What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, doesn’t it? Mystery novelist and academic Margot Kinberg reflects on how we change when we are away from home.
How does one do justice to the majestic beauty of Canada? My skills with a camera do not approach a level where my photographs could be called art, and my camera itself (just my iPhone) is adequate but limited, compared with the old Canon Eos film camera I used to lug round on vacations.
On my recent two-day journey on the Rocky Mountaineer train, from Vancouver to Banff, I took photos with a view to using them as the inspirations for paintings. Here is the second of them, a scene not far out of Vancouver on the way to Kamloops. Coincidentally, it just happens to fit this week’s A Word A Week Challenge: Bisect, as the line between where the mountains end and their reflection starts neatly bisects the scene.
I used to take photos constantly as I travelled. I worked as a travel writer for a big newspaper for most of the first decade of this century, and I was always looking on my travels for a picture that would go with a travel story, that was the right shape for the cover and so on. That habit is hard to break, and sometimes I felt as if the travel was all about getting the shot and not so much about the joy of travel for its own sake.
Before digital cameras took over, my camera gear was heavy to lug round everywhere I went, but worth it to get a good photo. Of course, in those days, I took rolls and rolls of film, and we didn’t know what we had until we arrived home and got it developed.
Today, my old film camera is still sitting at home in its case, though I haven’t used it since 2005. I even did a painting of it, which you can view here.
The only camera I use now is the one on my iPhone. It’s good enough for memories of where I’ve been. The other thing I use it for is to take reference photos for my artwork.
A couple of weeks ago, during my three-week trip to the US and Canada, I travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer train on a magnificent two-day journey from Vancouver to Banff.
I had brought along my Winsor & Newton miniature water colour set:
As we travelled along, I completed a small landscape painting of the scenery (you can see the result at the start of this post).
To do this, I took a number of photos with my phone, chose one, then propped it up on the tray table as a reference. As I was painting, we were of course still going past the scenery, which allowed me to really contemplate what I was seeing—the real colours, forms and majesty.
“En plein air” is a term artists use to mean painting a scene outside at its location, rather than working later from photos or sketches. I always admire those artists you see outdoors, easels set up, braving the elements and not too shy to let onlookers pause to watch them work.
While my train trip painting isn’t quite “en plein air”, just being surrounded by the sort of scenery I was painting, being able to see the exact colour of the mountains through the big picture windows of the train, was a different experience altogether than painting at home at the dining table, perhaps on a dreary winter’s night, from illuminated vacation snaps.
However, that is what I’ll be reduced to now that I’m home. No doubt some of these photos taken on the journey will provide inspiration for a painting or two:
It’s winter in Melbourne at the moment, and although we’ve been told it’s the warmest July on record, it still feels cold to me! So for a bit of escapism, I couldn’t resist reblogging these amazing photos of Samos in Greece, on one of my favourite blogs, A Word in Your Ear.
Unlike some Greek islands, Samos is not covered in photogenic white-washed, blue roofed villages and despite the number of Greek philosophers and deities that originate from here antiquities and ruins are few and far between. What Samos does have is character, swathes of green, remote beaches, plenty of wild life and abandoned topaz coloured stone buildings. However, there are some villages on the island that conform to the traditional stereotype of what the world thinks Greek Islands should look like and the village of Kokari is one such place.
I always try to take our visitors to Kokari at least once during their visit where the village is set around a harbour and beach area. The food is always good and there are 3 stunning coves close by that one can walk to for a swim before heading home.
Sitting down at ‘La Casa’ restaurant by the harbour, where silver…
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Sometimes, the most memorable part of an overseas trip is not what you think it will be. Instead, a random, unexpected and fleeting observation may make a greater impression on you than all your planned sightseeing put together.
Such a thing happened on my three-week visit this month to the US and Canada with my husband and mother. The purpose of the trip was mainly to visit my brother and his wife, who live in Bellevue, near Seattle in Washington. On the way there, we stopped off in Honolulu, and after nine days in Bellevue, we went on to Canada.
We were in Vancouver for four nights before our Rocky Mountaineer train trip to Banff. We planned to do some shopping, view the city from the Vancouver Lookout, and take the ferry across the water to Lonsdale Quay, North Vancouver—mainly for the ferry ride itself and its famous views of skylines and mountains.
A man at the desk of our hotel had suggested we catch a bus from Lonsdale Quay to Lynn Valley, where you can cross a suspension bridge, built in 1912 to swing across the Lynn Canyon 50m below. You can read more about the canyon here.
Canadians walk a lot, and their response at all times is that something is “just a short walk” or “just round the corner”. This may turn out to be four kilometres “round the corner”, however.
My mother is a healthy 74-year-old, but naturally, she can’t walk as far as a younger person. On the first bus, we went a stop too far, caught another back, and discovered the walk to the scenic area was a kilometre from there. So we took another bus that got us closer to the canyon
To get to the bridge, you alight in a residential street, and Lynn Canyon is really only a short walk away (perhaps 0.3km), hidden at the end of a marked road.
