Category Archives: photograph

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 17: Mouraria


If you have read my last post, you will understand that I am, at the moment,  a bit allergic to popular tourist spots and their attendant crowds of tourists.  But also, I am sure we all realise that touristy places usually don’t reflect the lives of the locals very much.

So it is with a little trepidation that I share with you this quiet little gem in Lisbon which I am nominating as Squirrel’s Secret Spot or SSS #17 because I wouldn’t want this often overlooked place to be suddenly over run by the plague of locusts tourists.  Then again, I reassure myself with the thought that the number of readers of this blog would make up a very plague or a very lonely horde.  So we are probably safe if you keep the secret to yourselves.

Mouraria is Lisbon’s secret neighborhood.  Lying on the slopes of the hill and under the shadow of the imposing castle, Castelo de São Jorge, it is the sister neighborhood to the more famous and more frequented Alfama area which is on the other side of the castle. Both neighborhoods are probably the oldest parts of Lisbon as they survived relatively intact after the great earthquake of 1755 flattened most of the city.

Mouraria means the Quarter of the Moors because it was first settled by the Moors in the year 714 and even after Lisbon fell to the Portuguese in 1147, they were allowed to live on there.  It has always been a multicultural neighborhood and remains so today.

But why have I included Mouraria in my very select group of Secret Spots?  It is enchanting and it feels like a hidden secret.  One moment you are in a busy wide pedestrian avenue which seems typical of downtown Lisbon but just a few steps down a narrow opening between buildings and you enter a different world.  At once, you leave the bustle of the city  and you enter a peaceful, quiet village-like neighborhood.  It seems like magic.

Mouraria is one of several places that claim to be the place where the music genre, Fado was born (see last post).  The story goes that the very first star of Fado was Maria Severa Onofriana (1820-1846) and her house is still there in Mouraria.  Fado is all about lamenting one’s fate so it is perhaps no surprise that Maria Severa did not have an easy life.  She was a prostitute living in the slums and occasionally singing her sad songs in local taverns.  One of her lovers was an aristocrat, Francisco de Paula Portugal e Castro, the Count of Vimioso.  It was he that help elevate this song styling and made it popular among high society. Maria Severa died  of tuberculosis at the age of 26 and was buried in a common ditch at a local cemetery.

Rua da Guia is lined with portraits of famous Fado singers who contributed to the growth of Fado’s popularity.  Most are actual photographs but the one of Maria Severa is just a stylised drawing as no picture of her exists.

Mouraria’s narrow streets are also lined with 15 photo portraits of local residents.  These and those of the Fado luminaries were photographs transferred onto concrete or wood by a special process by British born photographer Camilla Watson.  She loved Mouraria and the people there and continues to be a member of the community and she wanted to thank the community for making her feel so welcomed.  These photos help the visitor enter into the community too.

There are lovely surprises around every bend.  It could be a quaint restaurant serving sardines, a charming little plaza, a park bench with a view, a street with neighbors talking on their doorstep or from their balconies, a neighborhood watering hole with no space to swing a cat but a long, long revered history, an old historic home, beautiful wall murals expressing the spirit of gratitude and hope in the community or it could be tables and chairs filling whatever space they could find along a narrow lane and serving the best samosas I have ever tasted, apparently for generations.  Mouraria is so many small gems that make me want to go back and spend a lot more time there.

But for me, my short visit ended by going past a street of brilliant murals, down a steep stairway and then with one step, emerged between two buildings and onto a part of busy central Lisbon that I had walked before without knowing that an enchanted place was hidden just out of view.

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Surfing Outback


This week LGS is stepping in the ol’ time machine (otherwise known as my dusty photo album) to go back some 15 years.  It was not the best of times for me.  I was very  stressed, terribly unhealthy and quite unwell.  During this dip in my life, I took a trip to Australia to visit relatives.  I was so worn out that I slept most of the time there.  But I did go on a road trip with them towards the interior of Oz.

Our journey started from Perth and we made our way south for hundreds of kilometers to Albany before we struck out to the north and inland towards the heart of the continent.

 

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As it was spring, the journey started lush and green and colourful (Stirling Range National Park)
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Canola fields
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After the Stirling Range, we endured seemingly endless boring kilometers of flat, dry , dusty featureless landscape (the wild flowers were pretty though)
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Any distraction from the long drive was welcome.  Even a dog cemetery.
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But there were beautiful things to see if you took your time to look
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And there were local inhabitants to meet
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Finally, we made it to our destination of Hyden.  This is where we spent the night.
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Near by is the Hippo’s Yawn Cave.  Caves nearby have aboriginal hand paintings.
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And finally, this was what we traveled all those long dusty kilometers to do!  To go surfing! (Wave Rock, Hyden)

No chance of drowning or shark attack here!

