Saturday, December 27, 2008

Humanity Is One

THE DREAM is my home and I am content in it. Wherever I am in the world THE DREAM is providing me all I need. I have no longing for a physical home, and the fewer possessions I have the more freedom I feel. In a Kris Kristofferson song called Me and Bobby McGee, the blues singer Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.” It is profound to have nothing to lose, since then, there is everything to gain. On the other hand, the more possessions a person has, the more they risk losing. This causes a certain amount of fear. I am aware that since I began buying goods in India, Thailand and Vietnam, I have felt less free. Now, there are loans to repay, and I often feel responsibility for all the items—their safe arrival in the USA, storage, and eventual sale and repaying of debt. I feel obliged to return to Santa Fe soon, and so I have ticket on January 15 from Auckland, New Zealand to Santa Barbara, California where my parents live. By January 20 I will be in Santa Fe. Certainly, THE DREAM will not end with my traveling, since it is the fabric of my consciousness.

The International Baha’i conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia included communities from Korea, Singapore, Myanmar, and Malaysia. The main language was English, with translations in Malaysian, Timor and Mandarin. About 3000 people attended, and the main focus of the gathering was discussing the progress of consolidating, and teaching the Baha’i Faith to the greater world at large.

Tomorrow, I leave for Australia. I will arrive at Gold Coast, an area famous for it’s fine beaches and upscale development. On January 4, I fly to Auckland, New Zealand, my last country before I return to the USA on January 15. I say “home”, but really, THE DREAM is my home.

More than ever before, I feel the truth of Baha’u’llah's words: “The world is one country, and mankind is its citizens.” Ábdúl Bahá said, “Wars are caused by purely imaginary racial differences; for humanity is one kind, one race and progeny inhabiting the same globe. In the creative plan there is no racial distinction and separation such as Frenchman, Englishman, American, German, Italian or Spaniard; all belong to one household. These boundaries and distinctions are human and artificial, not natural and original. All mankind are the fruits of one tree, flowers of the same garden, waves of one sea. In the animal kingdom no such distinction and separation are observed. The sheep of the East and the sheep of the West would associate peacefully. The oriental flock would not look surprised as if saying, "These are sheep of the Occident; they do not belong to our country." All would gather in harmony and enjoy the same pasture without evidence of local or racial distinction. The birds of different countries mingle in friendliness. We find these virtues in the animal kingdom. Shall man deprive himself of these virtues? Man is endowed with superior reasoning power and the faculty of perception; he is the manifestation of divine bestowals. Shall racial ideas prevail and obscure the creative purpose of unity in his kingdom? Shall he say, "I am a German," "I am a Frenchman," or an "Englishman" and declare war because of this imaginary and human distinction? God forbid! This earth is one household and the nativity of all humanity; therefore the human race should ignore distinctions and boundaries which are artificial and conducive to disagreement and hostility. We have come from the East. Praise be to God! we find this continent prosperous, the climate salubrious and delightful, the inhabitants genial and courteous, the government equable and just. Shall we entertain any other thought and feeling than that of love for you? Shall we say, "This is not our native land, therefore everything is objectionable?" This would be gross ignorance to which man must not subject himself. Man is endowed with powers to investigate reality, and the reality is that humanity is one in kind and equal in the creative plan. Therefore false distinctions of race and nativity which are factors and causes of warfare must be abandoned.” Ábdúl Bahá, from Foundations of World Unity

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Time And Space In Dream

What happens to time and space in dreams? For me, it seems youthfulness exists in dreaming because events occur that are not bound by physical law. All sorts of fantastic actions occur in dreams, and the occurrences are effortlessly woven together into a symphony of experience.
THE DREAM has provided me with a symphony of experiences that make me feel I have stepped beyond the ordinary into magic. Within a day of arriving in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, I found myself living on a Chinese junk, a flat-bottomed sail boat, with 10 other international travelers and five crew, touring Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The boat cruised very quietly and with hardly a stir over placid water in a bay among dense clusters of 1,969 limestone monolithic islands, each topped with thick jungle vegetation. The islands rise spectacularly from the ocean and several are hollow, with enormous caves that we explored. My sleeping cabin was all wood, and cozy, and meals were served on white linen with delicious food. I felt transported by the beauty of my surroundings. Then it was back to bustling Hanoi, which actually intimidated me with its liveliness. The streets are small and teem with life. Often, sidewalks are impassable because they are being repaired with new stone, or are crammed with parked motorbikes, or street vendors are cooking food and customers are sprawled about, sitting at stools and eating. Traffic is ceaseless and whirls by; mostly people on motorbikes, frequently tooting horns. Small shops, eateries and hotels of every description are crammed together wall-to-wall, and often someone is out front, begging passersby to come inside. I became lost several times and could not understand the Vietnamese street names. In the end, I bought some artwork and became an ingredient in the big bubbling-over pot that is Hanoi.

Next, I flew to Danang, mid-way on the eastern coast of Vietnam and then took a one-hour taxi ride to Hoi An, a well preserved and quaint town of about 80,000 inhabitants that is famous for custom manufactured clothing. Incredibly, over 500 tailor shops thrive here. I have never seen anything like it. I have had two suits and 7 shirts made. Shopkeepers take measurements one day, and the next day, your custom ordered clothing arrives. It is all expertly handled with a wide assortment fine materials to choose from. The prices are so low, and quality so good that everyone is smiling in the end. Hoi An is relaxed and scenic as well. I have strolled around for hours, photographing and making friends with locals. Yesterday, a friend and I went swimming at a marvelous beach in DaNang. Hardly anyone was there except for some surfers and a handful of locals selling small things along the shore. We visited Marble Mountain, where generations of sculptors have been making carvings from marble. The quality is excellent and again, I ended up buying artwork for investment and resale in the USA. My friend helped me get the best prices.
Tomorrow, I return to Saigon for three days, and then I am off to an international Baha’i conference in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Odd, But True