As the bus drove away, a woman in a big SUV pulled up at the intersection in front of us. She was flapping her hands around—at us, it seemed—and talking animatedly on her mobile phone. She then left her vehicle running at the intersection and got out of the car.
“Be careful, there’s a bear in the street!” she said. “Walk away now. Walk away quietly.”
She pointed to a suburban garden about 15 metres from us with an alleyway next to it. There we saw an enormous wild black bear.
Our natural inclination was first to freeze, then to take photos. She urged us to walk away in the direction of the bridge though, which we did. At the same time, the bear began ambling away down the alley—but he stopped for a moment, and looked back over his shoulder at us, as if to say, “I know you’re there”.
Later, we talked to a ranger who said bears were often sighted roaming through the suburbs, and most of the time they were OK, as long as you didn’t follow them or scare them. Apparently, they usually try to get away from people, although the woman in the SUV told us there had been several instances lately of an “aggressive bear” in the neighbourhood.
This sighting so close to us was the highlight of our trip—so unexpected, so astounding, all over in a couple of minutes.
Oh, and the bridge and views of Lynn Canyon were great too.
When I was eight or nine, my favourite book was Five on a Treasure Island, the first in the Famous Five series, by the British writer Enid Blyton. It was already an old book, and quite dated, by then, but it captured brilliantly the concept of getting away from adults, of setting up a comfortable camp, and of endless summer days of reading, playing outdoors, and going to sleep under the stars.
As adults, we still need to get away from the adult world every once in a while. It’s why J. M. Barrie’s mythical Neverland still appeals to me.
In my mind, I have a secret island. I’ve painted it to show you what I see. It’s easily accessible by boat, but for some reason, no one else has discovered it yet. There is a simple wooden house round the back of the island: you can’t see it from this viewpoint, because I don’t want anyone else to know it’s there. All the rooms face the sea, and you can open them all up by folding back the walls. There is a large veranda that runs the length of the house.
The house is stocked with the necessary staples, and there is an abundant fruit and vegetable garden and all the seafood you like to catch. There is a deep fresh-water pool nearby with a tiny waterfall.
It’s never very hot or very cold on my island. It rains every few days, but just for an hour or so. When the sun comes out strongly in the afternoon, there is a refreshing sea breeze that blows through the house to provide natural airconditioning.
Miraculously, there is also fast wireless internet, so I can keep in contact with all my friends on social media whenever I like.
At one end of the house, there is an art studio and writing den. This is where I will write my next novel.
Well, in my imagination, at least.
Everyone needs a secret island, even if it exists only on a canvas. This is mine.
This post is written in response to Kozo’s June Peace Challenge at Everyday Gurus, to write about maintaining peace at home.
In our hectic lives when every minute of the waking day seems to be filled with work, chores, to-do lists and regrets about so few items on those lists we’ve crossed off, sometimes we forget that relentlessly, every minute, time is passing us by.
We often neglect relationships with the people closest to us in the pursuit of making those very people’s lives better: trying to make more money to buy them more things, trying to achieve what we suppose are life’s goals.
Yet on our death beds, we will never be glad we made more money, spent more hours working, bought more stuff or cleaned the house more often. We might, however, regret not spending more time on just being with those we love, listening to them and facilitating peace between us.
It’s so important to replenish, rejuvenate and find a sense of joy and peace in our lives, without feeling guilty for taking time out.
I’ve compiled a list of six things I think are important to promote a sense of well being, peace and inner health: I am not saying I follow these things all the time. Too often, I too forget that the world won’t collapse if I don’t meet a deadline.
1. Recycle some stuff you don’t need. There’s something cathartic about de-cluttering your house, and even better if that stuff can go to a good cause and your trash can be someone else’s treasure.
2. Read inspiring novels. Great books teach us empathy, something that is sorely missing in this society that sees angry people constantly tooting horns, pushing in front of each other, and discriminating against their fellow people. Read the classics: anything by Charles Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; read recent novels—anything by Mitch Albom, for example; read historical novels such as March by Geraldine Brooks.
3. Take a vacation, or holiday, as we call it in Australia. Of course, not everyone can afford to actually go away on vacation to an exotic tropical beach, but you could take a holiday at home, even if it’s only over a weekend. A holiday at home means you vow to do no work—not even housework—on those days; it means the majority of every day is relaxing and enjoyable—read a book, watch a movie with your family, make a picnic lunch, lie in bed reading the newspaper.
4. Be a tourist in your own city, and visit the art galleries, museums, or other places of culture you’ve been meaning to see. Go to a live theatre show, particularly if you’ve never been to one before. Small, independent theatre companies desperately need your support and can often be surprisingly affordable.
5. Contact a friend you’ve been neglecting because you’re always too busy. If we don’t keep working at friendships, they are in danger of fading away. And even if this is the sort of person you know you could pick up with again at any time, it’s sad to get out of touch and miss the events, big and small, that are important in each other’s lives.
