Media Madness!

Media-Madness

Media Madness © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

When we recently returned from the tranquility of Patagonia, we needed a psychological “heat shield” to protect us from the shock of re-entering the media-crazed “atmosphere” in the U.S..

Of course, we knew what to expect. Take, for example, one of our favorite watering holes in South Florida—a popular bar called Flanigan’s. It’s an intimate, convivial place with wall-to-wall TV screens—over 20 of them—that blare simultaneous news and sports channels. The many screens always seemed excessive for such a small space and always in competition with normal conversation .

But just when you think things can’t get worse, they do. We captured the symbolic image above in a recently opened pub in uptown Charlotte, North Carolina. The place has no less than 175 TV screens—that’s right, 175!—in a space only slightly larger than Flanigan’s! You might call it electronic wallpaper, but that’s doesn’t tell the full story. Not only do the TVs cover the walls, they’re suspended in multiple rows from the ceilings, somewhat reminiscent of Buddhist prayer flags.

Such electronic fantasylands reflect a fundamental change in our culture involving an addiction to high tech devices: laptop computers, iPads, iPhones, iPods, Apple watches, Androids, Google Glass and more. These products constantly compete for our attention, with rings, buzzes, vibrations, taps on the wrist and an incessant need for software updates.

Research from MIT has concluded that, in less than the span of a single childhood, Americans have merged with their machines. In fact, we spend more time staring at a screen than any other activity, including sleeping. The research also shows that teens fit some seven hours of screen time into the average school day—and up to 11 hours if you include time spent multi-tasking on several devices. Texting has become like blinking, with the average teen processing an incredible 3,700 texts per month. As Newsweek warned 3 years ago, “the Internet is not just another system. It’s creating an entirely new mental environment, a digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning instrument panel, and few people will survive unscathed.”

It’s iCrazy and little wonder that many of us are searching for the equivalent of a “mass delete” button! Short of tossing out all our devices, is there a way to deal with the onslaught of mediocre imagery and data? A few suggestions come to mind:

  • Plan periodic getaways to remote places where the Internet is not available.
  • Reduce time spent on social media.
  • Go online less often and only for specific, necessary purposes.
  • Don’t feel compelled to respond immediately to every e-mail or text.
  • Meet face-to-face instead of through a device.
  • Leave devices at home, especially when socializing with friends and loved ones.
  • Read more objective, thought provoking books and other publications.
  • Schedule time to gaze at the stars, embrace nature—and meditate.

Sure, technological innovation is great, but devices aren’t the answer to everything. We need time and space to contemplate, relate to the world with common sense, engage with others face-to-face…and to hold on to our sanity.

Read more.. Friday, April 17th, 2015

Explora Patagonia Lodge—Torres del Paine National Park

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The Paine Range near the Explora Patagonia lodge © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

 

Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in southern Chile, gets our vote as one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

The top place to stay is Explora Patagonia. No question about it. Overlooking Lake Pehoé, it’s the only luxury lodge in the heart of the park with close-up views of the jaw-dropping Paine Range.

“Location, location, location,” they say in real estate. How Explora’s owner acquired this magnificent site is a story that, if known, would surely make developers foam at the mouth with envy. Like a box seat for music lovers at the Met or Lincoln Center, the lodge offers intimate, full-stage views of the setting. The privileged few who make it here don’t have to take a hike, or even leave their beds, to look upon one of Mother Nature’s grandest spectacles. And like a coquettish woman adjusting her wardrobe to please, the Paine Range changes by the minute as light and shadows work their magic. It’s the kind of destination that photographers—and anyone inspired by nature—dream about.

Wildlife is abundant: guanacos (wild mammals that are members of the camel family), rheas (a large flightless bird resembling an ostrich), pumas, flamingoes, foxes, condors and more. Experienced guides at the lodge lead small groups on exploratory treks and horseback rides that can be as physically challenging, or as leisurely, as they wish.

The cuisine is healthy, delicious and beautifully presented—and the service impeccable. Weekly barbecues are also a treat. Gauchos cook, over an open fire, the world’s most tender lamb and other Chilean specialties, accompanied by a cornucopia of fresh, seasoned vegetables and some of the country’s finest wines.

