Serenity at Sea

 

We usually prefer to travel independently–not with a group. Why? If a new direction looks appealing—or an experience is just plain boring—we are free to change our itinerary. But this doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the occasional cruise, which—if you choose one of the top lines—is  the ultimate all-inclusive experience.

Cruises have  obvious benefits. They are a  hassle-free way to get a quick overview of parts of the world you’ve never visited before. If you like what you see, you can go back and dig deeper. And the best lines offer stellar cuisine, accommodations, entertainment and service.

Still, one suspects that veteran cruisers would start to take all that luxury for granted. Perhaps that’s why Crystal Cruises, one of the highest-rated lines in the industry, always seems to be thinking of ways to innovate.

Cruisers don’t hesitate to express their appreciation: Crystal’s two ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony, have been just rated by AllThingsCruise Consumer Reviews to be among the 10 Most Popular Ultra Luxury Cruise Ships in the industry, with Crystal Serenity ranking #1.

We can attest to the excellence of Crystal Serenity, having traveled on that vessel from Barcelona to Lisbon, with stops in Morocco and various islands en route.

Hot off the press: Crystal’s Serendity just emerged from a $17 million redesign that dramatically transformed penthouses, dining rooms and other public spaces. Top-level suites, for example, now resemble spacious apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows, dining areas, butler’s pantries and media rooms.

And this month Crystal introduced Ambassador Hostesses on select cruises, counterparts to the line’s long-popular Ambassador Hosts—professional dance partners for ladies traveling solo. Now the gentlemen have a reason to celebrate! This innovation is in keeping with Crystal’s objective to create a welcoming atmosphere  for singles as well as for couples and families of all ages.

As for shore excursions, Crystal offers a head-spinning variety—from the tame to the adventure—including the option for private, customized tours. An overarching theme is Crystal’s commitment to offer passengers an up-close look at the world’s cultures. Giving back is also a concern: Nearly every sailing offers passengers the chance to make a hands-on contribution to local communities by participating in a volunteerism program called “You Care. We Care.”

For more information about Crystal’s ships and itineraries, visit crystalcruises.com.

 

 

 

 

Read more.. Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

The Magic of Dance

We’ve always enjoyed the challenge of capturing the movement and grace of dancers with our cameras. In fact, we’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best in the world. By collaborating closely with them, we developed an appreciation for the dedication, hard work and passion required to become a top performer.

MelBlog

One of these dancers is Mel Tomlinson, former principal dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey Dance Company, The New York City Ballet and the North Carolina Dance Theatre. He once wrote to us: “ As a dancer traveling through time, one of the most difficult things to maintain was the compelling visual image. You’ve captured it in your work. Thanks for making Art out of my Art and sharing the joys of my effort.”

Gilliamblog

Yet another incredible dancer is Gillian Murphy, now one of America’s top artists and a principal with the American Ballet Theatre. Gillian has it all: beauty, grace, incredible strength and that intangible quality that enables outstanding artists to connect emotionally with audiences.

Georgia Tucker

Another memorable dancer was Georgia Tucker, a North Carolina native with uncanny physical flexibility and a compelling expressiveness on stage. We were saddened to learn that she passed away in 2009 at the young age of 33. The image in this post is our tribute to her and her talents.

 

Read more.. Sunday, March 9th, 2014

What’s a Photograph?

MusicalCollage

When the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York City recently opened the exhibit “What Is a Photograph?” the event stopped us in our tracks. Here was a museum whose mission historically was to celebrate the power of the photograph. And now the institution is questioning what a photograph is!

ICP was the organization that had championed photography as the medium best suited to artistically documenting the world around us. And it provided ample evidence for this conviction by exhibiting the works, primarily black and white, of masters such as Ansel Adams, Carleton Watkins, Edward Muybridge, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Smith, Robert Doisneau, Andre Kertesz, Ruth Bernhard and many, many others.

