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Courage and Magic

I’m sitting up here on the same rooftop deck in Tel Aviv that I started my unforgettable journey almost three weeks ago! The late afternoon sun is starting to set over the Mediterranean Sea and the intoxicating breezes drift over me, telling me that I surely will be back here. I was born to live by the sea, and I am bewitched by this city and country, by the waves and the salt, the sand, the coolness of the ocean air, and the most beautiful boardwalk I have ever seen in which to take it all in.

I left off my last blog about to start my Jordanian cooking class, but I think I just wanted to get some general thoughts and experiences out on paper before I go to pack and get ready for one last night out before flying home tomorrow morning.

Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of traveling – a lot – and to many different countries and cultures. This has not only been a deliberate choice but something that was in my blood I think from an early age. Everyone laughed at me when I said in all the serious thoughtfulness of a young child that I wanted to be a professional tourist when I grew up. I used to pour over maps imagining what it would be like to actually travel to all those countries. I’m a bit obsessed with globes and still pour over maps. I’m curious and I love trying new things. I love meeting new people and making friends. I love home and family and always want a real home to come back to – I don’t think I could be one of those that travel indefinitely over years and years – but there’s nothing quite like the excitement of planning for a trip, the rush of airports, and the deep joy that comes from experiencing moments of breathtaking beauty in this incredible world we live in.

I guess I have heard so many times that traveling is “an escape from reality.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Travel drops you smack right into the middle of reality and demands that you confront what you see, feel, experience. Traveling requires guts. Guts to face the challenges to whatever worldview you might have or been brought up with. It requires courage to face yourself. Wandering through cities or wilderness or wherever by yourself, you are brought face to face with WHO YOU ARE: your assumptions about other people and cultures and countries. Perhaps you start to realize that that upper-middle class white American existence that was all you’ve ever known – and the concomitant worldview that accompanies it – is not the only valid way to think. Perhaps you realize that relationship you’re in is not really the right one for you. Perhaps you become aware of how crazy blessed you are when you see whole villages that have next to nothing and you tell yourself you will never complain about anything again. And because there are so many practical challenges with travel, you also are confronted always with CHOICE. Do you choose to live in and embrace the moment? – The bus schedules written in a foreign language, the missed train, the hard bed and getting lost for hours in a strange city, the forgotten toothbrush, or stolen bag. Of course, we have these opportunities every.single.day. to choose, to change, to examine who we are but all I’m trying to, perhaps inadequately, say is that travel accelerates that process in a crazy way.

And just as travel is about shattering worldviews, confronting assumptions and prejudices, travel is also about MAGIC. I have had my senses filled with so much beauty that the joy threatened to shatter my soul. It seemed at times too big to contain. I will never forget standing in the pure snow of Iceland as it whipped around me gazing into the glowing, gold horizon over a sea fronted by a black beach and the tears just came to my eyes. I thought perhaps it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I remember weeping my way through the Jewish center of Prague, just unable to contain the emotion from the thousands of lives lost and the children that had to go through such unspeakable things. I remember where laughter trumped any need for a common language in a little mountain village in Thailand as we sat around sharing a meal and an unforgettable evening. I remember the complete exhilaration of sailboat racing in Sweden with some of the finest people I’ve met in my life: a group of friends whose love for each other was so real and tangible and who opened that love to include me.   And just this trip I remember so much – the moment my guide, Mahmoud, led me blindfolded to the edge of a cliff to surprise me with a view of the Treasury in Petra, the crazy beautiful slot canyons, the delight of scuba diving – always – seeing enormous fish the size of bathtubs, sunken wrecks, crazy funny puffer fish, and the blues, yellows, greens, reds of coral. Its hard to even convey the magic. (and there’s my plug for scuba diving, people…do it. It’s the closest thing I can imagine to being on another planetJ One of my favorite things in all the world. …

Anyway, I’m not really sure I conveyed all that was on my heart, but I guess I’m just trying to encourage everyone to be open to new people, experiences, ideas, cultures. Perhaps the ideas you have about the Middle East are a bit skewed – mine were before coming here. Perhaps you just want to try something new! Don’t be scared! Step out. All I know is that my life has been indelibly changed and enriched by stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing this awesome world we all share together. Shalom…

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The Art and Science of Failure

Good content! … Definitely worth the re-blog!

Longreads

We are excited to share a reading (and watching!) list on science and failure from guest contributor Louise Lief. In 2014 Louise Lief began the Science and the Media project, an initiative that explores how science relates to our everyday lives. She is the former deputy director of the International Reporting Project.

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Yes. Yes. Yes.

Sometimes I almost have to pinch myself to make sure I’m really not dreaming all these beautiful experiences up…not that traveling solo is all laugher and merriment. It’s not. It’s mixed times of incredible loneliness and unfathomable beauty; frustrations and new friendships; missed trains and breathtaking mountains; deep-fried tarantulas and tiramisu. Crazy highs and the darkest lows. Basically it takes a lot of guts, a lot of foolishness and a lot of wisdom to travel – to REALLY travel: saying “yes” to barbequed rat offered by a village host, “yes” to spontaneously changing plans, “yes” to new cultures and viewpoints, “yes” to bamboo bridges, slippery trails, hard mattresses, and squat toilets, “yes” to motorbiking through busy city streets, “yes” to being unsure what the hell you are doing – alone – thousands of miles from home; “yes” to experiencing life and this lovely world we live in.