My visa in Vietnam has been extended, so now I am not under time constrictions for my visit. This afternoon I fly from Nha Trang to Hanoi. I am told the weather there is colder and it has been raining. Okay, it is all part of THE DREAM, which is giving me everything I need. So is the chest-cold I contracted in Saigon and have had all the time I have been in Nha Trang. And this was just after I bragged to my friend Hang (who had a chest cold) that I could not catch a cold because I never get sick. Here in Nha Trang, Trinh got me an appointment with a Vietnamese doctor who speaks English who prescribed some medicines and now I am recovering. For the most part, this week I have been lying low in my hotel. I have been around on the motorbike I rented and bought more silk items. The beaches are beautiful, and if not for my cold, I would have gone swimming in the ocean. I have been to Trinh’s family’s home several times for socializing and lavish meals that her mother prepared. The food is virtually fat free and delicious. Last night, a big pot sat on a hotplate in the middle of the table and we first cooked and ate fresh squid, then jumbo shrimp, and last, beef and broccoli with steamed rice. Always, there are tasty sauces to dip into. Chopsticks are normal, except with soups, but knife and fork are offered. A big reason the people in Asia are attractive is that everyone is trim. They look healthy and show good figures. (As for me, I am now pulling back four notches further on my belt since I left the USA.) I have also been enjoying the broad faces with high cheekbones, black hair, slanted eyes, broad noses and full lips. Especialy beautiful when all this is combined with a beaming smile.

I have to say a few words about my trustworthy travel gear. For over ten months I have been traveling with two suitcases and nothing else. I have lost things, stuff has worn out and been thrown away, and things have broken or been abandoned. The best is still with me: my Clark shoes which I have owned for about four years have probably walked around the earth by now and still feel comfortable. They have been in marble-floored museums and also stuck in jungle mud, but they keep serving me. In Santa Fe, before I left, I bought an Eagle Creek suitcase that has wheels, is rugged, can be worn on my back, and comes apart into two pieces so I can use the smaller section as a backpack. It fits in the overhead bin of the airplanes and has endured quite well. My other standard suitcase, a Samsonite, has been on many trips besides this world tour and has taken an extreme beating but continues to be durable. The handle extends and contracts, it has not ripped or torn, the zippers work and nothing is broken. My Nikon D200 camera has been bounced around and in all kinds of weather but continues functioning well. My only problem has been specks of dust that sometimes get inside, but I have been able to get it cleaned. Last, but not least, my Apple MacBook Pro laptop computer, which is essential for my websites, E-mails, online bookings, bookkeeping, personal records, music, photography . . . so many things, is excellent. It has stayed with me on airplanes and boats, in hotels and on Safari, been jostled and violently shaken, subjected to many temperatures, turned on for days at a time, and dropped on a hard airport floor and bent so the CD player does not work, but it keeps doing what I need, for which I am very grateful.
I must say that it is funny seeing so many plastic Christmas trees and holiday decorations at shops in Vietnam. The same with Thailand. These are not Christian nations and Vietnam is socialist. Often too, familiar Christmas carols are being played in the background. Odd, but true.
Let us see what Hanoi is like.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Beauty And Adventure

The day I left Thailand, its high court decided to make the prime minister step down, and banned him and his cronies from politics for five years. This is what the 50,000 protestors occupying the Bangkok airport wanted, and they celebrated, announcing the re-opening of normal activities. Meanwhile, I negotiated through the troublesome situation and managed to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), only a day late.
Immediately I began finding friends. The evening I arrived, two young security guards at my hotel caught sight of me in my safari hat and one called out to me with a big smile, saying “hey cowboy!” They beckoned me to sit between them and one put his hand on my knee while the other massaged my back and we talked. The next day I found myself on a motorcycle behind Hang, a woman who sells handmade items in street markets. THE DREAM brought us together to become friends. She has acted as my agent while I bought lacquered boxes, silk clothing and carved wooden objects for resale in the USA. Since then, we have spent hours each day together, shared meals, gone dancing several times and one day, she posed in traditional Vietnamese silk dresses while I photographed.
People for the most part are eager for contact, and at least in the cities, speak some English. Many people are street vendors or tourist industry employees and must communicate, at least enough to say, “Hey mister, what are you looking for?” Mostly, street stalls are worked by women and often the younger ones are quite forward. I have had my arm grabbed and been pulled into stalls by smiling ladies who want me to buy something or other.

Vietnam is one of the few socialistic nations on earth but you would not know it. A raging free market thrives everywhere. The Viatnamese currency is in dong. One dollar is worth 16,750 dong. So, at an atm machine I can be dispensed two milion dong at once. It is tricky, especialy since I do not see perfectly well without reading glasses, and several times I have given over a big note, not reading all the zero's. In a restaurant, when the bill was 40,000 dong, I gave a 500,000 dong note, thinking it was 50,000. Fortunately, the correct change came back, but I was surprised. This has happened more than once and now I am very careful.
It seems there is no lack of commerce or business. I have never been anywhere that had so many motorcycles in the streets. Actually, it is good since fuel is saved and streets are less crowded with cars.
My brother Wade lives in the Washington DC area with his Vietnamese wife of three years, Huong, and their one year old son. Today I am going from Saigon to Nha Trang, a city of 500,000, famous for beautiful beaches on a gorgeous bay. I will visit with Huong’s family, especially Trinh, a young woman who speaks fluent English.
I need to extend my visa which expires December 19. Vietnam is full of beauty and adventure, and I want more time here. Places in the north, like Hanoi, Hoi An, Halong Bay and Saba beckon.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bouncing Ball

Part of the love of travel is encountering unexpected circumstances that are challenges. Sometimes though, it is like playing roulette and being a bouncing ball careening around in a madly whirling wheel. As I chase the sun around the spinning globe, it was bound to happen that I would unexpectedly find myself landing in a place where mass political unrest erupts. The day after I arrived in Phuket, Thai protestors stormed the major airport in Bangkok and effectively shut it down. It has been closed ever since, and now I will be lucky if I get out of Thailand when I expect. Already my plans have shifted because I cannot return to Bangkok to catch my flight to Vietnam.