 

Gardens by the Bay


Some of you came by and left happy birthday wishes last week.  I was not able to immediately reply because I was in neighboring Singapore and was too skinflint to spring for the cost of wifi.  Nevertheless, thanks for the messages which I appreciated even though I don’t normally observe that day in any special manner.  ( I am still annoyed and have been for many years that I can no longer claim to be an ‘irresponsible’ teenager).

Anyway, I spent most of my birthday on the open road, driving to Singapore.  However, the point of this post is to share with you my experiences at one of Singapore’s more recent attractions, the Gardens by the Bay.

The place is located on reclaimed land within a stone throw away from the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel (well, it’s a stone throw if Hercules was doing the throwing).  There you will find open gardens showcasing different types of flora to which admission is free and is a great place to walk around and get some serenity in the midst of bustling Singapore (avoid school holidays and public holidays though when the people throng through like sardine schools).

However, there are also the very spectacular Supertrees.  These are tall 25 -50 m structures shaped like trees with a spreading canopy but most special of all is that vegetation has been encouraged to grow on the structure creating a natural green and living wall.  At night, the Supertree Grove is lit up and twice a night a very beautiful light show is performed.  The Supertrees are also linked by a walkway that allows you to take in the Supertrees and the view of the gardens from several storeys up.  These Supertrees alone are probably worth making the trip to the Gardens.

However, there are two enormous greenhouse like domes; the Flower Dome and the Cloud Dome.  The former is basically a large climate controlled greenhouse for plants including arid desert plants and flowers.  When I was there, the focus was on orchids.

The Cloud Dome is a massive structure that  houses a huge man-made hill complete with waterfall.  The uniqueness is that the whole structure houses plants normally found in tropical cloud forests.  Apart from the spray from the waterfall, the dome creates its own mist cloud every few hours to keep the riot of vegetation happy.  It is quite the sight.  Walkways bring you in and out of the structure so that you can get views of it from a distance, up close, from above, by its side and from below and every other possible view.

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I hope you enjoyed the photos.  It is a great place although the price of admission to the two domes seemed a little bit steep and although the cloud forest dome was very stunning, I found the variety of plants there more limited than I had expected.  As for the Flower Dome, I have seen far more impressive floral displays elsewhere.

So, overall, I think it is worth a visit especially for the Supertrees.  For the rest, I hope they will work at improving it further.

Moon River


I took a bit of liberty with the title of this post. It isn’t about the Andy Williams’ song by that name. Sorry if I misled you.

This post is actually about a photograph I took of a bridge in South Korea. I had previously posted about going to Hahoe Village which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The village lies within a loop of the Nakdong River.  Nearby is the town of Andong and it is there that we find Woryeong-gyo or the “reflection of the Moon on the river” bridge.  

The Woryeong-gyo, with a length of 387 m, crosses the Nakdong River and is the longest wooden pedestrian bridge in South Korea.

There is a legend associated with the bridge.  It is said that the construction style of the bridge resembles that of the mituri which is a type of traditional straw shoes made of paper, mulberry, bush clover, hemp, and rice straws. The legend speaks of a grieving wife who expressed her love for her deceased husband and her deep sorrow by making a pair of mituri sandals using her own hair.  The bridge, so they say, commemorates her act of devotional love.

So in short, the bridge is about romance.

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Mituri sandals

I got there on a cold winter night and I did indeed get to see the reflection of the moon on the river.  It was indeed a beautiful and romantic spot.  I might have enjoyed it more if I was not busy shivering and bracing myself against the chilly blasts of wind coming off the water.  It took me many cups of ht tea later to feel warm again and to regain sensation in my fingers and exposed ears.

Still, despite the shivering, I managed to take this hand-held and long exposure photo of a pavilion located near the middle of the bridge.  Sure, it ain’t perfect but I am still rather pleased with how it came out.

Ladies and gents……….(drum roll)………… the spirit of ethereal love as seen at the pavilion of the “reflection of the Moon on the river” bridge  on the Nakdong River.

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Pavilion on the Reflection of the Moon on the River Bridge. (Photo by LGS)

Squirrel’s Secret Spot 15: Korea – Hahoe Style


My nephew’s wife (would that be my niece-in-law?) is a lovely Korean girl.  So I guess it was just a matter of time that there was a family vacation to Korea to get to know the culture better and that is what we did last September.

