“It could be huge, or it could be nothing,” my driver said as he flipped through radio stations debating whether or not the snow would amount to what they said it would. “Depends on if you believe the mayor or the governor,” he explained.
I landed in JFK last Friday night, right as the flakes of the dreaded New England snowstorm began to fall. It was a miracle I even made it. “We’re not optimistic about it,” my friend Emily said referring to whether or not my plane would be able to land that night.
My flight from California was not one of the 13,000 cancelled as a result of snow. Winter storm Jonas, or “snowzilla,” as Wikipedia cheekily indicates, resulted in 30.5 inches of snow in New York City. For two days, residents had a travel ban and were advised to stay put.
Monday morning, things finally got moving again. I took my camera out and walked between 65th and 50th street from Lexington to 5th Ave. By midday, the snow had been plowed from the sidewalk and people were resuming their normal business.
The snow didn’t stop people from piling their garbage high above it.
The cold weather didn’t seem to make a difference whether or not people bought frozen yogurt. Or, it didn’t make a difference to its advertisers. Bikes made their way through the snow and slush faster than the fancy women in high heels boots tiptoeing around the puddles.
I couldn’t help but notice the absurdity of seeing a tanned, naked model in the midst of such a frigid, insufferable snowstorm.
During my walk through Midtown, I noticed a lot of older women in extravagant fur hats. Older men in wheelchairs were accompanied by caretakers of color and foreign nannies were telling kids not to run too fast or jump in the street.
Some of the women weren’t as elegantly dressed as others, but two older women I saw had color coordinated outfits. Perhaps they were going to yoga together.
While New York has colorful street art, the most provocative thing I witnessed in this neighborhood was a sticker that said #legalizeorgasms; I later discovered that it’s a marketing campaign by Foria, a company that sells “All natural cannabis infused sensual oil designed for female pleasure.”
Wouldn’t the featured photo be even more fun if I hadn’t have had to post the collage with the watermark? In case you’re wondering, I uploaded my photos to http://www.photovisi.com, and was too cheap to pay $2.30 for the one without it the watermark. This is not even meant to be an advertisement.
If the featured photo is an testament to the way I enjoy traveling, its that I ingest a variety of hot liquids in all of the places I visit. I love lattes, teas, matcha, hot chocolate and even hot milk and honey.
While many of these drinks are sweet enough on their own, others require extra sugar. And I’m not shy to make it as sweet as possible. With the frequency with which I visit cafes, this means I’ve seen a lot of sugar packets.
Some caught my attention for being crafty and colorful; others might have been considered boring had it not been for the allure of another non-Latin script.
Some of the photos below were taken quickly on my IPhone, sometimes as an afterthought. Please excuse the low quality.
I have a friend who posts inspiring, short Facebook statuses. I once told him that I really appreciated them. When I scroll through my newsfeed, they are micro-reminders to relax, collect yourself and to be kind to others. Sugar packets with reminders, like one above, serve the same purpose. Just like a good cup of tea, a short quote can bring you back down to earth.
The sugar featured below is from Cafe Louvre in Prague. I was visiting last January, and realized that would be the last time I traveled to a freezing place on purpose. I found comfort on the second floor of the elegant cafe. I sat alone at a table for two and indulged in a sweet sampler platter. My motto was “treat yo’self.” I sipped from my latte and dug my fork into red velvet and chocolate cake as I wrote in my journal.
I didn’t realize the religious undertones (it does say “God”…) of the quote found on the sugar packet below, but here is an explanation. The takeaway? See opportunity in difficult circumstances instead of a failure.
The hosts discuss that a good way to expand your skills and try new things is by setting an ongoing project. Some photographers aim for a 365 day, others a 52 (once per week). That feels a little too ambitious for me. But I still want to partake in a project that will help me develop skillz (yes, skills with a “z”). In 2015, I started to learn, mainly with travel photography. In 2016, I plan on working on learning more about photography and expanding to different genres.