People have said that they hope my dream never becomes a nightmare. I do not believe in nightmares, only THE DREAM, and if it turns dark, then it is only guiding me to use my inner powers so that I can find the light of guidance and resolve the darkness. I trust THE DREAM, and I trust destiny. So if the stock market drops suddenly and wipes out 40% of my savings, and I have sold my belongings, and suddenly find I am in a foreign country in turmoil and cannot get out; well, how interesting!

Phuket has been built up by developers who cater to tourists that come here seeking tropical charms, sun and surf. The Andaman Ocean water temperatures are comfortable, the waves are just right, and wash up on fine, white sandy beaches. This time of year there are loads of visitors. You can tell the female ones from Europe because they go topless. There is plenty of shopping, and of course, massage parlors are on every block. I rented a motorbike and have been visiting various beaches with a Thai friend. We also took a boat to neighboring islands and snorkeled among fantastic coral reefs with exquisite, colorful fish.

When I left the United States, I wanted to disappear into the matrix of the earth. I can’t imagine just being with white people like myself. I am happiest experiencing native life across the globe . . . this is where my heart goes and the rewards have been wonderful.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Remain Mindful

Bangkok has thoroughly impressed me as a clean, modern and attractive city. I have heard of its problems with pollution in the past, but it has addressed these issues and although the streets can sometimes be jammed with traffic, the city busses run on pollution-free natural gas. Something I have not seen before are “tourist police” who are a phone call away to address issues of fraud, for instance if you think a taxi has overcharged for a fare or a business has cheated you.
Bangkok is also famous for its sex service industry, and many people come here for this. I found myself in the midst of a notorious area early one evening and was repeatedly approached by hawkers soliciting me to have a good time and enjoy a “happy ending” massage, or see a show with women that shoot ping-pong balls from there private parts etc. One night I went dancing with friends until the wee hours of the morning and saw drunken men fondling “dates.” The music and dancing was fun, but witnessing such crass and rude behavior was repulsive. The girls think of their time as service work and make big money to send home to their poor families in the countryside, so smile and keep up a good face. When we left, I thanked God for the dignity He placed in my heart and that He causes me to remain mindful.

This morning I went to a service at a Baha'i center in the city and enjoyed meeting people that I can consider extended family. This is a bounty of being Baha'i; being a member of a world community that works toward the unity of humanity.
Tomorrow I leave for Phuket, a famous tourist destination, renowned for fantastic beaches and natural beauty. I will stay a week, then go to Vietnam on December 2.
Recently I updated my website with artistic photography, to include the photos I took in Africa and India, so have a look.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Impeccable Timing

THE DREAM has impeccable timing. I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city, at the beginning of Loi Krathong, a major festival that brings foreigners and natives together in three days of revelries and merrymaking. Most of the big activities start in the early evening, continuing until midnight. Parades wind slowly through the streets, fireworks crackle, little boats with candles, flowers, and small offerings are let loose with prayers to float away in the river and into the night, and thousands upon thousands of huge paper bags rigged with burning candles are heated until they soar upward with good wishes, making the sky look like the milky way for as far as can be seen all evening long.

I am hooked on the Thai massage, so had a treatment and afterward, felt so good toward Noi, my masseuse that I asked her to dinner. She speaks only a few words of English, so her friend Nee came with us and we ate in a big hall with several hundred Thai people. Big woks, sitting atop hot coals are on the tables so you can prepare your own food and as much as you want exactly how you want it while a waiter serves you drinks. We roasted huge, fresh shrimp, and dipped them in spicy sauces, ate sushi, cooked meats and vegetables, made broths, ate fruit and had desert. The selection is extravagant, and the total price for all three of us was less than fifteen dollars. Since then, Noi and I have seen each other frequently, and despite the language difficulty enjoy an easy ambience together and have fun. I rented a motorbike for five dollars a day, and had my hair cut for the handsome price of two dollars.
Yesterday took me into the countryside and now I can say I have taken a ramble through a jungle on the back of an elephant. The same day included white-water rafting, trekking to a waterfall and swimming under cool, cascading water, and visiting a mountain tribe to walk through their village.
Thailand is beautiful, but it is the Thai people that make the country wonderful. They are warm, accepting and open, and the slightest smile brings a smile in return. I now have friends in northern Thailand who will be here for me when I return. Now I must go back to Bangkok and visit the embassy of Vietnam so that I can get a visa to my next destination country.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

River of Reverie

I don’t take anything for granted, so as THE DREAM reveals to me its wondrous surprises, I give thanks. In Kolkata I felt as run down as the dilapidated streets. In fact, just walking onto the dirty avenues and smelling foul air made me feel worse. Usually, I can handle such places while I engage and study the human factor, but with dysentery, my energy was gone. My thoughts often returned to the United States. Then, the night before I was to leave for Thailand, I received a surprise Email from a friend who had read my blog and she said she had good friends in Bangkok, and asked if I would like her to contact them. I am not entirely surprised anymore when charms arrive. I said yes, and the outcome is that when I arrived in Bangkok, Stan, a very likeable guy, two years older than me, met me and brought me to his spacious downtown apartment. That evening, we both enjoyed two hours of Thai massage. Stan’s wife is away and we have become friends.
The dysentery is gone, and I find that Thailand is appealing. Life seems relaxed compared to India, and people are open and warm. The famous Thai food is everywhere, streets are clean, transportation is good, and there is plenty to see and do. Today I visited The Grand Palace; an ornately designed and embellished complex established in 1782 that houses not only the royal residence (Thailand has a king and queen), but also a number of government offices as well as the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Visiting this place had the same effect on me as the Taj Majal.