We did make a trip to Gangnam to witness the Gangnam Style made famous by Psy ( the ladies wanted to do some shopping)  but for me, it was just a cityscape like you could find almost anywhere in the world and filled with overpriced designer goods.  So the real Gangnam like the Gangnam Style video just left me cold.

Instead, the highlight of the trip for me was our visit to Andong Hahoe Village.  This UNESCO World Heritage site is a snapshot of Korean life that has remained relatively unchanged since the Joseon Dynasty at around the 16th Century.

Hahoe Village is beautifully located within a bend of the tranquil Nakdong River with beautiful sandy beaches and the imposing Buyongdae Cliff on the opposite bank.  It’s name actually means “Village that is enveloped by water”.

Its buildings represent the architecture of the 16th Century and the Confucianism philosophy ascendent at that time.  Indeed the village was suppose to be an incubator of intellectuals and court officials of the Joseon Dynasty.

However, what really makes this special is that the place (unlike many) has not been put on for tourists – it is still very much a real, working, living village with the villagers still living a mostly traditional life.  A real time capsule with insight to the Korean psyche.

The villagers still work the land.  Paddy fields, vegetable gardens, and orchards are found both in and around the village.  Traditional crafts like mask making are still practiced and traditional costumes are still worn especially at weekends.

I loved the place.  Hope you will enjoy the photos (all photos by LGS).

Oh, and the beef bbq Korean style in Andong is mucho delicious. A must try.

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Fire in the Sanctuary


The Fire Burns Bright in Heart's Sanctuary (Photo by LGS)
A fire blazes bright and warm,
Where darkness once held reign,
It lights the garden of my heart,
Through wind, clouds and rain.
 
Where once I wondered at the sky
where flickering stars glitter bright
 my eyes, my soul now inward cast
at dancing flames and laughing light
 
And in its glow, I dare to dream
To rise beyond earthly bounds
To soar on spirit wings and hope
To the symphony of nightly sounds
 
A fire blazes bright and warm
Within the sanctuary of my heart
At peace, I in slumber rest
Assured that I am under its guard

Poem and Picture by LGS.

Kecak


Our friend Mago does a series on his blog called “Sunday Music” and just recently he covered a song by Annette Hanshaw (1901-1985).  In his post, he included the use of that song in an animated version of the Ramayana story.  A rather unusual combination which you should check out.

Anyway, this reminded me that I had a related post that had long been on the back-burner and I decided it was time to bring it to a boil.

In Bali, Indonesia, there is a dance called the kecak dance in which dancers enact the Ramayana story with musical accompaniment provided by the rhythmic, hypnotic chanting of a large group of men.  It is quite an experience.  I have had the good fortune of witnessing it twice.  Once, I saw it as part of a dinner performance at an international beach hotel in Nusa Dua (which is where all the photos  below were taken) and once at a sunset ceremonial performance at the clifftop temple at Uluwatu.  Of the two, I really must recommend the spectacular setting at the Uluwatu temple which also includes a fire dance.  If you are ever in Bali, this is definitely one of the highlights not to be missed.  To tantalise you, I have included a video by Hawaiian filmmaker and reknown hula dancer Kimokekahuna at the Uluwatu temple.

The Ramayana is a classic Hindu story.  In brief, the kecak dance is about the hero Rama and his beautiful wife Siti.  One day while in the forest, Siti sees a golden deer and begs Rama to capture it for her.  He leaves Siti under the protection of his brother Lakshmana and chases after the deer.  Sometime later, Siti is misled into thinking that she hears Rama calling for help.  Fearful for her husband, she pleads for Lakshmana to go and search for Rama.  Lakshmana is reluctant to do so at first but eventually gives in to her pleas and disappears into the forest looking for Rama.

But it was all a ploy to get Siti alone and unprotected and she is kidnapped by the demon King Ravana and taken to his kingdom of Lanka.  The rest of the story is about how Rama defeats Ravana and rescues Siti with the help of the white monkey king, Hanuman and his army of monkeys.

 

Kecak Dance and Dinner at the Grand Hyatt, Nusa Dua, Bali.

 

The Bad Guy Appears

 

Fight! Fight! Fight!

 

Left to Right: The Golden Deer, Little Tourist and Some Character that I Can't Remember

 

The Bad Guys After Losing Again

 

The White Monkey King Giving Me the Thumbs Up

 

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