For my ongoing project, I am going practice street photography and publish one photo a month. The theme of my monthly photos will be: Personality.
Why personality? I decided this topic because that is one of the reasons I love to travel. I travel to see other people- how they react, how they interact with with other and their environments. I want to practice capturing those moments I love to witness.
Because I am typically shy photographing people in public, this project will take me out of my comfort zone. I am going to challenge myself to engage with street photography, to take out the camera where normally I might be shy, and to not be afraid of talking to people about what I am doing.
Valerie Jardin always reminds her listeners- the newbies are shy. They’re embarrassed. And they hurt themselves by feeling that they are doing something wrong. This year, I will be brave! I won’t hide behind my zoom lens!
I look forward to your constructive comments. Best of luck you to you in your resolutions.
Featured photo: A vintage car lot in Brittany, France.
It’s close to the end of the year. This means you’ll be seeing the year in review: Best of… worst of…most memorable…
Here’s another list to add to the multitude, and hopefully this either makes you laugh or inspires you to make fun of yourself or someone you know.
2015 took me to many countries: Spain, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Portugal, France, Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (obviously in no particular order, and clearly not in alphabetical order).
With lots of travel brings lots of photos. And with lots of photos brings lots of bad photos.
I’ve never been one to be particularly photogenic. Travel has only made me see this even clearer. If I don’t look downright awkward, I usually find myself somewhere between boring and too excited. We’re all overcritical of ourselves, this I recognize, but others have also confirmed my debility.
Take a look at the 9 worst photos I took in 2015, and let’s hope 2016 brings even worse ones. #Nothidingfrommyselfanylonger
1- When we were in that room in Morocco
You heard the story(most likely you read it). We were in the same room for hours. Which meant ample time to showcase how that sweat and extreme heat transformed my face.
2- A great photo shoot in Laos
The scenery in the rural area outside of Vang Vieng, Laos was breathtaking. My modelings skills were not.
3- When I wasn’t the only one in Finisterre
After we finished the Camino, Kimberly and I cheated and took a bus three hours to the coast to Finisterre. We cannot blame the exhaustion from the Camino, as by this point, we had relaxed enough.
4- When Sweaty Betty comes out to sunbathe
Enough said. Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, was hot.
5-When my sister tries to take a cheeky Snapchat
6- When I’m sleeping
I’m lucky enough to be able to fall asleep practically on command. I’ve slept in a number of moving vehicles and in front of many people. I can’t control the way I look, and more than that I can’t control who decides to capture those moments.
7-When I try to take a sneaky selfie
Last year in Ibiza my friends and I had a picnic at Cala Salada. Our Argentine friend grilled my beloved choripan. At least chimichurri wasn’t in my teeth at the time I took the picture.
8-When it’s sunset in Cala d’Albarca
My family came to visit me in Ibiza, and little did they know the pickings for their Facebook albums would be slim.
9-When you ask someone something at the wrong moment
Those are also my “don’t look at me” eyes.
You’re in luck. Number 10 is a bonus photo. It’s a throw back from 2014, but it was too good not to share. I was randomly looking at a friend’s Instagram when I saw a gem. At the time when this photo was taken, I didn’t have an Instagram yet. It was a big surprise to stumble upon this last August.
You know when you’re coming back into the U.S. and at customs have to swear you haven’t been around livestock abroad? You check “no,” but really, you have flashbacks of dodging poop. To seeing curious calves first thing in the morning as the sun comes up over Galicia and stopping randomly to laugh as you see a cow licking another’s back.
Those flashbacks make you feel guilty for lying. After all, you didn’t just come into contact. You were in the thick of it. In fact, one of the eight things all Camino towns had in common was the poignant odor of manure.
Throughout the 500 kilometers of the Camino that Kimberly (see here for her beautiful piece on her experience walking) and I did from Burgos to Santiago de Compostela along the French route last June-July, I had never been closer to farms.
Many of the paths of the Camino went through farmer’s land. Sometimes, the towns were so small (maybe two or three houses) that the pilgrims’ route, farmland, and their private property were indistinguishable.
