Waves2You

Glimpses of places and people, trees and textiles found while traveling from May to December 2013. Coming your way in small wavelets from time to time.

Month: November, 2013

Rio! Un abrazo!

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Rio de Janeiro is hugged by the mountains all around it.  And what a city!  It is so green, the topography takes your breath away and although ‘un abrazo’, Spanish for ‘a hug’, will probably not be understood as Portuguese rules in Brazil, you still feel embraced.

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And could a city with a rock called Sugar Loaf be anything but sweet?   Our first day was a national holiday and the streets were crowded with cars full of people headed to the beaches.   We had been warned about crowded beaches [theft and muggings happen; Rio is not totally sweet] so we headed for the ‘jardim botanico’.image Just look at these mango trees! A grove of calm and birdsong and other families wandering in the green. Here’s a path lined with giant mangoes. image We spent most of the day in the garden with a light lunch at Biciclet, a cafe with wonderful organic food. Views from the garden included this one of Corcovado–the stone with Christ the Redeemer on top.image It was a great day of watching Brazilian families, enjoying trees only Brazil can offer, and getting a feel for a corner of Rio. image

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Jacaranda: bright spots in the city

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These jacarandas are near the Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires. They were a bright spot in a city I was struggling with.  A favorite tree of mine since I was a child and loved the one in my aunt’s back yard in Palm Springs, these jacarandas soothed and softened what was otherwise a difficult city for me.  The graffitimundo tour was a bright bubble of a morning. I so wanted to fall in love with Buenos Aires. But, I didn’t.  Yet, inside a few bubbles, I found a lot to like.  There was the one hour tango lesson with Hector Villabos. I came away knowing how to dance 16 steps and in possession of a CD of old-style tango music. I also enjoyed a day trip to the Tigre Delta–a complex of rivers that flow into the Rio Plata and form a maze of tributaries where people have lived and fished and survived floods because their homes are on stilts. The boat ride was great fun.  image
The Ateneo bookstore was marvelous too. A must see. And the historic Plaza de Mayo. The Good Tourist certainly wants you to visit this famous city. This tired tourist felt the heavy history in buildings like the one below, and just couldn’t find my way in the heat and the windy streets. Except, the jacaranda–this fast growing version with purple flowers, a native of Argentina–was blooming everywhere, and there were places and moments to savor. A few raisins in a large loaf; a melody or two here and there in the static. Many before me have tuned in; it just wasn’t my turn.image

Graffiti Talks in Buenos Aires

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So, a group of artists is enjoying grilled meat and wine in the back patio and it gets pretty late. One says, “You know, your wall is a nice wall, but it needs painting”. So, three guys gather brushes and paint and together, mingling styles and inserting things here and there, paint the wall out front on the street. A cactus guy is the familiar figure for one, another always paints in only two colors. This is graffiti in Buenos Aires–an art form that starts with tags and love notes but as artists gain respect becomes political, personal and public all at the same time. I loved this tour! If you go to Buenos Aires, please contact ‘graffitimundo’ and ask for Cecilia to be your guide. You get a look into Argentina’s history and art scene, and a taste of the moment too. image Here is Cecilia explaining how the figure of an astronaut appeared when Argentina was coming out of the crisis of the Dirty War. The image was not an alien invader but a savior. It was a popular cartoon character [Argentines love cartoons–the more satire and irony the better] that appeared as a stencil on walls all over the city. Later the President of the country asked permission of the artist for his face to be inserted as he was seen as a savior of sorts, and so it was stenciled in…until he fell out of favor and people enjoyed whiting it out…such are the stories.
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This is the wall of a very exclusive and upscale restaurant in Buenos Aires. The owner asked a graffiti artist to decorate it for him, and as the artist worked the owner insisted that he keep adding more and more images–and more–. The artist was not happy with the result, but the owner was. Wall art is actually invited and improves property value in Buenos Aires. So, yes, graffiti is not only legal and artists work in broad daylight and take their time, it is also welcomed. We happened on this fairly new artist as we walked around.
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In all we got to recognize the work of about four artists: Jaz, Nerf, Gaulicho, and pum pum. So, to back up a little, there are tags which are just names but not attached to gangs or to violence or territory. Just names, maybe a love note, or a comment like ‘la musica no mata’, ‘music doesn’t kill’.
Then there are stencils with messages or just images. There are line drawings, and now using latex and rollers there are murals in the best Latin American tradition. Here’s one called ‘housewives revenge’
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This is the signature look of Gaulicho. image
The city of Buenos Aires also invited graffiti artists from abroad to paint on some public spaces. One painted this gaucho/Argentine cowboy with a can of spray paint in his hand.
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One of my favorite walls of the morning was this image of the white kerchiefs worn by the “Madres de la Plaza de Mayo”–the mothers who marched in protest of their disappeared children during the Dirty War of the 1980’s. [they still gather in the Plaza de Mayo on Thursday afternoons to protest and remember] These floating head scarves look down on a children’s playground to protect them…image There are layers of paint in some places that evoke layers of protests and also of hope. We met three of the artists in their warehouse workshop since now they actually also paint on canvas and have exhibits in Europe as well as Latin America.
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The tradition of painting on walls is well established. There is ordinary graffiti too. But, in Buenos Aires the fact is an artist, perhaps gaining some status among his/her peers, sometimes rings the bell of a house and says, “You have a particularly lovely wall. May I paint it?” and the owner says “Of course, that would be great. Do you need help with materials?” image
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So, I learned a lot about street art and its evolution in Buenos Aires. It struck me as we ended the tour that in cultures where homes are behind walls, the walls are public and in a way invite comment. In cities where people are unhappy with the government, walls call out! Cecilia and the group that is Graffitimundo are writing a book. It will be titled “White Walls Say Nothing”–I hope I can find a copy.

