Las Noches de las Luminarias

I’ve lived in the Phoenix area for more than 25 years, and each year I’ve promised myself that I would get to Las Noches de las Luminarias (literally, The Nights of The Lights) at the Desert Botanical Gardens.

The powerful saguaro appears to guard the adobe house decorated with luminaries.

The powerful saguaro appears to guard the adobe house decorated with luminarias.

Two nights ago, I kept my promise. At first I was disappointed that I could find no one to go with me, but, once there, I was thankful for the chance to wander alone through the paths lit with the soft glow of more that 8,000 hand-light luminarias and thousands of twinkling white lights.

I was delighted by the sounds of jazz, blues, flamenco guitar, didgeridoo, and a hand-bell choir, along with stories told by a Native American storyteller. I finished my evening with a hand-warming cup of hot chocolate and more jazz in the garden.

And of course, because this is a post about The Nights of The Lights and because I love taking shots of the moon, I must include the picture I took last night of the most magnificent Light of the Night, the last full moon of 2012. (Click on any image for descriptions and slideshow.)

Christmas Means Family

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Christmas 1955 with my brother Mark.

I loved Christmas. Bringing sugar cookies alive with red and green sprinkles, narrating the Christmas story for Mother’s church group, saving money for months to buy a small deep-blue bottle of cheap cologne for Mother, singing Christmas Carols at Midnight Mass with Daddy, discovering the magic that Santa left under the tree, playing Monopoly with my family, laughing, screaming, teasing. Christmas meant family. Lots of them. In addition to my own family of 6 boys, 4 girls, and parents, I had a huge mess of cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and we spent time with them. The gift of family and time.

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My family: Daughter-in-law with new grand-baby due in February, #1 Son, Granddaughter, #2 Son, and soon-to-be Daughter-in-law

Now my family dynamics are very different. Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, I was blessed to spend four hours with my small family. Instead of the typical Christmas dinner, I fixed a Southern breakfast for brunch: ham, eggs, grits, & homemade biscuits, made a little bit fancy with Mimosas. They’ve gone now. To Chicago. To the other side of the city. To lead their own lives and build their own family memories. I miss them terribly.

Ancient Homes Amidst Progress

When we were walking after dinner one evening, we came upon this small street that seems out of place amidst the new construction in Feicheng. The street reminds me, in part, of the Hutong Area in Beijing.

At first I thought that many of the apartments were empty, but I’m not so sure. An old woman who came out of one of the doors eyed us suspiciously and returned to her home behind the wall. Oh I wanted her picture, yet felt as if I would be imposing.

I wonder if these homes will remain or if they will fall in the path of progress and high-rise apartment buildings. Why allow 20 families to live in a space that could house 200 or more?

Click on an image to see it full size.

Deterioration

I am intrigued by this building that I passed several times in my solo wanderings around Shanghai. Do people still live there? It appears that they do because of the open windows and laundry. On the other hand, is it vacant — or nearly vacant, waiting for the demolition crew? On the ground floor, the shops appear to be boarded up. Across the street is an upscale apartment complex and, as you can see, behind it is a sea of high-rise apartment buildings. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)

Travel Theme: Leading Lines

I’ve recently returned home from my travels and work in China and when I saw this week’s theme of “leading lines” from Where’s My Backpack, I immediately thought of the Yuyuan Gardens in Old Shanghai. These beautiful gardens were first established in 1559 as a private garden created by Pan Yunduan to please his father Pan En, a high-ranking official in the Ming Dynasty. They had fallen into disrepair and were almost completely destroyed by the British during the Opium Wars; fortunately, they have been restored and provide a quiet respite from the chaos and noise of the tourist marketplace of Old Shanghai.

Pan was a master of using the “leading lines” to beckon the visitor into the gardens. I imagine Pan Yunduan’s visitors as they were drawn further in, wandering through the harmony of water, wood, and stone, and I can picture them sitting on one of the many benches, meditating or gossiping.

Initially, I was dismayed to share this peaceful place with throngs of tourists; yet, in their lines, I found comfort as I listened to myriad languages and watched them enjoy the gardens and one another.

Visitors to the gardens follow the lines, stopping here and there to look, to take pictures ….

Take the steps…follow the lines into the ancient gardens.

The stone wall appears to present a barrier, yet the beautiful woodwork invites me to enter.