Just like camels, they have darling eye lashes. Their gazes are captivating and their gestures often human-like.
Sometimes they saw us walking and would stop for a moment to check things out. Realizing we weren’t going to hurt them, they carried on about their business.
I particularly liked a little one who watched us intently.
Sometimes, they were naughty.
We were sitting by an albergue chatting with friends in Laguna de Castilla, just before O Cebreiro, when this couple in the photo above were leading their cows to roam.
One precocious male cow decided to go against the herd and came walking towards us. The woman screamed and ran up, whacking a stick at the ground, and often at him, to veer him in the right direction.
Other times, like in the photo above, the caretakers were more gentle. It was around 8:30am when we watched this woman guide her calves.
When they weren’t in fields or watching us from the inside of a barn, they were sharing the road with us.
Being guided by a local farmer, they changed locations on the same paths that the pilgrims used to complete their camino. It wasn’t until these moments that I realized how large they were. My suburban life had shielded me from the wonders of these mammals.
They moved quickly and intently, coming close but never too close. “Mooooove along,” they must have been thinking (Oh, Allison!).
According to Spain’s National Statistical Institute’s 2009 census, there are almost 6 million heads of cattle in the country. That’ a lot of cows. Because the majority of the Camino passes through rural areas, it makes sense that cows became such an integral part of our experience.
Merzouga, Morocco was more than just suffocating heat, Berber pizza and goats. It’s December. So obviously, that means a special day is coming up. That’s right! Let’s celebrate animals.
In our three day “Camel Trek” from Merzouga through the black desert almost reaching the border with Algeria, Kimberly and I got very close to our camels. Physically, of course. There was, however, a language barrier.
The popular term is camel, but in reality, the animals we see as “camels” in Morocco aren’t actually camels. The one-humped furry creatures you see in the photos below are called Dromedaries.
Although they their pungent stench was overbearing at times, their batting eyelashes, patient stance and gentle grandeur were endearing qualities.
While most of the time we weren’t riding them they were at the well drinking water or grazing far in the distance, sometimes they were relaxing calmly nearby. Watching them regurgitate their food and chew it back up, I was partial to their unique chewing. Here is a video of me trying to imitate it.
On our last day in the desert, we had spent many uneventful hours in a small, one-roomed hut. Accosted by the blistering heat we were confined to this space, save photography outings to do the goat photo shoots and a few quick visits to the well for a Berber shower. Camels drink water, we dump it on our heads.
Around dusk, we were finally preparing to leave the desert and return to Merzouga. In the long hours we had been in the abandoned village hanging out with goats, Ahmed had let the dromedary camels wander.
Ahmed left to find the camels. He was gone for at least 20 minutes. When he came back, the camels sat outside the room, waiting for us to grab the uneaten food, the water canteen, and the utensils. Ahmed was tying up my favorite Decathalon backpack to the saddle as he started to look nervous. “We can’t leave yet,” he said, “There’s a storm coming.”
The wind had picked up. Just as we got our hopes up to finally leave the trappings of the abandoned town, we had to wait longer. We took shelter inside the hut and left the camels outside. Although I was worried about them being left out in the storm, I realized this was what they were engineered for.
When we saw the pellets of sand hitting our dear friends, I was glad we hadn’t have left yet. They stood unflinching through the hour of fierce wind and sand. They shut their eyelids and at some points had to move slowly from side to side. Meanwhile, we were inside the room re-watching the same videos and looking at the same photos we had all day in the midst of our previous boredom.
Just like the wind, they were strong. I admire their ability to withstand such unpleasant conditions. Those sassy little beards and coarse tufts of hair on their heads make them seem like little lions.
As soon as the wind died down, we mounted our camels and headed through the black desert. Ahmed had decided that although the storms could continue, we had to leave now – or it was never. We took our chances. We didn’t want to have more Berber pizza. The storm hit again twice on our ride back (see this video for my dramatic interpretation of riding a camel). We were hot, sticky, sweaty and tired. Yet our faithful companions took us back to safety, slow, steady, and unafraid.