Cape Town / Nature and Nurture

Image The journey from Ghana to South Africa followed in the wake of those intrepid Portuguese explorers, Bartolome Diaz and Vasco da Gama both of whom rounded the tip of the continent. On our way south we saw flying fish, sea lions and even dolphins and whales. Cape Town itself sits at the foot of Table Mountain, just the first of many stunning mountains. image

South from the city lies the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point where the Benguela current, cold and from the west, meets the Agulhas current, warm and from the east.imageimage The exact point varies with seasons and weather, but clearly the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, and from the Cape Point light house it was an amazing 360 view of it all. Right whales played below in False Bay. And on the way there we saw many flowers which grow wild here that we associate with posh gardens in the states. Above, on top, the Bird of Paradise is favorite of Nelson Mandela. Below, a pincushion protea in the wild.
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Coming back from the Capes, we visited a refuge for African Penguins, and returned via Simontown, a lovely artists and retirement village on False Bay.
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I had heard about Kristenbosch National Botanical Garden and was craving trees, grass and birds. So with the hop-on/hop-off bus I combined a tour of the city with a stop at the garden. A few hours turned into almost five, as I just didn’t want to leave. Birdsong, new varieties of heathers and grasses, exotic 100 year old trees. The vegetation of South Africa is not lush, not tropical, but so varied and unique. Here are a couple of examples: the Silver Tree and more Protea.
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We also went north to enjoy a mini-safari. The drive through the mountains and wine country was much more dramatic than I had anticipated. The countryside is beautiful!

Hex Valley; home to many vineyards

Hex Valley; home to many
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It was hot again, so we didn’t know if we would see many animals. The ones we did see were in a large enough reserve that it almost felt like they were in the wild. Cape buffalo, African elephant and white rhinos. Hurrah! Lions, ostriches and zebras too! Springbok, of course, the emblem of the national rugby team. And for oohs and aahs, a baby hippo. It was really fun to see all this from the four-wheel drive off-road truck that bumped us around for a few hours.
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I struggle with how to end this post from South Africa. Natural beauty, mineral wealth, fertile farmland and an ideal climate make it nearly perfect on the outside. But underneath the beauty, racial inequalities persist, disparities in education continue and prospects for employment are slim. Mandela and Tutu are old and honored. But, young black men are dissatisfied and see the huge gap between rich and poor, which is much worse than under apartheid, with anger. I met a young black woman who had to drop out of her mechanical engineering program because she could not afford to continue. Her dismay and frustration with her country’s government and its mismanagement was sharp. Schools for her six year old daughter are bad. Violence in her township is increasing. She said, “End the violence; give us free education.” Such reasonable requests.
And when Mandela and Tutu are gone? Can the will of the people replace the corruption and nepotism and bring in a meritocracy? Such a paradise; such deep-seated problems.
May both nature and nurture thrive!

Nuzulezo–A village on a lake

Agooooo [long O] says our guide for the day.   Ameeeee [long A, or Spanish E] is our answer.  Akyea calls three times, and by our third answer the students on the bus are awake and listening for a while. It takes 2.5 hours on very rough roads to reach the entrance to a canal where we then travel by dugout canoe to visit a village built on stilts over water.  Akyea taught us a lot about Ghana during the drive–the revival of rubber, the use of palm oil, that gold is still being mined and the process pollutes the rivers, the reverence people still have for Nkrumah who started Ghana on a path to prosperity in the 1950’s with free education, a viable democracy and a vision of a united Africa. He envisioned a continent where raw materials would not just be exported but used to produce goods for export. The people would develop, industries would thrive.  But he was ousted. Multinational interests interfered.  Agooooo      Ameeeee   The students wake up and we arrive at last.  Did they hear what he said?  