I have been here about four days and have received six hours of Thai massage for about thirty dollars. It is so good and inexpensive, that if I lived here it would certainly be a regular habit. The treatment involves stretching and rubbing muscles in a fluid symphony of movement that is uninterrupted from beginning to end. It all begins with a change into loose, freshly cleaned cotton garments and the masseuse bathing your feet in warm water, then patting them dry. During the session, her whole body plays into the treatment—including sometimes stretching and kneading muscles and ligaments with her feet while she has hold of you with her arms. If an area is painful, pressure is lightened and touch becomes caress. The vibes are loving and peaceful, and it is like floating pleasantly down a river of reverie.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


This week feels as though I have died and been reincarnated at least nine times. One minute I am dazzled by a lovely lady in her colorful sari and her trail of sweet perfume, and the next moment stumble on a dying man covered with flies lying on the pavement with a beggar’s cup next to him and a stench in the air. India is not for the faint at heart or those with a weak stomach. It can be alluringly beautiful one second and utterly ghastly the next. Streets are whirling with rickshaws, cars, bicycles, trucks, buses, people, horse drawn carts, dogs and cows—all sharing the traffic jams. Gentlemen in tunics and women dressed in brilliant flowing silk are on the same sidewalks as lepers and deformed beggars in rags. Men, who feel the urge, simply stop and urinate in public next to the streets, and everyone ignores them. Vendors cook over the same gutters that are used to piss into. Trash, dirt and dust is everywhere, and the people appear oblivious to the filthy conditions except when they go in homes or businesses and take off their shoes.

I feel blessed because wherever I arrive, the first person to meet me has befriended me and become my guide and guardian. It truly feels as though angels are watching over me and sending the right person to enter my life, and then, the way is clear for me and I can just surrender and go with the flow. The more I surrender, the more dazzling the journey becomes. In Agra my angel was Ilyas Khan, an old taxi driver who drove me around and watched over me like a hawk to be sure nothing went wrong. He even bought me locks for my suitcases. In Varanasi, it was Rama, a young man who with his friend spent hours driving me around in a rickshaw all hours of night and day, and brought me to his home to meet his family. In Bodhgaya, the first person I met was Varun, a handsome, gentle young Indian who has a good grasp of English and some college education. Together we have visited maybe 20 Buddhist temples and driven far into the countryside to visit his grandmother who lives in a village. On the way, he said I would be the first foreigner to visit there. The children and I quickly bonded and they took me around so I could take pictures. At times, we walked hand in hand, and must have looked funny when one by one, other kids joined our group and whole tassel of us became a parade.

When I arrived in Agra, I had some prejudice about seeing the Taj Majal, since it is a premier tourist destination and has been hyped so much over the years. But when I first laid eyes on it in the morning light, I was immediately dazzled and smitten. It is bewitchingly beautiful. One of the most beautiful creations of man on earth, it has been called “ a materialized vision of loveliness,” and a “dream in marble,” and a “resplendent, immortal tear drop on the cheek of time.”
In Varanasi, (also called Kashi, also called Banares), the mysticism of the east captured my spirit. Varanasi is the most holy place for Hindus, who believe that bathing there in the mighty Ganges River cleanses them of sin. To be cremated in Varanasi and then have your ashes sprinkled in the river makes for certain entrance into heaven. That is why cremation fires burn day and night. To be on a rowboat and see the bonfires along the river at night is quite moving, also, as dawn breaks over its eastern bank when devotees are bathing, doing yoga, chanting, burning incense, going into the temples to make offerings, ringing chimes . . . an amazing scene.

Bodhgaya is where I have been the last few days. It is purported that Buddha received his enlightenment here, and a great many temples have been built. Devotees, especially monks from around Asia come here and can be seen everywhere in their brightly colored robes and with shaved heads. Governments of countries with big Buddhist populations, like Japan, Malaysia, and others, have sponsored the building of temples, and also donated toward helping the local people.

Now I have just arrived via train to Calcutta (Kolkata), and before next weekend expect to be in Bangkok, Thailand. Varun made arrangements for me to stay with his parents in Calcutta, and his father picked me up at the rail station. Unfortunately, I ate or drank something yesterday that made me sick. I have been cautious, but in the village, I was polite and ate some food and drank village water that was graciously offered. In the evening I was throwing up and going to the toilet every ten minutes. Today I woke up feeling terrible but took the train anyway. I can’t touch food for a while. Varun’s family is quite sweet but the bed I was offered is too small. I have found a hotel room that is adequate for the short time I am here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Astonishing Surprises

To scratch beneath the surface of Kashmir is to reveal astonishing surprises. It is like a fragrant garden of many colors, where nightingales sing and pure mountain wind blows—where one can easily fall under a spell and lose his mind to beauty.
It has been only two weeks, but I now have steadfast friends in Kashmir. We have trekked, rode horses, and visited villages together in the Himalayan Mountains, attended weddings with lavish feasting and singing, taken boat rides and negotiated city traffic in rickshaws. I went to a big feast where six cooks began a day in advance and prepared the food outside in big kettles over burning logs. In Muslim societies, men and women are segregated and mostly stay separate in public. Sitting crosslegged with other men on a carpet laid on the ground under a big tent, we were served delicious Kashmiri food. I was politely given a fork, knife and spoon, but broke through my cultural reticence and ate like the others—balling my rice and lamb, saucy vegetables and sticky treats together and then shoveling the handful into my mouth with a flick of my thumb. It is messier than eating with utensils, but I enjoyed the experience.