In fact, we remember attending the seminar in ICP’s early days some 25 years ago, during which Cornell Capa, the founder and director of ICP, and art historian Beaumont Newhall, lamented the lack of permanence of color photographic prints and debated whether or not such prints would ever be considered collectible art. Of course, color works are now quite collectible and serious collectors value them as much as black and white prints. All this underscores the point that the question has rapidly evolved from “Is Photography Art?” to “What Is a Photograph?” Astounding!

So, what’s up? Is photography in the midst of an identity crisis?

For sure, technology has, with great speed, radically changed photography forever. It’s no longer simply a matter of exposing light to film. Digital image capture has all but replaced not only film but also the chemical processes for developing it. Everything from affordable, camera-enabled iPhones and iPads , DSLRs and high-end digital cinema cameras flood the market—and are updated annually. The magic of electronics now allows everyone, including amateurs, to more easily control the variables that produce acceptable photographic results. And software, also constantly updated, enables infinite ways to manipulate images.

The consequences? Photography has become “democratized” and is no longer a craft confined to technicians. “Constructed” images, made in the studio or in a computer, now compete with images “captured” on the street. Remarkably, some curators now consider that “photography” does not need to be captured by a camera. Consequently, the range of imagery, created by both amateurs and pros alike, seems to be without limit.

“You feel like the cord to the mother ship has been cut, and now you’re floating in space,” said Carol Squiers, curator of the ICP show. Quentin Bajac, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art has lamented, “the biggest problem now facing curators and historians today is the overflow of images.”

Certainly, we’re in a brave new world of photography. But the question, “What’s a photograph?,” may be unanswerable in terms of a strict definition. After all, when does an elaborately hand-painted digital image become a painting? Or, when does a drawing in chocolate icing, that’s merely copied with a camera, become a photograph? Perhaps the question itself is irrelevant and of interest only to museum curators who must decide in which department to archive and exhibit works.

We should recognize that art has been defined traditionally by its materials (e.g. oil paintings, water colors, pastels). Photography, on the other hand, has been defined by both its materials (film, light-sensitive paper) and its equipment (cameras). Now that film is out, what’s left?

We’ll step out on a limb and offer the view that a photograph is an image captured—in whole or in part—by any light sensitive device (camera, copier, scanner, etc.) or material (photographic paper, other surfaces with a light sensitive emulsion). All else should be considered traditional art—or “multimedia.”

But two things will never change when the objective is producing a work considered “artistic” by one’s audience: the need for a creative eye—and imagination. New technology and gadgets matter little without these. If an image does not communicate—and arouse viewers’ minds and hearts one way or another—it’s not art.

Read more.. Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Showtime in Venice

During Carnevale, Venice’s 12-day, pre-Lenten celebration, the city becomes the greatest stage on earth.

Revelers, attired in fantastical masks and costumes, act out their fantasy of the moment.  Some costumes are purely whimsical; others reference characters from 16th-century Commedia dell’Arte.

Grand themed balls are part of the fun. “The Enchanted Palace” ball, for example, will be held this year in a 15th-century palace overlooking the Grand Canal. It channels a certain Count Belvedere, so the fantasy goes, who holds an annual ball to identify Venice’s purest virgin. She  must, unfortunately, be sacrificed. (For more details, you’ll have to attend the ball.)

The annual Ballo de Doge, which Vanity Fair magazine calls “the most sumptuous, refined and exclusive ball in the world,” is titled “Art of the Dream” and will evoke Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as the surreal atmosphere of Casanova, Federico Fellini’s memorable film.

The Venetian Carnevale is undoubtedly one of the most elegant celebrations on the planet. Mark your calendar for next year. You may need that much time to assemble a costume in keeping with this wonderful Italian tradition! For more information. go to venice-carnival-italy.com.

 

Read more.. Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Travel with Purpose

Traveling with purpose is a matter of attitude and intention. Whatever your travel goals, the common denominator of purposeful travel is what novelist and travel writer Lawrence Durrell called an ability to “tune in” and understand what makes a place and its people special and unique—its “spirit of place.”