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Young men pole us along the canal and then we paddle to the village.  It takes about an hour in full mid-day sun, some of us bailing with a plastic cup as we go since the wooden boats have many small holes in them.  It’s calm and quiet. We look foolishly overdressed in our life vests, but they’re required.

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We arrive and climb up to the walkways made of bamboo and wide boards where we are welcomed on the main ‘street’ by women and children dancing and singing as a man drums.

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We follow the troupe, in total about 500 people live here, to a community room. Along the way we are right next to their one-room homes. A few have electricity as we hear radios and a t.v. One woman is ironing. You can hear chickens and maybe a pig somewhere to the left.  To the right clothes dry, children nap, life goes on as these tourists drop in for an hour or so to visit.

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We listen to the sub-chief tell the story of the snail god who led people to this place when they fled from Mali many years ago. Our guide translates into English. We are welcomed with more drumming, dancing and one of our students responds with our thanks. Formality adds weight to a place floating on the water. The children stay here through primary school but then leave and many don’t come back as there is little to do except fish and subsist. Our being here brings money, and many visitors are finding Nuzulezo. But, I feel like an intruder, like the foreigner I am. Once again I see all the human capital and potential in Ghana that is waiting to grow and develop.image
There’s lots to think about paddling back across the lake and through reeds into the canal that leads to lunch and our bus. image This is my last post about Ghana although there is so much more to tell. It was hard to see all the poverty when stuck in traffic and knowing you were one of many privileged white faces looking out.
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Takoradi and Tema–our ports in Ghana–were windows to the hard life that is lived out near ports.
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And Accra was difficult to negotiate as traffic moves more slowly than walking most of the time.
image Ghana is a developing country. It is not bleak. But change happens so slowly. Its people are ready. One hopes for more honest leaders and a few right-hearted partners from abroad so that the pace can pick up from a walk to a jog.

Drumming and Dancing

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I jumped on a bus with SAS students and Lifelong Learners for a drumming and dancing workshop near a beach just outside of Takoradi. Image Under a simple roofed space, we each had a drum and the fun began. Image

 

 

The leader and his troop of drummers and dancers patiently taught us 5 basic rhythms that began with a beat on a Kpanlogo bell. Here Enyonam and Idrissu help me get it just right.

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Here is Ben who led the way in demonstrating dance steps.  We practiced the steps and watched the dancers, and everyone gave it a try.

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Though the sun was hot, a breeze from the sea helped us keep concentrating for over a couple of hours. It was all more encounters of the best kind.  The teachers took the workshop seriously and we listened up and drummed and danced. At the end, we each took a turn trying out one or two of the steps.  So here goes:

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Thanks to my friends who took these photos…

 

Fabulous Fabrics

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In Takoradi, walking down Secondi Street, by chance I found Afram’s.  Walls covered with racks of fabrics, tables with bolts stacked high and in the far corner a large cupboard with glass doors.  Inside were all the indigo prints a person could ever dream of!  You can imagine how I felt.  My friends patiently waited and eventually three moved on since I was in paradise and choosing was a heavenly chore.  The man in the shop was not smiling nor cajoling. He only spoke if I asked a question. I learned later that fabric shops in Ghana [not the stalls in the markets] are often owned by Lebanese. Without expression or enthusiasm, he explained which fabrics could be cut, which not; how much per yard and which were imported from China and would fade the first wash.  He showed the selvage that proves the fabric is genuine wax dyed from Ghana. Sighing, I finally chose and I bought.  12 yards of what could not be cut because it is for the traditional dress Ghanian women wear and a smaller piece that just caught my eye.

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Two indigo pieces and another wax print that said Ghana to me.

 

Julie also bought some fabric and planned to make a blouse when she got home. As we wandered through the central market with its narrow dirt walkways covered with boards where the water ran by, we noticed women with stalls of fabric and sewing machines. “Let’s see if she will make the blouse now”, Julie said. So we asked one woman, and yes, by tomorrow. While Julie was being measured, I scanned the fabrics Lydia had in her stall and impulsively asked if she would make me one too. We all liked Lydia so much; she was quiet, all business, and by the end had a wide smile [we didn’t bargain]. Julie went back the next day to collect our two perfectly made shirts. Here is mine:
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We wandered the market, through the shoe section, scarves and bras, wallets and wigs, and eventually to the fish. Here women called out to us to buy, and we smiled and looked at the crayfish, red snapper and huge snails. “But, I don’t have a kitchen” I joked. The women laughed at that and one said, “You buy my fish; I take you to my home and cook it. I have a kitchen for you!” We shook hands and smiled close, laughed some more, exchanged names and waved as we left. Ghana is a good place; I really took to it. Its human capital is immense. I so, so want it to thrive. I hope that they felt that.

