agatha in an incredible mystical atmosphere. Everyone experiences the celebration in different ways, not everyone is a religious devotee, for some it is a photo opportunity.

The three-day festa has a long and busy program. It opens on February 3 with a midday procession of eleven candelore, large candle-shaped structures symbolizing the guilds, and two carriages belonging to the old local Senate with the highest religious and civil authorities of Catania. It ends in the evening in Piazza Duomo, where the St. Agatha Cathedral is located, with a fireworks display.

On the morning of the 4th, a statue of Saint Agatha holding her relics is placed on a 40,000 pound silver fercolo, or carriage, and carried around the city by devotees until it is returned to the Cathedral late at night, or, sometimes, even at dawn.

On the morning of the 5th, Mass is held at the Cathedral. Throughout the day, the reliquary bust of St. Agatha is exposed there. In the afternoon, it is taken for another procession, ending in the early morning of the 6th.

With such a long procession and so many different highlights, as a non-Catanese, how do you know where to go, what to do, what not to miss?

“Actually, this is also a problem for many of the locals. During the days of the festival, devotees wander the streets day and night in search of the saint, asking themselves, “Unni ie’ a’ Santa?”, Where is the saint? This is why to help everyone answer the question and honor St. Agatha, there is a website called Unni ie’ a’ Santa (Where is the saint?).”

A light dinner at DOC, where the kind and proud owner, Giuseppe, tells us that he is in his third month of newness. "Please tell people about me on Trip Advisor." So I did!

A light dinner at DOC, where the kind and proud owner (and English speaking), Giuseppe, tells us that his restaurant DOC (Duomo Of Catania) is in his third month of newness. “Please tell people about me on Trip Advisor.” So I did!

I am ruined for life...a tomato will never taste the same again once I leave sun kissed Sicily

I am ruined for life…a tomato will never taste the same again once I leave sun kissed Sicily

And many Sicilians have laughing eyes and a great sense of humor. We saw this sign outside a wine shop and just had to step in to talk with a young woman and her father. The father only spoke Sicilian and his daughter's English was impeccable. "I'm so glad you got the pun! You know, not everyone understands my humor. Some come in and ask where my buckets for sale are! They take me LITERALLY." Then we talked about the rain. She and her father's hands were ice cold! If you look at a map of Sicily, there is SUN everywhere, except this evening in Catania...where we have rain. It came suddenly. We were eating at DOC (Duomo of Catania) and then suddenly we see rain. In fact, in all of Europe, in all of ITALY, there is one rain spot and it is here in Catania. And it was cold tonight. People are wearing their coats and hats. Vendors materialize from seemingly no where..."Umbrella?" Vendors from Africa, Bangladesh, and other Asian countries trying to sell us umbrellas. We laugh and tell them, "This is nothing. We are from Seattle. This is our NORMAL." And they laugh, even though they have lost a sale or two to is.

And many Sicilians have laughing eyes and a great sense of humor. We saw this sign outside a wine shop and just had to step in to talk with the owners of the shop, a young woman and her father. The father only spoke Italian and his daughter’s English was impeccable. “I’m so glad you got the pun! You know, not everyone understands my humor. Some come in and ask where the buckets for sale are! They take me LITERALLY.” Then we talked about the rain. She and her father’s hands were ice cold! If you look at a map of Sicily, there is SUN everywhere, except this evening in Catania…where we have rain. It came suddenly. We were eating at DOC (Duomo of Catania) and then suddenly we see rain. In fact, in all of Europe, in all of ITALY, there is one rain spot and it is here in Catania!  Rain seems to have followed me from Seattle.  And it was cold tonight. People are wearing their coats and hats. Clever vendors materialize from seemingly nowhere…”Umbrella?” Vendors from Africa, Bangladesh, and other Asian countries trying to sell us umbrellas. We laugh and tell them, “This is nothing. We are from Seattle. This is our NORMAL.” And they laugh heartily, even though they have just lost a sale.

Rain on our "Sun-Kissed-No-More-Terrace" this evening

Rain on our “Sun-Kissed-No-More-Terrace” this evening

Evening sunset

Evening sunset from the terrace

 

Autumn Haiku

December 2, 2016

It’s already December!  Have I really been back from Japan for almost a month now?

On the first day the group was together in Japan, I gave everyone an index card containing a haiku translated into English. Each haiku had an autumn theme.  I asked everyone, if possible, to capture an image with their cameras to match their particular haiku.