6. Go for a walk and get to know your neighbourhood. We spend so much time at our computers, in our cars, sitting in the train or bus, that we forget to walk. I walk most days, and often towards dusk, I pass an elderly Greek couple sitting on the veranda of their neat-as-a-pin house overlooking their carefully tended garden. We nod and chat now, even though our conversations are limited by a language barrier. But no matter, we mean each other well. On another street, there’s an old black and white cat who suns himself every afternoon on the warm concrete path outside the apartment where he lives. Then there’s an old man who looks about 90, who rides an ancient bicycle to and from the shops every day. There are all sorts of modes of transport round our neigbourhood: the other day, I saw a young man casually riding a unicycle along the street. Every day, I notice something I have never seen before.
For more on establishing and maintaining a peaceful home, check out blogger Julianne Victoria’s inspirations at Through the Peacock’s Eyes, and to discover what ducks have to do with peace, see the blog My Little Spacebook.
I don’t like to look at the past with rose-coloured glasses too much. However, one of the things I think has suffered in the last 30 years is the element of trust in one’s fellow person: the concept that most people will do the right thing most of the time.
I’m reminded of something that happened to me in 1980 in my homeland of New Zealand, when I took a flight from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay. It was only a one-hour flight, and while I arrived at Napier-Hastings airport safely, my bag was nowhere to be seen. The Air NZ staff were apologetic, and said my bag had been put on the wrong trolley and would be forwarded the next day.
In the meantime, they said they would pay for some toiletries for me to make do with. They gave me an Air NZ cash cheque and told me to go to a chemist (known as a drug store in the US) and get whatever I needed.
This was not just any cheque. Well, it was, actually. It was what was known as an “open cheque”, which was signed, leaving the amount blank for me to fill in, depending on how much it was. I could do that at the point of purchase, they said.
“How much should I spend?” I asked.
“Just whatever you need, within reason,” they said.
Even back then, this amazed me. Such trust!
I didn’t buy much: a toothbrush, deodorant, a few other minor items. The bill came to less than $10.
The next day, the airline arranged for my bag to be couriered to my house in the small town of Waipukurau, about 45 minutes’ drive from the airport.
That’s customer service, trust and great company PR all in one.
This post is part of A Word A Week Challenge: Face, run by A Word In Your Ear.
I met and photographed this Akha hilltribe woman at a village on Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, in April 1991. Twenty years later, when I first took up art as a hobby, I decided to paint her portrait.
She always stuck in my mind, because she was the only Akha living in a Lisu village. Through the guide, she told me she was aged 39 and had three children.
I had been living in Nonthaburi, central Thailand, since December 1990 and we had taken advantage of the songkran (Thai new year) holiday to travel up north for a few days.
The Lisu village we visited was a set-up for tourists really. I still have my journal from that time, in which I’ve written that the Lisus usually live in isolated villages high in the mountains, but this village had been persuaded by an elephant training centre to relocate within a half-hour trek of them so they could bring in tourists to buy their arts and crafts.
In those days, the village had no electricity, no running water, no TVs or even radio. In the past, the hilltribes relied on opium as their cash crop, but the Thai government had banned its sale, so they had to find other ways to make a living.
This woman was also at the Lisu village, sitting in the same hut as the Akha woman. They were both doing some sort of needlework.
The next day, we went to a Hmong village that was not so far up the mountain and that we could drive into. This husband and wife were among the stall-holders there. All the adults then wore traditional dress and—even though there was an element of showmanship for tourists—I found the images unforgettable. Children at the more isolated village we had visited also wore traditional dress—at least for the cameras—but at the Hmong village, many were wearing T-shirts and track pants.
In my journal from that time, I’ve written about the Hmong village: “There was no road to the village until 12 or 13 years ago, and villagers once went to Chiang Mai only around once a year. Now they go more often, but still they resist development, although we did notice a pick-up truck in one garage.”
They resist “development” no longer, it seems. In November 2012, more than 21 years later, I returned to the Hmong village. These days, there are no traditional costumes to be seen, just jeans, T-shirts with marketing logos and other ordinary Western clothes. There are pick-up trucks everywhere. Most people speak English as well as Thai.
The village market today is full of the same “hand-made” crafts you can buy in Bangkok, Phuket, or anywhere else. There are still people assembling these goods, but they seem to come ready-made in large batches, to be quickly pieced together on site. Someone is making a fortune, and it’s surely not the hilltribe people.
Like Sara Rosso at The Daily Post, I am always inspired by the colourful, highly detailed and often surprising patterns of Thailand. This is the subject of my entry in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Pattern.
My parents and brother visited me in 1999 when I was living in Thailand, and I always remember Mum said that when they returned to Melbourne, she missed the colours and shapes of the temples and other buildings of Thailand.
When I was there in November last year, I took many photos of the intricate patterns I saw all round me, both man-made and natural. I intend to use them to inspire abstract paintings.
Here are some of my photos from our trip, which took in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen, and a painting to finish, of a temple wall mosaic at the Grand Palace, Bangkok.