Welcome to Ghana

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In the port of Takoradi, drummers and dancers welcomed us.  The dock was full of the sounds of the Kpanlogo [bell on the right], the drumming, the musicians’ calls and responses, and dancing.  It set the tone for the whole stay–welcoming, and so full of color, human talent and pride in being peaceful.  The Good Tourist I am trying to be accepted my place as rich, white visitor.  I reached out and shook hands and opened up and was friendlier than usual,  knowing all encounters were my chance to make a good impression. Vendors set up stalls right in the port near the ship. They cajoled and pleaded with us–it was hard to resist the smiles and invitations to take a look.  I asked about fabric, and here’s what a young vendor came up with.

 

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We had fun, but this patchwork of fabrics used to make shirts, dresses and backpacks for tourists was not the indigo or famous wax batik of Ghana that I was looking for.  But, such a nice young man.  Here are some shots of the fares on offer.

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ImageWith all this  just beyond the gangway, what must await us in town?   Let’s go!

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Brimming Over

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Our overnight visit to Fes included a visit to the medina [the old city] and the souk [the market]. Images will tell more than I could in words as we followed our guide, Aziz, through the maze of shops and stalls to visit a tannery, a pottery making mosaic tables and fountains, a metal-work cooperative, a carpet showroom, and more…So, here goes!

the dying vats at a leather tannery

the dying vats at a leather tannery


the purses lining the walls of the shop

the purses lining the walls of the shop


carpets piled as all were encouraged to buy at least one

carpets piled as all were encouraged to buy at least one


headed out into the alleyways to see more

headed out into the alleyways to see more


metal workers set up outside

metal workers set up outside


a showroom of metalwork old and new

a showroom of metalwork old and new

today's mosaic makers

today’s mosaic makers

arranging figs...

arranging figs…

Can you tell that colors, smells, textures, sounds and images were brimming over? Fes was a feast. So many things piled up or hung on walls, modern mosaics for your buying pleasure.

On the way back to the ship in Casablanca, the bus stopped at a man-made lake. On the opposite side of the street was this striking display of red onions and squash. So, I will leave you for now with these images. Not much history; few dates or facts. My mementos of Morocco were all about the five senses.

rural fare

rural fare

Piecing It Together

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Look at this mosaic!  Isn’t it wonderful?  Doesn’t it remind you of something?

It began to come together for me in Casablanca. Spain and Morocco share the Berbers!  The Berber/Arabs from Morocco are also the Moors who lived in Spain for 500 years, including the artisans and craftspeople who, in Spain, had created mudejar that wonderful architectural style and interior decoration that is in the Alcazar in Seville.  That ornate, intricate style was created by Muslim craftsmen for Christian patrons. So, it seems that these patterns in clay and plaster all began with the Berbers, were developed by the Moors, and returned to Morocco to influence and merge with what they had come from.

Isn’t it interesting that those tiles in Portugal and Spain that we love have these mosaic patterns, but that over time they were painted on with glaze–no doubt an economic decision.  The labor to produce a mosaic wall is immense. And in Morocco, we got to see so many.

Going back in time, one asks ” where did this love of mosaics come from?”   Perhaps it was inspired by this lovely lady from Volubilis, a Roman ruin near Meknes.  Perhaps the Arabs/Berbers of Morocco loved this Roman decoration too and craftsmen evolved their patterns from some of these

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Volubilis added historical and visual depth to what we had seen in Europe, and linked patterns and shapes that appear on the floors, walls, doors and ceilings in both Spain and Morocco.  Here is a Roman bath with arcs, a pattern one sees often.

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One beautiful difference in Morocco was seeing Arabic script in plaster or carved in wood, such as this wall in an old school.Image

 

The skills to work in plaster or mosaic pieces live on in Morocco. The present king’s father had a mosque built in Casablanca as a show piece that foreigners could visit.
It is massive and the workmanship is on a grander scale, but the mosaic detail is still there.
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For a bit more beauty, here is a door–Image

 

These still, ornate and symmetrical images don’t even begin to tell the story of Morocco though.  They are quiet points.  This country, my first step onto the African continent, is a mix quiet beauty and crowded, noisy daily life.  It is a mix of agricultural land with subsistence-level farms as well as export crops from large operations, like olive groves. Its cities are also a mix of wide avenues and squares, and crowded, tiny spaces in the old, traditional medinas and souks.

 Next up, details of a different sort of mosaic–a colorful, living one.
For now, here is one last image of a quiet interior.
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