I celebrated my first Tết holiday, as Vietnamese call the lunar new year, at the start of 2020. I arrived in Vietnam three months earlier, partially at the behest of my friend Kurt Bennett, whose Vietnamese in-laws had dubbed him Mỹ Mập (“Fat American”). His wife’s extended family lived in a fishing village in Vinh…
Acadians from Nova Scotia and Louisiana bond in biennial reunions. Are pets de soeurs tastier than gumbo?
The room is full, and every foot is tapping. One musician plucks an unusual double bass made from a steel drum. A dozen others play their fiddles, guitars, accordions and drums. This is the weekly Saturday afternoon jam session at Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park in Lafayette, Louisiana. The historic 18th and 19th-century…
Saalfelden Leogang is not all up-and-down peaks and deep gorges. Much of the region comprises a broad agricultural valley centered on the town of Saalfelden (population 17,000). To the west, the valley narrows into a canyon leading to the village of Leogang (population 3,200). The two dozen or so hamlets and villages in between fall into the destination called Saalfelden Leogang. The location is central to everything: a five-hour drive to Venice, a four-hour drive to Vienna, two hours to Munich, and just an hour or so to Salzburg. Yet it’s just far enough off the main travel routes that most people are unlikely to pass through it. Unless they’re trying.
It’s the first Saturday in October at Bauman’s Harvest Festival in Gervais, Oregon and dozens of children have broken free from their parents and are running for the petting zoo. Petting zoos are probably the most popular attractions at autumn harvest celebrations now occurring across the U.S. and Canada. On the other side of a tent selling hot coffee, apple tarts and pumpkin scones more parents and kids are scrambling up a hay bale pyramid or crowding expectantly around an above ground pool to watch local farmers weigh their pumpkins. In a few moments some of the biggest pumpkins will be sacrificed.
What images come to mind when you think of Vietnam? A peasant in the conical nón lá hat, harvesting rice from the fields? Colorful lanterns dancing from the masts of river boats or the corrugated eaves of Taoist temples in ancient Hoi An? Perhaps you dream of karst peaks that erupt from the placid waters of deep-blue Ha Long Bay?
All are part of the visual culture of the country I now call home. But I believe nothing says “Vietnam” more than the áo dài. The sleek silk gown is as much a statement of Vietnamese fashion and femininity as is the kimono in Japan, the sari in India or the cheongsam in China. At once draping and clinging, accenting the Asian woman’s natural curves, the áo dài teases with restraint and decorum, promising nothing but implying everything. As worn by Vietnamese women, who learn to walk gracefully at a young age, it is at once marvelously modest yet incredibly provocative. A man who isn’t stirred is either dead or recently divorced.
There’s a small brick basement in Philadelphia that is to mystery and horror fiction what the basement clubs of Liverpool are to rock n’ roll and the Beatles. Stories penned here portray drunken insanity, deprivation, axe murders, dismemberment and premature burial. This is, of course, the house of Edgar Allan Poe.
It was pure good fortune that enabled me to arrive in Santo Domingo de la Calzada on the feast day of Saint Dominic. I was hiking west along the Camino Frances, en route to Santiago de Compostela, when I saw people gathering in front of the cathedral for a procession that gradually wound its way through the old town on streets lined with spectators. Young men in medieval costumes performed traditional folk dances at points along the route. Young women in period dress marched together. Men wearing red berets played traditional melodies on flutes. The music and the dances were little changed from medieval times. I felt as if I were observing a cultural tableau dating back hundreds of years.
When I first moved to Portland, Oregon, in the early 1990s, one of my first friends was a man who self-published a high-brow zine about amusement park rides. He eschewed car ownership, although he was happy to ride in mine. When we played Scrabble, he favored long, obscure words over point value. For all of my friend’s quirks, he turned out to be a surprisingly typical Portlander. Those who found Portland too self-consciously hip could laugh at its liberal excesses as immortalized in Portlandia. But these days, Portland has acquired a layer of grit. Homeless camps and boarded-up buildings covered with graffiti dot the whole city. Does the promise of Portlandia live on? For the sake of journalism, I decided to take an unflinching look at my city. Read More
Chances are, wherever you travel, you’ll find an Agatha Christie paperback. With eighty detective novels and story collections to her credit, Christie’s work has been translated into 130 languages and ranks third in sales behind the Bible and Shakespeare. She loved nothing more than going away and was utterly fearless about trying new destinations. Of her “foreign travel books,” she later would write, “if detective novels are escape literature, the reader can escape to sunny skies and blue water as well as to crime in the confines of an armchair.”
Birdwatchers stroll through forests hoping to catch a glimpse of an elusive bird. Plane spotters do the same, only their birds are bigger, louder and arrive on schedule. This isn’t some small group. Plane spotters have an extensive network of members from all over the world. In Los Angeles, their Facebook Group LAX24R, the official LAX Plane Spotting Community, has over 4,200 members, and that’s just one group for one airport. For most people, plane spotting is just a hobby, something they do for pleasure. It’s mesmerizing to watch 330 tons of metal inbound from an exotic destination gliding gently toward a runway, and being able to capture that feeling is immensely satisfying. For others, it becomes a global pursuit for photos that showcase airplanes and airports.