Founder of the Explora company, Pedro Ibáñez, didn’t want to replicate traditional travel experiences, but, rather, to offer ways to combine in-depth exploration of remote, magical places with luxury accommodations. Explora also has lodges in Chile’s Atacama Desert and on Easter Island.

It’s little wonder that Explora has been recognized as South America’s Leading Expedition Company by World Travel Awards. For more information on the company’s lodge-based and nomadic journeys, visit www.explora.com, call toll free in the United States at 1-866-750-6699 or e-mail reserve@explora.com

Getting there: Delta offers 9 ½ hour flights from Atlanta to Santiago, Chile. From there, LAN Airlines has connecting flights to Punta Arenas, Chile. The lodge can help arrange the 5-hour drive from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine. This is one of the simplest ways we’ve found to make the journey from the East Coast..

 

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Guanaco in front of the Towers, Torres del Paine National Park © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

 

Guanacos, one of the largest wild mammal species found in South America, roam throughout the area. The iconic Torres del Paine (which translates “towers of pale blue” from the indigenous Telhueche language) provide an epic backdrop.

 

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Hikers at Lake Sarmiento © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

 

Hikers take in the views at Lake Sarmiento, named after Spanish explorer Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. The lake’s shoreline has large calcium deposits resulting from, geologists suggest, hydrothermal activity in the lake and/or sediments trapped in mats of blue-green algae.

 

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The Explora Patagonia lodge © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

 

The Explora Patagonia lodge overlooks Lake Pekoe and the iconic Cuernos (horns), so named because of the horn-like shape of the twin peaks at the far right.

 

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The Cuernos by moonlight © 2015 Charles & Mary Love

 

The Paine Range and Cuernos under a full moon, as seen from the lodge, create a magical setting. Italian priest Alberto de Agostini, one of the first to explore the area, said during a 1945 journey, ” The Paine massif is unrivaled…in its colors and forms it is without doubt one of the most spectacular sights that the human imagination can conceive.”

Read more.. Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

Australis Cruise in Southern Patagonia

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Pia Fjord © Charles & Mary Love


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An excursion from the Stella Australis © Charles & Mary Love

 

We just returned not long ago from a wonderful adventure aboard the Stella Australis, a ship that regularly cruises Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago of islands at the southern tip of South America known as “the end of the world.”

For some 25 years now, Australis has been the only company to offer weekly cruises through Tierra del Fuego to Cape Horn, taking travelers to remote, rarely visited, fjords and islands. In fact, on these cruises, which are scheduled during the warmer months of September through April, the Stella is often alone in these waters.

The route includes the Magellan Strait (discovered by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century)—a preferred trading route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans until the Panama Canal opened in 1914. Travelers can also follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, whose research here resulted in his controversial work, The Origin of the Species. (Darwin actually spent more time in Patagonia than in the Galapagos Islands).

On board and ashore, Australis’ knowledgeable guides discuss the history of the region and identify Patagonia’s diverse flora and fauna, ranging from lichens, mosses, berry-laden shrubs and wildflowers to penguins, elephant seals, sea lions, albatross, dolphin and even orcas and humpback whales.

Comfortable staterooms have 6-foot windows with IMAX views of the constantly changing scenery. In an elegant dining room, the chef serves Patagonian specialties like lamb and crabmeat, accompanied by some of Chile’s finest wines. All these amenities, plus an attentive crew, add up to a first-class experience.

Many people enjoy combining the cruise with a visit to a South American city, such as Buenos Aires, Argentina, or Santiago, Chile. Or they round out their journey, as we did, with a visit to Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, an extraordinarily beautiful UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The very best place to stay in Torres del Paine is the explora Patagonia lodge, the only luxury accommodation in the heart of the park with close-up views of the iconic Paine Range.

Visit australis.com, call toll free 866-750-6699, or email sales@australis.com. Also visit explora.com, call toll free 866-750-6699,or email reserve@explora.com.

