On the Prowl: Ecuador

 

Ecuadorblog-1

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.

 

Ecuadorblog-2

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!

 

Ecuadorblog-3

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.

 

Ecuadorblog-4

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.

 

Ecuadorblog-5

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!

Eldar

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

Tehran-142

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).

 

Esfahan-192

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).

 

Shiraz-25

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.

 

Persepolis-29

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.

 

Mahan-16

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.

 

Yazd-150

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.

MelBlog

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.”

Gilliamblog

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.

Georgia Tucker

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

What’s a Photograph?

MusicalCollage

Untitled © Charles & Mary Love

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

Venice Carnavale © Charles & Mary Love

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