A haiku poem traditionally contains a specific image which becomes a symbol for a given season.  For example, crows, red dragonflies, colorful leaves, full moon, moonlight, bamboo, sake, frogs, wild geese, cranes, and herons are common images or symbols for autumn haiku. It was a tough assignment I gave out.  It was not always possible or easy to capture the simple-yet-rich imagery depicted in the haiku.

I did, however, receive the following examples of Autumn Haiku with their corresponding photos below.

The first haiku below is the one I assigned myself (!).  I thought it would be easy to find a lone empty road, but I couldn’t seem to find what I wanted.  Instead, I captured the lonely beauty of the ancient cemetery at Mt. Koya.  The tombstones, tilted drunken sentinels standing watch next to ancient trees atop the forested mountain, were covered in moss.  Instead of a road, there was a footpath running the length of this vast cemetery.  I certainly would not want to brave this path alone at night.

Not one traveller
braves this road –
autumn night.

-BASHO

Cemetery at Mt. Koya

Lonesome path. Cemetery at Mt. Koya. The five stacked stones represent the five elements Earth, Water, Fire, Wind/Air, Space.

And Jeff was the first to submit a photo for his haiku!  Here is his assigned haiku and his photo from the bamboo forest:

Moonlight slants through
The vast bamboo grove:
A cuckoo cries

-Basho

Jeff's photo of the bamboo forest

Jeff’s photo of the bamboo forest

Bill was not able to photograph the solitary leaf of a kiri tree while in Japan, but when he returned to Vancouver, BC, he saw an image which would help him investigate the loneliness Basho describes:

Come, investigate loneliness
a solitary leaf
clings to the kiri tree

-Basho

Bill's photo and haiku below

Bill’s photo of the solitary leaf

Yoga Inspiration

November 8, 2016

I am back home now.  I woke up in the middle of the night trying to figure out which city I was in. Was I in Kyoto, Koyasan, Osaka, or Miyajima? Or was I in Tokyo or back in Tsukiji at Kazuko’s apartment? Gradually, I figured out I was back at the condo in Green Lake, home sweet home, with the memory of Japan freshly imprinted in my mind. The Japan experience was incredible, rich, and so varied in scope.  I have a lot of processing to do!

There are a few more Japan-related blog posts to come. For now, I share this poem with you, along with photos of my fellow travelers and yogis, whom I spent the last two weeks of my life with, in the land of the Rising Sun, the Land of Kindness, Japan.

I chose the poem below before going on the trip. It embraces the philosophy of Hokusai and I feel it reflects what we experienced on our trip. Hokusai was an Edo era painter and lived from 1760-1849. He is most famous for his work of art called The Great Wave. He is the best-known and most revered Japanese artist and was extremely productive. He is perhaps the most famous non-Western artist and may very well be the equivalent of Michelangelo.

I think the poem depicts the way of the yogi. I loved the words of this poem and ideas conveyed before I left for Japan, but as I read this poem to the group on our last yoga session, I realized that the words had taken on a deeper dimension after having experienced Japan these past weeks. The poem embraces values found in Japanese culture as well as a deep running undercurrent of the Japanese approach to life.  It is a blend of the indigenous Shinto religion where stones and trees hold spirit and intelligence and of Buddhist philosophy and wisdom, where awakening oneself to the moment, living a life of mindfulness and awareness of thoughts and actions, and living a moral life lead to becoming an enlightened peaceful being.

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just become more of who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

Divya

Divya

Theresa, Daphne, and Fran

Theresa, Daphne, and Fran

Sisters! Debby and Daphne

Sisters! Debby and Daphne

Wendy

Wendy

JD and Kim with the lovely Maiko-san

JD and Kim with the lovely Maiko-san

Ginger and Woody

Ginger and Woody

Kevin and Fran

Kevin and Fran

Marc and Nellie

Marc and Nellie

Don

Don

Jeff and Karin

Jeff and Karin (Udon Cooking School)

Bill and Bridget

Bill and Bridget

Marc, John, Daphne, Bridget, Debby, and Bill

Marc, John, Daphne, Bridget, Debby, and Bill

Yukiko and Chiaki

Yukiko and Chiaki

Last night in Osaka: Jeff, Kevin, Don, Karin, and Fran

Last night in Osaka: Jeff, Kevin, Don, Karin, and Fran


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