Read more.. Wednesday, March 18th, 2015

Remembering Dylan Thomas

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St. David’s Cathedral © Charles & Mary Love

 

Seventy miles from historic St. David’s Cathedral, the town of Swansea—birthplace of Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)—looks out over the sea. It was along this coastline that Thomas, the country’s most famous poet, drew inspiration during his relatively short life. (He died at age 39 from pneumonia after a drinking binge in New York City.)

The year 2014 marks the centenary of his birth. In current and previous commemorations, he’s been called the James Joyce of Wales and compared to his own hero, John Keats.

Thomas’ descriptions of what he observed along the coast are memorable: “tall birds on the heron priested shore”; “a sea wet church the size of a snail”; and “the sloe-back, slow, black, crowblack, fishboat-bobbing sea.”

His poetry also dealt with universal themes:  love, death and the celebration—and passing—of childhood. But what stands out are his unusual metaphors and his ability to create impressionistic sketches—and sounds—with his imaginative choice of words.

He once wrote: “What words stood for, symbolized or meant was of secondary importance; what mattered was the sound of them. Words were to me as the notes of bells, the sounds of musical instruments, the noises of wind, sea and rain, the rattle of milk carts, the clopping of hooves on cobblestones, the fingering of branches on a window pane might be to someone, deaf from birth, who has miraculously found his hearing.”

In fact, Thomas’ poetry reminds us of the impressionistic music of Ravel (Gaspard de la Nuit/Ondine, La Valse) and Debussy (Reflet Dans L’eau, L’Isle Joyeux) or the watercolors of American painter Charles Burchfield, whose brushstrokes magically evoke the sights and sounds of nature.

It’s impossible to forget what is perhaps Thomas’ best known poem, Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, written for his dying father, in which he exhorts: “Rage, rage at the dying of the light.”

Or—one of our favorites—Fern Hill, which  both celebrates childhood and laments its loss:

“Now I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

The night above the dingle starry,

Time let me hail and climb

Golden in the heydays of his eyes.”

 

“In the sun that is young once only,

Time let me play and be Golden in the mercy of his means,

And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves

Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hill barked clear and cold,

And the Sabbath rang slowly

In the pebbles of the holy streams.”

 

“…Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means

Time held me green and dying,

Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”

 

Check out The Poems of Dylan Thomas, edited by Dylan Thomas’ life-long friend, Daniel Jones (available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble). The book includes a CD with Thomas reciting several of his poems. He was always known for his evocative readings of his own work.

Read more.. Saturday, November 8th, 2014

Rooms with a View

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The Peninsula House. © 2014 Charles & Mary Love

We recently enjoyed a stay at The Peninsula House, a secluded hideaway on the Dominican Republic’s Samaná Peninsula. (The Dominican Republic occupies roughly two-thirds of the Carribean island of Hispaniola.) Situated on the island’s relatively undeveloped north coast, the peninsula has extraordinary natural beauty sans the commercialism of the island’s more developed southern and eastern coasts. The peninsula is known for  its long, empty beaches, rain forests and whale watching. In fact, it’s said that during the winter months, over 75%  of the humpback whales that cruise the Atlantic seaboard come here to conceive and give birth!

A short drive up a secluded dirt road leads guests to an enormous gingerbread mansion. The inn’s eclectic architecture combines elements of British Colonial (the Victorian façade) and Spanish (a colonnaded inner courtyard). Six spacious guests rooms with French doors open onto wide verandas with stunning views of palm groves and the sea.

Best of all is the hospitality of the owners, Marie-Claude Thiebault and Cary Guy, a well-traveled couple who met  in southern France, then decided to  build their dream inn. Marie-Claude filled the house with art and antiques she collected from her travels; Cary, a talented chef and former innkeeper, designed the menus and contributed his own works of art.

Although the house is not directly on the water, Marie and Cary gladly shuttle guests down the hill to the “beach club,” a doll house version of the main house that’s just five minutes away by car. There guests can walk a mostly empty 6-mile beach (Playa Coson), take a swim and dine on huge plates of fresh lobster and other seafood. As a former guest has said, “A visit here is like staying in a private Eden.”