It is astonishing the high quality of handcrafts here and I have done something new: borrowed against my savings and bought a considerable amount of goods as investment for resale. Some of the special items are silk on silk rugs that took six weavers three years to make, ornately carved walnut boxes that can only be opened with a secret twist, mesmerizing jewelry in gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, emeralds and more, pure cashmere sweaters and handmade shawls with intricate needlework, and coats of sheepskin and lambs wool with embroidery. All this, and I don’t have a home of my own—I am sending it all to my assistant in Santa Fe. I will not see any of it for at least another three months. It has felt good because many families here are benefiting from the money going into the economy, and I am able to share these remarkable goods with people who are not accustomed to seeing such fineness.
I leave Kashmir tomorrow and go to Agra, where the Taj Majal awaits my eyes. It is with some regret I leave, and others too have expressed remorse. For certain I will return, and when I do, friends will be waiting.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My Astonished Eyes

I arrived in India with only vague ideas about what to do and how long I would stay. In less than 48 hours, THE DREAM whisked me away from New Delhi on a magic carpet ride and set me down on a big houseboat that I have all to myself on a pristine lake at the foot of the Himalayan mountains in Kashmir. Furthermore, I have my own personal servant, Mansoor, who prepares my meals, takes care of my room, escorts me everywhere and even puts a hot water bottle in my bed at night before I retire. I did not plan any of this . . . it just arrived with THE DREAM.
The population in these parts is 90% Muslim, so I hear the call to prayer five times a day. The people are upright and proud, very sturdy and live close to the earth. Religion is central to their life and they get up at 5:30 AM with the first call to prayer. Most of them have had little schooling and the government does not do much to help.

People shuttle around in canoes, rowing themselves wherever they want to go. They either crouch at the tip and pull themselves along, or row from the back. I have not seen a single motorboat. Various vendors come by in their boats, including Mr. Wonderful the Flowerman. He glides around with his boatfull of colorful flowers he has grown. I bought a bunch of dahlias and zinnias from him, and also bought a variety of seeds from gorgeous Kashmir plants. Sometimes, when I am on the lake, amid water lilies and lotus plants, with the majestic mountains all around, the air pure, quiet, and peaceful, I feel bliss, and wonder, am I in heaven?
Srinagar is the city close by. To get into town, I must board a dinghy and be rowed (about ten minutes) to a landing where I can catch a waiting taxi. All my costs are included in the package, so I do not need my wallet, but simply enjoy the ride. I am living for less than it cost me in Europe.
Everyone treats me well, and often I am asked, “Are you happy?” There is a small community around the houseboats and I am already part of a circle and continually invited places. I will go to a wedding soon, and tomorrow I have been invited to lunch with a family and to go for a drive. Traditionally, weddings are held in the fall and they are big events with lavish food, music, dancing and many hundreds of people.
There are four seasons, and it is chilly at night and then warms during the day. The local language is Kashmiri, but people usually know a little English. My landlord knows English very well and we have good conversations. My servant Mansoor never went to school but knows at least four languages—all learned from tourists. His wife just had a baby, their second child.
Kashmir is offering me so much, the days are flashing by, so I am staying two weeks instead of one. Certainly, THE DREAM will surprise me again, so I keep my thoughts from straying too far away from the present, and simply trust what is ahead will be unfolded before my astonished eyes.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


The people of Kenya have a particular fondness for Barak Obama, whose father hails from this nation. Recently the author Jerome Corsi wrote a book caled “The Obama Nation,” with the intent of casting doubt on Obama’s character and ability. He had the nerve to arrive in Kenya to promote it, but got no further than the airport in Nairobi before being roundly booted back out of the country, amid great publicity and outrage. During my safari, some of the travelers who were on the Kenyan portion before I joined, recounted how a group of Masai children had arrived at the Safari vehicle chanting USA! USA! Obama! Obama! Obama!

Charity and I took a nice trip to Lake Navashu, about an hour from Nairobi. A boatsman took me out on the lake, past flocks of pelican, and to my surprise, hippo were swimming in the deep water. They swim all day for hours on end . . . incredible for such big animals.

During my last week in Kenya, my bonds of friendship with people deepened and by the time I had to leave, while I packed my suitcases, my heart ached a bit. I was touched at how many times I heard someone ask, “When will you come back to Kenya?”
My flight from Nairobi, Friday, October 10, takes me to Doha, Qatar, where I transfer airplanes and arrive in New Delhi, India at 3:30 AM Saturday.

Over 16 million people live in New Delhi, and about a sixth of the world’s population lives in India. My first day I am tired from traveling all night and into the early morning hours, but go in the afternoon for a taxi ride and arrive at the Baha’i Temple, fondly called the lotus temple because of its shape in the form of an opening lotus petal. The drive is boisterous through the crowded streets, with no rules applying in the road except get there as fast as you can without hitting anyone. This means squeezing through traffic snarls and constantly honking the horn to alert others of your position. By the time I catch a glimpse of the temple dome in the distance, I feel uplifted as if touched by a vision of the sublime. I learn that it is the most visited site in India, and when I am there, a constant flow of people makes it obvious why. “Since its inauguration to public worship in December 1986, the Bahai House of Worship has drawn to its portals more than 50 million visitors, making it the most visited edifice in the world. People have come regardless of the scorching summer heat of Delhi, which sometimes rises above 40°C during the months of June to September, and have braced the chill and cold rains that Delhi experiences during winter. They have admired the beautiful lotus form of the Temple, and have been fascinated by the teachings of the Bahai Faith, which believes in oneness of God, oneness of religions and oneness of mankind.” From

Today, I leave for the Himalayan region in the north and I will live on a houseboat.