Going places that are new and different can be mind expanding. But, unfortunately, finding unspoiled, unique places is becoming a challenge these days, given the homogenizing effects of globalization. As writer Thomas Chatterton Williams recently wrote in the New York Times, “We should be grateful to be jolted from our anesthetized routines…but the sad truth of our contemporary moment seems to be only that you no longer need to be anywhere in particular anymore…the brunch is all the same.”

But we’re convinced that it’s still possible to travel with a purpose and discover unique places that open our minds.

Following are steps that may help you travel with purpose:

1. Choose a destination carefully. Go to a part of the world that intrigues you enough to explore beyond the superficial, to interact with local people, and to understand the place’s unique aspects.

2. Pre-visualize your journey ahead of time. Read about your destination and talk to people who’ve already been there—or who live there. There’s plenty of information available both online and elsewhere. If you’re a photographer who wants to offer a fresh “take” on a destination, research existing imagery on the web, in books and in stock agency archives. You’ll get a sense of the best locations for photography and what types of images have already been taken.

3. Decide what’s important. Make a wish list of “don’t miss” experiences and ensure they’re on your itinerary. By knowing ahead of time what you’re seeking, you’ll be prepared. Also, it’ll be easier to seize the moment when spontaneous opportunities come your way.

4. Once you arrive, don’t waste time. Be ready to “hit the ground running.” This doesn’t mean racing around frenetically. It means getting focused quickly and using your time efficiently. Use your first day to get an overview of the destination and learn how to get around. As long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad says: “The clock is ticking fast, burn the candle large, dig down into that potential…I can’t tell you how alive it makes you feel!”

5. Take time to smell the roses. Keep the big picture—your overall objective—in mind. But allow time to observe details that help you understand the spirit of a place. For example, we once discovered near Shanghai what seemed to be a very beautiful village simply by observing a small, dusty painting on a restaurant wall. After a few inquiries about the painting, we spontaneously adjusted our itinerary to go to the village a day later—the side trip was an unforgettable experience!

6. Document your trip. By writing down your observations and reactions, you’ll remember details. Then you can communicate your travel experiences more vividly than with a simple tweet or Facebook post. If you’re a photographer, keep an eye out for the unusual. When you see something special, act quickly, with the concentration of an animal stalking prey, to capture the moment for posterity.

7. Allow time for fun and relaxation. This is important to understanding a place. Do what the locals do—like taking a hay bath in the Dolomites or simply going to a local pub anywhere. Leisure time also helps re-charge your batteries after an active day.

8. When the journey ends, organize your notes and images as soon a possible. This discipline helps you clarify, understand and ultimately share with others what you’ve experienced. It was Anais Nin who wrote, “We write to live life twice.” (The sentiment also applies to photography.)

According to journalist Pico Ayer: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world. The first lesson we learn, whether we like it or not, is how provisional and provincial are the things we imagine to be universal.”

Traveling with purpose inspires us to both celebrate the world’s diversity and appreciate the similarities among people across the planet. The end result is greater knowledge— and, ultimately, wisdom.

Read more.. Monday, November 11th, 2013

Heaven's Gate

Located in northeastern Italy just two hours from Venice, the Dolomite Mountains are not your everyday alpine range. These knife-edged peaks and towers come in irregular, fantastical shapes, as if formed by the gods during a primordial, Bacchanalian frenzy. Their vertical walls are literally in your face. As our well-traveled mountain guide exclaimed, “Where else can you walk right up to the face of such tall mountains?!”

From just about any trail or roadway, a grand panorama presents itself. Make a quarter turn, right or left, and yet another staggering scene comes into view. It’s little wonder Corbusier, one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, said, “The Dolomites are the most beautiful architectural work on earth.”

Formed from a 250 million-year-old, Triassic Age seabed, these mountains—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—are a paradise for hikers, climbers, skiers and bikers. The area also has one of the greatest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants in the Alps and a range of accommodations—from romantic, 5-star hotels to wilderness rifugios.

For more information, get in touch with Agustina Lagos Marmol, founder of Dolomite Mountains, a company established to serve the needs of discriminating, upscale travelers who want a customized, mountain experience that can be coordinated with travel to other destinations. Originally from Argentina, this world traveler and adventurer emphasizes that the Dolomites offer “a perfect blend of authenticity and luxury that’s not to be missed.”