As irresistible as anything at the Peninsula House is the cuisine. Dinners are served on fine china (they say if you stay a week, you’ll never see the same pattern twice) and accompanied by outstanding New World and European wines. There’s simply nothing like dining on the veranda by candlelight while listening to a symphony of tree frogs and crickets!

The Peninsula House has been recognized by the likes of Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, and Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report as one of the most special hotels in the Caribbean. For more information, go to thepeninsulahouse.com and look for our upcoming story in Charleston Style & Design magazine.

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Living Room, The Peninsula House © 2014 Charles & Mary Love

Accented by African masks and other antiques collected by the owners, the living room is a wonderful place to relax. The popular billiard room is visible through the doorway.

Playa Coson, Dominican Republic. © 2014 Charles and Mary Love

A pristine beach, Playa Coson, is just five minutes from the Peninsula House. Adjacent to the beach are the inn’s cabana and restaurant.

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Shrimp and Mango Salad. © 2014 Charles & Mary Love

This appetizer of shrimp, avocado and mango, served on fine china, was prepared by owner and chef, Cary Guy.

Read more.. Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

On the Prowl: Ecuador

 

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Quito’s Plaza de San Francisco © Charles & Mary Love

 

After our recent road trip through Ecuador’s highlands, we understood why World Travel Awards designated Quito as South America’s leading destination for 2013. In 2014, the capital city was again nominated  for this award, along with nominations as a business travel destination. Additionally, National Geographic Traveler magazine named Quito as one of its top 20 destinations last year.

Founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city, Quito, some 9,000 feet above sea level, sprawls across a broad valley surrounded by volcanic peaks. Its Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has one of the greatest concentrations of religious architecture in the world. Excellent restaurants and historic boutique hotels, which were private homes in the 16th and 17th centuries, add to the appeal.

Beyond Quito, Ecuador has much more to offer: indigenous highland markets; the extraordinary wildlife of the Amazon region; lovely beaches on the Pacific coast; and, of course, the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles offshore.

 

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Volcán Cayambe © Charles & Mary Love

 

Thirty-five miles north of Quito, Volcán Cayambe looms over rolling farmland. It’s Ecuador’s third highest peak, the highest point in the world through which the equator passes—and the coldest place in the world on the equator!

 

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Catedral de la Immaculado Concepción @ Charles & Mary Love

 

Cuenca is considered by many as the country’s most beautiful colonial city. The imposing domes and towers of the city’s Catedral de la Immaculado Concepción (also called the Nueva Catedral) overlook Cuenca’s largest plaza, Parque Calderón.

 

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Women of Gualaceo © Charles & Mary Love

 

In the highland town of Gualaceo, these women, wearing traditional clothing, converse during a weekend religious festival. The town is known for its crafts, including ikat textiles woven using a pre-Columbian technique of tieing and dying threads.

 

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Tren Crucero © Charles & Mary Love

 

Ecuador’s new Tren Crucero (cruise train) was recently nominated by World Travel Awards as the best luxury train in South America. The train runs 280 miles from Quito to the coastal town of Guayaquil and back, with intermediate stops along the way. The entire journey, from sea level to 11,800 feet, takes four days, three nights. (Those with limited time can sign up for a shorter trip.)

Passengers enjoy the outstanding scenery of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, where more than 10 volcanoes rise over 12,000 feet, and are introduced to the people and cultures of  the highlands and the coast. Steam locomotives dating from the early 20th century run on two legs of the route. We found the service on the train exceptional.

Read more.. Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

Piano Fireworks!

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Eldar © Charles & Mary Love

 

As magazine editors, we first discovered Eldar when our music reviewer wrote, several years ago, a short article about this young, still unfamiliar jazz pianist from the former Soviet Union and his debut CD. At the time, critics were calling him a “reincarnation of Art Tatum,” and a  “phenomena of nature.” This, of course, caught our attention because Tatum was an extraordinary keyboard artist who inspired countless jazz pianists over the years.

Sure enough, we loved Eldar’s first CD and have followed this pianist’s career ever since. He migrated to the United States at age 10 and now resides in New York when he’s not traveling. At age 26, he has released numerous CDs and continues to play for audiences around the world who appreciate his extraordinary piano pyrotechnics. As Bob Duarshuk wrote in Downbeat, “His command of the instrument is beyond staggering.”