The last few days I have had so many “moments” that it begs the question where to even start…. Basically, I radically changed my “Cambodia only” plans and ended up in Northern Thailand at the encouragement of some lovely people I met in Siem Reap. Through previous experience traveling, I have learned to listen to people who say “you absolutely have to go to such and such…” ! It pays to pay attention to those exclamations of beauty and excitement – the eyes lighting up and the heads nodding in agreement. Walking through the streets of Pai – North Thailand – this afternoon I was so grateful that I listened and followed my own constant search for beauty as well.

Pai is a little mountain town off the beaten path – precisely 139 km and 762 curves in the road from Chiang Mai – due North. The drive up there is not for the faint of heart but the views as you climb higher and higher through mountains of green jungle forest is so breathtaking that its worth every hairpin turn and the hours it takes to get there. I’ve truly never seen anything like this landscape. Tomorrow’s adventures will find me on a scooter or motorbike (yikes!) prowling around the vista points and local attractions. Can’t wait!! The actual town of Pai is a haven for hippie travelers – full of that laid-back energy: guitar players on the riverbanks, hipster little bars, yoga, but still very Thai too…massage shops all over, Thai food, street vendors, souvenirs and tour businesses galore. Just wonderful to walk around and take it all in. I kinda ate my way around the town this evening: roasted corn on the cob, spring roll, pad thai, whiskey…so much fun.

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Anyway, this was supposed to primarily be about the overnight trekking trip I did to the mountain Karen tribe/villages outside Chiang Mai…but I don’t want to this to get too long so I shall save that story (and pictures!) for tomorrow night (I hope!) Allow me to say that it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced: slumber party in a remote tribal village; breaking down language barriers with lots of laughter and thumb wars; communal tobacco and hot vodka; trekking through rivers and torch-lit caves; bumping down backroads in the back of a truck, and making new friends. I will never ever forget this.

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Till the next post, take care and here’s to 2015!!  May it be truly be all that we hope it to be!

Art and Social Consciousness

My final project in my Art Appreciation coursework was to create a thematic exhibit of several pieces of artwork and had to include art across different time periods, cultures and continents.  Each piece had to include a description of why I chose it and how it fit into the exhibit.  I thought you all might have some enjoyment walking through my little exhibit.  I love art and I love learning about it so I had a great time researching and putting it together.

Thematic Exhibition on Art and Social Consciousness

“Social conscience: the ability to reflect on deeply held

opinions about social justice and sustainability.”

Myshele Goldberg

 While “social consciousness” initially appears to be a much more modern theme that is more easily found today in venues from memorials to sculptures, posters and paintings, street art and gardens, it is, necessarily, a theme that we find in art going back in time hundreds and even thousands of years.   The human soul always has longed to be able to express its deepest thoughts and passions through art. One of the most powerful tools of connection, art – through writing, music, canvas – has given us, as a species, a method of relaying the profundities of the life and society that is around and inside us.

The following pieces of art all present a theme of social consciousness seen through specific lenses of justice and law, environmental awareness and responsibility, war and its aftermath of desolation, healthcare and suffering, discrimination and genocide.

This exhibition has a seemingly somewhat dark theme, but it is my wish that the viewer leave with his or her soul moved by reflection and hope. Hope that as dark as periods in our history have been, we are learning from those mistakes and making changes for our societies and our world. As long as artists are allowed the freedom to express their consciousness to and about society, we will continue to have an opportunity to seek a better present and future for our world.

Law Code Stele of King Hammurabi (1780 BCE)

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While this may piece of art may seem like a contradiction, when one thinks about art as “social protest” or “social consciousness” or a “memorial or remembrance” against government injustices or political forays or destructive wars and rulers, this stone actually represents a move towards freedom in society: the freedom to not have laws and rulership arbitrary and nebulous. The laws carved out here, yes, seem brutal, perhaps, (“an eye for an eye”) but no longer is action and punishment, consequences and crime left up to moods and whims, subterfuge and scheming, but on a “constitution” of sorts. (Tran, M., 2014). Freedom without laws is really just the worst sort of slavery.

Fever Van by L.S. Lowry (1935).

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“Fever Van” is included in this exhibition as a moving witness of the never-ending issues of healthcare that confront every modern society and country on earth. Birth, life, sickness, death, compassion, money, politics: all are always inevitable involved. This picture depicts the then current practice in Britain, of forcibly taking away a child with an infectious disease to an “isolation hospital” from which they had little chance of ever coming home. (Martin, C., 2013). Lowry is famous for his depictions of the deplorable state of healthcare at that time and his art serves as a reminder for us of the continued need for social reform in this area.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso (1937)

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A contemporary of L.S. Lowry, Picasso became also moved and inflamed by social events surrounding him during the early 20th century. Though specific interpretation of the symbols and images are, in typical Picasso fashion, left up to the viewer to interpret, “Guernica” was an outraged expressionistic response following the bombing of a little town in Spain that left more than 1,000 people dead.   General Franco allowed the German and Italians to bomb Guernica in a hideous experiment to “learn about the psychological effects of air warfare.” (DeWitte, D.J., Larmann, R.M., & Shields, M.K., 2012).