Monday, October 06, 2008

My Safari Adventure

My safari adventure began when I met the other twelve travelers and four African staff at a Nairobi hotel, Friday, September 26 and we set off in our specially equipped rig for a week of visiting world-famous parks in Tanzania to see spectacular wild animals and landscape. Some of the group had already been traveling for a week on the same truck, visiting parks in Kenya. Here is a brief description of the week of events:
Day 1: We leave Nairobi around 2 PM and arrive in Arusha, Tanzania about 9. It is a difficult drive because of poor roads, but especially for the original travelers who had already been driving six hours before arriving in Nairobi. Along the way, next to the road, I saw thousands of workers digging by hand a cable trench that stretched for a great distance. I commented that machinery could do the job much quicker, but heard that the object was to give many people a job.
Along the way we make several stops, and at one, I am swarmed by Masai women in colorful flowing robes and bedecked with beaded jewelry. They push forward with their jewelry and crafts, clamoring and seeking my attention all at once. I am overwhelmed and guess this is what it is like to be a movie star. We stay in a hotel for the evening—our only night that we will not be camping in tents. (We use large dome tents and sleep on camp beds with mattresses while camping on this tour. The staff erects and takes down the tents and travelers are not required to help out in food preparation.)
Day 2: We drive to Lake Manyara and set up at a campsite. Mid-afternoon we drive into the reserve and see baboons and gazelle along the way. When I see elephants for the first time I feel elated. The same when we spot hippopotamus at a water hole. It is a first taste of the true safari experience. Most of the group have brought along cameras with long zoom lenses up to 400 mm. Safari was an afterthought for me and my lens can only go to 70 mm, enough to get closer, but often not close enough. It is strictly forbidden to leave designated trails or get out of vehicles. So I am not getting close up shots like some of the other travelers.
Day 3: Our typical wake-up call is 5 – 6 AM because of the long distances we must cover going from park to park. Today we pass through traditional Masai homelands on our way to Serengeti. At the rim of Ngorongoro crater we stop just as a group of Masai boys are passing with their cattle. I approach them to take pictures and they welcome me—for money. I agree to pay them a few dollars and they pose, relaxed and jovial. This is what I love—being close to foreign culture and exchanging smiles and handshakes. I like fooling around with people too, so with a smile, spontaneously poked my finger in the big looping earring hole of young man. Masai are some of the most relaxed people on the earth, so he took it in stride without surprise. Unbelievably, the rest of the group stood by and did not take a single picture. Throughout the safari, I was the only one to take pictures of African people.
Further on, we see giraffe and zebra, and stop at Olduvai Gorge for lunch. It is where during the 1950’s, the husband and wife archeologist team of Louis and Martha Leakey found remains of the oldest human from almost 2 million years ago. We visit a museum and hear a lecture.
At the entrance to Serengeti Park a group of Masai women are available for pictures. Nothing can be seen for miles, and yet, here they are, some with babies strapped to their backs. I am attracted like a bee to flowers and take pictures. That afternoon, after setting up camp we take a drive and I am stunned at the variety and scope of animal life all sharing the space: lions, elephant, zebra, hyena, jackal, hippo, wildebeest, gazelle, impala, urdu, ducks, baboon, and many more. I notice that all the animals are supremely aware of each other and their positions. The predators depend on their prey, and the others depend on the predators to keep the populations under control.
At the end, I feel as though three days have been compressed into this one-day.
Day 4: During the night, I am wakened by very heavy breathing outside my tent. The grass is being pulled up in bunches, and I hear slow movement as well. Something very big is only feet away. A water buffalo has come. We get up before 6 AM for Serengeti sightseeing because much of the main activity of animals occurs at night, and then they rest during the day. The highlight is watching a cheetah stalk a herd of impala, and then make a kill.
Day 5: We leave Serengeti on a long drive to our next camping destination—the rim of Ngorongoro crater, a huge, perfectly intact volcanic caldera that is home to some 30,000 animals. The night is spent at a campsite on the rim of the crater, where spectacular views of the surrounding region can be had. 
The day is marked by extremely rough roads and constant jostling and banging in the truck. It actually breaks down several times. Fortunately, the driver is also a mechanic and manages to get the vehicle back up and running each time. At the end of safari, I think I will have breathed as much dust as a crew of coal miners. It is too hot to keep the windows up.
Day 6: It is surprising how cold and breezy the campsite is. This day, we break into groups of four and drive through dense fog to the crater in hired landrovers. It is good to get out of the big truck into more dexterous vehicles. The scenery is spectacular, as is the changing weather. On the surface of the crater, the low-lying clouds lift and the sun comes out. We see a vast single-file parade of wildebeest, marching to the edge of a lake where flamingos are congregated.
Day 7: We descend once more into the Great Rift Valley and enter the Tarangire National Park. The Tarangire's open savannah and unique baobab trees provide a mixed habitat for a wide variety of bird and animal life, including elephants, oryx, kudu, gazelles and eland. To me, seeing the baobab trees are as wonderful as the animals. They have massive, stubby trunks and then spread branches into the air in a great fan shape. To be near them is almost a mystical experience.
Day 8: We drive back to Nairobi and exchange goodbyes. The crew has been diligent, knowledgeable and courteous. The entire group has bonded during the trip, sharing marvelous experiences, some hardships, and insights along the way.

Click here
to see more safari pictures

Saturday night I went with a few African friends to a juke-joint where a live band played and locals relaxed and danced. I was the only white person in the big crowd and enjoyed experiencing this curiosity. In the United States, I often wondered what it was like for blacks being a minority in such situations. Really, I was not very self-conscious, but rather, joined the crowd, pressing flesh, saying hello, and loving the moments.

I am going to India next. This Friday, October 10th, I fly to New Delhi.

The Dark Continent

Note: This post is late because I was on safari.