We heard Eldar and his trio play in Delray Beach, Florida, this weekend and spoke with him after the performance. He said that, when he practices, he plays classical music 80% of the time because “it’s good for my technique and keyboard precision.”

Check out his recent simultaneous CD releases. One, titled Breakthrough, includes standard and original jazz compositions that feature his trio. The other, Bach/Brahms/Prokofiev, is a solo piano album showcasing Eldar’s unusual interpretations of well-known pieces from the classical repertoire. For more information, visit eldarmusic.com

Read more.. Saturday, May 24th, 2014

On the Prowl: Iran

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Tehran and Alborz Mountains © Charles & Mary Love

One must visit Iran to understand how warm, gracious and pro-American the people are.

After our recent journey through the country, we wholeheartedly agreed with travel consultant and journalist, Rick Steves, who reported during his visit to Iran: “In no other country have I considered it such an asset to be an American.” He was referring to the  extraordinary welcome and hospitality he received everywhere he went.

Home to some of the oldest civilizations on the planet, Iran has a rich cultural history. And Iranians, who consider themselves Persians (don’t call them Arabs—they’ll quickly correct you!), are justifiably proud of their legacy in the areas of art, architecture, science and literature. Three times the size of France, the county has some of the world’s highest reserves of petroleum, natural gas, zinc, copper and uranium.

Today, almost half of Iran’s population of roughly 80 million is under the age of 25. We expected these young people to be religious, conservative and perhaps even hostile to Americans. Instead, they were extraordinarily friendly and open to a more secular lifestyle. Most own cell phones and laptops are are up-to-date on the latest software and apps.

Many women now wear the manteau, a mid-thigh-length jacket instead of the more traditional body-concealing chador and, in private, reportedly don contemporary fashions. They, in fact, hold over 60% of the country’s science and engineering degrees (according to a recent N.Y. Times editorial). And they’re advancing in fields ranging from cinema, tourism and publishing to computer science and telecommunications.

Key problems, nevertheless, persist in Iran. These include high inflation and unemployment, U.S./European Union economic sanctions, off-the-charts air pollution (especially in Tehran) and limited infrastructure for income-producing tourism.

Highlights of our trip included the beautiful cities of Esfahan and Shiraz, the peaceful gardens and busy bazaars throughout the country, the ancient ruins of Persepolis and, of course, opportunities to meet Iran’s welcoming people, always generous and full of a contagious joie de vivre.

Recommended Reading: The Soul of Iran by Afshin Molavi and The Ayatollah Begs to Differ—The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd (available on Amazon).

 

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Naqsh-e Jahan Square in the city of Esfahan, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the second largest square on earth (behind Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in China).

 

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The Citadel in Shiraz © Charles & Mary Love

The Citadel in Shiraz dates to the 18th-century Zand Dynasty. Shiraz is also the site of the tombs of renowned Persian poets Hafez and Sa’di.

 

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Persepolis stone carving © Charles & Mary Love

Persepolis, center of the ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire (circa 500 B.C.), is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site.  Over a period of 150 years it grew and became the hub of the greatest empire the world had known to date.

 

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Shrine of Shah Ne’matolleh Vali © Charles & Mary Love

This beautiful Sufi shrine in the small town of Mahan, about 20 miles southeast of Kerman, honors the mystic poet, Shah Ne’matolleh Vali, who died in the 15th century at over 100 years of age. It’s one of the most recognizable images of eastern Iran.

 

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Persian mother and daughter © Charles & Mary Love

A mother relaxes with her daughter in the Qajar-period (19th-century) Bagh-e Eram garden in Shiraz, one of Iran’s many meticulously designed green spaces where locals come to relax and socialize.

 

Read more.. Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Serenity at Sea

Crystal Serenity, Courtesy Crystal Cruises

 

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.

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Mel Tomlinson © Charles & Mary Love

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.”

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Gillian Murphy © Charles & Mary Love

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.

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Georgia Tucker © Charles & Mary Love

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