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman (2004)

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Last year, I had the privilege and grave honor of viewing this memorial in Berlin. It is a moving experience to walk through the 2,711 tomb-like structures and contemplate both what the tragic events that the Memorial stands for and what the artist was trying to convey with both the lack and the extremes of symmetry. Like Picasso’s “Guernica,” Eisenman wanted the viewer to interpret the memorial as he or she wishes, and, indeed, many different conclusion have been drawn from viewing and experiencing this memorial of remembrance. Though the article is a general criticism of the memorial, I found the following paragraph written by Richard Brody in The New Yorker particularly expressive of this piece of art:

“…In the shallow corner of the plaza, tourists sit and chat on bench-high stelae, children climb, all enjoy wide-open and thrillingly grand perspectives on the surroundings, including the Tiergarten to the west, and the installation takes on the cast of an austerely modern yet pleasantly welcoming park. But, upon entering the narrow alleys and plunging between higher and higher slabs, perspectives are sliced to a ribbon, other visitors are cut off from view, and an eerie claustrophobia sets in—even as some visitors (not just kids) play little games of hide-and-seek in the rectilinear maze. And the title, striking against the experience, creates sparks of metaphorical extrapolation: The Jews of Europe lived carefree, as in a park, until they wandered into frightening canyons of shadows from which the escape routes were narrow and distant. Yet, even then, amidst terrors and dangers, children played and families cohered, citizens from whose midst neighboring Jews were deported and slaughtered continued to frolic with indifference, exactly as many living in relative comfort do nowadays while political depravities are inflicted daily on far too many in places around the world. When my family and I got back to the bench-high stelae, I, too, sat down and checked messages.”

Cry Freedom (1987)

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This film about apartheid is based on the true story of a South African, black activist, Stephen Biko, and an American, white, liberal journalist. Though there are many films and documentaries made about the issues, times, and people of apartheid in South Africa, I chose this film to be a part of this exhibit both because of the accessibility of the film for viewers and the superb personal stories and acting. I believe that films have ways of raising social awareness that other art cannot as easily. By combining art forms and the ability to capture movement and scenes, film uses our combined senses to emote a response that lingers in one’s mind and heart.

Street Art by “July i”

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On a lighter note, this last piece in my exhibition, reminds us of the issues surrounding us today regarding the environment: pollution and waste are real and we are well-served to remember that each of us can do something about it in our every-day lives. “July i” is an anonymous street artist that in provocative and mostly amusing ways, hones our attention to the beauties and inconsistencies surrounding us. Street art is a valuable form of expression in our communities today and serves to remind us of not only our responsibilities but our connectedness to each other.

Robert Kennedy said,

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”  

Art is one of the most powerful ways of expressing this. As one of my good friends once said, “Art is only good if it moves you somehow.” I hope that you, the viewer of this exhibit, have been moved in some way and are inspired to send out “ripples of hope” into your communities.

References

DeWitte, D.J., Larmann, R.M., & Shields, M.K. (2012). Gateways to art.    New York, New York: Thames & Hudson Inc.

Tran, M. (2014). Ancient Babylonian art shows the origins of justice.                   State Press Magazine. Retrieved from                                                                     http://www.statepress.com/2014/01/29/ancient-art-shows-     the-origins-of-justice/

Martin, C. (2013). Art with a social conscience. The Lancet, volume 382   (issue 9895). Retrieved from                                                                                       http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)61850-4/fulltext

Brody, R. (2012). The inadequacy of Berlin’s “Memorial to the        murdered Jews of Europe.” The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/the-front-row/the-inadequacy-of-   berlins-memorial-to-the-murdered-jews-of-europe

Cambodia Query

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Hello, All!

I am looking for opinions from experienced travelers/volunteers regarding my housing while I will be volunteering in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a few weeks.  The choice of housing: stay with a host family or stay at the volunteer organization’s hostel?  I can see both choices being rewarding so just trying to put feelers out for any thoughts from fellow travelers out there.

There’s internet and food (two very important things:) at both options.  Private room with the family and shared room at the hostel…

Thanks for your thoughts and time!

Blue oblivion, mute memory

Been mulling similar thots over the last few days…and found this today. Love how she expresses this concept.

Ginger writing - Instawrite

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Nothing ever truly abandons the mind forever. Neither pain, nor love, nor happiness or sadness… every moment lived and every emotion felt remain inside the body and the consciousness as an echo, bouncing endlessly between the walls of sanity.

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Monday Meditation

“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” Albert Einstein

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My sweet gramma.                                   Me and baby sis many years ago…:)