Before leaving the United States, my mother pleaded with me, “please don’t go to Africa, they will kill you for your shoes there.” But how could I go around the world and not visit the Dark Continent? It is true that crime and corruption is rampant, along with unrest and inequality, and Africa is dangerous. But it is also vibrant, colorful and soulful.
When I arrived, I was met at the airport by Charity, an African woman who runs Kikuyu Lodge in Nairobi. Her partner, Trevor, is British and built the lodge himself on the outskirts of the city. After living in Rome, I am shocked how disheveled and ramshackle are the surroundings. Streets are crowded and roads are in poor condition. Along the highways are tiny shops pieced together from scraps of wood and tin. People are sometimes dressed in little more than rags. There is a lack of aesthetics . . . Kenya is practically barren of high culture, and my first day in Nairobi, my eyes hurt, starved for fine art in the surroundings.
I search for beauty and find it in people and some of the landscape. Everyday, I swim in a black ocean of humanity. The shades of black go from chocolate brown to ebony, and it is a wonderful experience for my eyes, accustomed to white everywhere. The skin is smooth and soft to the touch and I notice how light reflects differently across dark features. Generally, people seem quick to smile and wave hello, and at least look curiously at me, a white stranger in their midst. The main language is Kikuyu, the largest tribe in Kenya. English is universal, but sometimes among less educated people, vocabulary is severely limited and communication in English difficult.
Baha’u’llah in His Writings, "compared the colored people to the black pupil of the eye," through which "the light of the spirit shineth forth." — Just like the black pupil of the eye absorbs the utmost light to feed the brain information for cognition, it seems the dark race is the principal transmitter of earthiness and primary experience.
I am biding my time, waiting to go on safari. I go out with Charity everyday, mostly to use the Internet while she does errands, but also, we visit a tea plantation, a flower farm, and a Masai crafts market and a self-help co-op for single women with children where jewelry is manufactured. We have conversations and laugh together as our personalities mingle. I hoped to do some street photography, but noticed that people are more wary of cameras pointed toward them. One day, Charity takes me downtown and we walk while I snap pictures. She explains that some areas, especially around government buildings, are strictly taboo for photography and if caught, police can make an arrest. While we walk, she keeps close watch on me, warning me to keep aware of my personal space because of robbers on the street. At one point, she entirely forbids me to go into an area. “Do you know what can happen?” she asks. “A thief will attack you from behind and lift you off the ground while another one will take your shoes!”

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Spills and Thrills

A good fairy-tale has spills and thrills, twists and turns, darkness and light, a bit of fear, salvation, and lessons. My sojourn in Europe has taken me unexpected places and on a course I had not planned. I have made friends and also have been alone for long periods. I developed a new series of paintings and also my street photography. This evening, I travel to Africa. The primeval in me looks forward to a safari, wide-open spaces, wildness and viewing exotic animals in their native habitat. Also, I will experience the streets of modern Africa.
Before leaving European civilization, since I am in Rome, I visited the Villa Borghese to see the priceless collection of sculptures and paintings. I remember their effect from previous visits in years past. Especially, the life-sized marble sculptures of Gian Lorenzo Bernini take my breath away and I find I can’t take my eyes off them. They are so heavenly, I wonder how they could have come from a man, but rather, must have been crafted by a divine hand.
Just the other day, Luca asked me about low points in my journey and I could not think of any to speak of. Well, I just now have a low point. I missed my flight to Africa and have had to book another. I had it in my mind that I was leaving around midnight tonight when in fact the plane departed at 12:55 AM this morning. I feel stupid for this expensive mistake. Time references are in 24 hour increments in Europe, so they do not use AM or PM. Anyway, I am now going to Nairobi, Kenya instead of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and will stay there, since my safari begins and ends in Nairobi. Before, I was going to meet up with the safari in Arusha, Tanzania. A crazy twist, and I try to see it as a little darkness in my fairy-tale . . . nothing more.
This week, I updated my artistic photography website,, so have a look. It has the best of my around-the-world photos, and they are not typical tourist snapshots.
Next week I will be on safari, so will have to catch up on the blog when I can.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

How Awesome Is The World

I have been traveling across continents for 6 ½ months since leaving Santa Fe last February. I am using the same two suitcases, with some different contents now. My energy is good and I don’t think about stopping. The time will come eventually, but I do not know when. I feel stronger and my creative possibilities have broadened along with my knowledge of the world. The biggest challenge has been intervals of isolation without friends or anyone to share with. Yet, this is my freedom as well, since I move in any direction and follow my whims. Now I am in Rome, and it was only a few weeks ago while in Paris that I decided to come here. The streets enliven me, and sometimes I feel incredible to be living in fantastic locales. Thankfully, despite my brevity in places, I meet great people and develop friendships. Last night, the owners of my apartment invited me to their house for dinner. Their son, Luca, has an incredible talent for languages and speaks eight fluently although he is not yet thirty years old. I felt right at home at the dinner table . . . we began at 9 PM and finished around 11 PM with a four course meal, good conversation, laughter, philosophy and drink. Later I walked with Luca into nearby Trasteverde and mingled with the weekend crowds.
In Italy, the Roman Catholic Church has been a powerful presence since the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313 AD. Every city has churches (over 900 in Rome), and some have so many that it is hard to imagine there are enough people to fill them. In these modern times, they are tourist attractions, because of their architecture, ornate designs and materials, and the art that is found inside. You have to be here and see it to believe it. It is amazing and probably why visitors from other parts of the world, when they are in Italian cities like Florence, Venice, or Rome, sometimes swoon and feel like they are maybe losing their minds. This malady been studied and there is a scientific name for it, called Stendhal syndrome.
I like to browse into the churches, which are open and free to the public. As an example of Italian spiritual exuberance, in the center of Rome, the Piazza del Popolo with its circular plaza, has three major churches and there are two others within a couple blocks. The other day after I visited the Pantheon, a block away, I walked into a church, San Luigi dei Francesi, and was stunned to find it contained three major Caravaggio paintings that any museum in the world would die for.
Countless images and myriads of varied sensory experiences have gone into my consciousness and now live in memory. I have international friends. As I ponder this, I realize how awesome is the world and that I have a small understanding of it. Going inward, I do not comprehend the dimensions and working of my own body. Outwardly, even as I travel and gain new insights, I realize I am just touching an infinitesimally small portion of the earth and its life. Looking into space, I realize that the earth is only a speck in the universe and our universe is only a speck in eternity.
Next Saturday I leave for Tanzania.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Eternal City

Rome is called “The Eternal City”, and there is a saying that “all roads lead to Rome.” These days, routes through the air bring travelers here and this is how I arrived from Paris. The weather is warm enough that I sweat during the day and cannot have any covering in bed at night. My apartment is within walking distance to St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Vatican. There is so much to see and immediately I went into the streets with my camera to get a dose of Roman life.