Lines in the garden are not straight. They meander, inviting the visitor to slow down.

Peaceful lines

Lines leading toward rest …..

 

The Art of Music

Musical instruments, in the right hands, can gift our ears with heavenly sounds and elicit in us strong emotional responses. Musical instruments, especially the ancient ones, can delight the eyes as well, because they are exquisite works of art. The Hulusi, Guzheng, Sheng, and Erhu are four such ancient Chinese instruments that both look and sound beautiful.

I heard extraordinary music from two young people at my Feicheng friends’ home. Their son, who is a gifted musician, brought tears with his brief piano concert (Lang Lang will have serious competition in a few years.) and for his finale played the ancient Hulusi. Their young neighbor played the Guzheng with breath-taking skill and artistry.

The Hulusi, or Cucurbit Flute, has three bamboo pipes passing through a gourd wind chest.

The Guzheng or Gu Zheng is something like a zither. It is a beautiful instrument and would be a showpiece in any living room. Under skilled hands, it becomes the language of angels.

When walking along a river park in Feicheng, I discovered a group of musicians performing for a small assembly of citizens. It’s a shame because they were so good and should have been in a large venue.

This instrument, the Sheng, is one of the oldest Chinese instruments, with images in artwork dating back to 1100 BC. It is one of the primary instruments used in the Chinese opera.

The Erhu is a two-stringed bowed instrument, sometimes called a “southern fiddle.” It is now used in both traditional and contemporary music.

This is the pagoda (taken a few days before) where the musicians shared their music with a few people in the park. The shot shows the juxtaposition of the old architecture (although I’m sure that the pagoda is new) with the sleek new high rise.

Friday Alone in Shanghai

As I find my way around this fabulous city by myself, I wish more and more that I could communicate; I make feeble attempts with my Chinese/English Dictionary. Sometimes I use Google Translate. Both strategies have left me and my victim confused and frustrated. Occasionally, however, I find someone who is willing to laugh with me; today, they were all far too serious.

I needed to exchange a $100 for Chinese currency (RNB). To begin with, it took at least five stops and numerous confused inquires before I found the bank that would perform this service for me. Next, I had to get past the guard who instructed me to fill out a form in triplicate and to sign a paper written exclusively in Chinese. (I had no idea what I was agreeing to.) As I sat in the chairs waiting for my number to come up, I was reminded of the interminable waits at the DMV before it was possible to renew car registration online.

Eventually, my number was called. I had to produce my passport and present my information (filled out in triplicate). But wait! I had crossed off a minor mistake which is not acceptable and once again, I was instructed to write all of my personal information on the form in triplicate.

Then, something about my passport raised some flags (or so it seemed). The young woman behind the glass enclosure typed in my critical data, compared my passport to the information on the computer screen, called two other women over for consultation, fiddled with my passport, bent it, curved it, turned if over and over. I envisioned myself being taken into some back room. Did I have the number of the US state department with me? No, it was back at the hotel. Would my sons know how to find me? What on earth had I done to merit such scrutiny? These and at least 17 other questions and concerns raced through my mind during the seemingly endless wait.

Probably, everything was quite routine, but it unnerved me. When the young woman behind the glass wall finally started counting out the money, and filling out no less than four receipts, and passing to me the copy of my information written in triplicate, and the money, and then my passport, I breathed.

Now, I know why I was told that it’s easier to use the debit card at the ATM.

Functional currency safely stowed away, I was at liberty to do some people watching. This young woman fascinated me. What catches her eye as she speeds down the street, pulling her load? What is she thinking? (Click on any image to see it full size.)

Nurtured Nature

just a few snapshots of nature growing in the yard …

 

A Day With My Granddaughter

It’s been a while since I posted pictures of Elle.

“Gramma!” she squeals and my heart sings.

Click on any image.

Sunday Post: Work

When I saw the topic of this Sunday’s Post, I wondered if I should go out and find someone working; however, I remembered I had shot quite a few images of people at work during my stay in China last summer.

I find it interesting that I still have not gotten comfortable taking similar pictures here in my own city and country. I guess there’s something about being a tourist that gives me (in my mind) license to shoot just about anything.

And now, I’m off to the gym before returning to my work, prepping my lessons for the week. I hope you all have a satisfying and productive work week.