Visit www.dolomite mountains.com

Read more.. Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Syria Revisited

Krak des Chevaliers, Syria © Charles & Mary Love

We visited Syria in the early spring of 2000, when President Hafez al-Assad (Bashar’s father) was in power, and discovered a country with hospitable people and a rich, cultural heritage. It’s tragic now to watch Syria decimated by a civil war that has killed nearly 100,000 people (including 7,000 children) and destroyed important cultural sites.

The United Nations has recently urged the Syrian regime and rebels to spare the country’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites, now being ravaged by air raids, shelling, theft and illegal digs. These include the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, and Bosra; the Krak des Chevaliers; the Palmyra oasis; and the ancient towns of northern Syria. Damascus and Aleppo are among the world’s oldest, continuously inhabited cities and the medieval Krak des Chevaliers is the world’s largest and best-preserved crusader castle.

Below are a few of our many images of Syria. We hope the day will return when Syria’ s people are again at peace and welcoming visitors from around the world.

Waterwheels. Hama, Syria © Charles & Mary Love

Hama, located on the banks of the Orontes River in west-central Syria, is the country’s fifth largest city. Famous for its medieval norias (waterwheels), it has been a site of conflict in the current civil war.

Umayyad Mosque. Damascus, Syria © Charles & Mary Love

The Grand Mosque of Damascus (also called the Umayyad Mosque), built from 705-715 AD, is the earliest surviving stone mosque.

The Citadel. Alleppo, Syria © Charles & Mary Love

The Citadel of Aleppo, one of the oldest and largest castles in the world, dates back to the third millennium BC. Part of the ancient city of Aleppo, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Souk al-Madina. Aleppo, Syria © Charles & Mary Love

A merchant welcomes visitors in Aleppo’s souk, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which has been mostly destroyed by fire in the current civil war. A doctor in Aleppo said, “Our hearts and minds have been burned…it’s not just a souk, it’s our soul too.”

Shepherdesses. Western Syria. © Charles & Mary Love

Shepherdesses work long hours to make a living in Syria’s countryside.

Schoolboys. Homs, Syria © Charles & Mary Love

Syrian boys, like these in the city of Homs, greet visitors from other countries with great curiosity.

Read more.. Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Landfalls in Paradise

Opunohu Bay, Moorea

James Michener wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Tales of the South Pacific (1947), “ I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully towards the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description.”

Having just returned from French Polynesia, we can tell you it’s all still there, more or less as Michener reported decades ago. Certainly, Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, is not much of a destination. Rather, it’s primarily a point of departure to other islands, some of which are more populated than in Michener’s day. Nevertheless, these islands remain “lovely beyond description.” And today’s Polynesians preserve cultural traditions in music, dance and crafts.

We cruised the Society Islands for seven days on a wonderful, small ship, the Paul Gauguin, then extended the trip for a couple of days on Moorea, Tahiti’s sister island that Michener called “a monument to the prodigal beauty of nature.” Both Moorea and its most famous mountain, Mouaroa (referred to as the “shark’s tooth”), were the inspiration in Michener’s book for the mythical island, Bali Ha’i, also featured in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific. (See our image above to view Mouaroa as seen from Opunohu Bay.)

A relatively small ship (maximum capacity 332 guests), the Paul Gauguin is the only luxury ship offering year-round itineraries in French Polynesia and rated by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler, for many years, as one of the world’s Top 20 Small Cruise Ships. We’d recommend our 7-day cruise to anyone and also suggest the ship’s longer cruises that cover additional archipelagos. For more information, go to: pgcruises.com

Check out our 60-second video clip (above) of Polynesian dancers. (The clip is to be part of a larger production at the Intercontinental Moorea Resort & Spa to interest guests in special dance performances and other activities). Our feature story and film documentary about French Polynesia are scheduled for publication in October.