This is not my first time to Rome and yet, I  had the same experience of sudden awe and swooning when, as I turned a corner in the maze of downtown streets, I glimpsed the Parthenon, looking too big for its surroundings, nestled in a small plaza among newer buildings. It cannot be seen from afar. When suddenly, I turned a corner and arrived, it was like finding the lost ark—the presence of something different, special, and of major proportions; an important architectural antiquity over 2,000 years old in it’s original form. I had a similar experience at the Colosseum, but it stands next to the Roman Forum, towers over the neighborhood, and can be seen from afar, so the surprise is different.

Even though Rome is old, it is also trendy and stylish. I was amazed when I arrived out of the Metro at the Spanish Steps on Via Condotti and saw the luxury designer clothing boutiques lining each side of the street. Names like: Valentino, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Prado, and Ferragamo. I saw my reflection in the windows of haute couture shops and felt almost embarrassed seeing myself dressed in blue jean shorts, safari hat and sandals. But then I thought, I am an artist and getting down and dirty on the streets . . . not trying to impress anyone with my looks (at the moment anyway.)

I have sixteen days in the “Eternal City” before leaving for Tanzania.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Travel Along The River Of Life

At times, as I travel along on the river of life, the sights and sounds are so fantastic and varied, that I realize they are impossible to grasp in entirety and I am missing vast territories. Paris is a great pastiche, and on a short walk along Rue de Rivoli, a major boulevard passing through Le Marais district, I noticed the fantastic variety of shops in just three blocks and jotted them down: music, flowers, clothing, biological beauty aids, currency exchange, bio food, pizza, fruit and vegetable market, honey shop, restaurants, optical, pharmacy, cheese shop, sushi, delicatessen, shoes, bread and pastry, wine shop, jams and marmalade, meats, furniture, toys, handbags, and more! Dazzling!

Paris people are fashion conscious—sophistication is important. Women like to accent femininity, and most wear dresses.

I have made two paintings and taken hundreds of street photographs. I also met Ange, a young American who is visiting Paris and models for artists. She is 27, and get this, she is a lawyer, a forensic psychologist, a painter, and speaks four languages. We visited the Rodin Museum together and looked closely at the sculptures to get ideas for poses, and then came back to my apartment where she modeled. The other museums I have been to this time in Paris are the Pompidou, Musée d'Orsay and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Versailles is on my short list.

World-class cities like Paris have so many attractions that there is always something for everyone. When I leave after two weeks of visiting and working, I will have experienced some of what is offered and also missed much. In four days, I hit the trail again, to visit another famous place: Rome.
Click Paris Pics to seem some recent photos.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


It is rather incredible how THE DREAM unfolds, always bringing astonishment and myriad surprises to my senses. Now I am in Paris, a sensory heaven. I have a fifth floor flat in a district called Le Marais, one of the oldest parts of the city. From here, it is easy walking to landmarks such as the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral. Most of the streets are cobblestone and filled with bars, restaurants, and shops offering fine clothing, art, delectable food and more. The apartment is small but comfortable and quiet, with a big window looking out to buildings and rooftops, and letting in plenty of light so I can do my artwork. This Sunday morning, I am writing at a desk by my open window and hear cathedral bells . . . a sound that enlivens my bones and uplifts my spirit.

Paris is expensive, but I am inspired by famous French élan and sophistication everywhere, so my creativity benefits and I can accept paying more during this portion of my travel. Gaiety is in the air . . . something I noticed on past visits. It is almost palpable. Maybe it is because the city offers so much history, nuance, and pleasure that people overflow with cheerfulness and excitement.
The late-summer air is perfect and the tourists are thinning out. My friend Frederique has given me some tips, including that I must visit Versailles. I have only been here two days, but there is so much to do, I am sure the two weeks I have planned will be an incredible dream that passes too quickly by.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008


Ducking. This word is an odd figure of speech that has different meanings, including: to lower the head or the body quickly to avoid a blow or so as not to be hit by something. I thought that the meaning must have evolved from the common description of a water bird with webbed feet, short legs, and a broad flat bill, found all over the world. Often, when this creature is on water, to feed, it will suddenly push its head down under the surface and then come back up. I have learned that the name for the bird, “duck”, comes from the action it imitates!
As I have to spend many hours photographing in the streets of cities, an occurrence happens regularly where people will see me at a spot with my camera pointed waiting to take a picture and they try to "duck" underneath and politely get past me. I am waiting to get people in my photo, so snap the picture as they go by. Now I have a sort of collection that I call ducking.

I have enjoyed my current apartment in a bohemian area of Berlin called Kreuzberg. The flat is across the street from a park, sunny and spacious, with all the amenities, including Internet, at less than half the cost of a hotel room. In Berlin, I have made five paintings, and by the time I leave will have taken a thousand photos. It is getting cooler, and my clothes are all for warmer weather, so Thursday I am “ducking” south to Paris, and from there will “duck” on down to Tunisia.

Click "artistic photography" to see Steven Boone photos from the streets of Berlin.