The ride itself was rather uncomfortable. As a result, I left with an achy back, painfully sore inner thighs and ankle tightness. But if there was anything I’d like to ride and hurt my groin area on, it’s my strong and majestic friends of the animal kind.
This past August, I visited Basque Country. Yes, this is same trip as the Pitbull incident. The day that Pitbull didn’t accompany us, friends and I went to Bilbao to see the last weekend of the annual celebration, Aste Naguisa.
Aste Naguisa is a 9-day festival celebrating Basque-ness. Political and neighborhood organizations set up tents. In these tents, participants drink, play games, and see performances. Walking around the endless pedestrian-only streets we saw the organizations’ massive murals and artistic takes on pop culture, consumer society and world events.
The narrow cobblestones streets were filled with overflowing tapas bars, street vendors and loud music. Those celebrating the festival wear purple scarves.
The protagonist of the festival is Marijaia, who, surprisingly, is burned to celebrate the end of the 9-day event. Marijaia means “lady of the party,” and she is meant to symbolize optimism and dance.
She comes in different shapes, forms, and versions.
The above photo was the first Marijaia I saw. At first I thought she was just a fun decoration. Then I realized her significance. Below is an example of a smaller version, seen in a shop window in the central distinct.
Marijaia was everywhere. But among the tents and crowds, I noticed a different version of her I hadn’t seen before. This Marijaia was purple, with a winking face with the words, “Egin Keinu bardintasunari” (Make an equality gesture) under it. At the bottom, it reads, “Ez beti da Ez,” or “no means no.”
The campaign “Ez beti da Ez,” financed by the Bilbao Town Hall, had the support of 880 businesses located on the grounds of the event. The campaign distributed 700,000 napkins with the phrase, “¡Ez beti da ez; no es no. Insistir es acosar. Acosar es agredir¡” (No means no. To insist is to harass. To harass is to attack) to be placed in those restaurants.
The directors of the campaign also distributed cards with emergency phone numbers and had a hotline available for people to report violence. Buses on certain lines throughout the city were also decorated to spread the word on preventing violence, and to provide information for those who needed to report.
It struck me as impressive that the local government was able to make this campaign so visible. Everywhere I saw a billboard, a poster, a sign, a napkin. The message “no means no” was unavoidable. It was loud and clear, just as the campaigners intended it. Their goal was to make the event for all people and free of prejudice and violence of any form. Festivals are for joyous celebration, not for chauvinism and aggression.
As my friends and I joined hundreds of people circling around teams competing in traditional Basque games, I couldn’t help but notice a huge “no means no” sign behind the crowds.
I walked around the people as an announcer was speaking in Basque. When no one cheered when expected, she switched to Spanish and said, “So no one speaks Basque here?” As she continued, I saw a few girls holding a cutout. It was a giant, winking Marijaia with her face cut out. Festival goers could show their support for the campaign by inserting their faces in the sign.
For 16 Day of Activism, I celebrate this campaign. I celebrate the town hall’s creativity in associating a revered cultural symbol with consent and equality. Violence prevention efforts are more effective when they are continuous and consistent. I hope the campaign served to remind people to respect others. I hope that in case someone was in danger, the campaign’s hotline was there to help.
Do you also want to wink for equality?
On these 16 Days of Activism, I hope everyone takes a moment to understand the challenges women face around the world. Your education shouldn’t make you feel powerless, however. One of my favorite quotes is by Charles Dickens:
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of anyone else.
Each of us has a chance. A chance to lighten the burden of someone else. To step up for those who have been pushed down.
Read here for my tips on handling subtle micro-gender-based attacks, especially in the classroom.
Read here for tips on how to confront abusive language.
Read the U.S. Department of State’s blog on three ways you can participate in 16 Days of Activism. Your activism doesn’t have to end after the 16 days. Use this tips to be an advocate for human rights all year.
Read here for how you can help others by being at peace with yourself