Europe loves its Christmas Markets, the festive mood, the warm drinks cuddled by cold hands, the delicious smells of roasted almonds and the magical lights that chase away the darkness of winter. From the first advent till the winter solstice, people try to spend as much time as possible out in the markets calling on hope, warmth and light to comfort them through the long hard winters.
In the last 2 weeks I went with my camera and some fellow photographers chasing the Christmas spirit from Valkenburg in the Netherlands to Duesseldorf and then today to magical Cologne.
Visiting the city we called home for almost 12 years is nothing short of strange at first. But within a day or two I felt the streets call me back with their charm, unique flair and warmth of the people. So little of the old city is left as the large construction projects drive forward leaving bits and pieces of the beautiful old alleys around the city. As I walk around and find huge empty lots and big buildings on the sites of my favorite alleys, I realize that all my photography over the years in Shanghai has been about recording history and vanishing alleys that are never to come back again…
During this weekend in Germany and other north European countries, bonfires are lit in celebration of the easter weekend. I have been asking locals about the origins of this tradition as well as Mr Google and it seems to be a pre-Christian ritual that welcomes the spring by burning away the lurking darker spirits of winter. It is amazing how much of what we believe in and do has lost it’s original significance and is relegated to a “feel good” thing to do. Imagine how life would be if all our beliefs and traditions were alive!
Day 87 of 365~
Images taken today at the edge of a nearby forest somewhere in Germany.
All over Asia where Buddhism abounds, the saffron color pops up worn by monks to symbolize their simplicity and detachment from materialism. They always look amazing in photographs and they are so kind to humor tourists and photographers.
In Hongkou, part of the old city of Shanghai, was a set of grey narrow alleys that were a maze of tiny streets containing 2 or 3 story homes stacked side by side in a most claustrophobic manner. Hundreds of tangled electric wires dangled between walls that were decorated with phone numbers advertising services for those who needed them. Water flowed down the streets and bikes and colorful laundry colored the otherwise shabby surroundings. In those sad alleys I met some very happy people. Their smiles instantly appeared when we met and stories were told that I only understood partly because of my poor grasp of Shanghainese but laughter was the largest part of the conversation. I just loved that place and I kept going back again and again to photograph until one day the residents announced that their neighborhood is condemned to demolition like so many other old Shanghai alleys. The last time I visited there were metal foundations of giant about to rise from the stories of these lovely people. I had to fight back tears seeing the ghosts of what used to be there and is no longer…
When I was a small child, we lived close to a very special monastery. In that monastery was a very magical well that always fascinated the dreamy child in me. We were told that the well was always empty but if you prayed and your prayers were accepted then the water flowed and you could have a drink of holy water. I was in utter awe of seeing my suspended bowl attached to a piece of rope sometimes come up full.
In my travels I saw several cultures revere water in different ways. On this riverbank in Myanmar locals considered this water a miracle cure for their ailments, the river Ganga in India is considered the ultimate destination for Hindu worshippers.
There is so much mystery in something as simple as water. We are 70% mystery ourselves!
Somewhere life goes on, just simply, disconnected from our worldwide web. When you have the universal web of sky, sun, stars and earth, why would you downgrade to the contaminated world of Social media?
Day 52 of 365~
Image taken on the Karakoram Highway, old silk road, Xinjiang.
During the last few days, Germans around Duesseldorf have been assuming new identities, merrily yelling our “Helau” and throwing candy from parades. The ‘Karneval’ is going at full force and no it’s not over! There are 2 more days of this jolly madness still to come 🤪!
There is a place on the bank of the Ganges River in the holy city of Varanasi, where more than 300 bodies get cremated daily and the ashes thrown into the river with the belief that the soul of the dead will be allowed a chance at a new life through reincarnation. Hindus from all over India and Asia carry their dead to award them that honor. I sat for a long time on a boat watching the burnings and the surreal picture they painted while this regal bird circled around the ghat reminding me of the certain mortality of the physical body. It was eerie in a good way, because life begs us to question death and death urges us to value life.
Lanterns adorned with ancient poems, lights in the sky, colorful decorations, bright smiles, ever-growing crowds; this is the lantern festival in Shanghai’s Yu Gardens. Every year I keep going back simply to be with the joy of this special happening, celebrating the start of Chinese spring under a big full moon. How dull would life be without ceremony…