Read more.. Saturday, August 17th, 2013

On the Prowl: Cuba

San Carlos fortress overlooks Havana © Charles & Mary Love

Like most people going to Cuba for the first time, we didn’t know what to expect. Would the hotels be shabby and the food bland? Would the cities feel safe? And so forth.

On a trip there this spring, we were pleasantly surprised. Four- and five-star hotels (typically joint ventures with European companies) and casas particulares (private homes operating as B & Bs) are on the rise; family-owned paladares serve excellent, creatively seasoned meals; and the country’s historic architecture is gradually being restored after years of neglect. To be sure, limits on free speech and poverty are significant concerns. But, truthfully, we encountered very little begging—certainly less than on many a city street in the U.S. And what’s not to like about the country’s welcoming people and rich cultural scene?!

The overall impression is that Cuba is a country in transition—and making serious efforts to adapt to the 21st century. Perhaps it’s best to visit before, as one well-traveled friend said, Havana “becomes another Miami Beach.”

To view our recent images, check out the Cuba Essay (under Portfolios on our website) and stay tuned for our short, cinema documentary (to be posted soon under Multimedia, also on the website).

Some facts:

  • Cuba is approximately 800 miles long and the largest of the islands in the Caribbean.
  • The country’s population is around 11 million. Havana’s population is over 2 million.
  • Cuban cities feel safe by day and night, and the crime rate is low.
  • Major exports are nickel (34% of world deposits) and human capital (highly-trained Cuban doctors serve in poverty-stricken countries around the world).
  • The country is dependent on imports for around 80% of its food—and for its oil.
  • American classic cars from the 1950s are everywhere— but they are workhorses (most private taxis), not museum pieces.
  • Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America.
  • Revolutionary Che Guevara, remains a hero to this day. His image is everywhere, from t-shirts to wall murals. Born in Argentina and a key figure in Cuba’s 1959 revolution, he was assassinated in Bolivia in 1967.

Read more.. Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Catnip for Photographers

Great egret and her chicks © Charles & Mary Love

You might not want to rock your baby over a pool of hungry alligators, but more than a few beautiful wading birds—roseate spoonbills, wood storks and several species of egrets and herons—think it’s a grand idea. Every spring hundreds of these birds migrate to the Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine, Florida, to nest. Why? The birds seem to instinctively know that the alligators ward off tree predators such as raccoons and snakes. So aside from the accidental tumble, their young are safe.

Although we aren’t obsessive “birders,” we’ve been visiting the park, which is on the ocean side of St. Augustine’s famous Bridge of Lions, for years. We never tire of watching the action, which starts in February, when the great egrets and spoonbills arrive, and builds through the spring. This natural rookery is so special it attracts photographers from all over the United States and from other countries.

Upon entering, you’re greeted with a cacophony of sounds—the squawks and wails of chicks, “glub-glubs” from courting snowy egrets, and the occasional bellowing of a domineering alligator. Meanwhile, males of every species fluff their feathers, noisily drive away rivals and fly to and fro with nesting materials for their mates.  According to Gen Anderson, Bird and Mammal Curator at the park, there are about 400 nests in a bad year, 800 in a banner year. And since many species build their nests close to the boardwalk, you don’t need a 600mm lens to capture a great image.

It’s worth allowing time to view the animals in the rest of the park: West African crowned cranes, pythons, crocodiles, red-ruffed lemurs and more.

Of course, you shouldn’t miss St. Augustine, America’s oldest city (founded in 1565). Recently, the editors of National Geographic Traveler named this small town one of the 20 “must-see” places in the world. There are historic sites and museums, excellent restaurants, beaches and a variety of places to stay. For more information, visit floridashistoriccoast.com.

Insider tips: When visiting the park, stay at the Sleep Inn, which offers a discount to photographers. Across the street is the Gypsy Cab Company, a casual (and award-winning) neighborhood restaurant. Saltwater Cowboys, on the Intracoastal Waterway, offers seafood and barbecue in a rustic “fish camp”’ setting.  If you’re looking for luxury, go downtown and check into the Casa Monica, a member of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America and the exclusive Kessler Collection of hotels.

Read more.. Monday, May 6th, 2013